The History of Oak Park
The History of Oak Park is available at the Oak Park Library
In her book History of Oak Park- 1955, Bernadine Schoults describes Oak Park as - a lazy, quiet little village with a few scattered homes and acres of fields and woods, where children played, free of the traffic hazards of the city. . . . Where back yards were full of pheasants, quail, and garter snakes
where the pitcher pumps went dry when the summer came, and every resident hunted up old milk cans, pails and tubs, and drove to the old city hall where the only faucet in the whole city provided water until the fall rains came; and where the election board went home at noon many a time because all of its 98 registered voters had voted early in the morning.
Other interesting facts about Oak Park
After Michigan was first platted around 1817 the area now known as Oak Park was part of Royal Oak Township, Town 1 North, Range 11 East.
In the spring of 1822 the first settlers moved to the Township. Henry Stephens log cabin was built on Republic just south of Nine Mile.
In 1836 several thousand acres were deeded by the government to Douglas Houghton, Henry & Thomas Hubbard jointly. Houghton died young but the Hubbard family heirs controlled the area of what is now Oak Park until 1908. Very little development happened here until 1914 when large portions of these lands were sold to the Majestic Land Company for the purpose of subdividing and developing. They named the sub Oak Park because of the large number of Oak trees found here.
At this time law from selling bonds for sewer or street improvements restricted Townships and so development went slowly.
In 1919 Charles Raine began a campaign to correct the wilderness conditions here. In March 1921, in the light of kerosene lamps, the Progressive League of Oak Park subdivision was born, at the corner of Wyoming and Nine Mile rd, in the grocery store of Ella & Joseph Schrader. It took Raine 7 years of effort but on Dec. 21, 1926, by a vote of 149 113, citizens of the 5.5 square miles in the southwest portion of Royal Oak Township voted to incorporate as the Village of Oak Park.
In May 1927 the village charter was approved with a council-manager form of government. Charles Raine was elected the first village president. He lost the 1930 election (they ran every year) to Silas Dougherty, in large part due to development expenses of the village in building roads, water lines, sewers, etc. and the economic stress caused by the Depression of Oct. 1929.
In 1931 petitions were circulated to dissolve the Village, due to excessively high cost of village government. This would have returned Oak Park to Royal Oak Township. The movement failed, was resurrected in 1933 and failed again.
The 1930s were extremely volatile years for Oak Park's government. In 1932 the village and state approved building of a small airport at 10 mile and Coolidge. In the early 1940s Detroit was looking for a site of what is now Metro airport and thought this same area would be good.
The May 5, 1932, newspaper states that Persons digging dirt from private property in Oak Park constituted the greatest number of police cases in the village in April
. The report shows 43 arrests for dirt stealing, 11 for running red lights, 3 failed to stop at stop signs
During the Depression in 1932 Ford Motor Co. tilled over 700 acres for community gardens There was 100 acres on Coolidge between 9 & 10 mile, 52 on Ten mile, 80 acres at 8 mile and Greenfield. The plots were divided into 1/10 of an acre (40 x 90 ft.). Each parcel in this project was to be allotted to the more than 35,000 applicants.
August 1932 Oak Park fire dept. labored for 6 hours Wed. night to subdue a stubborn blaze in a peat field at nine mile and republic. At one time it covered a square block. Land in the area is covered in peat, in places up to 3 feet thick.
In 1928 there was a fire which lasted a year.
Sept. 1933 First major peat fire of the year burned for 3 days, consuming 40 acres. In the past, peat fires have burned for months before they were finally extinguished by heavy blankets of snow in the winter. A peat fire encroaching on 12 residences at Pasadena and Sunset Blvd. has been burning for 12 days while R.O. Twp. Firemen stand by to protect the endangered homes. This situation continued
until 1950 when the area was built up with homes and factories. At times the fires even traveled under the paved nine mile and Wyoming roads.
And speaking of smoke In Feb. 1934 village clerk Nelson Lyons put up No Smoking signs in the council chambers in an effort to bring the women back to commission meetings. Several years ago more women than men attended meetings. But the men lighted up their pipes and cigars and created such a smoke screen that the women couldnt stand it. If we clear out the atmosphere maybe the women will come back. This rule was enforced only when the comm. was in session.
Feb. 1934 village comm. Unanimously passed liquor by the glass to aid in keeping the sale of liquor under control. This was done to keep the bootleggers out of Oak Park. Only 2 restaurants were eligible.
August 1933 drilling for oil in Oak Park. A test well was sunk 200 ft. west of Meyers at 8 &Mac189; mile. The well was drilled by O.O. Corsaut (11 mile in Oak Park) which had also placed a natural gas well in Roseland Park cemetery where it burns 24/7.
In 1930 the population was 1.079. In 1940 1,169. In 1950 5,267 In 1960 over 36,000.
April 1935 Village Comm. Discusses forming as a 5th class city in order to save taxpayers money. If it were formed into a city the residents would not have to pay R.O. Township taxes. In Sept. petitions were drawn up to put this issue on the ballot. At the Nov. 21 vote the motion failed by a 156 to 120 vote.
June 1935 The comm. Granted 2 week vacations to all municipal employees, one week with pay.
Aug. 1938 Strong possibility that a new Oakland County airport for Southern Oakland County will be located in Oak Park Village, covering the whole square mile between the 9 and 10 mile roads, and Coolidge and Greenfield Roads,
Congressman George Dondero was working in Washington to secure PWA funds to build runways and clear land. There are only two residences and a small schoolhouse in the square mile under consideration. By the mid-1940s the area being considered was 8 &Mac189; mile to 10 mile, Greenfield to Wyoming. This issue continued off and on until 1947 when an anti-airport council was elected.
June 1938 A meeting of all southern Oakland county municipalities will be called in the near future to consider a joint sewage disposal plant. Plans have been discussed for the past 12 years funding has held it up. Meanwhile, however, the state stream control commission is growing increasingly impatient with the dumping of raw sewage into the Red Run creek whence it flows into the Clinton River and eventually into Lake St. Clair.
New City Hall In 1928 the village was outgrowing its existing hall but had no money and no way of borrowing to build a new one. In Nov. a heavy ice storm hit the area and an empty real estate office on 9 mile and the Township voting booth at 9 mile and Coolidge were loaded onto sleds and slid to be joined together with the existing hall at Wyoming and 9 mile. From Schoults those borrowed buildings (heaven forbid no one in the city hall would ever steal such a thing) were destined to the Oak Park village and then the city hall for the next 20 years. Not a word was ever heard from the owners of the buildings.
Race track in 1949 the council voted to allow a harness race track to be built on the corner of nine mile and Wyoming to Coolidge. Public protest killed this idea and the track relocated to Hazel Park.