2: a military trail > ::
following is a written history of Wayne Countys first
road, The River Road, now know as Jefferson Avenue through
most of Wayne County. The history starts from its earliest
beginnings as a simple path in the late 1600s through
its eventual paving in the early 1900s.
I - An Indian Trail
all great roads in the world follow what was at one time
either a trail along which animals went to a drinking or
feeding place, or a trail which man made to go to the chase
or to war.
They were built along these old trails because
quite naturally they followed the most logical line to
a given objective and avoided as much as possible the greater
natural obstacles. For this reason, all roads commemorate
the most simple and ancient things.
There is no
road in history which has existed for any great length of time,
which has not a story to tell at every turn. So it is with the
River Road. This is the oldest road in Wayne County and in order
to tell the story, we must turn back to the days when the first
settlement was established in Detroit.
landed in 1691, at what is now Detroit, roads were unknown. The
traffic and travel were exclusively by water as most of the people
lived along the larger navigable waters. Communication to the
interior was chiefly along trails used by the Indians. This section
was on the warpath of the Iroquois who made frequent excursions
to the west. There were two principal trails used by the Indians
in going to Malden to receive their annual presents from the
British. The St. Joseph Trail led up the St. Joseph River from
Lake Michigan, then overland to the Huron River and along the
latter to Lake Erie. The Saginaw Trail skirted the southern end
of Saginaw Bay and extended thence to the Rouge River and along
this stream to the Detroit River.
For more than
100 years after this first settlement, the settlers still managed
to get along without roads, but the need grew more and more apparent
as the years went by. What the people needed was ready communication
with the frontier in Ohio. This presented the first road problem
in Wayne County.
In 1799, Patrick
McNeff, a surveyor, wrote Solomon Sibley in part as follows:
of the country in respect to public roads should be taken
into consideration. The present seat of justice is in Detroit,
settlements extending thence northerly to the upper end of
the River St. Clair nearly sixty miles, and also from Detroit
to the foot of the rapids of the Miami [Maumee] River, nearly
sixty miles. To those extreme parts of the settlements there
are but two periods in the year that persons from the seat
of justice can have access to them without the help of watercraft,
namely: In the month of September by land, and in the winter
when the waters are sufficiently frozen that ice will bear
otherwise, no access to these places but by water."
Through Black Swamp
The first effort
at road building was sort of a bridge path which ran along the
west bank of the Detroit River and through the swamps in the
vicinity of Toledo to Cleveland. This followed an Indian trail
known as the French-Indian Trail through the Black Swamp to Detroit.
The Black Swamp consisted of a slightly elevated basin of impervious
clay, upon which rested a thick stratum of fertile black loam.
The surface was so level that water could not escape except by
evaporation. As there was not much evaporation it was always
wet and travelers had to virtually swim through the swamp. But
in spite of all of this, roads came into existence and this bridle
path became the modern thoroughfare, which today is called the
In the Treaty
of Brownstown, made November 25, 1808, the Indians granted to
the United States a tract of land two miles wide, and which extended
westward and northward from the Connecticut Western Reserve to
the foot of the Rapids of the Miamis of the Lakes, with the understanding
that a road should be built along it. In 1811, the President
authorized a party to survey and mark this road and six thousand
dollars were set aside to cover the expense. But the war of 1812
prevented the carrying out of the provisions of this treaty.
Another cause for delay undoubtedly was the great expense necessary
to construct the road across the Black Swamp.
2: a military trail > ::
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