Historic Detroit

William Cotter Maybury Monument

There’s a mustachioed mayor kicking back in Grand Circus Park.

William Cotter Maybury was Detroit’s city attorney, a congressman and mayor of Detroit. He was born in Detroit on Nov. 20, 1848. He was a product of Detroit public schools, graduating from the old Capitol High School in 1866. He received a bachelor’s degree from the literary department of the University of Michigan in 1870, and the following year he had a bachelor of laws degree from U-M. Maybury returned to Detroit and began a law career that would leave him well-cushioned financially - and physically. He was a trial lawyer and worked for corporations and other movers and shakers.

Maybury would serve as Detroit’s city attorney from 1875 to 1880, and was then elected to Congress in 1882 and again in 1884. The Democrat served Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, which was then in Detroit. It was the same seat that Alpheus Starkey Williams held a few years earlier. Maybury served on the House Judiciary and Ways and Means committees and introduced the bill in Congress allowing the construction of the first Belle Isle bridge.

A rivalry renewed

After the end of his second term in Congress, Maybury decided to return to Detroit, opting not to seek a third, and began practicing law again. In 1896, Maybury’s arch-rival, Mayor Hazen S. Pingree, was elected governor of Michigan. When a state Supreme Court ruling the following March came down saying Pingree couldn’t serve as mayor and governor at the same time, Pingree resigned as mayor. Maybury threw his hat into the ring. Pingree and Maybury were mortal enemies, “they hated, detested, loathed each other,” the Free Press wrote in November 1941. Old Ping thought Maybury was in the hands of the very interests Pingree had fought so hard against.

On April 10, 1897, Maybury easily trumped Pingree’s handpicked successor, Capt. Albert E. Stewart, and served the rest of Pingree’s term. The following November, he was re-elected to a full two-year term.

Maybury “won local, if not national, renown as a baby-kisser. He just cooed his way into office telling mothers how beautiful their babies were,” the Detroit Free Press wrote in 1941. “For a while no mother thought her child would have a chance in life unless he had been kissed by dear Mr. Maybury – that nice, nice man.”

At a Stewart campaign rally in an old auditorium on Congress Street, Pingree lashed into Maybury, telling a bubbling throng of supporters, “Gentleman, all I gotta say is that what Detroit needs is a man for mayor who will tell those public utilities to kiss something besides babies.”

Pingree had turned Detroit on its head, enacting a slew of reforms and taking on corporations. Maybury brought a sense of tranquility to the office. He did not make waves with Big Business and didn’t continue Pingree’s all-out fight for municipally owned utilities. He may have been timid, but Detroiters approved of Maybury’s laid-back, relaxed style. Industry leaders were particular supporters of his pro-business philosophy toward government, and Maybury is to thank in part for the vast number of factories that began to dot the city under his watch. He also worked to bring more conventions to the city.

Maybury ran to succeed Pingree as governor in 1900, but he lost to Aaron T. Bliss. He served as mayor until 1904.

Legacy

Maybury’s accomplishments as mayor were few. However, he did preside over City Hall during the auto industry’s formative years. At the turn of the century, when citizens objected to horseless carriages zooming around town at 12 miles per hour, the Common Council proposed an ordinance banning them from the streets because they scared the horses. Maybury had the ordinance dropped before its third reading, thus helping to open the door for Detroit to become the automotive capital of the world.

In 1901, Maybury had leading citizens write letters to the Detroit of 2001, “for those whose good fortune it will be to live in Detroit at the opening of the 21st century.” He wrote one himself: “We communicate by telegraph and telephone over distances that at the opening of the nineteenth century were insurmountable. We travel at a rate not dreamed of then … by railroad and steam power from Detroit to Chicago in less than eight hours, and to New York City by several routes in less than 20 hours. How much faster are you traveling? How much farther have you annihilated time and space and what agencies are you employing to which we are strangers?

“We talk by long distance telephone to the remotest cities in our own country, and with a fair degree of practical success. Are you talking with foreign lands and to the islands of the sea by the same method? … May we be permitted to express one supreme hope that whatever failures the coming century may have in the progress of things material, you may be conscious when the century is over that, as a nation, people and city, you have grown in righteousness, for it is this that exalts a nation.”

The letters were sealed in a small copper box, called the Bi-Centenary Box to mark the city’s 200th birthday, that was 12.5 inches long, 8 inches wide and 8 inches high. It was soldered and locked inside a vault at Old City Hall and then the City-County Building (now the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building) after the former was torn down in 1961.

Making a Maybury Monument

Maybury died May 6, 1909, at age 60. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit. George Fowle suggested a monument opposite Pingree. Detroiters did not respond. Quietly, Fowle and a group of Maybury’s old political buddies paid for it. It was unveiled with a lovely ceremony in 1912, “though the throb of the city’s heart was not in it,” the Free Press wrote in November 1941.

Adolph Alexander Weinman, who had earlier sculpted the Alexander Macomb Monument on Washington Boulevard, was selected for the memorial. He went with a classical design with the bronze statue of Maybury on a granite pedestal with a 12-foot wall behind him. On it is a white marble relief that portrays the idealized family in classical drapery. It’s capped with a detailed cornice featuring the seal of the City of Detroit. Maybury is cast in a relaxed pose, denoting his laid-back style and personality. He sits, looking laid-back and care-free, across Woodward at the monument to his rival, taunting him for nearly a century.

More on this landmark of Detroit coming soon.