City of Monroe, MI
120 E. First Street
Monroe, MI 48161
Hours: Monday - Friday
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
After the warming climate melted the glaciers, archeologists say small bands of Paleo-Indians (20-40 people) may have traveled back and forth through Monroe as they searched for large animals to hunt (barren-ground caribou) and gathered food from plants.13 Archeologists and historians say it is impossible to determine specific Native American tribal identities from this period forward until sometime after French explorer Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle opened the region of New France (an area today that includes much of Eastern Canada, Michigan, and land extending south to the Louisiana) to French missionaries and fur trappers (beaver pelts) after his expedition of 1679. That year LaSalle sailed east-to-west across Lake Erie aboard the first sailing vessel on the Great Lakes, the Griffon.
Because of the area's abundance of food and easy transport found along the River Raisin and Lake Erie, there probably were people who used Monroe as either a crossroads, camp site, or village for many hundreds of years before the first European explorers visited the area. But so far the earliest documented presence in Monroe that archaeologists have found are artifacts they have unearthed at the northwest corner of North Dixie Highway and East Elm Avenue under the first of several excavations commissioned by the City of Monroe that took place 1999-2003. Those objects document Native American Indian presence circa 1550-1650 A.D.
The geologic sculpting that left behind Lake Erie also shaped the founding of Monroe. Much of the western end of Lake Erie was marshland, which made the land subject to flooding and an area to be avoided for building a settlement. A prior history of Monroe states "The presence of the marsh barrier between the City and Lake Erie was probably the single greatest influence upon Monroe's development."14 In 1784 American forces Colonel and Frenchman Francois (Francis) Navarre was the first known European to come to Monroe. On June 3, 1785 Potawatomi Native American Indian chiefs signed a deed giving Colonel Navarre land on the south bank of the River Raisin. Navarre's homestead was located where the present day Sawyer Homestead stands. Sometime shortly after that date, French colonizers built a settlement called Frenchtown on the north bank of the River Raisin just a couple hundred yards northeast of the present Winchester Street Bridge.17
Even today the French influence is still evident in the way property is legally described in Monroe. In most townships throughout Michigan, property location is identified by one-square mile by one-square mile parcels of land known as Sections. However, in Monroe, property is described by what is known as French Claims (aka Private Claims). French Claims are narrow parcels of land that extend inland north and south from the banks of the River Raisin. In some cases these narrow plots of land could extend nearly 1.5-miles inland from the riverbank. The French Claims allowed French settlers to have access to the River Raisin, were used for home sites, and offered narrow strips of land for gardening, hunting, and afforded some protection from enemies because homes were spaced somewhat close.