Emily Helen Butterfield, Architect: 1884-1958

Emily Butterfield graduated from the progressive (women allowed!) architecture program at Syracuse University in 1907 and upon graduation formed an architectural partnership with her father,  Wells D. Butterfield and  registered as the first licensed woman architect in Michigan.   It was at SU that she was instrumental in the founding and development of Alpha Gamma Delta fraternity and is revered among AGD members today.

Wells and Emily designed many homes, schools and churches (particularly Methodist) during their work together until Wells’ death in 1936. They were quite close and lived in neighboring houses of their own design in downtown Farmington.   At Oaklands, they were reportedly responsible for designing all of the houses in the development although this is unverified. They also planned the landscaping. It is unclear how involved Wells was with this work as he had significant projects elsewhere during this period.

Emily designed Oakewood in the Storybook Tudor style, progressive and unusual for this area in the 1920’s but  popular on the west coast as a whimsical variant of Tudor Revival style and quite different from the rest of the homes in the Oaklands development, which are generally colonial revival. 

Eleven homes were built in Oaklands by 1930 with sales and construction halted by the Great Depression.  With little building going on, Emily and Wells struggled financially at this time and she lost her AIA membership due to the inability to pay her dues, but was reinstated when the economy improved. 

During the 1930’s,  the lack of architecture commissions caused Emily to turn to writing, publishing 2 books, “The Young People’s Story of Architecture” and “College Fraternity Heraldry.” She moved from Farmington around this time to Algonac, MI and continued her painting career and taught art classes, there and at her cottage on Neebish Island.  She also became postmaster of Neebish Island, MI during WW2 and passed away in Algonac in 1958.


We purchased the house in 2013 and immediately began a program of preservation and restoration to its 1920s appearance.  The exterior and public spaces of the interior now appear largely as designed by Emily, with other areas remodeled sympathetically to retain a 1920's appearance.   

Many unique storage and cabinetry details outlined in a 1917 House and Garden article by Emily are still present in the house. The original matching detached garage is currently being restored. Landscaping now uses plants and flowers popular in the 1920s, but based on the landscape designs for other houses proposed by the Butterfield team, we suspect it requires more formal geometry.

Emily's 1907 Graduation Photograph

Emily's 1907 Graduation Photograph