A Walk Through Time

The History And Heritage Of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan
(A Centennial Project of the Grosse Pointe Farms Historical Advisory Commission)


Municipal Government And Services
Even before the conclusion of the War of 1812, which put the Detroit/Grosse Pointe Area permanently under American control, a number of governmental jurisdictions already had been created, Wayne County had come into existence in 1796, and the Territory of Michigan had been created by the United States Congress on June 30, 1805. In January 1818, Wayne County (within its present limits) was divided into five townships: Hamtramck, St. Clair, Huron, Mongnagon and Springwells. 

On April 1, 1848, Grosse Pointe Township was carved out of the southeastern part of Hamtramck Township, its holdings extending from what is now Waterworks Park on Jefferson Avenue to Base Line Road (the Wayne-Macomb county line) and from Lake St. Clair to beyond Gratiot Avenue. The name chosen for the new township-Grosse Pointe-reflected its French heritage and translates as "big point." The name probably derived from the large point that once projected into the Detroit River at the junction of Lake St. Clair. The new township was administered by a Township Council, assisted by four justices of the peace who handled minor judicial disputes. Grosse Pointe Township's first supervisor was George Moran, whose father, Louis, had purchased the Grant farm in 1825. 

On May 20, 1879, the community of Grosse Pointe was established as a village of Grosse Pointe Township. The new municipality encompassed an area from Fisher Road to Weir Lane (just beyond present-day Provencal Road) and from Lake St. Clair to Mack Avenue. Ten years later, in 1889, the village expanded, extending its southwestern boundary to Cadieux Road. Following an attempt by shoreline residents to establish a separate community, the Michigan legislature divided the Village of Grosse Pointe into two separate entities: Grosse Pointe and Grosse Pointe Farms. The latter, created on May 20, 1893, comprised the exact area that originally had been incorporated as the Village of Grosse Pointe. The name "Grosse Pointe Farms" is reminiscent of the ribbon farms that once lined its shore. 

Those elected as the first Grosse Pointe Farms Council of Trustees were Joseph Berry, president; Truman Newberry, treasurer; Strathearn Hendrie, James McMillan, William A. McGraw, Archibald Michie, Fred G. Moran and Fred Fisher, trustees; and Archibald Michie, marshall. Only the present and the last three trustees were year-round residents. 

This group of elected officials promptly turned its attention to the first necessities of a new community. In August 1893, they passed their first ordinance requiring property owners to maintain sidewalks. In October 1894, the Council purchased property from Eugene Beaupre of Kerby Road and, by the end of the year, the former Protestant Church, located on Kerby Road at the lake, was moved to the new site for use as a village hall. 

By the last decade of the 19th century, the Village Council was faced with the task of developing a variety of civic improvements and services. 

In 1893, the origins of a village water system were in place. The Grosse Pointe Water Company, privately organized by several summer residents, constructed a Village Waterworks, a "cottage-like" Queen Ann-style building at 337 Lake Shore, near Moross. It provided water to houses along the shore via an intake pipe that extended 1,200 feet into the lake at the foot of Moross. The building exists today as the Highland Park Pumping Station. 

In 1895, the Village Council laid the groundwork for an early fire department. Two small barns were constructed, one at the Waterworks and one on the Joseph Berry property near Fisher Road. They were equipped with hand-drawn reel and hoses. Later, a similar facility was established at the Sacred Heart Academy on Lake Shore Road. A series of 27 hydrants provided water to houses along the lake, but farmers inland had to rely on individual wells. The fire alarm system was a mockingbird whistle located at the Waterworks. 

As the Farms developed into a residential suburb of Detroit, the Village Council began to deal with the concerns and issues of a more urban way of life. In 1902, it passed its first automobile ordinance; and in 1904, the Council found it necessary to hire a special policeman to prevent loitering at the Fisher/Jefferson Interurban station. The officer was on duty from early afternoon until the last Interurban car departed at night for Detroit. In 1907, rowdyism was further curtailed by passage of an ordinance forbidding the sale of liquor in Grosse Pointe Farms. 

On January 6, 1913, the Village Council held its first meeting in a new village hall designed by architects Mildner and Eisen. The new hall included space for a seven-member combined police and fire department. Additions to this building were constructed in 1919 and 1924. The building was remodeled and enlarged in the 1950s and again in the late 1980s. What we see today bears little resemblance to the original city hall. 

By 1919, with subdivision development well underway, the Village established an Engineering department and passed its first Building Code. The following year brought several additional civic improvements indicative of the ever-increasing development of the community. Property for a sewage treatment plant was purchased. An ordinance regulating the collection of garbage was passed. A plat ordinance was approved that required paved streets, sewers, curbs, sidewalks and water and gas mains. And, most symbolic of Grosse Pointe Farms' transformations from a rural community into a suburban one, the keeping of hogs, cows and cattle would be allowed only if approved by the Village. 

During the remainder of the 1920s and into the 1930s, the Village Council kept a watchful eye over development and determined that the Farms would maintain its quality residential ambiance. A zoning ordinance was approved in 1928 and, in 1930, a Planning Commission was established. Civic improvements continued with approval for the construction of a municipal pier and breakwater in 1924. The same year, the Grosse Pointe Waterworks (which in 1905 had been acquired by Peninsular Electric Light Company and which since 1914 had provided water to both Grosse Pointe Farms and Highland Park) was purchased by the latter municipality. Highland Park and, later, Detroit provided water to Grosse Pointe Farms until completion of its own filtration plant. A village-wide sewer system was created in 1927, and a pumping station and settling tank were constructed in 1929 at 305 Chalfonte. Connecting pipes eliminated the Black Marsh Ditch, so troublesome since the 1870s. A new water filtration plant was built in 1930 at 29 Moross. Designed by Robert O. Derrick, the Neo-Georgian facade beautifully disguises its utilitarian purpose. 

Throughout the 1930s, the Board of Trustees continued to deal with the concerns of a settled suburban community. The Council updated the zoning ordinance, reviewed traffic laws and, when Prohibition ended, regulated liquor licenses. In 1939, they found it necessary to renumber the street addresses. 

In the years following World War II, Grosse Pointe Farms underwent another period of growth that enabled it to incorporate as the City of Grosse Pointe Farms in 1949. The last Village Council became the first City Council. As is done today, residents elected seven people to the city council, four at each election; a mayor was to be chosen by the Council from among its members.