Royal Oak Township

Next south of Troy and east of Southfield lies Royal Oak, which is a corner township of Oakland, and has for its eastern and southern boundaries the counties of Macomb and Wayne. There are no lakes within its limits, and its only stream a very inconsiderable one -- is Red run, which has its source in the western and northwestern portions of the township, and flows easterly into Macomb county, where it joins its waters with those of Clinton river.

The surface of the township is uniformly level. The soil must be classed as below the average of that of Oakland County in natural fertility and adaptation to the requirements of agriculture, but Royal Oak is not without good farms; there are many of these, though their productiveness is more due to intelligent husbandry and the hard labor which has been expended on them than to any advantages received from the hand of nature.

Originally this was a heavily-timbered country, and there are still within the township extensive tracts on which the old forest-trees still remain undisturbed. More than sixty years ago, when the government surveyors first penetrated the wilderness which embraced all this region, their judgment of it was very far from being a favorable one, and they did not hesitate to announce their opinion, based upon what they had seen here, and in the still more forbidding country which lay farther to the east and south, that the lands were irreclaimable, and must remain forever unfit for culture or white occupation, and that their obvious destiny must be to remain in the possession of wild beasts and the aborigines.

There were those, however, who believed that this judgment was a false, or at least a hasty one; and chief among those who were skeptical as to the absolute worthlessness of Michigan lands was Governor Lewis Cass, who not only doubted but resolved to test its truth, and disprove or prove it by the evidence of his own senses; and to that end he set out from Detroit, accompanied by Hon. Austin E. Wing and two or three other friends, on a tour of observation and discovery. Throughout the first stage of their northwestern journey, after leaving the town, the aspect was by no means reassuring, and as their horses sunk knee-deep in the sloughs, or wallowed through the marshy places, along that trail whose horrors and miseries afterwards became so well known to the pioneers, it really seemed as if the dismal tales of the surveyors would be more than verified. But at last, after having foundered over a distance which seemed a hundred miles, but which in reality was not more than one-eighth part of it, they emerged upon higher ground, and into a more open and desirable country; and here, as both men and beasts were completely exhausted, they sought and soon found an eligible spot, where a halt was called, and the party dismounted and prepared for rest and refreshment.

The spot which they had chosen was a smooth, open space under the spreading branches of an oak-tree of larger size than its neighbors, and which the surveyors had made still more noticeable by marking its trunk with a large letter H. The feeling of relaxation was delightful to the amateur explorers after the severe toil of the day's travel, and the conversation which ensued was entertaining and brilliant. It could not be otherwise, for it was led by Lewis Cass. As the governor lay upon the ground and looked up into the matted foliage of the tree-top, he thought of that royal oak in Scotland, among whose sheltering branches Prince Charles, the Pretender, hid his sacred person from pursuing enemies after the bloody battle of Culloden, and it seemed to him that it must have been just such a tree as this; so they christened it the Royal Oak, and it was from that fanciful thought that the name was given to both tree and township. The old oak stood near the southeast corner of the northeast quarter of section 16, a few rods northwest of the junction of the Crooks, the Niles, and the Paint creek roads,-the spot being on the farm now owned by Mr. H. Reynolds.

From the Royal Oak the governor and his companions continued towards the west and north. In the course of their trip, which was of about a week's duration, they named Wing lake, in Bloomfield, in honor of those two members of the party; and when they came to the largest of' the lakes of Oakland County, they called it Cass lake; while just beyond it, (now) in Waterford township, they named a beautiful lake for Elizabeth, the governor's wife. And. better than all, they carried back with them the knowledge and proof that Michigan was not the worthless desert which it had been represented, but, instead, a beautiful and fertile land, awaiting only the touch of the settler's axe and plow, and ready to yield an abundant increase to reward his toil.

EARLIEST ENTRIES AND SETTLERS. The first entries of land in the township were of tracts in section 33, made by L. Luther and D. McKinstry, July 6, 1820. The earliest settlements were also made on the same section, though not by the same persons. The first white man who located his cabin in the township, now Royal Oak, was a Mr. White, a shoemaker, who, as early as the spring of 1822, had already established his rude home near the centre of the southeast quarter of the above-named section. How much prior to that time he had come in is not known with certainty, but it is very probable that it was during the previous year that he arrived and settled there.

