As with most of the land in Southeast Michigan, the area that today is known as Flat Rock had visitors long before any European settlers saw the landscape. Waterways provided travel access in and out of the area and provided the necessities of life. As early as the 1700s and probably much earlier, the shores of the Huron River was home to Huron, Potawatomi, Seneca, Wyandot, and Algonquin villages.
The first European explorers to reach the area were French. A French priest established a parish in the 1700s in an attempt to convert the Native Americans to Christianity. In 1818, the government settled a treaty with the tribes in the area whereby 5000 acres on both sides of the Huron River would be utilized as a reservation. The reservation was vacated in 1842 and the land was sold. Around the same time that the treaty was settled, a land office opened in Detroit and Michael Vreeland arrived in the area and purchased 800 acres, most of which covers present day Flat Rock. The acreage was given a name: The Village of Vreeland.
The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 brought increased settlement. The village of Vreeland served as a center of activity for the surrounding farms. The area was platted and recorded as the Village of Flat Rock (named after the limestone in the region) in 1838. The Civil War had a profound impact as many men from the area served in various capacities including the 24th Michigan Volunteer Regiment, the famous “Iron Brigade.”
Henry Ford established numerous “village industries” throughout the larger region. His philosophy was to establish small factories in rural areas in order to provide farmers with a stable income in the winter months. Most of these factories were located near rivers to take advantage of water power. Ford thought Flat Rock would be a perfect place for such a plant and he purchased a site where once a saw mill had operated on the banks of the Huron River. The Ford Motor Company Lamp Factory opened in Flat Rock in 1923 and employed as many as 1200 people. The plant made all of the vehicle lamps used by Ford Motor Company at the time. It closed in 1950 and a State of Michigan historical marker now stands on the site which can be seen from Huron River Drive.
In 1923, Flat Rock was incorporated as a village and then in 1965, it was registered as a city. It has grown over the years to an area of 6.68 square miles and just under 10,000 people. But while much new construction has been seen in recent years, it is still a community that treasures its small town feel and rich heritage. While being home to major manufacturing like the Flat Rock Assembly Plant and the famous Flat Rock Speedway, it is also the site of the oldest Methodist Episcopal Church in Michigan. A major increase in construction and development in recent years lives alongside numerous residents who can trace their ancestry back to the early days of the community. Flat Rock can best be characterized as a city that loves its past, enjoys the present, and looks forward to the future.
To find out more about Flat Rock, visit the Flat Rock Historical Society website at http://www.flatrockhistory.org/ or visit Memory Lane at 25200 Gibraltar Road
- Michael Vreeland, who is considered to be the founder of the area that became Flat Rock, and his family built the first grain and lumber mill in the area.
- The Vreeland name lives on in the form of a well-known area road.
- Descendants of Michael Vreeland still live in Flat Rock to this day.
- The First United Methodist Church of Flat Rock traces its roots back to 1821 which makes it the oldest Methodist Episcopal Church in Michigan.
- A portion of Flat Rock actually lies in Monroe County because the border follows the course of the Huron River.
- The Gibraltar and Flat Rock Land Company had intentions of building a canal from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan and actually started and finished three miles of the canal. Financial hard times stopped the effort, but evidence of the beginnings of the canal can still be seen in Flat Rock today.
- An airport, known as Nan-Bar, was located in Flat Rock from the 1930s to the early 1960s. It had a grass airfield and was used by the Grosse Ile Naval Air Station as a secondary airfield.
- Flat Rock is the childhood hometown of Dann Florek, who plays Captain Donald Cragen in the television series Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Craig Hutchison is a published author with a passion for local history. He has served in various capacities with several history institutions including The Henry Ford, the Henry Ford Estate, and the Dearborn Historical Museum. Craig believes in bringing history alive by helping people make connections between the past, present, and future. His favorite medium for doing this is through the written word. Read more of Craig’s writing on various and sundry topics at Wandering Wolverine Writings.