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The stories behind Detroit's historic street names

Woodward. Cass. John R. You've driven on the roads, but do you know the history behind their names?

Morning Musings 🤔

We have a lot of automotive history in Michigan, but we actually have a long list of national firsts when it comes to automotive infrastructure.

In 1909, Michigan had the nation's first mile of concrete highway built by the Wayne County Road Commission (Woodward Avenue between 6 Mile and 7 Mile roads in Detroit).

In 1922, Michigan had the nation's first practical highway snowplow.

In 1927, Michigan was the first to use yellow centerlines to designate no passing zones.

In 1977, Michigan was the first to construct a bicycle path alongside an interstate freeway. (the 37-mile-long I-275 path)

We have so much history in the state -- it's almost overwhelming.

Side note: Today is my mom's birthday. Happy Birthday, mom! You're amazing!

- Ken Haddad (Have a comment or topic idea? Contact me: Email | Twitter)

Morning Dive 🏊

The Motor City is known for its road layout, but how did that layout come to be and who are those roads named for?

Here's some background on some of the names from the Detroit Historical Society:

WOODWARD, AUGUSTUS Augustus Brevoort Woodward was born in New York City in 1774. After college, he became the first practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C. An acquaintance of President Thomas Jefferson, Woodward was appointed as a territorial judge in the Michigan Territory, arriving in Detroit just days after the 1805 fire. Emulating Washington, D.C.'s hub-and-spoke street plan, Woodward laid out a striking vision for his new hometown, including a main thoroughfare that bears his name.

When the British occupied Detroit during the War of 1812, most American officials departed. Woodward remained, advocating for fair treatment of the town's citizens. Following the conflict, in addition to his court docket, he endeavored to establish a university, laying the groundwork for the University of Michigan.

Woodward's personality made him a lightening rod for criticism and he made powerful enemies. After 19 years in Detroit, he was assigned to a judicial post in the Territory of Florida. He died there in 1827, a lifelong bachelor.

WILLIAMS, JOHN R. Born in Detroit in 1782, John R. Williams was the first mayor of the City of Detroit. Williams was appointed to the army in 1796, but he resigned in 1799 and to form a trade partnership with Joseph Campau, his uncle. While trying to obtain supplies for his business in Canada, Williams was in a duel in which he shot Robert Cavalier, Sieur La Salle. Sieur La Salle was only wounded, yet Williams was put in jail in Montreal for several months. During The War of 1812, Williams became Captain of an artillery company where he was once again taken prisoner.

After the war, Williams moved briefly to New York, but in 1815 the Williams Family returned to Detroit. In Detroit, Williams was appointed Associate Justice of the County Court and was later made a County Commissioner and Adjutant General of the Territory. He assisted with the writing of the City Charter of 1824 and served as the first mayor of Detroit. He would go on to serve as mayor for six terms, spread out over the period from 1824 – 1846.

Williams was married to Mary Mott and the couple had ten children. John R. Williams died in 1854 and is interred at Elmwood Cemetery. One of Detroit's main thoroughfares, John R. Street, is named for him.

CAMPAU, JOSEPH Born in Detroit on February 20, 1769, Campau was considered a successful business man, although it has been cited that he was in actuality, a "slum lord." Campau was the grandson of original settler, Jacques Campau, who came from Montreal to Detroit in 1708. Educated in Montreal, Campau returned to Detroit to open a general store on Rue Ste. Anne in the 1790s. Simultaneously, Campau was a fur trader and land speculator while serving as a trustee of Detroit among other political posts.

Learning several Native American dialects, Campau was known as Chemokamun (Big Shot). Campau was married to Adelaide Dequindre and the two had twelve children. Campau died on July 23, 1863, and at the time of his death he owned over $10 million worth of real estate, making him the largest landowner in Michigan and one of Detroit's wealthiest citizens. Campau is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

CASS, LEWIS Lewis Cass is one of Detroit's most renowned politicians. He served as territorial governor for 18 years and shared the national political stage with such titans as John Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. He served as a State Senator, Secretary of War, Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, and was a Presidential candidate in 1848.