The next comer was Henry Stephens, who settled in the spring of 1822, on the northeast quarter of section 33, upon land now owned by W. D. Tobin. He afterwards became well known as a resident of Royal Oak township, and is now living, at the age of eighty-four, in Oakfield, Genesee county, New York.

In the same year and month-March, 1822-came Thomas Flinn, and settled on the base-line just south of Mr. White. He was a native of Louisville, Kentucky, but had removed thence to Onondaga county, New York, where he married Joanna Culver, and afterwards lived a short time in Canada. On his arrival in Michigan he purchased lands on both sides of the base-line, in Oakland and Wayne counties, but first settled and built his cabin on the north side, in Royal Oak. He afterwards moved across the line a very short distance, and built a house on his land in Wayne, and after that he never lived in Royal Oak. He, however, in 1837, removed his residence to the village of Birmingham, in Bloomfield, where he lived until his death, January 20, 1842.

Later, in the year 1822, Mr. _____ Woodford entered, and built a log house upon the northeast quarter of section 17, and Alexander Campbell (whose wife was a sister of Captain Diodate Hubbard) settled on land in the northwest quarter of section 8, now the property of Asher B. Parker, Esq. He first erected the usual log house, but soon after built to it a frame addition, larger than the original dwelling. This was the first framed building in the township, and was for a time kept as a tavern. Neither Campbell nor Woodford lived for any great length of time on the lands where they first settled,-the former afterwards removing his residence to the city of Detroit.

Erastus Ferguson, Sr., from Oneida county, New York, also came in 1822, and made a settlement on the southeast quarter of section 9. He was the first man who drove a team of horses through to Saginaw, being employed for that purpose by Dr. Little, who accompanied him, and they were compelled to cut their way as they proceeded.

In the fall of the year 1822 Henry O. Bronson came, and settled his family at the junction of the Paint creek road with the Niles road and Ball's line, or the Crooks road; this being about three-fourths of a mile north of the present village of Royal Oak, and just to the east of the cemetery. Here he erected a small log house, put in such supplies as in those days were considered indispensable, and opened a public-house-the first in Royal Oak township-for the accommodation of land-hunters or immigrants, who by this time had begun to make their appearance in considerable numbers. Bronson had not come to Royal Oak immediately on his arrival in Michigan. He had come up by way of Mount Clemens and the Clinton river, and had made his first halt in the vicinity of Auburn. His little log tavern, unpretentious as it was, became well known as a landmark and as a place of shelter and refreshment to those who, in the few years succeeding 1822, were compelled to travel over the exceedingly bad road which lay between the Royal Oak and the city of Detroit. His house was, however, closed as a tavern before the year 1828.

In 1823, Sherman Baldwin settled on lands in the northwest corner of section C, now owned by Mr. Cooper, and Josiah Goddard built a log house on the east side of the Crooks road, on the north line of the northeast quarter of section 16, but this he not long afterwards abandoned; and when settlers became sufficiently numerous to require it, it was used as a school-house, and occasionally as a place for holding religious meetings.

In the latter part of the month of October, 1823, Diodate Hubbard arrived in Royal Oak, bringing with him his second wife (although he was then but twenty-three years of age), with whom he settled in a log house on the northeast quarter of section 6,-land now owned by James McBride. Afterwards he became as well known as any resident of Royal Oak township, or perhaps of Oakland County, being for many years engaged as a teamster between Detroit and Pontiac, Birmingham, and other points more or less remote; and, indeed, on comparing the narratives of the early immigrants, it would seem as if half the settlers who arrived in the county during the first fifteen years had their families and movable property transported from Detroit to their point of settlement by the wagons of Diodate Hubbard.

