History of Lapeer
County of Lapeer
Lapeer County was once part of the Northwest Territory. By an ordinance of the Congress of the United States passed July 13th, 1787, the whole of the territory of the United States lying northwest of the Ohio River, though still occupied by the British, was organized as the Northwest Territory. In January of 1820 the County of Oakland was formed. Governor Lewis Cass set Lapeer County’s boundaries on September 18th, 1822, although it remained part of Oakland County until it was organized. Lapeer County officially became a county on February 2nd, 1835. The first elections were for County Officers in 1837 with 520 persons voting.
How did Lapeer get its Name?
Folklore claims Lapeer was derived from the naming of the south branch of the Flint River, which flows northwestward over quite a long distance of rocky bed in Lapeer County. French and Indian traders frequently passed over this section of the county and through the river, ultimately naming our city for the stone that lay at the river bottom. The translation of stone in French is “LePierre”; the English translation of Canadian French accent of this word is “Lapeer”. The river was named Flint, synonymous with stone.
The first settler in Lapeer was Alvin N. Hart who was born in Cornwall, Connecticut on February 11th, 1804. He came to Lapeer in 1831 and platted the Village of Lapeer on November 8th, 1833. The plat was registered in Pontiac on December 14th, 1833 in the County of Oakland; 2 years before Lapeer officially became a county.
Alvin Hart became a State Senator in 1843, representing Lapeer, Oakland, Genesee, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Saginaw counties and the entire Upper Peninsula. He was instrumental in having the state capital moved from Detroit to Lansing. He died on August 22nd, 1874 and is buried in Lapeer.
The second settler, Jonathon R. White, was born in South Hadley, Mass., in 1806. He came to Lapeer in 1831.
Of pioneer stock, both Hart and White had the initiative to start new communities. Hart forming Lapeer and White platting what was known as Whitesville (which consists of the western portion of Lapeer). A tamarack swamp once separated the two settlements.
At one time Lapeer had two court houses. The Whites erected a court house at the present site of the Old Lapeer High School at Main and Genesee Street in 1839. Court was first held on July 7th, 1840. Hart built the present court house located at the corner of Nepessing and Court Streets in 1846. Hart rented the building to the County for $1 and court was first held in April 1847. In 1853, the County purchased Hart’s court house for $3,000: which is now the oldest continuously running court house in the State of Michigan and one of the oldest 10 court houses in the United States. White’s courthouse later became the first school in Lapeer called Lapeer Academy.
The White family built a large building called the White’s Opera House. It was located where Bishop Kelley School is at the present time. It became evident that the business district would be near the court house, so the Opera House was moved, piece by piece, to its present location at the southeast corner of Court and Nepessing Streets in 1879. This building is now known as the White Block.
City of Lapeer – First Election
The City of Lapeer was incorporated under Act 369 of 1869, approved March 30th, 1869. Under provisions made by the Charter incorporating the City of Lapeer, the first election was held on Monday, April 5th, 1869. James Turrill was elected the City of Lapeer’s first Mayor with 200 votes. Samuel J. Tomlinson became the first City Clerk with 232 votes.
Prominent residents of the Lapeer area include: Governor John T. Rich; Governor Moses Wisner; Charles Potter whose son became a US Senator; William Reed Big Ten Football Commissioner; State Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph B. Moore; Congressman Louis C. Cramton; Marguerite deAngeli internationally known writer of children’s books; Dannelle Gay Miss Michigan USA 2006; Jake Long 1st overall NFL draft in 2008 with the Miami Dolphins and in 2013 became a member of St. Louis Rams.
Lapeer’s first church was the Congregational Church organized in 1833; the same year Lapeer was platted. The Methodist Episcopal Church opened its doors a year later in 1834 followed by the Baptist Church in 1858, the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in 1866, the Universalist Church in 1873, the Methodist Protestant Church in 1877, and the Grace Episcopal Church in 1882.
Lumbering was the main industry in the early days of Lapeer from the 1830’s until 1870. The flourishing lumber business attracted railroad services through New York Central Railroad and Grand Trunk Railroad and two state trunklines, M-21 and M-24. Adequate supplies of water, fuel and electricity, and many various forms of recreational facilities provided the foundation for our growing community. Our industries today supply our State’s high-tech automotive industry, special tools, gray iron castings, molded plastics, plastic fabrics, electrical harnesses, and automotive stamping.
Within an easy commute to metropolitan Genesee and Oakland Counties, Lapeer has become a commuter’s paradise.
Our commercial center along Nepessing Street endures as our Central Business District which is adorned with brick flowerbeds featuring cupolas from the early 20th century. The cupolas once graced the Oakdale Center for Developmental Disabilities (first known as Lapeer State Home & Training School) an institution that was the area’s largest employer from 1895 until its closing in 1991.
Adjacent to downtown are neighborhoods of early homes, churches, and community buildings dubbed as Piety Hill. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Piety Hill is a favorite driving and walking tour for residents and visitors alike.
You will also enjoy our park system featuring plenty of picnic areas, tennis courts, playgrounds and ball diamonds. When ready for a good book or to research our community’s history, our Lapeer District Library serves residents throughout the county.
For a brief stay or for settling down for family generations, we invite you to our community for shopping, small town living and a balanced blend of cultural, historical and recreational attributes.