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The municipal history of Grand Rapids properly begins in the two townships of Kent (afterward Grand Rapids) and Walker, from which the city was taken. The first town  election in Kent was held April 4, 1834, as directed by the organizing act of the Legislative Council, at the house of Joel Guild, where now stands the National City Bank. Within the town at that time was all that part of the present city site lying east and south of the river; and the township government and officers included all that in their jurisdiction, until the city charter came into operation in 1850. The village organization had its exclusive officers and powers over the village portion, but these did not displace the regular township business therein, and a majority of the town officers, up to 1850, were residents of the village. April 13, 1835, occurred the first marriage, Barney Burton and Harriet Guild, and March 12, 1835, Eliphalet H. Turner, Town Clerk, issued a marriage license to Asa Fuller and Susan Dwinnell, both of Kent township. The township receipts for the first year appear by the records to have been $66.50; expenses, $45.12; leaving $21.38 in the hands of the Supervisor. January 28, 1836, Darius Winsor, Town Clerk, issued a marriage license to Sylvester Hill and Harriet Burton (Hill being duly sworn "as to his legality to marry," and a certificate of the mother of the bride consenting to the marriage being produced). This lady lived in what is now Wyoming township. Marriage licenses were also issued: February 25, 1836, to Joseph B. Copeland and Sophia Brooks; March 26, to Robert Barr and Mary Guild; April 5, to Aaron Sibley and Pauline Doty. The town records show the usual routine of town business, election of officers, and matters relating to schools, highways, and other public regulations in rural communities, including licenses "to keep tavern." During the year from 1837 to 1841, inclusive, there seems to have been occasional trouble with depreciated money in the town funds, but it is not of record that any very serious public loss was sustained thereby. The name of the town was changed from Kent to Grand Rapids by legislative act, February 26, 1842. In 1845 a pest house was authorized, to be at least a mile outside the village limits, and Doctors Shephard and Platt were authorized to vaccinate the poor for "kind" pox, according to the record. On April 3, 1850, was held the usual town election, but as the city was organized in the following month, those town officers who resided within the city limits resigned, and a special election in the township of Grand Rapids was held, June 8, to fill vacancies thereby occasioned. The records of this township period were very clearly and neatly kept, and are well preserved, but are not very voluminous.


At the first meeting, April 4, 1834, nine voters were present. Rix Robinson was chosen Moderator, and Jonathon F. Chubb Secretary pro tem. The elected the following officers: Town Clerk--Eliphalet H. Turner. Supervisor--Rix Robinson. Assessors--Joel Guild, Barney Burton. Collector--Ira Jones. Poormaster--Luther Lincoln. Constables--Myron Roys, Ira Jones. Overseer of Highways--Jonathan F. Chubb. "Voted, that a fence five feet high (the distance between rails for three feet high six inches) shall be a lawful fence;" also "that Luther Lincoln, Jonathan F. Chubb, Gideon H. Gordon, and Barney Burton, shall act as fence viewers." This was a goodly array of officers for a town of nine voters; but they were determined to start with a full-fledged government. Following the record of this election, the oaths of office of the persons elected are spread upon the book, in form of regular affidavits. The Town Clerk was sworn in by Leonard Slater, Justice of the Peace; the others were sworn by the Town Clerk. Luther Lincoln affirmed, simply, in the Quaker manner; the others swore plumply in legal form.

It was the custom, at first, for the Collector to pay over the moneys collected to the Supervisor, who annually rendered an account of receipts and disbursements. Antoine Campau was the first Town Treasurer, elected in 1839. At the end of the first year, March 31, 1835, the Highway Commissioners reported assessments of 320 1/2 days' works, 174 of which were paid in labor, 109 commuted for, and the rest not collected. They further reported that the "commute money" had been laid out in labor, and they they were "in debt for two and half days work done by Rix Robinson not settled for." Three highway districts were recorded, covering all the ground between the river and Plaster Creek, thence east past the lakes and well out toward the Thornapple River. On the 4th of April, 1835, there was a special election held to choose delegates to form a State Constitution, at which 41votes were cast for Lucius Lyon, 41 for Lyman J. Daniels, 40 for Lovell Moore, 32 for William H. Welch, 12 for Joseph Miller, 21 for Hezekiah G. Wells, two for Isaac Barns. In April, 1835, also was the first election in Grand Rapids for county officers (at that time Kalamazoo county). And the oaths of office--"affidavits"---of the town officers chosen at the second election, first Monday in April, 1835, are recorded in full, as are also the official bonds of those required to give such security.

