Division of the Downriver Communities
St. Francis Xavier History Papers - 1959
In 1837 the Territory of Michigan was made a state. One of its townships, as create by the territorial legislature, originally included what has since become known as Allen Park, Wyandotte, River Rouge, Melvindale, Taylor Township and part of Detroit, south of the Rouge River.
The first white men to settle in the Ecorse Township were the French who built homes along the Detroit River at the mouth of the Rouge River an Ecorse Creek in the later 1700s and early 1800. During the mile 1800s, many of the German immigrants purchased farms in the western section of the township.
Ecorse Township, once the hunting grounds of the Wyandotte and the Potowatome Indians, was once originally a vast forest. The township of Ecorse was created by the Michigan Territorial Legislature in 1827, along with the township of Brownstown, Huron, Moguagon, Plymouth, and Redford. Ten years later, farmers in the western end of the township, who resented having to travel ten miles to the village of Ecorse to vote and transact other business, voted to form Taylor Townhip.
Just off of Ecorse, near the mouth of the Ecorse Creek, was Mud Island, which has since disappeared from the map. The creek then divided into three branches, the north and south of which today form part of the boundaries of Lincoln Park. The middle branch extended through the central portion of present ay Lincoln Park, an Allen Park and on into Taylor Township.
The Germans, rushing eastward toward the river, and the French pushing inland on their long, narrow private claims, met in present day Lincoln Park, which became a melting-pot for the two nationalities. The area now comprising the city of Lincoln Park, which was originally included in the boundaries of Ecorse Township, was created by the Michigan Legislature in 1827. Lincoln Park, then known as Quandts Corners, became a village in 1921.
The area now known as Allen Park was served by Ecorse Road, Allen Road north of Southfield, Champaign Road, an and unnamed road which followed the course of present day Roosevelt Road. A proposal to incorporate Allen Park as a city was approved in the year 1952.
Wyandotte, then a fledging city lying primarily east of the railroad tracks, a smelting works, the Eureka Iron Company and a shipyard, provided employment.
The Oakwood District of Detroit, a village south of River Rouge, was annexed to Detroit in 1921, ending the whittling process until 1942 when Ecorse residents vote to incorporate their village a a city.
Creation of the city of Southgate and the incorporation as a city of Allen Park and the Ford’s Woods section would mark the end of Ecorse Township as geographic and political entity.
Hub of the sprawling farmland district was the unincorporated village of Grandport (Ecorse now), which then contained some fifteen business establishments centered around State Street (Southfield) and Monroe Road (Southfield) which followed its present courage to Van Horn Road. The Monroe Road from Detroit to Monroe was a major stage route from Detroit to cities in the east.
In 1955, Wyandotte became an independent community trimming off another five and one-half square miles.
In 1903, River Rouge followed suit taking away 2.42 square miles. In 1921, Lincoln Park broke away with nearly six square miles. In 1925, Melvindale was incorporated with 2.72 square miles. All the communities first incorporated as villages, then adopted city status within a few years.
Ecorse Township first extended all the way from the Detroit River to as far as Pelham Road. The area was then divided into smaller communities.
Twenty-five years ago Allen Park was a tiny village, surrounded by thousands of acres of rich farm land. The community’s population at that time was slightly more than 1,000 as compared with today’s population of nearly 37,000, and it is expected that the 1960 census will reveal an upsurge to approximately 40,000.
The residents of Allen Park are quite proud of their community which is best illustrated by the growth of the last seven years. Through the years building restriction have been rigidly enforced in an effort to keep the community standards high.
The United States Veteran’s Hospital, often thought of as being located in Dearborn, is really in Allen Park, at the boundary lines of Dearborn, Dearborn Township and Ecorse Township. Constructed in 1938 on a 39-acre site donated by Henry Ford I, it was opened in April 1939, and has since served the needs of 63,000 veterans. This huge institution is staffed by 1,150 employees and has excellent training facilities for many branches of nursing and medical practice.
