Detroit’s Water Works Park


Published:

1936

This idyllic summer scene looks like some exotic locale, but it’s actually Detroit’s Water Works Park, just off East Jefferson near Cadillac Boulevard. The area’s initial purpose was both utilitarian and recreational. In 1879, a water-pumping station and standpipe (to equalize pressure) were built to supply drinking water to the city, but the 110 acres included a public park with picnic sites, tennis courts, swimming, and baseball diamonds. The grounds also were home to a library and greenhouse. The 185-foot-tall standpipe seen in the background was a hit with Detroiters and tourists who climbed the tower’s winding staircase to the observation deck, which afforded breathtaking views of the city. Later, a large water-powered floral clock at the park’s entrance became another attraction. In 1912, the name was changed to Gladwin Park, which didn’t stick with residents, who still called it Water Works Park. The growing city needed additional pumping stations, and the standpipe was effectively obsolete by 1893. It remained a popular draw, though, until 1945, when the City Council deemed it unsafe and closed it. It was razed in 1962. There are few vestiges of the park’s glory days, save for the Beaux Arts-style Hurlbut Memorial Gate facing Jefferson. It was erected in 1894 to honor Chauncey Hurlbut, a long-serving president of the Board of Water Commissioners. The area does, however, retain its original function of serving water to the city. In 2003, a sprawling wastewater-treatment facility was completed.

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