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In the summer of 1926, industrialist Fred Marvin Shinnick began construction of a large country estate in Avon Township (now Rochester Hills), just west of the village of Rochester. Shinnick, who was born in Detroit in 1877, was secretary-treasurer of the Briggs Manufacturing Company, which during the period between the world wars was the nation's largest independent producer of automobile bodies. He also owned and operated the Rochester Dairy during the twenties.
In 1932, according to Fred Shinnick's obituary, he and his wife Lillian decided to convert their home into a private psychiatric hospital. Their reasons were not stated, but the economic realities of the Great Depression were more than likely a major factor. Large estates were costly to operate and many passed out of private hands or were converted to other uses during the difficult Depression years. Shinnick operated The Haven Sanitarium until his retirement in 1938, at which time his son, Graham, took over as hospital administrator. The Haven was known for treating well-to-do patients whose identities and privacy were carefully guarded. Rumors swirled that some of Hollywood's famous stars were numbered among its patients over the years.
The April 6, 1945, edition of the Lake Orion Weekly Review noted in a segment titled, “Happenings of 10 Years Ago,” that “Capt. S. Brines of Detroit, father of Mrs. A.J. Huggett, has been at ‘The Haven,’ a private sanitorium (sic) operated by Mr. and Mrs. F. Shinnick in their beautiful home in Rochester, the past two weeks.” As with most facilities like The Haven, area residents were occasionally unnerved by its presence in their community. Patient escapes, though rare, were announced in the local paper.
By the late 1940s, The Haven was gaining publicity for its youth program, called the Rochester Plan. The Haven partnered with the Rochester School District to assist local children dealing with what was then defined as mental illness. The resulting plan was hailed in newspapers across the Midwest, including Iowa’s Oelwein Daily Register in the article “Rochester Counsels Its Children” by Robert Goldman, published Feb. 22, 1949.
The Haven operated as a psychiatric hospital for thirty-six years, but closed in 1968 due to declining occupancy and rising operating costs. The once grand Shinnick home sat vacant thereafter, and owing to its location so far off the main road, became a magnet for squatters, vandals and teens looking for a place to party. The caretaker and the Oakland County Sheriff's Department fought an ongoing battle to run the intruders off the property, but despite their efforts the old house was torn apart piece by piece.
Late in the evening of November 2, 1973, the Rochester Fire Department was called to a fire at The Haven. They found numerous problems in fighting the blaze and sounded two more alarms, answered by the Brooklands and Avondale departments. Fire department historian William A. Cahill recorded that the nearest hydrant was on the south side of Walton, so fire fighters had to lay 1,200 feet of hose to reach the house, and cars on Walton hampered their efforts by running over the hose line. Further, the heavy slate roof on the Tudor-revival house created an oven effect in the building. A large crowd of gawkers and onlookers added to the difficulties.
The end of The Haven came when the fire chewed away the roof supports and sent the heavy slate crashing down. Near dawn on November 3, after 40,000 gallons of water had been poured onto the blaze, the house was nothing but a smoldering ruin.
A few years after the fire, the property was redeveloped and became the Grosse Pines subdivision, but one reminder of The Haven still stands in testimony to the property's former use. The ledge rock wall and gates that adorned the Walton Boulevard frontage of The Haven property are yet visible among the tall pines at the entrance to the subdivision.