Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 160 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Tiger Baseball Sunday - Rector's Rambling for April 28, 2024

      In 1858 when Henry Porter Baldwin bought the apple orchard across Woodward Avenue from his country house, and proposed to his neighbors to build a church there, he did so under the assumption that the City of Detroit would grow to the north, away from the river, as major cities eventually do. 

Most likely, he never imagined that that growth would go beyond large Victorian homes and estates like his own.  Within the first decades of St. John’s opening, the neighborhood developed into a lovely, sprawling, affluent neighborhood.  And then the next neighborhood beyond it became more attractive and even his own nephew, Henry Porter Baldwin II (our second senior warden), built his new house further north where Wayne State University is now.

By the time of Henry Porter Baldwin’s death in 1892, the neighborhood had developed into a commercial district and within a few years the Victorian homes would become boarding houses, theatres would be built (Fox theater in 1928), and the affluent moved out to neighborhoods like Indian Village and eventually to the new suburbs such as  the Grosse Pointes and Hazel Park. 

By the 1960s and 1970s, this neighborhood was primarily commercial and more and more becoming derelict.  Many of the Churches up and down Woodward closed, and a few were just barely holding their own, including our beloved St. John’s.

With the renovation of the Fox Theatre, and eventually the development of the stadiums, new housing, and the still ongoing District Detroit, we are seeing a renaissance of our neighborhood and Detroit in general. 

Today’s Tigers Outing is the fruit of that renaissance.  Comerica Park opened in 2000, Ford Field in 2003, and Little Caesars Arena in 2017.  I am sure that Henry Porter Baldwin could not have imagined that our front steps would be 250 yards from Tigers Home Plate and 250 yards from the Red Wings/Pistons Center Ice/Court!  And yet here we are with these things, new office buildings, new housing, and now building underway for a University of Michigan graduate innovation center 3 blocks to our west!

In all of this, St. John’s has remained faithful and steady as all around us has changed for the worse and for the better.  We minister the same unchanging Good News.