Settlement began in Monroe County in about 1785 when large numbers of French Canadians from Detroit carved out homesteads on the Rivière Aux Raisins (River Raisin) and the adjoining creeks. This settlement represents one of the first major satellite communities to branch off from Detroit. As Detroit eclipsed Monroe, however, Monroe's development diverged significantly. Monroe became decidedly rural for the remainder of the nineteenth century and has kept some of that character, in spite of the introduction of the paper, furniture, and automobile industries to the region.
Monroe did not experience the same pressures of the urban sprawl that obliterated so much of Detroit's early architecture. The effects of the old French long lot system can still be seen in the farms along the River Raisin, and a handful of houses built in the French mode are still standing ( MR16, MR17). Also preserved in Monroe are fine examples of classical architecture ( MR13) brought to the region by New Englanders and New Yorkers who flocked to the area after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. These Yankees were attracted here by the port facilities developed on the lake and the river and by the early roads and rail lines that headed west toward Chicago. Buildings range from elegantly porticoed mansions to simple cottages and utilitarian mills. They were built by some of the most prominent politicians and merchants in the state's territorial and early statehood years.
New Yorkers who settled the county introduced the L-formation or upright and wing house, in which a smaller wing projects to the side of a large front gable end. From the 1840s to the 1890s, New England Yankees, French, and Germans all employed this vernacular type; it became the typical farmhouse of southeastern Michigan. In form, these houses preserved the shape and general proportion of Greek Revival but had little classical embellishment. Some New Yorkers built them in cobblestone, but Germans typically constructed them of brick, with a prominent datestone in the gable. Other styles and trends evident in Monroe and its vicinity in the years after statehood reflect both academic and ethnic influences. In the rural areas, there are a few Pennsylvania German farmsteads and a scattering of German log cabins; the city has a fine representation of Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne buildings.
In the twentieth century Monroe developed into a manufacturing center. The townships, though, remained rural despite pressure from encroaching suburban development from both Detroit and Toledo, Ohio. Monroe's industrial boom began in earnest in the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1906 the Weis Manufacturing Company ( MR5) started producing office furniture and became a leader in its market before it was bought out and moved in 1963. Manufacturing of paper, shock absorbers, and La-Z-Boy chairs has ceased, leaving abandoned factory buildings.
Monroe's industrial growth affected its residential growth. Since the 1930s subdivisions sprang up both within the city and on its borders. The houses reflect popular national trends. The rapid commercial growth of the 1980s elicited concern for the architectural heritage of the city and county. In the twenty-first century, interest in historic preservation remains high.
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