St. Florian Historic District

St. Florian Historic District

Bounded by Joseph Campau, Yemens, Holbrook and Dequindre, Hamtramck

The Dodge brothers grew up in Niles, Michigan but developed a prosperous enterprise  building bicycles in Windsor in the 1890s.  This was the decade in which the interest in bicycles peaked. However, that was not nearly as rewarding as making parts for vehicles in Detroit in the first part of the last century.  Most of the early car manufacturers—including Henry Ford—faced a tremendous challenge in securing capital for their firms since many bankers had little faith in the vehicle industry.  Thus, the early auto firms, including Ford, became assemblers of cars, purchasing many or most of their parts from suppliers in the Detroit area or nearby.  The Dodge Brothers excelled at this business, and from about 1908 to the mid teens, supplied Henry Ford with many or most of the parts he needed to assemble his vehicles, including the Model T.

Quite a few of the men who worked with Henry Ford or supplied him with parts eventually had a falling out with him.  Apparently, he could be a controlling and difficult man who frequently had the financial assets to dominate transactions and his potential partners.  In the early teen years of the last century, the Dodge Brothers decided to establish their own auto company and cease making parts for Henry Ford.  Henry Ford, at this point, had enough resources to increasingly manufacture his own parts for his vehicles.  The Dodge Brothers began producing their own Dodge cars and erected a huge plant at the current Hamtramck-Detroit border.  This is very close to the new General Motors Poletown plant.

The Dodge Brothers quickly found a large market for their solidly built and moderately priced cars, so they quickly expanded their plant and it rapidly became one of the nation’s large production facilities.  Polish immigration to Detroit was interrupted by World War I, but resumed thereafter in the brief period when Eastern European immigrants were welcomed to come to the United States.  By 1924, federal law pretty much terminated immigration from Eastern Europe.

There was a well-established Polonia on Detroit’s East Side and another one on the West Side, as well as a third in suburban Wyandotte.  As more immigrants arrived, the east-side Polonia extended west from the Detroit River into what was then Hamtramck Township.  The Poles in this area were numerous and prosperous enough to commission one of the nation’s leading architects, Ralph Adam Carm, to design the beautiful Gothic St. Florian Church that anchors this historic district.

Many of the Polish men who settled in these neighborhoods were employed as unskilled laborers at the nearby Dodge Main plant.  None of that factory remains standing today.  In the prosperous 1920s, these immigrants were able to invest in a home built in this attractive historic district.  Most of the homes that you find here today consist of two flats built upon tiny slices of real estate.  At that time, it was not easy for people of modest means to find a mortgage.  The banks required very substantial down payments and there were no federal programs to encourage home ownership.  One way to finance a home was to purchase a two-story flat.  The owner would occupy one level, typically the lower level, while renting the upper level and using the rental income to pay the mortgage.  There was a great demand for housing near the Dodge Main plant.  Thus, very small lots were used such that occupants of adjoining flats could almost reach out their windows and touch their neighbor.  In the 1920s, few had the vision of unskilled workers ever owning cars so these homes, for the most part, were built without garages.

Many of the neighborhoods in Detroit and the inner ring suburbs built for moderate income unskilled workers fell into disrepair as the population migrated to the outer suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s.  St. Florian’s Church, however, was the heart of a neighborhood where the homes were quite well maintained.  Of course, many of the original Polish residents moved from Hamtramck to Oakland County, but they were replaced by other immigrants from Eastern Europe after the United States liberalized its immigration policies in 1968.  Hamtramck also appears to now appeal to some of the young professionals who are employed in the medical campuses and white-collar towers in Detroit.

This appealing historic district is named for St. Florian.  Florianus, anglicanized to Florian, was an officer in the military service of Roman Emperor Diocletian, the last of the Roman Emperors to stoutly persecute Christians.  Diocletian was replaced by Constantine who adopted Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire.  Florian commanded the Roman Army in Noricum, an area in present day Austria west of Vienna.  One of his obligations was to organize firefighting brigades.  Early in the fourth century, Emperor Diocletian sent Aquilinus to Noricum to make certain that the residents and the Emperor’s staff appropriately honored the Roman gods.  By this time, Florian had become a Christian.  Aquilinus order that Florian offer sacrifices to the Roman gods but Florian refused.  Aquilinus ordered that Florian, even though he was a Roman officer, be punished so he was beaten, and then later, thrown into the Enns River with a stone attached to his neck.  This occurred about the year 304.  According to tradition, his bones were retrieved from the Enns and, eventually, transported to Poland where they now reside in St. Florian’s Church in Krakow.  St. Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, chimney sweeps, Poland, the city of Linz, Austria and, I presume, Linzer tortes.

Hamtramck is not the only location in this nation that can proudly boast about their St. Florian Historic District.  German Chancellor Bismarck instituted a Kulturkamp policy in 1871 which sought to minimize the power and influence of the Catholic Church in Prussia.  Many Catholic priests and several bishops were removed from their position or imprisoned.  Fearing more persecution, some German Catholic decided to emigrate.  A number of these farmers migrated to Lauderdale County in North Alabama in 1872 where they settled and built two-story farm homes that were quite different from other farm houses in the area.  In 2007, the Historical Commission of the State of Alabama established a St. Florian’s Historic District.  Interestingly, this is a rural district consisting of the distinctive farm homes built by German immigrants almost a century and a half ago.  This community may have been named for one of the migrants, Florian Rasch, who was named for the famous St. Florian.  The local Catholic Church in Lauderdale County does not bear the name of the patron state of firefighters, but rather, is called St. Michael’s.  Census 2000 counted 305 persons in St. Florian, Alabama.

Architect:  Ralph Adam Cram designed the St. Florian Church that dominates this historic district. Most of the 690 residential structures in this district were not designed by architects.
Date of construction of the homes:  Primarily 1905 to 1920
Architectural styles:  Most are two-story flats compactly placed on small lots but are set back from their streets at a uniform distance.
Use in 2010:  Attractive residential neighborhood in Hamtramck
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites:  P25,314
State of Michigan Historical Marker:  Erected on the campus of St. Florian’s Church
National Register of Historic Sites:  Listed September 13, 1984
Photographs:  Ren Farley; July 22, 2010
Description prepared: August, 2010

Return to Religious Sites

Return to City of Detroit Historic Designations

Return to State of Michigan Historic Districts

Return to Federal Register of Historic Districts

Return to Homepage