Friday, May 7, 2021

Before Berry Gordy There Was Joe Von Battle Producing Records in Detroit

Joe Von Battle in his Hastings Street record shop

oe Von Battle was born in 1915 in Macon, Georgia and moved during the Great Migration with his family to Detroit, Michigan. In his teens, he worked doing odd jobs in Detroit’s famous Eastern Market until he found work with Detroit Edison digging trenches and burying electrical lines. During much of World War II, Joe worked double shifts. One shift at the Hudson Motor Car Company and the other shift at the Chrysler Plant across the street. When the war ended, Joe was permanently laid off like many other African American workers, displaced by White veterans returning from the war.

Joe Battle vowed to be his own boss and never work for anyone again. He added Von for a middle name as a young man, emulating European film actor Erich Von Stroheim, who he admired. When he opened his record business, he realized it was helpful on his business cards, obscuring his African American ancestory. In 1945, a narrow grocery storefront was vacated at 3530 Hastings Street in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood on the lower Eastside, Joe Von Battle stepped in and opened Joe’s Record shop.

Joe outside his store

In 1948, Joe Von Battle purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder and made a makeshift recording studio in the back of his shop. There he recorded artists like John Lee Hooker; Washboard Willie; pianist Detroit Count, who recorded “Hastings Street Opera;” Tamp Red who recorded “Detroit Blues;” Louisiana Red, Memphis Slim, Kenny Burrell, and many other country blues musicians.

Joe Von Battle recorded the final songs and sounds of the people who migrated north for a better life. His shop specialized in records that appealed to African Americans from the rural South who left to work in the automobile or steel industries for a better life. Country blues traveled with them. Joe is believed by music historians to be the first African American record producer in the post war period recording on the JVB, Von, and Battle Records labels.

His record shop played host to Detroit’s itinerate blues musicians. Typically, the music was performed live by a singer with his guitar and maybe a washboard and a harmonica player for accompaniment. Country blues was raw and rooted in the struggle for survival in a world of inherited misery. It sung about poverty, loss, suffering, desertion, death, booze, and loneliness. Country blues had its feet firmly grounded to the earth and rural life.

Joe recorded another style of music with a hopeful spiritual message born out of the same misery—gospel music. Joe was most proud of the close to one-hundred sermons he recorded of legendary pastor C.L. (Clarence La Vaughn) Franklin at the original New Bethel Baptist Church on Hastings Street down from his record shop. On Sundays, Joe would broadcast Reverend Franklin’s sermons on speakers set up outside the shop, his storefront always attracted a crowd.

Probably the most precious recordings he ever recorded were eight hymns sung by Reverend Franklin’s fourteen-year-old daughter Aretha before she signed with Columbia Records in 1960 secularizing her music. When Aretha Franklin signed with Atlantic Records in 1966, she was paired with producer Jerry Wexler who helped her become the Queen of Soul.

Aretha Franklin performing

In 1956, the Federal government announced the construction of the National Interstate Highway System spelling doom for Hastings Street, the heart of Detroit’s African American business community and further down Hasting’s Street Paradise Valley, Detroit’s legendary blues and jazz entertainment district. The construction of I-375 was a useless 1.062-mile spur that ran parallel to I-75. When the Black business community was uprooted, the financial health of many successful African American entrepreneurs was cut short.

The transition prompted a Black diaspora to the 12th Street area on Detroit’s Westside creating overcrowding and increased racial tension in the city. The Black community was boxed in by real estate covenants and red lining restricting their free movement around the city and the greater Detroit area.

Joe Von Battle moved his record shop to 12th Street in 1960, but by that time there was a new sound dominating the radio and television airways of Detroit threatening his business. “There is a different generation now,” Joe told the Detroit Free Press. “All they want to buy is that Motown stuff with that beat, and they want to dance. Today, young disc jockeys won’t play the blues. They say it’s degrading,”

Berry Gordy brought a polished professionalism and aggressive promotion to his Gordy/Tamla/Motown record labels. The new urban sound was sleek, suave, and sophisticated appealing to a broader, younger, crossover audience. The content of the music changed from the tough realism of the country blues to lyrical, hard-driving rhythms and strong choral arrangements with a strong pop music flavor.

