Alden B. Dow began work on the design for this modest home in Midland, Michigan in the summer of 1933 while still with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Dow designed this house for Joseph A. Cavanagh, a former mayor of Midland (1917-1920), who worked as an accountant for the Dow Chemical Company. Construction was carried out by Spence Brothers of Saginaw, who bid slightly over $10,000 for the project. The house was completed in 1934, and the Cavanagh family moved into their new home in October of that year.
A wood frame and brick structure, the Cavanagh house is a one-story home laid out in an L-shaped plan. The narrow element with its prominent brick chimney faces the street. A carport, built as an integral element of the house, extends out from the front corner of the house. This area also contains the public spaces – the living room and kitchen. The bedrooms and the enclosed porch are at the rear of the house affording them considerable privacy.
The Cavanagh House is architecturally significant because it marks the beginning of Dow’s own personal interpretation of the Prairie Style. Here Dow uses overall form and principles gained from his experience with Wright in a decidedly personal and individual manner. The house is a clear statement of Alden Dow’s view of architecture in its exterior and interior details.
While the Cavanagh House is a modest, two-bedroom structure, the layout with its inherent privacy, and the interplay of materials, angles, textures, and colors is exciting and dynamic. In a small area Dow demonstrated his ability to project a sense of spaciousness. Alden Dow also breaks down the traditional barrier between interior and exterior space with his use of building materials and design elements. Contemporary critics recognized this ability and they applauded Dow’s work.
The Cavanagh House was listed on National Register of Historic Places on December 4, 1989 as part of the Residential Architecture of Alden B. Dow in Midland, 1933-1938 Multiple Property Registration Form.
Dow, Alden. 1970. Reflections. Midland: Northwood Institute.
Dow, Alden. 1973. Way of Life. Midland: Northwood Institute.
Maddex, Diane. 2007. Alden B. Dow: Midwestern Modern. New York: Distributed by W.W. Norton.
Robinson, Sidney K. 1983. The Architecture of Alden B. Dow. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.