Historic Detroit

Penobscot Building (first)

There are actually three buildings in the Penobscot complex. This one, designed by the firm Donaldson & Meier, was the first.

It was erected on Fort Street between Griswold and Shelby streets. The Penobscots were the legacy of lumberman Simon J. Murphy, who named them after his beloved Penobscot River.

“The name Penobscot has been especially dear to me because it was on the bank of that river, in my native state of Maine, that I first struck out for myself,” Murphy told the Detroit Free Press in 1902. “The credit for whatever success I may have attained in after life must be given to the solid foundation which I laid by honest, hard work in those early days. I have never been happier than I was there, and why would I not love the name?”

But just days before tenants started moving into his greatest achievement, Murphy died Feb. 1, 1905, at age 89. His death put a damper on festivities, and the 400-room, 13-story building wasn’t formally dedicated until July 22, when a large portrait of him painted by Gari Melchers was unveiled in the main hall.

His sons would continue and expand his legacy in the years to come, building two more Penobscot buildings.