Unique and diverse
Wayne County is the most populous county in Michigan and the 19th most populous county in the United States. Home to the city of Detroit, which is the county seat, Wayne County is also one of the most diverse counties in country. Another unique feature of the county is its international border with Canada. The two countries are separated by the Detroit River, which travels along the eastern and southern edges of Wayne County. In fact, a good chunk of the county is actually geographically north of Canada because of this winding border.
While Detroit is the biggest and most prominent city in the county, Wayne County is home to 43 other cities and towns, such as Dearborn, Grosse Ile, Grosse Pointe, Redford, Taylor, and Wyandotte.
A long history
Before Europeans began settling the area, Wayne County was home to several Native American tribes. Three of the main tribes—the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Botawatomi—were collectively known as the Anishinaabe, or the “Three Fires People.” They were united by a shared culture and language.
The fur trade eventually brought Europeans to the area. In 1701, a French trader by the name of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac established Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, which would later become the city of Detroit. European settlers and the Native American populations co-existed in relative peace in the area until just before Michigan gained its statehood in 1837. After that, Native American displacement began in earnest.
In 1760, the British gained control of Fort Pontchartrain from the French after their victory in the Seven Years War. They remained in control of the region until 1796 when they surrendered Detroit to the American Commander, General Anthony Wayne — the county’s namesake.
In 1787, the Northwest Territory was established, which included land that would become Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Wayne County was one of the original counties of the Northwest Territory. It contained the majority of the state of Michigan plus some parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin at that time.
Along the Detroit River
Wayne County consists of 612 square miles of land and about 60 square miles of water. The Detroit River and Lake St. Clair, which form the eastern border of the county, account for most of the water area. Beyond those water borders lies Canada, which can easily be accessed from Detroit via the Windsor Tunnel or Ambassador Bridge.
The communities of Wayne County which lie to the south of Detroit are often referred to as “Downriver.” These include Grosse Ile, Romulus, Taylor, Wyandotte, and more.
There are also a few islands in the Detroit River which are part of Wayne County. Most are uninhabited or part of a nature preserve, but several are part of Grosse Ile Township. Another notable island is Belle Isle, a popular park within the boundaries of Detroit.
Wayne County has a very diverse population of 1,749,343 people. It’s ranked among the top 100 most diverse counties in the United States, and Detroit is known for having one of the largest percentages of African Americans in the nation. Of its residents, 54.6% are White, 38.7% are African American, 0.5% are American Indian, 3.5% are Asian, and 6.1% are Hispanic or Latino. But those statistics only tell part of the story.
Wayne County has a large immigrant population with 9.1% of residents born outside the country. Certain communities are especially diverse, like Dearborn, which has a large Middle Eastern population, and Hamtramck, which has growing Middle Eastern and South Asian populations. The most common languages spoken in the county, other than English, are Arabic, Spanish, and Bengali.
Economic ups and downs
With Detroit commonly known as the Motor City, Wayne County’s economy is dominated by the automotive industry and manufacturing. Ford Motor Company is by far the largest employer in the region, and General Motors also employs a large number of residents. Other major employers in the area include Henry Ford Health Systems, U.S. Steel, AAA Michigan, and DTE Energy. Many other residents are employed by the government, including the state and federal governments as well as the U.S. Postal Service.
In general, manufacturing, healthcare/social services, and retail are the largest industries in the region. The most commonly held types of jobs are office/administrative support, production, and sales.
There are also a few major universities in Wayne County that are economically important to the area, including Wayne State University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, and University of Detroit Mercy.
Detroit has had some economic struggles since about the 1950s when much of the white population and industry moved to the suburbs. After that, the 2008 financial crisis and struggles with the auto industry hit the region hard again. Since then, the city has experienced a bit of a comeback. Downtown Detroit has seen a major revitalization, there’s a booming restaurant scene all over the city, and sense of opportunity and optimism has fueled a culture of start-ups and small businesses.
But, there’s still a long way to go. Detroit and Wayne County’s median household incomes are $30,894 and $47,301, respectively. That’s a good bit lower than Michigan’s overall median income of $57,144.
History, art, and the outdoors
There’s plenty to keep you busy when visiting Wayne County.
For a dose of local and national history, visit the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit. The museum is housed in the original headquarters and recording studio for Berry Gordy’s music label, Motown Records. View memorabilia from the era, tour the upstairs apartment — which was Gordy’s residence for a time -- and walk through Studio A where legendary recordings took place between 1959 and 1972.
The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn are perfect spots to immerse yourself in even more history. You’ll want to devote a full day to experience everything these neighboring attractions have to offer. At The Henry Ford, you’ll get an in-depth view of the history of transportation, manufacturing, and innovation in America. Then, walk next door to Greenfield Village to explore 80 acres of interactive American history. You can tour replicas of famous historical buildings, like Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory or the Wright brothers’ workshop. You'll also want to explore the village’s four working farms and watch live demonstrations as artisans practice traditional crafts like glass blowing or weaving.
If you’d like to see some art while visiting Wayne County, the Detroit Institute of Arts is a must!! This world-class museum features an amazing permanent collection of 65,000 artworks, a fantastic array of temporary exhibitions, and the spectacular Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera.
For a more unique outdoor art experience, take in the Heidelberg Project. Located within a Detroit neighborhood, this massive, ever-changing outdoor display was created by Tyree Guyton. Dismayed by the vacant lots and abandoned homes in the neighborhood where he grew up, he decided to transform them into pieces of art. Since Guyton began the project in 1986, it continues to be a fixture in the community and maintains its goal of enriching and uplifting an area harmed by poverty and neglect.
If you’re looking to spend more time in the great outdoors, you have to stop by Belle Isle. This 982-acre island park is a well-loved spot to have a picnic, relax on the beach, or go for a hike. With additional attractions like the Belle Isle Aquarium, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, and the James Scott Memorial Fountain, you can easily spend a whole day here.
Since Wayne County is bordered by the Detroit River along the entire eastern edge, there are plenty of options for riverfront parks and water activities. If you're in Downtown Detroit, take a stroll on the Detroit River Walk, exploring Hart Plaza and the Renaissance Center along the way. If you're Downriver, stop by Elizabeth Park in Trenton or Bishop Park in Wyandotte for a pleasant day along the river. There are even several spots to rent kayaks and paddle the Detroit River. Try circumnavigating one of the river’s main islands, like Belle Isle or Grosse Ile. If you’re up for more of a challenge, take a guided trip from Detroit’s Belle Isle all the way to the city of Wyandotte.
And if you're lucky, and in Detroit at the right time of the year, you should also try to catch a game of one of the four professional sports teams all located in Detroit: the Detroit Tigers (baseball), the Detroit Lions (football), the Detroit Red Wings (hockey), and the Detroit Pistons (baseball). Any of them are worth experiencing an exciting live, professional, sports team in action. Whatever you do when visiting Detroit -- and throughout all of Wayne County -- you're in for a wonderful time!