Brief History of Macomb County
Named in honor of General Alexander Macomb, a highly decorated veteran of the War of 1812, Macomb County was formally organized on January 15, 1818 as the third county in the Michigan territory. At that time, it covered a much larger area than it does today. In 1819 and 1820, large portions of the county were removed to form the counties of Oakland, Lapeer, Genesee and St. Clair.
The first Europeans arrived in the area during the 17 th century. They included French fur trappers who recognized the richness of the marshes and sought new opportunities for trade. Moravian missionaries established the first organized, non-native settlement in the county in 1782 as a refuge for Christianized Indians driven out of Ohio. They built along the banks of the Clinton River, then known as the Huron River, but were forced to leave four years later by the Chippewa Indians. In the late 1790s, Christian Clemens visited the area, and in March 1800, purchased a distillery considered the first building on the site of the future Mount Clemens. The next year he purchased 500 acres for development. This site, known as High Banks, was platted as the Village of Mount Clemens in 1818, when it was proclaimed the Macomb County Seat.
In the early 1800s, and at least by 1840, settlers moved into the interior of the county, carving out farms from the hardwood forests. The roots of the county villages and townships were established by this time. In addition to the original French and English, later settlers included Germans, Belgians and others who came directly from Europe.
In the 1870s, mineral baths brought international fame to Mount Clemens. Many believed the waters had healing powers. Although the stream still runs beneath the city, interest in the spas died out in the early 20 th century. Recently, there has been a reemergence of interest in the mineral baths now being offered at St. Joseph Hospital in Mount Clemens.
Between 1920 and 1930, Macomb County doubled in population, rising from 38,103 to 77,146 persons. Two significant developments spurred this growth - the establishment of Selfridge Field in 1917, and the beginning of the urbanization movement northward from the City of Detroit. During the 1940s and the 1950s the movement from the central city to the suburbs increased. The largest growth occurred between 1950 and 1970, when over 440,000 people were added to Macomb County's population.
Today, Macomb County encompasses 482 square miles, and ranks third in population in the state, with a 2000 census total of 788,149 persons. The county is recognized as a leader in business and industry, and designated as a "Community of Economic Excellence" by the State of Michigan.
Visit our Historical Commission page for more information about Macomb County History.
Prepared in consultation with the Macomb County Historical Society
President Ross Champion