Detroit: A Guide to the Resources in the Bentley Historical Library

Detroit in Books and Serials

The Bentley Library has built a collection of books and serials related to Detroit, both primary and secondary historical sources, to supplement the library's collections of manuscripts and archives relating to the city. Because the collection was built in conjunction with the library's manuscript and archival collections, holdings of printed materials are sometimes fragmentary and not comprehensive. The library has about 875 titles classified under Detroit in the printed and newspaper classifications, as well as many other titles classified under various Detroit organizations. For other published materials relating to Detroit researchers should consult the Hatcher Graduate Library as well as other research collections at the Library of Michigan and Detroit Public Library.

Primary Sources

Primary printed sources, works containing evidence left by participants or observers of past events, include such materials as directories, newspapers and periodicals, government documents, statistics, autobiographies and memoirs, reports of trials, and publications of organizations.

The library has an almost complete set of city directories for Detroit (most original books, supplemented by microfilm) beginning with the first Directory of the City of Detroit, compiled by Julius P. Bolivar MacCabe, published in 1837, through the R. L. Polk & Co. directory for 1940. After 1940 the holdings are rather incomplete. Various other directories are also in the collection, such as social directories (The Social Secretary of Detroit, incomplete holdings from 1922 to 1985) and business directories (Baker's Unique and Artistic Business Directory of Detroit, with Views of American and Foreign Scenery, published by Baker and Chandler, 1899).

The Bentley Library does not have a comprehensive collection of Detroit newspapers, but the collections do include runs of several rare titles. The Detroit Gazette (1817-1830, photostatic copy) documents the territorial period. The Detroiter Abend-Post (1868, 1870, 1888-1931) documents the city's German-American community. The library has partial holdings of a number of important nineteenth-century titles, including the Detroit Daily Advertiser, Detroit Advertiser and Tribune, Detroit Daily Tribune, and Detroit Post. Alternative and radical newspapers of the 1960s and 1970s are well represented in the collections, including a complete run of The Sun (1967-1976) and various related titles, which supplement the papers of John Sinclair, publisher of the paper. Other alternative and radical papers include The Community Reporter (1969-1974), The Ghetto Speaks (1967-1973), The Metro (1968-1971), and The Fifth Estate (1965-present, holdings fragmentary after 1977).

Publications of Detroit city government in the collection include city charters from 1802 (reprint) to 1972, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century annual reports and other publications of the Board of Water Commissioners, Board of Sewer Commissioners, and Board of Health, reports of the City Plan Commission from the 1940s to the 1960s, and twentieth-century annual reports and proceedings of the Board of Education.

Statistics of Detroit's population and economy can be found in a variety of sources, including the Annual Statement of the Trade and Commerce of Detroit and similar later titles published by the Detroit Board of Trade beginning in 1859; The Industries of Detroit: Historical, Descriptive, and Statistical, by John William Leonard (1887); publications of the Michigan Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics such as the "Canvass of the Agricultural Implement and Iron Working Industries in Detroit," published in the Bureau's Annual Report, 1890; Murder, Riot and Statistical Studies, by Lowell S. Selling (1944); Residential construction in the Detroit region, published by the Detroit Metropolitan Area Regional Planning Commission beginning in the 1960s; Detroit Twenty Years After: A Statistical Profile of the Detroit Area since 1967, by Mark E. Neithercut (1987)

Autobiographies and memoirs can be a valuable source of information, and the library holds many written by Detroit residents, from territorial days to modern times. A few examples are Memorials of a Half-Century (1887), by Bela Hubbard, the pioneer geologist and real estate investor; Childhood Memories of Life in Detroit (1897), by editor Electa Maria Sheldon; I Married a Taxicab (1961), by cab driver H. G. Vartanian; Sand against the wind (1966), by Detroit Urban League director John C. Dancy; The Memoirs of Berry Gordy, Sr. (undated 1970s), a businessman and father of the Motown executive, condensed and republished as Movin' Up: Pop Gordy Tells his Story (1979); Boundless Horizons: Portrait of a Pioneer Woman Scientist (1982), by Icie Macy Hoobler, biochemist and nutrition researcher at Merrill-Palmer Institute; Fifty Years of the UAW : From Sit-Downs to Concessions (1985), by John Anderson, a worker at the General Motors Fleetwood Plant; and True Colors : An Artist's Journey from Beauty Queen to Feminist (1995), by artist Patricia Hill Burnett.

Important biographical information can also be found in the reports of famous trials that were sometimes published in the nineteenth century. The Report of the Trial of Brig. General William Hull: Commanding the North-Western Army of the United States, by a Court Martial (1814) records the court-martial of the man who surrendered Detroit to the British during the War of 1812. The Report of the Great Conspiracy Case: The People of the State of Michigan, versus Abel F. Fitch and Others, Commonly called the Rail Road Conspirators (1851) records the trial of a number of Michigan farmers who protested against the power of the Michigan Central Railroad and were tried for conspiring to destroy railroad property.

