Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Social History of Detroit, Michigan

Bienvenue dans le Village de Detroit
Since I created this Passion for the Past blog back in 2007 I have posted a number of articles about the history of my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. In doing so I have hopes that enough folks will read them and help to restore some local pride, which seems to be sorely missing.
You see, for the last half century, Detroit has been dogged by media. Unfortunately, much of what the papers have said is true; it's been a city of high crime and corruption. But, although crime and corruption surrounds most major metropolises, Detroit seems to be the bastard step-child that makes the news much more often.
Well, for this city (as Stephen Foster once wrote) better times are coming.
I won't get into a debate here on what brought the city down or what will make it rise again. Instead I will focus on a Detroit that not many are aware of, the Detroit of long ago...of our ancestor's time. What I did here was put all three of my Detroit history postings into one concise article, showing the city's pre-automobile past - the effects of the wars fought here as well as it's social history. And I very recently added quite a bit more information to flesh it out, and to give the reader a more visual idea of what life was like here for the citizens.
By putting each of the three postings together (and with the additional info), you can read a more concise overview of pre-electric Detroit; a time when Detroit really shined brightly and, dare I say, rivaled the best of the other cities of its time.
Ready to go back to old Detroit?

~Colonial Detroit ~
New York (New Amsterdam), NY 1625
Boston, MA 1630
Charleston, SC 1670
Philadelphia, PA 1682
*Detroit, Mi 1701
Trenton, NJ 1719
Concord, NH 1725
Baltimore, Md 1729
Richmond, VA 1733

The above list shows the years these well-known colonial American cities were founded. And right smack dab in the middle is Detroit.
Wait! Detroit? A colonial city?
Yup. Ha! It's even older than Baltimore, and only 19 years younger than Philadelphia!
So let's go back to the beginning...to it's French roots.
Here's a very brief history of early Detroit from Wikipedia:
The city name comes from the Detroit River (French: l'étroit du Lac Erie), meaning the strait of Lake Erie, linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie. In the historical context, the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.
In 1674, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle was given command of Fort Frontenac (located at present site of City of Kingston, Ontario). On May 12, 1678, La Salle was given King Louis' permission to continue the explorations of Louis Joliet and Father Marquette. Specifically, he was to descend the Mississippi River and find a port on the Gulf of Mexico.

Le Griffon - from an old woodcut
In 1679, near Black Rock (near Niagara) La Salle built a ship called the Griffon. On August 10, La Salle sailed the Griffon through the Detroit River, possibly to the future site of Detroit, to pick up his Lieutenant, Henri de Tonty. There he reported seeing a Huron Indian village and evidence of previous visits by Jesuits and coureurs de bois. The Griffon is the first known ship to sail the Detroit River.
In September 1679, the Griffon (without La Salle) and her crew were lost in Lake Michigan after encountering a storm.
But it was while sailing up the Detroit River on Le Griffon that Father Louis Hennepin noted the north bank of the river as an ideal location for a settlement. There, on July 24, 1701, the French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, along with 51 additional French-Canadians, founded a settlement called Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain. Under Louis XIV, France offered free land to attract families to Detroit, which grew to 800 people in 1765, the largest city between Montreal and New Orleans. Francois Marie Picoté, sieur de Belestre (Montreal 1719–1793) was the last French military commander at Fort Detroit (1758–1760), surrendering the fort on November 29, 1760 to the British. Detroit's city flag reflects this French heritage. 
Joseph Campau built this house before 1760 - his farm consisted mostly of fruit trees.
The church was built for use of the people who lived along the Detroit River.


~Detroit During the French and Indian War~
Chief Pontiac
During the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), British troops gained control and shortened the name to Detroit. This occurred in 1760. In 1763, several Indian tribes led by Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, launched Pontiac's Rebellion, and this included a siege of Fort Detroit. This rebellion occurred on May 7, 1763, when Pontiac’s Rebellion erupted in Michigan. Ottawa war-leader Pontiac— with a force of 300 warriors — attempted to capture Fort Detroit by surprise. However, the British commander was aware of Pontiac's plan and his garrison was armed and ready. Undaunted, Pontiac went ahead and laid siege to the fort. Eventually more than 900 Indian warriors from a half-dozen tribes joined the siege of Fort Detroit.
Upon hearing this news, Robert Rogers (of Roger's Rangers fame) offered his services to General Amherst. Rogers then accompanied Captain Dalyell with a relief force to Fort Detroit.
Robert Rogers
Their ill-fated mission was terminated at the Battle of Bloody Run (current site of Elmwood cemetery now a part of Downtown Detroit) on July 21, 1763 when, in an attempt to break Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit, about 250 British troops, led by Dalyell and Rogers, attempted a surprise attack on Pontiac's encampment. However, Pontiac was ready — supposedly alerted by French settlers — and defeated the British at Parent's Creek two miles north of the fort. The creek was said to have run red with the blood of the 20 dead and 34 wounded British soldiers and was henceforth known as Bloody Run. Captain James Dalyell was one of those killed.
However, the situation at the fort itself remained a stalemate, and Pontiac’s influence among his followers began to wane. Groups of Indians began to abandon the siege, some of them making peace with the British before departing. On October 31, 1763, finally convinced that the French in Illinois would not come to his aid, Pontiac lifted the siege and traveled south to the Maumee River, where he continued his efforts to rally resistance against the British.
Soon after these events, Pontiac's rebellion collapsed and Chief Pontiac himself faded away into obscurity and death.    
Partially in response to this, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763 included restrictions on white settlement in Indian territories. 
Detroit passed to the United States  under the Jay Treaty  of1796. 
In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive.