Allen Park can indeed be proud of its educational system, for it has one of the finest in the state of Michigan. It can boast of eleven public schools which include a high school with an enrollment of 1,732 pupils and a Junior high school serving 830. Special services for children include home teaching services, speech correction classes, provisions for the mentally handicapped, corrective reading, and psychological testing.
Parochial schools meet the needs of Catholic and other religious groups. St. Frances Cabrini School has an enrollment of 1,274 students under the direction of 22 religious and lay teachers. Ground will be broken in the near future for a million dollar co-educational high school with separate facilities for boys and girls, the first such school in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Green Meadows Christian School has an enrollment of 350 in kindergarten through tenth grades; Mt. Hope Christian Day School accommodates a smaller number.
Allen Parkers have always been interested in education, for when the first settlers came, one of the first matters taken care of was that of building schools, and securing competent teachers. The first school was built at the corner of Allen an Ecorse Roads, and the log foundation and heave-plank walls were erected in just one day. During the cold months of winter, winds and rains made their way through these walls. In time, the frame building was abandoned, and the present Lapham School was built. Eventually this building served as a village hall, and today it houses a dairy bar.
The Allen Park Library, part of the Wayne County Library system, is located on the corner of Allen Road and McLain. It is a modern functional building with a large collection of book and has access to the many fine sources of the Wayne County Branch. The building is of a painted cinder block interior and a face brick with stone-trim exterior. The helpful and efficient staff is headed by Mrs. Jeanette Hackett. Films from the extensive collection of the Audio-Visual Center can be used by groups for their programs and the library’s convenient hours make it possible to take books out at any time.
Since 1942, Allen Park has been furnished with one of the finest firefighting services around. At first an auxiliary unit consisting of volunteers was formed by the people with James Buchan at the head. This group took care of fires in the area for many years. By 1949 the present fire station was completed; the city hired six paid men and 15 volunteer firemen. The department now had a total of 21 men, including the chief, deputy chief, fire inspector, two lieutenants, two sergeants. It owns three pieces of fire-fighting apparatus and two cars. The department has a resuscitator and inhalator for community needs, and a fire prevention demonstration program is available to schools and adult groups.
In the early days of Allen Park, organized recreation was unknown. But times have changed and while people still enjoy simple home activities, their interests have grown to center around a greater variety of recreation. Consequently, the recreation department was planned and soon went into full swing to organize everything from bridge classes to sports, for every season of the year. During the spring the youngsters and the old timers find themselves in the midst of a large-scale softball and baseball program. The girls are not left out, however, for they also have softball, basket ball, arts and crafts, badminton, and various other sports.
When summer rolls around the tiny tot may go wading in the Junior High pool and the teens and adults go to the High School pool. On Sunday afternoons the family can picnic under any shady tree on the fifteen acres of parks provided by the city for this purpose. As fall comes in the program tapers off to teenage dances and bridge clubs, while ice skating and hockey are the main interests during the winter months.
Allen Park has 275 businesses establishments of all types an offering many services. One of the biggest corporations is the Wolverine Tube Corporation which has a large regional office, a garage and a testing laboratory on Southfield. Montgomery Ward and Company has a huge depot and regional office, also on Southfield.
Allen Park has come a long way in the quarter century of its existence as a well defined town. If this progress is indicative of its spirit and determination to be a community second to none, we can hope that this expanding community will assume its rightful place in the downriver family of cities.
History of River Rouge
With the population of almost 10,000 in 1921, the voters approved the proposal to incorporate River Rouge as a city. The development of River Rouge into one of the most modern communities in the downriver area was aided by some of these factors: (1) the careful planning of the city officials, and (2) the large tax income from its waterfront industry. While neighboring communities still had the discomfort of traveling on dirt roads, River Rouge citizens were enjoy the paved roads of their city.
Residential and commercial progress has not overshadowed the cultural growth of the city.
Nearly 4,000 pupils are caught in the five public schools in River Rouge by more than 150 teachers. One parochial school, Our Lady of Lourdes, is taught by the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters from Monroe. The city has advanced greatly from the early pioneer days when the settlers traveled to St. Anne’s in Detroit for their religious duties. At the present day there are at least eighteen churches of twelve denominations.
Because of careful planning, both the city and school system are almost debt-free, and the residents of River Rouge pay the lowest tax rate in the area. A new $225,000 library is supplied with books for the enjoyment of people of all ages.
Recreational facilities provided for both adults and children include playgrounds, gyms, ball diamonds, tennis courts and pools.
River Rouge residents are never left “in the dark” due to the recently complete lighting system on Jefferson Avenue. These lights keep the heavily traveled road as bright as day at night.
The industry of River Rouge consists of twelve manufacturing plants, the most important products of which follow: plaster, steel, waxed paper, truck bodies, boats and structural steel. Between 250 and 300 ships, of all sizes and kinds, have been built in the great shipyards of River Rouge. Two of the largest freighters on our lakes have been credited to these shipyards.
The tremendous prosperity and growth of River Rouge and the Great Lakes shipping go hand and hand. With all of this to the credit of River Rouge, the citizens indeed have a right to be proud of their city.
Division of the Downriver Communities- Part II
Forty years ago, the area which is now Lincoln Park was known as Quandt’s Corners. It was called this, because the Quandts owned most of the business places on the main corner of the district. Ambitious job seekers rushed here when Henry Ford offered his “Five Dollar Day.”
The Lincoln Park Improvement Association, noticing the increasing population, made plans for the incorporation of Lincoln Park as a village and called together a group of settlers who met in the Strowig School and approved these plans.
Therefore, in 1921, Lincoln Park formally became known as a village. Before the election of officials, eighty residents signed a petition asking that Otto Schonscheck be appointed police chief but he was not elected. The first governing body consisted of President Mark A. Goodell, Clerk Floyd W. Harrison, Treasurer Louis J. Keppen, Commissioners Joseph Green, George Shanley, Harry H. Sharpe, Fred J. White, Delbert Wilber, and Harry J. Timm. S.A. Monroe became Chief of Police. In this election the women had one of their first opportunities to use their recently given right to vote.
When Lincoln Park first became a village, there were only a few stores in town: a saloon, a barber shop, a grocery store, and a pool hall. Also, there were two schools, the Strowig School and the Goodell School. One paved road which was Fort Street, ran through the village. For the most part, the others were narrow mud trails.
During 1923 and 1924, the Ku Klux Klan was very active in Lincoln Park. Determined to keep out hated Catholics, Jews, and Negroes, members burned a cross in front of their homes or places of business. Faced with this difficulty, St. Henry’s had a hard time getting started. Securing no protection from the city, Father O’Toole of St. Henry’s took matters in his own hands and guarded his church with a gun.
On January 13, 1925, Lincoln Park advanced again, in adding several square miles, and voting to become a city. Eight hundred and seventy four people voted, four hundred and sixty seven were for the proposal and three hundred and eighty voted against it. The residents of the new city chose William Raupp as their first Mayor, Floyd W. Harrison, Clerk, Arthur C. Hieman, Treasurer, Floyd S. Flynn, Judge, and Anton Eisner, Constable.
The original city charter was written by Albert Babbitt, John Down, Frank Grace, Samuel McMillan, Justin Morrison, Reinhold Nass, Jacob Poppen, George Shanley, and William Thompson. Lincoln Park had one bank called the Lincoln Park Bank. Dr. Bennett and Dr. Poppen were among the first practicing physicians there.
In 1928, St. Henry’s opened their school, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Nazareth in charge. At the same time Lincoln Park showed a need for a superintendent of schools and Leo Huff was given the position. Also in 1928, Fort Street was widened and it later became a super highway.
The 1930 census listed Lincoln Park as the thirty-fourth city in Michigan with a population of 12,336. During this year, the Catholic population grew so much that it became necessary for St. Henry Parish to obtain an assistant priest. The first funeral home of its kind in the area, Okeley’s, opened in the 1930s. In 1933, the Mellus newspaper came out with the first edition.
