Location in Wayne County and the state of Michigan
Downriver includes the communities of:
Allen Park, Brownstown Charter Township, Ecorse, Flat Rock, Gibraltar, Grosse Ile Township, Huron Charter Township, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, River Rouge, Riverview, Rockwood, Southgate, Taylor, Trenton, Woodhaven, Wyandotte
The name derives from the fact that the Detroit River, after running more or less west along the banks of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, then bends to flow largely south before emptying into Lake Erie. Communities to the south of the city can thus be accessed by traveling downriver (as opposed to upriver) along the waterway.
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In the 20th Century, the urban communities in the northern and middle parts of Downriver were mainly populated with workers who were employed by the dozens of auto factories, manufacturing suppliers, ship builders, steel mills and chemical plants that called the area home, including the Ford Rouge Plant Complex, Great Lakes Steel, McLouth Steel, and BASF.
While heavy industry is still an important source of jobs, these communities became home to more white collar workers in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as the economy of Metropolitan Detroit diversified, larger single-family houses were developed and improved freeways made commuting longer distances feasible.
Brownstown Township, Flat Rock, Gibraltar, Huron Township and Rockwood in the southern parts of Downriver were predominantly rural communities during the first half of the 20th Century. While these communities experienced significant population growth and became more suburban during the second half of the 20th Century and 2000s, some working farms can still be found in these towns.
Today, Downriver overall is largely known as a suburban Detroit region with working-class residential neighborhoods and recreational opportunities focused on boating, fishing, bird watching and waterfowl hunting areas around the Detroit River. The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, and an extensive network of recreational trails built under the Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative are two environmental conservation and recreation projects in the region.
The News-Herald is a local newspaper for Downriver, publishing on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The proximity to Canada, coupled with residents associated with The Purple Gang, made Downriver one of the nation's major bootlegging hubs during prohibition. According to "Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor" by Larry Englemann, "Soon after the passage of prohibition thousands of residents of the downriver communities began participating in rum-running and consequently reaped nearly unbelievable riches from their activities. During the prohibition years, in Ecorse and the other downriver towns, crime paid. Lavishly."
Differences of communities
Downriver communities near Detroit and Dearborn (such as Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Wyandotte, River Rouge, Melvindale and Ecorse) were developed in the 1920s-1940s and are identified by brick and mortar homes (often bungalows), tree-lined streets and Works Progress Administration-designed municipal buildings, much like the homes you would see within Detroit's city limits. Communities that developed further south — like Southgate, Taylor, Riverview, and Trenton — in the 1950s-1970s are more closely identified as tract homes and subdivisions. Through the 1980s, areas such as Huron Township, Flat Rock, Rockwood, and Woodhaven was undeveloped, some of which still have operating farms.
The Downriver cities of Ecorse, Gibraltar, River Rouge, Riverview, Trenton and Wyandotte as well as Brownstown Township directly border the Detroit River. Grosse Ile is an island community located in the middle of the Detroit River between mainland Downriver communities and the Canadian towns of LaSalle, Ontario and Amherstburg, Ontario.
Socially speaking, the Downriver communities collectively have a distinct cultural identity within suburban Detroit although some individual Downriver communities share many similarities with towns in the western, northern and eastern suburbs of Detroit.
Taylor is the most populous city in the Downriver area and includes the Wayne County Community College Downriver Campus, Michigan State Police Metro South Post, Southland Center, a sports complex called the Taylor Sportsplex, Oakwood Heritage hospital, Taylor Meadows and Lakes of Taylor golf courses, Wallside Windows Factory, Cruisin' Telegraph, and Heritage Park where in August, the city hosts the Junior League World Series.
The rock band Journey's 1981 arena-rock anthem "Don't Stop Believin'" mentions an imaginary place named "South Detroit" that has caused widespread speculation for decades that the location referred to Downriver. During an interview with New York Magazine's online entertainment web site Vulture published on January 10, 2012, former Journey front man Steve Perry explained the origin of "South Detroit" in the song. According to Perry, he merely chose the geographic reference because it sounded best in the song, and it was not intended to refer to a known area such as Downriver.