 ~ Detroit During the Revolutionary War ~
Detroit was not directly involved in the American Revolution; it was, instead, a strategic stronghold for the British in North America, housing American prisoners of war. It also served, as it had the French a generation earlier, as an important staging area for Indian raiding parties. Although the Indians had risen in revolt against the British in 1763, a decade later they understood that an independent thirteen colonies disposed to aggressively settle western lands was far more of a threat to them. Indeed, the British government since 1763 had made significant efforts to limit white settlement and mollify tribal sentiment.
Henry Hamilton
During the war colonists felt particular animosity toward the British command at Detroit because of the activities of Henry Hamilton, the city's lieutenant governor and military commander. Hamilton not only supplied arms and ammunition for Indian raiding parties but also agreed to pay a bounty for scalps. Kentuckians, who were the particular victims of this policy, labeled him "the hair buyer" and loathed him. It seems to have mattered little that Hamilton did not actively encourage scalping, and was in fact following orders from above. Other British officers in the region also implemented the same policy, but Kentuckians characterized Hamilton as a war criminal. George Rogers Clark, a Kentucky militia officer, eventually persuaded the Americans to undertake a daring plan to put an end to Hamilton's raiding parties by capturing various British outposts in the West. After Clark won several initial victories, Hamilton personally led an expedition from Detroit to stop the upstart Kentuckian. The British expedition failed, however, and in 1779 Clark captured Hamilton at Vincennes. Hamilton spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Clark's victory created a new military situation in the West.
As a result of Hamilton's defeat, several of the Indian tribes' loyalty to the British wavered. The Odawa and Chippewa announced their neutrality in the war. The Wyandot, camped near Detroit, announced that they planned to seek a peace treaty with the Americans. The British garrison in Detroit, worried over losing their Indian allies and fearing attack by Clark, decided to abandon the old French fort. They built a new fortress on a hill located behind the town which they believed gave them superior military advantage. The new bastion was named Fort Lernoult after Captain Richard Lernoult, who had succeeded Hamilton as commander in Detroit. It was designed to withstand an attack by an enemy equipped with cannon, a concern that Cadillac, who saw the fort's primary responsibility as resisting Indian warriors, had not taken into consideration when he placed the original fort along the river.

~Detroit in the Late 18th Century~
Welcome to Detroit...late 18th century
There is an very good book on Detroit's history written by David Lee Poremba called "Detroit: A Motor City History." Such a fascinating and easy read that doesn't become over-wrought with minute details. I highly recommend it for the reader who would rather choose something a bit lighter rather than a more deeper serious tome.
It's in this book that I have found some contemporary descriptions of the citizens of Detroit as well as the surrounding land in an official report written by Captain Henry Hamilton on September 2, 1776. Here are a few snippets from that letter
"The new settlers manage their farms to the last advantage."
"The river is plentifully stocked with fish."
"Hunting and fowling afford food to numbers who are nearly as lazy as the savage."
"The soil is so good that the most ignorant farmers raise good crops."
"There is no limit to the number of traders here."

According to Poremba, "There is mention of slaves in the early censuses of Detroit, (but) it is difficult to determine the racial origin of them. Those French inhabitants who could afford them generally purchased slaves from the Indians. Slaves were taken from rival Indian tribes  and from plantations as far away as Virginia, and they were obviously red or black. Among the slave holders were Joseph Campeau, George McDougall, and John Askin. Several slaves were sold at auction in Detroit, and some were purchased in Montreal.
The practice of owning slaves lasted until the early part of the 1800's."
And here's some descriptions from primary sources of everyday life in the late 18th century on the streets of old Detroit (taken from the book "Michigan Voices" by Joe Grimm:
The first I have here are of two offenses by a couple of residents: Two cows belonging to Mr. Wm. Scott were found in the street, and a Mr. G. McDougal left his cart in the street all night. Also, a number of hogs are running in the street daily, to the great detriment of the public.
Speaking of streets, they tended to be in just as bad a shape in the 1790's as they are today:
The street opposite the church was in bad order, and there was a log missing in front of George Leith & Co. And poor Mr. Hand had no logs at all in front of his house!
Neighbor troubles are nothing new, just ask the local tanner, Mr. George Setchelsteil. He was assaulted while on horseback by Simon Girty. It seems Mr. Girty seized Setchelsteil's horse by the bridal, making use of abusive words in doing so. Mr. Setchelsteil found some means to turn his horse away and was able to distance himself from Mr. Girty. Girty, however, was throwing stones at the man, one of which struck him in the head and gave him a wound from which much blood gushed out. Setchelsteil claimed there was no provocation given to cause this.
Ah, city life. Not much has changed, eh?

As you can see, Detroit played an important role in the history of our nation - much more important than let on by the history books.

Now, let's jump up a few years into the next century - - -
~The Early1800's ~
According to Poremba, in the late 1700's and early 1800's Detroit was home to quite a diverse group of citizens. According to Quaker visitor Joseph Moore from Philadelphia, "The inhabitants of the town are as great a mixture, I think, as ever I knew in any one place. English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch (German), French, Americans from different states, with black and yellow, and seldom clear of Indians of different tribes in the daytime."
The town they represented  had about 100 houses, shops, taverns, and St. Anne's Church.
An estimated 500 people lived in the town itself, with another 2100 on farms that now stretched from the Rouge River to the St. Clair River.
Detroit continued to be a center for commercial activity as the fur trade was still prospering and was well supplied with taverns and stores where travellers could lodge, quench their thirst, and trade their goods.

