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Mayor Ken Roth’s speech at Northville’s Town Square on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017
When the first settlers arrived here it could take as long as three days to journey from the center of Detroit; Northville was at the edge of the wilderness.
In March of 1867 Northville broke off from Plymouth and declared itself a village one day prior to Plymouth declaring itself a village. Northville got its name by being North of Plymouth.
In 1867 we were a small enclave, which had the fortitude to declare itself a village while coming out of the ravages of the Civil War. More than one-third of the soldiers from Northville had perished in that war. But, the turmoil and destruction of that conflict ultimately led to growth here when a sailor named Parmenter was discharged from the Navy and used his mustering out pay to found a mill, which still bears his name and is one of our oldest businesses.
At the time of our founding, Queen Victoria ruled the British empire and James Dubuar had quickly become the town’s lumbar baron. The founders’ names of our town are still shown on our streets: Yerkes, Cady, Thayer, Dunlap, Dubuar and others
Many of the landmarks from the village era are gone. The opera house is gone, so is the Globe furniture company building and the Dubuar Manufacturing Company, the Crow’s nest and the Park Place Hotel. But the street layout has only changed slightly. The village footprint from 1867 closely resembles our City today.
The reports in the newspapers from the founding of the village show a group of people who were determined to “tame the wilderness” and some of the first ordinances addressed frontier concerns by “prohibiting swine, sheep, geese and other animals from running at large.” Also prohibited was the “discharge of any cannon, pistols, fire crackers, fireworks or firearms without permission of the common council.
Those first attempts at order eventually led to having a Village Council, which met at 7 p.m. on Mondays, which is still our current meeting time.
Also beginning in 1867 was Northville’s Eclipse baseball team. No one is certain, but it is quite likely that our team was named after an eclipse which had just been viewed in Southeastern Michigan. How ironic that in the 150th anniversary year of our town, we have had another major eclipse. One of the first baseball matches in Northville was played on Saturday 28th, 1867 against the Red Rovers of Plymouth. Only five innings were played with Northville winning by a score of 87 to 12. I don’t know if the mercy rule was available in 1867, but it sure sounds like it needed to be invoked.
A few years later, in 1869 the newspaper advertised food at the Northville markets for the price of 18 cents for a dozen eggs, and butter for 25 cents a pound. It was also announced that spaces were available in Northville at the Union School, where one could learn the primary curriculum for $2 for 15 weeks and common English for $5.50. The school had just issued its first graduate, Miss Alice Beal, of Beal street fame, who went on to become a longtime teacher in town. Unfortunately, the school burned down in 1916.
Boot and shoemaking were the early industries and it was said that you could pave the streets of Northville with the leather scraps from the boot and shoe makers. In fact, when excavation for paved roads did begin, piles of leather were actually found right under the dirt road surface.
The paper also carried an article by a leading medical expert of the time debating excess consumption of fruit and vegetables as this was almost certainly the cause in the increase of mortality which occurred in the summer months. And, at about that time, the Yarnall Gold Cure Institute opened in Northville, one of the first centers for the what we now call addiction treatment, which then treated addiction to opium, alcohol, cocaine, tobacco and cigarettes.
By the 1890s, Northville had become a manufacturing hub with a population of almost 2,000. In the early 1900s an election revolved around whether the hotel in town could have a bar or whether it should remain dry, a forerunner of the nationwide debate surrounding the prohibition movement which would shortly later grip the country. The details are chronicled in the Northville Record which is still Wayne County’s oldest weekly newspaper.
This was at about the same time when our residents could take the streetcar from Northville to Plymouth for a dime. During this time, the fish hatchery was thriving and would become an international business.
Time marched on and technology advanced, so that in 1921 the pressing issue was beginning construction of a connecting highway to Novi which would allow people direct access to Grand River trunk line.
Eventually, for financial reasons, the village incorporated and officially became a City in 1955.
As new development threatened many of the old homes downtown, the Historic District formed in 1972 to preserve and safeguard our heritage, and in 1978, the Main Street project made Northville a showplace of Victorian décor.
In 1981, the City grappled with the closing of the Ford Valve plant and what would come of that historic manufacturing facility.
Northville has seen it all come and go: horse drawn wagons, lumber barons, street cars, bell manufacturing, electrification, paving of roads, gristmills, general stores, boot manufacturing, furniture manufacturing, blacksmiths, and aircraft manufacturing.
It’s impossible to sum up our history in a few minutes, so in broad terms:
We have changed from farms, to mills, to industry. We have enjoyed harness racing, ski jumping and hosting the Wayne County Fair. All of these activities have at one point in our history dominated our town.
However, regardless of what challenges the future holds, Northville has always looked at its history for guidance to cut a path forward into the future. Today our City faces challenges unique to this era, but the difference, and the advantage today, is that we have 150 years of experience to know that whatever obstacles lay before us—we are up to the challenge. Northville has always reinvented itself to prosper in whatever era it was facing.
Some things have always remained constant during our change. We care about the history of our town and use the past to guide us forward. Incorporating it into the present and not simply discarding it.
We’re a center of innovation spurred on by the latest technology of the day.
The people of Northville have always worked to make the future a good and prosperous one.
We have worked to make the future one where we care about our neighbors, and the legacy of our City. And we’ve always loved a parade.
We have always had strong volunteers who are willing to tirelessly work for the best interest of our town.
Thank all of the volunteers who have worked to make this celebration happen. Many people worked to make everything surrounding this anniversary celebration take place. I’d like to specifically thank Michele Fecht, who spearheaded the organization for the 150th celebration and from whose book about the City I have used as a resource for today. She is a true champion of our town.
I’d also like to thank the sponsors of the celebration:
I’d like to thank all of our sponsors, because without their generous support, today’s celebration would not have happened.
Here’s looking forward to the next 150 years. Happy Birthday to