The modern male and female groups wore fancy, matching outfits and danced synchronized choreography to the music. The Motown sound was tailormade for television and radio, taking the new music from Detroit’s Westside to the rest of the country and the globe.

Not only did the music change, the record industry changed also. In the 1960s when the chain department stores established record departments, they began selling rhythm and blues singles and albums. Rhythm and blues entered the mainstream. Independent, specialty record shops could not compete. 

Then on July 23, 1967, as if to add insult to injury, 12th Street erupted with racial strife and conflagration. The first night Joe protected his store with a weapon but the second day he was ordered by police to evacuate the premises and allow the authorities to restore order. That took a week.

In the meantime, Joe’s business was looted, torched, and hosed down by the fire department. When Joe and his family were allowed to return to the record shop, the smell of charred wood and melted vinyl hung heavy in the air. Twenty years of tape-recorded blues history, Joe’s life work, went up in smoke or down the drain.

Looters oustside of Joe's shop in July 1967


Joe’s daughter Marsha laments that “Some of the most significant voices in recorded history were on those melted and fire-soaked reel-to-reel tapes. Thousands of songs, sounds, and voices of the era—most never pressed into vinyl—were gone forever. I believe Daddy died that day. My father’s alcoholism gravely worsened after his life’s work and provision for his family was destroyed by looters and rioters.” Joe also suffered for years with Addison’s disease and died a broken man in 1973 at the young age of fifty-seven.


Marsha Battle Philpot—aka Marsha Music—wrote a biography about her father to document his music legacy. Marsha brought Joe Von Battle's story back to life in 2008 in her Marsha Music: The Detroitist blog. She writes about Detroit's African American history on her blog.

Marsha Battle Philpot also has published a beautifully written book of poetry and prose titled The Detroitist: An Anthology About Detroit dealing with the era of Detroit's white flight in the 1950s and 1960s and its impact on those left behind.

Marsha Music's Blog

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Beginnings of the Old Sauk Trail and the Building of Michigan Avenue (U.S.-12)

In 1820, Michigan Territory geologist, geographer, and ethnographer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft returned to Detroit from an expedition mapping Michigan following the Great Lakes from the headwaters of Lake Erie north and around the Great Lakes to the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Schoolcraft and his expedition returned following what early frontier game hunters called the Sauk Indian Trail across what would become the state of Michigan in 1837.

In his journal notes, Schoolcraft described the trail as a "plain horse path, considerably used by traders, hunters, and settlers." He noted that many minor trails and early dirt roads crossed the Sauk Trail making it difficult to follow in many areas without a guide.

University of Michigan paleontologists discovered that the Sauk Trail was originally formed by the migratory habits of mastodons (woolly mammoths) and ancient bison herds towards the end of the last Ice Age--the Pleistocene era--between 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago. With woolly outer fur and a dense undercoat, mastodons were well-adapted to the Ice Age climate.

Murial by Charles R. Knight--1919

Mastodon skeletons have been found along the southern corridor of the state of Michigan which U of M paleontologists named the Mastodon Trailway because of the great number of remains discovered. The woolly mammoth's Ice Age global range stretched across the northern tier of Eurasia and North America known as the Mammoth Steppe.

As temperatures rose and the glaciers began receding, the mastodons shifted their migration northward again. They co-existed with Stone Age humans who depended on them for food, clothing, and shelter until diminishing surviving herds were hunted to extinction at the end of the Ice Age. Their remains include skeletons, teeth, tusks, and stomach contents. 

The prehistoric trailway continued as a migratory path for herd animals for many thousands of years--most notably elk and deer. Paleo Americans, the ancestors of Native American Indian tribes, used the pathway as a game trail and passageway to the Mississippi River and the heartland of the continent.

Father Gabriel Richard (Ri-CHARD)

In 1823, a civic-minded Jesuit priest from Detroit, Father Gabriel Richard was elected as a non-voting delegate from the Michigan Territory to the House of Representatives for the18th United States Congress. He secured Michigan's first federal appropriation for road construction connecting Detroit with Chicago. The proposed road was surveyed in 1825 by Orange Risdon, who essentially followed the Sauk Trail across the state. Construction began in 1827 and the 210 mile road was finished in 1833 costing a grand total of $87,000.

Orange Risdon--Founder of Saline, Michigan

That year, the first scheduled stagecoach service was established from Detroit to Chicago. Settlers and businessmen from back East took the Erie Canal to Albany or Buffalo, New York, booked passage on a schooner to Detroit, and hired a stage to Chicago once they got to Detroit. The cities of Detroit and Chicago both experienced unprecentented growth in the mid-1830s.

What is presently known as Michigan Avenue has been called many names over the years. First, history records it as the Sauk Trail. It was little more than a footpath until the government improved it and renamed it Military Road. Father Richard pitched the project to Congress for security of the new frontier. Troops and supplies could move east or west on the new territorial road to defend and assist settlers. For a time, the road was known as the Chicago Turnpike, and then its name was shortened to Chicago Road.

The two-lane, highway from Detroit to Chicago has been known as Michigan Avenue since 1926 when the roadway was paved for automobile traffic. With construction of the Interstate Highway System during the Eisenhower administration in the late 1950s, many established U.S. highways were fragmented due to construction.  U.S.-12 was rerouted in some areas including the link between Ypsilanti and Saline to simplify state maps and minimize confusion for motorists. Michigan Avenue goes from Detroit to Dearborn, Wayne, Ypsilanti, Saline, Clinton, Irish Hills, Jonesville, Coldwater, Sturgis, Three Oaks, and New Buffalo before it dips into Michigan City, Indiana.

The story of Michigan Avenue may not be over. In 2020, a project was proposed in Detroit to update a forty mile stretch from Detroit to Ann Arbor, Michigan into the most advanced, high-tech roadway in the world dedicated to autonomous vehicles for the smooth and efficient flow of mass transit and high-tech automobile traffic.

Dedicated lane for automated traffic--artist rendering.

The project, supported by the Ford Motor Company, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, and forward-looking Michigan politicians, would be a model for a possible multi-billion dollar business partnership between the public and private sectors, making southeast Michigan a hot spot for municipal transportation systems and the cornerstone of the state's economic recovery. An infrastructure development company is building a one-mile pilot road at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti for further research and development.

Erie Canal Populates the Great Lakes Area 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Walter P. Reuther Assassination Attempt Foiled

Walter P. Reuther, recently re-elected to a second term as United Automobile Workers (UAW) president, lived with his wife May and their two small daughters in a modest ranch house on Appoline Street in Detroit, just south of Eight Mile Road.

In his 2013 book Built in Detroit: A Story of the UAW, a Company, and a Gangster, Bob Morris recounts the evening of April 20, 1948. After coming home late from a UAW meeting, Reuther prepared to eat his warmed-over dinner. He was opening the refrigerator door to get some peaches when he turned to answer a question from his wife and survived a 12 gauge shotgun blast through the kitchen window.

Four lead pellets lodged in his right arm, one in his chest, and the rest hit the kitchen cabinets. Reuther was taken to New Grace Hospital where doctors told him he might lose his arm. The labor leader was determined to save it. By working tirelessly at painful physical therapy, he was able to regain limited use of his arm. For the rest of his life, neither Reuther nor his family were without UAW bodyguards and traveled everywhere in an armored Packard.

The attempt on Reuther's life was not an isolated incident of industrial violence. Thirteen months later, Walter's brother Victor, met a similar fate. Bob Morris writes, "Late on the evening of May 24, Victor was reading in his living room when a shot gun blast blew threw his front living room window. The shotgun pellets ripped through the right side of his face and upper body tearing out his right eye."

Victor and Walter Reuther shaking hands left-handed with brother Roy between them.

At first the Detroit police dismissed the botched murder attempt of Walter Reuther as a power struggle among union Communists. The Red Scare was a popular and convenient scapegoat for corporate America and made good copy for the post-war press. A Detroit detective said, "Gamblers and crime syndicates have nothing to do with this. It's Communists."

