Fort Shelby - Recollections of old Fort Shelby, Detroit, Michigan and its surroundings, by Mrs. Samuel Zug, of Detroit, and read before the Detroit Pioneer Society, September 27, 1872:

While reading the reports of the Pioneer Society, some scenes with which I was long since familiar have fixed themselves upon my mind very vividly, though surrounded by the mist of many years.

Sad thoughts arise when we remember that many persons and places, that we then knew, we shall know no more forever, but still thoughts that we love to dwell upon.

Though what I can tell may not in itself be of much interest or historic value, it may perhaps awaken more important reminiscences in the minds of others who, like myself, were born and bred in the little French town of Detroit, and who remember the time when it was a rare thing to meet any one whom we did not know, not only those of the city (for it must be remembered that we boasted of being a city at a very early date), but also every Frenchman that we met in his little cart seated in his "marche done" chair, or in his cariole, from Grosse Pointe to the River Ecorse.

Within the last ten years many have died who possessed knowledge of great interest and value of the early history of our city, and it is much to be regretted that an effort was not sooner made to put on record facts that are now lost forever.

Few remain whose recollections extend as far back in the history of our city as the year 1826, and one of that remnant now ventures to give you what she can remember of old Fort Shelby and its surroundings.

The ground on which was the fort and what was called the cantonment was given to the general government in 1826, when Detroit ceased to be a military post.

The fort, the center of which was near the inter section of Shelby and Fort streets, was an embankment said to have been 30 feet high, surrounded by a ditch and pickets.

It was built by the British in 1777.

The cantonment, or barracks, were built in 1815, and were west of the fort, and composed of four rows of one-story log buildings, about 300 feet long, arranged in a quadrangle.

The center was used for the parade-ground.

The west row stood directly on the Cass line.

The cantonment and the fort extended fom that line to, I think a little east of Shelby street, and from the south side of Fort street to a little north of Lafayette avenue.

The entrance or gate of the fort was directly in front of the house now occupied by Mrs. McDonald on Fort Street, and which was in the southwest part of the fort.

This house has been somewhat altered, but its general appearance is the same, though we miss the four stately Lombardy poplars, which stood like so many sentinels to guard the residence of their commanding officer.

Besides this house there were two other smaller buildings and a very large root-house, which, if I remember correctly, was all that was within the embankment.

The cantonment may have had more than one entrance, but the only one that I remember was in the southeast corner, near where Fort and Wayne Streets intersect each other.

As it is depicted upon my mind the houses presented an unbroken wall.

Some of the houses in the cantonment and in the fort, after they came into possession of the city, were rented by the corporation to individuals for residences.

The officers' quarters in the cantonment were in the northeast and southwest corners, and were occupied respectively by Mr. E. F. Hastings and the Rev. N. M. Wells, known then as now as Parson Wells, and the officers' quarters in the fort by Mr. S. Gillet.

The soldiers' quarters were occupied generally by poor families.

About the middle of the east row was a long room, fitted up in quite a magnificent style, as we then thought, having on either side pillars and arches.

This was called the Military Hall.

It had been used as a dancing hall and for court-martials, etc.

I remember one Sunday attending an Episcopal service there, the Rev. Mr. Cadle officiating.

How it happened I cannot tell, as their usual place of worship was in the old Council house, on Jefferson Avenue, where Firemen's hall now stands.

This hall was afterwards purchased by the First Protestant Society, and moved to the rear of their old yellow wooden church, on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Larned Street, and used for a session room.

It was afterwards moved again and used for a city court-room.

It must have been as late as 1830 when a part of the east row (I think the part that had been occupied by Mr. Hastings) was fitted up for the infant school, after the model of those under the patronage of Mrs. Bethune, and other benevolent women in New York, and Miss Lucina Williams, a sister of Mr. Harvey Williams (a gentleman well known in the early history of our State), was sent to New York to qualify herself for a teacher in that particular mode of instruction, then, I suppose, thought to be the royal road to learning; and there all the small children of the F. F. D.'s were sent to go through the routine of marching and singing their spelling lessons, and multiplication table, and even the profound science of astronomy, while in a closet just off the school room was a little bed, where any of the poor little creatures who were overcome by sleep were carefully tucked away for a nap.

Some of the families whose children were sent to the infant school lived where Christ's Church now stands, and good Mr. Hasting's cart, the usual mode of conveyance in those days, was fitted up in bad weather with a cover, after the fashion of emigrant wagons, and was the vehicle in which the children were toted to school and back.

