I grew up in Eloise, MI. (Westland, MI.). I was born in 1975 in the famous Wayne County General Hospital that is mentioned below. The hospital was located right at the end of my street on Merriman Road. The hospital, along with many other buildings, made up an unbelievable “village”. A village that screamed out during the day and night. As a child, I could hear the frightening noises floating down my street. It was eerie then, and still eerie to think about now.
Eloise was a large hospital complex located in Nankin Township in western Wayne County. The name came from the post office on the grounds which opened July 20, 1894 and was named Eloise after the postmaster of Detroit’s daughter, Eloise.
It operated from 1839 to the early 1984 and started out as a poorhouse and farm but developed into an asylum and hospital. In 1832 it was called the Wayne County Poorhouse; in 1872 it was the Wayne County Alms House; in 1886 it was referred to simply as the Wayne County House. In 1913 there were three divisions: The Eloise Hospital(Mental Hospital), the Eloise Infirmary (Poorhouse) and the Eloise Sanitarium (T.B. Hospital) which were collectively called Eloise. In 1945 it was named Wayne County General Hospital and Infirmary at Eloise, Michigan. In 1974 it had two divisions – the Wayne County General Hospital and the Wayne County Psychiatric Hospital. The psychiatric division closed in 1977 and in 1979 it was officially called Wayne County General Hospital. At it’s prime, Eloise consisted of 78 buildings and 902 acres. Now in ruins, 4 of the 78 buildings remain.
The history of Eloise
It all started when the Wayne County Poor House was founded in 1832. It was located at Gratiot and Mt. Elliott Avenues in Hamtramck Township two miles from the Detroit city limits. By 1834, the poorhouse was in bad condition and 280 acres in Nankin Township were purchased. The Black Horse Tavern which served as a stagecoach stop between Detroit and Chicago was located on the property. In those days it was a two-day stagecoach ride from Hamtramck Township to Nankin Township. The register shows that on April 11, 1839, 35 people were transferred from the poorhouse in Hamtramck Township to the new one in Nankin Township. 111 apparently refused to go to the “awful wilderness.” Many were children, and homes among the residents of the city may have been found for them. The log cabin which was formerly the Black Horse Tavern became the keeper’s quarters, and in 1838-9 a frame building was put up to house the inmates. A frame cookhouse was erected in the back of the log building and was used for cooking for both inmates and the keeper’s family. The complex was almost self-sufficient. It had its own police and fire department, railroad and trolley stations, bakery, amusement hall, laundries, and a powerhouse. It also had many farm buildings including dairy barns, a piggery, a root cellar, a tobacco curing building, and employee housing. Eloise was one of the first if not the first hospital to use x-rays for diagnosis preformed by Dr.Albarran. Patients came from Detroit and other communities to have x-rays done. It also housed the first kidney dialysis unit in the State of Michigan and pioneered in the field of Music Therapy.
As the years went on the institution grew larger and larger, a reflection in the increases in the population of the Detroit area. From only 35 residents in 1839 the complex grew to about 10,000 residents at its peak during the Great Depression and then started to decrease. The farm operations ceased in 1958 and some of the large psychiatric buildings were vacated in 1973. The psychiatric division started closing in 1977 when the State of Michigan took over the psychiatric division. The general hospital closed in 1984.
Today the land that once was Eloise has been developed into a strip mall, a golf course, and condominiums. There are only two buildings currently in use. One is “D” Building or the Kay Beard Building. At one time this was an administration building and it was also used for psychiatric admissions and apartments for some employees for the Catholic chaplain. The old commissary building is currently being used as a family homeless shelter. The old bakery, the fire hall (former psychiatric facility laundry), and the power house are still standing in ruins. The Eloise smokestack was deemed to be a hazard and was demolished in 2006.
Eloise is featured in the book Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg, which is about Luxenberg’s secret aunt who was committed to the Eloise psychiatric hospital in the 1940s.
Eloise present day
The moral of my story is that you need to have organization to make an economy work. You need the right amount of taxes, along with the right amount of employees to keep a “village” running. You need more “sane” than “insane” and this was not the case. The resources, technology, and knowledge didn’t exist for this city within a city and therefore the city of Eloise was doomed from the start.