Auto History of Conner Creek

On Detroit’s eastside, Conner Creek once flowed from what is now Warren to the Detroit River and was a significant natural feature for Native American and European settlers. In time, the Indian trails and village plank roads gave way to railroads and other developments. The Detroit Terminal Railroad, constructed parallel to the creek, attracted many of the early American auto makers. While much of the original creek was tunneled underground, the planned Greenway follows the creek’s historic route to connect neighborhoods via landscaped paths and bike trails. From the Fisher Mansion at the Detroit River to the Chrysler Viper Plant near Eight Mile, the Greenway at Conner Creek gives visitors a chance to experience the past and present of America’s auto heritage.

1. The Berry Brothers

The Berry Brothers’ varnish company located in the Conner Creek area in 1906 near the outskirts of Detroit. Their presence and the location of the Detroit Terminal Railroad, quickly attracted other industries. Many of the automotive companies of the time built their factories along the rail line and spurred the area’s development.

2. The Detroit Driving Club

This is the location where Henry Ford won one of his first races against Alexander Winton in 1901. With this win, he was able to entice investors to the auto industry. The former track was located near Dickerson and Kitchener south of Jefferson.

3. The Historic Fisher Mansion

Lawrence Fisher, who made his fortune with the Fisher Body Corporation along with his six brothers, constructed this home for $1.5 million in the year 1928. In 1975 it was bought by Henry Ford’s great grandson, Alfred Brush Ford and Elisabeth Reuther Dickman, daughter of UAW leader Walter Reuther. Together they donated the mansion to the Hare Krishna religious group for the Bhaktivedanta Cultural Center.

4. Chrysler Jefferson North Assembly Plant

This plant was originally built in 1907 south of Jefferson. It underwent a major renovation in 1980 to build the new K-Car and was eventually moved to its current location north of Jefferson. In 1990 it was rebuilt with $1 billion to create a state-ofthe- art plant that manufactures the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Commander.

5. Before the Big Three

The intersection of Conner and Jefferson was popular among car producers in the early 1900s given easy access to the railroad and suppliers. Some of the companies that called this intersection home were Thomas-Detroit, Chalmers-Detroit, Maxwell, and Continental Motors. Continental’s smokestack can still be seen on the northwest corner of the intersection. Other companies at this intersection include: Hupp Motors: Founded in 1908, Hupp Motors saw its peak in 19208 selling upwards of 65,000 vehicles and buying out Chandler Motor Car in 1929. However, it was never able to recover from the Great Depression. In-fighting between stockholders along with an attempted hostel takeover took its toll and by the late 1930s Hupp no longer had the resources to manufacture cars.

Hudson Motor Car Company: Hudson Motor Car Company was established in 1909 by Roy Chapin, Fred Benzer, and Howard Coffin. The company’s greatest accomplishment and contribution to the auto industry came in 1922 when they offered enclosed models for only $100 more than their competitor’s open model cars proving that the public wanted affordable closed model vehicles. Briggs Manufacturing: The plant was built in 1940 by Walter Briggs, then owner of the Detroit Tigers, for aircraft work during World War II. After the war, it became an automotive body plant to produce the Clipper bodies for the Packard Motor Company. In 1953 Briggs was bought out by Chrysler forcing Packard who had merged with Studebaker to find another manufacturer. When they could not, an agreement was made with Chrysler to produce the bodies for 1955-’56 Packard models. Chrysler tore down the plant in 1959 after the Studebaker- Packard agreement expired.

6. Chrysler Mack Engine I & II

Originally built as a stamping plant in the early 1950s, this facility has gone through several transformations. While it was the original manufacturing location for the Dodge Viper from 1992 untill1995, it was converted into an engine plant in 1998 and the Mack Avenue Engine II was added in 1999. Currently these two plants produce the PowerTech 4.7 L V8 and PowerTech 3.7 L V6 engines.

7. Liberty Motor Car Company/Budd Manufacturing

The plant was constructed in 1919. Liberty was a small automaker in comparison to Ford, General Motors, and Hudson but it managed to sell 21,000 cars in 1921. In 1925 it was acquired by Columbia Motors and sold to the Budd Company. The Budd Company manufactured stampings and assemblies for cars, trucks and SUVs. In 2000 Budd became ThyssenKrupp Budd and then moved from the site in 2007. The building is one of two replicas of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in metro-Detroit. The other is part of the Henry Ford.

8. Interstate 94: The Ford Freeway

Originally called the Detroit Crosstown Highway, City Council renamed it the Edsel B. Ford Expressway in 1946. It connected the city with many of the inner ring suburbs allowing residents to move further away from the city center and drastically reducing the time it took to commute between the two. While its construction made modern life more convenient it has also displaced residents and separated communities.

9. Cadillac Stamping

This plant, located adjacent to Conner Playfield was originally built in 1926 by the Hudson Motor Company for their stamping operation. It was closed following the merger of Hudson and Nash-Kelvinator in 1954 to form American Motors. General Motors used the stamping plant for its Cadillac division in 1956 and continued to use the plant until the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant opened in 1986.

10. Coleman A. Young International Airport

Detroit City Airport opened in October 1927 and prior to World War II was one of the busiest airports in the country. In 2003 it was renamed in honor of Detroit’s first African American Mayor.

11. Mt. Olivet Cemetery

One of the oldest cemeteries in the city there have been over 330,000 burials to date, among them is the oldest of the famous Fisher Brothers, Fredrick, who was the president of the Fisher Body Company along with his uncle Albert’s family mausoleum.

12. Chrysler Conner Avenue Assembly Plant

Home of the Dodge Viper and the power full V-10 engine. With no robotics or automation, it produces the most exciting low volume, niche vehicle in the industry. In March 2008 the plant produced its 25,000th viper.