Dearborn Heights, Wayne County, Michigan

The City of Dearborn Heights,located in Wayne County, Michigan, lies southwest of the City of Detroit. Incorporated in 1963 after a lengthy legal contest, the city today encompasses an irregularly shaped border, about 12.7 square miles. Its western borders include Inkster Road at some points, while others are Beech Daly Road. Its eastern borders consist of Southfield Freeway, Outer Drive, Gulley Road, Evergreen Road, Heyden Street and Hazelton Street. Joy Road and Warren Road form different parts of its northern border, while Van Born Road is the extreme southern border.
The original township of 36 square miles, left it's residents to choose to incorporate; retain their commond bond of identity, and stand as an independent city. In this way, they came to terms with their neighboring cities of Dearborn and Detroit, that over the years had played such a key role in their growth.

The 1700's

The story of Dearborn Heights begins on the banks of a large river. On July 24, 1701, the small settlement of Detroit was founded as an outpost of French power, and a center for French commerce in this region. To the French, commerce in the Great Lakes region meant the fur trade, carried by their own trappers and traders in conjunction with the Native American's of the area: the Abenakis, Algonquins, Hurons, Ottawas, Illinois, Miamis, and the Iroquois. In just eight months, the early settlement was ready to trade with Montreal and Quebec, Canada.

From its founding in 1701 to the surrender of Detroit to the British in 1760, a provision in the settlement of the French and Indian Wars, the French failed to develop agriculture in the area. With no real market for produce, the settlement authorities were at times, unable to support the food needs of their own troops.
The forests covering the land of the day made it additionally hard for a farmer to plant or clear land for his crops. Only a few Native American trails led into the wilderness, one was westward across the Rouge River and the Huron River beyond, to Ypsilanti. This would later become, Chicago Military Road.
Many French were offered land in new French settlements, after England had taken the settlement. These lands were in the new French settlements of St Louis and New Orleans, resulting in many French residents leaving Detroit to take advantage of this offer. In 1773, 1,282 whites and 85 slaves were left in Detroit.
To counteract the decrease in inhabitants, the British offered to take in Loyalists from many eastern colonies. These Loyalists were suffering persecution in their locales because of their political beliefs held during the Revoluntionary War. In 1783, with the final settlement of the American Revolution, England technically lost Detroit to the United States, but made no move to vacate. Instead, Britian brought additional settlers so as to retain Detroit under reason of occupation. In 1794, 50 families were recorded as coming to Detroit from near Niagara, NY and another 26 from Fort Pitt. Finally, the settlement was under constant threat from American forces, who it was thought, could attack at any moment, the fear of the Native American allies to the French, and a failing fur trade, all led English forces to surrender this area to the American's.

In 1796, an Irish traveler, by the name of Isaac Weld visited the region, and wrote in his diary, " Detroit contains 300 houses and is the largest town in the western country. It stands contiguous to the river on the top of the banks. The town consists of several streets that run parallel to the river..They are all narrow, and not being paved are dirty in the extreme whenever it happens to rain. Two-third of the inhabitants are French...the farmers are mostly engaged in trade."
Besides the French inhabitants, Detroit also had at this time, German, English, Irish, Scotch, Native American, and African American's in their settlement.

The 1800's

By 1801, Detroit's population had risen to 750 inhabitants and had assumed a new role with the addition of increased manufaturing within the city. Originally, the greatest portion of goods were consumed locally, however, the inhabitants quickly realized the potential market to be theirs by outfitting travelers passing through Detroit on their way west. Manufacturing itself was still in its early stages, combined of simple shops and products made in their homes. There were 120 spinning wheels and 6 looms in homes and factories in Detroit. Other manufacturers included 2 tanneries, 1 hat factory, 4 candle and soap factories, 4 grist mills, and 2 distilleries. These simple beginnings accounted for 67% of the dollar manufactured in the whole territory.
Detroit was changing its role however, and moving from the family work home, to the factory. The smithy in the barn was moving to the forge shop. The hat factory produced 400 hats annually, the distilleries 8,200 gallons of liquior. Soap produced here was 37,000 pounds yearly, outweighing the 6,500 pounds of candles. The tannery producted 1,100 tanned hides and 60 saddles and bridles. Detroit was growing slowly, and changing from a self-supportive settlement, to a small trade center.


