Wayne State University

First road in Michigan newly designated on National Register of Historic Places; nominated by Wayne State anthropology student

DETROIT—Daniel Harrison, an anthropology graduate student in Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has garnered some long-overdue attention for an important Michigan landmark—just in time for the feature’s 200th birthday. Hull’s Trace, a supply line from central Ohio to Detroit built under Michigan Territory Governor William Hull on the eve of the War of 1812, was Michigan’s first road as well as the first military road in the new nation. Commissioned under President Thomas Jefferson to counter British control of Lake Erie, the route was hastily blazed through the forested interior by some 2,000 American troops using the trees they felled to solidify swampy areas. Laid crosswise, the logs became a bone-jarring but serviceable corduroy road.

One such marsh was the mouth of the Huron River, near the Wyandot Indian village of Brownstown, located south of Detroit. The “Hull's Trace North Huron River Corduroy Segment,” as it is now designated, caught the eye of Harrison, a master’s candidate focusing on historical archaeology. Harrison surveyed the mostly submerged logs while doing coursework with WSU archaeologists Thomas Killion and Tamara Bray. His research indicated that the 380-meter wooden roadway, now part of the embankment supporting southern Jefferson Avenue, represented the only known surviving portion of the original 200-mile road.

“This unique structure demanded to be preserved,” said Harrison. “It’s associated with our frontier past, with historic figures like Chief Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison, and with a civil engineering technique that is virtually absent from the archaeological record.”

Harrison nominated the roadway to the National Register of Historic Places; it was accepted recently and is now listed as a significant national treasure of the greater Detroit metropolitan area. He presently is working with the Michigan Commission on the Commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, and hopes to unveil a historic marker at the site on the auspicious date of its 200th anniversary, July 4, 2012.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.