I’ve been a frequent visitor to Romeo, Michigan since 1971. For those interested in Kid Rock-that was also the year he was born-in Romeo. In 1971, I lived in Detroit. The trip to Romeo was a “day in the country.” There wasn’t much to see between Detroit and Romeo. My biggest fear was that my car might break down somewhere on the journey-leaving me stranded. Of course, that’s all changed. There are shopping plazas and gas stations all over the area. Romeo, however, hasn’t changed a whole lot. There’s still not much to do there for most folks. I like going to the antique stores there. I suppose I am an antique myself!
What most people probably don’t know is that Romeo once featured Gray’s Opera House. The building (see picture) was opened in 1870. The cost of the building was $22,000-which is about 2 million in todays dollars! The Opera House was host to several notables of the day, including: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Vice-President Schuyler Colfax (under the Grant administration), and Senator Zachariah Chandler. Colfax, is of particular interest to readers of this blog because he knew and worked with Abraham Lincoln. In fact, if I remember correctly, Jim Bishop mentions in his book The Day Lincoln Was Shot-that Colfax (who was then Speaker of the House) had a visit with Lincoln the morning of the day that the president was murdered. Actually, Colfax saw Lincoln again shortly before he and Mrs. Lincoln left to attend the play at Ford’s Theater-so Colfax saw Lincoln twice on April 14th.
As for Zachariah Chandler, he also knew and worked with Abraham Lincoln. They were often at odds with each other-yet they were for the same cause. Chandler made the visit to the Opera House, obviously, after Lincoln’s death. Chandler, himself, died in 1879 -so by the time of his Romeo visit he only had a few years left. Yet, all accounts say that Chandler was full of energy and motivation up to the very end of his life. I would sure like to know what his speech was about that day. Today, travel from Detroit to Romeo takes about an hour. The distance is 40 miles. How long would 40 miles by stage-coach take in 1870? Or did Chandler travel by rail? Was there a railroad connection between Detroit and Romeo then? Chandler’s residence, by the way, was in the heart of downtown Detroit. My uneducated guess is that the trip by stage-coach to the better part of a day.
As I discover the “lost history” of Detroit and it’s surrounding communities, I’m always fascinated and somewhat saddened. I’ve always felt that Detroit, for whatever reason, has not honored it’s past like it could have. When I learn little interesting stories like this one-I’m reminded that those individuals were real people who lived and worked in this area-and that they are the giants upon whose shoulders we all stand.
Source regarding Gray’s Opera House: The Romeo Observer, August 21, 2013Mail this post