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Corktown, Detroit
Corktown, Detroit | © VasenkaPhotography / Flickr
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A Brief History of Corktown, Detroit's Historic Irish Neighborhood

Picture of Tim Marklew
Updated: 13 March 2018
Although 150 years younger than the city itself, Corktown is the oldest surviving neighborhood in Detroit. Named by the Irish immigrants who settled there in the mid-19th century, it has since gone on to have a rich and diverse history.

The first Irish immigrants came to Detroit in the 1830s but, prompted by the Great Famine, Irish emigration to the US exploded in the 1840s and they were soon the largest ethnic group settling in Detroit. Primarily living on the west side of the city, the area soon became known as Corktown, named for County Cork, the largest county of Ireland where the majority had hailed from.

Detroit initially offered greater space than the Irish neighborhoods of New York and Boston, a more attractive proposition for those with greater economic means. By the 1850s, Irish immigrants made up half the population of the 8th Ward (which contained Corktown), with many new rowhouses and detached houses being built by this thriving new community.

It wasn’t long until it diversified further and by the time of the civil war, a German population was growing in Corktown. Thanks to the developing industry in the area, by the late 1800s many of the Irish residents who had established and developed the neighborhood were affluent to the point where they were able to move to wealthier parts of the city.

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Corktown, Detroit | © VasenkaPhotography / Flickr

As the Irish population in Corktown decreased, other diverse communities grew, attracted to the city by the booming auto industry. Around the turn of the 20th century, the first Maltese immigrants settled in the area and it was soon the largest Maltese community in the country. At the same time, Latinos also migrated to the city and settled in Corktown and Southwest Detroit.

Throughout the 20th century, Corktown remained a diverse and historic area, being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Though the borders of Corktown have changed with the development of the Fisher and Lodge freeways, many of its original housing is still in place and it’s become an attractive proposition again due to its close proximity to downtown, with many redevelopment projects in the works.

As well as still being home to a number of Irish businesses, each year Corktown pays tribute to its Irish roots around St. Patrick’s Day with Detroit’s premier parade and the Corktown Races 5k.