Ottawa County Early History
Nature has left some imprints in this region, now so commonly called the Great Lakes, which show us the ages through which this country has passed from the era of the tropical fern followed by the ice age, and with its passing, the Growth of conifers followed by that of other vegetation spreading up from the south.
Early Jesuit missionaries called the "Great Lakes," "Sweet water seas" and the Indians long before had named this land Mitchi Asugygan, or Lake Country. Later poet Longfellow glorified the region in his song of Hiawatha, a tale about Indian ways and fables - a classic for all time. In our own day Walter Havighurst has bestowed on this "water wonderland" the fabulous designation of "The Fresh Water Capital of the World."
But this land, which has been so glorified in song and story, has still more items of history for the record, some of which will be recounted in what is to follow.
This sketch about river landings and the people who made them is laid in a valley once inhabited by mound builders, more recently known as Hopewell Indians and some of their works still remain. After them other Indians came. The white man found the Ottawa tribe along the Grand River and further north, while to the south were the Pottawatomies, both tribes were of the Chippewa Nation.
The Indians could well be called children of nature for they did not destroy beyond need, what they depended upon for their living, the fish of the streams, the game of the forest and the corn of the openings.
This story gives some of the letters these pioneers wrote of their problems in this virgin land of forests, lakes and streams - virgin, because in the two hundred years or so since the French had come, little had been done other than to make a few small settlement and forts and establish fur trading posts.
Now there was a new epoch coming. Soldiers from the east who had fought in Michigan during the War of 1812 were going back and telling of the great new territory of Michigan. They had found that there was not nearly so much swamp land as the early Michigan maps had shown. In the first years the new settlers came into and around Detroit gradually going further into the Territory. But it was in the 1830’s before western Michigan felt this migration and settlers came to fell the trees and clear the land and build their homes in what author Havighurst calls "The and of Promise."
Mr. Carl Adams, the author, who himself is the son of pioneers has spent much time interviewing people who were once in touch with the pioneer folk who made this story possible. He has diligently brought to light a number of relics used, perhaps a century ago, along the river and in the woods.
Mr. Adams, a native of Colon in St. Joseph County, relates a story about his relatives which occurred in 1851.
An uncle, Joseph Adams, had taken up land near Six Corners north of Cooperville and found himself and his few neighbors faced with a food shortage due to crop failure. He wrote his relative at Colon and they loaded a bob-sled with food and gave young Bruce Adams, a lad of eight years, the task of delivering the loaded sleigh, drawn by oxen, to the relatives some hundred and fifty miles north.
The hard task was accomplished successfully and Uncle Joseph decided to take his family back to Colon riding with young Bruce behind a slow oxen. Young Bruce grew up and became the father of Carl Adams.
The site of the present city of Grand Rapids was first known as Slater’s Mission, then as Kent Village. It had long been a gathering place for the Indians as well as the Mound Builders before then.
It was here, too, in 1763 that Pontiac pleaded with the three thousand Indians before him to aid in the attack of the British.
Here stood the tripartite council tree, the history of which would be entrancing could it be written and where it was the custom of the Indians together. The rapids, the Indian name for which the Bock-we-ting, made an excellent place for spearing sturgeon in the spring of the year and many an Indian camp fire was made to smoke the stripes of fish.
So this made a logical place for the site of a Baptist Mission for the Indians. First Reverend McCoy came and then Reverend Slater who later wrote and published the New Testament in Ottawa dialect. The Mission, started in 1826, at one time boasted one hundred and fifty Indian families.
In the spring of 1833 a party of Easterners came to Ionia and from this group the future village of Grand Rapids received its first real settlers. The Slater Mission saw mill supplied these people with the lumber for their homes.
In those early days Grandville was a rival village and in 1833 the first white settlers arrived there. His name was Luther Lincoln and he took up land and began at once to farm, as some of his land was in an "opening." Here follows a letter from Mr. Lincoln to his parents in the east.
Dear Mother and Father:
I take this opportunity to inform you I and the children are well hope that you are enjoying the same blessing. I received a letter from you two weeks ago asking some questions respecting the country and other affairs which I expect are sufficiently answered in my last letter.
