Parks and Natural Resources
Our Community's History
The story of the Greater Rochester Area in the 20th century reflects the story of a typical farm community near a major urban area in the United States.
Avon Township, now Rochester and Rochester Hills, was the first settled area in Oakland County, Michigan. The first settlers came from upstate New York, New England, and southern Canada in 1817. Seeking land to clear and farm, these pioneers worked their way north from Detroit by following Native American trails through the forests and marshlands or by traveling on the Detroit River and walking overland. Settlers found heavily wooded, gently rolling land crossed by rivers and creeks.
In the era before the common adoption of the steam engine, Avon Township owed its early settlement to the convergence of three potential sources of waterpower – the Clinton River, Stony Creek, and Paint Creek. Water-powered mills were essential in providing food, clothing, and shelter, by grinding grain into flour for bread, carding wool for cloth, and cutting lumber for home and barns. By 1850, area sawmills produced 444,000 board feet of lumber and carding mills processed 28,000 pounds of wool.
In its first 33 years, the population of Avon Township grew to 1,456 people and all the land was privately owned. The family farms were largely self-sufficient, producing most of their own food and clothing by 1850. As more land was cleared, large crops could be efficiently grown and harvested for sale to other markets. However, after 1900, farmers decreased their acres of wheat and flocks of sheep. Residents began to travel by public transportation to work in city factories. By 1907, there were eight passenger and 25 freight trains stopping in Rochester every day. With fewer farm laborers, farmers had to reduce their acreage. Some even sold their land and moved to the cities. This led to a boom in land prices as farms were sold for housing subdivisions, scientific farming operations, and large estates for the wealthy.
There were several large scientific farming operations located in Avon Township. Taking advantage of convenient proximity to Detroit and rail systems were Dr. Sarah Van Hoosen Jones’ dairy and poultry farm, the Ferry-Morse Seed Co. Farm, and Parke, Davis & Company’s biological farm. Large country estates were created by the consolidation of many family farms, such as Meadow Brook Farms and Great Oaks Stock Farm.
In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the population of Rochester grew by a third as prosperous city workers moved to Avon for larger houses and yards, fresh air, and lower taxes. Thirty-five subdivisions were created between 1915 and 1930, and the population almost doubled again by 1930.
Rochester Hills During the Depression
During the Depression of the 1930s, Rochester’s small businesses suffered as everyone across the country struggled to maintain markets, factories, and livelihoods. Suppliers to the auto industry lost contracts and workers as demand for products declined. Not until the 1940s was recovery evident as more new businesses opened and relocated in what was becoming a suburb of Detroit. The growing economy of the post-War years fed new demand for family homes by returning servicemen with government-backed mortgage loans. By 1950, the farm community of Avon Township had become a community of families who earned their livelihoods elsewhere. These families expected quality education for their children. The eight one-room schoolhouses scattered around Avon Township were consolidated into the Rochester Community Schools in 1952.
As the community has grown, it has added services and institutions that are integral to affluent suburban communities everywhere – a hospital, public library, colleges, museum, art center, symphony, music school, and many retail and dining establishments. Today, the cities of Rochester and Rochester Hills have a population of approximately 84,000.
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1000 Rochester Hills Dr. | Rochester Hills, MI 48309 | Ph: 248.656.4600