Downriver History Compiled by Local Man
By Bethany Newton
We have a different spin on this month’s Hometown Hero. This historical hero has a true commitment and passion for the Downriver community, especially to preserve the rich history that makes our area unique.
This story teller takes snapshots of history dating back to the 1800s. Heritage, traditions, and historical moments are brought to light through news clippings, videos, and stories that have been long forgotten yet fascinating and relevant to this friendly, hard-working, and proud community that we call Downriver.
Do you remember the Boblo boat? How about Korvettes, the popular department store that once flourished in Southgate? Did you know that former President George W. Bush was stationed in Grosse Ile?
We want to introduce you to Kevin Harrison, who knows plenty about these fascinating Downriver snippets in time.
Harrison grew up in the Downriver area for most of his life, a Wyandotte native who once called Southgate his home for nearly four decades. Now a Detroit resident, he has fond memories of living 38 years in the area that has such a rich history.
Harrison runs a website called www.DownriverThings.com where everything from old pictures to fun facts about the area can be found. This comprehensive fact-filled website has taken Harrison years to cultivate.
Some of these facts can also be found within the history pages on the Discover Downriver history section where he contributes to our community website.
How does one gather all of this rich historical data?
“90% of it is at the Bacon Library in Wyandotte on the collection of microfilm reels that they have from the 1800s till now,” Harrison said.
Harrison remembered major events in Downriver’s history because he recalls reading about them in the now defunct Mellus Newspaper as a family. These memories gave him a starting point when looking back at the microfilms, and from there, he would research whatever years he had gaps in his recollections.
It’s a lot of work for someone who started this as a hobby of sorts.
Harrison first got the inspiration from his mother. She encouraged him to take photos of the area in the 1980s, but back then, he failed to grasp the importance of remembering your past. A few years ago, though, he read an article from journalist Joe Hoshaw (now editor of the Trenton Trib) about the old Korvette building and the history behind it, and it sparked an idea in his mind.
“It started to make me think. Then as I was driving around, I started seeing landmarks being torn down in the name of progress, and I said we’re missing something here,” Harrison said.
This is not his first stint dabbling in community history. Harrison got involved locally around 25 years ago. He did a history show on Comcast Public Access channel back in 1995 called “Pages of Time.” Although he did the show, he didn’t know if anyone shared the same passion for the past as he did.
“That is until there was a Facebook group that opened back in 2011,” Harrison said. “I became a member and then a moderator of [the group]. It’s called “Downriver Things That Aren’t There Anymore.”
Harrison never considered running his own website. While helping out with the Facebook page, the website was created as a backup to store all of the photos, but over the years, it evolved into something Harrison could have never expected.
The website holds not only photos, but old videos, articles and long-forgotten stories that Harrison has unearthed in his quest to create a complete history of the Downriver area. He later started a new Facebook group called “Downriver History and Facts” that mirrors the website. It’s a huge undertaking, but Harrison is grateful for the support he gets for his endeavors.
Through digital media, the history of the Downriver area has captured the attention of the community. He does 99% of the writing himself, but welcomes and encourages contributors. For example, when writing about Crusin’ Downriver, Harrison said that while he enjoys classic cars, his knowledge is fairly limited. He wants different voices on the site, so they can focus on their various strengths and interests.
The time and commitment given to the upkeep of the website seems enormous, but Harrison does it for three simple reasons.
“It’s out of a love of history, the love of the area I grew up in and a desire to give back to past and future generations to have our story told,” Harrison said.Visit his website Downriver History & Facts or join their Facebook group to learn more about our wonderful corner of Michigan we call home.