If you want to know the town and country that I live in, it is a town without inhabitants or name in the county of Kent six miles below the rapids on the United States road from Detroit to the mouth of the river, which was laid out last fall. I have been up the Grand river to get my flour and potatoes, sixty miles on the big fork, twenty-five miles from Gull Prairie. It runs through an excellent country of timber on one side with many rapids which are hard to ascend with an empty boat, but we went down quick, struck a few times in the rocks.
A great mill stream, a great spring brook six rods wide. It is said not to freeze over. Here land is for sale. A man can have his choice. It has just come into the office where I am. There is a good pine and some good grass. I have on two lots a piece of meadow, the best I have ever seen. It is dry enough.
This country will and must settle. I have been to see my cattle today, thirty-eight in all. They look well and their coats are half off. In about one week I will put five yoke on one plow as soon as it will do to plant. I has been a moderate open winter and it has begun to be warm. My hogs I have not heard from for one more month until today. I saw an Indian looking after horses and he said they were near the head of a certain creek.
Two years after the settlers came to Grand Rapids, there arrived in Grand Haven, the Reverend William M. Ferry, who had been spending some time at Mackinac Island and who had decided to locate at Grand Haven after making a complete circuit of the Lake Michigan shore line. He took up land at the mouth of Grand River and there he found a fur trader by the name of Rix Robinson, who had previously had his fur post at Ada, some sixty miles up the river.
The Rev. Ferry made a wise choice for the mouth of Grand River formed a fine natural harbor as the river widened before it emptied into Lake Michigan. There was also fine protection offered by high wooded sand dunes on the west side of the harbor. The Indians had a logical name for the river’s mouth as they called it Gabagouache meaning "big mouth." The French used this name in a communiqué to Charles DeLanglade when they commissioned him to take command of Grand River and dependency in reward of Langlade’s brilliant defeat of General Braddock.
In this same year Rev. Ferry sent for twenty one people who were residing at Mackinac Island, including his own family. This sudden increase in population presented a problem in housing which Rix Robinson partially solved by giving them the use of a cabin, which was sixteen by twenty-two feet in diameter and the schooner White Pigeon arrived shortly after in the harbor so the crowded condition was relieved by some of them living on the boat.
The Rev. Ferry entered into the fur trade with Rix Robinson and Newton was the first name of this settlement which later became Grand Haven.
Rix Robinson’s seven bothers arrived in 1838 and settled south of the river at a place which became known as Robinson.
Clark Albee and William Hathaway came later and both engaged in the saw-mill business at Grand Haven.
At the time Rev. Ferry came to Grand Haven there were no other settlers in Ottawa County but before the year was out some moved into the eastern part of Georgetown township near the river. They were Samuel Jenison and Hiram Jenison, twin brothers, who were later to have the village of Jenison named after them. There was also Barney Burton.
In 1838 George Ketchum purchased considerable land and built a grist mill and a saw mill at Jenison, but lost the grist mill by fire and he went on to California. The Jenison brothers bought the water rights on Rush Creek and also purchased one thousand acres of pine land west, which was called Pine Ridge. They built a new grist mill and also had a saw mill, there were four mills in the village at one time. Later they also built an iron works. Hiram Jenison was the first man to run a raft of lumber to Grand Haven.
The land speculation has started with the opportunity of getting cheap land and settlers began coming more frequently for the popularity of "Go west young men" was gaining strength and there was a popular song in the spirit of those times, a verse of which follows --
"Come all ye yankee farmers
Who wish to change your lot
Who’ve spunk enough to travel
Beyond your native spot
And leave behind the village
Where Pa and Ma so stay
Come follow me and settle in Michigania,
Some six miles down the river from Jenison Landing there was a group of six Landings and even though they were not all at the height of activity at the same time this was undoubtedly the busiest sector in the day of Landings.
Four Landings clustered within less than a mile of each other on the south bank and were named Haire’s Landing, Ohio Dock, Luke Lowing’s Landing and Blendon Landing. Across the river on the north bank there was Sand Creek Landing where for some years there was an Indian village and east, nearly opposite Haire’s Landing, was the Harris Landing. Harris’s a former officer in the War of 1812, had a store and post office north of Sand Creek Landing in Talmadge Twp.
