Many of us see them every day and to most, they are a sign of home. How did the “Flint Arches” come to be?
In 1899, seven arches were erected to illuminate the Downtown business district, replacing the gas lanterns common to the time. The project was one of the first of its kind to bring lighting to a U.S. main street. Built by Genesee Iron Works, each arch was positioned on a street corner and held no less than 50 light bulbs. During holidays and parades, they were adorned with festive decorations.
In 1905, as part of the city’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, two additional arches were erected with the famous “Vehicle City” crown highlighting the apex. One arch was erected at the city’s south end at the intersection of Fifth and Saginaw Streets; the other at Downtown’s north end at the confluence of Saginaw Street and Martin Luther King, Blvd. The original arches were initially built not as an homage to the auto industry, but as a salute to Flint as the world’s largest volume manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages.
The arches stood until 1919, when the City Council ordered that they be taken down. The reason? To keep up with the burgeoning automobile craze, the City needed to install some newfangled traffic lights at those intersections.
In 2002, under the authority of the Genesee County Historical Society, new arches were erected along Saginaw Street. Two more would be added soon after. In 2005, during the Flint Sesquicentennial, an arch sponsored by General Motors was placed in front of the City Courthouse and in 2008, an arch sponsored by the Sesquicentennial Committee and Genesee County was erected in front of City Hall.
The iconic Flint Arches are here to stay, a familiar and welcoming site to residents and visitors, alike.