Historical Commission

Welcome to the website of the Royal Oak Historical Commission.  Here you will find numerous links to satisfy your thirst for all things related to the history of Royal Oak.  

Our goal is to provide the citizens of Royal Oak, along with anyone else who has an interest in the history of our community, with a starting point towards a better understanding of our past in order that our present and future can be enriched.

If you are interested in becoming involved with the Royal Oak Historical Commission as a volunteer or contribute to our goals in any fashion, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Old Main Street Picture

Royal Oak Historical Commission

Candace Isaacson, Chair

Pete Mancour, Vice-Chair

Byron Collier, Treasurer

Danny Torreson, Secretary




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Historical Groups

Get Involved

Everyone young and old can get involved in the history of Royal Oak. There are several groups that meet on a regular basis and are willing to accept volunteers!

Historic District Commission
Established by Ordinance § 82-13. The duty of the Commission is to review all plans for the construction, addition, alteration, repair, moving, excavation, or demolition of resources in a historic district. The Commission consists of seven members whose residence is located within the City of Royal Oak. A majority of the members shall have a clearly demonstrated interest in or knowledge of historic preservation. Serving three-year terms the Commission usually meets the third Tuesday of the month from September to June.

Historic District Study Committee
Established by Ordinance § 82-1 the Historic District Study Committee researches proposed historic districts for the purpose historic preservation in the City. There are seven members serving three-year terms, with one or more members of the Historical Commission or Historic District Commission. The Committee meets as needed.

Royal Oak Historical Commission
The Historical Commission is a policy-making body, which advises the City Commission on matters relating to or advancing the historical interests of the City of Royal Oak. The seven members are appointed by the City Commission and serve three-year terms. At least one member should be a member of the Historic District Commission or Historic District Study Committee. The Commission usually meets the fourth Wednesday of each month from September to June.

Royal Oak Historical Society
The Royal Oak Historical Society is a volunteer, membership organization whose purpose is to encourage historical study and research, to collect and preserve historical materials, and to record the forklore connected with the City of Royal Oak and its vicinity.

Roundtable of Royal Oak Historical Organizations
The Historical Roundtable is a group of representatives from each of the above four groups. The Roundtable works to collaborate the historical efforts through-out the City of Royal Oak. This gives the opportunity for each group to report on their plans, progress, special needs, events and interests.

It's never too late to be a part of history!




Orson Starr House

Orson Starr and Family

During the 1820 and 1830s American settlers moved west, some migrating out of upstate New York seeking land to farm and raise their families and worship in accordance with their belief.  This westward migration began during this time period and spread to many places on the American frontier for several decades.  The early settlers that came to Royal Oak were part of this movement.  These farmers cleared land to build their homes and plant crops in the Michigan Territory.

Orson Starr HouseAs the railroad industry expanded, logging, milling and other industries began to develop. One of these farmers, from upstate New York, was Orson Starr, the township’s first well known manufacturer.   Mr. Starr and his family made their living by producing both bricks and cowbells.  The Starr cowbells are now sought after by collectors of antiques.

In 1845, Mr. Starr built a wooden frame house two miles north of what is now downtown Royal Oak, just south of 13 Mile Road on Main Street.  This home was lived in by descendents of the Starr Family until the late 1970s when it was purchased by the City of Royal Oak.  

The Orson Starr House, located at 3123 N Main Street, is listed in Michigan’s State Register of Historic Sites and has been designated as an historic district. The Orson Starr House Historic District has also received the official project designation of "Save America’s Treasures," awarded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Our Mission

Who We Are

The Historical Commission is a policy-making body, which advises the City Commission on matters relating to or advancing the historical interests of the City of Royal Oak. The members are appointed by the City Commission and serve three-year terms.

Mission Statement

  1. Advise the Royal Oak City Commission on matters relate to historical preservation and education on the public on the history of Royal Oak.
  2. Serve as the primary liaison with various organizations involved in achieving the established historical objectives.
  3. Assume the leadership accomplishing specific objectives as directed by the City Commission
  4. Maintain, preserve and direct the appropriate restoration and use of the Orson Starr Home.
  5. Acquire, maintain and make available for study artifacts and documents relative to the history of Royal Oak and the surrounding areas.








The Royal Oak Historical Commission is pleased to announce that they have designed a plaque that can be placed on a house or a business in town, indicating the year that the structure was built. This plaque is now available and can be ordered at Frentz Hardware, located at the corner of N. Main St and Gardenia, in what used to be referred to as the North End of the Village of Royal Oak.

Historical Commission Plaque

The plaque is constructed of a heavy gauge aluminum. Round, with the words HISTORIC ROYAL OAK along the perimeter, the year of the structure is displayed in the center. It has a black background with raised silver letters and numbers. It is 7 ½ inches across.

  • The cost of this plaque is $70.


  • Any structure that was built at least 50 years ago is eligible.


  • These plaques are made in Michigan.

For further information, please contact the Royal Oak Historical Commission Chair or Vice-Chair



Royal Oak History

The “Royal Oak” which stood at Main/Rochester/Crooks

In 1819, Michigan Governor Lewis Cass and several companions set out on an exploration of this area to disprove land surveyors’ claims that the territory was swampy and uninhabitable. The beginning of their journey seemed to support those claims until they reached a desirable area of higher ground near what is now the intersections of Main, Rochester and Crooks Roads. Here they encountered a stately oak tree with a trunk considerably wider than most other oaks. Its large branches reminded Cass of the legend of the royal oak tree, under which King Charles II of England took sanctuary from enemy forces in 1660. Cass and his companions christened the tree, the "Royal Oak", and so Royal Oak received its name.

Historic PlaqueAs early as 1891, when Royal Oak was a small village, there were only a few hundred residents. In the 10-year span from 1900 to 1910 the population grew to over 1,000. By the time Royal Oak was incorporated as a city in 1921, the population had exploded to over 6,000. This was due in large part to new jobs created by the booming auto industry. The development of the super highway, Woodward Avenue, led to greater population expansion. Woodward Avenue replaced the old Indian road, Saginaw Trail, as the connection between Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw, making Royal Oak more accessible.

Present day Royal Oak has developed from its beginnings of the historical Indian trail from holds a unique post as a local epicenter of transportation in the transportation capital of the world.  With an interchange connecting interstate highways I-75 and I-696 in the southeast corner of the city, Woodward Avenue, which bridges ten communities from the Detroit River north to downtown Pontiac, defining the western border of the city and the southern terminus of Rochester Road about one mile north of the downtown district, the City remains a true crossroads of the metro Detroit area.