History of Northville helps shape future
Posted on 12/01/2022
Mayor Brian Turnbull Dear Northvillians and friends, 

Before we gear up for the holidays, let’s look at Northville dreams from the past, present and future. This week, I’ll begin exploring the early visions and aspirations of this North Village in the territory (part of the area encompassed by Northville, Plymouth and their townships). Originally, the name “Pekin Township” (inspired by Peking, China) was considered, but Plymouth was chosen. Livonia was Nankin (Nankin Mills), and Canton is Canton.

Growing up in a multi-generational family from the Ville, I’ve listened to dreams of the past, am experiencing concepts of today and helping guide the trajectory of Northville for tomorrow. Today, we focus on past dreams. We’ll look back at our town in the 1800’s, according to the Northville Record and Jack Hoffman’s Northville - The First 100 Years. These descriptions romanticize Northville (the town carved out by the glaciers) known then as our Switzerland of Wayne County or Hamlet in the Hills.

Let’s review some of the events happening in Northville

• Tipping Point Theatre – The theatre at 361 E. Cady is getting into the holiday spirit, performing “It’s a Wonderful Life” until Dec. 18, see link for details.

• Christmas in the Village (Mill Race Village) – Stroll during the official Mill Race Holiday function or walk about at your leisure and think of holidays of yesteryear. Holiday Event on Dec. 2 and 3, from 5-8 p.m. For information and to register, see their website or call 248-348-1845.  

• December in Downtown Northville – “A Holiday to Remember!” 12/9 - 12/11, Live strolling Music, Horse & Carriage rides, and Christmas characters. For details view this link.

• Meet Santa in Town in December: 3-4, 10-11, 17-18 – 2 to 5 p.m., Admission is Free - bring your camera! View link for details. 

• Thank You to all who supported the 47th Annual Goodfellows Newspaper Drive...the Northville Rotary Club raised over $8,200 for Northville Civic Concern. We thank all who bought and sold the papers in the Ville and we especially appreciate the Northville Township Fire Department sponsorship.

Dreams of yesteryear in the Ville … way back in the 1800’s

• 1826 – The pioneering Yerkes Family came on the scene (among others). They didn’t come for gold or to speculate on lands or railroads, stocks or bonds – they were homesteaders.

• Northville’s first settlers dreamed of making it a mill town, with its three rivers coming together to generate power for the machinery of flour mills, sawmills and gristmills. This dream soon became a reality.

• Northville was highlighted in publications then as the first milling town in the territory of Michigan, before it became a state.

• One of the old pioneer mills that played a prominent role in this community’s history is the Northville Mills, located on the grounds of today’s Mill Race Village (our very own Greenfield Village of Northville).

• 1827 – According to Michele Fecht’s book, Northville, the early gristmills spurred growth in the area and were the catalyst for development of the village. It was the only place originally that gristmills could be found in the Michigan Territory. Hardwood forests covered most of the state at the time, and lumbering was the primary business for a generation.

• Global News in 1827 – When Northville officially became a town in 1827, the following activities were in the global news: Ludwig Van Beethoven passed, Charles Dickens began working at a law office, Edgar Allan Poe joined the US Army, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B & O) was incorporated as the first railroad in the U.S., offering commercial transportation to both people and freight. Also, the first transatlantic voyage took place via a steamer vessel.

• Folks continued that year to venture primarily from the New York and East Coast area to the Northville vicinity, where they chose to start a new life close to the mills, grinding their own corn and wheat.

• The mills brought production, notoriety and prosperity to the area, while also attracting other industries such as the foundries that also used the water tributaries. At the time, Northville was the nation’s center for the production of bells, scales, and school and church furniture (made by Mr. Beal’s Globe Furniture factory).

• 1837 – This began the Victorian Era – the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) – and corresponds with the growth of our community. Northville has the distinction of being one of the top areas for Victorian architecture in Michigan, as well as nationally, with many of our downtown businesses and homes on the National Historic Registry.

• 1867 – Stagecoach teams stopped multiple times each day, joined later by trains and eventually trolleys. And with that, Northville’s downtown started to take shape. Soon, a plethora of businesses started up, offering a variety of products and services. By 1867, things were booming, so much so that Northville started to lay cement sidewalks downtown to replace the wooden walkways. And soon after that, by ordinance, all streets in the ville had sidewalks, the very start of our walkable, connected and mobile community.

• During the period of the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s, Northville rose to the rank of second largest producer of manufactured and commercial goods in the Michigan area, just behind Detroit.

• Many businesses were started here, including:
o Parmenter’s Cider Mill (still here today)
o Northville Lumber (oldest business in Michigan)
o Rogers Condensed Milk (patented condensed milk)
o Bells (from dinner bells to Liberty Bell size)
o Scales (sold in Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs)
o The National Fish Hatchery, one of the first in the nation
o And multiple other business applying for various patents

• 1876 – The town grew and culture was part of that too, with the construction of the largest opera house in the state (seating 800). Later on, in the 1900’s, Henry Ford had his eye on our Opera House for placement in his Greenfield Village (although that eventually was unable to happen). Mr. Ford also spent a great deal of time overseeing his factories here and even brought his Vagabonds group (Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs) to experience our so-called Hamlet in the Hills.

• 1892 – The book “Northville, the Ideal Suburban Village” was published and was widely distributed. The Eagle Steam Printing & Engraving Company printed it to promote the virtues and growing popularity of this village. The book highlighted the community’s natural beauty, extensive manufacturing, its vital downtown and diverse retail segment, as well as other noteworthy institutions.

I hope you enjoyed a look back at what made our city special in the 1800’s. Next week, we’ll transition to the 1900’s and what all was happening then. I truly believe we have to know our legacy to chart our trajectory for the future. We are on the shoulders of those before us, and it is our privilege and opportunity to ready our beloved town for the next generation.

Keep that Northville Faith!

Brian Turnbull
Mayor – Northville
[email protected] / 248.505.6849

historic street, mill