FROM THE ARCHIVES: Northeast Montcalm County 146 years ago

From the Archives | Sandy Main

The Treaty of Washington in 1836 paved the way for settlement of the Montcalm area. Under the treaty, the lands in the Lower Peninsula north of the Grand River were relinquished by the Ottawa, Chippewa and Potawatomi tribes. The United States government obtained title to the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, including the major portion of Montcalm County.

Settlement of the Montcalm area moved from south to north. Luther Lincoln was the first settler in the county, taking up land in 1839 at the junction of Black Creek and the Flat River in what is now Montcalm Township. Settlerment kept moving north, and the last township in Montcalm County, Richland Township, was formed in 1870.

By the mid-1860s people had settled in most areas of the county. Over the next several months we’ll take a look at what various communities were like more than 140 years ago.

In a June 5, 1866, article in the Greenville Independent titled “On a Tramp,” a writer who signed himself “H.E.T.” describes what he found on a visit to the northeast part of the county:

“Traveling through the north eastern part of this county, I found it improving faster than I had anticipated. Three years ago the town of Home had not a single resident. Now it has between forty and fifty voters. The people are generally industrious, though I saw one or two exceptions. The timber on this township is heavy beech and pine, with the exceptions of about two sections near the north-west corner of the town which is mostly covered with hard wood. The settlers are mostly from Indiana. They expect a steam saw mill to be built this summer.

“The town of Day, immediately south of Home township, also expects a new steam saw mill. Its timber is pine. The greater part of this town has been taken since the removal of the county seat to Stanton. (Editor’s note: The county seat was moved from Greenville to Stanton, at first named Fred, in 1860.)
“Ferris is settling considerably. But the route I traveled was somewhat swampy.

“Crystal is more settled than either of the others and is better for farming purposes than either of the others.

“These towns have been mostly taken under the Homestead Act. Shingles are not exactly a legal tender, yet they are variously employed as a medium of exchange. Roads are being cut through in some places to Ionia, whither they take their shingles and whence the bring their flour and other necessaries.

“Crystal Lake is a village just started, and has one tavern, two stores, one grocery, and a saw mill affords a supply of lumber.”

Crystal Lake also was mentioned in the Independent the next week by editor E.F. Grabill: “Crystal Lake will be an unusually attractive place on the coming anniversary of our National Independence. Great preparations are being made to make the occasion as interesting as may be. Of the numerous beautiful lakes in this county no one is so noted for its attractive features as Crystal Lake.”

At that time not all areas of the county were accessible by road, as noted in an article in the Independent on June 19, 1866, by a Bushnell Township resident who signed himself “S.”

“If ever you should come to Bushnell, please bear in mind that there are no roads leading through the town from east to west; so make a ‘flank movement’ and enter the town by the way of lonia County.

“Aside from roads, Bushnell’s a fine town. For agricultural purposes, it is excelled by no town in Montcalm county, some portions of the soil being heavy clay good for wheat, while other portions consist of loam. The whole is excellent grass land, and a large portion of the town is improved. In hard wood timber Bushnell is not excelled, the greater part of her forests consisting of oak, hickory and other valuable timber.

“Messrs. Mills & Dean have put up a portable steam saw mill on Section Four and are doing a good business. The lumber of their manufacture that I have examined, was well sawed and of passable quality. Wm. Van Fleck has also erected a steam saw mill of the same pattern as mentioned above, on Section One, and is doing a good business. Another mill still is being erected on Section Fourteen.

“When the low land along Prairie Creek is properly drained, which can easily be done, and the town changes its policy in regard to roads, Bushnell will be a town containing a goodly number of model farms.

“I am happy to add that the time I speak of is not far distant, as more has been done within a short time past for public improvement than has been done for several previous years. We hope these improvements will continue so that sister Bloomer will not be so difficult to approach as she has hitherto has been.”

Next: Greenville in 1866, 
coming June 22

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