Historic Royal Oak

Brief History of the Area

The first land entry in the future Royal Oak was Jan. 23, 1819. The land at this time was swampy, disease-ridden, and considered uninhabitable.

With the exception of a small area in the northwest, our City lies entirely in Royal Oak Township, the most southeasterly township of Oakland County, laid out in 1832. The first settlement in the Township centered at the present Crooks and Thirteen Mile Roads, then known as Chase's Corners.

Many of Royal Oak's early settlers came from the western part of New York. Orson Starr, who settled here in 1831, became the township's first manufacturer. His animal bells acquired a national reputation. John Benjamin, a manufacturer of grain cradles, came to Royal Oak in 1830.

Sherman Stevens, an enterprising young man, arrived in the county in 1835. The next year he purchased 80 acres in Section 21 and 40 acres in Section 22. On this land Stevens laid out the village of Royal Oak. The plat comprised 36 blocks of 8 lots each and 6 blocks of 12 lots each, extending from North Street, now First Street or Eleven Mile Road, southerly to Eighth Street, now Lincoln Avenue, and easterly from West Street to Troy Street.

A Charter was granted to the Detroit and Pontiac Railway Company in 1836. Under Sherman Stevens directorship, track was laid between Detroit and Royal Oak and completed in 1838. Extension of the track to Birmingham and Pontiac came shortly thereafter.

The first business enterprise in the Village was a sawmill to make 5 x 6 inch oak rails for this railroad. The coming of the railroad and the platting of the village by Stevens both caused the center of business to shift southeastward to the present location near Main and Fourth Streets.

The first schoolhouse in the village was a log house located at the northeast corner of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. In 1870, a two-story frame school building was erected on the southeast corner of Fourth and Williams Streets. Later it was used as a public hall, and known as San Sara Hall.

The first church organized was Methodist, the second, Baptist, who erected the first church building.

During the Civil War period the town could be described as follows: "Situation on Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad 12 miles from Detroit, contains three religious societies; population 250. Has daily mail. Hotel operators: Amos Decker, Chas. Fay, Virgil Rose, Julius Herring."

Royal Oak Village was incorporated by an act of the Michigan State Legislature in 1891, at a time when the population was less than 500. At the first village election, held March 30, 1891, John Stott was chosen as President, Charles F. Quick as Clerk, and Samuel J. Willson as Treasurer. Charles A. Allen, who witnessed Royal Oak's phenomenal growth from a mere hamlet to a thriving city, was almost singularly responsible for the organization of the Village. He is often called the "Father" of the Village of Royal Oak.

A very destructive cyclone (tornado) hit the Village April 13, 1893. It destroyed the Campbell, McClure, and Frank Knowles family homes.

In an election held November 8, 1921, Royal Oak became a city, as citizens adopted a charter providing for a commission form of government. The population was just over 6,000. They elected George A. Dondero as mayor, and James E. Lawson, J. Frank Codling, Gustavus Dondero, Joseph H. Morrison, W.J. Mulholland, and John L. Heckerd as Commissioners.

Eighty-one years later, our City's population is nearly 70,000. Now there are dozens of churches, a library, 13 public elementary schools, two junior high schools, two high schools, a Community College, several parochial schools, ice arenas, and much more.

Page last changed 04/23/02

Next Page

Back to Introductory Page