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 By 1914 the library contained 30,000 volumes, 40,000 pamphlets and 500,000 unpublished papers.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 Burton Historical Collection has published a commemorative booklet celebrating its 100th anniversary. Copies may also be purchased from the DPL Friends Foundation.
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.
All materials in the BHC are reference and cannot leave the reading room. Specific items can be identified using the library's online catalog, traditional card catalogs, and in-house finding aids. Photocopying is subject to approval: many items are fragile, oversized or subject to other restrictions and cannot be placed on a copier. Use of a patron's digital camera may be permitted for items not approved for photocopying. Inquiries may be made by phone, mail, e-mail, and in person. A list of researchers is provided as a courtesy to those needing extensive research. Neither the Burton Historical Collection or the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research (DSGR) recommends any particular individual or takes any responsibility for the work performed. This list is provided for your information and convenience only.
Thousands of photographs and other photographic formats of Detroit and Michigan scenes, Great Lakes ships, and people make up the Burton image collection. Books, magazines, and newspapers have been indexed for illustrations. A large collection of postcards shows how the city and state looked to tourists of earlier days.
Digital reproductions of items in the Burton Historical Collection may be purchased by completing the Special Collections Reproduction Order Form. Customers are not permitted to use personal cameras or scanners to reproduce photographs or postcards.
Donations to Special Collections
Tu, W: 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Th, F, Sa: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Su, M: CLOSED
Burton Historical Collection
Detroit Public Library
5201 Woodward Ave.
Detroit, MI 48202