Detroit’s motto translated into English reads “We hope for better things.. It will rise from the ashes.” That motto has been the focal point of Detroit’s story of decline and renewal, all the way back to the 1805 fire that left the city in ruins.
In the wake of that inferno that killed no one but leveled the city, a new plan was drawn up that is the genesis of how our region looks to this day. That plan used a marker in the center of Campus Martius as the basis for surveying all the way out into farmland — land that is now the modern-day suburbs.
On Monday, the Downtown Detroit Partnership unveiled a refurbished display for the “Point of Origin.” Rediscovered when today’s version of Campus Martius Park was built in 2004, the stone marker that’s a few feet below ground is visible again, day or night through a special transparent window looking into the earth.
I spent a few minutes with one of our favorite Detroit authors, Karen Dybis.
Daily Detroit: What’s so important about this point of origin?
Karen Dybis: What is so great about the point of origin is it really is a marker or a landmark for where the city Detroit started. But also where it could have gone and the Woodward plan as it’s known. So, Augustus Woodward who was one of the founders so to speak of Detroit in it’s more modern sense, the post-fire Detroit. He had wanted to kind of create this grid like system of parks and roads. The point of origin was going to be the perfect blend of how to have those points, the spokes on the wheel go out. It was lost in a way when that plan didn’t go forward. The city kind of grew up around it and its own way, then they added all the freeways and everything got all higgledy-piggledy. So this kind of puts us back to square center. It says we value what it is that made us and what makes us great. Which is really honoring the people and the places that brought the city to its current state.
Daily Detroit: As a writer of Detroit history what brings you out here? Why is today’s event special?
Dybis: Well, one point during all the different construction on Campus Martius and the restaurant that’s associated with it; they had covered over the point of origin to the point where it was nondescript. All you could see was it looked like maybe it was a cap to a manhole. It really negated that important legacy in that part of our history. Now that they honored it with not only a unique, clear, vision into the point. They also brought in the idea of what Woodward wanted to accomplish, which is the radius of the roads. So the secondary installment around it of these new street lines, really make it a must see and a new landmark for a new generation of Detroiters.
A version of this story originally appeared on the Daily Detroit News Byte podcast. Learn more here.