Hazen Pingree’s early plans for a Detroit Riverwalk

Detroit elected Hazen Pingree mayor for four terms starting in 1889. During his time in office, he proposed a plan for a park along Detroit’s riverfront. The park would replace the industrial uses which kept the public from the river.

During the past decade, his vision for a more green waterfront has not only come to fruition but been expanded upon in length, running from just beyond both the MacArthur Bridge (at Belle Isle) to the Ambassador Bridge — if not further eventually.

George W. Stark’s book City of Destiny published in 1943 provides some background on Pingree’s pursuit.

Had Mr. Pingree had his way, Detroit’s sorely-neeed improved waterfront would have been started in his time and the city’s front door today an entrance of beauty, instead of pretty much an eyesore. For he proposed public acquisition of the waterfront from the Third street eastward [near Joe Louis Arena today] to include the old City waterworks site at the foot of Orleans Street [midpoint of today’s Milliken State Park]. He would have vacated about eighteen blocks in that area and converted it into a public park with an esplanade of shade trees, walks, lawns, pavilions and driveway.

It was a beautiful idea and periodically there is a revival of it, with plans and specifications brought down to current scale, indicating that, like all the pioneering dreams, this one will become a reality some day. In Pingree’s time, owners and lessees of riverfront property protested and conservative citizens denounced the plan as fantastic and ruinously extravagant.

If alive today, Stark and Pingree would likely agree. The Detroit RiverWalk is fantastic.


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