At this time, Lincoln Park had a public park, twelve churches, six public schools and two parochial schools. In 1936, the city proudly dedicated a new city hall, and in 1939 an imposing post office building.
By 1940, the census showed the population to be 15,236, boosting Lincoln Park to the twenty-sixth city in Michigan. Also during this year a group of young men felt there should be an organization for the purpose of studying issues and arousing public opinion on community needs and civic problems. They therefore organized themselves into a Lincoln Park Junior Chamber of commerce. In 1944,
Lincoln Park Bank sold to the Ecorse Bank, which later became known as Security Bank. In 1946, the JayCee’s sponsored the celebration of Silver Anniversary of Lincoln Park’s becoming a village. They celebrated with a Jubilee Queen, an Old Timers’ Dinner, a street parade, sidewalk festivities, and an all day picnic.
With the increasing need for homes for the growing population, Lincoln Park was caught in the whirlwind of a gigantic real estate boom. To satisfy hungry promoters, sidewalks were laid in outlandish subdivisions, sewers were provided where they were absolutely un-needed, a school was built far removed from the population, and many streets were paved. Finding themselves in great debt, the citizens finally realize their mistake. Although the debt they were faced with seemed insurmountable, they decided to try to pay it themselves.
From 1946 to 1955, a total of 7,963 permits for new homes were issued by the building department. This construction was estimated at more than $90,000,000. Home building reached its peak in 1949 when 2,011 permits were recorded; by 1956, the total had dropped to 200, showing a rapid decline.
After many years of building, Lincoln Park suddenly had begun to fall, in part, for in the summer of 1956, the city was hit by a tornado. A church and several houses were blown down in the vicinity of Dix and Southfield. However, everyone cooperated, and in a short time all was back to normal.
To serve the growing population, Lincoln Park sold the corner of Dix and Southfield for $450,000 in 1954, to Sears, Roebuck, and Company. This store, in addition to the Lincoln Park Plaza, created more shopping facilities for the area.
Two hospitals serve Lincoln Park, the Lynn Hospital opened in 1955, and Peoples’ Community Hospital, better known as Outer Drive Hospital, opened in December of 1957, as an emergency hospital for Down River. The working people of the area have access to Ford’s and to Great Lakes Steel, without the smoke and soot of living in an industrial area. Nineteen schools educate the young of Lincoln Park, including one high school and three parochial schools.
Twenty-four churches take care of the souls of the Lincoln Parkers. Fifty-five policemen and twenty-eight firemen are here to protect us. There are 604 commercial buildings and 13,150 homes in this city. To entertain our citizens, Lincoln Park has a theatre, a roller-rink and many organizations. All this goes into making the estimated 48,750 people in this community today happy and prosperous.
Industry and Government in Wyandotte
The story of the change of a swampy empty tract of land into a thriving community is a very interesting one. This story began quite a distance from this tract of land—in northern Michigan to be exact.
Mr. Philip Thurber, an insurance agent from Detroit, decided to spend his vacation near Marquette. During his journey he became interested in iron ore and when he found out its superior quality, had it tested and smelted. He then returned to Detroit and interested his friends, E.B. Ward, S.M. Holmes, R.N. Rice, Tracy Howe, J. Hossna, and others in a business proposition, which resulted in the organization of the Eureka Iron Company.
At first they planned to build on the site of the deposit, but later they decided it would be better to build closer to a more accessible source of fuel. As a result they purchased the Major John Biddle estate of 2,200 acres with two miles of water frontage along the Detroit River, and erected a blast furnace. Eber Ward headed the group while negotiate the acquisition of the property and the starting of the foundation for the village of Wyandotte.
The abstracts of the Wyandotte property files, in part, state that (1) the land was bought to furnish the Eureka Iron Company with a place for blast furnaces and smelting and all other refining connected with ore, and to furnish the wood for charcoal and other fuel for their works and for the laborers to build their homes; (2) to furnish agricultural lands for raising produce for the laborers and employees of the company; (3) to furnish building lots for the offices of laborers and employees of the company on such terms as the director of the company shall direct and (4) to furnish sites and conveniences for individuals or companies for manufacturing purposes in iron or other metals in whole or in part or which may be for the convenience of the stockholders of the company. So was born the village of Wyandotte.