Some 10 miles southwest of the Detroit settlement, was located the small trade center of Dearbornville. Even in 1810, the small center had seen quite a history, favored and visited frequently by Native American tribes. Dearbornville was located on the Old Salk Trail, today, Michigan Avenue, close by to the point where the Salk Trail crossed Ann Arbor Trail. Adjacent to the Rouge River the small center stood convenient to conoe and overland travel, a fact not over looked by the French or the British fur traders. As early as 1795, with the arrival of James Cissne and his wife, settlement and agriculture began on the baks of the Rouge in the vicinity of Dearbornville. Cissne and additional settlers who followed , took up the plow, and the French innovation of "ribbon farms." Such farms, receiving their name from the fact that each farmer had one side of his land located on the river bank, while the remaining land lay in a long strip, or ribbon, falling inland on fertile dry land. The Dearbornville of the early 1800's was a small settlement with a fur trading past, changing to intersettlement trade with little outside commerce. It was for the most part, an agricultural settlement with probably some 15 to 25 families.
Settlement in Dearbornville and its surrounding area had not gone unnoticed by the territorial government. In 1824, Governor Lewis Cass designated 144 square miles to be known as Bucklin Township, with Dearbornville, its southeastern border. Under this name, Bucklin was officially organized on April 1, 1827. The state census done in July, 1827, shows approximately 101 families in this newly appointed township, under the supervision of Marcus Swift.
In October of 1829, Bucklin Township was divided into halves, the eastern half redesignated Peking Township, and the western half Nankin Township. In March 1833, Pekin Township was renamed Redford. In April of that same year, it was split again, leaving two 36 square mile areas. The northern portion remained Redford, while the southern portion, became Dearborn Township.

Developing Transportation Routes

Dearborn Township from its settlement in 1833, was actaully the 36 square mile southeastern quarter of an original 144 square mile area known as Bucklin Township. This original area is important, in that, within this original 144 square miles, 36 would later develop into the City of Dearborn Heights. The development of Dearborn Township, Dearborn Heights and Dearbornville, are inescapably linked to Detroit, the point of entry to Michigan Territory. By 1818, a survey of public land in the Michigan Territory had become well-known enough, to open a Federal Land Office in Detroit that same year. The most desirable land was auctioned off first. Remaining land was sold at $2.00 per acre, and later sold at $1.25 per acre. By 1825, an estimated 4,000 persons had arrived in Detroit since the opening of the Erie Canal, which reduced a 5 to 10 day land journey, to a 44 hour water route.

The only means of transport into the interior territory, was by canoe or horseback. The Old Salk Tail running west from Detroit, through Dearbornville, to Ypsilanti and beyond was an example of a better trail for travelers. The Federal government appropriated monies in March 1825, to construct a road, to allow for rapid overland movement. This road, which would follow the Old Salk Trail west, passing through Dearbornville on its way to Ypsilanti, was named Chicago Military Road. The road veered south across the southernmost area of Michigan and on to Fort Dearborn (Chicago). Another road branched off at Ypsilanti leading to St Joseph. By 1835, two stage coaches a week operated between Detroit and Chicago.

Life in Dearbornville as well as the surrounding Dearborn Township, would change greatly with the arrival of the railroad. Dearbornville became a fueling station, building a storage area for the wood which fueled the first steam locomotives. This also provided joibs for the inhabitants who engaged in the cutting and preparation of timber. Trains would stop daily at the settlement, on their ways both East and West. The railroads also attracted additional settlers to the area. One Edgar Howard , born in Bristol County, MA in 1822, arrived in Dearbornville in 1836, and railroaded for 16 years. After retiring from the railroad, he became a local landowner and farmer. Howard also held several political offices including Justice of the Peace and village Treasurer.

Shepard L. Howard, who arrived in 1836, married Irene Allen of English parentage. He too, worked for the railroad, for some 10 years.

Brickyards in Dearbornville were another business that prospered with the arrival of the railroad. The yards date back many years and were a local business due to the large clay deposis located in the area. Several early settlers earned their livelihood at the yards, on being Titus Dort, who settled here in 1829, and opened a brick business. Dort was from Bridgeport, MA.

Railroads were not exclusively the most important. Four years previous to the arrival of the Central Railroad , Dearbornville had been selected as the location of the new Federal Arsenal. The Federal Government had learned a lesson during the War of 1812, when Detroit itself, was lost to the enemy.

The arsenal itself was completed in 1833 and used through the Civil War period. This resulted in Dearbornvillebeing host to farmers, workmen, merchants, and military. The population of the township at this time was approximately 1,000 inhabitants, the greatest number being active farmers.

Detroit overshadowed Dearbornville and Dearborn Township, and by 1837, had approximately 9,000 inhabitants. Of the some, 1,300 dwellings of that day, no less than 25 were grocery and provision stores, 27 dry goods stores, 7 clothing stores, and 14 hardware stores. 47 locally owned lake vessels together with 3,900 feet of docks, handled the increasing import and export business of this port city. The purchase of land could be made at the U.S. Land Office, a newly arriving settler, could be represented by 1 of the 37 lawyers in the city. They were cared form by 22 physicians and 2 dentists. 8 newspapers and 1 magazine carried news of the day and kept its citizens abreast of happenings, while 5 private colleges and seminaries educated the young. A total of 4 banks handled financial dealings, and 8 churches supplied residents with religious materials.

