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New Haven - Past & Present
In early 1859, tracks were built by the Chicago, Detroit and Canada Grand Trunk Junction Rail Road Company. By 1865, under the abbreviated name of Grand Trunk Railroad, the railroad company built a train station to handle freight, livestock and goods that arrived from the port of New Baltimore for shipment to the rest of the state and beyond. A station depot was built, made of brick and with rounded windows in the Italianate style. One end of the depot served as living quarters for the station agent and his family. The depot, one of the few original Italianate depots in the state, still exists on Victoria Street, with occasional events hosted by the Lenox New Haven Historical Society.
It was in 1859 when famous inventor Thomas Edison got a job as a “news butch” aboard the train. At only 12 years old, he would load up with magazines, cigars, postcards, newspapers, and snacks to sell on the train and on the platforms from Port Huron to Detroit. When Hollywood made a film celebrating the life of the famous inventor in 1940, a train did a publicity tour from Port Huron to Detroit with a stop in New Haven. The film's star, Mickey Rooney (dressed as young Edison) passed out newspapers and candy on the stops. Passenger train service in New Haven lasted until July, 1954.
The New Haven Fire Department was organized in 1860 when village president Adam Bennett and the council passed a fire ordinance. In 1887, records show an engine and hose were purchased for $270. The Fire Department continues to proudly serve the our community, and is one of the oldest fire departments in Macomb County.
The Village of New Haven was incorporated on May 3, 1869 with Benjamin L. Bates elected as the first Village President. New Haven remains the largest incorporated area in Lenox Township.
Early industries in the Village of New Haven included Hiriam Hazelton’s sawmill and general store (his sawmill would have the first telephone in New Haven installed in 1885), Ephraim and Charles Fullerton’s iron foundry and hardware store, a creamery, the Edwards Farm Supply and Implement Business on Division Street, and a roller place that produced flour. Other businesses included two doctors, two garages, three flour, seed, and feed businesses, and a grocery and meat shop. There were two boot and shoe stores, a harness shop, a dry goods store, a drug store, a cooper shop, two blacksmiths, a stove and tin shop, two wagon shops, a livery stable, and the Graustark Hotel. In 1875, the New Haven Milling Company burned to the ground, but was later rebuilt with a steam engine that was used to power the mill. In 1924, the mill passed into the hands of the Neely family who operated it under the name W.J. Neely & Sons Milling. Five generations of Neelys would run the mill. The Edwards Farm Supply and Implement Business was bought out by Jay Baldwin in 1902; in 1921, it was reorganized and incorporated as the New Haven Farmers Elevator Company.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, New Haven had electricity produced in a power house located on the north side of Ann Street (“back of Froh’s garage”) in the middle of the block. It was owned by Frank Phelps, also the owner of a Robinson Cadillac, one of the first motorcars in the village. He was given a 30 year contract on March 6, 1897, “to do all that he needed to light streets, alleys, and the grounds of the village.” Originally called "The Old Power House", the dynamo to generate power was located in the back of the building. In the front was an ice cream parlor where sodas could be bought for a nickel, as well as candy and oyster stew.
Frank Phelps would use one of Thomas Edison’s inventions at the power house on Saturday nights - the motion picture projector. He would stretch a large screen between two poles and project films on to it all summer long and late into the fall. He had many reels of silent films and would use another of Mr. Edison’s inventions, the phonograph, to play music for the silent films.
The power house was eventually sold to the St. Clair Edison Power Company with Frank Phelps continuing as the caretaker. In 1920, they moved the dynamo to a new location at Main and Pascoe Streets. The whole operation was mechanized by Frank so that all he had to do was go into the power plant twice a day - once to turn on the lights, and then once again to turn them off. His ingenuity in creating the local power grid was praised by Detroit Edison in an article in their "Synchroscope" magazine in June, 1923. Frank Phelps ensured that the generator move didn’t signal the end of the Saturday night movies in New Haven. Movies were projected onto a portable screen across the street from the new power house. (After the Clark Street High School was built, movies were projected from a booth in the auditorium while the high school orchestra would play live music.)