The future was filled with promise for the city.
That is, until Tuesday, June 11, 1805.
As Poremba writes so elequently:
The day began like any other day in Detroit. John Harvey, owner of a public bakery, had run out of flour. He, or his hired man, Peter Chartrand, went to the stable to hitch up the cart to drive to James May's mill for a fresh supply. One of them, history does not know who, knocked out his pipe; a live coal was blown into the hay and within seconds the blaze had spread to neighboring buildings. By three o'clock that afternoon, Detroit was wiped off the face of the earth.
A contemporary newspaper wrote:
"The town of Detroit is no longer. It was reduced to ashes on the 11th instant. The fire broke out in a stable, in the western part of town, about half past nine in the morning and raged to the degree that not one dwelling house was standing within the pickets by one o'clock p.m., notwithstanding the wind was light and blew from the west...
The loss is immense and I fear from the want of resources, irreparable. I am among the few who for our situation were able to save our memorable effects. No lives were lost. I believe history does not furnish so complete a ruin, happening by accident, in so short a space of time. All is amazement and confusion."
An artist depicts the fire of 1805 (courtesy of the Detroit Historical Museum)
In another descriptive narrative of the horrific experience, Robert Munro sent a letter to Indian Territory Governor William Henry Harrison dated June 14, 1805:
"I have the painful task to inform you of the entire conflagration of the Town of Detroit. About 10 o'clock on Tuesday last a stable, immediately opposite the factory, was discovered on fire. The first intimation I had of it  was the flames bursting through the doors and windows of the house. I immediately gave the alarm, and with great exertion saved my papers and about two-thirds of the goods of the factory; my private property was entirely consumed.
In less than two hours the entire town was in flames, and before three o'clock not a vestige of a house (except the chimneys), visible within the limits of Detroit.
The situation of the inhabitants is deplorable beyond description; dependence, want, and misery is the situation of the former inhabitants of the Town of Detroit.
...my mind is...affected with the distressing scenes I have witnessed for the last three days."

As Poremba writes in his book: Farmhouses up and down the river became temporary shelters for the homeless. Discussions soon began on how and where to rebuild. A plan was developed to rebuild on the original sites and town lots.... 
The new housing styles replaced the French-built dwellings destroyed in the fire and the town began to take on a more "American" frontier look.
For the people of Detroit it was onward and upward.

~War of 1812~

First, please allow me to give you a brief explanation (taken from the History Channel's page) about the War itself:
Firing off a cannon in a reenactment of the War of 1812 at Historic Fort Wayne
In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country's future. Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy's impressment of American seamen and America's desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a "second war of independence," beginning an era of partisan agreement and national pride.

Now, more specifically, here is information closer to home for us living in the Detroit area:
The Siege of Detroit (not the same as the one from 1763), also known as the Surrender of Detroit, or the Battle of Fort Detroit, was an early engagement in this war. A British force under Major General Isaac Brock, with American Indian allies under the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, used bluff and deception to intimidate the American Brigadier General William Hull into surrendering the fort and town of Detroit and a dispirited army, which nevertheless outnumbered the victorious British and Native Americans, without firing a returning shot
War of 1812 - Seige of Detroit
This took place on August 16, 1812 on the very spot where the photograph on the right was taken 200 years and three days later.
The British gained an important post on American territory and won control over Michigan Territory and the Detroit region for most of the following year. Brock was hailed as a hero, and Tecumseh's influence over the confederation of natives was strengthened. General Hull was tried by court martial and was sentenced to death for his conduct at Detroit, but the sentence was commuted by President Madison to dismissal from the Army, in recognition of his honorable service in the Revolutionary War. American attempts to regain Detroit were continually thwarted by poor communications and the difficulties of maintaining militia contingents in the field, until they won a naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie on 10 September 1813. This isolated the British at Amherstburg and Detroit from their supplies and forced them to retreat. Hull's successor, Major General William Henry Harrison, pursued the retreating British and Natives and defeated them at the Battle of the Thames (in Ontario), where Tecumseh was killed.
The War of 1812 left Detroit and the surrounding areas in almost total devastation. The British had burned all of the wooden buildings in the fort before they left and the Indians had destroyed the farm areas around the city, burning homes and shooting livestock. Judge Woodward appealed to Washington for relief (which) sent food for the people and livestock for the farms.
Can you believe this? Just a few years after the devastating fire of 1805, Detroit gets torched again!
But by 1816, conditions had improved.
For many on the east coast of the United States, the end of the war started a westward immigration movement...between 1815 and 1820, Detroit's population had increased from 1,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. Settlers were encouraged to explore the outlying areas...locating favorable farm and town sites.  
Detroit was incorporated as a city in 1815. and was the capital of Michigan from 1805 to 1847. As the city expanded, the street layout followed a plan developed by Augustus B. Woodward,  Chief of Judges.
The house you see in this photograph is actually a Connecticut saltbox style house from the 1750's that has been restored and moved to historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. I've not heard of saltbox style homes built in the Detroit area, though that's not to say there were none. 
I include this picture here because I believe it represents the general feel of the era of the War of 1812 very well.
I've had the pleasure recently to spend a bit of time as a modern visitor, rather than a participant, watching an era I know very little about come to life before my eyes: the Regency era.
I must admit that I have very little knowledge of the period - for some reason I bypassed the earlier part of the 19th century in my studies and went from the colonial/Rev War period straight to the mid-to-late 19th century.
I have watched the Jane Austin films (yes, I'm a guy and I admit that I enjoy watching these period dramas! Hey! It's history!) and that is the extent of my knowledge here.
The thing is, Michigan and Detroit played a prominent role in the War of 1812. And yet so little has been written in the school history books about it. And our local media have all but ignored the 200th anniversary of the forgotten war and era as well.
But I thank God for places like Greenfield Village and Historic Fort Wayne (the fort in Detroit, not the city in Indiana), for they have presented events - on the same weekend no less - celebrating the era as well as teaching thousands about the people and the War.