Wayne County alone had 8 flour mills, 3 grist mills, and 28 saw mills. 2 breweries and a distillery used barley, rye, corn and hops grown locally for their major industry. 3 tanneries and 5 furnaces making cast iron top of the list of manufacturing jobs in the 1840's.

Because of its increasing importance in manufacturing, transportation took on added importance. By 1850, the Michigan Legislature passed the Plank Road Act. This enabled charted road builders to obtain necessary rights of way and construct plank roads. Plank roads were devleoped by laying wide wodden planks at right anges to the road sides. The planks laying side by side mile after mile resulted in a corduroy road, an improvement, compared to the dirt rutted paths of years prior. The roads were financed by toll gates, where for a given charge, one could pass on the plank road. That same year, the road from Detroit through Dearborn and west to Wayne, Ypsilanti and Saline, was completed. Attention was also given to the railroad and by 1872, additional rail was laid on the Central Railway, resulting in a double track as far as Ypsilanti.

The settler was now, no longer isolated on his acreage.

The Area by 1876

A surveyor's map of the area in 1876 reveals the northwest section of nine square miles contained 90 homes or farmhouses, spread out quite evenly. The farms in this area included a large 120 acre tract as well as 20 acre units. Many farms of 40 to 60 acres are spread between, all taking different shapes, some rectangular, some square.
The larger farms include those of J.B. Wallace along the Rouge River, in the northwest; Frank Stringer, in the southwest bordering Inkster Road; Joseph Coon bordering Ann Arbor Trail; and P. Simons bordering Telegraph Road.

The northeast quadrant of the township presented a very different picture. Only 59 houses are plotted on the 1876 map, just two-thirds of the inhabitants of its western neighbor. A great deal of that, however, had to go to the fact that there were three very large landowners, who total over 700 acres of this property. Joseph Coon, F. Diedrich and William Ten Eyck. It is in this area that William Ford lived, much of the Ford propery bordering on Joy Road. The farm tracts tend to be retrangular in shape, more noticeably then the northwest area.

The third quadrant of the township in the southwest had some 87 homes, and one church. This quarter of the township hosts Chicago Military Road which crossed from the northeast to its western border on Inkster Road. Part of current day Dearborn lies within this southwest quadrant. Farm lands here are a mixture of size and shape, and neighbors not as close to one another as in the other two areas.

Dearborn, the hub of Dearborn Township in 1876, was for the most part, in the southeast quadrant. It is quite easy to see how the settlement, which incorparated as a village in 1893, had in its early day, been the meeting point of many Native American Trails. The farmhouses are back a distance from the banks of the Rouge River and are more so located along the dirt road leading to Dearborn.

The western half of the township in 1876 contained 170 farmhouses while the eastern half contained only 108. Early settlers who arrived with produce through business venture, could amass large tracts of land very early, and very inexpensively. The Ten Eyck family at this time owned close to 1,000 acres northeast and southeast of Dearborn. It also appeared that many landowners were infact second generation sons who were given sections of the orginal family plots. Thus an original 80 acre farm became two 40 acres farms with two farmhouses. The population totaled in the neighborhood of 1,100 people.

Records show that many early Michigan pioneers were predominately New Englanders with a large number from western New York state, predominately anti-slavery and of strong Republican beliefs.

In 1832, Cyrus Randall arrived from New York state, and eventually took up farming in the township. John B. Wallace settled in the township that same year, arriving from New York. Taking advantage of the tall timber located here, Wallace went into the lumbering business, taking on a partner, William Place in 1836. Two years after the arrival of J.B. Wallace, John and Melinda Nowlin arrived, that was the spring of 1834. Nowlin and family had owned a small farm in Kent, Putnam County, NY, just 60 miles from New York City. Nowlin purchased 80 acres of land one mile south of Dearbornville, and developed a very prosperous farm. His closest neighbor, John Blare was said to have built the first log house in Dearbornville. Asa Blare arrived in the fall of 1834 and purchased 40 acres of land in which he farmed. In the fall of 1835, G. Purdy of New York state arrived with his wife, Melinda Nowlin's sister. Henry Travis, a brother-in-law of Pardee, another earlier settler of 1833, arrived in the area in the summer of 1835, and settled with his large family.

