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How They Got Their Names


   We in Waltonwood reside in a building on the northwest corner of Lilley and Cherry Hill, in Canton Township, within Wayne County, Michigan.  How many of you have been curious enough to pose the following questions:

            (1) Why is our town named after a Chinese city?

            (2) What was Wayne’s last name, and why is the county named for him?

            (3) Who was Sheldon, and why is that next-over street named for him?

            (4) Where is the hill in Cherry Hill?

            (5) Why is Lilley Street spelled with an “e”?

            (6) Although Canton’s streets generally flow like a grid of squares, why is there one

             diagonal street (Michigan Avenue)?


   In 1834 three tiny villages at the southern end of Plymouth Township. --Cherry Hill, Sheldon Corners, and Denton – seceded from Plymouth and merged to form the chartered Township of Canton.   The U.S. Post Office had sent out an Order forbidding any community from using a name that some other town or city in the U.S. was already using. So, because of the then fascination with everything Chinese, three burgeoning towns in Michigan opted for Chinese names: Canton, Nankin, and Peking.  Nankin later changed its name to Westland; Peking became Redford; but Canton has hung onto its Chinese name or, actually, the English version of a Portuguese mistranslation (Cantao) of the original Chinese word, Guangzhou.

   Ironically, the unusual name turns out not to be so unusual after all: Eleven other states, including Ohio, Illinois, and South Dakota now also have municipalities named Canton.


   It was a trick question: Wayne is sometimes a first name, but the county was named for a man whose surname was Wayne – Anthony Wayne, a brigadier general in the Revolutionary War, who wintered with Washington at Valley Forge, and whom, after independence, President Washington appointed commander-in-chief of the Army.

   After his stunning victory against a confederation of Indians, at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (near Toledo), Anthony negotiated a treaty conveying parts of Michigan and Ohio to the United States.  His troops called him “Mad Anthony” because, at great risk to himself, he had led a bayonet-charge against the British during the Revolution.


   The first of the three villages that eventually formed Canton was Sheldon Corners.  which grew up around the Inn and the Stagecoach stop at what is now the intersection of Michigan Avenue and the street that bears the last name of the couple that built the Inn, Timothy and Rachel Sheldon.


   At Waltonwood, Cherry Hill Road seems pancake-flat. However, at the western end of the township it ascends and crosses Ridge Road, a natural rise in the land.  From the perspective of Wyoming, a barely detectable incline does not merit notice, but here in the flatlands, a road pimple passes for a hill. Owing to the good soil there, the village of Cherry Hill began at the juncture of Ridge Road and the dirt path that is now the well-paved Cherry Hill Road. The settlers originally called their place “The Ridge,” but later, because of the abundant cherry trees, they changed the name to Cherry Hill Village.


   At first glance, the name of the street on Waltonwood’s east flank looks like it has a spelling error. However, it was not named for the scaly-bulb plant of the genus lilium. Rather, it was named for James Lilley.  His parents, William and Elizabeth Lilley immigrated from England and settled in Canton in 1853.  William died within a year, but four of their 12 children followed the parental move, By 1860, James, the oldest son, and his wife and their seven kids lived at the farm their parents had created on the land they owned at the corner of Lilley Road and Michigan Avenue. Thirty-eight Lilleys appear in the photo taken on James’s 90th birthday (in 1905).


   The famous diagonal bears the name of the State. Michigan is an Anglicization of Michigama, an Ottawa word meaning “large lake.”  But that doesn’t explain the road’s peculiar direction.  It had been the Old Sauk Indian Trail from what is currently Detroit to what was then Fort Dearborn, now Chicago. The Indian trail was diagonal; accordingly, so is the paved-over avenue we know as Michigan.

   In 1825 two momentous events made Canton possible.  First, the Army graded the Indian footpath to be a military road and called it “The Chicago-Detroit Road,” later just “The Chicago Road.”  The other event that year was the opening of the Erie Canal, which meant that settlers from New England and New York could have access to good farmland in the Midwest by taking boats as far as the port of Detroit on Lake Erie and could trek from there on the military road.  These travelers surely made pit stops at Sheldon Corners, and some of them decided to go no farther.

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