Walking Around the El Moore: Signature Exhibitions at the Detroit Historical Museum

The Detroit Historical Museum in the Cultural Center of Midtown Detroit.
The Detroit Historical Museum in the Cultural Center of Midtown Detroit.

As we admire the beautifully remodeled and restored El Moore building that is now 117 years old, we can be sure that it has seen a lot of Detroit history in and around the Cass Corridor and Midtown over the past century. The City of Detroit itself will celebrate the 314th anniversary of its founding, and one of the best places to experience Detroit’s history, including the time of the construction of the El Moore, the turn of the 20th century, is the Detroit Historical Museum.

Historian Clarence Burton, after whom the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library is named, founded the Detroit Historical Society in 1921. Now located just a short walk from the El Moore in the Cultural Center area of Midtown, the Detroit Historical Museum began in 1928 as a one-room suite on the 23rd floor of the Cadillac Tower downtown as a part of the Detroit Historical Society.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and native Detroiter Dr. Ralph J. Bunche
1950 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and native Detroiter Dr. Ralph J. Bunche


After years of fund-raising efforts, the present building was erected, and the grand opening was attended by many local, state, national, and international dignitaries, including Dr. Ralph Bunche, a native Detroiter who was the first African-American to be a delegate to the United Nations (which he helped to develop) and the first African-American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Bunche received the Nobel in 1950 for his work to mediate and bring to fruition the first Middle East Peace Treaty between Israel and Palestine in 1949.


The Detroit Historical Museum is best known for its signature permanent exhibitions, which include:

The "America's Motor City" Permanent Exhibition
The “America’s Motor City” permanent exhibition.

“America’s Motor City”: The story of how Detroit built cars and cars built Detroit, this exhibit includes the popular Automotive Showcase of classic and vintage cars. 

The "Detroit: Arsenal of Democracy" permanent exhibition.
The “Detroit: Arsenal of Democracy” permanent exhibition.

“Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy”: During WWII, over 30 percent of war munitions were built at the auto factories in and around Detroit.

The "Doorway to Freedom--Detroit and the Underground Railroad" permanent exhibition.
The “Doorway to Freedom–Detroit and the Underground Railroad” permanent exhibition.

“Doorway to Freedom—Detroit and the Underground Railroad”: Detroit, because of its proximity to Canada right across the Detroit River, was a pivotal stop on the Underground Railroad.

The "Frontiers to Factories: Detroiters at Work 1701-1901 permanent exhibition.
The “Frontiers to Factories: Detroiters at Work 1701-1901” permanent exhibition.

“Frontiers to Factories: Detroiters at Work from 1701 – 1901”: the very exciting history of the various industries that built Detroit before the auto industry.

and the perennial favorite permanent exhibition:

The "Streets of Old Detroit" permanent exhibition.
The “Streets of Old Detroit” permanent exhibition.
  • “Streets of Old Detroit”: A movie set-like and very life-like depiction of Detroit during three different time periods, the 1840s, the 1870s, and the 1900s—the time period of the original El Moore. This exhibit also features a hands-on “discovery center” where people can actually experience how Detroiters lived in the 19th century. 

There are several other permanent and rotating exhibitions at the Detroit Historical Museum, which is open Tuesdays-Saturdays and offers free admission. It is definitely worth a trip!