The following gives a bit of a description of the news of everyday life in Detroit during this regency era:
~Every Day Life in the Early 19th Century~
Detroit was becoming a lively place during this time, especially now that attacks by Indians were no longer a fear.
In 1816, workers began a road linking Detroit to the settlement of Pontiac, which was the forerunner of what was to become one of its most famous streets, Woodward.
In 1817, President James Monroe became the first U.S. President to visit the city while in office; he stayed for five days in August. This was a morale booster for the citizens and they planned a procession through the streets with a fireworks display on the night of his arrival (August 13). As a gift, the citizens gave the President horses and a carriage. Michigan territory governor, Lewis Cass, made sure the presidential visit was publicized in the east in hopes of enticing new immigrants to settle here. 
1817 was also the year the city even began its own newspaper, the Detroit Gazette, printed in both English and French.
In 1818, the Walk-in-the-Water steamboat first crossed Lake Erie and headed up to Detroit. Practically the entire town showed up for the event.  
As was printed in the Gazette on August 28: Yesterday, between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m., the elegant steamboat Walk-in-the-Water arrived. As she passed the public wharf, she was cheered by hundreds of the inhabitants who had collected to witness this truly novel and grand spectacle.
Soon after, steamers were running on regular schedules, carrying an ever-increasing volume of traffic from Buffalo, New York.. 

New buildings were being erected, among them a few bookstores and clothing shops, the Palmer brothers general store, the incorporation of the Detroit City Library (marking the beginning of the University of Michigan), a hotel called the Steamboat Hotel, which began a ferry service to Canada (whose owner also served as the public hangman), and the formation of the Detroit Musical Society.

As far as clothing, I procured the following from various on line sources, including We Make History:

The era spanning from the 1790s to the 1820s saw an emphasis on elegance and simplicity which was motivated by the democratic ideals of the French Republic but which looked back to classical Greece and Rome for its fashion inspiration. Waists were high, the directional emphasis was vertical, and lightweight white fabrics were at the height of fashions which were so simple that the lady of the time often wore only three garments; a chemise, a corset and a gown! This was an incredible contrast to the clothing of preceding and succeeding periods with their horizontal emphases, multiple layers and often heavy fabrics.
In this period, fashionable women's clothing styles were based on the Empire silhouette - dresses were closely fitted to the torso just under the bust, falling loosely below. In different contexts, such styles are commonly called Directoire style (referring to the Directory government of France during the second half of the 1790s), Empire style (referring to Napoleon's 1804–1814/1815 empire, and often also to his 1800–1804 "consulate"), or Regency (most precisely referring to the 1811–1820 period of George IV's formal regency, but often loosely used to refer to various periods between the 18th century and the Victorian).



The high waistline of 1795–1820 styles took attention away from the natural waist, so that there was then no point to the tight "wasp-waist" corseting often considered fashionable during other periods. Without the corset, chemise dresses displayed the long line of the body, as well as the curves of the female torso.
From what a Regency clothing historian told me, the fashion, although a political statement in France, caught on throughout the cities of North America, Detroit included.

For men, this period saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery, and other embellishment from serious men's clothing outside of formalized court dress. Cut and tailoring became much more important as an indicator of quality.





This was also the period of the rise of hair wax for styling men's hair, as well as mutton chops as a style of facial hair.
Breeches became longer—tightly fitted leather riding breeches reached almost to the boot tops—and were replaced by pantaloons or trousers for fashionable street wear. Coats were cutaway in front with long skirts or tails behind, and had tall standing collars. The lapels featured an M-shaped notch unique to the period.
Shirts were made of linen, had attached collars, and were worn with stocks or wrapped in a cravat tied in various fashions. Pleated frills at the cuffs and front opening went out of fashion by the end of the period.
Waistcoats were relatively high-waisted, and squared off at the bottom, but came in a broad variety of styles. They were often double-breasted, with wide lapels and stand collars. High-collared white waistcoats were fashionable until 1815, then collars were gradually lowered as the shawl collar came into use toward the end of this period.

I hope to learn more about this period in time of which I know so little. I would like to give special thanks to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan and Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit, Michigan for presenting the War of 1812 as well as the Regency era for thousands of us history buffs, and for giving me not only a new understanding of the period but garnering an interest in learning more.
Also, thanks must go to the 1812 fashion show hostess with the mostess, Ericka Osen, for giving a wonderful bit o' history of the whys and wherefores of 1812 styles as she showed the fashions of the day.

