Corktown Tour

corktown detroit
Sunday was the home and garden tour in my favorite Detroit neighborhood. Corktown is the oldest neighborhood in the city and for that reason the houses in this area are beautiful!  The home and garden tour attracted hundreds of visitors and it was fun to watch people experience the city for the first time.  How do I know it was their first time?  Throughout the tour I heard people ask volunteers (residents) if they were scared to be in Detroit and watched jaws drop at the sight of beautiful homes. Detroit’s poor reputation understandably makes people apprehensive about coming to the city; therefore, I always enjoy watching people’s preconceived notions fizzle and a more positive story break through.  
corktown detroit
Corktown appropriately reflects the city.  It is densely populated and buzzing with development; however, there are abandoned pockets, including one of the most infamous abandoned structures in the country.  The former train station is quintessential ruin porn and probably one of the most commonly photographed buildings in Detroit.  For that reason, I thought Danny would want to snap some pictures of it at Roosevelt Park.  Turns out he had no interest in following that trend.  Instead he took a picture of this new children’s playground.  It wasn’t until we got home that I noticed the train station was in the picture.  Although he didn’t intend to, I think he captured an interesting perspective of the city’s greatest eyesore. 
corktown detroit
Aside from being the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, Corktown is a regional favorite because it was home to Tiger Stadium.  Many people hold fond memories of watching baseball with friends and families at this location.  My memories aren’t quite as fond.  The Tigers were dreadful to watch when I was a kid and the shaky stadium left me fearful of a deadly collapse.  That said, I’m glad I am part of the history.  
The stadium’s recent history is quite complicated.  The team moved downtown to Comerica Park in 2000.  In 2008 Tiger Stadium was demolished.  Dedication to the memories of the games played there is strong and the Tiger Stadium Conservancy is fighting to preserve the field.  The lawn is maintained by volunteers and pick-up games are often played in the spring and summer.  To demonstrate interest in preservation, a historic baseball game was played on Sunday.  It was fun to watch.  The players were of all ages, played with heart, talent and without a mitt!
corktown detroit
After the Tigers left Corktown the neighborhood witnessed a decline.  Some businesses were able to maintain operation without the stadium as an anchor (offering shuttle services to the new stadium appears to have been very effective) but other businesses left.  The area was quite empty until Phil Cooley opened Slows BBQ.  The popularity of Slows can be a touchy subject in some circles but it’s hard to argue that it dramatically effected the area.  The savory barbecue, delicious mac & cheese and irresistible atmosphere attracted people to Detroit that normally didn’t leave the suburbs.  Cooley’s business venture spurred growth in the area that continues to attract new business and residents. 
corktown detroit
There are many development options in Corktown but the best homes are the oldest.  This neighborhood has the highest concentration of Victorian homes in Detroit.  These gorgeous homes capture my heart but their proximity to each other (and the wood frames) frighten me.  Some homes are so close together you literally can’t stand between them! 

corktown detroit

Most of the homes in Corktown are the two story Victorians you might expect but there are a handful of smaller homes that always intrigue me.  For instance, this worker house built in the 1850 is possibly the oldest home in the city.  This home wasn’t open to the public but I wonder if it’s as small as this similar looking house a couple streets over.

corktown detroit
Another unique home that interests me is this 1860s brownstones.  New York, Philadelphia and D.C. have plenty of these but Detroit has five (4 of them are in Corktown).  We weren’t able to tour this house either but based on the exterior I imagine it has experienced some significant upgrades.
corktown detroit

Down the street you will find another row house but this one is in desperate need of attention.  Built in 1849 for Irish immigrants it is one of the oldest standing structures in the city.  It is currently a dig location for Wayne State anthropology students but a conservation organization hopes to transform it into a Cultural Center in the future.  This has been a long standing idea and there is no timeline for the project but I hope that it becomes a reality because I’d love to see the inside.  Peeking through the open door it’s fascinating to observe how much smaller people use to be.

corktown detroit
The number of churches in Detroit is astounding.  There is one on most blocks along Woodward and they heavily dot the rest of the city.  Amazingly, Corktown doesn’t have many.  This is my guess and not fact but it’s possible Most Holy Trinity is the only church in the neighborhood.  Founded in 1834, it’s the second-oldest Catholic church in Detroit.  The structure that currently stands was built in 1856 and inside it houses a 147 year old organ.  Built in 1867, this breath-taking instrument continues to function and we were treated to a lovely musical performance by their organist.  Fun fact: The keys are made of wood. [UPDATE: A reader graciously informs me that St. Peter’s Episcopal is another Corktown church]

corktown detroit

There you have it.  A beautiful day in Corktown.  Definitely a must-see on any Detroit visitor list.  This was the highlights, more to come throughout this week!

3 thoughts on “Corktown Tour

  1. WSU Anthropology does a lot of work at sites like this row house. We have collections open to the public during the school year and we also do live updates of our work and artifacts at and on twitter and facebook. Thanks for the mention, Carrie! We loved looking at your blog this morning. Keep up the good work!


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