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The Corktown Neighborhood in Detroit Makes a Comeback

Detroit’s beloved historic district makes a comeback thanks to small businesses, urban farming and a whole lot of community love.

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The famed Detroit Tigers’ home stadium at Michigan Avenue and Trumbull is gone, and only a skeleton of the iconic Michigan Central Station remains, but Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood is still one of Detroit’s burgeoning boroughs, with historic buildings aplenty and new businesses and restaurants popping up left and right.

This “central hub” of the early- to mid-1900s is a "phenomenal" place for creative folks today, says Matthew Bode, pastor at Spirit of Hope church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The area’s people are "fantastic" at cultivating micro-projects, transforming empty lots and starting small businesses, says Bode, a past board member of the Greater Corktown Development Corporation.

Corktown's history

The area is no stranger to hard-workers. Irish immigrants established Corktown in the 1830s, and it quickly became home to many industrial workers, the Detroit Historical Society notes. After World War I, the area became more diverse, as groups of people moved to the area to work in Detroit’s auto factories.

The north part of Corktown was "devastated" by the Civil Rights uprisings of the 1960s, and the building of the I-75 and Lodge freeways carved up the community, Bode explains, but the people who live in Corktown have worked hard to “make their neighborhood something special,” partially with gardens and urban farms.

“It’s been a way of life in Corktown for a couple generations,” he says, noting it’s a “fantastic way to create beauty” in the neighborhood.

Spirit of Hope church runs a farm on a lot they cleaned up, which not only revamps empty space, but also serves as a lesson to church members about growing food and eating healthy. Other urban farming and gardening projects in the area include Brother Nature, The Greening of Detroit and Hope Takes Root Garden.

“Beauty lifts the spirit. Beauty gives people energy and strength,” Bode says of Corktown’s community gardens, “more than a whole lot of other initiatives combined.”

What makes Corktown special? Partly its history, but also its residents, who have a "tremendous amount of dedication," Bode says, as well as a "love for each other and love for neighborhood."

Did you know?

According to the Detroit Historical Society, here are some interesting facts about the historic district.

  • Historic Designation: Corktown is Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood. This city of Detroit Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The name: The name Corktown comes from its Irish roots. Many of the Irish immigrants who established Corktown were from County Cork.
  • Historic house: Built between 1849-51, The Worker’s Row House was just that—a residence for working class people living in the area. Located on 6th Street, between Bagley and Labrosse streets, it is one of the oldest buildings in Corktown. Wayne State anthropology students under the direction of Dr. Thomas Killion, interim chair of the anthropology department, conducted an archeological dig on the site from 2006-2008.

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