The city of Detroit has a lot of great places where you can enjoy the outdoors, go shopping, and dine all in one outing but none is more well-known than the triangle-shaped, one-block district just west of Lower Woodward. I’m of course talking about Capitol Park.
– 19th Century –
Capitol Park is spelled with an “o” because it was once a seat of government. When Michigan was admitted to the union in 1837, Detroit served at the state’s first capitol. When the capitol moved to Lansing in 1847, the building became Detroit’s first high school and the surrounding structures turned residential.
One structure across from the school was a stable belonging to a local hotel owner named Seymour Finney. It is now known that Finney hid runaway slaves pursuing freedom in Canada in his barn on the last leg of their journey. Legend has it that slave catchers in pursuit stayed at his hotel on Woodward while the slaves they were seeking hid just a few yards away…
– 20th Century –
After the high school burned down in 1893, the area became a greenspace (hence the name “park”) and the triangle block saw the rise of several banks along the perimeter. Following the stock market crash of 1929, the banks in the district began to close but were replaced by various restaurants and retailers, catering to the city’s rapidly growing population. By the time Detroit’s population peaked in the early 1950s, 23,000 Detroiters traveled to and through Capitol Park every day resulting in the construction of a transit terminal in 1955.
The ensuing years saw the start of Detroit’s population decline resulting in the demolition of the terminal in 1979. Over the next thirty years, most of the retailers that had contributed to the bourgeoning commerce of Capitol Park made their exit, but the district remained a transit hub through the 20st century.
– 21st Century –
By the late 1990s, Capitol Park was Detroit’s busiest bus stop but the buildings surrounding it had lost their luster. Then in 2009, all transit operations moved two blocks west to Cass and Michigan to the new Rosa Parks Transit Center.
Since its departure, scores of Capitol Park buildings have been fully rehabilitated, bringing them back to their original charm. The park has also seen the reintroduction of grass and a newly constructed dog park, made possible by a $50,000 public-private match.
Today, Capitol Park grows more active each time a building opens its doors and reintroduces foot traffic, making it a great place to live, work, and play.
Jeff Brown is a Program Manager for Rock Ventures. Ann Arbor raised and East Lansing educated, Jeff has lived in Detroit since 2013. Follow @motownjeffbrown for his Motor City exposés and digital shorts.