~Victorian Detroit ~
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Detroit, over the last 50 years, has gained a notorious reputation that tends to overshadow all of its good.
The Motor City. Motown. Murder City. Car Capital of the World.
Yep - that's the Detroit I know...

~~~~~Detroit - A Victorian Metropolis~~~~~

Detroit 1860: Many of the streets are still there. The houses, alas, are not.

Wait-----what??----Detroit a Victorian metropolis??
Yep. Detroit, this industrialized Rust Belt grunge town was once at the height of Victoriana.
Gas Street Light on Gratiot Avenue
1882
A frontier town in what was considered the west at the turn of the 19th century, Detroit grew in size as the decades progressed. And as the town slowly turned into a city, the frontier town atmosphere continued to prevail and "a system of plank roads leading out of Detroit was established. They follow precisely the paths of today's main arteries - Michigan Avenue, Grand River, Woodward, Gratiot, and Jefferson. There were fine residential areas on its approximately ninety streets...
In 1851, gaslights began to replace the use of tallow candles or lamps which burned lard and whale oil, (and) the curfew bell rang at six in the morning, noon, and six and nine at night to give the citizens the time."
The first signs of major industry emerged in the 1840's and 50's as the value of Michigan's timber, iron ore, copper, and other natural resources became apparent. With all of this progress, it was only a matter of time that Detroit would get the modern transport system of horse-drawn streetcars, which made their first appearance in 1863 on Jefferson Avenue.
But Detroit proper was also surrounded by small villages - the 19th century version of suburbs - and these villages eventually became part of the city itself. I'd like to tell of one in particular:
Leesville, a tiny hamlet built upon a cucumber farm owned by someone named Howcroft in 1853, was on the outskirts of the much larger *metropolis* of Detroit. The search for a church site led to the start of this village in the area that now intersects Harper (called Butler at the time) and Gratiot. Englishman Charles Lee is credited with founding the village with a Methodist church and a school. The church served the residents of Leesville for a number of years, and sources tend to affirm that this is the same church that was commonly known as "Lees Chapel," located at Gratiot and what is now Georgia Street. In those early years, church was a simple decision for the residents of Leesville: Protestants went to Lees Chapel and Catholics went to Assumption Grotto (built in 1832 and is still standing) in the nearby village of Connor's Creek.
Lees Chapel was among the few country-style churches of its time in this area.
This picture was not taken at any of Detroit's historic churches. I included it to give an idea of how the congregation may have looked in the 1860's.
A number of years later, talk of building another church occurred when a group of residents, dissatisfied with the Methodist faith, began discussion of the formation of an Episcopal mission in their town and planned to start their own small Episcopalian church. This is said to have taken place as early as the mid-1860's. The Church of Our Savior was officially founded in 1874, with Thomas Lee among the founders. 
The former Church of Our Savior: the only remnant left from Leesville still standing
The church building, located two blocks over from Lee's Chapel, was completed in 1875, and was designed by William Cooper, the eldest son of Henry Cooper, who supplied the bricks for the building. William Cooper was not a trained architect, but had worked in the building trades and trained himself to design and build. This is the small building in the classical church style that you see in the picture that I took in January 2012 above. This brick church—now painted white—was designed and built by William Cooper who was, presumably, a resident of this area.

It is certain that the Church of Our Savior is the last remaining building of the town center, which included, among other things, a general store, butcher shop and a sawmill.
By 1876, Leesville had more than 100 homes and many large farms. Bricks for many of the Detroit area's new homes were made at the Leesville and Peter Hunt brickyards.
Leesville, as stated before, was built on the site once belonging to a cucumber farmer, and that reputation stayed with the area well into the later part of the 19th century. In fact, a road in the village was named Cucumber Lane. The name was later changed to Georgia.
This early village was also a major interurban and streetcar stop, eventually becoming the site of the Detroit United Railway (DUR) streetcar barns at the turn of the 20th century. It also had its own postmaster from the 1870's through the 1890's.
Leesville got its first electric street lights in 1902, and by 1915 became part of the ever-growing city of Detroit, though some sources say it became absorbed by Detroit as early as 1896. Maybe it did at the earlier date but change and acceptance was slow in coming. Just an assumption...
There were many early villages like Leesville on what was then the outskirts of Detroit - more than 40, in fact - and they all sooner or later were swallowed up and became part of Detroit itself.
I chose to write a bit about the village of Leesville for personal reasons: this was where I was born and spent almost the first decade of my life, though, as you may have guessed, it was no longer Leesville by that time. The best part? Our home was on Cucumber Lane...er, Georgia Street.
  
 ~The Late Victorian Era~
I found another wonderful description of the motor city when it was still the carriage city:
"Detroit in 1889 was still seven years shy of the first automobile appearance on its streets and a full decade away from the opening of its first auto factory. Hundreds of companies, large and small, produced an array of products: shoes, stoves, varnishes, paints, drugs, cigars, patent medicines, boats, railroad cars, steel rails, brass fittings, soap....
Huge elm, maple, and chestnut trees shaded the streets, and gracious homes, most of the frame and painted either white or dark green, gave the new residential areas an air of comfort and well-being. The streets were paves with cobblestones and cedar blocks, and the sidewalks were made of wood. 
Photo taken on Jefferson Avenue in the late 19th century. Note the wood-plank sidewalk
The widespread use of electricity was literally just around the corner - garish 125 foot towers illuminated intersections throughout the city - but in 1889 homes and businesses still used gaslight, and trolleys still were drawn by horses."
(From the book Detroit Land by Richard Bak)
