Armada was nothing but brushy, low-lying swampland when federal surveyors mapped it in 1821, as part of the massive new Northwest Territories. Indians roamed the stream’s bottomlands, rich with game, but the few white settlers in the area were concentrated in Romeo.
With rapid settlement came a desire to form a separate township. In the 1830’s, present day Richmond and Armada were part of Ray Township. A meeting was held at one of the settlements (located at Romeo Plank and 32 Mile Road) known as Armada Corners, in 1832, to consider the township question. There was apparently some opposition to the idea as it took two votes to push the measure through. The assembled voters then took up the question of a township name. The issue was pondered with many suggestions being voted down. Then, according to Lacines “History of Macomb County” (published in 1882), “Hosea Northrup jumped up and shouted the name Armada. The name was carried at once and probably without a knowledge of its meaning or its fitness”.
Burke’s Corners was briefly renamed Honeoye after the hometown of several newly arrived residents from New York. When the village was incorporated in 1867, it received its modern name of Armada. By 1881, Armada was described as a “thriving incorporated village of 800 inhabitants”. The prosperous village was home to a stave and handle factory, a sash and blind factory, a cheese industry, a flouring mill as well as a number of other businesses such as blacksmith shops, hardware stores, banks, a drug store and so on. An evaporated fruit factory and dairies were located nearby. Four churches, a large hotel (the National Hotel), a library, and a newspaper (originally called the Telegraph then the Armada Graphic) also were located within the Village.
In its heyday, the town of Armada boasted an opera house, a theater, seven grocery stores, a hotel and livery stable, three hardware stores, a lumberyard, a grain mill, two implement dealers, a bakery, five doctors and several blacksmiths.
The community’s strong ties to agriculture helped to bring about the well known Armada Fair (an annual event since 1873). Armada Township residents also displayed a strong affinity for the “culture” of the day with the Village of Armada as its cultural center. A number of fraternal organizations (ie. the Masons and the Odd Fellows), a Literary and Science club, and the Armada Coronet Band provided social outlets for villagers and township residents. The popularity of these social outlets was reflected in the week-long cultural fair that was held yearly during the late 1800’s.
A railroad, the Michigan Air Line, connected Armada with the rest of the world. Passengers and freight were processed through the two-door depot at the foot of Church Street. A cartage company delivered the freight to uptown businesses by horse and wagon. From 1925 to 1953, passengers could travel the Air Line to Jackson or Richmond on a one-car, self propelled “Doodlebug”.
Public works were strictly do-it-yourself in the early days. Settlers laid out the first roads and took it upon themselves to maintain them. As recently as the 1920’s, farmers, along the Ridge Road in particular, dug gravel from their property to fill potholes in lieu of high road taxes.
Armada rates a star on the historical monument circuit. One of its sons, an itinerant carpenter named John Huff, earned glory on a Civil War battlefield when he fatally shot the Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart, on May 11, 1864. Huff, a sharpshooter, was in the right place at the right time (Yellow Tavern in Virginia) when Stuart and his staff road onto a prominent rise. Huff’s shot wounded Stuart mortally, and the general died the next day – a grievous blow to the Confederacy.
Armada and Armada Township have weathered the years in good stead. Within commuting distance of the greater Detroit Metropolitan area, Armada Township is now one of the fastest growing areas in the entire tri-county area. Today it is a bustling agricultural region known for its’ orchards, its flea market, its county fair and Applefest. These have ceased to be purely local events in recent years, and now attract a metropolitan audience. Even with it’s growth the township and village of Armada has retained its country charm.