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Detroit’s city wards

Reader David Reed is looking for help in locating specific Michigan death certificates from the late 1800s.

It seems that David has found that the certificates he needs were recorded and so are now organized by the wards in Wayne County, Michigan, and without a good overview of the ward boundaries, David is having trouble locating the specific certificates he needs, from 1880 to 1910.

“I am looking for maps of the old wards for the county,” he writes. “I’ve done a number of searches, but no luck.”

First off, let’s talk about wards. By definition, a ward is “a territorial division is adopted in most American cities, by which the municipality is separated into a number of precincts or districts called ‘wards’ for purposes of police, sanitary regulations, prevention of fires, elections, etc.”1

Detroit.1887So, since Wayne County had both incorporated cities (like the City of Detroit) and unincorporated areas outside of city limits, and it had smaller communities and townships, it isn’t clear to The Legal Genealogist that all of Wayne County would have been under the ward system during this time period.

Just as one example, right next door to Detroit was the Township of Hamtramck, and it didn’t even start thinking about incorporating as a village until 1901 and as a city until 1922 (to keep from being annexed by its big neighbor).2

So the big area that was under the ward system was Detroit.

And it will come as no surprise to readers of this page that the answer can be found in…

The law.

Detroit was first divided into wards by Michigan state law. The Act of March 27, 1839, created six wards:

The First Ward to embrace that part of the said city situate west of the centre line of Shelby, and south of the centre of Michigan avenue.

The Second Ward, all south of the centres of Monroe and Michigan avenues, and between the centres of Shelby and Randolph streets.

The Third Ward, all south of the centre of Croghan street, ana between the centre lines of Randolph and St. Antoine streets.

The Fourth Ward, all east of the centre line of St. Antoine street, and south of the Gratoit road.

The Fifth Ward, all north of the centre of Michigan avenue, and west of the centres of Woodward avenue and the Saginaw turnpike.

The Sixth Ward, all east of the centre of Woodward avenue, north of the centres of Monroe avenue, Croghan street, and the Gratiot road, and west of the centre line of St. Antoine street.3

Over time, those six wards grew and changed4 and, by 1881, there were 13 wards, with boundaries fixed by state law:

The first ward shall consist of all that part of the said city lying between Woodward avenue and Beaubien street, and the line of said street extended on the so,uth to the Detroit river and the north to the city limits.

The second ward shall consist of all that part of said city bounded on the east by Woodward avenue and on the west by First street from the Detroit river to Grand River avenue, up Grand River avenue to Second street, and along Second street and the line [of] Second street extended to the city limits.

The third ward shall consist of all that part of said city lying between Beaubien street and Hastings street and the line of said streets extended on the south to the Detroit river, and on the north to the city limits.

The fourth ward shall consist of all that part of said city lying between the west boundary line of the second ward above described and Crawford street from the city limits to Grand River avenue, down Grand River avenue to Fifth street, and down Fifth street and the line of said street extended to the Detroit river, and the lines of said streets extended on the south to the Detroit river and on the north to the city limits.

The fifth ward shall consist of all that part of said city lying between Hastings street and “Russell street and the lines of said streets extended on the south to the Detroit river, and on the north to the city limits.

The sixth ward shall consist of all that part of said city sixth, lying between the west boundary line of the fourth ward above described, and Trumbull avenue and the line of said avenue extended to the city limits and the Detroit river.

The seventh ward shall consist of all that part of said Sevena, city lying between Russell street and Deqnindre street, and the lines of said streets extended on the south to the Detroit river and on the north to the city limits.

The eighth ward shall consist of all that part of said Eighth, city lying between the east line of the Godfrey farm (Thirteenth and a half street), and Trnmbull avenue and the line of said avenue extended to the city limits and the Detroit river.

The ninth ward shall consist of all that part of said city ninth. lying between Dequindre street and Ghene street, and the line of said street extended to the city limits.

The tenth ward shall consist of all that part of said city Tenth, lying between the west line of the Loranger farm (Twentieth street), and the east line of the Godfrey farm (Thirteenth and a half street).

The eleventh ward shall consist of all that part of said Eleventh, city lying between Chene street and McDougall avenue, extended on the south to the river and on the north to the city limits.

The twelfth ward shall consist of all that part of said Twelfth, city lying west of the west line of the Loranger farm (Twentieth street.)

The thirteenth ward shall consist of all that part of Thirteenth. said city lying east of the McDougall avenue, extended on the south to the Detroit river, and on the north to the city limits, and the parcel of land situated in the Detroit river and known as Belle Isle.5

The wards continued until abolished in 1919.6

And if that’s not good enough… there really are maps, and they do show the ward boundaries as they were fixed in 1881. One great map collection, for almost any area and time period in the United States, is the collection at the University of Alabama. Looking at its collection for Detroit, you can find maps dated in the 1880s — and one in particular published in 1887 that has the ward lines. (Click on the image above and scroll down to the Mitchell map of the Plan of the City of Detroit, 1887, from Mitchell’s New General Atlas.)

That should be enough to … um … ward off trouble, no?


SOURCES

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1232, “ward.”
  2. See “About Hamtramck,” City of Hamtramck, Michigan (http://www.hamtramck.us/ : accessed 16 Aug 2016).
  3. §14, “An Act relative to ward elections in the city of Detroit, and for other purposes,” No. 35, in Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan, … 1839 (Detroit: John S. Bagg, State Printer, 1839), 31, 34; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 16 Aug 2016).
  4. See generally Silas Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan, Or, the Metropolis Illustrated, 147-148 (Detroit: p.p., 1884); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 16 Aug 2016).
  5. §4, “AN ACT to amend chapter one of an act entitled ‘An act to revise the charter of the city of Detroit,’ approved February five, eighteen hundred and fifty-seven,” No. 371, in Local Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan, … 1881 (Lansing: W.S. George & Co., State Printers, 1881), 252-253; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 16 Aug 2016).
  6. See generally Michael Jackman, “Detroit’s old ward system, 95 years later,” Detroit MetroTimes, posted 5 Nov 2014 (http://www.metrotimes.com/ : accessed 16 Aug 2016).
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