Here's Model D's guide to moving to Jefferson East. Also check out our guides to visiting and investing in Jefferson East.
There is perhaps no greater symbol of a solid neighborhood than one that will fight for its elementary school – one of the best in Detroit, nearly lost in a statistical analysis but won with the passion of folks who said good education close to home matters. This is what sustains Jefferson East, a village that has retained generations of people because of its sense of place, and partly because of its quiet riverside location.
“This is a very active community. People know their neighbors. That’s one of the things that makes a neighborhood special,” says Karen Brown, executive director of Creekside Community Development Corporation, named after Fox Creek, which runs through Jefferson East to the river. “There is a culture of community activism,” she says, and it’s evident in the block clubs and Citizen’s District Council.
There’s been new residential development. At Conner, Creekside has developed 45 market-rate infill homes, complementing lower-cost Habitat for Humanity homes and the remaining housing stock. The CDC has also planted 95 trees along the Fox Creek Trail, adding to the aesthetic quality of the area.
This is a community with children and grandparents – generations of East Siders who are proud of this neighborhood – so much so that when the Detroit Board of Education announced plans to close Guyton Elementary school in March 2005, people – even some without children – came to its defense, as if it were the Alamo of Jefferson East.
Sharon Meadows, a member of the Jefferson Chalmers Citizens District Council, has no children but was amazed to learn “how incredible the school was.”
“I’m heavily invested in this neighborhood. When I found out that we have this incredibly high quality school, four blocks from my house, an amazing, dedicated staff that was performing so much better than other schools, and they were talk about closing it, it was like hell no … no way.” Guyton outperformed the Detroit Public School average, and met or exceeded the state average in Reading, Math, and English Language Arts, on the MEAP exam.
“Having a neighborhood school that you can walk to is important to a community,” says Frank Bach, who walked his children to Guyton. “It’s good for families. I walked to school when I was growing up. …There are a lot of people who live in this neighborhood who have been active for a long time…so that when a call goes out there is a network of people who will respond.”
Meadows organized the effort that exceeded the Detroit Public School enrollment quota that saved the school. “We know what happens when things close around here,” the 17-year resident of Detroit. “They become havens for criminals. It would have had devastating effects (on the neighborhood). We were able to appeal to a much broader audience, not just the parents. There are a lot of people in this neighborhood who no longer have children but saw that his is in their best interest.”
There are many other opportunities for high-quality education close by. Jefferson East is close to private schools such as the Friends and Waldorf schools in Detroit, and just inside the neighboring Grosse Pointes are Grosse Pointe Academy and St. Clare.
The river runs through it
Canals flow through the backyards of many Jefferson East homes, allowing easy access to the river and nearby Lake St. Clair.
Meadows lives in her “dream home,” an English Tudor on Harbor Island, one of the homes built along Jefferson East canals. She searched along the east waterfront from Detroit to St. Clair She had been looking for a house with water access. “I had to find a house for my boat,” a 26-foot sailboat. “It was the house and the value. I wanted to be on a canal and I wanted an older home; I love historical old homes and the quality you can get. The value for the dollar was incredible here.”
She spots eagles and watches freighters in her back yard. “It’s like being in the country, but I’m eight minutes from my office. It is phenomenal. It’s like coming to a resort home. I can jump on my boat and sail out into the river in 10 minutes.”
Bach, who has been in the Jefferson East area for 25 years, says it is a well-preserved, stable neighborhood with 1920s vintage homes that is very walk able. He’s a half-block from one of the four riverfront parks. “I can be walking along the river in five minutes. My wife, son and I walk in the neighborhood several times a week.”
James Jackson, owner of an independent towing service, is a retired police officer and 37-year resident of the area who saw “white flight late 60s,” gang problems, and now “regentrification.” Several years ago, during the groundbreaking for Heritage at Riverbend condominiums, Jackson claimed, “this is the hottest real estate area in Southeast Michigan.” It may not be exactly hot, but homes are sold as they’re built and they appreciate well, he says. “On Grayhaven Island, they started out at $750,000 to $990,000, and they quickly rose to what they are today.” Some homes there sell for $2.5 million. Soon, Jackson, a member of the Jefferson/Chalmers Citizens District Council, expects more upscale homes built on a narrow stretch of land on Lenox, opposite Grayhaven.
The value of Jefferson East is not lost on Realtor James Wrobel. One of his properties, a 2,400-foot, five-bedroom house on Chalmers, runs for $139,000. “I’m really impressed with this area,” he says. “A lot of those houses are classy houses. If you were going to build them in the suburbs it would cost you more than $350,000. This area is going to come back strong.”
There are limited rental offerings, mostly apartment above storefronts and houses. Winston Place, an older apartment building on Jefferson, is under renovation and will offer market-rate living.
