CuriosiD: Why Does Michigan Avenue Have Paving Slabs?

In this edition of CuriosiD the listener asks Dan Lombardo:

I was wondering why there are paving stones in Michigan and Trumbull and if they are original or if they are something they repeat every now and then.

-Dan Lombardo

The short answer

The Good Roads movement in the 1870s, started by cyclists, pushed for better roads to ride on. The streets used to be made of wood, gravel and dirt, which were difficult to drive on when it was raining or snowing. City planners tried various solutions to improve the streets, including granite, asphalt, and brick. Michigan Avenue and Grand River Avenue were among the first in Detroit to receive paving stones. Today, Corktown residents have fought to keep the cobblestones of Michigan Avenue feeling the “historic” feel of the neighborhood.

Bre’Anna Tinsley / WDET

Michigan near Trumbull looking south to downtown.

The historic street

Michigan Avenue was first built in 1807 by former Governor Lewis Cass and Father Gabriel Richard as a military road connecting Detroit with Fort Dearborn. Cass and Richard received $ 3,000 from the federal government to pave the street with oak logs and cover it with dirt. Most of the roads were paved the same way or with gravel during this period.


Michigan Department of Transportation

Horatio “Good Roads” Earle

Horatio “Good Roads” Earle

Most people might think that cars created the demand for better roads. However, automobiles did not become popular until the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, in the 1890s, when cycling became very popular, people began to advocate paved roads.

In the middle of the 19th century, the inner cities had more paved surfaces than connecting roads. Those who traveled by horse or carriage could easily stroll down the road even in muddy weather. However, as cyclists became more popular, the need for paved roads increased.

When cyclists came by, they wanted to cycle to different cities, ”said Todd Scott, executive director of the Detroit Greenways Coalition, a nonprofit that focuses on creating greenways and green spaces in the city. “And they went to the country and the roads were in a terrible state. And so, cyclists began the Good Roads movement in the United States to take those roads and build them properly. “

One of these proponents was Horatio Earle. Earle was a Detroit resident and president of the League of American Wheelman, a cycling group that was among the first to advertise bike paths along public highways. The good road movements spread across the country.

Paving stones were laid on Michigan Avenue in the 1890s. Michigan Avenue and the Grand River were among the first to get the paving stones in Detroit.

During his road improvement efforts, Earle received a Senate seat and pushed for the creation of a State Highway Department that would eventually become – or perhaps, the Michigan Department of Transportation MDOT.

Under Earle’s administration, the country’s first mile of concrete road on Woodward Avenue was paved with Edward Hines, former chairman of the Wayne County Road Commission.

Brick roads no longer practicable

Brick streets were just one of the solutions tried to improve the streets below Earle.

Paved manhole cover on Michigan Ave.Bre'Anna Tinsley / WDET

Bre’Anna Tinsley / WDET

Manhole Cover on Michigan Ave.

Missing Brick on Michigan Ave.  Bre'Anna Tinsley / WDET

Bre’Anna Tinsley / WDET

Missing Brick on Michigan Ave.

They paved it in different ways, ”says historian Joel Stone of the Detroit Historical Society. “Michigan Avenue and the Grand River were both paved with bricks. While Gratiot was paved in ground granite and Woodward Avenue and Jefferson were paved in asphalt. “

According to Stone, the bricks seemed like a good solution and were easy to work with at the time.

It was pretty easy to take off and pretty easy to fix. You pull up the bricks when you have to go down a sewer, and you can put the bricks back as they came up. “

That is not the case today. Rita Screws, manager at MDOTMaintaining Ziegelstrasse is much more difficult today, according to the Detroit Transportation Service Center.

The art of building brick roads is long gone. “Screws says. “With a road as old as Michigan, we have a lot of mistakes. It will be expensive to fix because we have to commit to it and the people who have the skills are not so readily available. “

In fact, she says, the stones that were exchanged on the parking strips along Woodward during the construction of the QLine were rejected eight times.

MDOT worked on removing the brick. However, Corktown residents have struggled to keep them in place to preserve the neighborhood’s historic aesthetic. Instead, the department suggested replacing the brick with punched concrete, which still resembled brick.

The community agreed and agreed to it, ”said Tim McKay, a Corktown resident and president of Corktown Experience. “Because we were mostly fed up with the state of Michigan Avenue. But it was all about keeping the atmosphere going. “

This agreement was made just prior to the recession and has since been suspended until funding can be found.

Today the bricks are still in Corktown. Michigan Avenue in its entirety is registered as a Historic Site by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Marlborough Street near Jefferson on the east side of Detroit.  Sandra Svoboda / WDET

Sandra Svoboda / WDET

Marlborough Street near Jefferson on the east side of Detroit.

Not the only paved road

Grand River was also paved but has been covered since then. As well as other streets in Detroit.

Marlborough Street is paved with bricks between Jefferson and Essex in the far east of Detroit.

I know too, and people who drive around Detroit will see that, “says Joel Stone.” If the pavement peeled off a lot of our streets, there are still a lot of brick streets in the city of Detroit. “

Over the phone

Dan Lombardo on Michigan Ave. Bre'Anna Tinsley / WDET

Bre’Anna Tinsley / WDET

Dan Lombardo on Michigan Ave.

Dan Lombardo is an electrician from Waterford. His grandfather moved to Corktown in 1920. His father was later born on the Porter Street neighborhood. He says his father would always say he was born “in the shadow of Tiger Stadium”.

I always thought he knew a lot about the area, ”says Dan. “I would ask him why there are cobblestones on the street and he’ll say, ‘I don’t know they’ve always been there. ‘I thought if he didn’t know, I don’t know if anyone would ever know. ”

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