Central / Canoe Stream

mdot historic bridge wayne county central/canoe stream

County:  Wayne

City/Township:  Detroit

Location:  Central / Canoe Stream

Year Built:  1893

About this Bridge:
The steel-stringer structure of the Central Avenue Bridge is disguised by an ornate metal grill, which makes the bridge appear to be a metal arch. Coursed ashlar forms the wing walls. Octagonal stone posts, trimmed with acanthus leaf and other designs, and decorated metal posts hold the ornate metal railing panels. The following is inscribed in the northwest and southeast end posts: “When the bridge was rebuilt in 1946, city engineers were careful to retain the arched metal fascia and the original railings and posts.

In September 1879, the city of Detroit purchased Belle Isle, a 707-acre island in the Detroit River. By 1940, fill had expanded its size to nearly 1,000 acres. According to local historian Clarence M. Burton, it was originally “an unimproved area, abounding in native forests, sloughs, swales and was very unattractive.” The city hired prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead for $7,000 per year to plan and oversee improvements. His layout included a central driveway, Central Avenue, and the canal that meanders around the island. A casino opened on the island in 1877, giving a name to another of the island’s roads.

The Central Avenue Bridge was similar in appearance to another which was apparently built on the island at the same time, but is no longer in extant. Arched girders comprised the structure of the other bridge, which was the subject of a favorable article in The Engineering Record in May 1893. The article observed that most bridge design was ruled by economy, resulting in utilitarian structures that lacked “any opportunity for graceful effects, or pleasing or ornamental outlines.” A more picturesque option, masonry arches, cost significantly more and took longer to erect. Belle Isle’s arched girder bridge “relieve(d) the square severity of the straight girders and secure(d) a more pleasing effect with our materially increasing the necessary cost.” The Central Avenue Bridge, on the other hand, achieved a picturesque appearance by screening the structural stringers with an ornate arched fascia. Both bridges were produced by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, it is not clear why two designs were employed for bridges of equal span, built at about the same time.