In the year 1909, the only concrete road in the United States could be found at Woodward between 6 Mile (now McNichols) and 7 Mile roads. Before this, roads were mostly not even paved, or if they were, they were paved with brick, cobblestone or “macadam,” which was really just stones sprayed with tar to feel like a wear-resistant surface. This “macadam” didn’t last for a long time, and brick and cobblestone were also uneven, so Detroit decided to pave that section of Woodward. Shortly afterward, Wayne County invented the first painted center line and also the “world’s first below-grade superhighway,” the Davison.
Woodward Ave., as we know it today, was named after Augustus Woodward, a Michigan Territory judge in the early 1800s who was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Woodward was also the president of one of Michigan’s first banks. “The Town of Detroit” created the principal city streets in 1805, following a huge fire in the city, and the plan was copied from Washington, D.C.’s street plan, with wide avenue widths, since they wanted Detroit to be seen as the “Paris of the West.”
Mr. Woodward named the street for himself but responded to criticism of this by saying “the street is named Woodward because it runs wood-ward, towards the woods.” Sections of Woodward Ave. in the past has been known as Congress Street, Witherell Street, Saginaw Road/Turnpike and Pontiac Road.
Michigan banned the sale of alcohol in 1916, three years before Prohibition became the law of the United States. Because of this, rum and other spirits were smuggled in from Windsor using various methods. Certain boats docked in Windsor on the Detroit River would have documents for South America, but instead would drop off shipments in Detroit. Another way was in wintertime, when the river froze and “rum runners” would drive across the river, usually ‘driving’ light cars with small engines; these vehicles were called “whiskey sixes” by the smugglers because of their six-cylinder engines.
Vernors is one of the United States’ oldest soft drinks, and it was created by James Vernor, a well-respected Detroit pharmacist. He owned a soda fountain that was next to his pharmacy on Woodward Ave. Lore says that he was working on a “medicinal tonic” of vanilla and spices, adding ginger for calming purposes, and he was then called to serve in the Civil War, in 1862; when he returned from his time there, he opened the barrel and found himself a “sweet” surprise.
For the first few years that Vernors was out, Vernor’s soda fountain was the only place where you could purchase it. When demand increased, Dr. Vernor sold his product to other soda fountains and stores.
One would think that Coney dogs, famous in both Coney Island, NY and in Michigan, originated in New York. It actually originated in Michigan, although the exact location has not been pinpointed. There are three that claim to have originated it: American Coney Island, Lafayette Coney Island (both in Detriot), and Todoroff’s Original Coney Island (Jackson).
In case you’re not a native Detroiter, a Coney dog is a beef hot dog topped with all-meat (no beans) chili, white onions and yellow mustard. A “true” Coney dog uses products entirely made in Michigan.
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