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1831 Thompson

Oren C. Thompson [1806-1900?] joined the Agency of the American Tract Society in Michigan and spent the winter of 1831 in the state. He returned the next year and had long service as a minister of the Congregational church in Michigan. In 1849 he became treasurer of E.B. & S. Ward's line of steamers and later became a banker in Detroit.

Among the passengers who came ashore at Detroit from the steamer Henry Clay, in the month of August, 1831, was the writer of this paper, then a young man direct from Princeton Theological Seminary, bearing a commission from one of the national benevolent societies to labor in the new Territory of Michigan. Detroit, though called a city at that time, contained only three thousand inhabitants. The capitol of the Territory was built and stood far out on the commons away from the business and dwellings of the embryo city. Jefferson avenue, the principal street, was open as far up the river as the residence of C.C. Trowbridge, and as far down the river as Cass street, where the Mansion House then stood on a bluff high above the river. It was a first class house for the times. Beyond these points the road meandered along the shore.

The hotels of the city were the Mansion House, which was the most fashionable; the Steamboat Hotel, the most popular, and the Eagle Hotel, the most accessible. Besides these there were a few smaller taverns; one on the road to Pontiac stood where the Purdy House now stands. The remains of the old fort were still standing on Fort street.

Of all that which then made up Detroit, either in persons or buildings, little now remains. The men whose faces were familiar on the street have mostly disappeared. Standing now on the corner of Jefferson and Woodward avenues you can see nothing that one saw then save the sky overhead, the river in front of the city, and Joseph Campau's house. On the corner where King's clothing store now stands (southeast corner of Jefferson and Woodward avenues) there was a one story wood building with two round pillars supporting the end of the roof, forming a porch. The building was occupied as a drinking saloon. On the corner below this stood a story and a half saddleback wooden building in which a Mr. Gray kept the best assortment of dry goods in the city. His principal clerk, Mr. Lewis, is still seen among us. A little incident that serves to illustrate the extent of trade in dry goods at that time is this: A man entered the store to purchase cloth for a coat: he found a piece that suited him and ordered it cut off. As the shears were being applied he said, "Stop, Mr. Gray, I will take two patterns." "No," said Mr. Gray, "it would break our assortment."

The city market house stood in the middle of Woodward Avenue South of Jefferson Avenue. In this market the French language was vernacular.

On the northeast corner of these avenues stood the best mercantile building in the city, viz.: Smart's two story brick block. The Bank of Michigan, E.P. Hastings, President, and C.C. Trowbridge, Cashier, stood on the northwest corner of Jefferson Avenue and Randolph street. It was a one-story, four-roof brick building.

The writer of this paper went on board the steamer Argo one morning bound for Fort Gratiot. This boat was a novelty in the way of steam-boats, at least it would be so now in the eyes of a ship-carpenter. It was literally what is called a dugout. It was made of two logs put together in the form of a large canoe, decked over, and on this platform was placed a cabin and the engine.

From: OBSERVATIONS AND EXPERIENCES IN MICHIGAN FORTY YEARS AGO by Rev. O.C. Thompson. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections 1 (1900): 395-396.

See Also:

Wayne County Historical and Pioneer Society. Chronography of Notable Events. Detroit: O.S. Gulley, Bornman & Co., 1890: 159-160.