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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pause: Some Background About Gratiot Avenue

I have often called Gratiot Avenue "the byway of our life." It has an interesting history of its own, but for my childhood family the history began the night my parents married at Gratiot Park Methodist Church in Port Huron and drove sixty miles south on Gratiot Avenue to Aunt Edith's house in Detroit. We later lived in Roseville, just north of Detroit, and regulary took Saturday or Sunday drives down Gratiot Avenue to Port Huron (before I-94 came), and it was Gratiot Avenue that took us to church (and later high school) every week for 15 years. After those years, we built a home just a few miles east of Gratiot and 23 Mile Road, and later...much later...just up a shaded hilltop from Gratiot Avenue --just a mile or so from the church where this story begins, came the final words of the final chapters. They are written in stone at Lakeside Cemetery. For this reason, for my extended family, Gratiot Avenue is a more than line on a map; it is timeline spanning half a century. 
Here is how this avenue got its name.

Just as the young furniture maker Duncan Phyfe was establishing his business in New York City, Old Detroit was destroyed by a fire in 1805. President Thomas Jefferson appointed Judge Augustus Woodward to design a new city plan, and in 1807 he presented this drawing, but just as the work began, Mr. Woodward and his team ran into a little hitch: the British invaded the continent and reclaimed Detroit in the War of 1812. It was not until 1815 that Woodward’s design for a new Detroit began in earnest. The heart of the city's lay-out was a hub called Grand Circus Park. The hub had five long avenue “spokes” that would eventually reach out to other cities far away. These original five avenues still radiate from the hub, but the city itself is overshadowed by a maze of interstates and freeways.

The first avenue runs along the scenic waterfront and was named after the President who authorized the plan: Jefferson Avenue. 

Michigan Avenue heads west to—where else?—Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan (1817)— but more interestingly it continues due west (M-12) to the south end of Lake Michigan where it historically dog-legged north to Chicago ending with what is now called "The Magnificant Mile" of—what else?— Michigan Avenue.
Grand River Avenue goes northwest to the Grand River Valley near Lansing. In this sense the term "Grand" in this Avenue's name goes from the east to the west shoreline of the state, because from Lansing, in that time,the avenue and the Grand River became a pathway of trade and commerce to Grand Rapids, continuing on to Grand Haven where the river enters Lake Michigan. I now live just a few miles from that spot (and will be watching fireworks there tonight at the Coast Guard Festival).

Woodward Avenue (M-1) is Detroit’s “Main Street.” It is the shortest of the five original avenues (27 miles northwest from Detroit to Pontiac), but it is famous for being home to the first mile of concrete pavement ever laid on the face of the earth (The year was 1908, two years after the Ford Motor Co. was founded).

The Avenue I've not yet mentioned was named after Colonel Charles Gratiot, a hero and chief engineer of the War of 1812 who built a fort in what is now Port Huron, Michigan. It was later named Fort Gratiot in his honor, and the 60-mile "spoke" that connected the Fort to Detroit is Gratiot Avenue. Ten years later, the Erie Canal brought new residents from the East, and fifteen years after that, Michigan had enough residents to became a state.

A place called Fort Gratiot still exists on the North side of Port Huron. The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is an icon in my family's life, and three blocks away is the old Gratiot Park Methodist Church where Mom and Dad were married. That night after their wedding, my parents headed south on Gratiot Avenue and drove that long two-lane road to Aunt Edith's house in Detroit. See... I'm still telling the same story about "Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe." In fact, it was during this same time period, that the original Duncan Phyfe's cabinet-making shops in New York City occupied numbers 168, 17o, and 172 on Fulton Street.

The correct pronunciation of "Gratiot" is a mystery that only people in the Port Huron-Detroit corridor seem to know. It was a French name, but it's been anglicized. The first syllable sounds like "grass" with an "H" on the end. It is not pronounced Gra-T-ot but more like "grasshut." (In fact, must people put a soft "i" in the last syllable and it sounds like a warning sign on the lawn of a petting zoo, but this is hard to explain on a family-friendly blog so I'll leave it at that.)


Blogger J_G said...

I've never been to Motown aka Motor City but I have driven cars that were designed and manufactured in and around the area. I know about Windsor, Hamtramck, Lansing, Saginaw, and a few of the other plants that have been the staples of American automobile manufacturing since it's beginning.

I'm going to do my own historical account and future predictions on my home town Philadelphia in the next day or two. I think Detroit and Philadelphia both can carry the moniker "once great city" for right now because things are at a point where they can be turned around.

Thanks for the historical accounts especially on the names and where they came from. That really interests me because investigating the names of cities and forts usualy puts you on the road to the real history of the location.

4/8/07 8:40 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You do such a good job with your historical accounts. I'm looking forward to reading about Philly.
In my case, I grew up in the Detoit area and still never learned much of this until this weekend with the help of Google.
I'm still planning to post the next part soon... we'll see.

5/8/07 4:58 PM  

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