City of Harper Woods Incorporated in 1951
Harper Woods was incorporated as a city on February 19, 1951, when the residents of Gratiot Township (est. 1895) voted to incorporate the entire area of the Township of Harper Woods. A Charter Commission was elected, a Charter prepared and adopted, and a City Council elected. The City of Harper Woods was "born" on Monday, October 29, 1951, when the Charter took effect and the first City Council was sworn in.
The first new settler in the part of the Township which is now Harper Woods was Casper Salter, who in 1859 took up a claim on a wagon track then called Pumpkin Hook Road (now Kelly Road) between our Woodland and Woodcrest Avenues. Other families followed, and by 1875 there were eleven homes along Pumpkin Hook Road. At that time the main North-South artery was the road from Detroit to Fort Gratiot (now Port Huron) which was originally cleared by the Moravians in 1782. In the 1830's it was called the Gratiot Military Road, and in 1859 was converted in to a plank toll road.
At the turn of the century, Gratiot was Main Street for the farm settlement on Pumpkin Hook Road, with a blacksmith, a wagon maker, a general store, a saloon and the Westphalia Shooting Park. The community grew slowly. By the mid-1930's there were still only about fifty homes in Gratiot Township. However, recovery from the Great Depression coincided with a push toward the suburbs, and from 1935 on growth was rapid. The federal census in 1940 gives the population as 836.
The Gratiot Township Directory of 1939-40 gives a picture of the community: about half the wage earners were employed in industry, a quarter in retail or service occupations, a good many in building trades, a substantial proportion unemployed and two retired. Most of the houses were in two areas: near the corner of Vernier and Mt. Clemens (now Harper Avenue) and between Kelly Road and Mt. Clemens Drive from Kingsville to Roscommon.
An earlier subdivision between Woodmont and Fleetwood on both sides of Mt. Clemens Drive failed during the Depression years, and in 1940 Eastwood was the only street with houses on it from Roscommon north almost to Vernier. With the 1940's came the great influx of young families building homes. The fact that most streets weren't paved, many water mains weren't in (people had wells or carried water), and the land was subject to flooding didn't dampen the enthusiasm of these modern "settlers." The township's population was 9,148 in 1950.
Ten years later the population had soared to 19,195. The fledgling City of Harper Woods (renamed from Gratiot Township in 1951 from its being in a heavily wooded area and from its main thoroughfare, Harper Avenue, which was named for Walter Harper, founder of Harper Hospital in Detroit) had the usual problems of new cities: schools (Poupard opened in 1951), street paving, water systems, drains, sidewalks, etc.
In 1955, Interstate 94 Expressway Route was approved, and construction on Eastland Shopping Center began soon after. Eastland opened in 1957 and in 1960 the Expressway was completed as far as Vernier. In 2001, Harper Woods celebrated its 50th anniversary. We have over 14,000 residents. Harper Woods is a proud, spirited community.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF HARPER WOODS, VISIT THE HERITAGE ROOM IN OUR LIBRARY, OR CALL THE HISTORICAL COMMITTEE AT 313.343.2575.