And it was only four years later - in 1893 - that the city's first electric streetcar ran along Woodward Avenue.
And then there was the local blacksmith. I have particular interest in this subject, for my great great grandfather, Wilhelm Lietz, was a blacksmith in Detroit in the 1880's and '90's. Here George Washington Stark, who was born in 1884, gives his own story of the local blacksmith from his east side Detroit neighborhood near historic Elmwood Cemetery:
"An exciting pastime for the youngsters was to look in the open door of Mr. Rivard's blacksmith shop, particularly on those days when he was busy with the big horses from Kling's Brewery. Mr. Rivard was a huge man, seemingly as huge as the horses, which he fitted with new shoes. He worked at his forge and anvil and there was no sight along our street to compare with this. The sparks flew in showers as he fashioned the new shoes with mighty blows. The shop was a long building, and in it Mr. Rivard kept rigs of all descriptions. Behind were barns where he had his own stable of fine horses. There he often rented to the people in my neighborhood."

 The Stove Capitol of the World - - - - - -
(The following comes from author Bill Loomis. It is a condensed version of a special article he wrote for the Detroit News in 2015): 
Long before Detroit became known as the Motor City, it was world famous for another iron product: stoves. In the 19th century, Detroit's four large stove manufacturers produced more than ten percent of stoves sold around the globe. Indeed, Detroit became known as the "Stove Capital of the World."
In the 1840s Detroit became a western center for iron, copper, brass and other metal foundries. Early firms included the Fulton Iron and Engine Works; Cowie, Hodge and Co.; Buhl Iron Works; Detroit Forge, and Barclay Iron Works.
The largest of them all was the Detroit Locomotive Works, on Larned at Third , where they made a variety of things, including locomotives. However, most of these early companies were small. They cast parts and built engines for the steamship industry, later for the railroads, and other miscellaneous applications such as boilers, gears, parts for carriage makers, and agriculture. By the Civil War some firms, such as Fulton Iron, were casting artillery pieces.
Box Heating Stove 1865 - 1880
Detroit Stove Works
Until the Civil War, Detroiters and most Americans still heated their homes and cooked meals using an open hearth. While there was a romantic ideal of the hearth as the spiritual center of the home, the cook had little control over the heat of a hearth, and rudimentary cooking tools left women with limited choices for meals. In addition, cooking on a hearth was exhausting, smoky, and dangerous.
Putting all that aside, the growing problem with hearths was their inefficiency and fuel cost: They burned 10 times the amount of wood as a wood-burning stove. A cookbook from 1803, "The Frugal Housewife," discussed this problem: "All the culinary processes were carried on with one immense open grate, burning as much fuel in one day as might do the same work for ten. The cook and the furniture of the kitchen get a proportion of this heat, the articles to be dressed another portion, but by far the greatest quantity goes up the chimney."
And in Detroit wood was getting expensive. If you lived on land with trees, most likely the menfolk and the work horse spent winters hauling sledges loaded with cord wood for the hearth. If you did not, fuel became an issue.
In the decade of the 1830s, roughly 2,000 Detroiters burned 200,000 cords of wood in their hearths a year. As the city expanded, more trees were cleared for land while more people were still arriving. This meant the cord wood had to be carted farther and farther from woods to market, raising the price. The areas around Detroit had been cleared and cord wood was now shipped from the north or Canada.
The first recorded heating stoves in Detroit were shipped from Pittsburgh in 1797 and sent to the military's Garrison Station.
Jeremiah Dwyer saved $3,000 and with a bank loan got started on his own iron foundry to make stoves. Along with his brother James, he took over a manufacturer that was facing bankruptcy. As Dwyer stated: "The firm had been trying to make reapers and stoves. Never a more unwise match. The sort of iron used for reapers is exactly the opposite the kind for stoves."
He established his stove manufacturing company, the Detroit Stove Works, in 1861, on the corner of Mount Elliott and Wight, near the Detroit River. There, he built his first simple, four-burner cook stove, which he called "The Defiance."
In 1866 the Detroit Stove Works received outside capitalization and Dwyer expanded the operation, moving to a new facility on East Jefferson. The business now employed 90 men and was putting out 30 to 40 stoves a day.
Due to health problems, Dwyer sold his interest in the Detroit Stove Works and spent a year resting in the South. He returned in 1871 and joined the newly formed Michigan Stove Company as operational manager. Eventually he became president.
Since the heating stoves were to sit in parlors and bedrooms, they could not be big, black iron monstrosities but needed to be tasteful, like pieces of furniture.

1890s Garland Parlor Stove
Made in Detroit by the
Michigan Stove Company
Manufacturers and their designers relied on cast iron's ease of bas-relief decoration. Simple decoration also served another purpose: it disguised some of the imperfections unavoidable when casting stove plate. Stove patternmakers selected designs to capture the spirit of the times, scenes like the opening of the Erie Canal or the Battle of Lake Erie. There were Egyptian themes, patriotic scenes, knights of the round table and more. They gave the stoves exotic names, such as the "Antelope," "Occident," and "The Golden Age." 
Detroit stove manufacturers displayed their stoves during the 1869 Michigan State Fair, where 30,000 people passed through the Domestic Hall to see rows of working stoves, whose combined heat made the exhibit unbearable for most. 
American housewives and families were proud of their kitchen stoves. A hearth may have been homey, but the kitchen stove provided real cooking options. Nationally known cookbook author, columnist and cooking instructor Maria Parola described the functionality of a stove from the 1890s: "With proper management of dampers, one ordinary-sized coal-hood of anthracite coal will, for twenty-four hours, keep the stove running, keep seventeen gallons of water hot at all hours, bake pies and puddings in the warm closet, heat flat-irons under the back cover, boil tea-kettle and one pot under the front cover, bake bread in the oven, and cook a turkey in the tin roaster in front."
