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Delray neighborhood set to receive its own historical archive

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“How do you create a place, a marker of sorts to remember this important part of Detroit’s past?”

Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

While writing The Witch of Delray, author Karen Dybis realized that information about the disappearing Detroit neighborhood was hard to come by. Not only did she see the need to create an archive of information for Delray, but to do it quickly, as the Gordie Howe Bridge construction was making its way into the neighborhood.

Dybis was recently awarded a $5,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant to create that archive.

“Landmark houses, businesses, and cultural institutions have been torn down, erasing much of what made Delray such a dynamic place over the past 100 years,” she says. “I wanted to use the grant project to ask: What happens to these places and their history when their physical locations are destroyed? Do we forget them? How do you create a place, a marker of sorts to remember this important part of Detroit’s past? It’s like Poletown, Black Bottom, or Paradise Valley—unless we do something to remember these neighborhoods, they’ll truly disappear.”

She found that historical documents and photos of the neighborhood were scattered through various research institutions in the city. And so much information is told through stories of families who lived there.

Dybis hopes to create a community-led archive that will live both online and in cultural institutions in the city. This will include oral histories, photographs, films, objects, and more. It could also include tours and exhibits. She’s working with the Delray House—a community center organized by the People’s Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit—and other institutions on the endeavor.

Dybis is reaching out to those who have a connection to Delray in order to capture their stories. She has a two year timeline for creating Project SAVE: The Delray Neighborhood Preservation Plan. If anyone has information that might be helpful, she can be contacted here.

The neighborhood has a complicated history, including its annexation by Detroit in 1905—which residents didn’t want. Once a bustling community, the neighborhood has slowly lost population over the decades, and the incoming Gordie Howe Bridge was the final blow. But Dybis says the perception of the neighborhood isn’t always correct. “What makes Delray so memorable is that it has its own personality, verve, and rebellious nature. Some people think Delray is a wasteland, empty, or vacant. It is nothing of the sort. People are still living there. There is an active community center. Hundreds of kids use its parks all year long. There are thriving businesses, such as the century-old Lockeman’s Hardware and Boats on Jefferson Avenue.”

These projects don’t organically happen on their own; it takes a great deal of research, outreach, and work to develop something like this. But the final product can help more people understand the neighborhood’s place in history. “I hope this archive gives people that opportunity to tell their stories, document their favorite places, and share Delray with future generations.”