Newsletters and other publications of organizations can also be valuable primary sources. The library holds publications of numerous churches and other religious organizations (such as Life and Work, published by the Detroit Industrial Mission beginning in 1960), business and labor organizations, Masonic groups, veterans' and patriotic groups, health-related organizations, political parties, social improvement and reform groups (including Broken Fetter, published in 1865 during the Ladies' Michigan State Fair for the Relief of Destitute Freedman and Refugees, and Destiny, published by the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America beginning 1936), social clubs, civic groups (including Rotoscope, published by the Detroit Rotary Club beginning 1922), cultural organizations, and recreation groups (including Michigan Hostel News, published beginning 1943 by the Metropolitan Detroit Council American Youth Hostels).

Secondary Sources

Secondary printed sources, that interpret or analyze events in the past, are many and varied for Detroit. To name just a few of the valuable histories of the city, The History of Detroit and Michigan (1884), by Silas Farmer; Compendium of History and Biography of the City of Detroit and Wayne County (1909); The Story of Detroit (1923), by George B. Catlin; All our Yesterdays: A Brief History of Detroit (1969), by Frank B. Woodford and Arthur M. Woodford; Before the Ghetto: Black Detroit in the Nineteenth Century (1973), by David M. Katzman; Detroit's Coming of Age, 1873 to 1973 (1973) by Don Lochbiler; Detroit Perspectives: Crossroads and Turning Points (1991), edited by Wilma Wood Henrickson; and The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (1996), by Thomas J. Sugrue.

Detroit in Maps

As part of the Bentley Library's mission to document the history of the state of Michigan, the library has developed a collection of historic maps and atlases of the state and its regions. Maps can provide valuable evidence for historical research, depicting the state of the physical environment and cultural features at a particular time, identifying place names, modes of transportation, locations of population centers, and land use. The library's collection of maps of Detroit, while not comprehensive, includes a wide variety of maps documenting the city's history, primarily in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The library holds 157 maps and six atlases cataloged under Detroit, 41 maps and five atlases cataloged under Wayne County, and 59 maps cataloged under Southeastern Michigan. Researchers interested in maps of Detroit should also consult two other map collections at the University of Michigan: the Map Library in the Hatcher Graduate Library, and the William L. Clements Library.

Early Maps

For the first century of Detroit's existence, the Bentley Library holds only a few maps, many of them modern reproductions. The most important of the original maps is a copy of Guillaume de L'Isle's Carte du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France (1703), the first printed map to show the city of Detroit by name.

Physical Features

Detroit's physical features are delineated best in several series of maps published by the U.S. government. The library holds U.S. Lake Survey navigation charts of the Detroit River published in 1842 and in several editions between 1909 and 1930. These charts show hydrography as well as some topography of lands close to the river. Several earlier hydrographic maps, including F. Leeseman's Plan Topographique du Détroit (1796) are held in facsimile copies.

Topographic maps of Detroit have been published by the U.S. Geological Survey beginning in 1905, with maps of the Detroit region collected in William H. Sherzer's Detroit Folio (1916). The library also holds an Army Map Service topographic map of Detroit published in 1934 and Geological Survey topographic quadrangle maps of Detroit published between 1947 and 1980.

Detroit's geology are depicted in the maps of Sherzer's Detroit Folio (1916) as well as the maps in his Geological Report on Wayne County (1913), published by the Michigan Geological and Biological Survey. Several general maps in the collection include Sherzer's manuscript notations made while preparing these two reports.

Vegetation in the Detroit region in the early period of Michigan statehood is shown on Sylvester W. Higgins's Map of Wayne County (1840).

Cultural Features

Cultural features have changed much more rapidly than physical features in the rapidly developing city. Most of the maps in the library's collection focus on the ways humans have subdivided and used the land. The Geological Survey topographic quadrangles show a wealth of cultural features, but a host of other governmentally and commercially produced maps provide the most useful picture of how life in Detroit has changed over the years.

Many of the early large-scale maps of Detroit depict land division. The survey of pre-existing lots by the new American government in the early years of the nineteenth century produced many maps, including Aaron Greeley's Plan of Private Claims in Michigan Territory (1847). Land subdivision and neighborhood creation led to the publishing of cadastral maps such as A. E. Hathon's Map of the City of Detroit, Michigan (1849) and later to real estate atlases such as Elisha Robinson's Atlas of the City of Detroit and Suburbs (1885). The library holds seven real estate atlases published between 1885 and 1929 (the 1929 volume is updated to 1940). Neighborhood development also led to the publication of promotional maps such as A. J. and A. P. Wenzell's map titled Robert Oakman's Ford Highway Properties (ca. 1918) promoting properties along Oakman Blvd., conveniently located between the Ford Highland Park and Rouge plants.

Detroit's transportation network and its development can be traced through maps of early roads (such as Map of the United States Road from Ohio to Detroit (1825) by John Farmer), railroads (such as The Industrial Map of Detroit: Showing its Manufacturing, Mercantile and Railroad Interests with Shipping Facilities (1904 and 1912 eds.), by Silas Farmer & Co.), interurbans (such as Detroit United Lines and Interurban Connections (1911), by Calvert Lithographing Co.), street cars (such as Official map of Detroit's Transportation System (three 1930s eds.), by the Dept. of Street Railways), and modern highways (such as the Official Highway Map of Wayne County, Michigan (1942 and 1950 eds.) by the Board of Wayne County Road Commissioners, which feature maps and photos of the developing freeway network).

Maps from different time periods document a wide range of human activity in Detroit, including such activities as: