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Dexter Michigan Central Railroad Viaduct

Fri, 01/20/2006 - 3:31pm by Van

Reference Questions of Local Interest:

Who Designed the Viaduct (Bridge, Tunnel) and When Was It Built?

Frederick Blackburn Pelham (Fred Pelham), according to an Ann Arbor News article on February 22, 2000 (page D-1), "designed 18 to 20 bridges for the Michigan Central line between Detroit and Chicago."

"Amtrak passengers whiz over two of them in Dexter. One over Dexter-Pinckney Road at the village edge is familiar to drivers who must slow down to pass under it. The narrow opening creates a bottleneck for today's heavy auto traffic and has sparked debate about possible traffic rerouting." The bridge was built in 1890.

"A much higher and more impressive stone bridge designed by Pelham lies a few hundred yards northeast in the park behind the Dexter fire department. Its high arch spans Mill Creek."

This article and one other article say that Pelham was the second black civil engineer trained at the University of Michigan. The University's website says "The first African American graduate in Civil Engineering was Fred B. Pelham who completed his degree in 1887."

The article mentions Pelham’s niece, Adah, traveling this route from Missouri to attend the integrated Detroit schools.

“Adah rode the train by herself, name tag and ticket clipped to her dress, handed from conductor to conductor on the long trip. From Chicago to Detroit, she rode over the bridges her uncle had designed. When the train would approach one, writes Mallas, “She always told her seat mate, ‘My uncle built that bridge.’””

Thanks to the Dexter District Library for also finding the answer to the question.


Grace Shackman wrote an article about the Dexter underpass in the Then & Now section of the Community Observer (Spring 2007, page 53). She discovered the backstory (Mrs. Warner was struck and killed on March 20, 1887 at that spot by the Michigan Central's Limited Express, leading to petitions for a bridge at the crossing) and provides additional detail about Frederick Blackburn Pelham and one of the stone masons on the project.

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