The History of Armada

Armada was nothing but brushy, low-lying swampland when federal surveyors mapped it in 1821, as part of the massive new Northwest Territories. Indians roamed the stream's bottomlands, rich with game, but the few white settlers in the area were concentrated in Romeo.

Michigan was a very popular location for pioneers and immigrants searching for new homes and better lives. "Michigan Fever" infected thousands of Easterners and they flocked westward to Michigan in droves. Macomb County was a center of rapid immigrant growth with the northern part of Macomb County experiencing rapid settlement from 1832-1836. The wilderness had largely disappeared under the diligent farmers' plow. A series of treaties had relocated the Indians far to the west, and small white settlements had popped up at Selleck's Corners (Romeo Plank and 32 Mile Roads) and Berry's Corners, a mile east at Omo Road. The only memory of the Indians was a group of burial mounds on a rise above the Clinton River. Settlers trickled in slowly at first, then poured through Romeo on the Hoxie Trail (32 Mile Road), with even more fresh arrivals from New York State, via the Erie Canal and Detroit.

eastmainstreetWith rapid settlement came a desire to form a separate township. In the 1830's, present day Richmond and Armada were part of Ray Township. A meeting was held at one of the settlements (located at Romeo Plank and 32 Mile Road) known as Armada Corners, in 1832, to consider the township question. There was apparently some opposition to the idea as it took two votes to push the measure through. The assembled voters then took up the question of a township name. The issue was pondered with many suggestions being voted down. Then, according to Lacines "History of Macomb County" (published in 1882), "Hosea Northrup jumped up and shouted the name Armada. The name was carried at once and probably without a knowledge of its meaning or its fitness".

westmainstreetMany Armada Township settlements did not survive the test of time. One that did was the Village of Armada. main streetOriginally know as Burke's Corners after an early settler, the village began to prosper when the old Indian trail, know today as Armada Ridge Road, was laid out as a roadway in the early 1830's. The road soon became part of the immigrant road network between Romeo and Port Huron.

Burke's Corners was briefly renamed Honeoye after the hometown of several newly arrived residents from New York. When the village was incorporated in 1867, it received its modern name of Armada. By 1881, Armada was described as a "thriving incorporated village of 800 inhabitants". The prosperous village was home to a stave and handle factory, a sash and blind factory, a cheese industry, a flouring mill as well as a number of other businesses such as blacksmith shops, hardware stores, banks, a drug store and so on. An evaporated fruit factory and dairies were located nearby. Four churches, a large hotel (the National Hotel), a library, and a newspaper (originally called the Telegraph then the Armada Graphic) also were located within the Village.

The village was actually founded in 1833 by Elijah Burke, a man of religious fervor and a member of the Temperance movement. He began a Sunday School, which eventually spawned two churches, the Congregational and the Methodist. Organized in 1867 as an official village, reincorporated in 1885 to include additional territory.

In its heyday, the town of Armada boasted an opera house, a theater, seven grocery stores, a hotel and livery stable, three hardware stores, a lumberyard, a grain mill, two implement dealers, a bakery, five doctors and several blacksmiths.

A stagecoach stop on the Romeo-Port Huron line was located at the present Armada Printing office on Fulton Street.

The community's strong ties to agriculture helped to bring about the well known Armada Fair (an annual event since 1873). Armada Township residents also displayed a strong affinity for the "culture" of the day with the Village of Armada as its cultural center. A number of fraternal organizations (ie. the Masons and the Odd Fellows), a Literary and Science club, and the Armada Coronet Band provided social outlets for villagers and township residents. The popularity of these social outlets was reflected in the week-long cultural fair that was held yearly during the late 1800's.

In 1899, a great fire destroyed many of the wood buildings along Armada's main street but village residents stayed on and rebuilt more permanent structures. The village continued to grow in size and in heart. Armada's enduring interest in literature and the arts helped to persuade industrialist, steel-maker Andrew Carnegie to donate $8,000 towards the building of a permanent township library. The grant from the Foundation fell short of the amount needed, so residents chipped in 128 loads of gravel and put on a minstrel show. The Armada Free Public Library was built in 1915. This is one of approximately 1600 Carnegie libraries that dot the United States.

A railroad, the Michigan Air Line, connected Armada with the rest of the world. Passengers and freight were processed through the two-door depot at the foot of Church Street. A cartage company delivered the freight to uptown businesses by horse and wagon. From 1925 to 1953, passengers could travel the Air Line to Jackson or Richmond on a one-car, self propelled "Doodlebug".

The first school in Armada was a one-room schoolhouse at Selleck's Corners. Soon schools sprang up all around the township. By the time the schools were consolidated during the 1940's, there were at least 18 one-room school houses in separately organized districts. Now the Armada Area Schools encompass 76 square miles and parts of seven townships.

Public works were strictly do-it-yourself in the early days. Settlers laid out the first roads and took it upon themselves to maintain them. As recently as the 1920's, farmers, along the Ridge Road in particular, dug gravel from their property to fill potholes in lieu of high road taxes.

The fire department has always been composed of volunteers. There was not a paid policeman until 1942, although businessmen went together in 1930 to hire a night watchman. He never was paid a salary, but took donations for 12 years, until a police officer was hired.

Armada rates a star on the historical monument circuit. One of its sons, an itinerant carpenter named John Huff, earned glory on a Civil War battlefield when he fatally shot the Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart, on May 11, 1864. Huff, a sharpshooter, was in the right place at the right time (Yellow Tavern in Virginia) when Stuart and his staff road onto a prominent rise. Huff's shot wounded Stuart mortally, and the general died the next day - a grievous blow to the Confederacy.

Huff himself was in the wrong place only 20 days later. He was shot in the head during a battle at Hawes Shop, just three miles from Yellow Tavern. Huff lingered for nearly a month in a military hospital, then was sent home on the train to die. He is buried in Armada's Willow Grove Cemetery. His home still stands on East Main Street.

Armada and Armada Township have weathered the years in good stead. Within commuting distance of the greater Detroit Metropolitan area, Armada Township is now one of the fastest growing areas in the entire tri-county area. Today it is a bustling agricultural region known for its' orchards, its flea market, and  its county fair. These have ceased to be purely local events in recent years, and now attract a metropolitan audience. Even with it's growth the township and village of Armada has retained its country charm.

Reviewed by a member of the Armada Historical Society in 2016 for accuracy.