ROYAL OAK TOWNSHIP: EARLY HISTORY OF SETTLEMENT

by David G. Penney


Royal Oak township, number 1, in Range 11 East, was formed in 1832. Five years earlier, Troy township had been set off and interestingly, included Royal Oak township. This was because the area north of our township was more habitable and was, consequently settled earlier. Thus, Royal Oak township is bordered on the north by Troy township, on the west by Southfield township, on the east by Warren township, Macomb county, and on the south by Greenfield township, Wayne county.

As with many townships in this area, Royal Oak was divided into 36 sections, each one-mile square; thus the township comprises 36 square miles in all. The present City of Ferndale encompasses parts or all of what were once Sections 26, 27, 28, 33, 34 and 35.

The first two tiers of Sections in Royal Oak Township above the Baseline, showing Sections 26 (partial), 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35 (partial); map from 1872.

The first land entries in Royal Oak township were made by L. Luther and D. McKinstry, July 6, 1820, in Section 33. This same section was also the site of the earliest non-Indian settlements in what is now Royal Oak township.

As early as the spring of 1822, a Mr. Jabez White, a shoemaker, had already established a log cabin near the center of the southeast quarter of section 33. How much prior to that time he had come in is not known, but it is very probable that it was during the previous year that he arrived and settled there.

The next to arrive was Henry Stephens, who settled in the spring of 1822, on the northeast quarter of Section 33, upon land noted in the 1872 Atlas of Oakland County as being owned by W.D. Tobin. He afterwards became well known as a resident of Royal Oak township.

In the same year and month - March, 1822 - Thomas Flinn came and settled along what is now Eight Mile road (then called the "base-line", a surveying device), just south of Mr. White. He was a native of Louisville, Kentucky, who moved to Onondaga county, New York, where he married Joanna Culver, and then to Canada. On arriving in Michigan, he purchased lands on both sides of the base-line, but first settled and built his cabin on the north side, in Royal Oak township. He afterwards built a house on his land in Wayne county and thereafter resided there.

The first public-house in Royal Oak township, was opened on the Saginaw or Detroit and Pontiac road (today Woodward Ave.) by Mary Ann Chappell, who was universally known as "Mother Handsome", presumable because of her lack of physical beauty. She had first opened a tavern about five miles out of Detroit, had moved several times to avoid competitors, and eventually located in a frame house on the west side of the Saginaw road, on a 40-acre parcel of land, legally described as "the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 27, Royal Oak township". Her tavern was at a point on the big road approximately between the present Oakridge and Drayton Avenues. Maurice Cole, in his Ferndale of Yesteryear, suggests that hers was the first frame building to be built in what is now Ferndale.

The 1877 History of Oakland County says the following about Mother Handsome: "Rough and ill-favored as she was said to be, she was undeniably popular as a landlady. Immigrants and land-lookers who were strangers in the country inquired for her house, at which they had beforehand been advised to stop - while those who were acquainted on the road very often passed by the other houses to put up at hers, where, they said, the liquor was better and the food was better; and these, in connection with the kind and careful attention which she was always ready to bestow on hungry, cold, drenched, and exhausted travelers, gave great popularity and fame to Mother Handsome as an innkeeper."

The third and fourth tiers of Sections in Royal Oak Township, showing Sections 14 (partial), 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 (partial); map from 1872.

Welcome Campbell was one of the most prosperous and widely-known residents in the area now occupied by the City of Ferndale, although not one of the earliest. It is his family name after whom the section-line road - Campbell road in Royal Oak (Hilton in Ferndale) - is named. According to the 1872 atlas, he owned 280 acres just north of what is Nine Mile road, in Sections 25 and 26.

Campbell was born, July 20, 1810 in New York. In 1834 he moved to the northwest corner of Brandon township, an area that became known as Campbell's Corners. He moved to Royal Oak township in 1859. Campbell had been trained as a cooper. He also farmed, and did some building and merchandising. Part of his land was later developed by a son, as "Urbanrest".

In 1839 Welcome Campbell married Mary J. Cheney, and she bore him five sons and five daughters. They and many of their descendants are buried in Section A of the Royal Oak Cemetery, commemorated by beautiful tall granite monuments. Their home located on the present "Hilton" road, appears in the 1877 History of Oakland County. All that remains today of the old homestead is one tall pine tree.



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