Early History of Olive Township

Olive and Port Sheldon were originally organized as one township in 1857 in the home of William Baker under the order of the Ottawa County Board of Supervisors. Port Sheldon broke away to organize its own township in 1924. Grandville and Grand Rapids were reached by traveling the Grand River, so water transportation was important. Holland and Grand Haven could also be reached via the river. During this time, Dutch immigrants established farms at North Holland. Beeline Road was the only road to Holland, even though it was a quagmire most of the time. Records reveal from original minutes still in the possession of the Olive Township board that "Yankees" settled in the northeast corner. These families were from the eastern states, some possibly from Ohio.

Five school inspectors were responsible for establishing the first schools in two North Olive log buildings. The next school at Olive Center was built in 1859. Soon after, the North Holland area established a school just across the line in Holland Township. Early minutes reveal the beginning of a traveling library. One rule required fines for late return or greasing of book pages. Some books were in Dutch.

The Dutch in the southern part of Olive organized a Reformed Church. Sunday reading services and weekly catechism classes were conducted by elders in a log building on the corner, which is now New Holland Road and 124th Avenue. Although Nordeloos is a mile south of Olive, scattered families worshipped there, and cemeteries were established near the churches. The first ordained pastor to serve a church in Olive was Dominie Oggel, who was installed as pastor in 1862 at the North Holland Reformed Church. His salary was $400 a year plus hay for his horse and wood for fuel. In just a short time, he baptized seventy-five babies. In other parts of Olive Township, churches did not exist until twenty years later. At Borculo, worship services were held in the schoolhouse.

To the early settler of Olive Township, the work of clearing primeval forests was always present. At first, there was no market for wood, so much of it was cut and burned. Those who were fortunate to buy land with "Indian openings" had enough of a start to grow corn for a food supply.

Indians did not claim to be farmers; "they would not be slaves to pigs or any other domestic animals. Plenty of meat swam the streams." As Metea, the Indian orator said in Chicago in 1821 when the Potawatomi and Ottawa Indians negotiated with Indian agents about land boundaries, "our land was given to us by the Great Spirit, now you want us to move." Later they moved to the North.

1897 West Olive Railroad Depot

By 1871, two railroads served Olive Township. The Chicago Michigan Lake Shore Railroad ran through the middle to Nunica, where it crossed the Grand River and went to Pentwater. A railroad water well existed at Blair Street and 120th Avenue. There were stations at Olive Center and Ottawa Station, but this railroad's life was short; rails were taken up in 1881. Another railroad was built about two miles west, the Michigan Lake Shore Railroad. It ran through Harlem and West Olive, which had a passenger depot, and then on to Grand Haven. Well over one hundred years old, this railroad served Olive well; it still supplies the huge Consumers Power Plant with coal.

Olive Center before the turn of the century was a hub of activity. At one time, there were two general stores, two blacksmiths, two sawmills, a post office, a railroad station, a doctor's office, and Olive Center School Number II. Township elections were usually held in blacksmith shops or available stores. Finally in 1892, a fine townhall was built at 120th Avenue and Polk Street. Voters of Port Sheldon Township used one of their school houses for a precinct voting location.

The tempering effect caused by Lake Michigan made it possible to successfully grow various kinds of berries. Apples, peaches and pears were also grown, but the entry of foreign pests and diseases around the turn of the century was discouraging. Blueberries were found to be a good crop and still thrive. Farther east in Olive were diversified farms. Proprietors usually had a small herd of dairy cows. Produce was traded for food staples and necessities. In the early 1900s, H.J. Heinz contracted with farmers to buy pickles.

With the clearing of the land, mosquitos and other insects lost their environment, and malaria was no longer a threat to health. The ditty "Don't go to Michigan, land of ills; the word means ague, fever and chills," was no longer true. Swamps had been drained, and roads were better than before. Farm houses, barns, schools and churches dotted the landscape.

Created: 22 November 2005
URL: http://ottawa.migenweb.net/twprecords/olivehistory.html