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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Welcome to Detroit: 1900

Welcome to Detroit: 1900

Detroit, Michigan, circa 1900. "City Hall and Campus Martius." To the left, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument; rising to the right is one of the city's "moonlight tower" carbon-arc lamps. Palm trees and bananas strike a tropical note. 8x10 inch glass negative by Lycurgus S. Glover, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

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Wayne County Building

One of the previous commentators mentioned that this building was torn down. It is actually still standing.

[You're confusing City Hall with the Wayne County Building. City hall is long gone. - Dave]


This does look like a Hollywood scene! Now we have our cars, our phones, our iPods, etc., and you would never see people out strolling about and chatting like this! We (myself included) are always in our cars and in a hurry!

All those people are dead

but yet, when I put this on full screen, I still get the feeling I could just step into the scene and walk or ride my bike amongst them. I love these pedestrian/scenic pictures. Sure glad somebody invented the camera when they did.

Moonlight Bat Buffet

Living in Austin in the 80's I used to frequent a cafe in the Clarksville section of town where I would often see some of Austin's famous Mexican free-tailed bats feasting on the insects drawn to glow of moonlight towers. Austin, whose unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Weird," is a Mecca for bats, batty moonlight tower protectors, and all things odd and different. I'm glad to hear from Kevin M. that the towers are still there.

The Motor City!

Where are the cars?

(Always interesting to me how long it took for automobiles to take hold.)

And not a car in sight.

I think this photograph shows the destruction wrought on the American landscape, and social fabric, especially in urban settings, by the advent of the automobile a short time later.

Idyll Over

"I think any city would be glad to have such a civic building. Interesting French (Second Empire?) style architecture."

You might think that, but Detroit tore this building down in 1961. It was seen locally as embarrassingly old-fashioned soon after the turn of the 20th century.

The editor of the Detroit News described it thus: "It is an architectural monstrosity. It belongs back in the twilight zone of American development. … It belongs to the era of the whatnot and the putty vase and the ship carved in a bottle. It is not Colonial, it is not Gothic, it is not Byzantine. It just ain’t nuthin’. It’s been standing there these 70 years or more, a lumpy, gloomy, ugly pile of curlicued stone. No artist has ever painted a picture of it. No artist would. No lover of beauty has ever found a single line of grace or dignity in it."

Moonlight Towers: now Austin residents

Those carbon-arc lamps were once very common ways to light a city, much more economical than a lower-wattage streetlight every 100 feet. The light they gave off was by all accounts glaring and harsh, though.

In 1894 Austin TX bought a bunch of the towers from Detroit and moved them southwards. Through a fluke of history, half of them survive to the present day, making them the only remaining functional towers in the world. One played an important cameo in "Dazed and Confused." All the remaining towers (17 of the original 31) are protected historic monuments, though two were recently removed. Austinites, myself included, are strangely fond of them.

The rest of the story:

American Idyll

I think any city would be glad to have such a civic building. Interesting French (Second Empire?) style architecture.

I love the two men languidly conversing on their bicycles, oblivious of the surrounding traffic. Try that today! In toto the pedestrians look like a idealized Hollywood scene representing city life at the turn of the 20th century; people running, promenading, talking, pricing fruit perhaps on a fine summer's Sunday.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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