How Did the Lost Michigan Town of Disco Get its Name Long Before the 1970s?
Well, this is pretty groovy. Of all the strange names for cities, counties, streets, and other things in Michigan, this time we want to tell you about the long-lost city of Disco.
All that remains of Disco, which was located in southeastern Michigan in Macomb County's Shelby Township, is just a few old homes, and a namesake on county road maps. But it used to be a thriving community in that area.
Settlers, mostly from the New York area, arrived In the early 1830s clearing land and building log cabins in the area. They originally referred to the place as the "Utica Plains".
So How Did Disco Get Its Name?
In the music world, we know disco as a polarizing genre that exploded in popularity during the 1970s. The word is an abbreviation for the word discothèque, which is a French word that means "library of phonograph records" derived from "bibliothèque", according to Wikipedia. Rolling Stone contributor Vince Aletti was one of the first to describe disco as a sound or a music genre in September of 1973.
As far as the Michigan city of Disco, the name originated from two possible origins, according to the Shelby Township Historical Committee. One belief is that it came from the Latin word "Discare", meaning 'to learn'. The other theory is that it was a contraction of District of Columbia.
Disco Dances onto Michigan Maps in 1849
The village of Disco was platted in 1849 at the intersection of 24 Mile (Whiskey Road) and Van Dyke Road.
It had two general stores, three wagon shops, two blacksmith shops, one harness shop, one paint shop, and a hotel called the Halfway House. A resident physician also lived in the town. The main industries for Disco included a wooden bowl factory, feed mill, cider mill, and a planing mill.
Disco had daily mail with Mrs. J. Satler as Postmaster. It was the halfway stagecoach stop on the Concord Coach Line carrying mail and passengers from Royal Oak to Almont.
Here is a deeper dive into Disco's history in an article called The Lost Village of Disco from the Shelby Township Historical Committee
Issac Monfort, Chauncey Church and John Noyes, encouraged by the success of the Romeo Academy, set aside 10 acres of land and $1,000 for a place of higher learning. A two-story school opened in 1850 as the Macomb County High School. Alonzo M. Keeler was principal, a post he held until 1864. The purpose of the facility was to prepare young men as teachers. It was renamed the Disco Academy in 1855. The building burned in 1880 and was replaced.
During 1890 an ownership controversy developed between the Disco Literary Society and the Shelby School District. The School District, users of the building for 53 years, became the sole owner upon payment of $400 to the Literary Society.
Two buildings eventually existed as part of Shelby School # 6. Movies were shown in the back of one of the buildings. The last remaining building was moved three times, eventually resting behind the " new " Disco Elementary School. It has since been torn down.
The larger of the two buildings was used by religious groups. The lower floor was used by school trustees, the upper floor by the Methodists and later by the Congregationalists. The first Disco Methodist Church was built by Orestes Millerd, who settled in Shelby in 1827. In 1890 the Hope Methodist Church was started.
The Mennonites moved into the Disco area in the late 1800's. The Mennonite Church was located on the south side of 23 Mile east of Shelby Road. It was a church until the early 1930's. In 1988 it was reconstructed into a home and moved a little further east and to the north side of the road.
During Prohibition, the current McClenaghan's, formerly known as Ichabod's Bar south of 24 Mile on Van Dyke, served as a blind pig called the Yellow Canary. Disco was known as Whiskey Center. A half barrel of beer was obtainable from a Utica distillery for $8.00. Something that perhaps was more then a casual pastime as suggested by this Disco nickname.
Now that you've learned a little bit about the lost city of Disco, let's take a virtual Michigan road trip that you should add to your actual road trip bucket list...
50 of Michigan's "Must-Drive" Roads