1819 : M-1, Woodward Avenue, Michigan’s First Surveyed Road

December 15, 2021 all-day

On December 15, 1819, the Pontiac Road, Michigan’s first surveyed road, was laid out in Detroit. It is now known as M-1, or Woodward Avenue.

Wikipedia takes the tale of Woodward Avenue back even further. In 1701, the first transportation routes through what became the state of Michigan were the lakes, rivers and Indian trails. One of these, the Saginaw Trail, followed what is now Woodward Avenue from the Detroit area north to Saginaw, where it connected with the Mackinaw Trail north to the Straits of Mackinac. The Town of Detroit created 120-foot-wide (37 m) rights-of-way for the principal streets of the city in 1805. This street plan was devised by Augustus Woodward and others following a devastating fire in Detroit, with a mandate from the territorial governor to improve on the previous plan. The wide width of the avenues was an emulation of the street plan for Washington, DC, and intended to make Detroit the “Paris of the West”.

Detroit was incorporated in 1815, and the initial roadway to connect Detroit north to Pontiac along the Saginaw Trail was started in 1817; this was a corduroy road built by laying down logs and filling in the gaps with clay or sand. The territorial legislature authorized a survey of the roadway to Pontiac on December 7, 1818, and the route was approved by Governor Lewis Cass on December 15, 1819, the first to be done in the future state. The Michigan Legislature authorized the construction of a private plank road with tolls to connect Detroit with Pontiac in 1848. By the next year, 16-foot-wide (4.9 m) and 3-inch-thick (7.6 cm) oak planks were laid along the road between the two communities. Tolls were one cent per mile (0.62 ¢/km) for vehicles and two cents per mile (1.2 ¢/km) for a herd of cattle. Tolls along some segments of Woodward Avenue remained in place as late as 1908.

The first automobile in Detroit was driven by Charles Brady King along Woodward Avenue on March 3, 1896, a few weeks before Henry Ford drove his first car in the city. In 1909, the first mile (1.6 km) of concrete roadway in the country was paved between 6 and 7 Mile roads at a cost of $14,000 (equivalent to $2.06 million in 2013).

Sources :

Detroit Historical Society

Also see Woodward Avenue wikipedia entry

Jessica Sheppard, “Detroit’s Woodward Avenue is one of America’s most iconic roads“, MLive, April 6, 2018.

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