One of the most prominent families to make their home in this sector was the Lowing family. First to come was Stephen Lowing, who reached Grand Haven after walking from East Gainsville, New York, in 1836. He then located some land he desired to claim on, in what was to become Georgetown township, on the south side of the river.
Returning to Grand Haven he obtained work in a new industry which William Hathaway had started, a sawmill and boat building works.
After working for nearly a year he went back to his land on the river and built a cabin with openings for door and windows, at which he hung burlap to keep out the weather. Then he walked to the land office at Ionia to have his deed recorded, and from there across the state and on to his old home in New York.
Now, although twenty years old, he decided he needed more schooling, so he attended two terms at Bethany Academy for the ministry, and then preached in Bethany, where he met and married Ruth Madison in 1840.
Returning to Michigan in 1841 with supplies and oxen via the river route from Buffalo to Grand Haven, the Lowing brought with them their baby daughter. The trip proved very exciting when the ship ran into a storm and the crew, as well as the passengers, were seasick. The baggage broke loose scattering a box of clay pipes over the deck, and one of the oxen, either in fear or agony picked up a pipe in his mouth, which offered such a comical sight that the passengers laughed in spite of their illness, all except Stephen who feared that his oxen might die from seasickness.
Luke Lowing, a brother of Stephen’s, had also come with them, bringing money that their father Isaac had giving them to purchase land for him. They found that now the river boats supplied a welcome means of taking them to their new home, and when they reached the landing they saw a bear on the shore, which ambled off when they threw sticks at it.
One can only wonder what Ruth Lowing thought when they reached the cabin without door or windows, but this was a beginning, a home in the a new country.
The Stephen Lowing family had the usual pioneer hardships and after earning enough for their food they found it difficult to get ahead enough to improve their cabin and make a shelter for their stock. In summer there were plagues of mosquitoes and flies. The swamp mosquito carried ague which became very prevalent. During the winter Mr. Lowing worked to get out logs for transport down the river but soon found that the price of five dollars per thousand feet hardly brought enough for the help he had to hire. He then decided to erect his own sawmill as he could sell sawed lumber at a good price, with the demand growing.
He planned a saw mill for the small creek running through his land, and made a water wheel on the overshot idea, with pails instead of blades to catch and force the wheel downward for its power. However, it was the stream that had played so prominent a role in his life. Not as successful as he had hoped, for the supply of water from the small pond he has built was soon depleted, forcing the mill to shut down until it was filled again, but even in this way was quicker than hauling the logs to Jenison and the lumber back.
Later, members of the Lowing family to come were Holden, Isaac, William and James Lowing and they also took up land in Georgetown township.
Stephen Lowing trained a company of Civil War recruits for the army in a field not far from the river. He became a lieutenant and was later promoted to captain but finished his service as a provost officer. After his return from the war he practiced law in Grand Haven.
This saw mill was started in 1843 and on one occasion little Martha Lowing climbed into a top bucket and her weight started the wheel going down. She tried to climb the buckets as they came around, which could only result in being literally dumped with force into the creek. Fortunately a workman who was not far away heard the mill start and ran to the frightened child in time to save her.
This was not the last mill Stephen Lowing was to build, for he later constructed two others on the same creel apparently with more success. He also went on building new and better homes, the third one was even later remodeled and was near the river with a fine view.
On cutover land the wild raspberries started a luxurious growth and they were most welcome and sought after item of food. Town people came down the river from Grand Rapids to gather the fruit, and occasionally a youngster would be missing. The Lowing family had a conch shell which was used to summon lost children. This shell is still a treasured relic in the family.
In these times when land speculation was common, a speculator by the name of A. B. Page who lived in New York State paid off his young apprentice, Franklin Bosworth, by giving him a deed to eighty acres of Michigan land in lieu of one hundred dollars which he owed him. This land was near what is now Hudsonville, but after his arrival at this place, Bosworth made a deal with Page to exchange the eighty acres for another eighty nearer to the land owned by Stephen Lowing. There follows a letter written to Bosworth to a brother in New York. This letter, written in southern Ohio, tells of his journey by foot through Michigan to the site of his acreage.