Cass was born in New Hampshire in 1782. After graduating from Exeter Academy, he followed his family to Ohio. Following military service in Detroit as an officer during the War of 1812, Cass became an outspoken advocate for Michigan. He co-founded the Historical Society of Michigan, penned the state motto and designed the state seal.

Following his years as Territorial Governor, Cass had a long and successful career in Washington. As national events moved towards open conflict and a Civil War, Cass took a strong stance on preserving the Union. When President Buchanan would not support the strengthening of federal forces at Fort Sumter, Cass resigned as Secretary of State.

Cass' resignation caused a "profound sensation" throughout the nation and reaction ran along sectional lines. The Charleston Mercury called him a "trickster" who quit because war was not made on the South. But his friends in Detroit felt differently. Wrote one, "Come home, the whole city would welcome you with open hearts and hands…I do not believe a man could be found here (even of your political opponents) who does not honor you for your present act and feels proud that you are from Michigan." Cass returned to Detroit and throughout the Civil War strongly supported the Union cause.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, bought property just west of Detroit's village limits. At a pleasant farmhouse near the river, they welcomed visiting dignitaries and hosted regular gatherings. After an illustrious career, Lewis Cass died in 1866 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. He is one of two political leaders who represent Michigan in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, DC.

ALGER, RUSSELL Michigan governor Russell A. Alger was born in Medina County, Ohio on February 27, 1836. Alger was orphaned at the age of eleven and was forced to support himself, his younger brother and his younger sister.

He worked on a farm to make ends meet, and he also attended school at Richfield Academy. Alger studied law and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in March of 1859. Alger moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan in December of that same year, just before the Civil War.

In Grand Rapids, Alger met his future wife, Annette H. Henry. They married on April 2, 1861. On September 1, 1861 Alger enlisted in the Union Army as a private. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a major general by the time of his retirement in 1864.

After the war, Alger moved to Detroit where he started a successful business within the logging industry. He became head of R.A. Alger & Co., president of Manistique Lumbering Company and a director/stockholder of the Peninsular Car Company and the Detroit National Bank.

Alger successfully ran for governor on the Republican ticket in 1884. His election ended the two-year reign of the Greenback Party in Michigan. During his time in office, Alger formed a soldiers home, a pardon board and a state mining school along with passing legislation to help regulate the Lake Superior ship canal.

In 1897 Alger was appointed to President William McKinley's cabinet as Secretary of War. In this role, he oversaw the U.S. military operations during the Spanish-American War, a job for which he received much criticism. Alger ultimately resigned from the post and returned to Michigan. Russell A. Alger was not yet done with politics. When U.S. Senator James McMillan died in 1902, the governor of Michigan appointed Alger to complete his term. He remained a senator until he died on January 24, 1907.

JOHN C. LODGE FREEWAY The John C. Lodge Freeway, also known as M-10 or The Lodge, is a state route that runs from Detroit to West Bloomfield, Michigan. Its southern terminus is at Jefferson and Randolph Street in Detroit and the freeway runs northwesterly to Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield.

The Lodge was built in segments during the 1950s and 1960s. The intersection of the Lodge and the Edsel Ford Freeway, which was built in 1953, was the first complete interchange between two freeways built in the United States. In 1987, the freeway was named The John C. Lodge Freeway, after the man who was the mayor of Detroit from 1927-1928, and who had a great influence on the city. The freeway originally consisted of three segments, the Lodge, the James Couzen's highway and the Northwestern Highway.

Today, all three segments are combined and the entire route is called the John C. Lodge Freeway, although the service drives along the freeway have kept their original names. From 2006 to 2007, the Lodge was closed for major reconstruction, including pavement reconstruction and rehabilitation, repairs or replacements to fifty bridges, utility upgrades, new barrier walls, renovation to twenty-two ramps, and replacement of freeway signs.

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- Ken Haddad (Have something to say or a topic idea? Contact me: Email | Twitter)

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