Parks and recreation
Cruisin' Downriver is an annual car show and cruise that takes place on M-85/Fort St. in the Downriver cities of Southgate, Riverview, Wyandotte and Lincoln Park. It has run yearly since 2000, with people bringing their vintage cars to be seen and heard. There are also places to eat, drink, and shop along the route.
As of 1989, the most common ethnic identities were German, Irish, and Polish. Other ethnic groups included Southern Whites, Blacks, Italians, and Hungarians. Ethnic festivals occurred during the summers. As of that year, historically most people growing up in Downriver stayed there after entering adulthood.
Downriver communities were once known for their large number of people of Southern origin who had migrated to Michigan to work in the automotive industry during the early to mid-20th Century. This migration slowed after World War II; today, distinctively or predominantly Southern neighborhoods have not existed in Metro Detroit, including Downriver, for several decades.
The composition of the workforce in Downriver communities is diverse as residents work in white-collar and blue-collar occupations. One of the largest employers is the Ford Motor Company which has a large industrial complex in nearby Dearborn and numerous other area plants. In addition, residents work in professional jobs in downtown Detroit.
Downriver is also home to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, in Romulus.
Notable residents or natives
- Steve Avery (Trenton/Taylor/Dearborn), professional baseball player
- Lucille Ball (Wyandotte), actress
- Joe C. (Taylor), Kid Rock sidekick
- Lloyd Carr (Riverview), former University of Michigan head football coach
- Archie Clark (Ecorse), former NBA basketball player
- Dann Florek (Flat Rock), actor
- Max Gail (Grosse Ile), actor
- Bob Guiney (Riverview), appeared on The Bachelor
- William S. Knudsen (Grosse Ile), automotive industry executive and U.S. Army General
- Charley Lau (Romulus), former MLB hitting coach (d. 1984)
- John Long (Romulus), Former professional basketball player Detroit Pistons
- Bud Lynch (Wyandotte), Public address announcer of The Detroit Red Wings
- Eric Lynch (Woodhaven), former NFL fullback
- Terry Mills (Romulus), Former professional basketball player for the Detroit Pistons
- Lee Majors (Wyandotte), actor
- Bill Morrison (Lincoln Park), co-creator of Bongo Comics
- Kevin Nash (Trenton), pro Wrestler and actor
- Ransom E. Olds (Grosse Ile), automotive industry pioneer
- Heinz Prechter (Grosse Ile), automotive industry businessman
- Mary Lynn Rajskub (Trenton), actress
- Brian Rafalski (Wyandotte), former NHL hockey player
- J. J. Putz (Trenton), relief pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks
- Bob Seger (Lincoln Park), rock musician
- Chester Taylor (River Rouge), NFL Running Back for the Chicago Bears - currently, formerly: Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens
- Rob Tyner (Lincoln Park), MC5 vocalist
- Cameron Waterman (Grosse Ile), inventor of the outboard motor
- John Varvatos (Allen Park), fashion designer
- Jennifer Valoppi (Allen Park), Newscaster
- Vickie Winans (Ecorse), Gospel Singer
- Derek St. Holmes (Riverview), Guitarist for Ted Nugent and vocalist on recorded version of "Stranglehold"
- Tom Tresh (Allen Park), MLB Rookie of the Year, 1962; Played for NY Yankees & Detroit Tigers
- Paul Assenmacher (Allen Park), Major League Pitcher in the 1980s and 1990s
- Andy Greene (Trenton), NHL Hockey Player for the New Jersey Devils
- Bob Kuzava (Wyandotte/Grosse Ile), professional baseball player, New York Yankees pitcher
- Hill, Richard Child and Michael Indergaard. "Deindustrialization in Southwest Detroit." In: Cummings, Scott (editor). Business Elites and Urban Development: Case Studies and Critical Perspectives (SUNY series on urban public policy). SUNY Press, 1988. Start page 235. ISBN 0887065775, 9780887065774.
- "Intemperance: The Lost War Against Liquor". Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- "What Is the Great Mistake Lurking in 'Don't Stop Believin?". Retrieved 2012-01-10.
- "Cruisin Downriver website". Retrieved 2009-01-03.
- Hill and Indergaard, p. 240.
- "Outboard Motor Celebrates 100th Anniversary". Retrieved 2009-03-06.
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