Created By: Scouts Troop755
Buchner Hill and Sanitarium
As you stand at the Randolph/High St intersection, imagine it’s winter 1910 and you have just sledded down the steep hill to the north. The police have even closed the road so you won’t get hurt as you fly across the road!
Northville's elevation is the highest in Wayne County – and it earned it's bragging rights as one of the best sledding and tobogganing venues in southeastern Michigan.
For Northville boys and girls (and any adult crazed enough to take a go at it) in the late 19th century and first part of the 20th century, Buchner Hill was the ultimate thrill ride. The hill was located above High Street and south of what is today Hillside Middle School. It took its name from John C. Buchner, who owned a livery on West Main Street and built a palatial High Street mansion in the 1870s on the site now occupied by Allen Terrace.
According to a February 26, 1910 article in The Detroit News, Buchner "conceived an idea that the big hill, then covered with shrubbery and trees which he owned, would be a great place for people seeking slightly homes or fresh air elevations."
Standing 6-foot-4 in height and known as "The Giant of the Hills," Buchner platted the hillside from top to bottom. At the summit was his two and a half story mansion with its slate Mansard roof and observation tower. From the tower, Detroit could be easily seen to the east.
Buchner's development plans never materialized. A few homes were built on the two streets leading to his mansion, but they never got further than halfway up the hill.
Nevertheless, cleared of trees and shrubbery, the bare hillside became the ultimate "coasting" run. The 1910 Detroit News article noted that "a full half-mile ride can be had in just 20 seconds, although the lighter loads usually consume 10 seconds more in the downward trip."
The article went on to note that "often as many as a hundred youngsters will be in the game at one time." It further stated that "recently a damper was put on the sport for a few days and one road was closed up, because of accidents resulting in the breaking of legs."
Broken bones did little to deter coasters from taking on Buchner Hill, but local officials were mindful of the dangers to "life and limb." A December 1915 article in The Northville Record reported that the village council "in an endeavor to give the boys and girls the limit of fun and excitement pursued a 'Safety First' initiative."
The 'Safety First' initiative involved stationing traffic officers on duty at the Randolph Street crossing and other streets where necessary, all day Saturday and all other days from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. At other times, coasters were advised to take their own precautions.
The same article noted, "The long distance record last year for the big hill was way down on South Center Street beyond Mill Street." Mill Street today is Fairbrook. The street beyond Fairbrook is Seven Mile Road. That would make the 1914 coasting run record close to a mile!
The Buchner mansion eventually was sold to Dr. A.B. Wickham, a specialist in the treatment of tuberculosis. Wickham remodeled the house and it served both as his home and part of the TB sanatorium he founded known as Eastlawn. It remained a sanatorium until 1955, when it was turned into a convalescent home. It was razed in 1976 to make way for Allen Terrace.
High and East streets are now dotted with homes and condos. A few historic houses still stand on the hillside, reminders of the days when snow meant coasting down Buchner Hill.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Northville Heritage Hike