Market History

History of Detroit's Historic Eastern Market:
Since 1891

By Ed Deeb

The Detroit Farmer's Market began at Cadillac Square in downtown Detroit, east of Woodward, in 1841.

When it moved to its present location in 1891, it was re-named Eastern Market. It was located between Gratiot on the south, Mack Ave. on the north, St. Aubin on the east, and the I-75 freeway service drive on the west.

From the horse drawn carts to the present semi-trailer trucks, farmers have annually hauled thousands of tons of fresh produce to Detroit's Eastern Market area for re-sale to wholesalers, retailers and the general public. The figure is estimated to be over 70,000 tons a year.

On any given Saturday, some 45,000 Detroiters, suburbanites, and out-of-staters can be found shopping elbow to elbow at farmer's stalls or area retail shops for products from as near as Michigan, Ohio and Canadian farms, to as far as the European, Middle East, Asian, and South American farming areas.

Historic Eastern Market is not only known for its luscious, colorful farm fresh fruits and vegetables, but also for the meat products (beef, pork, lamb, poultry, geese, ducks and rabbits.) Also, for the herbs and spices, nuts, candies and a variety of condiments supplied by retailers and wholesalers. A variety of fresh fish and seafoods is also available.

The many privately owned wholesale and retail specialty stores and ethnic food shops located in the 43-acre area provide various food and specialty products which appeal to shoppers. Most people are unaware that the Eastern Market area is open six days a week, and not just on Saturdays.

And we all know about the Flower Days held at Eastern Market each year, offering bedding plants, flowers, shrubs, evergreens, etc. It is recognized as the world's largest bedding flower market. The Eastern Market means "family," as several generations have shopped together, bringing their children to see the market, its wares and the farm animals when available. It is also a people watcher's delight. A melting pot of rich and poor, old and young browse and actually bargain old-world style for what suits their interests, absorbing the sights and sounds, color and excitement of the Eastern Market area. Many couples and families make an "outing" out of shopping here, arriving before 7 a.m., having breakfast at one of the area's restaurants, then spending the morning shopping for their weekly needs.

Built on the site of an early hay and wood market, Eastern Market area was one of three markets founded in the l850's. The farmers market portion moved to the present Eastern Market area site in 1891 from the old Cadillac Square area, 1841. The Western Market was closed in 1965. Chene-Ferry Market was closed in 1990.

Although an open-air farmers' market existed prior to the Civil War, the first sales shed was built in l89l in the Vernor, Russell, Gratiot area, amid several other food establishments which had already located in the area. As the market area prospered, additional sheds were constructed in 1922 and 1929. Through the post-Depression era, the Eastern Market area grew, expanding in size and logging record truck-loads of farm products and other items as well, including beverages, and unique retail merchandise. Following World War II, pre-packaged foods and the beginnings of the modern supermarket, shopping was altered for Detroiters and the way they shopped for food. So did Eastern Market, as more wholesalers and processors located in the area. Eastern Market developed into an important hub for the southeastern Michigan food distribution industry. Plans are to make it bigger, better and more efficient for the future.

Eastern Market was declared an historic area in 1977 by the State of Michigan Historical Commission. Many of the original buildings are still in operation today.

TIDBITS:

Generals Ulysses S. Grant, George Custer and John J. Pershing were headquartered in the area and marched troops up and down the area where the Eastern Market is presently located.

In addition parts of the Underground Railroad went under the Eastern Market through to the Detroit River where escaping slaves were able to make safe haven to Canada. Also, part of an ancient American Indian burial ground was located in the area, and later relocated to a cemetery.

Also several movies were filmed at Eastern Market including “Presumed Innocent” starring Harrison Ford and Brian Dennehy and “Collision Course” with Jay Leno and Pat Morita.  Most recently Drew Barrymore and crew were in the Market filming "Whip It."

© Copyright 2013 Eastern Market Corporation. All rights reserved.