Boomtown Detroit (1820-1860)

Please Note: The Detroit Historical Museum is closed due to flooding.
  • 1821: The fur trade is still a key export in Detroit and Michigan, but it is starting to decline due to overhunting.
  • 1824: August 5. The territorial legislature reorganizes Detroit's city government, creating the Common Council and the office of mayor.
  • 1825: April 4. Detroit elects its first mayor, John R. Williams.  Present day John R. road is named after Williams.
  • 1825: October 25. The Erie Canal is completed.  It connects Lake Erie with the Hudson River near Albany, New York, making transportation of people and goods across New York State easier, faster and less expensive.  Roads are improved between Detroit and Toledo, St. Joseph and Chicago.
  • 1825: The first wave of German immigration to Detroit begins.
  • 1826: The U.S. removes troops from Fort Shelby.  Plans to demolish the fort are laid, and the government donates the land to the city.
  • 1827: Wayne County is divided into townships: Brownstown, Bucklin, Detroit, Ecorse, Hamtramck, Huron, Manguagon, Plymouth and Springwells.
  • 1827: Detroit adopts its city seal and motto: Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus. It means, “We hope for better days; it shall rise from the ashes.”  It commemorates the Fire of 1805.
  • 1828: Detroit’s population is 1,517.
  • 1830: Detroit’s population is 2,222. Michigan’s population is 31,639.
  • 1830: Irish immigration to Detroit to begins.  They settle west of Woodward Avenue in a neighborhood they call Corktown.
  • 1831: May 5. Today's Detroit Free Press begins publishing as the Michigan Intelligencer and Democratic Free Press.
  • 1831: Mail service begins between Detroit and the east coast.
  • 1832: A cholera epidemic devastates Detroit.  Father Gabriel Richard cares for the stricken before he, too, dies from the disease.
  • 1833: March 8. The Catholic Church establishes a diocese in Detroit with Frederic Rese as bishop.
  • 1833: June 14-15. Detroit’s first race riot occurs after Detroit’s black citizens help the Blackburns, a fugitive slave couple, escape to Canada.  This event starts the anti-slavery movement in Detroit.
  • 1834: A second cholera epidemic kills 600 Detroiters, nearly 1/8th of the city's population. 
  • 1835: November 18. Detroit's first City Hall is completed.
  • 1835: The Michigan Territory’s population reaches 85,000, which qualifies it for statehood.  Leading territorial officials develop state constitution and elect Stephens T. Mason as first governor.  However, U.S. Congress refuses to grant statehood to Michigan until 1837.
  • 1836: Detroit installs its first street signs. Most of the streets are wooden plank, but downtown streets are cobblestone.
  • 1836: Daily stagecoaches begin running between Detroit and Chicago.
  • 1836: Thirteen former slaves create the Second Baptist Church.  It is the first African American Baptist congregation, and it plays a pivotal role in Detroit’s Underground Railroad operations.
  • 1837: January 26. Michigan becomes the 26th state of the United States of America.  Detroit is its first capital.
  • 1837: March 18. The University of Michigan moves from Detroit to Ann Arbor. 
  • 1837: April 26.  Detroit Anti-Slavery Society is created.  It plays a big role in Detroit’s Underground Railroad operations.
  • 1838: The Detroit-Pontiac railway is complete.  The first cars are horse-drawn.
  • 1839: February 18. The Detroit Boat Club, the oldest in the nation, is formed.
  • 1840: William Lambert helps to operate Detroit's Underground Railroad with Sr. Joseph Ferguson, William Web and other abolitionists. Over 45,000 slaves pass through Detroit on the way to freedom in Canada over a thirty year period.
  • 1840: The United States census reports that 9,192 live in Detroit and 212,267 live in Michigan.
  • 1842: February 18. Detroit organizes its first public school system.
  • 1843: July 4. Ongoing border problems with the British in Canada lead to the construction of Fort Wayne. It is never attacked.
  • 1845: Detroit’s population is 13,065.
  • 1845: Iron ore mining begins in the Upper Peninsula.
  • 1846: Michigan becomes the first state to abolish capital punishment. 
  • 1848: The state capital moves from Detroit to Lansing. 
  • 1848: The first telegraph message is transmitted between Detroit and Buffalo. 
  • 1849: Scandinavian immigrants arrive in Michigan.  Many settle in the Upper Peninsula, but some work in Detroit as toolmakers.
  • 1849: September 25. The first annual Michigan State Fair is held in Detroit.
  • 1850: Shipping becomes Detroit's biggest industry. 
  • 1850: The United States census reports that Detroit's population is 21,000.
  • 1850: Bernhard Stroh founds the Stroh Brewery Company, following a family tradition he learned as a boy in Germany.
  • 1851: Detroit's population reaches 26,000 and it has 600 brick and 4,000 wooden buildings.
  • 1853: George B. Russel begins building railroad cars under the business name Detroit Car and Manufacturing Co.
  • 1854: The first rail connection between Detroit and New York City is completed.
  • 1855: The locks at Sault Ste. Marie are finished.  They enable ships to bring iron and copper ore to Detroit entirely by ship.
  • 1855: Italian immigrants begin to arrive in Detroit.  They settle on the east side of the city.
  • 1857: March 6. Detroiter Lewis Cass becomes the U.S. Secretary of State.
  • 1857: Polish immigrants begin arriving in Detroit in large numbers.
  • 1859: March 12. Famed abolitionists John Brown and Frederick Douglass meet at the home of William Webb.
  • 1860: Detroit’s population is 45,619.
  • 1860: The only high school in Detroit begins to accept female students.