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