Foreign Immigrants Arrive

During the first few decades of the 1800's and reaching into the 1840's, large numbers of foreign immigrants arrived in Detroit. Represented were England, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany. The Germans and the Irish were particularly numerous because of their own problems from their homelands. The Germans were escaping from political unrest, while the Irish were escaping from the food famines in Ireland.

In 1837, John Gardner was born in Dearborn, his parents having arrived from England in 1828. Gardner eventually married Jennie Flaherty of Barrie, Ontario, Canada. The Gardners were known for their English draft horses which they raised in the township. In the year 1850, John Cosbey then 36 years old, arrived in Dearborn. Born in Ireland, Cosbey has first arrived in America in 1843, and tried his hand as a clerk in New York, before moving on to Michigan. The same year of Cosbey's arrival 1850, Archibald Robinson arrived. Robinson had been born in Scotland in 1810, later becoming postmaster and assessor. Samuel Reed settled in Dearborn the following year in 1851. Reed, 22 years old, and of Irish parentage, was a very much needed arrival. In business as a general contractor Reed built many fence and sank many wells in the township. The year 1855 saw the arrival of William N. Halton born in Ireland and merchant by trade. Halton had his civic interest, serving as Justice of the Peace in 1874, and as Postmaster for a 4 year term. Two later arrivals, who became farmers, were John Back, a Scotsman, and Henry Sittmer, a German. Black arrived in 1871 while Sittmer arrived 10 years later.

The township was principally agricultural in pursuit. There were a few mills, hotels, stores, and taverns located throughout, but mainly, the plow provided the livelihood for the residents. In 1863, an ingenius man was born on a northwest farm, Henry Ford.

Henry Ford

At age 16, a young Henry Ford had gone to Detroit to learn the trade of machinest, returning 8 years later where he operated a saw mill. In 1889 Ford left the farm again for Detroit, this time to work as an engineer at the Edison Works. His decision to leave the farm once again was to have a tremendous impact on his native Dearborn Township. He would return an industrial leader to change the face of Dearborn forever.

In the late 1880's and early 1890'sthere were giant increases in the population of Detroit. In 1880 a population of 89,536 and by 1890, a population of 205,876. Detroit ranked 14th largest city in the country. By 1899 it contained 74 foundries and machine shops; over 200 tobacco establishments; 24 furniture factories; 26 men's stores; 9 drug establishments; and 20 carriage and wagonshops. Detroit was also home to iron and steel industry, packing houses, railroad refrigerator car manufacturers, and shipbuilding.

The late 1890's saw many mechanics tinkering with a new concept to America, the horseless carriage, which was to change the face of the country.
Volumes have been written on who actually invented the automobile and who introduced it at which location. Lawsuits, patent disagreements, financial problems and personality clashes all cropped up quickly. In 1901, Henry Ford one of th early pioneers in this automobile business, founded the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. By 1903 Packard Motor Company had moved from Warren, Ohio, to Detroit and Cadillac Motor Company had opened its doors for business as well. By 1920, Ford would be locating his manufacturing factory to a small city located in the township, Springwells. This township dates back to April 12, 1827, but had been reduced in size approximately 6 times through annexation by Detroit from 1849 to 1916. The entire township ceasing to exsist however, in 1924, when the remaining unannexed portion was incorporated as the City of Fordson. In May 1925, the City of Fordson merged with Dearborn and resulted in the incorporation of the City of Dearborn. With the incorporation, however, the township suffered substantial economic damage and financial loss. Municipal building belonging to the township were no longer located within the township lines. Negotiations resulted in the loss of buildings, removal of township municipal offices, and a loss of over 1,000 residents.

Dearborn Heights Evolves

Although the offical date of Dearborn Heights incorporation was June 20, 1960, it was long in coming. It became with the merger of Springwells-Dearborn Village and continued as the boundries squeezed smaller and smaller upon this area. The township population, had also reached a degree whereas previously governed by a rural government, it was requiring city services. The township of Inkster was also under pressure to incorporate, and at that time, was considering a boundry line that would have split Dearborn Heights North section, away from it's South section. The civic leaders knew propsing incorporation as a City was thier only chance at combining both halves into one city. The petition from the township was filed first, before that of Inkster and so took precedence, and was protected from annex of adjacent lands. It was met by court litigation, before the Supreme Court of Michigan, who approved city incorporation on April 8, 1963.

With over 60% of its land devoted to residential area, Dearborn Heights is considered a "bedroom community." Which means, that the majority of the residents live in the city, but commute outside its borders to their daily employment.

The history of Dearborn Heights has shown an area caught up in the growth of the midwest, its future forever tied with Detroit, and will probably always be considered part of the Detroit Metropolitan area.

Contributed by Linda Ball