On Tuesday, I wrote about the history of Eastern Market itself, from its origins in the 19th century to its popularity today. Today I want to talk about the area around the market. Since this post is adapted from a tour I once designed, I’m going to focus on three different buildings that were a part of the tour and explain how they help tell the story of Eastern Market.
Brewing beer is an important aspect of Detroit’s history. Studying the changes in breweries over time teaches us a great deal about changes in population and ideas about alcohol in Detroit and the nation. The earliest brewers in Detroit were from England and brewed ale. After 1848, as political unrest swept across central Europe, more Germans began immigrating to the U.S. and Detroit and began brewing a German lager beers. The fact that lager breweries began to take over the beer economy in Detroit by the 1880s shows how plentiful and powerful German immigrants became in the city. In fact, Germans grew to 27% of Detroit’s population in 1880, making them the largest ethnic group in the city. Eastern Market is just north of where many German immigrants lived, and so it was once home to many German breweries. None of these breweries are still open, due to a number of changes in both the economy and the law in the twentieth century.
One of these changes was Prohibition. In 1917, three years before national prohibition, Detroit banned the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. Although many breweries changed products or went into illegal operation, many more simply went out of business. When prohibition was repealed in the 1930s, many new breweries opened up. These local breweries did well through the 1930s and especially during World War II as there was little competition from out of state breweries. After the war, interstate commerce resumed and large out of state breweries became more popular, eventually putting all Detroit’s old breweries out of business.
E&B Brewery, located at Winder and Orleans streets near the market is an example of one of these old German breweries. It began in 1873, although they did not move into the current building until 1891, the same year the first market sheds were built. E&B moved to this location at when they merged with Fulda and Bommar Brewery, who originally owned the space. This move put them just north of the historic German district and near other German breweries. The brewery closed during Prohibition but was reopened in 1933 after its repeal. E&B was one of only a few small breweries to reopen after prohibition, and one of even fewer that survived changes in the economy after World War II. It was finally sold in 1963. E&B is an excellent example of how national events affected local businesses. Currently, the old brewery building is a loft complex. Creating living spaces close to Eastern Market will help in creating a more viable and stable neighborhood, rather than a Saturday-only destination.
Fun Fact: in 1942 a new chemist, Fred Sturmer was hired. Sturmer had been originally hired by a brewery in Frankenmuth, but there he was required to care for the brewery’s dachshund mascots as well! He changed jobs to get away from the dogs.
Fun Fact #2: On one side of the building you can see examples of Flint Faience tiles. These decorative tiles were actually a by-product of AC Spark Plug, beginning in 1921. The company began creating tiles in the same kilns as they used for spark plugs because demand for spark plugs was low but it was best for the kilns to keep them on constantly. So they found a new product to make and sell. By 1933, higher demand for spark plugs forced them to shut down the tile operation. Who would have expected decorative tiles to be a by-product of the automobile industry?
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
Of course, those Germans did more than just brew beer! This church, visible across Gratiot, was a mainstay in the German Catholic population. Work on St. Joseph’s Catholic Church began in 1870 to serve the growing German population. The current church actually replaced a smaller frame church and was not completed until 1911. Urban legend tells us that its bells were used to signal the changeover between morning and afternoon stalls during the height of Eastern Market’s business. St. Joseph’s remains one of the most traditional churches in Detroit, as it still has Latin Mass each Sunday and a German mass once a month.
There are/were a number of other churches in the area to serve different populations as well. Historic Trinity Church, also on Gratiot, served the German Lutheran Population. German Presbyterians could attend St. John’s Evangelical Church, which broke off from a different church in the 1870s, but then merged with the nearby St. Luke’s in the 1960s to now be known as Old St. John’s-St. Luke’s. On the west side of the market was San Francesco’s, built in 1897 for an influx of Italians to the area. These churches show the variety of people that came and lived in the Eastern Market area.
Gratiot Central Market
Eastern Market was a large meatpacking district early in the twentieth century thanks to the close location of the Grand Trunk Railroad, which made it easy to bring animals into the city. In the 1920s the meatpacking industry was the second largest industry in the city, behind the automobile industry. However, with the closing of the railroad, most meatpacking businesses have left. What still remains, however, is Gratiot Central Market, a meat market built in 1915 due to the proximity to the slaughterhouses. Gratiot Central Market has burned down twice, once in the 1950s and once in 1995. The only original part of the building is the front wall of white terra cotta along Gratiot, which features a bull’s skull over the doorway – a signal to the multi-ethic community that the building sold meat. Today, the Gratiot Central Market is still a great place for fresh meat- you can find every part of the animal behind these doors!
There’s clearly a lot more around Eastern Market than just these places – I didn’t even touch on some of the delicious places to eat like Roma’s Cafe and Vivio’s. I recommend you go down and check it all out yourself – even better, take a tour!
“About E&B.” E&B Brewery Lofts.
“A New German Parish.” St. Joseph’s Church.
Baulch, Vivian M. “Michigan’s Greatest Treasure- Its People” The Detroit News, September 4, 1999.
Blum, Peter H. Brewed in Detroit: Breweries and Beers Since 1830. Detroit: WayneStateUniversity Press, 1999.
De Weese, Pamela. The Detroit Eastern Farmers’ Market: its social structure and functions.Detroit: WayneStateUniversity Press, 1975.
“Eastern Market: A Historic District” pamphlet, Preservation Wayne Historical Archives
“Eastern Market Tour Template 2010” Preservation Wayne, Detroit.
“Faience Tile to be auctioned for United Way”. The Flint Journal. August 1, 2007.
Gavrilovich, Peter and Bill McGraw. The Detroit Almanac: 300 Years of Life in the Motor City. Detroit: The Detroit Free Press, 2000.
“Mass Schedule.” St. Joseph’s Church.
United States Department of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places Registration form: Eastern Market (Boundary Increase). Detroit, 2002.
United States Department of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places: Eastern Market. Detroit, 1977.
Woodford, Frank and Arthur. All Our Yesterdays: A Brief History of Detroit. Detroit: WayneStateUniversity Press, 1969.