The third European settlement to be founded in the State of Michigan, Monroe abounds equally with history and the natural features that attracted settlers in the first place. Founded by French traders in 1785, Frenchtown, as it was then called, became a focal point of the War of 1812. In January 1813, after surrendering to British forces and being assured of their safety, the wounded American soldiers were abandoned by their British guards to a mob of hostile Native Americans who scalped and killed the unarmed militia, tossing their bodies into homes that they had set ablaze. The battle was one of the largest engagements of the war and the massacre so enraged the public that it inspired the cry, "Remember the Raisin!" Visitors today can tour the riverside battlefield and it's visitor center at 1425 East Elm Avenue. It is currently being studied for inclusion in the national park system.
The community was re-established on the south side of the River Raisin and renamed after President James Monroe, who visited in 1817. The establishment of a land office in 1823 and the later completion of the Erie Canal helped Monroe become the gateway to the upper Midwest, as settlers moved from New England and New York, creating a rich cultural and architectural tapestry. Buildings in the historic district can be found in every historic style popular from the early nineteenth century, including fine examples of Greek and Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Art Deco. A walking tour brochure is available at the Monroe County Historical Museum at 126 South Monroe Street.