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Spoiler: There’s no swamp

Historical society to retell discovery of Oakland County

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 1, 2018


BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Did you know it took more than 100 years for 19th-century Detroiters to mosey on north to the area that would become Birmingham-Bloomfield?

They figured there was nothing to discover but an “interminable swamp,” according to historian Neil Hepburn.

“It’s amazing to me that it took more than 100 years for Detroiters to ‘find’ Oakland County,” said Hepburn in a prepared statement.

The journey from Detroit to what would become Oakland County will be the topic of a presentation by the Bloomfield Historical Society on Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Bloomfield Township Public Library.

The journey was so fascinating, Hepburn said, that it takes four local speakers to retell it. Along with Hepburn, historians Dave Bogard, Gina Gregory and John Marshall will present the tale that involves a horseback expedition north to a land that was thought by many to be uninhabitable, but that turned out to be something of a natural Great Lakes paradise.

“Spoiler: There was no swamp,” said Michael Carmichael, a Bloomfield Historical Society member and the editor of Legacy, the group’s newsletter.

“I love hearing their delight as they made discovery after discovery of good land for farms, beautiful rivers and streams, even locations for mills ‘in every neighborhood,’” said Pam Carmichael, president of the Bloomfield Historical Society.

Michael Carmichael said the group set out 200 years ago this month and initially headed up the Saginaw Trail — what’s now known as Woodward Avenue. They eventually veered off to a kind of “lake country,” discovering Wing Lake, Cass Lake, Elizabeth Lake and nine others. Wing Lake was named for Michigan’s sheriff, Austin Eli Wing, by the way.

Their journey, which some suspect was an official assignment from Gov. Lewis Cass, was detailed in the Nov. 13, 1818, issue of the Detroit Gazette. Less than a month later, Oakland County was born. Bloomfield Township was one of just two townships in the new county, and Pontiac was the county seat. Birmingham wouldn’t come to be for a number of years.

The lecture is part of the society’s ongoing local history program and is free and open to the public. The event will be held 3-4:30 p.m. Oct. 7. For more information, visit

The Bloomfield Township Public Library is located at 1099 Lone Pine Road in Bloomfield Township.