The Yellowstone National Park and Detroit Connection, Part II


Colonel Philetus W. Norris, National Park Service 

For part I, click here.

When I searched the Yellowstone Research Library catalog for “Detroit”, I found an article from the Detroit Metro Times. It told the story of Colonel Philetus W. Norris, the second superintendent of Yellowstone who also established the Village of Norris in what is now northeast Detroit.

It turns out that before and after he was superintendent of Yellowstone, Norris lived in Michigan. He earned his title of Colonel while serving in the Civil War as a Union spy. After the war, he settled north of Detroit in Wayne County where he established the village that came to be known as Norris. He built the Two Way Inn, which has served a number of purposes over the years. His family’s nearby house  is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The 2-Way Inn

The 2-Way Inn

The Two Way Inn was the first structure in Norris, which the Colonel built in the 1870s. The area was far outside the established and developed parts of Detroit at the time. Norris drained the swamp land in order to build the town. The Two Way served as a general store and a jail. At some point, it also served as a hotel, had a dance hall, may have been a brothel, and was definitely a speakeasy during prohibition. For most of its history, it has served as a bar in one way or another, and a local family has owned and operated it since 1973.

Of course, research of this topic would not be complete without a visit to Norris’s Two Way Inn. I recommend a trip if you are in the area. When you arrive, you have to ring a buzzer for entrance. Once you get inside, after your eyes adjust to the darkness, you will find a welcoming neighborhood “fine dive”. The bar serves a selection of beers, including local crafts, that you can order along with a home-cooked meal. Every room original to the building has two doors – hence the name – which, as the friendly bartender told me, was a safety measure in the event a fire broke out in the wooden structure. Some people like to joke that it allowed multiple escapes for individuals caught cheating on their spouses.

2-Way Inn

The 2-Way bar, with Norris’s photo on the register

The Norris house is currently unoccupied and in disrepair. The Two Way Inn family and others in the neighborhood are trying to raise funds to restore it, but it needs a lot of work.

Norris was born in New York, lived in Ohio, Montana, and Wyoming, and died in Kentucky in 1885. But Michigan seems to have been his true home, and he is buried at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit. Some people claim to have seen Norris’s ghost at the Two Way Inn. Whether literally or not, his spirit certainly lives on.


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