City of Woodhaven History

City of Woodhaven History

By almost any standard, Woodhaven is in its infancy.

Although carved out of some of the oldest settled regions in the nation, the city is a recent blip on the map; a young sprout surrounded by mature trees. Yet within its short life span, not only has the city made its mark on the Downriver area, but it has also illustrated nearly every milepost on Michigan's road to the 21 st century.

Thousands of years before Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac settled Detroit in 1701, Native Americans called this place home; the Potawatomi, Ottawa, Chippewa and Wyandots all hunted the forest and fished the streams and lakes. But recorded history began with Cadillac's establishment of Fort Ponchartrain on what is now the site of Detroit.

In time, the English would join the French to take advantage of the bountiful, unspoiled lands, establishing settlements in all directions of the fort, including what would eventually be known as Woodhaven.As everyone knows, the French and English battled for control of Fort Pontchartrain throughout the 1700s, and the American flag did not rise above the region until 1796. The area by then was known as Wayne County, which included land from Michigan to Wisconsin and included parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. During this time, even more settlers moved to the area, taking advantage of the bountiful land - and threatening the lives of those who came before.

That strain in relations exploded in 1812, when several tribes banded together under the leadership of the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and attacked American soldiers under the leadership of Major Van Horne in what is known as the "Battle of Brownstown." The battle took place near what is now Carlson High School in Gibraltar. In fact, cannons used in the battle stand near Parson Elementary School in Gibraltar. One Indian and 19 white Americans died in the battle - but what made it more significant was that it coincided with the American-British War of 1812, a war that put the region once under British rule. It was a temporary displacement, however, and a year later the land returned to American rule - permanently.

With peace, more settlers flocked to the area, and in 1827 the Michigan Territorial Legislature divided massive Wayne County into nine townships. One of them was Brownstown - born 10 years before Michigan even became a state.

Yet while riverfront communities began to thrive with infant industries and booming population, by the mid - 1800s and early 1900s. But the region would soon get its turn - thanks to the explosion in Michigan's lumber and mineral industries during the late 1800s and 1900s.

This American Industrial Revolution prompted an explosion of manufacturing in Detroit and the surrounding area - making the region a key center for trade and transportation. The eventual emergence of the automobile as the means of personal transportation only heightened this growth and prosperity - making distant regions accessible for the first time, and improving trade and commerce between Detroit and its surrounding communities.It was the beginning of an industrial legacy, and set the stage for Woodhaven's first major steps away from its rural heritage when, in the 1930s, the Mobil Oil Co. built its refinery at the corner of Allen and west roads

From that single moment, Woodhaven's future took on a life of its own. Industry brought jobs - and more people. More people brought new homes to former farmland. And the Detroit-Toledo corridor began to move west, away from the Detroit west, away from the Detroit River, and into the midst of the Downriver area.

In fact, by the 1960s, Woodhaven was home to the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad train links and switchyard, Buckeye Pipeline terminals - and the Ford Motor Co. Stamping Plant.It's value to business established, the region began to feel the first pangs of independence - and in 1961, the area became a breakaway village from Brownstown Township.

Its boundaries extended from Vreeland Road on the south, Trenton city limits on the east, King Road on the north and about one-half mile west of Hall Road as a westerly boundary.

And while the community's future looked bright, it also drew unexpected - and unwanted - attention from neighboring cities that saw the industrial potential of the village as an asset.As an asset they wanted for themselves. In particular, village officials worried that nearby Trenton was interested in annexing Woodhaven - and its industrial base. Fearing that any Trenton move would result in a transformation of the community into an industry-only city -- forsaking residential needs -- officials began planning their next logical step.

As a result, soon after I-75 was built - splitting the community in two - village fathers said it was time to protect themselves and incorporate. On December 7, 1965, a city was born.

But where did the name come from? At the time , the general manager of Mobil Oil was from the New York area - and had called one of the villages in the borough of Queens the "most beautiful city in America." The name of that village: Woodhaven.

Since that date, the city has continued to grow - industrially, residentially and commercially - becoming in many respects, a crossroads for the entire area. From Melvindale to Flat Rock, from Trenton to Taylor, Woodhaven has become a hub of activity; a confluence of people ideas and dreams.

From a 6-square-mile patch of farmland to a modern city, Woodhaven is a perfect metaphor for America itself. A land founded by ancient Americans, settled by explorers, nurtured by dreamers and poised for a new century of challenges and opportunities.

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