James Duffy was the President of the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad Company, once considered the most profitable railroad per mile of track in the United States. Mr. Duffy also owned one of the most opulent private railroad cars that would have been the envy of the old railroad barons of the golden era of trains.
Given Alden B. Dow’s love of trains and impressive scale model collection, it’s not surprising that he enjoyed working with Mr. Duffy to design a house for him not far from Port Huron, Michigan, in 1954, and then later a cottage in 1973. The residence is a two-story brick structure with a low-pitched roof set into a sloping wooded lot with windows on one side that span both levels. On the upper floor are bedrooms, kitchen, dining room and, rather unexpectedly, a 4 foot by 4 foot lighted pool. From there, one looks down onto the large living room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the St. Clair River.
In 1973 Mr. Duffy wrote to the architect to discuss his ideas for building a summer retreat nearby:
“I have in mind something of the Swiss Chalet type which might blend in with the surroundings. It would have a two story living room with a view to the north and east, with a kitchen and perhaps a dining area in the living room off the kitchen…It should have two bedrooms and two baths together with ample storage space in each bedroom.”
The architect presented him with plans showing an A-frame house built with large beams coming out of concrete piers. The beams and cedar deck of the roof are exposed on the inside.
As one enters, the ceiling height of the hall, guest bedroom, kitchen, and dining room is around 7 feet, while the living room extends to about 30 feet at the peak. Skylights line the long wall of the living room, similar to the A-frame “Timber Teepee” designed by Mr. Dow for Josephine Ashmun in 1951. On the second level under the high ceiling peak is the master bedroom, off of which is a small sitting room that overlooks the living room. It did indeed turn out to be, as Mr. Dow intended, “an exciting, playful cottage.”