Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Please Note: The Detroit Historical Museum is closed due to flooding.

Hamtramck

Hamtramck is a city in Wayne County surrounded almost entirely by the city of Detroit, with the exception of a small portion adjacent to the similarly surrounded city of Highland Park. Hamtramck is approximately two square miles and lies approximately five miles from the center of Detroit, with I-75 running along its western border and I-94 bordering it on the south.

Hamtramck was named after Jean François Hamtramck, a French-Canadian soldier who fought in the American Revolutionary War and later was commander of Fort Shelby in Detroit. In 1796 Colonel Hamtramck took possession of Detroit when British troops evacuated and remained there until his death in 1803. In 1798, the township of Hamtramck was established with his name, and settled by French people from Quebec. In 1901, it was designated a village and consisted predominantly of German farmers. 

Hamtramck owes its growth to the opening of the Dodge brothers’ plant, Dodge Main, in 1914. In 1910 Hamtramck had 3,559 residents, but between 1910 and 1920 the population grew to a staggering 46,615 due to the influx of Polish immigrants coming to work in the factory. In 1922, Hamtramck was incorporated as a city to prevent annexation by Detroit.

The Albert Kahn-designed Dodge Main closed in 1980 and was demolished the following year. In its place is General Motor’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, opened in 1985 after the razing of six churches and the homes of approximately 4,200 residents of the adjacent Poletown neighborhood.

During the past 30 years, the city has also become home to immigrants from the Middle East, particularly Yemen, as well as immigrants from South Asia, predominantly from Bangladesh. While Hamtramck, whose city motto is “A league of nations,” is now very ethnically diverse, the city’s Polish history is still reflected in its street and business names. A total of twenty-eight languages are spoken by the school children in Hamtramck.

Hamtramck has many festivals that attract residents of nearby cities. Pączki Day, also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is celebrated by Poles and non-Poles alike by eating deep fried, jelly or custard-filled doughnuts. Many of the local bakeries open early and have lines outside the door. Other festivals include the Hamtramck Blowout, an annual independent music festival, the St. Florian Strawberry Festival, the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, and the Planet Ant Film and Video Festival.

When there isn’t a festival to visit, visitors can go to the Polish Art Center, which highlights Polish art, books, and foods, and the Ukrainian American Archives and Museum, which showcases the culture, art, and history of Ukrainians. The Hamtramck Historical Museum, located next to the Polish Art Center, opened in 2013.

The city has a council-manager form of government with an elected mayor as chief executive officer. Hamtramck elected its first female mayor, Karen Majewski, in 2005. 

 


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Joseph Campau Street in Hamtramck, 1950s

Destruction of the Dodge Main Plant in Hamtramck, 1981

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