(Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilcox under Creative Commons license)
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Wilcox under a CC license)


“The strait.” That’s the meaning of the word Detroit. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, thought of that word because of how Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair connect by the Detroit River.

Many cities utilize the water they are on. Most cities are based around bodies of water, whether that is a river, a lake, or the ocean. Historically, that was the way to get around before automobiles became the mode of transportation. Detroit utilized their riverfront as best they could when the city was founded.

When the city was founded, most of the land around the French was swampland. They took the challenge, and well, it’s pretty obvious they helped shape the city we have today. Originally, the riverfront was utilized for shipping. Many companies and businesses, especially ship-builders and dry docks, were set up in the early 1800s. One of the companies, the Globe Trading Company, was where Henry Ford was an apprentice machinist. It’s where he apparently learned about combustion engines from 1880-1882.

That is just one of the many buildings near or on the riverfront. Part of the riverfront is the Rivertown/Warehouse District. That area, was supposed to become the new casinos, but that fell through in the 1990s, and they were built elsewhere in Downtown Detroit.

When the city burned in 1805, much of what was burned was actually dumped right into the river. Woodward Ave. ran right to the river back then, before Hart Plaza arrived. What was dumped into the river helped form the current coastline you see today.

(Photo courtesy of ellenm1 on Flickr)

Detroit became the automobile manufacturing capital of the world in the 1900s. Many of the logging barons invested in the automobile industry, and soon, the riverfront became prime real estate for factories to ship their products to other parts of the world. One of the names you might recognize is Uniroyal.

If you recognize that name, you may automatically think of the giant tire on the side of I-94 Eastbound towards Detroit, just past the Southfield Expressway. That giant tire was originally a ferris wheel at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.

Uniroyal’s offices were in Allen Park, just off of I-94, and after the fair it was disassembled and shipped back by train and was erected next to the offices. It still stands today, even though the company has been bought and moved elsewhere by Michelin.

Uniroyal had plant on Jefferson, right on the riverfront, just west of the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. It has been demolished since 1985. Included in the former site were MichCon and DuPont plants. It is one of the most contaminated sites in Detroit, and it’s right along the riverfront, prime real estate.

It is now being cleaned up and will be ready in less than 18 months for redevelopment. Former NFL star Jerome Bettis is one of the main people involved with the project.

When that is finished, businesses are expected to come from around the country to invest in the prime real estate that is the old Uniroyal Tire Plant site.

The Detroit International Riverwalk runs from Joe Louis Arena all the way to Belle Isle, a stretch of about five and a half miles of pure beauty. The riverfront is something Detroiters and Michiganders should take pride in.

It is operated by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, which started in 2003. The riverwalk was able to get going in part thanks to private contributions. General Motors contributed $135 million and $50 million from the Kresge Foundation.

Construction has been a constant on the riverwalk, at certain parts. Most of the riverwalk was completed by 2006 with adjustments here and there.

One part of the riverwalk extends from the foot of the river all the way Gratiot Ave., on the southern edge of Eastern Market. It’s called the Dequindre Cut. It used to be a railway for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. The railroads supplied many of the factories on the riverfront and on the east side of Detroit. Service stopped in the late 1980s. It was thought to be a new expressway for the new casinos that were proposed. When that didn’t happen, the future of the former railway was up in the air.

That’s when the DRC came along and invested in it for their own use. They wanted to make it a greenway. Once the funding was official, they opened it in 2009 with a bike and walking path.

The riverfront is open every day, and it’s completely free, unless of course you pay for parking. Many events happen each year as well. They have a promenade, a bike shop, a merry-go-round, a snack bar, a water fountain and much, much more. The summer is the busiest time of the year for the riverfront and with so many things to do, it’s like taking a vacation right down the street.

For more information on the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Detroit Riverwalk, and the Dequindre Cut, visit www.detroitriverfront.org.

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