History of Fraser
by Alan Naldrett
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the Fraser area after the Ice Ages that were 5-10 thousand years ago. Mulvey Road, the oldest street in Fraser, was originally a Native American trail.
In 1818 the first public land sales took place in Detroit. Settlers took advantage of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 to move to the Great Lakes areas. Townships began to be mapped as more settlers came, including Hickory and Orange Townships in 1837, the year Michigan became a state. (In 1843, these two townships combined to become Erin Township.)
In Erin Township, Alexander D. Fraser established the village of Fraser in 1838. The location was near the Chicago, Detroit and Canada Grand Trunk Junction Railroad Company station, at the intersection of Detroit and Utica Plank Roads, in south central Macomb County. (The Utica plank road was established in 1851, when the Detroit Erin Blank Road Company built it off from the Gratiot turnpike to go to the city of Utica.)
The railroad station was built on Depot Road, still called that in 2014. To take advantage of the commercial prospects of the train going through the area, prominent Detroit lawyer Alexander D. Frazer bought land near the depot in 1838 and plotted a village. He also reputedly built and operated a hotel in the area. He sold parts of the land throughout 1860 to 1870, and by that time was apparently no longer residing in the village. He drowned in Detroit in 1871 after a distinguished legal career and the new village was named for him.
Photo courtesy of Lynn Lyon.
Many of the first settlers were of German descent, with the first business being built by Fred Eberlein, a blacksmith shop, that he established in 1856. In 1865 he built a stave mill. German immigrants established St. John Lutheran Church and in 1864, a branch was established in Erin Township. St. John is now located on 14 Mile Road in Fraser.
St. John Lutheran Church, 1982, now Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church
In 1860 the growing area opened a post office with Leonard Scott as the first postmaster. Later on in 1860, James McPherson became the postmaster and the area was referred to as McPhersonville. In 1863, the name was changed back to Fraser.
One of the first Fraser post offices
In 1867, August Fruehauf was born in Fraser on Utica Street and learned many techniques he would later use in building trailers while working in Fred Eberlein’s blacksmith shop. He went on to establish the giant Fruehauf Corporation, with branches all over the United States.
The lumber business helped to build Fraser. Charles Steffens came to Fraser in 1875 and became partners with Charles Knorr in the Knorr and Steffens Mill. They employed many people in their stave and heading mill and also sold lumber. By 1888, the mill had about 50 employees. Mr. Knorr became upset with Mr. Steffens because he spent about $100 on belts for the mill. Mr. Knorr felt that he was a “squanderer” of company funds and sold out to Mr. Steffens. Now that Steffens was independent of Knorr, the name became Steffens’ Coal and Lumber Company, later the Steffens Lumber Company. Mr. Steffens took a big interest in local politics and the betterment of the Fraser community, serving as president of the village, with meetings being held in the Steffens Commercial Building. He was also on the school board, justice of the peace, and a postmaster. His son George took over the business and was also village president. In 1929, George’s son Walter also served as village president and is credited with erecting the first street light in Fraser in front of the family business.
Another prominent Fraser family was the Reindels. Frederick Reindel moved from Halfway (now Eastpointe) and bought a farm at the corner of Utica and Masonic Road and set up a cider mill. Hardware store proprietor Charles Reindel, Sr. was born in the farmhouse of this farm. He established the Reindel Hardware Store, which had many locations until it finally settled on Utica Road. Charles’ son Irwin took over this family business first established in 1898.
Reindel’s Hardware building to the right with the Reindels in an antique car in the Fraser Lion’s 1958 parade.
A brother of Charles Reindel was William George Reindel, an artist whose works are in many art museums, including the Detroit Institute of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the White House, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Winter’s Calm, by William George Reindel, 1917.
William’s niece, daughter of his brother Herman Reindel, was also a famous artist known for book illustrations and her paintings of Martha’s Vineyard.
In 1894, when Fraser was incorporated as a village by the Michigan state legislature, the spelling used a “z” so that it was the Village of Frazer. Throughout the early histories of Fraser, it is spelled both Fraser and Frazer. The two spellings, even for Alexander Fraser, appear to be interchangeable throughout the years until finally in 1928, a vote was enacted to establish the spelling as Fraser, with an s.
The new village had a population of 230, comprised one and one quarter miles, and its businesses included the post office, a town hall, a blacksmith shop, the stave mill, a cigar manufacturer, the depot, a hotel, school, St. John Lutheran Church, and several other stores. The oldest building was the Measel Hotel, where Tom Edison would stay when in town. This building is now Ballew’s, even though the second story was lost to a fire.
The Measel Hotel
In 1905, a fire which started at 14 Mile and Utica Road destroyed many of the town buildings, including a slaughter house, an agricultural machinery building, a bowling alley, a meat market, cigar shop, tavern, a public hall, and a storage building. A bucket brigade saved many of the residences from burning.
Remains of 1905 fire
The State Bank of Fraser was established in 1910 and in 1930 a majestic building was built at the 14 Mile and Utica intersection.
Fraser State Bank
In the 1920s, as Fraser continued to grow, many people of Belgian descent moved into the area. In 1928, it was proposed by Walter C. Steffens, Village President and member of the County Plat board, that a highway be constructed. This was later named Groesbeck Highway, after Alexander Groesbeck, the first and only Macomb County governor of Michigan as of 2014. The construction of Groesbeck Highway contributed greatly to the growth of Fraser. Another major road of the area, Utica Road, was at one time called Utica Gravel Road and was paved in 1924.
In 1924 the first brick public school was built in Fraser. No “one-room schoolhouse,” it had four rooms and was attended by all the children of the Village of Frazer. With new additions, the building still exists and is now the children’s section of the Fraser Library.
Former St. John schoolhouse and present city library.
Although Fraser had slow growth at first (its population was still only 747 in 1940), by 1956 the population had ballooned to 3,363, large enough to be chartered as a city. In anticipation of this, Fraser annexed a square mile of Erin Township. The village had previously annexed an area near 14 Mile and Garfield and established the Municipal Park in 1940. This raised the total land amount of Fraser to four square miles.
In December of 1956 a city charter was approved, and in January 1957 the City of Fraser was officially established as the ninth city in Macomb County. During the 1960s, Fraser grew by 68% to become a thriving community.
Today Fraser has many amenities, including a prosperous infrastructure and a community ready to embrace the future while remembering its past. The Fraser Historical Society has done much to preserve the history of the area. They have restored the Baumgartner House, a state historical landmark, to look as it did back when the Baumgartner family lived there.
The Baumgartner House, then (1930s) and now
The Images of America: Fraser book is out and available through Amazon, Abe Books, Barnes & Noble, the Fraser Historical Society, and many other bookstores.