But investigators began hearing underworld connections might be involved. Within five days of Reuther being shot, Detroit police--acting on a telephone tip--brought former vice-president of Ford UAW Local 400, Carl E. Bolton, in for questioning. He was charged with intent to commit murder.

Joseph W. Louisell and Carl. E. Bolton
Joseph W. Louisell, Detroit attorney known for defending suspected mob figures, argued Bolton had an alibi and was not at the scene of the crime. After three days in jail, Bolton was released and prosecutors dropped the charges. Bolton was free but still under suspicion.

During the Senator Kefauver Organized Crime Committee hearings (1951-1952), testimony suggested Walter Reuther ran afoul of the Detroit underworld.

Before the shooting, Reuther was aware a Sicilian gang, led by Santo Perrone, was acting as a strike-breaking agency for Detroit companies--big and small. Author Nelson Lichtenstein writes in The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit: Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor, "Reuther's assailants were paid by Santo 'the Shark' Perrone, an illiterate but powerful Sicilian gangster." The mid-century labor movement was the age of "the cash payoff, the sweetheart contract, and the gangland beating. It was part of the industrial relations system."

The Organized Crime Committee felt the Detroit police made no serious attempt to solve the crime or curb the anti-union violence. "The Detroit police saw industrial violence as little more significant than a bar brawl," Lichtenstein wrote.

Six years later, Wayne County Prosecutor O'Brien announced at a Detroit press conference that he had solved the Reuther shooting. Arrest warrants were issued for Santo Perrone, Carl B. Renda, Peter M. Lombardo, and Clarence Jacobs.

Donald Ritchie, an ex-con with connections with the Perrones, made a secret arrangement with UAW officials. Ritchie agreed to rat out the people involved with the Reuther shooting for a $25,000 payoff placed in escrow.

If he cooperated with authorities, he would get $5,000 after making the initial statement to the prosecutor and the arrest warrants were issued, an additional $10,000 payable when those named in the warrants were bound over for trial, and another $10,000 when convicted. If murdered before he could cash-in, Ritchie wanted the reward given to his common-law wife.

Part of Ritchie's statement to Prosecutor O'Brien reads, "The night of the shooting, I was picked up at a gas station. The car was a red Mercury.... I sat in the back seat. Clarence Jacobs drove and Peter Lombardo sat in the front seat with Jacobs. The shotgun was in the front seat between (them)--a Winchester 12 gauge pump. I was there in case there was any trouble. If anything happened, I was to drive the car away.

"Jacobs did the shooting. He was the only one who got out of the car.... I heard the report from the gun. Then Jacob got back in the car and said, 'Well, I knocked the bastard down.' After the job, they dropped me off at Helen's bar.... I had some drinks and went to see Carl Renda. He got a bundle of cash and handed it to me. I took a taxi to Windsor and counted my money after I got to Canada. Exactly five grand."

As prearranged, when Ritchie came back across the international border, he was immediately placed under the protection of the Detroit Police Department. While waiting for the trial so he could give his star-witness testimony, he told the Detroit police detail assigned to protect him that he wanted to take a shower. Ritchie escaped from a bathroom window at the Statler Hilton Hotel on Grand Circus Park.  Ritchie was on the lam. Once again, he took a cab to safety across the United States/Canada border.

At the same time, Ritchie's common law wife was given the first installment of the escrow account. Ritchie delivered on the first part of the bargain. He made an initial statement and the suspects were charged. The UAW had no choice but pay off the first escrow installment. Ritchie dropped a dime from Canada and denied his entire confession to a Detroit Free Press reporter. He said he needed the money and was taking the UAW for a ride.

Without Ritchie's testimony, Prosecutor O'Brien's case collapsed leaving him with an embarrassing fiasco. He dropped all the charges. The UAW made the stupid mistake of paying a witness. The labor organization had been swindled out of $5,000 by an ex-con.


Seconds before the confrontation.
The assassination attempt was not the first time Walter Reuther ran afoul of the car companies. On May 26, 1937, Reuther and several other labor organizers were badly beaten by Ford Motor Company Security men in what history notes as the Battle of the Overpass. This was Ford's security chief Harry Bennett's opening salvo against labor organization inside the Ford empire. 

