Detroit is On Fire


“Speramus meliora, Resurget Cineribus””We hope for better things. It shall rise again from ashes.”

From 1805 to 1847, Detroit was the capital of Michigan. But on the morning of June 11, 1805 almost all was lost.   On this morning, someone dropped pipe ashes on some hay and caused a fire which destroyed the entire city of about 200 log homes. Except one.

As wrote wrote Fr. John Dilhet, who witnessed the terrible sight, “In the course of three hours, from 9 o’clock till noon, nothing was to be seen of the city except a mass of burning coals and chimney-tops stretching like pyramids in the air.”

At that time the little fort covered about one city block, centered at about Fort and Shelby streets. Flowing westward a small river, the Savoyard, ran along what is now Congress Street. East of the fort at about Woodward was the cemetery. South of the fort, four short blocks named after saints ran parallel between the two rivers.

The distressed inhabitants had escaped death but lost all their possessions. Some moved in with nearby farmers while others erected tents. This tragedy led to a “New City” and a new city plan.

In the “New City plan” it was decreed that each household got a 50 by 100 foot lot to begin again. The revived city adopted the motto “Speramus meliora, Resurget Cineribus,” that is “We hope for better things. It shall rise again from ashes.”

As the city expanded, the street layout plan developed by Augustus B. Woodward, Chief Justice of the Michigan Territory was followed. Detroit fell to British troops during the War of 1812 in the Siege of Detroit, was recaptured by the United States in 1813 and incorporated as a city in 1815.

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