part 1: an indian trail :: part
3: river road gets resurfaced > ::
The 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.
II a Military Road
Road as a Military Road
At the opening
of the War of 1812, General Hull built his famous military road
across the Black Swamp. The road was poorly located and not constructed
to meet the requirements of even the light traffic of that time.
This road was not used much after the passage of the army and
soon it was overgrown with brush. It cost the Federal Government
over 20 million dollars to move a few companies of soldiers from
Ohio to Detroit. During the war, flour was sold at Detroit for
fifty dollars a barrel.
effort was a little more successful. In 1817, from 150-200 troops
then stationed at Detroit were employed in opening a road to
Fort Meigs on the Miami [Maumee] via Frenchtown [Monroe]. This
road was established by authority as a military road 66 feet
wide and laid out and worked by order of the President.
was passed in Congress on April 4, 1818, requesting the Secretary
of War to communicate progress and prospects for the completion
of this road.
with a request for a report, Major General Alexander Macomb,
on November 27, 1818, wrote, in part: "Completed seven miles,
Detroit to the Rapids. The road is a magnificent one, cleared
of all logs and underbrush. Bridges were built of strong oak
framework. One of the bridges, on which men are working, is 450
feet long. Will complete the bridges first before continuing
with the road."
road was established at 66 feet wide, the axmen cut a strip 80
feet wide. About thirty miles of this road was completed.
sketched the road and called it "The Great Military Highway," and
sent it along with his report. [This may be called the first
road map and a photostatic copy is in our possession.] The full
width did not remain for very long, as encroachments soon cramped
the road back to resemble and Indian trail.
Extension to the Capitol
Many men who
had seen service in the War of 1812 urged Congress for continuation
of the road eastward. Appeals were made both by civil and military
officials in the Northwest who urged that such a road was necessary
to bring the region into contact with the rest of the Union.
The extension also was believed necessary to facilitate settlement
of the Territory, to increase land sales, and to give the people
already there an outlet for their products. Governor Cass showed
that such a road could be made a branch of the Cumberland National
Road, thus bringing Detroit into direct communication with the
In 1823 Congress,
stirred by the many appeals, granted land for the construction
of a road from the Connecticut Reserve to the Maumee River. Thus,
the agreement made with the Indians fifteen years before was
carried out. Twenty thousand dollars were appropriated to improve
the road built by the soldiers from Detroit to the Maumee. This
was the first regular grant made by the Federal Government for
Great Military Highways
several roads were projected to lead out of Detroit. These roads
were laid out under the direction of Governor Lewis Cass and
were called the Five Great Military Highways. These roads radiated
in all directions and comprised the River Road from Detroit to
Perrysburg, Ohio; Michigan Avenue, from Detroit to Fort Dearborn
in Chicago; Grand River Road from Detroit to the mouth of the
Grand River; Woodward Avenue, from Detroit to Fort Saginaw; and
Gratiot Avenue, from Detroit to Fort Gratiot north of Port Huron.
A map of the Territory of Michigan in 1825 showed these roads
and they were marked United States Roads.
highways had a width of highways of 100 feet, although they were
laid out as military roads, they served primarily the purpose
of peace and commerce. As a matter of fact it was until the great
world war in 1917 that any of these were used as military roads.
The River Road was the only one of the five that served this
purpose. This road was filled to capacity with huge motor trucks
carrying war materials from Detroit to the sea.
29, 1829, the Legislative Council of the Territory sought to
aid the efforts of Congress by authorizing a lottery, the proceeds
of which were to be used to build a road between Detroit and
Miami. Here we have local aid being given to bring about roads.
It may also
be mentioned here that "The Niles Register" for October11,
1823 said" "Mr. Gabriel Richard, a Roman Catholic Priest,
has been elected a delegate from Michigan Territory." This
was probably the first instance of the kind in the United States.
Father Richards efforts in improving roads is well know
around Detroit. His district at that time extended from Detroit
Development of Roads
From this period
on there was a gradual development of roads. Roads were built
into the interior. State coach lines were established. One of
the first lines was along the River Road to Ohio.
the days when the coaches and wagons ha to plow and wallow through
the mud. Then there were days when ladies felt just grand jostling
in leather carriages over corduroy. There were days when people
said of asphalt: "It is bad for horses, which are constantly
falling upon it. The sound of hoofs at night keeps sick people
and light sleepers awake. A fine dust is constantly coming in
through open windows." There were the first doubtful days
of concrete, which ushered in the day of the motor car; the ideal
of the future.
:: < part 1: an
indian trail :: part
3: river road gets resurfaced > ::
:: back to the top ::