Royal Oak, 1841

People, lands, schools, and banks: History comes alive in are collection of handwritten documents.

To become a teacher in the Township of Royal Oak in 1862, one had to be “of good moral character.” In 1841, foreclosures resulted from failure to pay less than $155.00 in taxes and interest. Tax bills included payment for a “Ditch” in the mid-1800s. Such is the information contained in our museum’s collection of handwritten documents from 1841 through 1885, documents which contain such widely recognized names as Dennis Quick and Orson Starr.

A handwritten teacher certification, dated “18th day of Nov 1862”  reads: “It is hereby certified that R. A. Packer has passed a satisfactory examination before us in the following branches, viz. Orthography, Reading, Writing, Grammar, Geography, Arithmetic and is able to give instruction in the same. He has moreover been found of good moral character and of competent ability to teach a school and we have therefore licensed him to teach in the primary schools in this Township of Royal Oak in the County of Oakland for the term of two years from the date hereof.”

The certificate is signed by William Robertson, School Inspector, and by Carlos Glazier, Township Clerk. Packer’s name and the names of the topics are written in larger, almost calligraphic letters.

Township receipts in those early days were of two generic types, standard forms provided by the county and those available from office supply stores, on which the township name was handwritten along with other pertinent information. An 1871 receipt shows that Orson Starr paid $45.12 in taxes for “State, County, Township, Personal, Highway, Ditch, School House, Library and School Taxes.” In 1861, Dennis Quick paid $74.38 for State, County, Township and School Taxes.” There was no highway and no ditch. It will take some digging to determine when the “personal” tax began.

Examining several receipts and handwritten documents leads to other queries. For example, who was Marie Pittingen, for whom Quick paid taxes in 1854, serving as her executor? What in a 1858-64 series of transactions led to a forfeiture of property?


Although the handwriting is not always legible, of interest are the family names of Township treasurers, 1850s-1880s. Examples: Blair, Curtle, Drake, Phelps, Judsen, Blankinship.

The specific collection of documents on which this article is based is gathered in a table easel, a catalog rack, which visitors enjoy browsing through. There is a leap from the late 1800s to 1925, where they see a certificate confirming J. G. Codling’s membership in the Detroit Society of Optometrist’s [sic]. There is a 1927 contract showing the sale of “Lot Number Four Hundred Fifty-two” by Royal Oak resident Ray A. Tyrrill “(a single man)” to John D. Cowan “of Highland Park, Michigan.” 

The rack also contains several checks drawn, 1925-31, on area banks like State Savings Bank of Royal Oak and Highland Park State Bank: Payment to Grant S. Oliver Co. by Albert S. Johnson and payment to Wm. J. Phillips by Richard J. Opie, respectively. There’s a land contract, and an 1888 “indenture,” and a mortgage payment reminder, “Please favor us with payment on or before” Nov. 1, 1928 issued by First State Bank of Royal Oak re “Lot 27 Elizabeth Lake Estates No. 1.” 

By - Muriel Versagi

The Curator and one of the founding members of the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum.