Detroit history | Michigan Radio
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Detroit history

Sewer cover
WikiCommons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

 

Michigan has a long list of water problems: raw sewage overflowing into the Great Lakes, PFAS chemicals in groundwater and, of course, the countless lead pipes that contributed to the Flint water disaster.

The state's first-known water crisis, though, happened more than 180 years ago.

 

Director David Van Wie and the films narrator Thomas Howell
Courtesy of David Van Wie


In 1971, the Detroit Police Department launched the S.T.R.E.S.S unit, an acronym for “Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets.”

The unit was eliminated by Mayor Young in 1974, but the stories of those three years are dark and violent.  They included tragedies of unchecked use of excessive force against the city’s African-American community. 

The LaSalle Hotel lobby, the site of the assassination of Detroit Radio personality Jerry Buckley
Courtesy of The Detroit News

Like something out of a gangster movie, radio personality Jerry Buckley was gunned down in the La Salle Hotel in Detroit 88 years ago this week.

Buckley’s killer was never found, and the mystery of his death involves mobsters, a city mired in violence, and a corrupt mayor who was recalled, in part, because Buckley protested his election on the radio.

civil rights rally in detroit
Sonny Edwards / Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

On this day 75 ago, the 1943 race riots were coming to an end. Over a three-day period, 34 people were killed in the riots. Nine of them were white and 25 were African-Americans. The event would mark a turning point in the city’s history.

Michael Jackman, senior editor of the Detroit Metro Times, joined Stateside’s Lester Graham to discuss this bloody part of Detroit’s history.

Detroit News Staff / Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the 1943 race riots in Detroit, and Stateside is exploring this violent episode in the city’s history – and its legacy in present-day downtown and Midtown.

Jamon Jordan, tour leader for the Black Scroll Network History and Tours, joined Stateside to talk about another “major flashpoint” of the riots: Woodward Avenue.

white men pulling black man from a bus
Bentley Historical Library: U-M Library Digital Collections

Today marks an infamous anniversary in our state. Seventy-five years ago today, a brawl between African-Americans and whites began on the Belle Isle Bridge.

Rich Evenhouse / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

How do we talk about Detroit?

In the 80's and 90's, the focus was on crime and urban decay. Detroit was the "Murder City." Today, the narrative is one of possibility and resurgence.

But both of those depictions were largely imposed by outsiders, and were, at best, incomplete.

In this historical photo, a group stands outside of a drugstore on the corner of St. Aubin and Mullett streets on May 8, 1950 in Black Bottom, an area that was torn down in the 1950s to make way for the Chrysler Freeway and the Detroit Medical Center.
Burton Collection

In today’s Detroit Free Press, there's an article titled Bringing Detroit’s Black Bottom back to (virtual) life.

It tells the story of a young Detroit architect named Emily Kutil who's trying to bring a neighborhood that no longer exists back to life ... in digital form. 

A visit to the Automobile Laundry in 1913 would have run you $1.50, Stone told us. That's equivalent to $36.46 today.
Public Domain

So here you are, the first on your block to buy Henry Ford's Model T. 

But roads are often dirt-covered, getting your newfangled automobile all grubby. And maybe you don't feel like hauling out buckets of water to wash it. 

If you lived in Detroit in 1914, you had a solution: take your care to the Automobile Laundry, the very first automated car wash in the country. 

A Coney Island hot dog from one of the many American Coney Island restaurants.
Flickr user Eugene Kim / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

 

A recent MLive poll asked readers: What’s Michigan’s state food? Climbing above competitors such as the pasty, the Boston cooler and Superman ice cream, the Coney Island hot dog emerged on top.

The Coney Island hot dog is an key part of Michigan’s food scene, especially in Detroit. But how did it become so popular? And how did it get its name?

Joe Grimm looked to answer that question in a book he co-authored with fellow journalist Katherine Yung, Coney Detroit.

The civil unrest began in the early hours of July 23, 1967 following a police raid on an unlicensed after-hours bar on the corner of 12th and Clairmount.
Public Domain / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

In the summer of 1967, the streets of Detroit shook with violence.

Civil unrest over lack of housing for blacks and open animosity with the mostly white police department boiled over in the early morning hours of July 23.

What began with a police raid on an unlicensed after-hours club grew into rioting and looting that devastated parts of the city and lasted for days.

Then-governor George Romney called in the National Guard, and President Lyndon Johnson sent in paratroopers to help quell the violence. 

Keith Wunderlich

Detroit is celebrating Vernors 150th anniversary this week. That celebration winds up tomorrow, when the city will try to set a world record for most pop drinkers at a time.

Keith Wunderlich, curator of Vernors collectibles, joined us on Stateside today to talk about the iconic company, which started with Ginger Ale.

A Vernor's delivery man in 1909.
Courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

Vernors, the ginger ale that has become one of Michigan’s oldest and most celebrated brands since a pharmacy on Woodward Avenue began offering it in 1866, is a century and a half old this week.

The Detroit Historical Society is celebrating with a full slate of events centered around the Mitten State’s favorite soft drink, including a June 11 party at the Detroit Historical Museum.

That event will feature appearances by James Vernor V and James Vernor VI, the great-great- and great-great-great grandsons of James Vernor, who invented the drink, as legend has it, by accident.

John R Road in Detroit. Why just the one initial?
Paul Sableman / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

When Adrian Brown moved from Iowa to Royal Oak five years ago, he noticed something funny about a road he uses every day.

 

John R Road is just that — "John R."— one initial — no last name.

 

“I have always wondered why it was called 'John R Rd', rather than 'John Rogers Road.' Why just an 'R' and not a full name? I've never seen that anywhere else that I've lived,” he said.

 

The officers of the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophet of the Enchanted Realm, 1890 including the founder, Leroy Fairchild on the right seated.
Public Domain

Does wearing exotic uniforms, wielding sabers, riding camels, or driving tiny cars sound like a good time to you? Then you might have been right at home in one of the scores of social clubs that sprang up around America hundreds of years ago.

The Freemasons, the Odd Fellows, the Loyal Order of the Moose, the Daughters of Rebekah and the Order of the Eastern Star – men and women flocked to these clubs, especially in Detroit.

Bill Loomis took a look at these groups in his piece, Hanging at the club: the golden age of fraternal societies.

The civil unrest began in the early hours of July 23, 1967 following a police raid on an unlicensed after-hours bar on the corner of 12th and Clairmount.
Public Domain / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The civil unrest that began in Detroit on July 23, 1967, was one of the most challenging and difficult events in Michigan history.

The 50th anniversary of the summer of ’67 is fast approaching and the Detroit Historical Society and other partners have launched a community-wide effort called Detroit 1967: Looking Back to Move Forward.

By Umdet (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many from the region may not know it, but Detroit once was home to a thriving financial district with its very own Detroit Stock Exchange.

Founder of HistoricDetroit.org Dan Austin recently wrote about this part of the city's history for the Detroit Free Press.

Wikimedia Commons

Detroit turns 314 years old this week, and the Detroit Drunken Historical Society is throwing a birthday party to celebrate the folklore of Detroit's French past.

The birthday celebration takes place this Saturday at the Jam Handy Building from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

1968 was a very tense and pivotal year in Detroit's history. The city was putting itself back together again after the riots in July of '67.

That was the year 38-year-old priest Thomas Gumbleton became a Catholic bishop, and set about working to unite black and white parishes in the Detroit Archdiocese.

Today, after a lifetime of fighting for peace, justice and equality, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is 85. And his life is now a film. American Prophet written, produced and directed by his parishioner Jasmine Rivera.

Flickr user Chris Smith / Flickr

The Detroit Public Library turns 150 years old this week and will be celebrating Wednesday with an event that includes architectural tours of the historic main branch. The 1921 building is an architectural wonder, and is the fourth-largest library in the nation, with more than 7 million books.

LEG Management

The first federally-funded housing projects for African-American families were built in Detroit in the 1930s. They were the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, located on Detroit’s near-east side.