Shopping, amenities, recreation
In addition to the traditional business district, the neighborhood is served by three shopping centers – Riverbend Plaza and Jefferson Village on East Jefferson, and Mack Alter Square on Mack at Alter Road. Aldi Foods and Farmer Jack are within minutes of home. There’s a hardware store, cleaners, and two bait shops. Plus the tawny Village and Hill shopping districts in Grosse Pointe are just minutes away.
There is a “jewel” of a library, the Monteith branch of the Detroit Public Library, serving families throughout the area. Built in 1927, it resembles a small gothic church with stained glass windows. The library has benefited from financial and volunteer support through the Detroit Junior League. A pocket park is planned adjacent to the library, in conjunction with Greening of Detroit.
Jefferson East “is a diamond in the rough,” says Khadidja Ngom, Monteith librarian. Her vision is to expand the librarian’s identity beyond its traditional role to provide “holistic” community programs. The economic diversity that may seem as extremely divergent – from the very wealthy to low income – is actually an asset to the area, which is in the “pioneer stage” of its redevelopment. The important thing, she says, is the integrity of the community culture. “Everybody’s concerned about everyone.”
The area offers good access to health services. Detroit Community Health Connection provides primary care on Jefferson, in the center of the district. Further west, in Harbortown, is a Henry Ford health center. To the east, St. John and Bon Secours hospitals are within a few miles for emergency care. For the pets in the family, the Jefferson Avenue Veterinary Hospital is on Jefferson, just across Conner.
The closest watering hole is the historic (though not quite old English) Ye Olde Tap Room on Charlevoix at Alter, which has been serving a wide range of beer to a couple generations. And on Kercheval, across from Janet’s diner, is M’Dear’s, a genuine New Orleans café, owned by Jefferson East residents. The chef is from the Big Easy’s 7th Ward – you can’t get any more authentic than that. Of course, you can venture further into the Pointes for dining – still within just a few minutes of home.
You won’t find much nightlife in the immediate vicinity, not that folks by the river care that much about late night lounging. Local planners want to revive the historic entertainment scene on Jefferson; but for the moment, think downtown, which is a quick drive.
As the weather warms up, many Jefferson East folks gravitate to the river. Some use the three private marinas in the area – Bayview Yacht Club, Harbor Hill Marina, and Kean’s Marina – and many will launch from their backyard or the public boat launches. Still others will stay on solid ground, positioning a fishing pole, or just lingering awhile.
“For me, this is the place where I want to be,” Jackson says. “This is home. I love this area. We have a new park on the foot of Alter Road ... I love the water. You will see people sit for a half hour to 45 minutes. It’s like they’re coming to get their dose of tranquility, then they drive off.” He says the anglers catch perch, musky, catfish and sturgeon.
“The Detroit River is a great adventure. You don’t know what you’re going to get when you put your pole in.”
For more information about Jefferson East visit the Model D
- Visiting Guide
- Investing Guide
Directions to Jefferson East
From the East:
Take I-94 West to Outer Drive Exit 222A toward Chalmers Ave. Turn left onto Outer Dr. East and stay straight to go onto Alter Rd. Turn right onto Jefferson Ave East and arrive in Jefferson East.
From the North:
Take I-75 South and merge onto I-94 via Exit 53B toward Port Huron. Take the Conner Ave Exit 220B toward the City Airport. Keep right at the fork in the ramp and stay straight to go onto Conner St until you come up to Jefferson Ave E. Arrive in Jefferson East.
From the West:
Take I-96 East and merge onto I-94 via Exit 190A toward Port Huron. Take the Conner Ave Exit 220B toward the City Airport. Keep right at the fork in the ramp and stay straight to go onto Conner St until you come up to Jefferson Ave E. Arrive in Jefferson East.
From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit. Take the Conner Ave Exit 220B toward the City Airport. Keep right at the fork in the ramp and stay straight to go onto Conner St until you come up to Jefferson Ave E. Arrive in Jefferson East.
Take I-75 North toward Detroit to I-96 West via Exit 48 on the left toward Lansing. Then merge onto I-94 East toward Port Huron. Take the Conner Ave Exit 220B toward the City Airport. Keep right at the fork in the ramp and stay straight to go onto Conner St until you come up to Jefferson Ave E. Arrive in Jefferson East.
House and Boat on the Canals in Jefferson Chalmers Neighborhood
Creekside Community In Fill Home on Conner
Clairpointe Estates Homes
Frieghter and Sailboats on the Detroit River
Monteith Public Library
Jackson Krieger, A Bayview Yacht Club Junior Sailor on the Detroit River
Boats at the Harbor Hill Marina
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger