Detroit’s Creekside Neighborhood is one of the most fascinating in the city and because of that, I ride through the neighborhood a couple of times a month. It’s a large, diverse neighborhood with well-maintained riverfront parks that offer some of the most spectacular views of the Detroit River. This far eastside neighborhood has a large concentration of Arts and Crafts style homes, English Tudors, simple wood frame houses and small cottages. To me, the most intriguing feature of the neighborhood is the many canals that wind through the southern part of the area. These canals were used as hiding places by rumrunners during Prohibition as they smuggled liquor across the Detroit River into the U.S. from Canada.
Because I’ve always been fascinated with this out-of-the-way section of Detroit, its history, the people living there, the housing stock and the canals; I plan on writing an occasional entry on the Creekside community. Since the canals are mainly what this neighborhood is known for, I’ll start with them.
From what I understand, there are about three miles of canals in the neighborhood, with Fox Creek being the main feeder. Fox Creek runs from East Jefferson Avenue south along Alter road to the Detroit River. Along the way, various tributaries feed off the Fox creating a series of canals and islands. This is quite unusual for a major urban center. I also understand there were many other man-made canals, offering prime hiding spots for the rumrunners, but over time they have been filled in by erosion.
Lining the canals are lots of boathouses and docks. While many are in use, others are dilapidated and have deteriorated beyond use. They remind me of an old, weathered fishing village found in a remote area of the east coast. Riding the streets along the canals, I usually see fisherman that have accessed their favorite spot through abandoned lots. Others are sitting on one of the many bridges linking the islands, with their line in the water, hoping to land the big one. I’ve yet to see any of them reel in a fish.
There are some great parks in this neighborhood that line the Detroit River. Mariners’, at the foot of Alter Road, is the smallest of the bunch. Even so, every time I’ve ridden there, the park is loaded with fisherman taking advantage of the close river access. It’s also home to the Windmill Point Lighthouse. Immediately to the west, across a small canal, is Lakewood East Park, my favorite.
Lakewood is an island park, surrounded by canals on three of the four sides with the Detroit River on the other. This park isn’t maintained and has reverted to a natural, wooded state. SUV’s and other vehicles have created winding paths through the brush that are perfect for bike riding or walking a dog. While riding there, I’ve heard the “scratching” call of Ringneck Pheasants, sounding much like an out-of-tune violin. I’ve seen Red-winged Blackbirds sitting on cattail plants while they sang in their distinct, soothing, matter-of fact tone. It’s a relaxing, serene environment where fishermen in boats slowly pass through the canals on their way to the Detroit River. Reminiscent of a place in the country, Lakewood East is the perfect escape from the tattered urban environment I ride through to get there.
A little further west, toward downtown Detroit, are two of the biggest riverside parks within the neighborhood – Brush-Ford and Maheras-Gentry. Both are large, open, well-maintained parks. Families come there to picnic, run their dogs, fish, take in the breathtaking view of the passing freighters or to simply ponder life while looking at the Detroit skyline in the distance. Despite their size, it isn’t uncommon to see a lone fishermen watching for a tug on the end of his fishing pole.
“I love this park,” said a young mother walking her dog while juggling a baby carrier. “Living here is like having my own private riverfront lawn,” she said, referring to the beauty of Brush-Ford Park.
I agree. There are times I’ve ridden through these parks and pretty much had them all to myself. In some ways, that’s the beauty of them.