Knowing you will be glad to hear from me take the opportunity to write you a few lines. I am in good health and have been ever since I left you. You have probably heard where brother John told he left me. Since then I have not seen anyone going to Bethany.
I traveled alone for two days through a country I should call rather poor, it being sandy oak openings. The third day after I left him (John). A team over took me loaded with goods going the same way I was going. I got the teamster to carry my baggage and I walked along in company with him. When there was declining ground I could jump on and ride a short distance which helped me much. I kept in company with him for two and half days, when upon his getting rid of his load rode with him until he had to turn south and I went on alone.
That night I stayed at the village of Ada at the mouth of the Thornapple River. Sunday morning I traveled to the village of Grand Rapids where I stayed until Monday afternoon. It is a place of considerable importance in this western part of the state as it has a salt spring and there is plenty of limestone and plaster within three miles.
Monday afternoon went down the river to Grandville. The next morning I found Stephen Lowing and went with him down the river a short distance where I got on a steamboat which took us to the mouth of the river (Grand Haven) where I left my deed to be recorded. I came back the next day to the landing from where I had started.
The following morning I got a young man to go with me to find my land (Barry Burton). We took a rifle, a compass, a bee box and some dinner. We then put into the woods and soon came to Stephen Lowing’s hut where we got into the section line traced it to my line.
The land is heavily timbered around there for some distance. I saw some of the tallest pines have ever seen. The young fellow who was with me told me that he had heard of their cutting twelve logs each twelve foot long from one straight tree. There are however very few (pines) on my land which is nearly level and the trees are of different kinds. I saw beech, maple, oak, ash and hickory of the largest kind. I saw white ash, hickory and white oak between three and four feet through and from forty to fifty feet high, without limbs and straight as an arrow.
The soil is black sandy loam and the sub-soil is of clay. There is a road across about the middle of my land where the mill carried from Grandville to Port Sheldon. The nearest cabin is Stephen Lowing’s about two and a half miles away. I put my initials on a tree by the side of the road so that I could find it again without tracing the lines. Then I started for Lowing’s cabin where we arrived about sundown and we stayed until morning. His cabin is a little place made of logs and covered with boards and having blankets for the doors and windows. It stands in the woods about one half mile from the river. When I was there Stephen had only cut enough trees to build his cabin and a cow pen.
In the morning I left there and started I know not where. Finding no place for keeping school to any advantage on account of hard times. They will not give any more for teaching school here than in New York state and then they do not pay for two or three years if you should be so lucky as to get it after you have earned it. Perhaps you can get seventy-five cents on the dollars.
So I must stop my narrative and tell you where I am at present. I am in the southern part of the Buckeye’s State within ten miles of the Ohio river in a little school house where I have been teaching for three weeks for twelve dollars a month.
Franklin E. Bosworth
Across the river somewhat to the east of the Stephen Lowing place land was taken up by William and Mary PerLee who had three small children and a brother of Mrs. PerLee who lived with them. Some of Mrs. PerLee’s letters have been preserved and tell of the hardships of those days. Parts of some of these letters follow:
"On August third, 1845", Mary wrote of good crops but added that her husband "suffered terribly from ague that spares hardly a household". But she asserted her faith in a patent remedy for the disease called Cholago and added, ‘ have the greatest possible horror of quinine. I believe Abraham was killing himself with it as fast as he could’.
Mary’s father, a lieutenant in the war of 1812, had been given the land they had come to, as a bounty. Even though Mary wrote of the settlement at Grand Haven where they landed as ‘having three stores and a steam mill, everything so wild and new as to be startling but rather pleasant otherwise’. They came up the river on the steamer "Paragon" and landed at Grandville which was then, probably, the closest landing to their home. Later they used to board steamers at a new landing on their side of the river near their home, which was called the Harris Landing. Land to their east had been taken up by Captain Victor Harris and his brother Silas.
Although there was an Indian trail running through the PerLee’s farm which came from the tripartite council tree by the Block-we-ting rapids in the village of Grand Rapids, and continued on to the Indian village at Sand Creek, Mrs. PerLee wites that the steamer route was far easier than the stump spotted trail when a trip was made to Grand Rapids. And again she showed the spirit with which the new settlers were blessed when she wrote, "I am happily constituted that I can keep hoping even though my hopes have nothing to feed upon. You have no idea how I dislike the prospect of leaving, for I never expect to have anything again to call my own, which in my estimation is a privilege".
