History of Polkton Township
Polkton was established as a township on March 19, 1845. Nineteen people attended the first Township meeting called at the home of Dr. Timothy Eastman, who acted as moderator. Mr. Justas Stiles, the township's oldest settler and a prominent farmer, came from Vermont to Polkton in 1836 and attended the first town meeting.
In the 1800s, lumbering played a large role in the economy. Sawmills handled timber and logs that moved through the community to the Grand River for transportation. Fruit raised along the Grand River was boated to Grand Haven, where it was shipped to Chicago.
DENNISON, NEAR CLEVELAND AND 80th AVENUE. Dubbed "Hatches Mill" after the Hatch family who started a sawmill, this small community had a hotel, several stores, and a post office. Evidence of the interurban railroad tracks built in the 1870s still exists. A landmark for this community is the Welding Shop built in the 1930s. Despite being small, Dennison achieved big-city status when a murder occurred there. In 1905, the owner of The Mart Golden Store, while taking the money from his store to home, was shot. No one was ever found guilty, and Dennison has been peaceful ever since.
ST. MICHAEL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, 17151 88th AVENUE. This Church flourished as early as the late 1800s. The Hanchett School, named for the Hanchette family who donated land for its construction, was founded in the late 1870s. Both are located on 88th Avenue.
EASTMANVILLE, LEONARD NEAR 68th AVENUE. Eastmanville was first settled by Dr. George Scranton in 1835. That same year, Dr. Timothy Eastman came from Maine and located near Dr. Scranton. The community expanded, and the location was named Scranton. The Post Office opened July 11, 1838. Dr. Scranton acted as first Postmaster.
Eastman and his sons, Galen and Mason, platted the village in 1855, naming it Eastmanville. In 1857, this town had a post office, a newspaper "The Grand River Times," a hotel named The Denton House, a livery barn, the Eastman Steam Saw Mill, many homes, a school, a ferry which crossed the Grand River, and a floating bridge which crossed the bayou next to the river. River traffic was heavy in the late 1800s. The steamers "Olive Branch" and "Forest Queen" stopped daily with cargo and passengers. The "Barrett" and "May Graham" were also popular steamers in later years. In 1917, the first bridge was built to replace the ferry, and several boats were built by Galen Eastman to tow barges to Chicago.
Rural schools are an important part of our state's history. Publically supported schools have been around since the 1860s. The Land Ordinance of 1785 required each state to be surveyed into townships. The sale of this land helped finance schools. Michigan was the first state to use the funds for school endowments.
Polkton School District No. 1 is the oldest public system in Western Michigan. The first school was in Eastmanville. It was organized in 1842 and constructed in 1844 at a cost of $75.00. Most of the work was done by Dr. Timothy Eastman. The school remains today; 119 years old, it has been remodeled into a house.
Early schools required only three months of learning. Later schools were in session four months. As early as 1855, some schools had four months of winter classes beginning the first Monday in December and four months in the summer. Teachers, generally young women, were paid as low as $1.00 to $12.00 a month. If a man were the teacher, he was paid more. Usually he had a family to support. Students' ages ranged up to 20.
The rural standard school boasted double desks, which took less floor space. Students sitting together benefitted from each other's help. Wood-burning stoves or furnaces heated the rooms, making them hot near the stove and cold elsewhere. His and Her toilets and a community water-pail completed the comforts. Organs could be found in some schools; pianos later replaced them. Each school displayed a flag and pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Report cards, first used in 1882, were purchased by teachers for ten cents a dozen.
In 1853, a school was built at Pecks Corners, now the corner of 56th Avenue and Cleveland St. It was the first Coopersville school. A brown frame building, it became the Brown School. During the school's sixteen year existence, twenty teachers served there.
Because of changing times and the township's inability to keep schools at standard state requirements, schools closed as early as 1940. Most schools, however, were closed in the 1950s and 1960s mainly be annexation. Parents felt children would have more opportunities for better education and growth by annexing. The last one-room school to close in Ottawa County was the Big Springs School, which has been remodeled into a home. The "big springs" after which the school was named still flows.
A few other schools still stand remodeled into homes or sheds; others are lonely and neglected with leaky roofs and flaking paint, mute reminders of bygone days when the rural school was a very important part of each community.
In 1837, Captain Benjamin Hopkins, who fought in the War of 1812, brought his family to settle here. Hopkins, who died in 1855, is buried in the Cemetery on Church Street along with his wife and sons. Mr. Hopkins' sister Agnes is also buried there. She was the widow of Captain Hannibal Allen, son of the Revolutionary War hero, Col. Ethan Allen.
NEWBURG was a small village one-half mile east of Eastmanville platted by Jacob DeHaan. During its brief existence, it consisted of a spoke factory and a small boarding house. Today nothing remains.
OTTAWA COUNTY INFIRMARY, 7851 LEONARD ROAD. The earliest marker in the Eastmanville Cemetery is that of Harry Miller, who died in February 1844. Miller owned the land on which the Ottawa County Infirmary stands. In 1838, the first crop of wheat was harvested at the one hundred seventy five acre Infirmary farm known as Mid-Way House. It was half way between Grand Rapids and Grand Haven on the blazed trail north of and adjacent to the Grand River. His house became the first county infirmary building. Modern conveniences were eventually added to the farm -- running water, electricity, and bottled gas for cooking and baking. The barn was also updated with modern machinery, and the infirmary could house sixty to sixty-five inmates. In 1892, the "Poor-house" keeper was hired from year to year at a net salary of $460.00 to $600.00, depending upon experience and adaptation to the difficult duties of the position. Today a new and beautiful structure at 7851 Leonard Road is known as Ottawa County Community Haven. The setting is striking, and the building overlooks the Grand River.
Transcriber: Leslie Coulson
Created: 3 December 2005