He had come to Detroit in the year 1810, with his parents, who were originally from Connecticut, but later from the State of New York. They settled at Grosse Point in 1811, and the following year his father died, leaving a widow and eight children. Soon after the Indians drove the family away from their meagre possessions at Grosse Point, and they were huddled into Detroit in a state of great destitution, but feeling themselves fortunate, as indeed they were, in having escaped with their lives. Afterwards, upon the retaking of the city by the Americans, young Hubbard entered the army, at the are of thirteen years, and served for three months as a substitute, on the unexpired term of a drafted man from Ohio. He was married in Detroit in 1818, and kept a tavern in that city for a time. His wife died in November, 1821. In the following year he married Charlotte Keyes, from Bloomfield, New York, and in 1823 settled in Royal Oak, as we have seen. He had been employed by Mack, Conant, and Sibley, at the time of their erection of the Pontiac mill, to transport their machinery and supplies from Detroit; the only feasible route for a team between those two points at that time being by way of Mount Clemens and up the Clinton river. At the time of his removal to Oakland, in 1823, he knew every inhabitant of the county, extensive as its territory then was. Mr. Hubbard served for a time as sergeant-at-arms of the Michigan legislature, in Detroit, and also received the appointment of sergeant-at-arms of the senate, in Lansing, in 1851.

He occupied his farm in the northwest section of the township from the time of his settlement until 1870. a period of forty-seven years. He then sold, and removed to Birmingham, but has now (1877) returned to Royal Oak, and is living on the west side of the Paint creek road, a few rods south of the town-line of Troy, and, although seventy-seven years of age, seems hale and hearty enough to warrant the expectation of some years more of life and comfort upon his new possession.

James Lockwood came in the spring of 1824, and settled on the northeast quarter of section 21, where now are the premises of Dr. H. K. Lathrop, just west of the railroad track at Royal Oak village. This land he had entered in the year 1821, and now he built upon it a large double house of hewed logs, and opened it as a tavern; for at that time the main route of travel southward from Bronson's ran past this place instead of following the section-line as at present. His house soon became well known as a stopping-place, but he not long after rented it to _____ Talbot, and being himself a tinsmith by trade, he removed to Detroit and worked there in that business.

Benjamin and Abraham Noyes, brothers, came also within a few weeks of the same time that Lockwood arrived. They had purchased in the southwest quarter of section 9, where Mr. Proctor now owns; and, both being unmarried, they erected a log house and commenced housekeeping in bachelor style. Afterwards they left Royal Oak, and removed to Detroit, where they married.

At the same time, too, came Joseph Chase, David Williams, Cromwell Goodwin, George Morse, Jarvis Phelps, Moses and Noah Peck (brothers), Socrates Hopkins, and Wakeman Bradley. The last named settled on a part of the northeast quarter of section 9, and still lives there, at an advanced age. The Peck brothers (unmarried) settled on land in the northwest quarter of section 4. It was only a few years later that they sold to Samuel Addis, who removed there with his family. Moses Peck moved to Bloomfield township, where he opened a public-house at Bloomfield Centre. He also filled a number of township offices, among them being that of treasurer, to which he was elected in 1844. His brother Noah met a dreadful fate, being scalded to death in a distillery at Troy.

Cromwell Goodwin, the first bricklayer in the township, settled on the southwest quarter of section 4, but built his house on the west side of the section-line, in the extreme southeast corner of section 5, on land now owned by Deacon White. He brought with him a yoke of oxen and an ox-wagon, nearly, if not quite, the first ox-team and equipment in Royal Oak. Soon after his arrival a "bee" was made to cut a road from his place northward to Josiah Alger's, who had been an acquaintance of Mr. Goodwin in Ontario county, New York, and who came to Michigan about the same time, settling a little farther north in the edge of Troy.

Mr. Goodwin had a large family. One of his daughters married Jarvis Phelps; another, Harriet, died not long after their arrival; this being the first death of a white person which occurred in the township.

Socrates Hopkins located and settled on the east half of the northeast quarter of section 5. David Williams, then just married, settled on land which he had entered in 1821, in the southwest quarter of section 3. He afterwards had five sons: Sherman. who lives where his father settled; John R., who is a master-mechanic on the Ohio and Mississippi railroad; George, now residing in Royal Oak, but has in the past been in government employ on the Indian frontier; David. Jr.. and Addison, the last named not now living.

