A Giant Among Detroit Leaders
In the late 1800s, when David Whitney Jr., the first of a three-generation family of DAC members, built his majestic home on the corner of Woodward and Canfield, he was famous in local lore as "the man who could out-lumber Paul Bunyan."
The multi-millionaire lumberman, vessel owner and banker had built a fortune from the pine forest of Michigan and Wisconsin and made his mark on Detroit, building "some of the finest business blocks" in the city, according to the Detroit News. His "palatial residence on Woodward Avenue" was "perhaps the costliest and most magnificent ever erected in the state."
Whitney came to Detroit from Lowell (MA) about 1857. In partnership with his brother Charles and others, he built a hugely successful lumber business that spread to the Upper Peninsula, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. He was able to buy up Michigan and Wisconsin pine lands at a cost of from $3 to $50 an acre, sometimes realizing a profit of 100 times his initial investment.
Whitney's instincts concerning the land values in Detroit were equally keen, earning him the nickname "Mr. Woodward Avenue."
When he lived at the corner of Woodward and Sproat, many of Detroit's leading families of the day were his neighbors – the Pridgeons, the Heavenriches, the Farrands and the Heinemans, for example. He began buying property in the area, and in 1890 he built the five-story Grand Circus Park Building at Woodward and Park.