Hill House History
About the previous owner:

The man that commissioned the home to be designed and built was businessman Alfred F. Stephens and his wife Zillah Violetta Perkins.  Zillah's Grandfather, Joseph Browett hailed from Coventry England. He came to Ingersoll Canada in the early 1800's and practiced Optometry through out Ontario until his death in 1902. For love and respect of her heritage and renowned Grandpa they named the house "Coventry Crest".   Little did she know that a decade later the town of Coventry would be nearly blown from the face of the earth by the Germans during the bombing Blitz of WW II.   

Alfred was born on a farm in Southfield Mi. in 1869.  His family came to America from England to Southampton Long Island N.Y. in 1627 and where among the founding fathers of Southampton. Alfred's Grandfather Edward, a retired Captain and Whaler from Southampton traveled to Michigan via the Erie Barge Canal landing in Southfield around 1824, and was among the founding fathers of Southfield as well. 

Edward and his wife Phebe (see of kings & queens) purchased three hundred and twenty acres at ten mile  and evergreen roads. The property was farmed for almost a hundred years before it was sold to make way for Northwestern Hwy.



The following is from "The Burton Collection" at the Detroit Library.

Alfred Foster Stephens is the Vice President of the Arctic Ice Cream Company of Detroit, in which connection he has built up a business which is the second largest in the city. A spirit of unfaltering enterprise has actuated him at every point in his career and unflagging industry and determination have carried him to a point of business prominence which he now occupies.

He was born on a farm in Oakland County, Michigan September 15,1869, and is a son of Chilion and Margaret O. (Fiero) Stephens. After acquiring a district school education in Oakland County he attended the State Normal School at Fenton, Michigan, and in 1890, when a young man of twenty-one years, came to Detroit. Here he entered upon the manufacture of ice cream on his own account and from 1899 to 1907 was connected with the Detroit Creamery Company.

In the succeeding year he founded the Arctic Ice Cream Company, of which he has since been the president, and today the business is the second in size of its kind in Detroit. In addition to the main plant in this city the company has condensing plants in Grand Ledge, Fenton, and Hastings and milk receiving stations at Richmond, Birch Run, Shear's Station and Shotke Station, and an ice cream plant in Grand Rapids, all in Michigan.

At the beginning new customers were secured through personal solicitation and the equipment consisted of a small manufacturing plant and two wagons for delivery. Today the company has forty-five trucks and thirty-five wagons and employs an average of one hundred and fifty men. Thirty thousand gallons of milk per day are received and during the manufacturing season from the first of May until the first of October the daily output of ice cream is eight thousand gallons. Shipments to all parts of the United States are made from the condensing plants and the business has become one of the most important industries of this character in the middle west.

Mr. Stephens was joined in wedlock to Miss Zillah Perkins of Detroit, and they have become the parents of two children: Russell Browett, born October 19, 1909, in Detroit; and Frances Helen, born September 26, 1911.

Mr. Stephens is a member of the Grand River Avenue Christian Church. His political support is given to the republican party and he never lightly regards the duties of citizenship but has never sought office as a reward for party fealty.

He belongs to the Fellowcraft Athletic Club and the Detroit Automobile Club and also to the Kiwanis Club, while along the line of his business activity he is identified with the Michigan and National Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers and as a representative of these bodies is continually studying everything that has to do with the development, promotion and protection of the trade.



Alfred, aside from his duties at the Ice Cream Company invested heavily in real estate and the stock market.  Family rumor has it that he had financed the invention of the modern refrigerator.  The marbled wall refrigerators installed in the kitchen at Coventry Crest where said to be the first of their kind.

Mr. Stephens had purchased a substantial amount of property in Bloomfield Twp. and Bloomfield Hills, including almost all of the property known today as Cranbrook Village.  Alfred, through his real estate travels met Judson Bradway, they became good friends and where involved with many transactions together.


The Great Depression:

Like most, Alfred took a financial beating during the Great Depression.  He sold the Arctic Ice Cream Company to The Detroit Creamery.  It was added as a division of the Detroit Creamery and called The Arctic Dairy Products Company.  Alfred stayed on as Vice President until he retired in ill health. During those years he and Judson Bradway struggled with their real estate holdings, selling many for as little as ten cents on the dollar.  Alfred passed away February 3, 1947.



About the house:

Alfred and his family moved from Scotten Ave. in Detroit to Lincoln Ave. in Birmingham in 1918,  the YMCA to the Teachers Credit Union sits on that property today.  During the planning stages of "Coventry Crest"  on June 20, 1924 The Arctic Ice Cream Company in Grand Ledge almost burnt to the ground.  Coventry Crest was built by a man fearful of fire, thus the reason the house was built like a bomb shelter. 

Construction of the house began in 1927 and was complete in 1929.  The furnishings in the house where all custom built in Grand Rapids Michigan.  The tile work through out the house was all done by the Pewabic Pottery Company in Detroit.