FROM THE ARCHIVES: ‘The county north’

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Our series on what various Montcalm communities were like more than 140 years ago resumes today with a look at the Cato Township area.

Settlement of the area began about 1853 and Cato Township was established in 1857. Eleven years later a correspondent signing himself “G.C.S.F.C.” wrote to Greenville Independent Editor E.F. Grabill. In the article titled “The Country North — Interesting Items” he said, “During a recent trip up to Tamarack Creek and Little Muskegon, I gathered some items that may be of interest to your readers.

“The improvements on the Greenville and Big Rapids State Road are now being pushed through and we now have a good road beyond Cato Centre to McGill’s.

“A noticeable feature of the route north is the number of hotels, all of which have good custom, a prominent part of which is the sale of intoxicating liquors.

“At Satterlee’s Mill was found our old comrade, Adj’t Van Kuren, who is busy in completing his new mill, which is large and apparently well constructed. It is to contain saws for the manufacture of lumber, a planer, lath saws, some tenantry and other machinery.

“Lakeview bids fair to become a town. It now contains two good hotels, one good stock of general assortment of goods, and one saw mill, all of which appear to be doing a fair business.

“Large farming improvements are being made in the woods.

“I called on Fite Rossman, our old townsman, who is enjoying the advanced age of 75 years, and now boasts that he can now walk 50 miles on bare ground between sun-rise and sun-set. Last fall he traced bees four miles and a half when he found a tree containing the prize of over 130 pounds of choice honey.”

A year later an article in the Independent signed “H.E.L.” gave a more in-depth look at Cato Township, or “town” as he called it.

“Cato, which received its first settlers but sixteen years since, is making rapid progress in improvements. This town in its natural state was heavily timbered with maple and pine on the south, maple and elm centralways east and west, and on the north with hemlock and pine.

“The pine lands were bought by speculators. The other lands were mostly homesteaded. Hundreds of acres of the latter are now improved and producing good crops.

“This town is generally supposed to be largely of a low wet soil. This is to some extent the case on the west side of the town, but in the center and east, the lands are quite elevated, consisting of the best grain and orchard lands in the county.

“An abundance of hemlock bark is cut and peeled in the north part of this town for the tanneries of Greenville and adjacent towns, which has to be carried from twenty to forty miles. There is a prevailing opinion that a heavy tanning interest could be carried on at Lakeview, hides being freighted in and leather out with much less expense than the cost of freighting the bark.

“Tamarack Lake, adjacent to Lakeview, furnishes conveniences that might admit of a heavy lumber-manufacturing interest. The ‘Detroit Company,’ so-called, estimate the merchantable pine owned by them, joining the lake, at 80,000,000 feet. They have made efforts, unsuccessful thus far, to run logs out of the lake through a canal constructed for that purpose. The Company has lately been considering the project of having this pine put into the lake and sawed at Lakeview, and the lumber then drawn twelve miles to the G.R.&I. R.R. for shipment to other markets.

“E.H. Stryker, one of the early settlers, is building up an interest on the State road eighteen miles north of Greenville and two miles south of Lakeview, said interest now consisting of a hotel, one store and several residences, known as Knot Maul. A hotel is also kept by L.W. DeClare, two miles south of Knot Maul, at which man and beast are hospitably entertained.

“Among the new comers, we made the acquaintance of Lieut. George Crabb, who has recently purchased a farm of two hundred acres and is making his mark in the shape of excellent improvements, an important item of which is the purchase of a large well-assorted bill of fruit trees. Conrad Freisch, in the eastern part of the town, has a model orchard, set in 1862, now laden with choice fruit.

“The soil of this town is uniformly good — not clay, but a rich loam very productive. When the low lands are drained, as they easily can be, we predict it will be one of the richest farming towns in the county.”

Coming Aug. 24: Series concludes with a look at Montcalm County’s panhandle area.

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