SETTLERS FROM OTHER LANDS
In 1847 Ottawa county received its first immigrants from the Netherlands. An industrial depression had struck that county in 1845 and some of the influential people there had decided to form a colony of immigrants and come to America. These people came to Ottawa county.
These settlers were a pronounced factor in the settling of the county for their letters to friends and relatives at home created much interest and brought many more settlers to this new land.
The rebellion of 1837 in Canada sent some enterprising settlers to the valley. Captain Benjamin Hopkins built a lumber mill at Mill Point and Colonel Norton built one at Nortonville, both on Grand River. Thus, depression in the Netherlands, a rebellion in Canada and inflation in our own country forced many a settler to seek new homes, and the valley was fortunate to gain such folks who were eager to prove they could start a new in this Land of Promise.
How the term Landing was used instead of dock or wharf may be explained by the fact that loading or unloading of river boats was done over a gang plank carried on the boat, though some boats had a hinged gang plank which could be simply lowered to the shore or landing place.
It was a simple matter to nose the boat into shore keeping her hull out in the stream as far as possible and then run out the gang plank to the landing which could be a planked spot or merely the river bank.
Docks or wharves were more expensive to build and due to ice conditions and runs of logs in the river they would need considerable upkeep. There is record of but one dock, which went by the name of Ohio Dock, owned by Stephen Lowing. It was used by the Ohio Mill for shipping out its lumber as well as by Stephen Lowing.
The landings of which there are records start with Nortonville which was four miles up the river from Grand Haven, Battle Point, Podunk or Robinson, Sand Creek, Spoonville, Bass River, Eastmanville, Charleston, Lamont, Blendon, Luke Lowing, Ophio Dock, Haire, Harris, Jenison, Grandville, Plaster Creek and landings at Grand Rapids.
Eye witnesses have told that the south shore of the river from Grandville to Blendon Landing had almost a continous stretch of log cabins with small clusters of cabin near the landings, which sometimes boasted a saw-mill, store and school. On this section along the river, about nine miles long, and some six hundred people were obtaining their livelihood.
Turning the forests into logs and then into lumber was about the only occupation of these river people. In the early years there was some production of hand made shingles, mostly during the winter months.
There are records of hawling loads of these shingles by bob-sled to Grand Haven on the frozen river. One bunch of the shingles was worth fifty cents in trade at stores and in those money short days this was welcome even though the labor of cutting shingles by hand was considerable.
Of these old landings, villages remain at Eastmanville, Lamont, Jenison and Grandville, the latter two now in the urban area of Grand Rapids are in the class of towns. Eastmanville and Lamont retain their beauty bcauise they have not become industrialized and some fine old Victoian homes perpetuate a sense of graciousnesss and soundness which the years have enhanced.
The village of Blendon Landing was on the top of a steep bluff overlooking the river, with a saw mill at the base beside the river. The village contained a large boarding house, general store, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, a saloon and a number of cabins. From the bluff top a long stairway led down to the landing below and to the sawmill and shipyard. There were sluices and a spillway for delivering the logs from the bluff top to the log yard of the mill. Every building and the long stairway were all painted red. The village even boasted of a ice house! The Blendon Lumber company, which was owned by Messrs. Brainard, Leonard and Whipple and managed by Alvin C. Litchfield, also operated a steam tramway some eight miles long almost to the present site of Baur, where it turned west to Cole’s Sawmill and horse tramways extended even further.
This tramway was powered by a steam engine, called "Old Joe" and was rather a unique feature for such early days in the logging industry.
In the shipyard four schooners were built - the Wright, the Eveline, the Lumberman and the George W. Wescott, and lumber was cut for the United States bark Morgan, for the government, which was built at Mill Point by ship builder Robert Medler. The specifications called for "live oak" and the oak lumber was accepted as such. The ship building activities were about 1864.
The Blendon Lumber Co. made specialty of shipping selected logs cut for schooner masts. These were made into rafts and towed across the lake to Chicago.