The streets of Wyandotte were named according to the pattern set by William Penn and the Quaker City of Pennsylvania. He took one boundary street and named it Front Street or the beginning point. Street running parallel to Front Street were named by the numbers—first, second, third, etc. The streets running horizontally were named for trees and shrubs
In Wyandotte, the focal point became the river and the first streets parallel to it became Front Street. Front Street followed the immediate water line and ran from Mulberry to Elm, which in the beginning was the east line of what is now Van Alstyne Boulevard. The Bishop Park Land developed later from the slag of the Iron works. At Superior, a fine beach began and extended to Poplar.
After the close down of the Eureka Iron Works, john Van Alstyne and some men plotted the property into building lots. This land covered an area from Eureka to Elm and what had been Front Street became Von Alstyne Boulevard. The rest of the street remained Front until March 4, 1921, when it was changed to conform by city ordinance.
As we saw above, the streets from Northline or the north boundary were named for trees—Spruce, Cedar, Mulberry, etc. The name Superior Boulevard was assigned because it was the only street besides Biddle that was made 120 feet wide by the Iron Company in Wyandotte. The names off the streets from Northline to Emmons Boulevard were plotted by pioneers of a territory designated as “Ford City.” After the annexation of this territory the names were changed to conform to those of Wyandotte proper.
After the Iron Works had filed its claim and had the property deeds settled, it turned its attention toward the building of a factory. Since the factory ha to be built, little time was left for building homes. Therefore in 1856, there were three available places of lodging—the Eureka Hotel, the Biddle House on the corner of Vinewood and Biddle, and of the Wyandotte no location and be definitely given. After the factory was completed, homes were built by the laborers and the employees.
Between the dates 1856 and April 8, 1867, there is much that could be said, but it can all be summed up in one paragraph. Boarding houses had been built to accommodate the surplus factory workers; gradually these were dismantled and all but one replaced by beautiful mansions. A school house was built on Chestnut Street. The first drug store in 1863, the first butcher shop, and the first bakery were all opened. In 1865, documents are agreed on this one point unanimously, the first funeral home was organized with H.F. Thon as funeral director. But even before his time, as early as 1857, J.F.W. Thon, a carpenter, took care of the dead by making coffins similar to the Egyptian mummy cases.
There are just a few of the firsts in Wyandotte. But April 8, 1867, marked the most important first of all…for on April 8, 1867, a new city held its first Common Council meeting. This date constituted a break away from the government of Ecorse. The government of Wyandotte consisted of a mayor and six councilmen. Since 1854, the people of Wyandotte had awaited the day when they would become a city.
On March 5, 1867, this dream was finally realized. The first elections were held and the result was as follows: Mayor John S. Van Alstyne; Recorder, Peter Lacy; Marshal, Thomas Jewell; Justices of the peace, L. Ferguson, F.V. Briggs, Alex Stewart; Director of the Poor, .E. Krieger, Franklin Nelson; School Inspectors, C. Schmidt, S. Pray; Alderman 1st. Ward, R. C Conwell, E.P. Christian; 2n Ward, D. Sullivan, R.W. Leighton, 3rd Ward, H. Ocbock, Fred Kreiger and Constables C. Thon, R. Mahar, R. Donaldson. There is some disagreement about the first treasurer—the two names usually given are Frank Brohl and J.F.W. Thon.
Although the Eureka Iron Works was the first and most important industry in Wyandotte, there were quite a few more over the course of the years. One of the most important of these was the Michigan Alkali Company and J.B. Ford Division. This new chemical industry was the successor to the great iron works. Although the Iron Works had been forced to give way to its successor, it was still considered to be the life-line of the city. “Proudly We Record,” the history of Wyandotte, gives us this information.
