Welcome to Detroit ... Oregon?

DETROIT TIMES SIX: There are a half dozen towns in the United States named after our fair city, and the one in Oregon even had the nerve to try to change it. Although there may be other Detroits, one thing remains clear: There’s only one Motor City.


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Doug DeGeorge was in California building a house for the manager of Journey when he got a call from a reporter who wanted to know why he didn’t like Detroit.

Weeks prior, he had discussed with his council members the possibility of changing the name of his city from Detroit to Detroit Lake. He thinks the latter sounds more vacation-friendly.

“Detroit went through a downward spiral,” he says. “Now, we’ve got this whole new industry in this whole new area and we need a fresh name for it. We want the economy to become more stimulated and have people realize there’s a beautiful place in Detroit.” DeGeorge’s proposal lost by 11 votes. “I was out of town,” he says. “I didn’t get a chance to talk to my neighbors and tell them why I wanted to change the name.”

The final ballot count? 51 against; 40 in favor.

DeGeorge isn’t talking about the Detroit, this Detroit. He’s referring to Detroit, Ore., population 205. (The population once totaled in the thousands — before the logging mills shut down.)

Someone had started the rumor that DeGeorge wanted to change the name because of The Motor City’s reputation. “I wasn’t even thinking about Detroit, Mich.,” he says. “All I was thinking about was my beautiful little place in the mountains.”
When the proposal went to voters, the media went to DeGeorge. “It must’ve been a slow news day,” he says with a laugh.

DeGeorge is the owner of the hotel The Lodge at Detroit Lake. The lake is a big recreation area, he says, so it makes sense to change the name to something friendlier. “If I asked you if you wanted to vacation in Detroit or Detroit Lake, what would you choose?”

That reasoning worked for Detroit Lakes, Minn., which was also once named Detroit. Although its major industry is tourism, the city added Lakes to the name as a pragmatic measure. “We kept getting our mail sent to Detroit, Mich.,” said Carrie Johnston, president of the Detroit Lakes, Minn., Chamber of Commerce.

DeGeorge’s motive is perception, not practicality. And he remains committed, vowing to return his proposal to a popular vote in two years. Next time, he says, he’ll be around to tell his neighbors why he wants it changed.

It’s not rare for cities to change names as a sort of corporate re-branding campaign. Consider the Detroit suburb of Eastpointe, formerly East Detroit. As Wikipedia puts it: “The [1992] name change had been proposed to remove any perceived association with the adjacent city of Detroit; the ‘pointe’ is intended to associate the city instead with the nearby affluent … Grosse Pointes.”

An atlas of Detroit namesakes:

DETROIT, ALA.

Population: 300
Size: 4 square miles
Name origin: Formerly Millville, the post office wanted it changed because of the nearby Millerville.
Major industry: Most recently, a pants factory, which closed down.
History: Once home to three saloons, the city is now dry.

DETROIT, MAINE

Population: 816
Size: 9 square miles
Name origin: Once Chandlerville, after the founder, townspeople wanted it changed to avoid confusion with similarly named nearby communities. The name Detroit refers to a strait running through the city.
Major industry: Walpole Woodworkers, a nationally known manufacturer of cedar outdoor furnishings.
History: Detroit hosts an annual summer bluegrass festival.

  DETROIT, ORE.

Population: 205; swells to about 1,200 in summer months
Size: 0.9 square miles
Name origin: Originally Coe, but an area post office thought it sounded too much like the nearby city of Kove. A high population of former Michiganians at the time chose the new name.
Major industry: Tourism, logging in the 1970s.
History: The original town of Detroit is the ground beneath what is now Detroit Lake. In the 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers selected the site for the $70-million Detroit Dam, which would put the town under 100 feet of water. Residents moved to higher ground one mile north.

DETROIT, TEXAS

Population: 776
Size: 1.6 square miles
Name origin: Formerly called Bennet, in 1887, a railroad agent renamed it after his hometown in Michigan.
Major industry: Once the railhead for a vast region, the tracks were removed in 1996.
History: In 1873, the Texas and Pacific Railroad plotted the town next to its tracks.

DETROIT, KAN.

Population: Under 100
Size: Three or four blocks
Name origin: People from Michigan named it after
their hometown.
Major industry: Midway Bar and Grill is the only business in town.
History: A railroad line built in 1879 served a once-thriving business community.

DETROIT, ILL.

Population: 88
Size: Less than 1 square mile
Name origin: Named after the community’s first post office.
Major industry: Anderson’s Garage & Trucking
History: Founded in 1837 for its proximity to the Illinois River. The population in 1870 was 917. Steamboat passengers would stop by to shop in the strong business community.


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