Everybody talks to you in Toledo. Or so it seems. I arrived there in the evening, and as I walked along the Maumee River, almost everyone I passed greeted me. Some just stopped to have a conversation.
Toledo is the gateway for my quick visit to Detroit and Flint, Michigan, two of the most devastated places in America. This is fitting, for Toledo, which sits on the western end of Lake Erie, has a long history as a gateway between the continent’s vast interior and the eastern commercial centers. Its faded grandeur speaks of a past when goods traveled by water from Thunder Bay, Ontario, across Lake Superior, down Lake Huron to Erie, as well as by canal from Cincinnati and the interior and then on to both the St. Lawrence Seaway and New York City. Later, it became a railroad link between Chicago and New York.
Its established transportation networks, its proximity to Midwestern cities, and the coal, oil and water that fueled their growth, led Toledo to become a manufacturing center that produced all sorts of accessories for the automobile, particularly glass, which gave it its nickname – “the Glass City.”
From then its fortunes rode with the automobile, which brought enormous wealth until it began to collapse in the late 1970s and left devastation in its wake. Toledo’s population dropped by 25%, and it suffered the high unemployment, white flight and abandoned neighborhoods that have plagued so many American cities.
But it hardly prepared me for what I was to see in Michigan.