Burton Historical Collection

The Burton Historical Collection (BHC) of the Detroit Public Library began as the private library of Clarence Monroe Burton. In addition to being a prominent attorney, Mr. Burton was a Detroit historiographer and the founder of the C. M. Burton Abstract Co. Mr. Burton’s original intention was to assemble a collection on the history of Detroit. Realizing that Detroit’s history was inextricably connected to that of Michigan and the Old Northwest and those histories to that of Canada and New France, he assembled a collection that was one of the most important private historical collections in the country.

Over the course of 40 years, Mr. Burton systematically collected original documents and personal papers of prominent citizens of Detroit and Michigan. By 1914 the library contained 30,000 volumes, 40,000 pamphlets and 500,000 unpublished papers. Mr. Burton donated his collection, including the building it was housed in, to the Detroit Public Library in 1915. The collection was moved to the new main library in 1921.

The BHC is both a repository of records of the past and a workshop of historical activity in the present, with emphasis on the history of Detroit and Michigan from the time of settlement in the 17th century to the present.

The background history encompasses the Great Lakes area, New England, and New France as well as local and county histories for both the United States and Canada. Noted for its source material, the BHC contains books, pamphlets, bound newspapers, atlases, maps, pictures, photographs, personal papers, archives, business records, and ephemeral items such newspaper clippings, broadsides, and scrapbooks.

Genealogical materials in the BHC include federal census population schedules, family histories, cemetery inscriptions, church records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths, military records, hereditary society indexes, heraldry books, immigration records, probate indexes and records, vital records, obituaries, and land records.

The Map Collection holds materials from around the world dating from the 16th through the 20th centuries with a particular emphasis on Detroit and Michigan. The collection includes maps, atlases, Sanborn fire insurance maps, gazetteers and geographical dictionaries.

Over 4,000 manuscript collections, consisting of personal papers, records of organizations, businesses and churches, and the governmental archives of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan make up the manuscript collection. Of particular interest are: the Grace Bedell letter to Abraham Lincoln; French licenses to voyageurs; correspondence and papers of local notables such as Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Anthony Wayne, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and Lewis Cass. (Burton Historical Collection) Captured by: Detroit Free Press

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