A Brief History of Clarkston...
Though the road signs leading into the Village tell us that Clarkston was established in
1832, the first land purchases were actually made even earlier than that. The Williams
family, then living in Waterford Township, purchased the first land in 1823, however, they
never settled there. In 1831 the first settlers built homesteads. They included Butler
Holcomb, John and Thomas Beardslee, and Melvin Dorr. It was, however, in 1832 that the
population of the Township really began to grow. Most of the settlers came from New York
and New Jersey. This included Jeremiah Clark, who established a homestead in 1832. His
brother, Nelson, joined him shortly thereafter, settling here in 1836 and building his
home in what would become the Village of Clarkston. This home, built in 1839, still exists
today at 71 N. Main Street.
Independence Township was given its name by one of its earliest settlers. Joseph Van
Sycle, who came to the Township in 1834 from Independence, New Jersey, suggested the name
to honor his hometown. The name became official when the Township was organized in 1837.
Clarkston village was organized and named around 1842. It was named for the two settlers
who did the most to improve the town, Jeremiah and Nelson Clark. Jeremiah and Nelson built
both a sawmill and gristmill, were active in local politics (Jeremiah served as Township
Supervisor and Justice of the Peace), started a fish hatchery, opened a general store,
planted the first apple trees and acted as postmasters. They also platted the village in
1840. In 1842, the settlers voted to name the village Clarkston.
By 1877, when a history of Oakland County was written,
Clarkston had grown in population to nearly 1400. Both farms and businesses were thriving.
Clarkston was home to several stores, including furniture, clothing, and jewelry stores,
hotels, wagon makers, harness makers, liveries, and three physicians.
When the settlers arrived, schools and churches were almost immediately organized. The
first school in the area was built near Maybee and Pine Knob roads. Called the Sashabaw
School, it was built in 1834 and was first attended by children from the Beardslee and
Riker families. Two other schools soon followed, the second of which was the Union School,
built by Nelson Clark in 1840. This school, built in the center of the Village, was a
private academy until 1862 when it was sold to the public for a district school. In 1910
the original frame structure was dismantled and a new high school was built. This building
stands today as the Independence Township Hall.
The spiritual needs of the community were first taken care of by Methodist missionaries,
the circuit riders of all the country between Detroit and Saginaw. Services were held
in school houses, homes or barns, and everyone, no matter their denomination, was welcome.
It appears that the first church building to be erected was the Methodist Episcopal Church
on Buffalo Street. The frame structure was begun in 1841 but was not finished until 1847
because the small congregation could not afford windows. In 1873 that
replaced by a stone and brick structure which exists today as a private home. The First
Baptist Church was built at almost the same time as the original Methodist church. This
building also exists today at the south end of Main Street in the Village. It is now used
as a restaurant.
With farms and businesses doing so well and the population growing, a railroad was built
in Clarkston in 1851. Soon after, Clarkston became a tourist destination. Drawn by the
lakes and woodlands, families came from Detroit and Pontiac for summer weekends. Many
stayed in places like the Demarest House or the Deer Lake Inn. Some stayed with local
families who rented rooms to tourists. Among the attractions found here were the
"Opera House" (housed in the top floor of the Maccabees Building, built at the
turn of the century), where summer people and villagers alike could go to
see plays and dramatic readings. Also, the many beaches were popular,
in spite of a strict law promising a $100 fine if "bathers do not wear a
long coat to the bathing beach. Legs must be completely covered
with long black hose." (This last bit was intended for the ladies.)
Tourists could also hear the Clarkston Band as they strolled downtown on
Of course, it was the coming of the automobile that brought the most changes to Clarkston.
Roads that began as simple Indian trails, winding around trees and wetlands, were paved
and widened to accommodate automobile traffic. The Saginaw Trail, now known as Dixie
Highway, was paved as early as 1920. Main Street (M15) was paved around 1922. The biggest
change came to the area when Interstate 75 passed through in 1962. Easy access brought
increasing development. Farms disappeared and subdivisions, strip malls, gas stations and
apartments took their place. Today the area, like many other formerly rural townships, is
struggling to find a balance between development and preservation. In the Village, the
formation of a National Historic District has helped assure the maintenance of the
original character of this lovely town. The Township continues to work on its own
preservation plan. With careful planning and cooperation, we can rest assured that
Clarkston will not forget its rich history.
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