George Morse, a single man, erected his cabin on land which he had entered in 1821 in the northwest quarter of section 9, now owned by J. McKibbin. About two years later he exchanged lands with Rufus Beach, of Troy, and removed into that township.

Joseph Chase came from East Bloomfield, Ontario county, New York, --arriving late in the season,-- and settled in the northwest corner of section 9, opposite where is now the United Presbyterian church. That locality afterwards became known as "Chase's Corners." Mr. Chase was widely known among the residents of this and adjoining townships as "Uncle Joe Chase." He was afflicted with a very troublesome impediment in his speech. With Mr. Chase came a young son, Nathan, unmarried. He died only a few years after.

Jarvis Phelps, a carpenter, and the first of that trade in the township, settled on land (now of Hamilton) in the southeast quarter of section 5. He was a bachelor when he came, but afterwards married a daughter of Cromwell Goodwin.

Erastus Burt, another carpenter, came in 1825, and settled on section 8, near Alexander Campbell. Jonathan Chase came in April of that year, and took up his residence with his father, Joseph Chase, where he remained until 1827; then went back to the east, and did not return to Royal Oak until 1833, since which he has been for a great part of the time a resident of the township, and has always enjoyed the confidence of his fellow-townsmen, being often elected to such offices as they had in their gift, among which was that of justice of the peace, which he held continuously for a number of years. He was also a delegate to the constitutional convention of 1835. Now, in his extreme old age, he is living on a little farm which he has purchased, upon the north side of the town-line of Troy.

David Chase, brother of Jonathan, came later in the same year, and located himself at Chase's Corners, where he opened a mercantile business in 1826, and in which he continued until 1854.

James G. Johnson, John F. Keyes, Dennis H. Quick, and Abraham S. Hoagland also came in 1825. Johnson settled on the northeast quarter of section 4, upon a little dry creek, a tributary of Red run; and here, seven years later, he built the only water-mill ever put in operation in the township. He lived a quiet life upon the same farm forty-seven years, and died there in April, 1872.

John F. Keyes settled in the northwest quarter of section 9. At the commencement of the Detroit and Pontiac railroad he was engaged in its construction, and he continued in its employ in one or another capacity during the remainder of his life, and died, it may be said, with its harness on.

Dennis H. Quick and Abraham S. Hoagland were brothers-in-law, Hoagland having married Quick's sister. These two men came to Michigan together. Quick settled on the southwest quarter of section 5, being at the time a bachelor, but marrying here afterwards. He is still living on the same farm, and at a good old age. He is a native of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, and both he and Hoagland were devout Presbyterians, though it is said that the latter afterwards changed his tenets. He was a blacksmith, the first of his trade in Royal Oak township. He purchased and settled on the eighty acres adjoining Quick's on the west, and also in the southwest quarter of section 5, it being now the property of N. S. Schuyler.

William Worth and Daniel Burrows came in the year 1826, the former settling on the northeast quarter of section 10, —now the farm of T. Gibbs, --but after some years removing to Troy, where he is still living. Burrows had made a halt of considerable duration in Troy, before coming to Royal Oak. He settled on the northwest quarter of section 15, just north of the (then) well-known inn of Henry O. Bronson, upon land now comprised in the Durham farm. His tract covered the entire area of the present cemetery, and it was he who donated the first section of that ground, which was used as a place of sepulture. Mr. Burrows was by trade a chair-maker, and, although he never did much in that line in Royal Oak, there are those yet living of the settlers who recollect that the ponderous chairs belonging to their wedding outfit were the workmanship of his cunning hand.

Also among those who came into the township in that year were Michael Maney, who settled on the east half of the southeast quarter of section 10, and afterwards came to a painful death from injuries inflicted by an ungovernable bull in his own barnyard; Rufus Beach, who had first settled in Troy, and now exchanged his lands in that township with George Morse for the farm of the latter in the northwest quarter of section 9; and Henry Lewless, who settled on the lands first occupied by Alexander Campbell, and established upon them the first potashery within the township. Afterwards he sold the tract to Asher B. Parker. It should be mentioned that Rufus Beach, mentioned above, became a convert to Mormonism, and left Oakland County for the purpose of joining the community of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

In this year came Orson Starr, and purchased lands in the northeast quarter of section 9, and in the northwest quarter of 10, but built his dwelling and shop on the west side of the section line, in the corner of 9. He started there in the manufacture of cow-bells, and in that line he distanced all competitors. It is even said that no one in the United States has ever been as famed as he in the production of that useful article. His bells were sent to every part of the western States, and even in California and Oregon were as well known as in Michigan; and from their sale he realized a very handsome amount during the years he was engaged in it. He died in the year 1873.