Bob Morris writes, "This was a public relations disaster for Ford, as a Detroit News photographer captured the beating of the labor leaders. The photos... were published around the world. The attack on Walter Reuther made him one of the most recognized labor leaders in Detroit and the country."

Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen
Arnold Freeman of the Detroit Times reported that Bennett assembled semi-permanent gangs of thugs known as outside squads. A member of one of those squads "Fats Perry" turned state's evidence in 1939. He testified,
"These squads were armed with pistols, whips, blackjacks, lengths of rubber hose called persuaders, and a variety of weapons, some of which made up by a department in the (Rouge) plant itself."

On May11, 1970, The New York Times reported Walter Reuther, his wife May, and four other people died in the crash of a two-engined Lear Jet on May 9th at 9:33 PM. The chartered jet--on its final approach to the Pellston Regional Airport, arriving from Detroit in the fog and rain--broke through the clouds short of the runway and clipped some tree tops sheering off both wings. The plane crashed and burst into a fireball a mile southwest of the airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration listed a faulty altimeter as the official cause. No charges were ever filed, but the persistent belief is the crash was not an accident. Reuther was sixty-two.

Silent clip of police investigating Walter Reuther's home after the assassination attempt. His wife speaks briefly to the press. Fingerprints are taken outside the Reuther home. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ford Tri-Motor Pioneers Commercial Flight

Restored Ford Tri-Motor

In today's jetsetter world, commercial air travel is taken for granted by most people, but in the 1920s the aeronautics industry had to prove itself safe before Americans felt confident enough to board an airplane and leave terra firma. It was not until Henry Ford bought the Stout Metal Airplane Company in 1924 from designer and engineer William Bushnell that public confidence in air travel rose because of Ford's strong reputation for reliability in the automobile business.

Bushnell designed a three-engined transport plane based on an all-metal Dutch plane developed by the Fokker Aircraft Corporation. Ford kept Bushnell on as the president of Ford Motor Company's (FoMoCo) new aircraft division. Production began on the Ford Tri-Motor in 1925. At a press conference, Henry Ford proclaimed "The first thing that must be done with aerial navigation is to make it fool-proof.... What Ford Motor Company means to do is prove whether commercial air travel can be done safely and profitably."

The plane was introduced for limited excursion service as the Ford Tri-Motor in 1926. Soon, the plane became popularly known as the Tin Goose or the Flying Washboard. One-hundred and ninety-nine were produced.

Ford Airport with Henry Ford Museum in the background.

The airplane's body was clad in corrugated aluminum alloy for lightweight strength, which regrettably resulted in air drag reducing the plane's overall performance. The original Tri-Motor was powered by three 200 hp Wright engines but was upgraded to 235 hp Wright engines, and upgraded again with 300 hp radial engines. The propellers were two-bladed with a fixed pitch. The maximum air speed of 132 mph was increased to 150 mph depending on the equipped engine. The plane had a low stall speed of 57 mph. The Tri-Motor could safely reach a height of 16,500 feet with a range of 500 miles.

The Ford Tri-Motor was a combination of old and new technologies. As was common in early wooden and canvas airplanes, the engine gauges were mounted onto the engine struts outside the cockpit, and the rudder and wing flaps were controlled by steel cables mounted on the exterior of the airplane. The plane soon developed a reputation for ruggedness and versitility. It could be fitted with skis or pontoons for snow and water takeoffs and landings. The seats could be removed to carry freight.

External cables controlling wing flaps and tail rudder.

The Ford Tri-Motor pioneered two-way, air-to-ground radio communication with their planes while in flight. Once the Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch developed the Beacon Navigation System, a continuous radar signal was broadcast from fixed beacon locations across the country. Navigators were able to determine a plane's relative bearings by radio impulse without visual sightings, helping pilots guide their planes to their next destination.

Ford Tri-Motors were equipped with avionics that helped establish air corridors and domestic routes coast-to-coast making reliable commercial flight possible. Pan American Airlines scheduled the first international flights with service from Key West to Havana, Cuba in 1927 using Tri-Motors.

