Check out ‘ghosts’ of the past on Royal Oak historical tour

By: Heidi Roman | Royal Oak Review | Published September 7, 2011

 The concrete bridges on Vinsetta Boulevard in Royal Oak are some of the “ghosts” of 
the past that the Historical Society will feature in an upcoming tour. The Red Run used to flow beneath the bridges, though now they’re just decorative.

The concrete bridges on Vinsetta Boulevard in Royal Oak are some of the “ghosts” of the past that the Historical Society will feature in an upcoming tour. The Red Run used to flow beneath the bridges, though now they’re just decorative.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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ROYAL OAK — The long row of oak trees next to Royal Oak High School makes for pretty landscaping, but the trees’ roots go way back, long before the first student ever stepped foot in the school.

That row of trees used to act as a fence of sort between two farms, owned by the sons of one of Royal Oak’s first settlers. The tree line is one of many “ghosts” of early-day Royal Oak that still stands today to remind people of the city’s history — if only they knew what the signs meant.

“If you know what to look for, you can see things you probably didn’t notice before,” said Bob Muller, a local historian and tour guide.

Muller is leading two tours on Sept. 14 for the Royal Oak Historical Society in a new program, “The Ghost Tour of Royal Oak.”

“Usually, when you’re thinking about history, people are looking at an old building or house,” Muller said. “There’s a lot of history beyond that.”

Guests will take a ride in a luxury coach through different areas of the city as Muller points out some of the significant, but not well-known, historic landmarks.
The Red Run, Royal Oak’s “ghost river,” was important to the early residents, though now it’s nearly buried in sewers in Oakland County.

“You can drive street to street and follow the course of an old river,” Muller said. The dips in some roads are signs of where the creeks and streams used to flow.

There are even some bridges. On Vinsetta Boulevard, between Woodward Avenue and 12 Mile Road, the decorative concrete bridges in the road’s median once served a real purpose — to bridge the stream, Muller said.

“It’s a remnant of something real,” he said.

A few residents might be old enough to remember the days when the Red Run still flowed in Royal Oak, but Muller’s tour will dig even deeper into history.

The glaciers of the last Ice Age, which basically covered the whole state of Michigan, left remnants in Royal Oak. The city used to be underneath the predecessor of Lake Erie, and the lake left beach ridges behind, Muller said.

“We have four different beach ridges in the city,” he said. “Downtown Royal Oak is built on one; Pleasant Ridge is named after one.”

Another ridge was left along what is now Fourth Street, from Woodward to downtown.

“It’s just a dip in the road, but if you know what it is, it’s like a time machine,” Muller said.

Muller is a native fish expert, and mapped out the route of the Red Run awhile back. He drove around the city following its paths, and later turned his attention to the areas of forest in the city. He says many of the forested areas were the woodlots on old farms that never got cut back when houses were built.

Muller will share the information during two tours at 4:30 p.m. and at 6:15 p.m. Sept. 14. Each tour is limited to 20 people.

“We have seating for about 40, and I’ve got reservations for about 16 people now,” said Sandy Wilkins, a member of the Historical Society. “It’s a first-time fundraiser for the society.”

Tickets are $25 per person. To reserve a spot or for more information, call Wilkins at (248) 541-6441.

Coaches will leave from the Royal Oak Historical Museum, 1411 W. Webster, and cake and punch will be served at the museum in between the tours.
 

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