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What Detroit looked like in the late 1800s

DETROIT – Obviously, Detroit has changed -- a lot -- since the late 19th Century. Let’s take a look at some historic photos!

First up, here’s a look at Campus Martius Park sometime between 1890 and 1900. You’ll notice the lack of Christmas tree and the lack of cars. In the mid-19th century, the land within Campus Martius was low and marshy. In 1847, the city’s common council filled the park with 100 yards of earth, which allowed for the area to be developed.

At the start of the Civil War, the First Michigan Regiment received their colors at Campus Martius before leaving for duty. After the war, Campus Martius was selected as the location for the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. By the 1900s, the park was mostly paved over to accommodate increased vehicular traffic.

And here’s another look down Woodward Avenue from the Majestic Building. The former high-rise in Downtown Detroit was located at 137 Woodward Avenue. The building was constructed in 1896 for the Mabley and Company department store chain and was the city’s second skyscraper, following the completion of the Hammond Building. It contained 14 stories and stood at 223 ft in height.

This building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by Daniel H. Burnham & Company, and faced with terra cotta. This was Detroit’s tallest building, from its completion in 1896 until 1909, when it was overtaken by the Ford Building.

Take a look at this eerily beautiful photo of a car ferry on the Detroit River. These were very popular back in the day. This was taken in 1880.

This is a great shot: Ice skaters enjoying the season at the Belle Isle Pavilion. This was taken between 1893 and 1900.

Detroiters could rent skates here before hitting the frozen lake. This structure, designed by the firm Spier & Rohns, opened Jan. 1, 1893. At some point, its distinctive observation deck at the top was removed. The structure, well-loved but well-worn, was demolished in 1950

Finally, here’s the Grand Circus Park fountain in 1895! The Grand Circus Park Historic District is located along Woodward Avenue in Detroit and is roughly bounded by Clifford, John R., and Adams Streets.

The park was established in 1850 as part of the plan to rebuild the city after the fire of 1805 and the grounds include antique statues and old-fashioned fountains.

Thanks for the Library of Congress for these amazing photos, and thanks to the Detroit Historical Society and Historic Detroit for the background.


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