Historic Detroit pavilion built in 1861 opens anew in Greenfield Village

Structure previously part of Detroit Central Farmers Market during 1800s

A very old pavilion, that opened in 1861, used to be part of Detroit's Central Market in Cadillac Square. It was close to being torn down, but has been rescued and resurrected, and is ready to open at Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

DEARBORN, Mich. – A piece of Detroit history that was nearly torn down has been made new again, and is ready to be seen by visitors at Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

Now on display at Greenfield Village is a 160-year-old pavilion from the Detroit Central Farmers Market in Cadillac Square. The structure, which opened in 1861, is part of the original farmers market.

It’s one of the buildings where vegetables were primarily sold, according to Jim Johnson, director of the living outdoor museum. Johnson says the Central Farmers Market was originally in Cadillac Square, although the photographs taken then are a bit misleading now.

“A lot of the buildings you’ll see in the photographs no longer exist in that area,” Johnson said. “There was a whole block surrounding the market of brick structures that were all brick and mortar shops, in addition to all of the hucksters, as they were called, and the stall owners -- everybody that was here selling their goods. And that spilled out into the street. There was a huge area where guys just sold right out of their wagons.”

Photos of the historic Detroit Central Farmers Market in Cadillac Square, which opened in 1861. (WDIV)
Photos of the historic Detroit Central Farmers Market in Cadillac Square, which opened in 1861. (WDIV)
Photos of the historic Detroit Central Farmers Market in Cadillac Square, which opened in 1861. (WDIV)

The historic pavilion isn’t just part of Detroit history, it also helps tell Detroit history -- like why the building, and the farmers market in general, was needed in the first place.

“The city of Detroit grew by leaps and bounds each decade through the 19th century, and by the 1860s, they had a huge population to feed,” Johnson said. “So, this became one of the central points where you could go and buy your groceries.”

The market was only open for about three decades, officially closing in 1893.

“That’s when the city decided the area needed to be beautified, opened up traffic, and the central market was literally shut down almost overnight,” Johnson said.

Knowing the pavilion’s worth, the city of Detroit carefully dismantled it and rebuilt it on Belle Isle, where it sat until the late 1990s. Then, the teams from Greenfield Village moved in.

“We, a little bit under duress, had to dismantle it -- it was slated for demolition,” Johnson said. “It had become an eyesore. It ... was no longer in use. It caught fire. At one point, a car crashed into it.”

The fire damage is still visible on part of the pavilion’s structure, where they elected not to paint over it.

There were plans to fundraise and reconstruct the market in Greenfield Village in 2008 -- exactly when the economy had collapsed. It took the organization until 2019 to raise the money needed to restore the pavilion.

Construction took place throughout the pandemic, and now the structure will be open to the public. The piece of 19th century architectural beauty has been saved for us, and for the history books.

“This is extraordinary,” Johnson said. “This is a very wonderful, rare building, and we’re thrilled that we’re able to save it and now present it in a different mode.”

As you can imagine, the pavilion as it stands, as it was built in 1861, doesn’t really meet today’s codes or safety standards.

So, in order to install the structure at Greenfield Village without changing anything about the architecture, architects and engineers have built what is called a moment frame. Underground, underneath the cement, is a frame that holds the structure in place and allows it to remain as-is while meeting safety requirements.

See footage of the restored pavilion in the video player above.

More history: The sweet history behind maple syrup

About the Authors:

Nick joined the Local 4 team in February of 2015. Prior to that he spent 6 years in Sacramento covering a long list of big stories including wildfires and earthquakes. Raised in Sterling Heights, he is no stranger to the deep history and pride Detroit has to offer.

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.