Delve into Detroit history at the Troy library

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 30, 2019

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TROY — Learn how history drove and continues to drive Detroit during two programs in November at the Troy Public Library.

Karin Risko, the owner of City Tour Detroit and the author of “A History Lover’s Guide to Detroit,” will talk about the innovation, philanthropy, social justice and culture that shaped Detroit at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the library.

“Programs about Detroit history are always super popular here,” said adult services librarian Natasha Rogers.

Risko’s book is available in local bookstores and online.

“People have no idea about all this history,” Risko said. “The book is perfect for people coming to visit or to remember Detroit by. Even if you know a lot about Detroit, there’s always more to learn.

“Tourism in Detroit is not that new of a thing,” Risko said. She said that in the early 1900s, there were a number of tour bus companies in Detroit. She noted that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Detroit.

She said that the Detroit area has been the stove capital of the world, home to one of the world’s largest seed companies and an epicenter for pharmaceuticals.

“Carhartt (an apparel company known for work clothes) got its start in Detroit.

“I will talk about downtown today and the history of the buildings and monuments you can see today, and show a mix of historic photos and contemporary ones.”

Risko added that she likes to hear stories about Detroit from attendees.

R.J. King, the author of  “Detroit: Engine of America,” will talk about how Detroit went from a crude French settlement in 1701 to the birthplace of the automotive industry in 1900 when he speaks at the library at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19.

His book is available online at momentum

King said via email that he was most surprised to learn that Detroit is “older than the country, and is the oldest city in the Midwest. To put things in context, Detroit was founded in 1701 and became a city in 1806. When Michigan became a state in 1837, Chicago was incorporated as a city. Detroit is older than Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

“As a result, the first wave of immigrants moving west from the East Coast largely came to Detroit, because it was settled and had all the supplies needed to establish a life in the city. If people wanted to keep moving further west, they could buy a stove or a hearth, along with other needed items.”

He said he decided to research that period in Detroit’s history because “no one had put a chronological book together that explained how the city was founded, how it changed hands from the French, English, Americans, English (War of 1812), and back to the Americans. And no one had explained all the contributors to the city’s growth, including Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Lewis Cass, Bernhard Stroh, R.L. Polk, Ellen Scripps and many more.

“I researched several books and conducted interviews with descendants of Detroit’s early families. Perhaps the biggest motivation in writing the book was that most people knew what happened after 1900, when the global automotive industry was centered in Detroit, but few appreciated or even knew of all the advances and innovations that got us to the dawn of mass production.”

King said that people are most surprised to learn how the French settlers sustained themselves initially on fishing, farming and hunting, the latter largely propelled by the fur trade.

“In the mid-1700s, Detroit became very adept at ship building,” he said. “Blessed with natural resources, the city began producing steam ships in the 1820s, along with hearths, stoves, locomotives, railcars, rail bars, agricultural equipment, marine engines, the first pharmaceutical drugs, and finally, the horseless carriage in 1896.

“In earlier times, people may have had their differences, but a crisis always brought them together. A fire in olden times was a major challenge, as most everything was made of wood. When the alarm bells sounded, people dropped everything they were doing and raced to the scene of the fire and chipped in where they could.

“I think we need more of a neighborly spirit in the city and region,” he added. “It certainly doesn’t hurt to care and provide a smile for every new person you meet.”    

Register for the Troy Public Library programs at or by calling (248) 524-3534.

The library is located at 510 W. Big Beaver Road.