Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Campus Martius Park

Campus Martius Park, in the heart of downtown Detroit, is a popular gathering space for events and relaxation. Translated as “Field of Mars” in Latin, the space reportedly takes its name from its use as a former military parade ground.

After a fire destroyed the City of Detroit in 1805, Judge Augustus Woodward, Michigan Territory’s first Chief Justice, was determined to rebuild the city on a plan similar to Washington, D.C. Surveyors began at what is now the junction of Woodward and Michigan Avenues – what they called the “Point of Origin.” The mile roads that lie north of the park draw their distance from this marker, which is on display. For example, 8 Mile Road lies exactly eight miles north of Campus Martius.

In the mid-19th century, the land within Campus Martius was low and marshy. In 1847, the city’s common council filled the park with 100 yards of earth, which allowed for the area to be developed. At the start of the Civil War, the First Michigan Regiment received their colors at Campus Martius before leaving for duty. After the war, Campus Martius was selected as the location for the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. By the 1900s, the park was mostly paved over to accommodate increased vehicular traffic.

In September 1999, Detroit mayor Dennis Archer and the Detroit 300 Conservancy established a task force to revitalize the park, selecting the firm of Rundell Ernstberger Associates to design. The overhaul was completed in November 2004. In 2010, Campus Martius Park was chosen as the first winner of the Urban Land Institute’s Urban Open Space Award for “exemplifying the social and economic transformative effect of great public centers of activity, respite, and social interaction.”

Today, Campus Martius Park is home to the Woodward Fountain, a number of sculptures, an ice skating rink in winter, an “urban beach,” and greenspace with stages for live entertainment in spring and summer. The city’s Christmas tree is placed above the Woodward Fountain and the park hosts the City of Detroit Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in November. The park also hosts the Motown Winter Blast in February and many free events and programs during the year.



Campus Martius Postcard, 1915

Campus Martius Photograph, 1928

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