From Jefferson Township to Sterling Heights and Everything in Between- An Overview

Roughly eighteen miles northeast of Downtown Detroit lies Sterling Heights[1], the State of Michigan’s fourth largest city in both terms of area, and population[2]. However, the hustle and bustle that many associate with the city is a trait that only appeared shortly after the end of World War II. So, how did the city become the place hundreds of thousands of people call home today? This question can only be answered by first looking at the creation of Jefferson Township, which was established from a division of Shelby Township on March 17, 1835.[3] That same year, the township held its first election, electing supervisor William A Davis, clerk James Wallace, treasurer Abram Freeland, and 5 justices of Peace. Shortly thereafter, immigrants from Belgium, Germany, and Poland started to migrate to Jefferson Township looking to start life anew by taking advantage of the fertile soil the township had to offer. From 1850 to 1873, Jefferson Township was one of the leading producers of corn, wheat, potatoes, and hothouse rhubarb in the nation, even establishing Macomb County as the “rhubarb capital of the world”[4] Over the next few years, not much changed in the lifestyles of the inhabitants of the township: church and farming were prioritized for the close-knit families in the community.

The community was extremely close, and families would come together to help others harvest. This is a harvest group at Haff Farm, taken from http://mmm.lib.msu.edu/record.php?id=3419#images

The community was extremely close, and families would come together to help others harvest. This is a harvest group at Haff Farm, taken from http://mmm.lib.msu.edu/record.php?id=3419#images

[5] As more and more migrants started to take notice to the township’s success, the population began to grow exponentially, making Jefferson Township the fastest growing municipality in Macomb County at the time.[6] As the land continued to develop, more skilled workers came to the area, the complexity of the township began to change. Ironically, Jefferson Township was renamed to Sterling Township after Azariah W. Sterling, a pioneer of Washington Township, which is fourteen miles north of Sterling Township, on March 6, 1838.[7] It was not until 130 years later that Sterling Township was incorporated, becoming Sterling Heights, a city with a manager and council government, on July 1, 1968.[8]

[1] Vercellone, pg. 7

[2] Courtney, pg. 3

[3] Baker, pg. 27

[4] Vercellone, pg. 7

[5] Ibid.

[6] Courtney, pg. 1

[7] Baker, pg. 27

[8] Baker, pg. 24