Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Detroit, Next Exit Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Brenda Smiley

[image] Timbers from a log causeway built during the War of 1812 by American forces. (Dale Niesen) [LARGER IMAGE]

The cyclical lowering of water levels in the Great Lakes has recently laid bare portions of "Hull's Road," one of the region's most important remnants of the War of 1812. The road takes its name from General William Hull, who, on the way to defend Fort Detroit from the invading British in July 1812, encountered a marshy area along the extreme western end of Lake Erie, in what is today Brownstown Township, Michigan. Hull ordered the felling of trees for a log causeway that would allow men and wagons of the 4th U.S. Infantry to pass over the swampy mudflats.

The causeway enabled Hull's forces to reach Detroit in three days, but in August, he was obliged to surrender the fort to the British. Six months later, in January 1813, U.S. infantry and frontier militia forces again moved on Detroit, but were forced to withdraw by the British and their Indian allies under Tecumseh.

Hull's military road remained intact after the war, and in 1818 troops laid another log road over the original, as part of an effort to encourage settlement and commerce in the Michigan territory. Over time, as Lake Erie rose, the road disappeared and was all but forgotten until the 1930s, when the lake temporarily receded and exposed the logs. Recently Lake Erie's levels dropped again, revealing a section of the log road some 1,500 feet long, north of the Huron River's outlet to the lake.

Gerry Wykes, curator and supervising interpreter of the Lake Erie Marshlands Museum & Nature Center, has photographed and made measured drawings of the exposed road and taken samples of the wood. Wykes wants the state to designate the road a historic site, affording at least limited protection for what he likens, in the history of the Great Lakes region, "to the discovery of a fortress wall...or a Roman causeway." State Archaeologist John Halsey has urged the Brownstown Historical Society to apply for designation of the Hull Road on the National Register of Historic Places, both for its historical significance and its potential to yield historic or prehistoric data.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America