Some straw was placed in the cart, a buffalo robe laid over the straw, then the children were packed in, to an incredible number, for old Thomas, Mr. Hasting's man, did not mind how far out of his way he went, and he was never known to refuse to take one more child for the want of room, for the capacity of those ancient vehicles was limitless, as was Thomas' patience.

I remember a beautiful Sunday evening in the early spring of 1827, when an unusual number of people had been walking on the parapet, inquiring the reason, I was told that the next day they intended to begin taking it down.

And sure enough, early on Monday appeared a gang of men, mostly Irish, with picks and shovels.

The less laborious work of carting away the earth was left for the French, who were very glad of the work, for many who possessed that, to a Frenchman, most coveted treasure, a pony, found it necessary in order to make out a living for himself and family to find something to do beside hauling water for family use, which had heretofore been their chief reliance.

The price for hauling water was from 12.5 to 25 cents a load, according to the weather.

Two barrels were considered a load, and though the barrels might have been full when they left the river, as an old bag of coarse cloth was the only cover, and our streets were not at that time celebrated for their smoothness, by the time it reached its destination the quantity was very materially diminished.

It may be supposed that water was not in those days used as freely as it is now.

The leveling of the parapet was considered a great undertaking, and it was two or three years before it was entirely accomplished.

Much of the earth taken from the fort was used to fill up the bank of the river, which was in some parts very shallow, and no doubt occasioned the severe malarial fevers that prevailed at certain seasons, and from which cause many useful lives were sacrificed.

Well do I remember the consternation that was created by the caving in of a portion of the earth, and one poor man, "Old Kelly," being buried under it, and the haste with which his fellow workmen labored to extricate him.

But when it was done life was extinct.

It was several years later before the cantonment was all removed.

Part of the buildings were torn down, and part detached and moved away, and no doubt some portions of them still stand in some parts of the city.

Many persons may remember the chimneys that stood, like monuments, after the wood that surrounded them was taken away.

And that brings to mind a gentleman now living in a neighboring town in our State, who, then an enterprising youth of about thirteen, took a contract to take down some of the chimneys at fifty cents apiece, and let out the job, to some of his young companions, at twenty-five cents; and, though the undertaking was rather hazardous, it was accomplished without accident, and the boys earned their own Fourth of July money, and enjoyed it much more than the boys in these days do twice the amount without labor or effort on their part to get it.

A short distance south of the fort stood quite a large one-story wooden house, which I am told had been used by the Commissary Department, and was at that time occupied by Col. Edward Brooks, and a little south of that, standing by itself, was a stone magazine.

Both of those, buildings must have stood between Cass and Wayne streets, and between Fort and Congress.

The old arsenal which stood on the corner of Jefferson avenue and Wayne street, where Mr. Phelps' store now stands, will be remembered by all, though not the yard back of it, which I think must have extended to Larned Street.

Captain Perkins, the military storekeeper, kept this yard in most beautiful order.

The piles of cannon balls, arranged in squares and triangles, at regular intervals, the clean walks, and well-kept grass plots have made a lasting impression on my mind.

And the cannon, looking so formidable, ready, as we children thought, to be used at any time, if the British should ever dare molest us; but, of course, there was little danger of that, for had we not whipped them twice?

The house where Captain Perkins lived stood just below the arsenal, on Jefferson Avenue.

It was a small wooden house, and if the Captain presided over the ordinance yard with precision, with no less exactness did Mrs. Perkins look after her front yard, which was noted for its profusion of fine flowers.

Many years since, when the arsenal was built in Dearborn, and the military stores ordered there, this house was purchased by the late Col. Sheldon McKnight and moved to the north side of Fort Street, between Wayne and Shelby.

It has been many times altered, until finally all similitude to the original building was destroyed, by adding another story to its height.

It is now occupied by Mr. Chittenden.

Little remains of old Detroit.

I can only remember St. Ann's Church, Mrs. McDonald's house, and the Campau homestead.

If Father Richard should be permitted to visit the sphere of his early labors he would hardly know his church, for that has been remodeled once and again since his death.

The house on Fort Street, I am told, is soon to be taken down to give place to a stately edifice.

And it is not to be expected that the "spirit of the age" will long permit the Campau house to stand a monument of the old regime.

Why will not some public spirited individual or individuals present it to the Pioneer Society for a hall, and to preserve any relics that they may collect?

Perhaps I am an old fogy, but even at the risk of being thought anything so dreadful, I might say it is too bad to have every old landmark taken away.