In 1910, William Will moved from Roseville to New Haven and began a furniture, drug, and undertaking business. His wife Myrtle contributed her musical talent to the community by organizing and singing with the “Ladies Singing Society” and the “Loud Holler Singing School.” In 1912, William built the William Will Building which housed the funeral home. In 1945 he retired and sold the funeral home to his nephew, Bert Will. In 1953, the family sold the business to Forbes (Pat) Duncan who changed the name of the funeral home to the Duncan Funeral Home, later to be named the Duncan-Olszewski Funeral Home.
On October 2, 1914 a major fire swept through New Haven. Discovered by two tenants of the Hotel Graustark, they sounded the alarm at 3 in the morning. Fortunately, there were no casualties other than buildings. Residents from all over Richmond, Armada, New Baltimore, and Mt. Clemens responded to telegrams to help fight the fire. They saved many structures, but some of the buildings lost included the Claude Tessman Barber Shop, the Sanford Dennett store, the Charles Kielblock garage, the dental office of Dr. J.W. Kline, and many homes.
A business integral to the growth of the village was the iron works foundry located off Main Street near the railroad tracks. The foundry, built in 1926, become one of the first businesses in the area to hire African-Americans; many of the workers and their families came from out of state to work here. In 1938, a riot broke out between UAW picketers and the Macomb County Sheriff's Department. Tear gas was used on the rioters; two deputies were injured. The foundry supplied Chrysler and Detroit Diesel with auto parts, but by 1991, foundry business was down 40 percent. By 2002, the foundry was closed. New Haven was proud to become one of the first municipalities in the state to hire an African American police chief, Ernest Gantt, and home to the first African American politician elected to office in Lenox Township, W. C. Kincaid.
Our Centennial Cemetery, located on Havenridge Street, is the last resting place of many of New Haven’s families. The cemetery was founded during the nation’s first centennial in 1876 with land purchased from Sarah N. Prentis on May 31th of that year.
Early churches in New Haven included the Free Will Baptist Church which was started around 1854, the Methodist Church which started in 1861, and the First Congregational Church which started in 1868. In 1884 the German Evangelical Lutheran St. John’s Church opened in the village.
Located on Pascoe Street in a grove of trees, New Haven’s first school was not the typical one-room schoolhouse, it had THREE rooms! Other New Haven/Lenox Township schools followed, including Carl High School, Bates School at Scheurer Road and 25 Mile, Harris School on New Haven Road near Place, the Richards School, which was on 32 Mile Road in Richmond (the school was later moved across the street into Lenox Twp., between Place & Welding and is now a residence), and Dreyer School at Omo Road between 29 and 30 Mile Road. The New Haven School on Clark Street opened on February 12, 1922, educating New Haven's children from kindergarten to graduation. The first class to graduate was the class of 1924.
From 1894 to 1924, New Haven had their own newspapers in circulation, with names like the New Haven Star and the People's Advocate. By 1945, the village built their own municipal water system. And in February of 1948, the New Haven Public Library was created by village ordinance. Serving all of Lenox Township including New Haven, it was first housed in the 1940s in the Lenox Township Hall with 1400 books on loan from the State of Michigan. On April 30, 1950, the New Haven Lions dedicated a new library building located in the village at Clark and Main Street. It was built with volunteer labor, with workers pitching in on weekends and in their spare time. The library was a branch of the county library until 1970 when the Women's Relief Corp donated the library land to the village, making the library a true Lenox Township Library.
With the dawn of the 21st century, New Haven has seen a explosion in population, with several new subdivisions and new commercial growth in our community. But New Haven's strength has never been in buildings or businesses, but rather in our people. From early elected leaders like Benjamin Bates, to community activists like Mama Bea Perry and beyond, New Haven continues to thrive and grow. The best is yet to come in New Haven, in the heart of Macomb County.