On the 9th of May, 1835, the first school district was established by the Town Board and defined by a boundary commencing at the southwest corner of fraction in Section 34, Town 7 North, Range 12 West; thence running east to the south[east] corner of Section 31, Town 7 North, Range 11 West; thence north along the section line to the northeast corner of Section 7, Town 7 North, Range 11 West; thence west to Grand River. This district appears to have included all that is now within the city limits on the east side of the river and to have extended one and a half miles further north. Thus early were the foundations laid for a liberal system of public schools here. And in nearly every year a goodly sum (for those times) was voted, to be raised by tax, for their support; in some years, under the township management, as much as $200.

At the annual meeting in April, 1836, it was voted "that a bounty of $5 be paid for every wolf scalp taken in this town." Adjourned to meet the first Monday in April, 1837, at the house of Hiram Hinsdill. Not much beyond the routine of electing officers was done at this next meeting. On the 2d of April, 1838, the voters met at a dwelling house and adjourned to the court house in the village. Ezekiel W. Davis was chosen Moderator. Voted, that $200 be raised for support of the poor. So it appears that they had the poor with them, after the financial crash of 1837. Voted, that $3 be paid for the scalp of every wolf's shelp, and that $50 be raised by tax for that purpose. Voted, that a lawful fence be one four and a half feet high. In this and several subsequent years it was voted that neat stock, horses and hogs, with certain exceptions named, should be "free commoners." Charles Shepard, Town Clerk, was allowed $10.38; Antoine Campau, Assessor, $18, for services. In the first three months of 1839 the Board audited and allowed accounts amounting to $228.50. On settlement with the Supervisor they "found a surplus fund remaining in his hands of ninety-two dollars and forty cent."

On the first Monday of April, 1839, it is recorded that 188 votes were cast. It is the first at which such statement of the number is given. Voted to raise $300 for support of poor. At the annual meeting, April 6, 1840, there were 139 votes polled. Poundmaster John W. Peirce was authorized by vote to select a "sight" for a pound, and receive funds for building the same when collected. Voted, for support of poor $150, and $200 for the support of public schools. May 27, the Town Board met and granted licenses "to keep tavern" to Solomon Withey and James T. Finney. August 30 the Board voted to raise $350 for "ordinary expenses of the town for the current year." Accounts allowed $198.49, up to the end of the calender year.

In March, 1841, the Board held two or three meetings to determine what should be done with $247 of bills of the Michigan Bank in the Treasury. Finally the Treasurer was authorized to negotiate a loan of the funds---proposals therefor having been received from Edmund B. Bostwick; Smith, Aldrich & Evans; Warren Granger & Co, and Amos Roberts---taking satisfactory security. What the Treasurer (Harvey K. Rose) did in the matter is not recorded, but on March 30 his report was accepted. Later in that year the bank failed. April 5, 1841, there were 131 votes polled. For town expenses a tax assessment of $100 was authorized. Philander Tracy was appointed Poundmaster. April 27, Canton Smith and James T. Finney were licensed to keep a tavern.

In 1842, February 16, the name of the town was changed, and thereafter the record is that of Grand Rapids instead of Kent. At the April meeting $300 were voted for contingent expenses of the ensuing year, and $200 for primary schools. During the year accounts were allowed amounting to about $184. In the following year---1843---the expenditures were $257.26. January 12, 1844, William R. Barnard and Charles Trompe were licensed as tavernkeepers. Amount raised at the April meeting for contingent expenses, $200. May 1, licenses to keep tavern were granted to Canton Smith and Truman H. Lyon. In the spring of 1845 the amount voted for contingent expenses was $300. At this election a vote was taken on the licenses question, resulting: For Licenses, 89; No License, 121. The accounts audited for the year amounted to about $243. For several following years the amounts of money voted were: In 1846, for expenses, $200. In 1847, $350 for contingent fund. In 1848, for expenses, $300; for killing Canada thisles, $10, "to be paid to Billius Stocking upon his satisfying the Board that he has destroyed the same;" fifty cents per scholar for common schools. In 1849 for contingent expenses, $300; for the poor, $200 and $250 for planking on the Cascade road. At the annual April election in 1850, 414 votes were polled, indicating a flattering increase in the population. In May of that year the organization of the city of Grand Rapids extinguished within its limits the township form of government. Following are lists of the principal town officers up to the time of that change, except Supervisors, who are given in another place:

Town Clerks: Eliphalet H. Turner, 1834; Darius Winsor, 1835-36; Sylvester Granger, 1837; Charles Shepard, 1838; James T. Finney, 1839; Kendall Woodward, 1840-41; John W. Peirce, 1842; Solomon L. Withey, 1843-46; David E. English, 1847; Amos Hosford Smith, 1848-50.

