Parker’s Alley named after free black man of Old Detroit

Parker's Alley
A sign was painted on the back of the Shinola Hotel wall to let those that pass by know that Parker’s Alley now exists. It was done by painter Jordan Zielke.

DETROIT – Parker’s Alley may be the most important alley in all of Detroit. Crain’s Detroit was the first to report the news. The block-long walkway sits behind the new Shinola Hotel in downtown and honors Thomas Parker, one of the first African-American landowners in the city’s history in 1809.

Parker’s small parcel was located at 1413 Farmer street, he owned the land from March 18, 1809 until April 9, 1816 according to a well-told story by Paul Sewick of the Metro Times. Parker acquired the land through a lot drawing stemming from the Great Detroit Fire of 1805.

On the morning of June 11, 1805, the blaze is believed to have begun in or near the stables of a local baker named John Harvey. No official cause was determined, but it was rumored that hot ashes from a pipe started the fire. One of the first buildings that caught fire was a nearby barn and the flames spread quickly to other wooden structures. The population of Detroit at the time was about six hundred and there was not an adequate fire department. The city was leveled to the ground by that afternoon, but shockingly, no one died in the fire.

Parker Alley
A view of Parker’s Alley from John R.

To help rebuild Detroit, Judge Augustus Woodward was sent to plan a new city and every adult who lived within city limits during the fire was promised a free lot in the new city regardless of socioeconomic status.

Parker, a free black man, paid $1 for his property in a drawing to determine who would get a lot and where. The Shinola Hotel property encompasses lot 70 in section 7 of the Plan of Detroit, the very piece of land that belonged to Parker in 1809, according to the website.

Future Detroit mayor John R. Williams purchased Parker’s lot for $1,500 in 1816. Williams was the first official mayor of Detroit, serving five terms: 1824-1825, 1830, 1844-1847. John R. street is named after him, which he gave to himself while still alive. Williams street is also named after him. He died in 1854 and is on record for being a slaveholder.

The alley’s name is scheduled to be painted in on Monday. It will be a retail alley lined with specially-curated shopping options, offering a mix of global brands, and homegrown businesses that celebrate Detroit’s entrepreneurial spirit, including The Lip Bar. The hotel itself it set to open January 2.


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