Suburban Satellite Region

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The counties of the Suburban Satellite Region lie in a crescent around the south, west, and north of Detroit and Wayne County. With Detroit and Wayne County, they constitute Michigan's only metropolis. The land is undulating, often hilly terrain, dotted with many lakes, streams, and marshes. The River Raisin and the Huron, Rouge, and Clinton rivers run through the region, draining into Lakes Erie and St. Clair. Near the lakes, the land is flat and marshy. A blend of urban, industrial, and suburban with small-town and rural settlement characterizes the area. The suburban satellites, together with metropolitan Detroit, contain Michigan's largest concentration of architectural masterpieces.

Monroe County was laid out by a territorial executive act in 1817 by Lewis Cass, governor of the Michigan Territory. Macomb County was established in 1818, Oakland County in 1819, Washtenaw County in 1822, and Livingston County in 1833. Soon after the counties were organized, settlement began along the rivers, but it was not until the 1820s and 1830s, after the territorial roads were constructed, that settlement began in earnest.

The early development of the Suburban Satellite Region radiated out from Detroit with its apex at what is now the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson avenues and Hart Plaza, on the Detroit River. Radial arteries that followed Indian trails precipitated the star-shaped pattern of Detroit's early suburban growth. A network of highways was constructed along these early pathways during Michigan's territorial period. Overlying the radial arteries is the rectilinear pattern of the land survey. The French long lots on the River Raisin deviate from the radial and rectilinear division of land.

Governor Lewis Cass ordered the construction of a military road northwest from Detroit to Saginaw along the Saginaw Trail (now Woodward Avenue, U.S. 10, and I-75), bringing settlement to Oakland County; and the Grand River Road from Detroit to Muskegon (present-day U.S. 16 and I-96), encouraging settlement to Oakland and Livingston counties in the 1830s. By the 1850s, state and plank roads crisscrossed the region. Villages, cities, and suburbs grew along these trails and roads, evidenced by early farms, houses, taverns, stores, mills, and factories. From the 1840s railroads linked the region. The most important was the Michigan Central Railroad, which ran from Detroit through Ann Arbor, and eventually to the St. Joseph River. Towns developed along the railroad. Manufacturing grew in the 1880s and new immigrants met the demand for labor. Automobile, shipbuilding, marine engine, railroad car, and metalworking industries added to that need. The first interurban railroads arrived in the late 1890s, allowing workers access to factories from their residences in the suburbs.

The oldest suburbs in the region stand astride a territorial or military road. The settlement of Royal Oak and the area north followed the construction of the military road from Detroit to Saginaw. In 1838 the tracks of the Detroit and Pontiac Railroad reached Royal Oak, and by 1895 demand for regular transportation to Detroit had grown to the extent that the Oakland Railway electric interurban began regular service in southeastern Oakland County. This line was consolidated with others in the metropolitan area in 1901, forming the Detroit United Railway System. A second interurban, the Highland Park and Royal Oak Railway, initiated service along Stephenson Highway through Madison Heights and Hazel Park in 1917. Meanwhile, the increasing availability of the automobile by the turn of the twentieth century caused further changes in living patterns. By 1934, the interurbans had been replaced by automobile traffic, and in that year those trains ceased operation.

Three of five major industrial corridors in the metropolitan Detroit area run through the Suburban Satellite Region. This industrial decentralization and other factors, namely the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Veteran's Administration (VA) mortgage programs, sewer and water systems, and the interstate highway network, encouraged outward migration to adjacent suburbs, newer suburbs, and exurbs, in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The Ford Motor Company's industrial development in Highland Park during the first two decades of the twentieth century was accompanied by a building boom throughout southeastern Oakland County. Many towns were incorporated during those decades. New subdivisions were platted in record numbers, and utilities, houses of worship, schools, stores, and post offices were built to service the growing population.

In the meantime, industrialists seeking summer retreats migrated to the small towns, lakes, and farms of the out-county areas. Thus the Buhls, the Scrippses, the Dodges, and other wealthy families spent vacations at farms, and, later, at period revival estates in Oakland County, several of which have been turned over to public use as parks and cultural centers ( OK2). In the early twentieth century, Detroiters built a colony at Bloomfield Hills along Woodward Avenue to rival Grosse Pointe.

Today's urban and suburban sprawl occurs along county roads and state and interstate highways, becoming progressively newer and more rural as it reaches the outer limits of the region. Those corridors extend from Detroit and for the most part follow the routes of earlier territorial and state roads. The developmental linkage continues by and along concentric rings of roads and connectors such as the Walter P. Reuther Freeway (I-696) in Oakland and Macomb counties. Shopping centers and town centers of high-rise and horizontal offices, apartments, and hotels cluster at interstate and expressway intersections.

The scenic beauty of the area and its recreational resources are preserved in the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Park System, including the Delhi, Dexter-Huron, Hudson Mills, Kensington, and Stony Creek metropolitan parks and at Metropolitan Beach on Lake St. Clair. Some of Michigan's major educational and cultural institutions located in the area are Cranbrook ( OK4), the University of Michigan ( WA7), Eastern Michigan University ( WA14), and Oakland University ( OK2).

The architecture is representative of the full spectrum of styles and buildings. The many hearty structures that form the backbone of the collections of historic buildings were designed and constructed by local carpenter-builders and stonemasons such as Manases Kinsey ( MR18, MR19), C. L. Gee ( MR21), and anonymous craftsmen. To this day, local architects have designed many of the area's fine buildings. Such internationally known architects as Minoru Yamasaki, Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Albert Kahn, and Gunnar Birkerts did most of their Michigan work in the Suburban Satellite Region and in Detroit. The major Detroit architectural firms of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, Mason and Rice, William and John Scott, and Spier and Rohns created most of the region's high-style buildings in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and architects Albert Kahn, William Kessler, Louis Redstone, and others were equally active in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century Williams and Tsien, Peter Rose, Steven Holl, and Rafael Moneo designed an extraordinary group of new buildings at Cranbrook.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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