Chestnut / Grand Trunk Railroad

mdot historic bridges wayne county Chestnut / Grand Trunk Railroad

County:  Wayne

City/Township:  Detroit

Location:  Chestnut / Grand Trunk Railroad

Year Built:  1929

About this Bridge:
The Chestnut Street Bridge is eligible for the National Register as a well-preserved representation of the urban grade separations built during a formative period of highway development.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Detroit experienced substantial industrial growth. By the 1920s, there were over 400 industrial firms operating between Woodward Avenue, which bisects downtown Detroit, and the city's north (Belt Line) and east (Detroit River) boundaries. The city's rather haphazard street plan, the result of incremental platting, impeded traffic flow, particularly on east-west routes. Traffic jams were compounded by the expansion of factories, which sometimes required street closures, and by the network of railroad tracks essential for transporting raw materials and finished goods. In January 1923, in an attempt to improve the situation, the city and the Grand Trunk Railroad launched a ten-year program to build 22 grade separations. Each party paid part of the construction cost. By 1926, Detroit's grade separation program was "fulfilling the expectations of its sponsors," according to John W. Reid of the city's Department of Public Works, an early advocate of grade separation (Detroit News). Plans for the Chestnut Street structure were drawn by the Grand Trunk Railroad in June 1929, with the city engineer's office developing plans for adjacent road construction. It was one of sixteen crossings finished by March 1930. Another at nearby Antietam Street was completed soon thereafter. The Chestnut Street Bridge was closed to traffic at some point, but was reopened as a one-way street paired with Antietam Street in 1964, when St. Aubin Boulevard was reconstructed. The Antietam Street Bridge has also been nominated to the National Register.

The Grand Trunk Railroad tracks that once ran beneath this bridge extended northwest to connect with a network of other lines. To the southeast, near the shore of the Detroit River, the tracks turned to parallel the river and serve the substantial factories that developed in this area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the Detroit-Michigan Stove Plant (6000 East Jefferson), the United States Rubber Company Plant (6600 East Jefferson), and the Parke-Davis Laboratories (1 McDougall Avenue). The railroad tracks also continued along the river to the southwest, terminating at the Grand Trunk's Brush Street Depot in downtown Detroit. The depot and most of the industrial plants have been demolished. One pair of the tracks that ran in the corridor below the Chestnut Street and Antietam Street Bridges has been removed. The corridor and the bridges, however, retain good integrity. The integrity of some of the bridges over the corridor, such as M-3 (Gratiot Avenue), has been compromised by modern alterations. The course of the corridor and its relationship to the city's street system is less apparent at other bridges, such as those carrying Division and Adelaide Streets. The Chestnut Street and Antietam Street Bridges, therefore, are good representative examples of a significant grade separation effort initiated in response to Detroit's explosive industrial and population growth in the first decades of the twentieth century.