Although it was situated along the Saginaw Trail (now Woodward Avenue), a main traffic corridor, Birmingham was a predominantly agricultural community during the nineteenth century. The advent of the railroad in 1839 and the electric interurban in 1896 brought Birmingham closer to Detroit than to other communities. The name Birmingham was first applied to the town in 1832 by Roswell T. Merrill, the foundry owner, in the hope it would thrive as a place of industry, like Birmingham in England. Platted in 1836, its post office was named Birmingham in 1838, and it became incorporated as a village in 1864 and as a city in 1933.
The shift to a suburban community began in the early twentieth century. Birmingham grew rapidly in the 1920s. Woodward Avenue was widened and Hunter Boulevard was developed into an eight-lane bypass around downtown. The Birmingham Community House (380 S. Bates Street) was available for meetings in 1923, and in 1928 a new Tudor Revival municipal building and library (Burrowes and Eurich; 151 Martin Street) opened their doors as part of an ambitious civic center plan. Gunnar Birkerts created the addition to the Baldwin Public Library (1980–1983; 300 W. Merrill Street). A decorative fountain and Freedom of the Human Spirit (1964, 1986 second casting for this site) by Marshall Fredericks, performing arts stage, and open lawns are the focus of recently renovated (in 2010) Shane Park between Martin, Henrietta, Merrill, and Bates streets. Residential development increased after World War II, along with religious, civic, and commercial construction. Fashionable shops and galleries are found in the vicinity of Maple Road and Woodward Avenue, a Midwest version of Rodeo Drive, but the most famous shopping area is nearby in Troy at Somerset Mall (1967–1969, Louis G. Redstone; 1992, 1996 south expansion, JPRA Architects/Peterhansrea Designs, John Grissim and Associates, landscape architects; 2004 south renovation) at 2800 W. Big Beaver Road.
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