Blendon Landing and the village overlooking it, was unique in several respects, for there was employed a tramway with a steam engine to hawl the log trains, whereas other tramways in the area used horses for motion power. Blendon also had the first brick industry along the river. The building of schooners was carried on there too, for a time, although schooners were also built along the river near and in Grand Haven.
Mr. Leo C. Little in his book, "Historic Grand Haven and Ottawa County" strangely failed to mention Blendon Landing, Haire’s Landing or the Luke Lowing Landing, or any of the men who made them possible, although these men played a large part in the story of lumber and landings on the river, so this is, as far as is known, the first published story of Blendon Landing, as well as of Ohio Dock and Luke Lowing Landing.
There are still a few people living in Blendon and Georgetown townships who personally knew of some of the inhabitants of the river landings, and in some cases they are descendants of those pioneers. A Mrs. Van Westenburg, now ninety years old, was born near Blendon Landin. She remembers hearing from her parents about the people who were the first settlers there. She recalls hearing of the Blendon saw-mill manager, Mr. Alvin Litchfield and Mr. Dennis, who was the blacksmith, and the village schoolmaster, Mr. Smith. A Mr. Baldwin made brick there and later had a brick-making business in Grand Rapids. She also knew of a Mr. Mosier and a Mr. Rogers.
Mr. J. W. Reister, now eighty-two years old, who used to be a blacksmith at Allendale came from Germany with his parents in 1882, via boat to Blendon Landing, from where they walked to a place near Allendale. He remember the building which were still standing at Blendon, but which, when he saw them were very old and dilapidated, and were occupied by a few Indian families and their horses.
One of the Indians, a Pete MeDowis, had married the widow of Chief White Pigeon. She was an expert basket weaver.large monument marks the grave of Chief White Pigeon, at a town called White Pigeon in Southern Michigan, because the Chief gave his life to save a small settlement of whites at this place. White Pigeon’s feat was his almost incredible run, from Detroit where he had learned of a planned assault by Black Hawk on the white settlement located at what is now WhitePigeon, a distance of about 125 miles. He died after accomplishing his mission.
Pete MeDowis and his family left Blendon to live on an Indian Reservation near Holland, Michigan, and from there Mr. Reister lost trace of them.
The Blendon Landing site is now owned by Mr. Andrew F. Reister. The ridge where the village stood is not wooded nor is the field leading to it from the main road. No trace of the old buildings remain but the tramway cuts can be plainly seen and the roadway connecting Blendon Landing with the Luke Landing is discernible. The tramway was burned in 1861, long after its use was discontinued.
One of the best known landing of the old river days was that of John Haire and family. Jack Haire, as he was known, purchased one thousand acres of land, most of it pine land on and near the river some four miles west of Jenison in 1845. He built a steam saw mill, a large boarding house, some tenant houses, a store and some barns. First he built a log cabin for his home, but later erected a large cement house, the dining room of which would seat twenty-five people and visitors were always welcome. Indians were not turned away when in need of food or tobacco at the Haire store, even though they had no money. This was a near approach to the manorial system and here, in the rugged days of getting out the timer it was, perhaps, the only example of it in all Michigan.
Jack Haire raised a family of eight children and besides cared for seven nieces and nephews and many other people who, it was said, stayed "for a month, a winter, or a year or so." As one chronicler put it "Jack Haire’s place was like a hotel except there were no bills to pay." Mr. and Mrs. John Haire ended their days in Mason County, Michigan, and were brought back to rest under the maples in the little Cottonwood Cemetery not far from Haire’s Landing. Perhaps this is where they may hear, on quiet nights, the whistle of a river boat as it signals for the landing just as they did in the golden days of the era they knew so well.
Mr. Haire served two terms as state representative and one term as Ottawa County Treasurer, and held a number of other offices.
Harper’s Weekly, which then was called "A Journal of Civilization". In the issue of August 18th, 1883, featured a front page story with illustrations of the jam of logs at Grand Rapids, Michigan. It showed how bridges were swept away and this weight of logs together with others below the rapids formed a jam starting at a log boom near Deremo Bayou. Due to valiant day and night work piles were driven to secure the boom, despite the great pressure of many miles of logs which extended back of it to Grand Rapids. Thus were saved vast numbers of logs which would have been carried out into Lake Michigan and lost.
