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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Curling at The Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo we know today opened in Royal Oak in 1928. It was the creation of the Detroit Zoological Society, founded in 1911--but it was not the first "Detroit Zoo".   In 1883, the short-lived Detroit Zoological Garden opened in Corktown, on Michigan Avenue just west of Tenth Street.

For less than a year between 1883 and 1884, Corktown was home to the very first Detroit Zoo. It was a privately-owned enterprise founded by businessmen with apparently no professional experience in animal husbandry. The Detroit Zoological and Acclimatization Society filed for incorporation on June 20, 1883, stating that it was established "for the purpose of exhibiting all manner of wild and other animals, plants, minerals, and other objects of natural history of every kind." It was founded with $10,000 in capital stock.

On July 11, 1883, the Free Press reported:
“A number of the animals for the Detroit Zoological Garden have arrived and are now domiciled in a temporary structure on the Michigan avenue circus grounds. The animals consist of a lion called "The Duke of Wellington," a lioness, a deer and a hyena.”

In order to maintain attendance during the winter months, an ice skating rink was opened on the property on December 17, 1883. Contests for "fancy skating" were held, and music was frequently supplied by the Tenth Infantry Band. It was claimed that "upwards of 3,000 persons" visited the zoo and ice rink on New Year's Day 1884, but this is almost certainly an exaggeration. The ice became a popular spot for curling, and was frequented by the Granite Curling Club and the Detroit Curling Club. 

(Note:  This writer believes this would have been the Detroit Thistle Curling Club.  The ‘old’ Detroit club had merged into the formation of the Granite club and the current Detroit Curling Club did not form until the winter of 1885).

Despite the impressive attendance reported by the zoo, it was unable to meet its financial obligations.  The zoo closed on July 29, 1884 and the property and animals were auctioned off immediately afterward.  In December 1884 it was converted into the Dime Roller Rink. The lot behind the building was again flooded and opened as an ice skating rink with a new entrance on Church Street.

By September of 1885, the building was remodeled and opened under new management as the West Side Roller Rink.  Between 1886 and 1887 it operated as the Granite Rink, apparently after the Granite Curling Club.  In 1888 the building was listed as vacant. At the time a newspaper article described it as an "old, dilapidated, tumble-down brick structure".

The Granite Club disbanded after the formation of the current Detroit Curling Club in about 1888 or 1889. 

(The above information is from by Paul Szewczyk.  It is reprinted here with his permission.)

We will present more information about The Granite Curling Club in future articles.

Good curling and Lang May ‘ur Lum Reek,
Angus MacTavish

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