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Prior to European settlement, the area now known as Rochester Hills was inhabited by Native Americans, namely the Potawatomi. The Potawatomi depended on the area's abundant water sources, such as the Clinton River and Paint Creek, to grow crops, fish, and travel. They resided here until the 1807 Treaty of Detroit caused them, along with the Odawa, Wyandot, and Ojibwe peoples, to cede their land in Southeast Michigan.
The first European settler was James Graham who arrived in 1817. Graham and his family reached the area by following trails created by the Sauk Native Americans. Avon Township was organized in 1835. Rochester incorporated as a village within the township in 1869. The township adopted a charter in 1948 under the Home Rule Act. Also in 1948 a post office was established under the name of Brooklands for the area between Auburn Road and Hamlin Road just to the west of Dequindre Road.
In 1966, village residents voted to become the City of Rochester, effective in February 1967. As a result, Rochester residents no longer had to pay property taxes to the township, as it was now a separate municipality.
In 1967, Avon Township filed a petition to become a city. In January 1968, township voters approved the petition to move forward with seeking city status. Three proposed city charters were voted down by residents, the first in March 1969, the second in May 1970, and the third in September 1971. The city of Rochester then sought to annex all of the township, which was unanimously denied by the Michigan Boundary Commission. In 1972, petitions were filed to consolidate Avon Township and Rochester. In April 1974, the consolidation petition lost by 350 votes in the township, while passing by four votes in Rochester. In May 1974, Rochester's petition to annex 2.2 square miles (5.7 km2) of Avon Township was approved by the Michigan Boundary Commission. The township became Avon Charter Township in August 1978. Court challenges to the 1974 annexation continued until November 1981, when the township was ordered to surrender the annexed property.
In May 1984, township voters approved a city charter. On November 20, 1984, Avon Township became the City of Rochester Hills. The name of the new city was put to a vote, with the other choice being "Avon Hills". The name "Rochester Hills" won by a landslide with voters, based on the area's historical ties to Rochester and the rolling hills that abound in the area. Township Supervisor Earl E. Borden became Rochester Hills' first mayor.