Transcontinental Air Transport pioneered the first coast-to-coast service from New York to California. Initially, passengers would fly during the day and take sleeper trains at night. The first commercial planes carried a crew of three (pilot, co-pilot/navigator, and a stewardess) serving eight or nine passengers. By August 1929, the planes had a passenger capacity of twelve which reduced leg room but increased profitability.

Admiral Richard E. Byrd and supply crew-1929.

To promote air travel and the reliability of air service, Henry Ford's son Edsel financed Admiral Richard E. Byrd's flight over the South Pole to the tune of $100,000. On November 29, 1929, Byrd became the first person to fly over both poles, creating more than $100,000 worth of domestic and international publicity for the Ford Tri-Motor. Byrd left the plane in Antarctica but upon Edsel Ford's request, he retrieved the plane in 1935 and had it shipped to Dearborn, Michigan for display in the Henry Ford Museum where it hangs today.

The Ford Tri-Motor became the workhorse for United States and international airlines. Known as the first luxury airliner, it redefined world travel marking the beginning of global, commercial flight: American Airlines, Grand Canyon Airlines, Pan American, Transcontinental Airlines, Trans World Airlines, United Airlines, and others flew Tri-Motors. A round trip excursion ticket from Ford Airport in Dearborn to the Kentucky Derby in 1929 cost $122 with one stop for fuel in Cincinnati.

Typical excursion advertisement to promote air travel.

The aircraft industry underwent rapid development in the 1930s when a new generation of vastly superior planes like Boeing's 247 and the Douglas DC-2 began to dominate the commercial aviation market. The Tri-Motor had declining sales during the Great Depression and was losing money, so FoMoCo closed its airplane division on June 7, 1933. The company chose to concentrate on its core business--automobiles. On a human level, the death of Henry Ford's personal pilot Harry J. Brooks during a test flight made Ford lose interest in aviation.

Originally designed as a civil airplane, the Ford Tri-Motor saw military service in World War II in the United States Army Air Force. It is believed only eight of these classic planes are airworthy today. In popular culture, it was a Ford Tri-Motor that appeared in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom leap-frogging across the map.

Ford's Willow Run B-24 Bomber Plant

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Detroit's Father Gabriel Richard

Father Gabriel Richard

One of the most influential people in Detroit's 320 year history is Father Gabriel Richard (Ri-CHARD), who was born in La Ville de Saintes, France on October 15, 1767. At the age of seventeen, young Richard entered a Jesuit seminary and was ordained a priest on October 15, 1790.

After the French Revolution, Richard and many of his fellow priests refused to swear allegiance to the new secular French Republic. He escaped the guillotine when the captain of the ship Reine des Coeurs (Queen of Hearts) made it quietly known that he was about to sail for the United States and had room onboard to smuggle a few priests out of the country. When the Reine des Coeurs sailed on April 2, 1792 Gabriel Richard was aboard. Four months later, anti-Catholic mobs in Paris murdered 200 defiant priests.

Father Richard reported to Bishop Carroll of Baltimore and began his new life in America as a mathmatics teacher at St. Mary's Seminary. In 1798, the bishop assigned Father Richard to do missionary work with the local Native American tribes and to administer the sacraments to the Catholic population in the Northwest Territory. He arrived in Fort Detroit as a priest for the Society of Saint-Sulpice.

A defining moment in the history of Detroit and the life of Father Richard was the Great Fire of June 11, 1805. A burning ember from a baker's pipe fell into a pile of hay. Within minutes, the fire spread out of control burning everything within Fort Detroit but the stone chimneys. The blaze took most of the cattle and the town's food supplies did not survive the blaze. Father Richard took control and organized men into expeditions that went up and down the Detroit River asking farmers on both sides for emergency provisions to avert famine. From then onward, Detroit residents refered to Richard as "Le Bon Pere" (the Good Father).

To comfort his parishioners, Father Richard served an open air mass that included this phrase in his sermon, "Speramus Meliora Resurget Cineribus." (We hope for better things. It will rise again from the ashes.) These words became the official motto for the City of Detroit and appear on the city's flag. This motto would have renewed significance 162 years later when much of Detroit burned once again.

