Thursday, July 12, 2007

City Directories: Chronological History

If you are a history buff or a trivia fan you will enjoy looking through a city's chronological history in its city directory. If you are a genealogist, you will love it. There is so much great information available and presented in a concise form. It's easy to skim through the years and learn about the environment your ancestors' lived in. Using my R.L. Polk City Directory for Detroit, 1925-1926 as a reference, let's take a look at the types of information presented in the Chronological History of Detroit 1669-1925 which begins on p. 50.

The earliest years, for the most part, have brief entries. The entries go in chronological order (not every year has an entry) until 1920/1921 when they begin to have specific dates within a year and are organized January - December. Here are a few sporadic entries from the early years...

1704 - Baptism of first white child.
1710 - First marriage between white people.
1802 - Detroit incorporated as a town.
1805 - Designated as the capital of the Michigan Territory. Every house in
town burned except one. Principal street called St. Anne, now part of Jefferson
avenue. Governors and Judges Plan accepted. "Woodward Code" adopted.
1817 - The Detroit Gazette issued. The Bank of Michigan, Detroit's first
legitimate bank, chartered. University of Michigan established at Detroit;
cornerstone laid September 21st. president Monroe visits here.
1831 - Daily mail service inaugurated between Detroit and the East. The
Democratic Free press and Michigan Intelligencer (now the Detroit Free Press)
first issued.
1832 - Charter granted Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad, which afterwards
became the Michigan Central. Black Hawk war. First cholera epidemic.
1842 - First theatre built. removal of Michigan University to Ann Arbor
1870 - Population 79,603. Rt. Rev. Casper Henry Borgess third Roman
Catholic Bishop of this diocese to take office here. R.. L. Polk & Co.
1886 - First electric cars for street railway service. Grace Hospital
founded. Ferry seed house burned. Great snow storm April 6th; traffic suspended.
Marvin H. Chamberlain, mayor.
1896 - First moving pictures shown in the city, at Detroit Opera House, by
Bert C. Whitney, machine operated by George W. Craig. Franchise granted first
competitive telephone company, known as the Detroit Telephone company, organized
by Charles flowers, R.H. Brett and W. L. Holmes. Capital stock, $1,000,000.
Later purchased by Michigan Company.
1900 - U.S. Census 285,704 (within city limits). 11,628 telephones in
Detroit area. Population, 304,132 (Greater Detroit).
1906 - October 1 - Work on Michigan Central Tunnel commenced. Home
Telephone Company organized by St. Louis people.
1914 - Thousands out of work, due to general business and industrial
depression. Completion and opening of the magnificent Michigan Central Terminal,
cost $2,500,000. G.A.R. reunion. Auto Show held at Ford Building. Michigan
Savings Bank consolidated with the Wayne County and Home Savings Bank.
1918 - St. Clair Heights annexed to city June 25th.
250,000 women above 16 years of age registered in response to Government
proclamation to determine woman power.
$54,190,000 subscribed for Second Liberty Loan.
$50,000,000 subscribed for Third Liberty Loan.
$80,000,000 subscribed for Fourth Liberty loan.
$5,000,000 subscribed for War Savings Stamps, to July 1st ($219,831 by
pupils of public schools.)
New Charter adopted at election June 25th.
Liberty Forum with Statue of Liberty erected in Cadillac Square for
Patriotic Center.
$10, 500,000 subscribed for patriotic Fund.
State-wide prohibition of liquor took effect May 1st; 3,068 saloons closed
in the State.
Coldest days January 12th and February 5th - 16 degrees below zero. Coldest
weather since 1872.
Detroit-Toledo (part of Dixie Highway) concrete road opened to
Auto Show held in Simon Sales co. Building.
Outer Belt concrete road opened to traffic.
Highland park becomes a city.
Greatest coal shortage in the history of the city.
Attendance at State Fair August 30th to September 8th: Total number passed
through turnstiles, 500,000. Attendance Sept. 1st 72,000; Sept. 2nd (Labor Day)
Nov. 11th: unprecedented civic demonstration in celebration of the signing
of the armistice closing hostilities in the World War.
Population, 986,699.

From about 1915 on, the entries for each year became substantially longer. By 1919 each entry is more than a column in length. A bit too long for me to include here. But the type of content remains constant; business beginnings and mergers, population counts and epidemics, "firsts" (especially firsts for women), and the occasional weather summary.

This chronology gives a good picture of how the population of the city grew and business and commerce along with it. You can also see how things like WWI and prohibition impacted the community as well as health care crises and politics. This section of the city directory is virtually a fountain of facts about city events and should not be overlooked when doing family history research.

Coming up next: City Directories: Miscellaneous Information

Read my series of articles about city directories:
I Won the eBay Bid
What's In A City Directory
City Directories: The Introduction
City Directories: The Indexes
City Directories: The Statistical Department
City Directories: Chronological History
City Directories: Miscellaneous Information
City Directories: Directory of Names
City Directories: Street Guide and Directory of Householders
City Directories: Classified Business Directory
City Directories: Additional Information