Detroit is known for many things: its once-bustling auto industry, its repurposing of empty factories, its musical history. But public transport wonks know it for something else, an unusual historical fact about its road system.

Commenter Mister shared this interesting note about the history of Detroit’s roads with us — and the mark left behind that you can still see over two centuries after the fact:

Campus Martius Park in Downtown Detroit is a beautiful location that is good for many things - people watching on a workday, ice skaing in the winter, concerts and events in the summer. But to me, the coolest thing about Campus Martius park is this: The Point of Origin Marker. And history and geography nerds would love this. Anybody that’s familiar with Metro Detroit is aware of the Mile Road system - this is where that originates, along with being the focal point of the radial road systems (Gratiot, Michigan, Grand River, Fort)


The Detroit Historical Society fills in the background of the whole plan, which involves a devastating fire over 200 years ago, urban layouts from DC and Canada, and a judge with an idea:

After a fire destroyed the City of Detroit in 1805, Judge Augustus Woodward was determined to remake the city on a plan similar to Washington, D.C. He recruited surveyors from Canada to help plot the new city’s streets, parks and lots. They set up their surveying equipment in the middle of present-day Campus Martius, and the Woodward plan for the city began from this “Point of Origin.” Today, this point lies at the junction of Woodward and Monroe, and is marked with a plaque. The mile roads that lie north of the park and into the suburbs draw their distance from this marker. In other words, 8 Mile Road lies exactly 8 miles north of Campus Martius.

Of course, as Detroit grew, it’s road system grew with it, far beyond anything Woodward or his surveyors had thought of. Today, Campus Martius is better known as a park than a roadway landmark. Still, you can see its influence in both the road names and in this plaque which still marks the point of a origin:


Top image: Road leading into Detroit, 1942 / Arthur Siegel FSA-OWI, Lower image: The Point of Origin via commenter Mister

And here is Woodward’s street plan for Detroit (via Wikimedia Commons):