Grand Haven Township History

Grand Haven Township was originally known as Ottawa Township. On December 30, 1837, Ottawa County was divided into two townships, Ottawa and Muskegon. Early writings show the township was regarded as the parent town from which all other towns had been spawned. As years passed, the original area of Ottawa Township was divided and new townships were formed until in 1863 the name of the township was changed to Grand Haven. In 1867, it separated from the city and was chartered.

The area of Ottawa County and Grand Haven Township was originally covered by a forest of virgin pine and mixed hard woods. The age of the trees at the time of Rev. Ferry's arrival was estimated to be from 250 to 300 years old. Some of the very first settlers established their homes and farms in small clearings. The majority, however, had to clear the trees in order to farm. In the 1850s, the lumber business began to boom. By 1890, most of the virgin timber had been logged off, opening up large parcels of farming property.

In addition to lumbering and farming, Ottawa soils and climate were excellent for fruit growers. The sandy dunes of Lake Michigan made Grand Haven one of the choicest fruit-producing regions. Thus, it was termed the Peach Tree Settlement. In 1881, 2.5 million bushels of fruit were shipped. In 1889, Ottawa peaches won the top award at the Great Paris Exposition.

This, however, did not last. Land owners thought the fertility of the soil would exist forever. No longer held in place by the roots of the trees and other native vegetation, the sand began to drift. Fruit farming was no longer prosperous. Realtors in Chicago misrepresented the area to many people who, when they arrived, found they had been swindled. In the 1930s, the air at times was so filled with dust that lights would have to be put on in the afternoon. Dust and sand storms, drought, crop failures and low prices were driving farmers off the land. It was in this setting that the West Ottawa Soil Conservation District was formed; it was the first in Michigan. Following a change in farming practices, many acres of former wasteland were beginning to show a profit by 1944. Blueberries showed promise of becoming a major crop on sand flats with sour soils. By 1949, farmers had converted acres of worthless sand to trees. From this sprang a tremendous Christmas tree enterprise.

THE VILLAGE OF AGNEW, formerly Johnsville, was platted on May 16, 1889, by Edward E. Suits. Johnsville was first named for John Behm, who with his family first settled in Grand Haven Township in the early 1860s. Renamed Agnew in 1889 for an executive of the Chicago and Western Michigan Railroad, the town's station was later closed. In 1952, the State Highway Department moved the twelve remaining buildings to construct U.S. 31. Agnew boasted a post office (which closed in 1911), a hotel, a general store, a saw mill and a box factory.

HOFMA PARK. Property was purchased in the 1920s by Drs. Edward and Elizabeth Hofma. Edward began his medical practice in 1884. Though originally a teacher, Elizabeth resolved to enter the medical profession as well. In 1893, she returned to Grand Haven to practice medicine, becoming the first woman doctor in the area.

The Hofmas made many contributions to the community. Edward had a life-long interest in conservation, perhaps sparked by what he saw when the lumbering era ended and the land was stripped and barren. Even before the beginning of the soil conservation district, he urged people to plant trees. The Hofmas began purchasing property to help preserve the woodlands. This was when the forty acres on Ferris was purchased. On May 26, 1934, Edward and Elizabeth Hofma gave the property to Grand Haven Township.

The deed states: "The property shall at all times be known as Hofma Park and shall always be occupied by and on behalf of the citizens of the Township as a public park." It was the desire and the intention of the Hofmas that the natural beauty of the forest be preserved as far as possible. Near the entrance off Ferris Street is a large fieldstone with a bronze plaque commemorating the Hofmas' gift. The Hofmas also established a trust fund to benefit the people of the community.

The final act of the Board of Trustees of the Hofma Trust was the acquisition of property to create a 400 acre preserve. This property borders the southern half of the Potawatomi Bayou and will preserve the valuable wetlands of the bayou. The new Hofma Park is to be dedicated during the spring of 1987. It will have a hiking trail system highlighted by a floating boardwalk across the end of the bayou. The trail and approaches to the boardwalk are laid out on an old railroad right-of-way. The railroad was never completed because they could not cross the bayou. The Hofma Preserve reflects a part of the history of Grand Haven Township and provides a gift for future generations. The Hofma Preserve can be reached on Ferris Street, east of U.S. 31 or Sleeper Street off 168th Avenue (old U.S. 31).

Transcriber: Leslie Coulson
Created: 17 November 2005