FROM THE ARCHIVES: A look at the Greenville of 146 years ago

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Greenville was booming in 1866. Its population had tripled in six years and it was home to many mills, factories, stores and other businesses.

E.F. Grabill, editor of the village’s weekly newspaper, the Greenville Independent, took note of this growth in September 1866 when he wrote, “From John Lewis Esq., who has been taking the census of this school district, we learn that the whole number of persons in the district, between the ages of five and twenty years, is 263, all but 13 of whom reside in the village proper. In 1860 our entire population was a few less than 400, and there were 22 empty dwelling houses in the village. Now after much building, there is not a sufficient number to satisfy the demand.”

Two months later Grabill published an article about Greenville, saying, “Not unfrequently has the wish been expressed by friends at a distance that an article be published in the Independent, descriptive of our village and its surroundings and pointing out its prospective future.”

Grabill was able to comply, obtaining “through the favor of a friend” an article that he noted had been prepared for another purpose.

“Greenville is a beautiful village of 1,200 inhabitants, in the township of Eureka and County of Montcalm, 22 miles from Ionia and 33 miles from Grand Rapids, and is the largest place between those points north of the Detroit & Milwaukee R.R. for 75 miles. Within the circuit of many miles no other locality possesses so many natural advantages favorable to the building up of a town. It is situated on Flat River, a meandering stream that, with its tributaries above Greenville, runs through a vast area of valuable pine forest. On these streams several saw mills are running and wealthy companies are doing heavy lumber jobs — one man alone will cut and market 15,000,000 feet the coming winter. For this immense business, Greenville is the base of supplies. Besides, the inhabitants in northern directions for fifty miles do their flouring here.

“Flat River propels, within the immediate boundaries of Greenville, the machinery of two flouring mills, two saw mills, two shingle mills, two foundries, two machine shops, two planing mills, two turning shops, one sash and blind factory, one tannery, one carding works and woolen mills. One steam saw mill and one steam shingle mill are in operation, and other steam shingle mills are in process of construction.

“Besides its superior lumbering and manufacturing facilities, Greenville is surrounded with rich and well-watered farming lands — of oak plains cheaply cleared, easily tilled and yielding abundantly of every crop peculiar to the climate of Michigan. Here large crops of the first quality of White Winter Wheat are raised and sold at high prices to eastern millers to be ground and marketed under fancy brands.

“Greenville is a Post Centre from which radiate seven different mail routes. It has two hotels, one printing office issuing a weekly newspaper, an express office, a banking office, nine general assortment stores most of which have heavy stocks of every thing; three groceries, one book and notion store, two drug stores, three boot and shoe stores, three tin and stove stores, one bakery and confectionery, two meat markets, two harness shops, three carriage and wagon manufactories, three blacksmith shops, one cabinet shop and furniture store, two livery stables, two cooper shops, one dealer in jewelry, clocks, etc.; one clothing store, four millinery and dressmaking establishments, two merchant tailors, and of lawyers, physicians, mechanics and laborers a goodly number — of the latter two classes the supply is not equal to the demand.

“Greenville has three tasteful and commodious churches — Methodist, Congregational and Baptist, all of which are well filled by their respective congregations.

“The inhabitants of Greenville are intelligent, industrious and enterprising, and noted for morality and temperance.

“Since its population has been 500, eighteen months have passed at one time without the sod being broken in the cemetery. Invalids who visit Greenville suffering from pulmonary or asthmatic affections, remark the peculiar atmosphere and profess to experience immediate relief.

“Greenville is on the line of the proposed extension of the Lansing & Ionia Railroad to Muskegon. The preliminary steps have already been taken to making a survey. Its rapidly increasing business demands a railroad and its enterprising citizens will push the work to an early completion.”

Next: Stanton and Sheridan, coming July 13

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