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Preservation Detroit

4735 Cass Ave
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Amy Elliott Bragg

By MJ Galbraith
September 15, 2014

President of Preservation Detroit. Co-founder of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society. Author of the book Hidden History of Detroit. Founder of the Night Train, a local history blog. Historic cemetery aficionado. Tour guide. It's a wonder that Amy Elliott Bragg has time for a day job - which happens to be Director of Content for Issue Media Group, the parent company of UIX - let alone meet for an interview. She did, thankfully, and after a series of meet-up suggestions that included such historic Detroit locations as Capitol Park, Elmwood Cemetery, and the Mackenzie House, we shared a round at the Two Way Inn, the oldest bar in the city (depending on who you ask).
Delighted by local history, Amy has spent untold hours poring over our past and examining how it affects our lives today. She's eager to share in that delight, as evidenced by her writing, speeches, and event organizing. She also believes that Detroit's history is one of its biggest assets. In moving forward, preserving the history unique to Detroit will allow the city to flourish tomorrow. And while saving as many historic buildings from demolition is one of her and Preservation Detroit's clear goals, Amy champions the idea that it's a cultural shift that will ultimately preserve the city's rich history.
“What we're really trying to get people to do is to care about Detroit's history and to support the preservation of not just Detroit's beautiful buildings but of the history that is communicated by the built environment of Detroit. And to understand that preservation plays a part in a lot of other aspects of the city's life,” says Amy. “It's not just about the beautiful landmark, it's about walkability, environmental sustainability, economic development, creating jobs, and saving money.”
It's that appreciation for history that has Amy so connected to the city today. Having grown up in suburban Farmington Hills, she left Michigan to attend school at Beloit College in Wisconsin, eventually moving to Milwaukee after graduation. Though she sung Detroit's praises from afar, it was meeting future husband Scott Bragg that brought her back to Michigan and into the library.
She started in Farmington, where she learned about that city's nearly 200 year-long history, re-shaping her perceptions of a town she once thought without an interesting story of its own. If you ever doubted her passion for history, well, as she says, “One of the best things that happened to me was reading the diary of one of the founding fathers of Farmington, Arthur Power.”
Soon, her blogging shifted from art and music to local history. Learning about Detroit was only a natural progression, one that would result in her first book, Hidden History of Detroit, which focuses on Detroit's 200 years before the automobile. She eventually began speaking at events and went on to form the Detroit Drunken Historical Society. The monthly speaker series has proven wildly popular, filling city bars while hosting guests knowledgeable on topics that range from Detroit breweries to the city's boxing legacy, from accounts of our great poets and writers to the Great Lakes Storm of 1913.
Thinking that the events would draw only the city's younger residents, Amy continues to be happily surprised by the mix of people that the series attracts. City residents young and old, transplants and natives, and people living hours away have all made the trek to the many Detroit bars that have hosted these community get-togethers.
Her successes drew the attention of Preservation Detroit, where she was asked to join the board, eventually being named President in September of 2013. They've successfully prevented developers from demolishing historic buildings and continue to put pressure on both elected city officials and private property owners to take care of and fix buildings rather than tackle blight or develop land by way of demolition. She sees a bigger picture, though, and thinks the city and its residents believe in the benefits of preservation, too.
“We have to think about, as preservationists, ways to participate in a wider cultural conversation,” says Amy. “We need to get people to understand that preservation is not just about that pretty building or that gorgeous skyscraper but also about the neighborhoods where people live, the quality of life in our communities, and how we want to be as a city in the future.”

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