Grosse Ile is home to about 10,000 people who feel very fortunate to live on these beautiful and unique islands situated in the Detroit River south of Detroit. Grosse Ile is the name of the main island, but other smaller islands are also inhabited: Elba, Upper Hickory (Meso), Hickory, and Swan. The fact is that the main island is actually two islands created by the Thoroughfare Canal which runs on a diagonal course from east to west. In all, more than a dozen islands comprise Grosse Ile Township, providing superior habitats for humans, birds, mammals, and fish. The inhabited area is often called simply "The Island." The uninhabited islands include Calf, Celeron (Tawas), Fox, Stony, Sugar, Round, and Dynamite.
Grosse Ile historians trace island history back to July 6, 1776, when the original owners, Potawatomi Indians, deeded the land to prominent Detroit merchants, William and Alexander Macomb. A monument commemorating the day the tribal chiefs and elders signed the deed is located on the river at the foot of Gray's Drive. The original deed is in the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.
Three flags have flown over Grosse Ile - French, British, and American. The early French explorers identified the island as la grosse ile (the large island). The British, whose influence around Detroit became established in 1763, Anglicized the spelling to Grosse Isle. This form persisted until early this century when local residents persisted in an effort to re-establish the historical name. (Residents have been spelling and explaining the name Grosse Ile to out-of-town relatives and visitors ever since.)