The abandoned city of Detroit

Wednesday 12 to Friday 14 August

We spent time getting organised for the drive to Detroit. It wasn’t far – just 280 miles (450km) and a 4½ hour journey. We were hoping to see Lake Michigan on our left as we drove out of Chicago, but there was little to see. Industry and farming kept us away from the lake’s shore.

We had no great expectations for Detroit, it had after all suffered a major downturn in the car industry and was now regarded as an abandoned city.

We were careful with booking this accommodation, going a little more upmarket. We found our hotel, the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel, overlooking the Detroit River. It is billed as an historic upscale boutique hotel celebrated for its guest service with 106 elegantly appointed guestrooms. The receptionist gave us a wink and said she had popped us into room 325. After trundling our bags up the stairs, we found ourselves in a beautiful room with our own private sitting room looking out over the river and a lavish bathroom. Very nice!

The hotel was part of the redevelopment of the former Parke-Davis Research Laboratory which was built in 1902 as the first industrial research laboratory in the USA. It is now a National Historic Landmark.

The entire area was under gentrification with upmarket shops, trendy accommodation and office blocks.

A visit to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is an obligatory stop off in Detroit. Located in the suburb of Dearborn, it was established by Henry Ford who said:

I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…. When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition…

The museum opened in 1933 and the collection has been growing since. The building façade is a replica of the Independence Hall of Philadelphia and the entrance is grand.

Not only is the Model-T ford on display, there is a selection of models leading up to it such as Model-A, Model-B, etc. In other words Model-T was the 20th version of Henry Ford’s car before he produced an affordable car.

As well there are trains (think Stephenson ‘Rocket’) and planes (think Wright Brothers) and even the Volkswagen Westfalia camping van.

The rest of Detroit was different – sadly in tatters.

Detroit isa good place to see amazing, abandoned buildings and Lonely Planet gave us an excellent guide to some of these, such as the Michigan Central Station and the Packard Auto Plant.

An interesting excursion was to see the Heidelberg Project in Heidelberg Street, a couple of kilometres NE of downtown.

Its mission is described as:

… an outdoor art environment in the heart of an urban area and a Detroit based community organization with a mission to improve the lives of people and neighborhoods through art.

It is a forum to create art at the street level, whether it is decorating houses or showing a collection of eclectic artefacts around a garden,created by urban artist Tyree Guyton.

Through his art, Guyton has drawn attention to the plight of Detroit’s forgotten neighborhoods and spurred discussion and action.

Certainly a thought provoking visit.

So we left our comfortable hotel and the demise of Detroit and headed to Canada to see the most famous waterfalls in the world.