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Encyclopedia Of Detroit
Corktown Historic District
Corktown is the oldest surviving neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, though it is only half as old as the city itself. Corktown derives its name from the Irish immigrants who settled there; they were primarily from County Cork. By the early 1850s, half of the residents of the 8th Ward (which contained Corktown) were of Irish descent. Historically, the neighborhood was roughly bounded by Third Street to the east, Grand River Avenue to the north, 12th Street to the west and Jefferson Avenue/Detroit River to the south.
Originally much larger in area, Corktown was reduced in size over the years by numerous urban renewal projects, the building of light industrial facilities and the creation of the Lodge Freeway. The remaining residential section is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a City of Detroit Historic District.
As the initial destination of many of Detroit's immigrant populations, the Corktown Historic District has been home to the people who worked in Detroit's industries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Irish immigrants with enough money to take them beyond the crowded boroughs of New York City and Boston established the neighborhood in the 1830s. They built detached homes and rowhouses in the Federal style, a reflection of the architectural fashion of the time.
As the area's population grew and the years passed, modest one- and two-story Victorian townhouses with Italianate, Gothic and Queen Anne features joined the earlier buildings. Though by the 1890s an increasingly affluent Irish population was scattering throughout the city, Corktown would soon become home to other ethnic communities. Around 1900, three men from the island of Malta settled there and a number of their countrymen followed.
After World War I, letters home describing plentiful auto industry jobs turned a trickle of immigrants into a veritable flood, with many of them settling in Corktown. In the 1920s, Latino populations arriving from the Southwest and Mexico came to Corktown seeking work in Detroit's auto factories, adding yet another layer to Corktown's rich history. Corktown suffered in the 1950s and 1960s, however, when "urban renewal", highway construction, and business district encroachment swallowed up or flattened dozens of residential blocks.
Today the homes, businesses, and churches that form the Corktown Historic District offer a glimpse of the lives of generations of immigrants who helped build Detroit.