It was in this or the following year that David Carlisle settled in the southwest quarter of section 11, now the Lynch estate; and in 1828 that Jehial Smith came from Troy township and settled on the town-line, and on the east side of the Paint creek road, in the northeast quarter of section 3. Frank Reynolds also came in 1828, and settled in the northeast corner of section 16, where he started the first wagon-shop in the townships He died in December, 1876.

Among those who came in or about the year 1830 may be mentioned John Benjamin, who settled on the southwest quarter of section 8, and was the first maker of grain-cradles in the township; Samuel Addis, who purchased the lands of Noah and Moses Peck; Joel Chapman, who settled on the east line of section 22, a mile east of the village of Royal Oak, and was skillful in the manufacture and repair of cider-mills; Abraham Rouse, from Lyons, Wayne county, New York, who settled on the northwest quarter of section 11, now owned by T. Thurby; Nicholas and David Pullen, brothers, from Sodus, in Wayne county, New York, who both married daughters of Abraham Rouse, and settled on the northwest quarter of section 12, where now is the school-house of district No. 4; and a Mr. Ewers, who settled diagonally opposite the Pullens, in the southeast corner of section 2, —land which was afterwards sold to Caleb A. Wilbur, and is now the property of Alexander Solts, Esq.

Also among those of about that date were Luther Schofield, who settled in the northwest quarter of section 10; -- Fox, who purchased in the northwest quarter of section 3, where W. Bell now is; Cornelius Valentine, in the northwest quarter of section 17; Franklin Saunders, in the northeast quarter of the same section; Mr. Parker, the father of Asher B. Parker, Esq., who purchased the Campbell tract of Henry Lewless; Hiram Elwood, Sr., who purchased the same lands, in the northeast quarter of section 17, which Woodford had entered a few years before; Stephen Bennett, who settled on the southwest quarter of section 2, on land now owned by R. McBride; and Lyman Blackman, who came in the spring of 1831, and purchased and settled on the east half of the northeast quarter of section 18.

This list, although not complete, embraces the very earliest immigrants, as well as a great part of those who settled in Royal Oak township in the later years up to the time mentioned. From about 1830 the number of arrivals increased so rapidly, and changes of location and the re-sale of lands became so frequent, as to make it impossible to trace them far beyond that point.

EARLY ROADS. When the first settlers came to Royal Oak the roads were very few and infrequent. The only one which gave communication in the direction of Detroit entered the township from the south, a little west of its centre line, passing by the log houses of Flinn, Stephens, and White, and thence northwardly by a crooked and irregular course to the oak-tree marked H, from which place the track forked in both directions; on the right towards Paint creek or Rochester, and on the other hand towards Auburn and Pontiac.

These, however, could hardly be called roads at all: merely tracks cut through the most convenient places, without regard to shortness of route or to any other consideration except the avoidance of obstacles; but poor as they were, there were no others than these in Royal Oak when the first cabins were built there.

 Some six or seven years later the Detroit and Saginaw turnpike was commenced, and in 1828-29 was in process of construction through the township. When completed it was an almost immeasurable improvement on the old route of travel, and afterwards stage-lines were established and passed through Royal Oak on their route between Detroit and Pontiac and the more remote points. After the completion of the railroad as far as Royal Oak, in 1838, the stage-lines connected with it there, and after its terminus was advanced northward to Pontiac, they still continued to run from the Royal Oak station, over the Paint creek road, to Rochester, and thence to Romeo, until the building of the Detroit and Bay City railroad.

The roads upon the section-lines had some of them been laid out before the separate organization of the township, but it was not until after that time that most of them were surveyed, laid out, and cut through, thus greatly improving the facilities of local travel.


 
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