The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 03, 2003

Detroit's Point of Origin marker? It was right here.

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

For nearly two centuries, the original survey monument for the layout of the City of Detroit and the Michigan Territory lay buried beneath seven feet of earth and rubble at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and the south line of Michigan Avenue.

With that intersection undergoing a complete makeover and experiencing a tremendous amount of excavation as part of the Campus Martius project, the city decided it was the right time to get the granite marker out of the ground and shed some light on a vital part of Detroit and Michigan's history.

"The site is the basis for the mapping of the entire city," said Jim Knoll, supervising surveyor technician for the city. "The spot is still used as the basis point for all future surveys."

Following the fire that destroyed the City of Detroit in 1805 was the opportunity to rebuild the city from ground up. The task was taken over by Judge Augustus Woodward, who around 1820 placed the marker as the reference point of origin and laid out a plan for the city that used a wheel and spoke design.

The rectangular, six-foot-tall marker was actually buried under the center line of Woodward Avenue, and in modern days was marked by a removable iron box accessible from the street level. Inside the box was the nub of a steel rod that marked the marker, called the "Point of Origin" monument. A fountain in the new Campus Martius Park will be placed at or near the point of origin site.

Posen Construction Co. has been in charge of re-locating the streets that will encircle Campus Martius Park, installing pavers and the associated construction work. Digging up the marker took place in late May, with an operator doing most of the heavy lifting, and a laborer with a shovel doing the more delicate work.

Posen Foreman Pat Barocio said he was upset with a news report that said a bulldozer sheared off 18 inches of the square pillar.

"That was ridiculous," Barocio said. "We knew where is was, and we scheduled it in coordination with the city when it was time to dig it up. When we dug it up, it was already broken in three or four pieces."

Knoll said "we didn't know what to expect when we started to dig. It was interesting to see the marker, but I thought it was just as interesting to see the layers of everything we had to dig though to get to it." That included old streetcar rails, creosote-soaked timbers, foundations and old layers of pavement. "There's quite a bit of history buried at the site," Knoll said.

The city plans on placing the marker on display, probably atop or near the Campus Martius site where it was buried. The original spot of the buried marker, now marker-less, has been identified with modern surveying equipment and global positioning technology.

POSEN Construction Co. foreman Pat Barocio marks the spot where the marker was buried, formerly on the center line of Woodward Avenue, behind him.
THE GRANITE point of origin marker was unearthed under seven feet of dirt and rubble. It is now in storage.