Sunday, July 9, 2023

Detroit's Famous Eastern Market

What was to become known as the Eastern Market began as a hay, lumber, and cordwood market in Detroit at Cadillac Square in 1841. Soon after, farmers from the countryside brought their produce there, and the area became known as the Central Market. 

As the city grew, so did the market. City aldermen decided to relocate the market in the mid-1880s on two sites to better serve city residents and give farmers and livestock owners other venues to sell their products. Detroit's Common Council named them the Eastern and the Western Markets.

The first Eastern Market structure was built in 1886, but on December 23, 1890, a fifty-one mile an hour wind gust collapsed the roof of the structure. Farmer Agustus Barrow and his wife were at the market selling their produce from their wagon. To protect themselves from the wind, Barrow drove under the shelter when the roof fell in on them.

Both of Barrow's horses were killed and Barrow's head was split open. Mrs. Barrow had both arms broken and her shoulder dislocated. Mrs. Lizzie Valentine lost eleven chickens and her chicken coops in the collapse. In all, several wagons were crushed and two horses were killed. Claims against the city totalled $10,522.50.

Old school home delivery.

The subsequent investigation found that the stone foundation the cast iron columns of the structure rested upon were not securely anchored. Nor was the huge, umbrella-shaped timber roof attached to the pillars at the top. Weight and balance held the structure together. The judge who heard the case sided with the plaintiffs and found the city negligent.

The demolition and reconstruction of a secure pavilion became a city priority. Within three months, the Northwestern Stone and Marble Company was awarded the contract to regrade and pave the vacant lot for $2,300. A month later, Detroit's Common Council approved $20,000 to construct a new and improved covered pavillion. The Western Market was also funded $20,000 for improvements to that facility on Fort Street.

Proposals for Shed 1, an open-air sheltered pavilion in a cross shape supported by sturdy cast iron columns anchored at each end, were opened on September19, 1891. Nine construction companies bids ranged from $15,330 to $17,708. The lowest bidder, M. Blay & Son, was awarded the contract. 

Completed on April 26th, 1892, the pavilion contained over 150 covered stalls with many more uncovered stalls surrounding it. The market clerk collected ten cents for every wagon standing on market property, and an ordinance was passed making it illegal to sell produce or livestock within 500 feet of the Eastern Market boundaries. Additional sheds were built through the 1920s with Shed 5 being built in 1939. 

During World War II, the Eastern Market became a hub for the wholesale food distribution industry and an important part of America's war effort. With the construction of the I-375 in 1964, the interstate cut through the footprint of Shed 1, so the original building was torn down.

In the 1970s, murals began to decorate the stalls rented by farmers and the surrounding buildings making the area colorful and festive. In 1974, the Eastern Market was designated a Michigan Historic Site, and in 1978, it was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the Eastern Market is the largest public market in the United States covering forty-three acres at 2934 Russel Street between Mack and Gratiot Avenues. The market also boasts the largest open-air flowerbed market in the country. On a typical Saturday, 45,000 people shop in many of the specialty shops in the market district.

Since 2015, the Eastern Market has hosted the annual Detroit Festival of Books on the third Sunday of July. It is the largest book festival in the state of Michigan. Housed in Shed 5, this event is free to the public and attracts over 10,000 people from Metropolitan Detroit. My wife and I hope to see you there next Sunday on July 16th, from 10 am until 4 pm.

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