Thanks to grant money, the Wixom Historical Society is putting the finishing touches on a wayside exhibit to depict the city’s automotive and ground transportation heritage.
A six-member ad hoc committee of the Wixom Historical Society took up the effort to apply for the grant.
“The grant started with the National Park Service,” said Wixom Historical Society Secretary and Ad Hoc Committee Member Laure Dorchak. “Different areas have their own unique heritage and southeast Michigan was designated as the MotorCities heritage area because of the automotive industry, labor movement, and ground transportation.”
The MotorCities Wayside Exhibit program has already cropped up in communities like Northville, Milford and Flint. Now Wixom has joined them in taking advantage of grant money to celebrate its origins.
“The Historical Society did a tremendous job in finding a grant opportunity to preserve the historical review of this community,” said Assistant City Manager Tony Nowicki. “Wixom has a rich and interesting history and a lot has shaped it from the early agricultural days to the automotive era. To go into the future we need to know where we came from.”
A trio of agencies fund the initiatives, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and Michigan Department of History, Arts, and Libraries. The grant will fund 300 signs to be placed throughout southeast Michigan, as well as in Flint and Jackson.
Each sign costs $1,250. The grant funds the lion’s share — $875 per sign — of the costs. In Wixom, the Historical Society picks up the remaining $375 per sign.
Two signs are nearly ready to be installed in Wixom. One focuses on Wixom’s railroad heritage and is entitled “Intersecting Lines Put Wixom on the Map.”
The sign details how the railroad was built in 1871 and its historical significance in the city. According to Dorchak, Willard Clark Wixom donated his property for two railroads to come through the area. One of the railroads was the Pere Marquette (now CSX), and the second was the Grand Trunk Railway. The intersection of the two railroads later became known as Wixom Station. Wixom later donated additional money toward businesses to locate near the railroads.
“Ironically he was killed by the very train that he brought to the area,” Dorchak said.
The placard also highlights the December 1925 fire that destroyed much of the village where Wixom sits today. It’s believed that the massive fire was ignited in the railway pump house.
The exhibit also fast forwards to 1992, when the train ferried President George H.W. Bush to the city during his re-election campaign.
The sign is expected to be placed in Mack Park overlooking the railroad.
The second sign outlines the history of the Ford Wixom Assembly Plant. When I-96 was being constructed in the 1950s, Ford Motor Co. began seeking a new location for an assembly plant. The Wixom area was the location of choice because of the railroad, but Wixom was still an unincorporated village at that time. Half of what is Wixom today was located in Commerce Township, with the other half being part of Novi.
“The southern part of Wixom was within the Novi Township borders and would have had to share those tax dollars with the entire township, but if they were a city they wouldn’t have to,” Dorchak said.
Ultimately the residents in the Wixom village area broke away and pursued cityhood while those in the Novi Township quadrant followed suit.
“It became a race to the finish with Wixom getting its cityhood first and consequently getting the Ford Wixom Assembly Plant,” Dorchak said.
The railroad, freeway and Ford plant were the impetus for Wixom’s formation, Dorchak said.
The ad hoc committee is still discussing where the automotive heritage placard will be installed.
“We want it in an area with good foot and bike traffic,” Dorchak said.
Planning for a third sign delineating the history of Pontiac Trail is in the infancy stages.