Artist Lewis Cross, an eye witness, painted a fine oil painting showing the workman hard at their task of saving the vast wealth of logs. Mr. Cross won fame for his excellent paintings of the fabulous passenger pigeons, which came to Michigan in countless numbers up to about 1883.
A TERRITORY BECOMES A STATE
Although acting as a state as early as 1835, Michigan territory was not admitted to the union until 1837. The first governor was Stevens Mason and his first act was to kill the wild cat banks in order to stop speculations which were out of hand. One of the pressing questions before the new legislature was the locations of new railroads which were being planned. Only one had been built.
Another question was about spending thirty thousand dollars on a river harbor at Grand Rapids plus clearing the river channel at Grand Haven.
In 1841 the government granted Michigan 500,000 acres of land to be surveyed and sold for internal use and improvements. The government ordered this land to be sold at a dollar and a quarter an acre payable in state dues. Warrants could be purchased at forty cents on the dollar which made the land cost only fifty cents an acre. Land other then government land was held at two dollars an acre. Thus the government land was cheap farmland and many people who had not paid for their land reported it as selected land and paid at the lower price, which resultesd in heavy sales in 1841 and 1842.
Very few of the first purchasers had enough money to make the first payment on their farms and barely enough to live on until they could raise their food. What they raised to sell brought little, but they did make improvements. Cabins and barns were built as were trails, bridges, and roads. Neighbors were necessary for existence and many a new settler escape starvation by being aided by a neighbor or friendly Indian.
Some people had settled on government land before it was surveyed and later lines were often cut through their improvements which made confusion and unpleasantness, so it was agreed that a committee in each township settle the claims, but the burning question with most everyone was how to pay for the lands when the public sale took place in August, 1839.
There as almost no farm income as yet, and the claimers, being fearful of the land speculators, who, they expected might outbid them, came in force to the government land office at Ionia carrying clubs and guns, but the speculators who had lost heavily in 1837 now failed to appear.
The state legislature in 1847 made an appropriation of twenty-five hundred acres of land which was to be sold and the proceeds used in building a canal and locks at Grand Rapids. The canal was made by building an embankment on the west side of the river and between this embankment and the west river bank the canal was formed. Later a canal was also made on the east side. The locks were little used by boats as the river traffic above the rapids never became popular.
Beginning about 1835 promoters would survey and plat land for lots whih would then be offered for sale. There were four ventures of this sort along the river. Two, Warren City and Ottawa Creek Village, were in open country and failed to gain any interest, and there is no record of lots being sold. One other was at Charleston where later there developed a small settlement with a saw-mill, spoke shop, blacksmith shop, store, and some cabins. At one time the Ottawa county prosecutor resided at Charleston.
Richard Robets, an immigrant from Wales, came in 1841 to take up land at what was to be known as Charleston. There he built a twenty-eight room house, the first floor of which still stands, overlooking the site of Charleston.
On 1852 the industrial part of Charleston was moved to scows and transported down the river to Mill Point where the saw mill was erected and used for some years, and the village of Charleston disappeared.
The Ottawa County commissioners in 1840 selected Warren City as county seat of Ottawa County but no effort was ever made to move the seat to Warren City, which, as a town did not exist.
An eastern company called the Grandville Company bought an had land surveyed at Grandville, offering lots for sale. For a time there seemed to be some promise of sales but when lots were offered at fifty and sixty dollars they failed to sell and in 1837 lots could be bought for a six cent tax.
The Grand, which with its sister ship the Rapids, were the last of the river steamers.
LET’S TAKE A TRIP DOWN THE O-WASH-TA-NONG
It is a spring morning in the year of 1857 as the steamer "Olive Branch" drifts away from her dock at Grand Rapids on her voyage to Grand aven, cargoes with freight and the top deck loaded with passengers. Captain Collins, Pilot Robbins with a crew of huskey Irishman soon have the steamer winding between heavily wooded banks where wild fruit trees are in bloom.
Docking at Hovey’s plaster mills a shipment of barreled plaster is rolled aboard, then angling across the river to the Grandville Landing, freight is unloaded and passengers are taken on at this site, which seems destined to be a big town.
