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A Brief History of Novi's Name
by Lou Martin

When the Erie Canal was opened in May of 1825, Michigan's population began to grow quickly. It's no coincidence that many towns in Michigan see their roots date back to a time not long after the canal was opened. But Novi always seems to do things in a special way. Novi's first settlers actually preceded the opening of the Erie Canal by one month.

Novi's first settlers, Erastus Ingersoll and his family, came from Ontario County New York to the far outreaches of Farmington with several other families. It was in April of 1825 that Erastus and his family decided to push-on to the farther "frontier" now known as Novi. Exactly 181 years later, we are an exciting, thriving city with great access and continually growing business and residential areas. The Ingersolls would be impressed.

Although legend has it that Novi got its name from being the sixth stop/gate/toll or mail drop along a rail line or road, these stories are untrue. Novi was incorporated into a town and named in 1830. The toll road that ran thru Novi was not built until 22 years after Novi was named, and the railroad did not come thru Novi until 41 years later.

But don't let go of the legend just yet! A good legend is a part of a good city. I especially like the story that "Novi was the 6th Stage Coach Stop from Detroit". Images of cowboys, stagecoaches and the real west abound in this fable. Of course the astute listener will eventually ask many questions like "If we were the 6th stop, then what ever happened to stops 1-5 or 7, 8, 9, and on and on..."

But legend and image is important -especially if you consider that on a less dramatic note, it is known that Novi was originally referred to as "West Farmington" for a period of our history. Even though Farmington is a great city, this is a fact that we could adopt if we wanted to embrace obscurity as a town. Although "West Farmington" flows better than say "Eastern South Lyon".

For the record, the story of the city's name goes back to 1830 in a meeting where citizens were discussing the separation from Farmington and establishment of their own identity and township. The meeting record shows that the name Novi was expressed as an option and voted upon. Unfortunately, the record does not indicate why the name Novi was put forth as an option. But be thankful – the record shows that town names such as "Republic" and "Beluah" were up for consideration that evening 181 years ago.

The reason why the name Novi was selected will never be known, but a good clue exists in an old letter kept at Novi city hall. Back in 1936, the office of the Yugoslavian Consulate in Chicago sent a letter to the Novi officials. The content of the letter basically stated that many people in Yugoslavia have heard of a town called Novi in Michigan, and believe that there is a connection between the cities. How Yugoslavian citizens in the 1930's even knew of the existence of a very small town in Michigan is a fact that cannot go un-noticed.

The letter also suggested that the story of our city’s name was rooted in the actions of a young Yugoslavian soldier that fled to the United States to recover from a heartbreaking tale of misadventure; and that he had influence over our city’s name as a type of tribute to his lost love. They reported that this story was a romantic legend in their town and they were looking for clues to its authenticity. But no record of such a soldier or his influence on the naming of our city exists.

Without much information available locally to give us clues as to the origin of our name, it is worth looking to the “old country” - and that is just what a reporter from the Novi News did. In the late 1990's, a reporter from the Novi News happened to be on a vacation tour in the Croatian area in question and took the time to look for clues to our city's name. Unfortunately there were no specific documents to be found, just the overwhelming fact that a large number of cities in the region start with the name Novi - meaning "new".

Just as our ancestors longed for a new beginning in cities such as New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, I would bet that the founding residents of Novi felt much the same way - a new city and a chance at a new "Novi" beginning. Their desire to push on beyond other towns and settle their own community, and run it as they saw fit, and call it “New” might be just what happened.

Lou Martin
Novi Resident
Past Chairman of the Novi Chamber of Commerce
Public Information Director, City of Novi 1995 - 2000
Public Relations Director, St. John Hospital 2000-