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Merrill-Palmer Institute: Merrill and Palmer Families Records

Identifier: UR001066_family

Scope and Content

The papers of the Merrill-Palmer Family Collection primarily reflect Thomas and Lizzie's involvement in the Michigan and Detroit business communities. The journals of Thomas Palmer and Charles Merrill reflect their personal activities in the mid-nineteenth century.

Important subjects covered in the collection are: Family Properties Palmer Park Estate Transactions Palmer-Whittier Land Company Merrill-Palmer School

Among the important correspondents are: George Brady Thomas Palmer Estate Harold Palmer Thomas P. Whittier Lizzie Merrill Palmer

Series Description: Series I, The Thomas Palmer Papers, 1848-1880: Journals and a speech relating to Thomas Palmer's travels to Europe and South America and his daily activities from 1848 to 1855.

Series II, The Charles Merrill Journals, 1850-1869: Journals relating to Charles Merrill's daily business activities from 1850 to 1869.

Series III, Business Records, 1858-1926: Correspondence, financial records, land contracts, deeds, plats, and tax titles relating to the business concerns of Thomas and Lizzie Palmer. There are a few items concerning mutual business interests with Charles Merrill.

Series IV, Thomas and Lizzie Palmer Estates, 1913-1923: Correspondence, financial records, land contracts and deeds, legal documents, and maps relating to the estates of Thomas and Lizzie Palmer. Some material concerns Harold Palmer, their adopted son who also acted as agent for Lizzie Palmer.


  • 1848 - 1926
  • Majority of material found within 1848 - 1919


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


The Merrill-Palmer Families Collection consists of the papers of Thomas Witherell Palmer, Lizzie (Elizabeth) Merrill Palmer, and Charles Merrill, father of Lizzie. The Merrill-Palmer Institute was established by Lizzie Palmer in her will which bequeathed the bulk of her estate for this purpose. Thomas Witherell Palmer was born in Detroit on January 25, 1830. Son of Thomas P. Palmer and Mary Ann Witherell Palmer, he became one of Michigan's most distinguished citizens. His father, originally from Connecticut, was a store owner, sawmill owner, and involved in mining in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Mary Palmer was the daughter of James Witherell, a Michigan Supreme Court Justice and Secretary of the Michigan Territory.

Thomas Palmer was educated in Detroit and at the University of Michigan. He settled in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1848. After his business was destroyed by fire in 1852, he returned to Detroit and became his father's business partner. In 1853, he associated with Charles Merrill, who owned vast lumbering enterprises throughout Michigan. He became a full partner in 1863. On October 16, 1855, he married Lizzie Merrill. They a dopted two children, Harold and Lizzie.

In 1882, Thomas Palmer was elected a Michigan State Senator, and the following year, a United States Senator. During his political career, he was a popular debater and orator, a proponent of women's suffrage, government regulation of railroads, and restricted immigration. He was appointed Ambassador to Spain in 1889 and served for two years. In 1892 he accepted President Harrison's offer to be a commissioner for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He died on January 1, 1913.

Lizzie Pitts Merrill Palmer was born in 1837. Throughout her life she was highly active in family business affairs and in the Detroit community. During her long residence in Detroit, Lizzie Palmer, together with Thomas, was active in the Humane Society, was a founder of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and donated many gifts to the city of Detroit, including Palmer Park. She died on July 28, 1916. In her will, Lizzie left three million dollars for the establishment of the "Merrill-Palmer Motherhood and Home Training School."


40 Linear Feet (8 MB, 36 OS)


Subjects include: family business and personal history; Please note that some oversized items include ledgers.


Arranged in 4 series – Series 1 (Box 1), Series 2 (Box 1), Series 3 (Boxes 2-31, Item 41) and Series 4 (Boxes 32-40, Items 42-43). Folders are arranged chronologically.


The papers of the Merrill and Palmer Families were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs as part of the papers of the Merrill-Palmer Institute in January of 1982 and were opened for research in June of 1986.

Related Materials

Merrill-Palmer Collections

Index of Subjects and Correspondence

Correspondence is indicated with an asterisk*
  • *Brady, George M., 29:6-7
  • Brady, George M., 29:6-7, Boxes 38-39
  • Burton, Clarence, Box 38
  • *Canfield, George L., 29:7
  • Detroit: City of, 40:3; Properties in, 2:1, Boxes 19-20, 30:4
  • *Gallup, George, 29:6
  • Gallup, George, 29:7
  • Lumber Business, 2:1, 3:3, 43:3
  • Merrill-Palmer Land Holdings, 2:1
  • Merrill-Palmer Motherhood and Home Training School, 34:17, 35:22-24, 36:2, 36:10, 37:2; Funds from final settlement of Lizzie Palmer Estate, 43:3
  • Merrill, Charles: Daily journals, 1:6-12
  • Palmer Park, Box 38, 40:1; Log Cabin, Box 38; Merrill-Palmer Subdivision, 40:3; Palmer Woods, 40:4; Plans for, 40:9
  • *Palmer-Whittier Land Company, 29: 6-7, Box 25, 34:1, 34:24, 35:6-7, 35:21-22, 36:5-7, Box 38
  • Palmer-Whittier Land Company, Board of Directors, 29:6-7
  • Palmer, Friend, Box 38
  • *Palmer, Harold, 29:7, 36:1-7, Box 38; To Lizzie Palmer, 36:6-7
  • Palmer, Harold, 29:7, Boxes 34-35, 36:1-7, Box 38
  • *Palmer, Lizzie, 29:6-7, 34:1, 34:14, 36:6-7, Box 38
  • Palmer, Lizzie, 4:2, Box 26, Box 28, 34:16-17, 36:10, Box 38
  • *Palmer, Thomas, 29:6, Box 38
  • Palmer, Thomas, Estate of: Contributions to Detroit Institute of Arts, Box 38; Detroit Golf Club, Box 38, 40:6
  • Palmer, Thomas: Albion College, Box 38; European and South American Trip, 1:1; Lizzie Merrill (Palmer), 1:3; Michigan Politics, 1:3; Politics, 1:3; Republican party, Donations to, 5:2, Box 38 Summary of Land Holdings, 30:4
  • *Whittier, Thomas, 29:6-7, Box 38

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in June, 1986.
Guide to the Merrill-Palmer Institute: Merrill and Palmer Families Records
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA