City History


Early expeditions into the land north of Detroit described the area as having "extreme sterility and barrenness." Developments and exploration were soon to prove that report false.

firstbuildingsmallThe first settlers arrived in what is now the City of Pontiac in 1818. Two years later there were enough people there to form a village named after the famous Indian Chief who had made his headquarters in the area only a few years before. The granite marker at right (click to enlarge) at the corner 1822michiganmapsmallof Perry and Water Street commemorates the first house built in November, 1818. This marker was originally on the side of the Oakland Theater at the southeast corner of Saginaw and Water Street, but was moved after the theater burned down.

As you can see on this Michigan map from 1823 (click to enlarge), Pontiac was Michigan's first inland settlement.

pontiacThe village was officially recognized by the state legislature in 1837 and it incorporated as a city in 1861.

From the beginning, Pontiac's central location served it well. It attracted professional people, including doctors and lawyers, and soon also became a center of industry. The city became the location of choice for woolen and grist mills which made use of the Clinton River as a power source. With the coming of the railroad through the downtown area in 1844, Pontiac's progress and success were assured.firehistory

Abundant natural resources led to the establishment of several carriage manufacturing companies, all of which were thriving at the turn of the century when the first self-propelled vehicles were introduced. The City of Pontiac quickly became a capital of the new automotive industry.

As the small, "horseless carriage" manufacturers becamehdclogo consolidated under the mantle of the General Motors Corporation, Pontiac grew as the industry grew, suffering the same setback as other cities during depression years of the 1930's. In the boom years following World War II, Pontiac was at the forefront of growth in affluent Oakland County.

Click here to read pages from the 1927 book "Michigan's Thirty-Seven Million Acres of Diamonds." Pontiac is described as "the third fastest growing city in the state" and the "largest truck factory."

In the 60's and 70's came urban renewal in an attempt to revitalize the downtown area. In 1970's, construction began on the "Pontiac Plan." This plan included the Phoenix Center, two office buildings and a high rise residential complex. The "Pontiac Plan" was a vision of Pontiac business owner C. Don Davidson. Click here to read more details about Mr. Davidson and the Pontiac Plan.

While the City joined many others in experiencing a slowdown of retail business in the downtown area in the '60's and '70's, a renewed spirit of optimism has taken over as Pontiac movespontiacstreetscape forward in the new century. Pontiac is served by the Oakland County International Airport - one of the busiest airports in the world. The city also has access to a network of state and county highways. Interstate 75 provides a direct route to the city. Pontiac is protected by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, and Waterford Fire Department personnel man stations across the city. The Oakland County Water Resource Commission manages and supplies the city's water, waste water and sewage treatment facilities for all residents who have city-supplied water. Many homes on the northern edge of the city rely on well water. Under the leadership of an energetic administration, the city has actively sought to diversify its business base. The City has made a commitment to continue its dynamic growth into the 21st century.

Throughout the city, you can find Wayside Exhibits provided by MotorCities National Heritage Area, a part of the National Park Service. 

Each sign tells a story unique to Pontiac with some signs being placed in specific locations that have historical significance to the auto industry. 

This sign in front of City Hall tells the story of Rosa Parks. The connection with Pontiac is that the bus she was on when she refused to give up her seat was built in Pontiac.