Cookbooks soon changed as women could now regulate heat in ovens and on ranges. New recipes for soufflés, tarts, pies and cakes appeared that would have been difficult to impossible in a hearth.
Detroit stove companies began to merge at the turn of the 20th century, and people turned away from cast iron stoves for steel enameled stoves. Automation was being introduced which meant the end of the 19th century skilled trade groups, such as the molders and mounters. And the excitement of automobile manufacturing had replaced the public's interest in cast iron stoves. 


~The 1889 International Fair and Exhibition~
In 1889, Detroit celebrated its industrial growth and growing prosperity by holding an International Fair and Exhibition, located on 70 acres of land in the early village of Delray located just south of *Historic* Fort Wayne (which, like Leesville, would eventually become part of the city of Detroit in the late 19th or early 20th century). The main exhibit building was, at the time, the largest in the world, with a frontage of 500 feet and an exhibit area of 200,000 square feet. According to local historian David Lee Poremba, "there was 4.5 acres of glass in its walls to illuminate examples of Detroit's manufacturing might. Special trains and streetcar lines brought thousands of visitors to the fair. Steamship lines brought people from Canada and Port Huron to see the many events" which ran from September 17 through the 27th.
A bird's eye view of the Detroit Fair and Exhibition - 1889
The visitors had never seen anything such as this before. Stations for everything from a ladies temperance union to a racetrack were situated inside the fairgrounds. There was also a jail, a post office, a bandstand and "buildings drip(ing) with gingerbread bargeboard and colorful bunting...which were illuminated by soaring towers topped with electric lamps." (Richard Bak).
Local businesses set up shop as well, including retailer Mobley & Company, Detroit Soap Company (which sold there ever-popular Queen Anne Soap), and the shoemaking Pingree & Smith. There were hot air balloonists showing off, a wild west show, a carousel - it was a real carnival atmosphere. Again, Mr. Bak in his book  Detroit Land describes it best: "There was so much to take in: threshing machines, presses, and other machinery, and a seemingly endless succession of mechanical and industrial halls. Features included a palm garden, a floral palace, and miles of stalls displaying horses, sheep, cattle, pigs, poultry, and pets. There were band concerts and piano recitals and competitions of all sorts: yachting, riding, shooting, track and field, horse racing, baseball, and lacrosse. Attendees could gaze at giant prize squashes and pumpkins while being entertained by a clarion player performing an aria from Rigoletto or sit on the veranda of the main hall and try to bounce peanut shells off a passerby's derby.
The ascension of the great balloons was a major draw, as you can see from an actual photograph taken at Detroit's fair in the early 20th century.
The grounds were open daily except Sundays, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission was fifty cents for adults, a quarter for children. Steamboats and trolleys disgorged visitors to the exposition in five minute intervals. Keepers of boardinghouses cashed in by lodging strangers everywhere from the cellar to the garrett."
I wish I could have attended. Unfortunately, we were on the other side of town and had our cucumber farm to attend to. But what a time those folks must've had...

 ~Heading into the 20th Century~
George Washington Stark noted in a Detroit News article that Elmwood Cemetery “gave me my flair for the historical scene.” In 1951, for Detroit's 250th birthday celebration, he authored a pamphlet-type book entitled "Detroit At The Century's Turn." In this birthday celebration booklet, the recounting of the world of pre-automobile Detroit opens up to the reader in a wonderfully descriptive narrative:
"About 1890, when I was a small boy, one of the principal interests in my life was to watch the broad-beamed white mare, Nelly, walk a tread-mill. It was in Carrie and Conn's saw-mill located at the foot of Mt. Elliot Avenue, which was then the easterly city limit of Detroit. Nelly walked patiently, and by her endless walking she put in motion the big saw that turned cedar logs into neat paving blocks.
These blocks were hauled away from the mill in huge box-like wagons, and were dumped in piles at intervals along the dirt roads that served as streets. Soon workmen came and paved the street by laying the blocks side by side. The small spaces between the blocks were filled with tar which was poured from a large kettle that followed right behind the men who placed the blocks.
To a small boy, the tar kettle was almost, but not quite, as interesting as the cedar blocks and the saw mill. The blocks, while still in piles at the side of the streets, made wonderful play things. We children used them for our own building purposes: houses, sheds, and most often, castles in the air. We knew, of course, that sooner or later the pavers would come and knock down our lovely castles. But the blocks had to be laid and the tar had to be poured.
I now look on the cedar blocks as an emblem that represents an older way of life."

Another remembrance from Mr. Stark speaks of the delivery wagon from the same late 19th century era:
"In the warm months, Mr. Ritter, a stout German gentleman with fierce black whiskers, called around in a wagon drawn by a single horse. He had a triangular piece of steel, which he rang with another piece of steel, producing a sound that was real melody. It brought us rushing from the house with our milk pail, which Mr. Ritter filled without getting out of the wagon. The big galvanized milk cans were just in back of him, packed in ice. The milk was transferred from it to your own pitcher or pail by a measuring cup with a long handle. The process of ladling the milk from his big cans to the customer's pail or pitcher was a sort of domestic ritual.
Fresh vegetables and fruits in season were also delivered to our door. This was done by a dark-skinned farmer from beyond Mt. Elliott Avenue. He brought everything in from his farm, but I remember he was especially proud of his potatoes. He had a song about them which he continually chanted between clucking to his horse."

 ~Eating Out~
Folks generally ate their breakfast, lunch/dinner, and supper in their own homes. Going 'out to eat' was not a common activity for the greater majority of the 19th century populace. But it did occur and, being the timely newspaper that it is, the following notation is from the January 22, 2012 (yes, today - the day that I am writing this!) Detroit News:
This advertisement proclaimed a new enterprise in 1850:
