Tricentennial State Park

1900 Atwater at the corner of St. Aubin in downtown Detroit,
just North of the Renaissance Center

This is Michigan’s 97th state park, but the first one located within a large city. It was dedicated on May 20, 2008 by Governor Jennifer Granholm and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. This is an extremely important addition for the city of Detroit. Many urban observers assume that a city will not be seen as a dynamic, enjoyable location and a good place to live unless there are many public spaces where people walk around to shop, to enjoy parks, to hear music or to go from one music venue to another. For decades, Detroit was seen as a place where people did not do that. When crime rates were high and when black-white conflict was intense, many assumed that it was dangerous to walk the streets of Detroit, even in the central business district. When the Renaissance Center opened in 1977, it did little to change the image of the city since it was a self contained structure with a fortress-like front on East Jefferson. You could drive to the Ren Cen, work all day, enjoy a meal and then go home without leaving the building. Gradually, the situation is changing as downtown Detroit provides more public spaces where people can walk from one restaurant or night club to another, or just stroll. Greektown is now a dynamic entertainment district luring many patrons who attend sports event at Comerica or Ford Field or who see the shows at the Fox Theater. Campus Martius was redesigned to be pedestrian friendly, as Augustus Woodward probably intended. Presumably, many people will find residences along Detroit’s riverfront if there are attractive public spaces on the shore where friends will walk, ride bicycles or congregate.

After the canal at Sault Ste. Marie was completed in 1855, the river banks in Detroit became a congested jumble of docks, warehouses, rail lines, chandlers and factories. As early as 1890, Mayor Hazen Pingree realized that the riverfront was one of Detroit’s great assets and should be made attractive. Progress occurred slowly, but old buildings were gradually razed, and in the 1960s, Hart Plaza was constructed at the point where Antoine Cadillac arrived in 1701. The construction of the Renaissance Center in the 1970s did not facilitate access to the Detroit River. Indeed, some planners condemned it for cutting off access to the river. But ideas about urban planning and racial conflict in Detroit changed, and in recent years, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy—a coalition of public agencies and private groups—has been quite successful in developing Detroit’s riverfront north from Hart Plaza. One of their greatest accomplishments was creation of the Tricentennial Park that you see. The Detroit River is very pretty, giving those who walk its banks a great view of the huge ships that transverse the lakes, a great view of Canada to the south and, sometimes, a marvelous setting of the sun behind the Ambassador Bridge.

Tricentennial Park includes green grassy knolls, paths for roller bladders, runners and walkers, covered places for picnics, as well as facilities for fisher people. It provides 52 slips for personal vessels and a 63-foot tall replica of a lighthouse that stood in Tawas City, Michigan. This is a functional navigational aid with a red light that flashes every four second. It is a white conical tower with a red lantern roof. It was, apparently, the first conical brick tower built in Michigan since 1892. The designers of this great park took the opportunity to places various plaques and historic markers on this site. Some of the markers describe the arrival of blacks in the city, while a State Historical Marker in this attractive park commemorates Chapman Abraham—the first Jewish resident of Detroit—on one side and the Jewish soldiers from Detroit who served in the Civil War on the other.

You will find that this park is sometimes spelled Tricentennial State Park and sometimes Tri-centennial State Park. Planning for this park began on or before Detroit’s tricentennial year, 2001; hence the name. There are plans for the introduction of additional facilities in this park. In addition, work will begin in July, 2009 on a paved bicycle path that will connect Tricentennial Park with the newly paved bikeway in the Dequindre Cut.

Date of Official Opening: May 20, 2008
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Historic Site: Not listed. Two State of Michigan Historical Markers, noted above, are located in this park near the intersection of St. Aubin and Atwater.
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Use in 2009: State park located on Detroit’s waterfront
Websites for Tricentennial Park:,1607,7-153-10365_24648-94491--,00.html.
Photograph: Ren Farley; June 20, 2009

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