The two furnaces and rolling mill consumed 6,000 bushels of charcoal per day, over two million bushels a year, or about 50,000 cords of wood. The crashing of mighty oaks and hickories was continually resounding in the air, clearing the in west Wyandotte of all trees, yet it was a good sound to hear, for it meant the mill was running, and at the same time the land was cleared for homes and farms.
For thirty years the industry boomed. In 1870, the city ranked eighth in steel output in the United States. In 1876, the Wyandotte Mill produced the largest piece of boiler plate up to that time. It was sent to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia where it was regarded with awe by thousand who perhaps thought of Wyandotte as a rough and uncouth western town, largely inhabited by Indians!
Still, there was a new adventure ahead of Wyandotte, one that was to revolutionize the steel industry, in Michigan and elsewhere. William Kelly had originated the Bessemer process of producing steel in the East, but had been unable to convince any manufacturers there to gamble on its success. Coming to Detroit, he convinced Eber Ward that it was worth a try, and Wyandotte ran the process for the first time in 1854. After a series of mishaps, however, the Eureka Iron Works closed its doors for the last time.
In searching for a new source of fuel, salt had been discovered blow the surface of the Downriver communities. Thus it was that the Michigan Alkali Company was formed and took over the Eureka plant, or what was left of it.
Eber Ward had another interest, ship building. With the Kirby brothers, he was responsible for the building of over 200 vessels. This industry came to an end in 1920. Another of his pet projects, silver smelting, flourished for a time, to end in later years, largely due to difficulties in securing raw materials in a place so far removed from sources.
Wyandotte’s municipal government has kept pace with its industrial growth, as might be expected. In 1925, a new charter was written, and the Mayor-Council type government was inaugurated. Wyandotte has provide itself worthy of the trust put into it by the early and later industrialists, who hoped to find in this Downriver community a favorable economic climate for the development of successful manufacturing plants.
During the early years of Melvindale, conveniences were unknown. Citizens who wanted water would have to go down to the corner of Hanna and Oakwood to get their weekly supply.
One of the earliest establishments was the Pepper Road Fuel and Supply Company, owned and operated by J.A. Sullivan. Mike Sczmar owned and operated a gas station, the first in Melvindale. The station was located where a viaduct carries a railroad track over a busy street. Melvindale had one bank located in the heart of town, on the corner of Oakwood and Allen Road. Later it was moved beside the Mel Theater, and just recently was transferred to its present site in Allen Park.
One of the earliest pioneer families were the Dashers, who contributed much to the success of the community. Other prominent families were the McKittricks, Dubbies, Longs, Filharus, and the Bert and John Sullivans. These families still cherish early memories of this historical area.
On February 6, 1933, Melvindale voters approved a city charter to end the communities’ six-year status as a village. At that time there was no mayor, instead a president governed the village. Frank Fennelson first held this office. Other officials at that time were Clerk, Sylvester Mable; Chief of Police and Chief of Fire Department Mr. Meisner.
The first twenty-five years have been the hardest for Melvindale which accumulated a municipal debt of more than two-million dollars during the depression years. This indebtedness was for street paving, sidewalks, lighting and sewers.
To retire this staggering debt, Melvindale property owners have been paying an extra ten dollars per one thousand dollars of assessed valuation in special taxes since 1936. The debt is scheduled to be paid off in 1959, and the city can look forward to a substantial tax cut at this time.
The 1950 census gave nine thousand, four hundred eight-three, as the population figure for Melvindale. By May 1, 1957, it was estimated to have sixteen thousand. The total number of streets is forty; thirty two of them are paved.
Melvindale has six public parks, of which Coogan Park is one of the oldest.
Each Thursday Melvindale newsboys distribute a paper called “The Melvindale Messenger” put out by the Mellus newspapers.
The first library was located on Oakwood Boulevard. In later years a new one was built on the corner of Allen Road and Gough. The new library has ten thousand, seven hundred and twenty-two volumes, plus new books coming in regularly.
Melvindale still has much to be desired as far as organized recreation is concerned. However, since it is a comparatively new city, it is to be expected that cultural and recreational developments will come with time. Meanwhile, the citizens of Melvindale can be proud of their progress thus far.