If you want to hear why they were built, listen to our recent story here. Mary Wilson from The Supremes tells us about what she learned from growing up in the projects, in a story you can listen to here

For the most part, former residents who lived in the area in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s speak highly of their time in the projects. But life in the Brewsters got much tougher in the 1970s and '80s.

Flickr user Julie Weatherbee / Flickr

There's a lot of attention and talk directed at start-ups about attracting new business to Michigan.

But writer Ilene Wolff pays tribute to some venerable long-time Michigan businesses. Her story, The Century Club: Michigan firms and businesses that have truly withstood the test of time, is in the current March/April print edition of DBusiness.

user: Alden Jewell / Flickr

With the North American International Auto Show under way in Detroit, we thought we'd dig up some archival photos of what the auto show used to look like for throw back Thursday. Click on the photo above to see more images of past Detroit Auto Shows. 

Alden Jewell / Flickr

Got milk? Well, back in the day, milk trucks drove door-to-door delivering the all important staple to your home.

Twin Pines, Sealtest, Borden’s, Washtenaw Dairy and Guernsey Farm are just a few of the companies that sent hardy little delivery trucks out every day, serving up home delivery of milk, cream, eggs and cheese.

Pat Ibbotson/"Eloise: Poorhouse, Farm, Asylum and Hospital 1839-1984"

We recently stumbled across some cool, old photographs of life at one of the most well-known psychiatric hospitals in Michigan: Eloise.

Celebrating the holidays was an important part of life for the people who lived and worked at Eloise, which was located a few miles outside Detroit in Wayne County. 

House fire in Detroit.
Dave Hogg / Flickr

"Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus."

 "We Hope for Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes."

Fr. Gabriel Richard wrote that after a tremendous fire in 1805 that destroyed most of Detroit.

Those words from the French-Canadian priest became the motto of city - a city whose history is filled with many different kinds of fires.

Michael Jackman spells out this history in his story for The Metro Times.

Listen to our conversation with Jackman below.


illustrations by Patrick McEvoy and graphic design by Carl Winans / http://www.folktellerstories.com/

The Nain Rouge. Detroit's little red hobgoblin. The harbinger of doom and disaster.

The legend of the Nain Rouge goes back to the very earliest days of Detroit's history as a French settlement.

Now, the story of the Nain Rouge is being told through a series of fiction books, a graphic novel and a planned short film. Josef Bastian is the writer and creator of the Nain Rouge Trilogy and the Nain Rouge Graphic Novel. Bastian is a partner in Folkteller Publishing with Carl Winans, who is a producer and digital story-teller.

There are two dirty little secrets about journalism most people don’t realize. One is that we assume that the good is normal. If you work hard, are not flamboyant, take care of your business and don’t kill your family, you may well live happily ignored by the media.

Same goes for your community, if it is solvent and your elected officials aren’t stealing or worse.

While great breakthroughs in science or human achievement do get recognized, news tends to be about system or human failures, which is one of the reasons journalists tend to be unpopular.

We come to show you that the mayor is a crook, the legislature incompetent, your schools are failing to educate "Susie," that your city is bankrupt and the water polluted.

Col. Frank J. Hecker House in Detroit
User: Werewombat / Wikimedia Commons

The talk about blight and crumbling buildings in the city of Detroit can easily drown out another fact: The city is home to some stunning buildings that have a long history.

One of the gifted architects who helped Detroit earn a reputation as the "Paris of the West" was Louis Kamper. He envisioned not just office buildings and fabulous homes, but also bridges, hotels, police stations, and even a bathhouse on Belle Isle.

Historian Bill Loomis blogged about Kamper for the Detroit News. He says Kamper helped define the character of city's downtown architecture. 

Dittrich Furs today
User: Jamie / Flickr

When the French built Fort Pontchartrain on the banks of the Detroit River in 1701, there was a very big reason why: fur.

The trappers who brought their pelts to the fort gave Detroit its first industry.

In the 300-plus years since, Detroit's fur industry has seen good times and bad. And it is still standing in 2014.

Writer Josie Schneider tracked this history in her story for Hour Detroit magazine called Passion for Pelts. In her piece, Schneider stated that the fur industry literally formed the city of Detroit.

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