'Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline' answers your Motor City questions

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
"Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline" by Paul  Vachon has just been released by Reedy Press.

It's clearly way too early to start thinking Christmas gifts, but an obvious candidate has just landed -- a good-looking, absorbing new book titled "Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline." 

Make a note. 

This 248-page tour through the city's historical highs and lows by Oak Park author Paul Vachon was released May 1 by Reedy Press. It's a handsome addition to the growing pile of new volumes celebrating the Motor City in all its multifaceted glory. 

You may already know Vachon from the several "Images of America" histories he's written for Arcadia Press, including "Forgotten Detroit" and "Lost Restaurants of Detroit." Those earlier titles served him well -- he didn't have to pitch "Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline": Reedy Press came looking for him. 

"I'm bullish and optimistic on Detroit," said the author, summarizing his take. Indeed, the book's concluding chapter, "We Hope for Better Things," does a nice run-down on Detroit's recent comeback. 

"I know large, large swaths of the city still suffer from devastation and disinvestment," Vachon said. "Still, present efforts -- like Ford's revival of the train station -- are not insignificant. They will have a lasting impact."

Paul Vachon, author of "Detroit: an Illustrated Timeline."

In figuring out what to include and what not, the author says he looked for hinge moments, when one development led inexorably to another. 

"I wanted to include enough things that would show the continuity of history," he said, "how one topic or event builds on another. I also wanted to include things that were turning points in the city's history."

All in all, he said, "I think I covered about 100 topics in roughly 50,000 words." 

Vachon ranges from the city's founding by Cadillac, who preferred Detroit over Grosse Ile for its unobstructed, defensible views of the river, to the successful conclusion of the city's bankruptcy in 2014. 

Cool historical nuggets abound, abundantly illustrated with period images. 

Who knew that in 1960, telegrams delivered at 2 a.m. informed the unfortunate journalists at the late, lamented Detroit Times that the paper was closing and they no longer had jobs? 

And it may come as news to many that the Red Wings started life in Canada's Western Hockey League as the Victoria Cougars, before joining the National Hockey League and moving to Detroit in 1926. 

The name was a bit of an ongoing issue. The team subsequently became the Detroit Falcons, before settling for good on Detroit Red Wings in 1932. 

Much of the city's history, of course, has been tied up in its struggle over race relations, even from early days -- a topic that particularly interested Vachon.

"People think racial problems just started in the 1960s," he said. "They didn’t."

Indeed, prior to the Civil War, "Detroit was a strong abolitionist town," Vachon said. 

"But at the same time," he added, "once the war started, there was conservative sentiment fearful of abolition because that would mean newly emancipated African-Americans could come north and compete for jobs."

Author events: 'Detroit: An Illustrated Timeline'

6 p.m. May 14

Pages Bookshop

19560 Grand River, Detroit 

(313) 473-7342


1 p.m. - 3 p.m. May 18

Barnes & Noble, 3120 Fairlane, Allen Park 

(313) 271-0688



Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

(313) 222-6021