Patrick Collins has opened a new Eating House on Griswold Street. Mr. Collins is a stirring man and of course will be successful. The arrangements are all "tip-top."
Eating houses featured specialties like "all-you-can- eat" oysters or green turtle soup; they usually announced "a good accommodation for victuals" such as soup, potatoes, beef, ham and so forth. Nevertheless, complaints about the food were common. With the famous French chef and cooking instructor Professor Pierre Blott moving to New York City and becoming America's first celebrity chef by 1865, Detroit newspaper editorials hoped that students of chef Blott could "relieve the country from the reproach of having but one gravy."
The earliest restaurants appeared in the 1870s in Detroit, and by 1899 the city had 169. People had come to rely on restaurants for lunch, dinner and throughout the night as night shift workers, many living in lodging houses with no kitchen, began to depend on restaurants as their only source of cooked meals.
Interesting stuff, wouldn't you say? But what about those on the go? What about the workers who didn't have time to sit in an eating house, or worked the graveyard shift when no eating houses were open? You know...fast food? Well, since there was no such thing as fast food as we know it to be  today, the next best thing would have been a lunch wagon.
Owl Night Lunch Wagon
In the 1890's, Henry Ford worked as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company, which supplied electricity to businesses and also to the few residents who wanted it. According to a Ford cousin, Ford Bryan (in his book Clara: Mrs. Henry Ford), Henry Ford patronized the Owl Night Lunch Wagon during his years working at Edison Illuminating. It was pulled to and from the curbside at Michigan and Griswold streets in Detroit by Reddy the bay horse, owned by John Colquhoun. There were stools inside the wagon and a window for take-out service. It opened at 6 p.m. and left at daybreak - this at a time when restaurants in Detroit closed up by 8 p.m. 
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I don't know about you but when I read this information for the first time I looked at the city of my birth quite differently. Too many contemporary historians tend to concentrate solely on not only the automobile era, but Detroit's extreme crime-ridden blight, most of which took place in the last half of the 20th century.
But a look at the first decade and a half of the 1900's and one can see that the early 20th century was just an extension of the late Victorian era:
Detroit - "Band concert on Grand Canal, Belle Isle Park "
(From the Photos I Like blog)


Maple Street 1914: This happens to be my great grand aunt, Mabel Robertshaw, at around age 15. I love this picture because it just seems so early 1900's, you know? It was very unfortunate that Mabel died of T.B. in 1917 when she was 18 years old.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading, re-writing, and adding to the posting here. Detroit's history is so much more rich and full than most realize, and it's this history that needs to be told.
It is sad that when colonial settlements are spoken of, Detroit is never on the list - never.
And it doesn't help that the city of my birth very rarely celebrates its colonial past - I would like to know why? I mean, even it's 19th century past is rarely celebrated; if it wasn't for those of us who do Civil War reenacting, I believe most of Detroit's pre-20th century history would be forgotten. Even Greenfield and Crossroads Villages no longer celebrate Detroit's colonial heritage - both Village's have done away with their colonial festivals.
I would love to see this city mentioned on the national stage as more than just a blip on the pages of history until the automobile era.
I suppose it doesn't help when nearly all history books I have of Detroit spend very little on pre-electric era. For example, in the book "Echoes of Detroit - A 300 Year History" by Irwin Cohen, only 8 pages out of 131 are dedicated to its first 100 years - the colonial period - and the next 18 pages takes us all the way up to 1874! Nearly 200 years in 26 pages and just over 100 pages to cover the last 125 years.
At least "Detroit: A Motor City History" by David Lee Poremba does a much better job by giving the city's early history nearly 60 pages out of 149.
Poremba's book is a rarity. Most others that I have looked at while browsing in the book stores tend to forget the founding years and concentrates mainly on the automobile years and crime.
Unless we celebrate our colonial roots here locally, it will never have a chance nationally.
But then it's easy to report the fault of a city - any city - but it's much harder to find and report the good, whether past or present.You see, it's "in" these days to kick a man (or in this case, a city) when its down. 
It's also popular these days to knock American history in general. People, for some reason, feel that for each positive there must be three negatives. To many people, there are no positives. There are no heroes.
I'm not like that. I do study and understand the negatives, of course, but I prefer to concentrate on and promote the positive. American history - local and national - is filled with positive.
And pride.
And that's what I'm all about.
Until next time, see you in time.


Here is another link for you to further your everyday life studies:

Also, click HERE for my table of contents and scroll down to where it says
Everyday Life in the 19th Century
for many articles about 19th century life.

And for you out of state visitors, Michigan has wonderful history to share with you:

















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5 comments:

janeks said...

Thanks for the great read. Reminded me of things that I had forgotten since my Detroit history class of elementary school. :-)

Jimio said...

Best article you have done so far Simply Marvelous! I would love to hear more and see photos of the early beginnings of electricity in Detroit, in lighting, locomotion and in homes and businesses. -Jimio

Historical Ken said...

Thank you both! I really appreciate hearing that.

Unknown said...

Ummmmm... the picture of the balloons at the fair is dated 1889. There is a car in that picture. It can't possibly be earlier than 1905, judging by the look of the vehicle. Please check facts before posting.

Historical Ken said...

I appreciate the comment, "unknown," though a bit on the snarky side.
The photo I posted was dated as such and obviously was not correct, but that's what it was listed as.
I do check facts before posting but, as I am human (and so was the person who wrote the date on the picture originally), sometimes mistakes happen.