Close-up of woman's face, smiling into camera.

Open-Door Policy in Corktown

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By Eileen LeValley

My name is Eileen LeValley. I grew up in historical “Corktown” in Detroit, Michigan. My grandfather came to the United States from Ireland, and Corktown was where he settled. The Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840’s resulted in extensive Irish Migration, and the Irish were the largest ethnic group that settled in Detroit.

Close-up of woman's face, smiling into camera.
Eileen LeValley smiles for a selfie in preparation for writing her story of immigration for a multimedia journalism class at Oakland University in October, 2019.

I loved my childhood. My favorite part of growing up in the Corktown neighborhood was no one ever locked their doors. My grandfather, and father, and everyone else who lived in the neighborhood had an “open door policy.” Meaning, everyone is welcome. My father and grandfather always had a pot of coffee brewing, in case a neighbor dropped by. Everyone in the neighborhood helped each other out.

I miss that everything was close. I could walk everywhere. I miss the small meat and fruit markets I would walk to and get items for my mother to cook meals. I miss Sunday mornings when my father would send me to the store with a dollar bill, (yes, dollar bill) to buy a fresh pound of coffee. I would watch the man at the store grind the coffee fresh by hand. I can still smell that coffee.

I miss all of the history and beautiful architecture that Detroit has to offer. My grandfather, who was a Master Wood Craftsman, taught my father and his three brothers the craft. Chances are, if you go in a historical home or building in Detroit, my grandfather or father may have built the wood carved stairway, wood pillars, or possibly the whole thing!

Growing up in Corktown, I went to Most Holy Trinity Church on Sundays. Founded in 1834, it is one of the oldest parishes in Detroit. The historical Michigan Central Train Station is located in Corktown. I have fond memories leaving on trains from there with my family, for small weekend trips.

I feel honored to have grown up in a neighborhood with strong Irish and diverse beliefs. I am lucky it’s only a 15-minute drive away. Although it is not the same as it was over 40 years ago when I grew up there, I can still feel the rich heritage and strong beginnings of my past when I go back. What I miss most of all is my father and grandfather who are no longer living. They taught me that my Irish background and upbringing meant that I was to work hard, and be kind and helpful to others no matter what.

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