Treasurers: Antoine Campau, 1839; Harvey K. Rose, 1840-42; Harry Eaton, 1843-45; Wilder D. Foster, 1846; Alfred X. Cary, 1847-78; Erastus Hall, 1849-50.

Justices of the Peace: Lewis Reed, Luther Beebe, Darius Winsor, Richard Godfroy, 1836; George Martin, 1837; Barney Burton, 1838; Luther Beebe, 1839; Jacob Barns, Lewis Reed, 1840; George Coggeshall, 1841; Lovell Moore, 1842; William G. Henry, 1843; Sylvester Granger, 1844; George Coggeshall, 1845; Ezekiel W. Davis, 1846; William G. Henry, Charles C. Rood, 1847; James Miller, 1848; Charles P. Calkins, 1849; Richard Sterling, 1850.

Among the villagers who served as Assessors during the township era, beginning with 1834, were: Joel Guild, Darius Winsor, Stephen Wilson, George Coggeshall, Richard Godfroy, Thomas Sargeant, Henry P. Bridge, Antoine Campau, Edmund B. Bostwick, James M. Nelson, William G. Henry, George C. Nelson, Truman H. Lyon, Harry Eaton, DeWitt C. Lawrence, Solomon O. Kingsbury, Boardman Noble, Canton Smith.

Collectors: Ira Jones, J.S. Potter, Aaron Russell (four terms), William I. Blakely (two terms). The majority of such other town officers as Highway Commissioners, Overseers of the Poor, and Constables, during that entire period, were village residents.

School Inspectors: Lyman Gray, Abram S. Wadsworth, Luther Beebe, Charles Shepard, Stephen Wilson, Alfred D. Rathbone, George C. Nelson, William A. Richmond, Charles H. Taylor, Melancthon Hoyt, George Martin, Charles F. Barstow, John W. Peirce, Francis H. Cuming, Philander H. Bowman, Franklin Everett, John H. Hollister.

The township of Walker was created by legislative act, December 30, 1837, and originally included all that part of Kent county north of Grand Rapids. Hence the records of about one-third of the present city area start in that town. Its first town-meeting was held in the Mission school house, which stood just south of West Bridge street and west if Front street, in the spring of 1838, and nearly all the annual meetings were held at the same place up to the time of the city organization in 1850. There was no village organization in Walker, and that part of this city was under township jurisdiction and form of government up to the time just mentioned, though in business and social relations and interests the communities on the two sides of the river were intimately connected; and a considerable number of the prominent and active men in enterprises tending to the upbuilding of the city that we now have were among the early residents of the Walker side. In its beginnings that was a thrifty and economical town, and conducted its public affairs in the simple and direct, old-fashioned way, the plain country methods. The growth of the township, as shown by the vote cast there, was not rapid, apparently, but for a dozen years the continuous dropping off of a portion of its territory by the organization of new townships accounts for that. The number of votes polled in the spring of 1844 was 136, and between that number and 174 was the range for the succeeding four years. In 1844 the amount voted to be raised for general expenses was $100; expenditure, $102; and these figures were scarcely more than doubled six years later. The township has a record on the liquor question of a vote in 1847 of 47 against two in favor of license. It has also a record of liberality, but not prodigality, in appropriations for schools and for highways. Of the leading town officers (except Supervisors, who are given elsewhere), from its organization to 1850, when part was cut off for the city, the following is the list:
Clerks: Isaac Turner, 1838-42; Aaron B. Turner, 1843-44; Issac Turner, 1845; Ebenezer Davis, 1846-47; Isaac M. Watson, 1848; Solomon Corey, 1849.

Treasurer: Harry Eaton, 1838; Lovell Moore, 1839-40; Ebenezer Davis, 1841-42; Billius Stocking, 1843-46; Sullivan Armstrong, 1847; George P. Hogadone, 1848; Avery Brace, 1849.

Justices of the Peace: Robert Hilton, Isaac Turner, Ira Jones, Josiah Burton, 1838; Josiah Burton, 1839; Billius Stocking, Lovell Moore, 1840; Josiah Burton, 1841; Zelotes Bemis, Billius Stocking, 1842; Isaac Turner, 1843; Charles McCarty, 1844; Josiah Burton, 1845; Milo White, 1846; Elihu N. Faxon, George M. Barker, 1847; Thomas Healy, 1848; Gideon D. Graves, Jonathan Blair, 1849.

The early records of the town of Walker are incomplete; some of its books having been destroyed by the burning of the Town Hall.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/8twotownships.html
Created: 2 December 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]