Hats in the Alhambra

After a long illness in 1886, Ellen Scripps Booth’s father James Edmund Scripps (1835-1906) retired from his work life in the newspaper business (he had founded Detroit’s The Evening News in 1873). James spent two years recuperating and traveling in England and continental Europe with his wife Harriet and their children. The family visited Scripps cousins and traveled with some of his twelve siblings and their children. James, who had become interested in architecture (particularly church architecture), spent many hours sketching at the locations they visited.


Scripps family members at the Courtyard of the Lions at Alhambra, Granada, Spain, November 1888.  From left: William Armiger Scripps, Ellen Browning Scripps, Eliza Virginia Scripps, Grace Locke Scripps, Florence May Scripps, Harriet Messinger Scripps, Anna Virginia Scripps, James Edmund Scripps. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

James Edmund Scripps sketched exterior wall decoration at Alhambra, below. Notice how closely it matches the wall in the photograph.

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In the picture at the Alhambra, take a look at James’s sister second from the left: Ellen Browning Scripps. Ellen was a publisher for The Evening News and wrote a daily column, nicknamed “Miss Ellen’s Miscellany” that rehashed local and national news in a conversational tone. She even sent dispatches back to Detroit from Europe. Shortly after their trip to Europe and well-hatted visit to the Alhambra, the Scripps siblings had a bit of a falling out: she and another brother headed to California, where she eventually founded many important educational and philanthropic organizations in the San Diego area.

If you want to hear more about Ellen Browning Scripps and the Scripps siblings, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research is hosting a lecture and book signing with Molly McClain on Sunday, November 12thEllen Browning Scripps: New Money and American Philanthropy  is a new book by Dr. McClain, Professor of History at the University of San Diego. To learn more about the lecture and to purchase tickets, click here. Books are also available to purchase through the Center.

–Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research


Booth House + Scripps Land = Library

The Detroit connections of James E. Scripps and George G. Booth are well-documented: Scripps as founder of the Detroit News and founding member of what is today the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Booth as a founder of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts.  Less known, perhaps, is a venture near the end of Scripps’s life that helped create the Scripps Branch of the Detroit Public Library at Trumbull and Myrtle. The library was actually George Booth’s former home, renovated to accommodate library services. It stood in Scripps Park though a different library (the Frederick Douglass branch) sits there now.

Here’s the story. When George Gough Booth and Ellen Warren Scripps married in 1887, James Scripps built a house for them, designed by Mason & Rice, across the street from his own on Trumbull Ave. Fast forward to 1905. James Scripps donated 15 lots of property, on Grand River between Trumbull and Commonwealth, to the city of Detroit as a site for a park and branch library. He included $50,000 to be used for city beautification.

Booth Family Home, 605 Trumbull Avenue, 1898

Booth Family Home, 605 Trumbull Avenue, 1898

The Library Commission, on which Scripps served for five years, was already thinking of putting a branch in this area (no doubt influenced by Scripps), so the city gave the Commission the land. Now things get more confusing. Upon the death of James Scripps in 1906, the estate purchased the George Booth home (located next door to Scripps’s donated property; by this time the Booths had moved to Cranbrook) and included that in the gift. So the Library Commission didn’t have to build a new branch and used the $14,000 designated for that purpose to renovate Booth’s house as a library.

Scripps Park

Early landscape, Scripps Park, ca 1908

In fulfilling Scripps’s intent for a park, Booth hired H.J. Corfield, landscape gardener who designed the basic landscape for Booth’s Cranbrook estate.  Booth wrote to Corfield “I feel quite sure that we can carry through a nice piece of work and will be able to pay the foundation for a small park of unusual attractiveness in this city.”  Corfield transformed land that was “little better than a city dump …  into one of the prettiest parks in the city of Detroit.”

Entrance to Scripps Park

Entrance to Scripps Park

The former Booth home was almost doubled in size and opened on July 3, 1909 as Scripps Branch Library.

There’s another interesting twist to the story. In 1898, James Scripps added an 800-ton octagonal chapter house, modeled after the one in Westminster Abbey, to his own home on Trumbull across the street from the Booth’s. It contained his book and art collection. In 1927, James’s son, William E. Scripps, made a gift of the tower to the Library, along with its collections, it was moved across the street and attached to the Scripps Branch Library!

The sad ending is that the branch closed in 1959, and was demolished in 1966. The Gothic tower was razed sometime later, after a valiant attempt to save structure, by George Booth’s youngest son, Henry Scripps Booth, failed.

~Cheri Gay, Archivist

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