You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Michigan? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Michigan city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Wolverine State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Detroit (Photos)
- Traverse City (Photos)
- Birmingham (Photos)
- Greenville (Photos)
- Sault Ste. Marie (Photos)
- Royal Oak (Photos)
- Ecorse (Photos)
- Trenton (Photos)
- Monroe (Photos)
- Farmington (Photos)
For being 317 years old, Detroit doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Michigan? That would be Taylor — a brand spanking 50 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Michigan… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Michigan, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 131 out of 174 in Michigan with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 75.3% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Detroit turning out to be the matriarch of Michigan at the ripe old age of 317.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Paleo-Indian people inhabited areas near Detroit as early as 11,000 years ago including the culture referred to as the Mound-builders. In the 17th century, the region was inhabited by Huron, Odawa, Potawatomi and Iroquois peoples.
The first Europeans did not penetrate into the region and reach the straits of Detroit until French missionaries and traders worked their way around the League of the Iroquois, with whom they were at war, and other Iroquoian tribes in the 1630s. The north side of Lake Erie was held by the Huron and Neutral peoples until the 1650s, when the Iroquois pushed both and the Erie people away from the lake and its beaver-rich feeder streams in the Beaver Wars of 1649–1655. By the 1670s, the war-weakened Iroquois laid claim to as far south as the Ohio River valley in northern Kentucky as hunting grounds, and had absorbed many other Iroquoian peoples after defeating them in war. For the next hundred years, virtually no British, colonist, or French action was contemplated without consultation with, or consideration of the Iroquois’ likely response. When the French and Indian War evicted the Kingdom of France from Canada, it removed one barrier to British colonists migrating west. (See main article).
2. Traverse City
Before European colonists and the Northwest Territory, Traverse City was occupied by the Ojibwe and Ottawa people. Many locations in the Michigan area used to have native names. Traverse City was called ‘wequetong’ which means ‘at the head of the bay’ This area was an Indian camp near what is now Clinch Park in downtown Traverse City. Over time, this camp was slowly abandoned.
The area comprising what is now the city of Birmingham was part of land ceded by Native American tribes to the United States government by the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. However, settlement was delayed first by the War of 1812 and subsequently by an unfavorable report by the Surveyor-General of the United States, Edward Tiffin, regarding the placement of Military Bounty Lands for veterans of the War of 1812. Tiffin’s report claimed that ‘There would not be an acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand that would, in any case, admit cultivation.’ In 1818, Territorial Governor Lewis Cass led a group of men along the Indian Trail. The governor’s party discovered that the swamp was not as extensive as Tiffin had supposed. Not long after Cass issued a more encouraging report about the land, interest quickened in its suitability for settlement.
Greenville is named after its founder, John Green, who settled in the wilderness of the southwest part of Montcalm County in 1844. John Green constructed a sawmill on the Flat River that is credited for attracting other settlers. The newly formed Green’s Village attracted many people of Danish origin who followed another early Danish settler’s positive letters home regarding the area. Because of the town’s heritage, Greenville celebrates the Danish Festival every year on the third weekend of August. A post office was established on January 20, 1848, with Abel French as the first postmaster. John Green had the village platted in 1853 and it was a station on the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Western Railroad. Greenville incorporated as a village in 1867 and as a city in 1871.
5. Sault Ste. Marie
For centuries Ojibwe (Chippewa) Native Americans had lived in the area, which they referred to as Baawitigong (‘at the cascading rapids’), after the rapids of St. Marys River. French colonists renamed the region Saulteaux (‘rapids’ in French).
6. Royal Oak
Early Europeans in this area were French Canadians; some traded with the Sauk and other Native Americans in the area. After defeating France in the Seven Years’ War, Great Britain took control of their territory east of the Mississippi River, including Fort Detroit and environs. It promoted development of western Ontario, across the Detroit and St. Clair rivers, after the Revolutionary War.
In the 1836 after the community became part of the United States and settled by more English speakers, it was named Grand Port, but remained unincorporated within Ecorse Township. The settlement was incorporated as the village of Ecorse in 1903. Ecorse became a significant economic force in the region when its first steel mill, Michigan Steel Mill, began operation in 1923. The village incorporated as a city in 1942.
The founder of Trenton is considered to be Abram Caleb Truax, a member of the territorial militia in attendance when General William Hull surrendered Detroit to the British General Isaac Brock early in the War of 1812. After the war, in 1816, Truax acquired a large tract of land in the Michigan Territory along the Detroit River from the U.S. government and constructed a sawmill, church and store in what is today downtown Trenton. When Territorial Governor Lewis Cass organized Monguagon Township in 1827, Truax became the first Township Supervisor. He laid out the village of Truaxton in 1834. A post office had been established there named ‘Monguago’ in 1828 with Truax as the first postmaster. The post office name was changed to ‘Truago’ in 1837, and to ‘Trenton’ in 1847, after a type of limestone mined from a local quarry. The village was platted and recorded under the name Trenton in 1850 by Abram’s son and daughter George Brigham Truax and Sophia Slocum, the wife of industrialist Giles Slocum. The Slocum family estate was given to the county, becoming what is known as Elizabeth Park, named after Elizabeth Slocum.
Long occupied by varying cultures of indigenous peoples, the area around the River Raisin was settled by the historic Potawatomi hundreds of years before French explorers and colonists reached it in the late seventeenth century. Robert de LaSalle claimed the area for New France after his 1679 expedition on the Griffon.
Farmington was the site of three Native American trails – the Orchard Lake Trail, the Grand River Trail, and the Shiawassee Trail.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Michigan
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Michigan. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Michigan.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Wolverine State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Michigan:
- Taylor (Founded in 1968)
- Portage (Founded in 1968)
- Southgate (Founded in 1968)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Michigan
|Sault Ste. Marie||5||139|
|Grosse Pointe Park||46||113|
|Grosse Pointe Farms||49||113|
|East Grand Rapids||62||113|