Along with Chief Justice of the Michigan Territory Judge Augustus B. Woodward, Father Richard founded the Catholepistemiad of Michigania on August 26, 1817--twenty years before Michigan became a state. The school's name was neither good Latin nor Greek, just hard to pronounce. On April 30, 1821, the school was renamed the University of Michigan.

In 1835, the new Michigan Constitution adopted the Prussian model of education which was a system of primary schools, secondary schools, and a university.  A Board of Regents of twelve members was nominated to govern the university. The system was administered by the state and funded with tax dollars. The University of Michigan moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor on forty acres of Henry Rumsey's farmland bought by the Board of Regents. The first class began in 1841 and the first commencement ceremony was in 1845.

Father Richard was elected as a non-voting delegate from the Michigan Territory to the United States House of Representatives for the 18th Congress. In March 1824, he petitioned for and secured federal funding for the Chicago Road to connect Chicago with Detroit, which was later renamed Michigan Avenue. The highway ran the full length of Lower Michigan, opening it up to the West for the development of the southern part of the state.

In 1832 with a servant's heart, Father Richard cared for cholera victims for four days before succumbing himself on September 13th. His body is buried in a crypt beneath the altar of Ste. Anne's side chapel. A bronze bust designates that his tomb lies within. At least five schools in Michigan bear his name, but most Detroiters today have no idea what a giant this five-foot, two-inch man was.

Saint Annes' in Corktown 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Early Detroit River Speedboat Racing History

The Gold Cup--officially known as the American Power Boat Association (APBA) Challenge Cup--is the oldest continually-awarded trophy in all of motorsports. This huge trophy dates back to 1904 when the motorboat race was held in New York. In those early days, boats plowed through the water rather than skimming the surface. The first winning boat measured 59 feet with an 8.5 foot beam; its 110 hp Standard motor averaged 23 mph.

In 1915, the community-owned Miss Detroit won the Gold Cup on Manhasset Bay, New York. On race day, Miss Detroit's pilot could not be found, so crew member Johnny Milot jumped into the cockpit at the last minute without any protective gear next to riding mechanic Jack Beebe. Milot took a pounding on the first turn and heaved up his guts, so Beebe took over and won the race. The Miss Detroit team earned the right to defend the Gold Cup in home waters.

The single-step hydroplane was powered by a 250 hp Sterling engine. The revolutionary hydroplane design gave the boat the ability to plane over the water's surface and break the 60 mph speed barrier. The decisive win spelled the end of the speedboat displacement era and the beginning of the hydroplane era.

Detroit, Michigan became the Boat Racing Capital of North America surplanting New York as the watersport's epicenter. The Detroit River track was 2.5 miles long for a 5 mile circuit. Beginning in 1917, industrialist Garfield (Gar) Wood became the sport's first superstar winning five consecutive Gold Cup victories. During the winter of 1921-1922, the APBA changed the Gold Cup rules to make racing more competitive and affordable because Wood's boats were unbeatable. Wood retired from Gold Cup racing.

Gar Wood also won the prestigious British Harmsworth Trophy nine times in international competition. In 1932, Wood piloted Miss America X --powered by four supercharged Packard V-12 engines producing 6,400 hp, setting a waterspeed record that went unbroken for over thirty years.

In addition to Gar Wood's unchallenged reign, I found a couple of other noteworthy Gold Cup races on the Detroit River. In the 1933 competition, Dodge Motor Company heir, Horace Dodge Jr. entered eight hydrofoils in the race. El Lagarto--also known as The Leaping Lizard of Lake George (New York)--left the Dodge boats in its wake.

Due to gas rationing for War War II, the APBA suspended its Gold Cup competitions from 1941 through 1945. The race resumed in Detroit on Labor Day in 1946 to huge interest. Big Band leader Guy Lombardo piloted Tempo VI garnering lots of pre-race publicity for the sport. After a hard-fought race, Lombardo won a spectacular victory by breaking Gar Wood's average 70.412 mph lap record for the 30 mile race by 0.478 mph. Gar Wood was in the grandstands to see his twenty-six-year-old Gold Cup record broken by the bandleader.

More on industrialist Gar Wood