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Used to be, DL was one of 13 'Detroits'

Looking for its own identity and less confusion, the city of Detroit changed its name to Detroit Lakes in 1926.

In letters to the editor in 1926, two men -- William LaMayeau and John West -- wrote to the Becker County Record explaining to citizens why they felt the name of the city should be changed at the upcoming special election.

LaMayeau, formerly of Detroit and now residing in Utica, N.Y., wrote that the special election was "giving the voters a chance to express their desire as to the changing or adding to the name of Detroit..."

He added that being an automobile repairman, having auto parts constantly shipped to Detroit, Mich., by mistake was both costly and ineffective.

But LaMayeau didn't just stop at adding "Lakes" to the name, he wanted something entirely different, because regardless of what was added to Detroit, shipments would still end up in Michigan by accident.

"When a thing is to be done, why not do it right and completely?" he wrote.

Detroit, Minn., had been overshadowed by the larger Detroit, Mich., and it was time to stand on its own. He suggested the city hold a contest with a prize for the best suggestion of a new name.

He also added that while it made sense for Detroit, Mich., to be named that, it didn't fit this area since Detroit meant "straights." Detroit, Mich., was considered the "City of Straights."

In West's letter to the editor, he wanted "Lakes" added to the name and to have citizens realize the asset of the lakes in the area.

"At a million dollars each (what one man said they were worth to him in Oklahoma), we have a tremendous asset in our 412 good fishing lakes within 25 miles,'" he wrote.

Since the cost of advertising the city's asset of lakes was out of reach for the town, West said simply adding the name "Lakes" to Detroit would be advertisement enough -- for free.

"We will not be mixed up with the other 12 Detroits in the other 11 states that have towns called Detroit."

So on Sept. 7, 1926, a special election was held to change the name of Detroit to Detroit Lakes.

Of a possible 1,500 votes, "less than 500 evidenced sufficient interest to express their opinions," and passed the vote with 366 voting yes and only 80 with no.

A three-fifths majority was needed for the change, coming with no problem.

After a 30-day waiting period, the name change became official and the city asked the postal service take notice as well.

"It is hoped that the Postal Department will now fall in line and change the name of the post office to correspond with that of the municipality."

The Record editorialized, saying that although it would take some getting used to, the newspaper believed it would be better than the old name.

The post office agreed, and as of Sept. 15, 1926, Postmaster B.H. Peoples was in receipt of a letter from Assistant Postmaster General John H. Bartlett ordering the change of name to Detroit Lakes.

"The new name will identify us," West said.

And so it has.

(This is the second in a four-part series on historic Detroit Lakes. Information is courtesy of the Becker County Historical Society.)