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Building Birmingham in the 19th Century

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The 19th century was a time of steady growth in Oakland County, as early settlement gave way to established agricultural and industrial enterprises. Birmingham became an economic hub for the surrounding area, leading to its commercial and cultural success. Prominent families intermarried, continuing the legacy. 

19th century farm O'Neal and Hanna Buildings Buggies

Birmingham officially incorporated as a Village in 1864, at the height of the Civil War, which was taking its toll across the nation socially, culturally, and economically. Building and growth had been a virtual standstill in southern Michigan, and slowly began to pick up steam again in the late 1860s. Although the sadness and grief affected Birmingham through its lost and maimed soldiers, by the 1870s, recovery and growth were on a firm footing once again. This was a time of industrial developments in agriculture and manufacturing, and Detroit and vicinity saw its effects on a grand scale. In Birmingham, transportation via the Saginaw Turnpike (now Woodward Avenue) and the railroad helped move goods and people back and forth to markets in Detroit and north to Flint and Saginaw. The prosperous farms nearby in Oakland County increasingly saw Birmingham as the commercial hub that facilitated this activity. By the 1881 the population was about 500 people. The town and surrounding farms supported:
  • 1 foundry
  • 1 blacksmith/ wagon shop
  • 1 cooper
  • 1 hardware store
  • 1 builder
  • 1 flour mill
  • 2 drugs/sundries stores
  • 3 general stores
  • 1 meat market
  • 1 dentist
  • 1 tailor
  • a library and school
  • a post office, train station, and hotel
  • 4 churches
Mitchell WhiteheadThis stability created an environment conducive to progressive, forward-looking activities, including education, women's and children's services, and public health and civic works. Certain individuals and families emerged to lead the way to progress and to grow opportunity with the growing town. Standouts are Martha Baldwin, who founded the library, local suffrage society, and supported public health and education; the Peabody Brothers, who branched out in business and agriculture and whose families intermarried with other prominent people in Birmingham, solidifying their influence; 
Abbie Farmer Harris
Almeron Whitehead and George Mitchell, who were active in business and
Abe Harris
published the first newspaper in town, The Birmingham Eccentric, Abe and Abigail Harris, a mixed-race African American and Indigenous couple from prosperous local families who connected Birmingham to other families of color in Michigan; and the McBride and Hanna families, Irish immigrants who worked hard to bring prosperity to their families and the town.