For starters, I want to apologize for being pretty darn terrible at blogging this month. I have no excuse, I’ve been a little busy but not that busy, certainly I could have spent less time checking Facebook and more time blogging. But! I’m working on convincing myself that although I am no longer in school, September means it is time to buckle down, so I should be getting back into my once weekly posting schedule again. The upside to taking all this time off is that I’ve had lots of time to think about some good topics (and go on some weekend trips where I literally ran into some history), so half the work is already done!
Today’s post is going to burst some bubbles, I’m afraid. It always happens when I bring this up. Most recently, I was at a party, meeting some new people, when one person mentioned they were from Novi. “Stagecoach stop number six!” he said proudly, referencing the popular belief that the town gets its name from the roman numeral used to note the sixth stop out of Detroit: No.VI. “Actually,” I said, “that story isn’t true.” And I swear, three people looked at me in shock, eyes wide and mouths agape. Apparently Novi-its (Novations?) are very attached to this story, and are not thrilled by party-pooper me telling them it us just an urban legend.
The first hint that the story isn’t true is that it isn’t even always the same story. Sometimes people claim that Novi was the sixth stagecoach stop, other times it’s a train station, or a toll-gate. Sometimes the story doesn’t even include a transportation line, but claims that Novi was actually township number six. The other weird part about this story is that roman numerals are not often used on maps. And if that practice was prevalent, wouldn’t people know they were roman numerals and not a name? The story is already pretty fishy, and that’s before even getting into the facts!
So here are the facts: The town was incorporated and officially named in 1830. The Grand River toll road (which the stagecoach ran on) wasn’t constructed until 1852, and the Holly, Wayne and Monroe Railroad didn’t exist until the 1870s. As far as the town being part of the sixth township, that’s not true either. After being established as a county in 1819, Oakland was split into two townships. In 1827, Michigan Territory’s legislative council further split the county into five townships: Farmington, Bloomfield, Troy, Oakland and Pontiac. The town that is now Novi was a part of Farmington Township, and was actually known as West Farmington until it incorporated as Novi. Fun as the story is, township No.VI never existed.
You may be asking yourself by now, alright, so what is the real story behind the name? Well, that I cannot tell you, because nobody is really sure. There are a couple more theories. According to Samuel Durant’s “History of Oakland County,” when the townspeople voted to incorporate as a village separate from Farmington, they wanted a short name, as “they had quite enough of long names, which were bothersome and difficult to write, like Farmington.” A Dr. Emery recommended Novi at the suggestion of his wife “which, being sufficiently brief and easily written, and yet by no means commonplace or homely, found favor with the townspeople.” The problem with this story is that Dr. and Mrs. Emery were born in 1817 and 1825 respectively, making them 13 and 5 years old at the time of this meeting. Not likely to be married, or a doctor, or attending important town meetings.
A recent rumor puts a romantic tale into the controversy. This story claims that the name Novi was coined by a young Yugoslavian woman, who had run away with one of Napoleon’s soldiers to make a home in the Michigan wilderness, and named the town after her hometown in the Balkans. While there’s no proof either for or against this story, I think I have to assume it was just made up by somebody wanting a nice story. It just seems too unlikely.
Mostly likely the second story, about the townspeople wanting a name that was short and sweet, is closest to the mark. Perhaps the players aren’t quite right, but the story fits. This tact seems to have been taken by Novi’s neighbor, Lyon township, as well. Novi might have been annoyed with the long name of “West Farmington,” but according to Durant, Lyon was known as “West Farmington, Junior.” Talk about a mouthful!
I’m very sorry if I’ve ruined anybody’s favorite town origin story. That’s just what I do, swoop in and throw facts at fun stories! (Of course, not all history is boring – at this same party, I fascinated a group of medical students and newly minted doctors by telling the story of William Beaumont and his crazy experiments)
Durant, Samual, “History of Oakland County,” (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co.,1877). Digitized by the University of Michigan
“Early Oakland County,” Oaklandweb.com
“History of Novi’s Name,” City of Novi website
Martin, Lou, “A Brief History of Novi’s Name,” The Novi Information Network