At Haire’s Landing a shipment of maple sugar packed in tubs and a pile of slab wood for the boilers of the steamer are put aboard.
A young couple arrive at Sand Creek Landing, on their way to Grand Haven to be married, the lady in deplorable condition, having fallen into the creek while crossing on a plank.Sympathetic women passengers soon have her outfitted in dry clothes from their own baggage, and the ship oes merrily on.
At Blendon Hills two families of Hollanders, wearing wooden shoes are met by a man with an ox cart and team of oxen and their goods are loaded onto the cart, which moves off into the forest as the Olive ranch proceeds down river.
Now Lamont comes into view, the breath-taking beauty of it spreading along the bluff, seemingly for miles. A German couple who had occupied a bench in front of the pilot house on the boat, become quite excited and with out stretched arms, the man rwecites "Bingen on the Rhine".
At Eastmanville, Mr. Eastman and his party come aboard, the ladies carrying many souvenirs made by the Indian women of the locality, beautifully beaded bags dyed and woven in designs, and beaded belts.
Also loaded are many packs of ax helves shaved out of white hickory.
The long dining table on the boat is crowed for the evening meal. Captain Collins toasts the bride-to-be, now clothed in the best that the women’s sacks offered. At Bass iver Landing, Mr. Eastman takes over the cabin with song and story as the Olive Branch rounds Battle Point paddling past great river bottom meadows of cat-tail and wild rice from which flocks of wild ducks come swirling overhead.
There are many inviting channels and the pilot must be well informed to bring his load through to the Grand Haven Harbor where golden sun discloses smoking mill stacks, forest of ship masts rimmed high with sand dunes. This is the end of a perfect day.
(Above story condensed from "Yesterdays in Grand apids" by Cap[tain Belknap.)
THE GRAND RIVER TIMES
George H. Pattison, a young man from Buffalo, New York, in his early twenties, was the first newspaper editor in the valley. His weekly, The Grand River Times, the slogan of which was "westward the Star of Empire Takes Its Way", first appeared on April 18th, 1837, at Grand Rapids. His enthusiasm for his new home he puts in the following words ". . . . . .for nature has bestowed every gift that can enhance the value and beauty of this site . . . . Crystal like fountains of water burst out in boiling springs that murmur over the pebbly bottoms. . . . The scenery is truly picturesque and romantic. Westward you behold the most enchanting prospect upon the swift gliding ripples, the glassy river at last losing itself in its distant meanderings, present a scenery that awakens the most lively emotions. Near the banks of the river is seen the littler rude village of the more civilized Indians - their uncouth framed dwellings - their little church and mound like burying . . . . From this point too, you can see in the distance the ever green tops of the lofty pines waving in majesty above the sturdy beech and maple, presenting to the eye an undulated plain with its thousand and more charms.
Pattison’s Grand River Times was sold and the name changed, but later, in 1851, John and James Barnes gave to Grand Haven, its first weekly newspaper and called it The Grand River Times. After six years of publishing, the paper was sold and moved to Eastmanville where it was continued for a short time. That a newspaper should be named after Grand River shows the interest in the river in those days.
STEAM BOAT DAYS END.
Considerable interest was shown by Grand Rapids business men in the early 1900’s in trying to get the government to improve the river to Grand Haven. Several government appropriations were made and considerable work done. A channel was made with piling sides faced with wickerwork. Grand Rapids interests had two steamboats built which were small replicas of Mississippi river boats. One was named "The Grand" and the other was "The Rapids". By this time competition given by two electric interurban lines was too much for the slower boat service and in 1912 the boats were sold and taken to the Mississippi where they ended their days in river trade. Thus ended river steam boat days on the Grand except for some gravel barges still plying between Bass River and Ferrysburg near Grand Haven harbor.
(Pictured Map of river roads and landings in the Blendon area was made by Mrs. A. V. Hubbard Skinner. Mrs. Skinner, in her girlhood lived in a house originally built by Stephen Lowing and which overlooked the Luke Lowing Landing. Mrs. Skinner’s grandmother taught school in Blendon Village and she was the wife of Luke Lowing. She was but fifteen years old when she started to teach and received seventy-five cents a week for her service.
Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 6 April 2010