Bicentennial honors ties to city of Detroit, native peoples


Two centuries after its founding in Detroit, the university will celebrate its birthplace with a variety of bicentennial activities throughout 2017.

The events will mark 200 years of bonds between U-M and the state’s largest city.

The university was founded on Aug. 26, 1817, in Detroit, then the capital of the Michigan Territory. The village was a riverfront community of some 1,000 residents, with the University of Michigania’s first building — a two-story wooden structure —built on Bates Street, near Congress Avenue.

A month after U-M’s founding, the federal government and the region’s native peoples — specifically Ojibwa, Odawa and Potawatomi tribes — entered into a treaty that ceded 1,920 acres of Indian land for use by “the college at Detroit.” The Treaty of Fort Meigs, as it was known, was among the first in the Great Lakes region to provide for education. The university never occupied the land and eventually sold it, with proceeds going toward general operations.

The university will honor its ties to both the city and native peoples during a Sept. 15 festival in downtown Detroit.

“We will commemorate the university’s founding, and celebrate and understand two centuries of history connecting Detroit and U-M,” said Gary D. Krenz, executive director of the bicentennial. “We are eager to showcase the contributions and achievements of U-M students, alumni, staff and faculty, especially members of the Michigan family who are affiliated with Detroit.”

A two-story building marked the university’s birth in Detroit in 1817. (Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

Other Detroit activities include:

• A Detroit Historical Museum exhibition about the longstanding interactions between Detroit and U-M, built around the six themes of the university’s bicentennial celebration.

Through words, images and artifacts, the exhibition will show how each community has been made stronger by the ideas and contributions of its members, from public health improvements and broadened civil rights to architectural design and compelling journalism.

Presented in partnership with the U-M Bicentennial Office, the exhibition will run from July 15-Oct. 8.

• A yearlong collaboration with Detroit Public Television to produce and air “An Uncommon Education,” a series of original vignettes about U-M’s history. Ten stories will document significant people, places and accomplishments.

Each vignette will be presented in a one-minute broadcast version that will appear on Detroit Public Television, Detroit’s PBS station. These short versions will direct viewers to DPTV and U-M websites with full-length 6- to 7-minute versions that provide greater depth on each subject. The series is made possible by the Stanley and Judith Frankel Family Foundation.   

• “Wolverines in the D,” a Detroit Tigers promotion that features a game ticket to Comerica Park and a maize-and-blue Tigers souvenir. The game will be at 7:05 p.m. Aug. 18 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. A portion of ticket sales will benefit the School of Kinesiology’s Pat Maloy Scholarship Fund.

• “Voices of Detroit,” an oral history project gathering the stories of U-M alumni who grew up in the city. Launched in 2014 by the U-M Detroit Center, the project has received additional support from the Bicentennial Office to broaden its collection of interviews.



  1. Alessandra Kellermann
    on October 31, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Incredibly proud to be living here as an alumnus with my son in Ann Arbor during the bicentennial . We run Homefront Hugs USA together and anything we can do to help celebrate and highlight any festivities let us know please . #GoBlueForever

  2. Daniel Meldrum, MD, (BS 1987)
    on February 15, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    An unknown UM hero was its first benefactor. When UM was first started in Detroit, Rev Monteith had no building in which to teach. George Meldrum a prominent Detroit merchant donated his house to the UM upon his death in 1817. Rev Monteith then used that house to teach until UM constructed its own building. That old farmhouse is now gone but it was the first UM building. In the years up to his death George Meldrum worked with the Masons to raise money for the University and also held a lottery for that purpose. I am a sixth generation descendant of George Meldrum and this info is well known within my family and Detroit records. This important piece of Michigan history and generous contribution of a Detroit native, should not be lost. While the picture in the article was the first UM building constructed, it was not yet built when the school was established in 1817. While awaiting its construction, the donated Meldrum house was UMs first building. 200 years after George Meldrum’s death and generous gift to the University at a time when it was just an idea.

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.