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History and Directory of Kent County, Michigan, Containing a History of Each Township and the City of Grand Rapids, Compiled and Published by Dillenback and Leavitt, County History, Directory and Map Publishers, Grand Rapids: Daily Eagle Steam Printing House, 1870.
The township of Byron is situated in the extreme southwestern part of Kent County, with Wyoming on the north, Gaines on the east, Dorr, Allegan county on the south, and Jamestown, Ottawa county on the west. The surface of it is rolling, being covered with gently rolling swells and small knolls, with the exception of a swamp which commences on section thirteen and extends on a southwesterly direction to Allegan county. This swamp varies from eighty rods to one mile in breadth, and is mostly timbered with tamarack and cedar. The extreme southwestern part of the township is somewhat broken, but not enough so to injure its value for farming purposes. The soil varies from argillaceous to sandy; but is what is generally known to farmers as either clayey or sandy loam. The surface of some of the creek bottoms is underlaid with marl? or "bog lime," while the "big swamp" is a bed of muck, in many places of several feet in thickness. On section twenty-one, on the farm of S. S. Towner, is a small swamp timbered with tamarack, through which the track of the northern branch of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad passes, which has several times sunk so as to engulf the road bed. The swamp is probably the site of a lake which has become covered with a coating of vegetable matter of sufficient thickness to support trees of from fifty to sixty feet in height.
This township is composed of what is known as "timbered lands," comprising within its limits nearly every variety of trees known in this climate, viz. the Oak, Elm, Basswood, Whitewood, Sugar and Soft or White Maple, Blackwalnut, Butternut, Sycamore, Pepperage, Beech, White and Black Ash, Hickory and Bitter Walnut, Pine, Cedar and Tamarack. And in some very favored localities a few Hackberry trees are to be found. Of shrubs nearly all that flourish in this State are found, and in the rich hollows of the heavy timbered lands the Paw Paw flourishes to a considerable extent.
Byron is quite well watered by Buck and Rush Creeks, and the springs and numerous small streams that form these creeks. One branch of Buck Creek rises from the extreme southeastern corner of the township, flows in a northwesterly direction for some distance, and then north by east until it leaves the town on its northern limits at the center line of section one. Another branch rises in Dorr, Allegan county, and flows northeasterly through the "big swamp" until it forms a junction with the main stream. About the center of section twenty-six is a small lake called "Mud Lake." Rush Creek rises near the center of the township and flows in a northwesterly direction, leaving Byron very near its northwestern limits.
Go back with me reader for a space of thirty-four years, to the summer of 1836. Byron was then an unbroken wilderness. The ruthless hand of the white man, armed with that terribly destructive weapon, the axe, had never been laid on natures beautiful forest that crowned the hills and shaded the vales. As the God of nature created it so the grand old forest stood. But the axe, the Pioneer's great weapon, as honored as his rifle, was soon destined to be heard in its depths. During the summer of this year, Mr. Nathan Boynton located a farm on section five, and selected a place to build a house on a little knoll near the banks of Rush Creek. Mr. Boynton returned to Grandville and was taken sick, but in August or September sent his brothers, Messrs. William and Jerry Boynton to build a house for him. All the guide they had was the section line. This they followed until they came to the line between the present townships of Byron and Wyoming, where they, not knowing that there was a variation in the section lines of the different ranges of townships, lost the line and were sometime in finding the place Nathan had selected for his dwelling. Having found the spot they went at work to erect a house. Listen reader while we give you the description William Boynton gave us. It was built of small logs, such as they could carry and put up, the roof was of small basswood, split in two parts and gutters cut, with an ax, in the flat side. One tier of these was laid with the flat side up and the other with the flat side down, so that the outside edge of the upper tier fitted into the gutter of the lower. The floor and door of the house were made of plank, or as woodsmen usually call them "puncheons," split from basswood trees. The fire place was built of clay, which Mr. Boynton says he mixed by treading with his bare feet, and was built up with small twigs; while the chimney was built of split sticks laid up in the same kind of mortar. This fireplace and chimney were used, and did good service for a goodly number of years. Such was the first houses erected in the township of Byron.
Messrs. Jerry and William Boynton soon located farms on sections nine and eight, respectively, and commenced improving their present homesteads, which by their skill and energy they have rendered both attractive and productive. In 1837 Mr. John Harmon settled on section nine. During the same year Mr. Harmon Kellog settled on section three, and Mr. James B. Jewell on section nine. We cannot find anyone who settled in the township in 1838 except Mr. Ella Judson, who during this year settled on section eight. Mr. Judson says that when he built his log house he had to go a distance of four miles for men to help "raise" and had only eight men at that. In 1839 Mr. Larkin Ball settled on section twenty, at which time he was the only man south of the center of the township. Soon after, Peter Goldin settled in the same section. Mr. William Boynton says that four of them cut the logs, carried them and raised Mr. Goldin's house. This house was standing as late as 1859. During this year, Mr. Eli Crossett settled on section seventeen; also Mr. Amelek Taylor on the same section. Mr. Alden Coburn on section seven, and Mr. Benjamin Robinson on section six. During 1840 there was but one new settler in the town, Mr. William Olmstead, who settled on section eight. 1841 went by without any augmentation of the numbers of this sturdy band of pioneers. In 1842 Samuel Hubbel settled on section twenty-eight, Joseph Gallup on section thirty-two, and Henry A. Vannest on section five. Mr. William Boynton says that when they "raised" either Mr. Gallup's or Mr. Hubbel's house, he has forgotten which, they did not get it up the first day, and it so far to go home that they stayed and camped out over night and finished "raising" the next day. And all they had for supper and breakfast was roast potatoes.
During the year 1843 Mr. Fox was the only man who settled in the "South Woods." Oliver Harris settled on section fourteen about this time, but we have not been able to fix the exact date.
During 1844 Mr. Ezekiel Cook settled on section thirty-five, Mr. Tuft on section twenty-tree and Messrs. E. E. Ide and James K. McKenney on section twenty.
Mrs. Cook tells us that when they moved into the woods they had no neighbors nearer than four miles, they being the first to settle in the southeast part of the township. And their nearest Post-office was at Grand Rapids, a distance of fourteen miles through an unbroken wilderness. At the time Mr. Kenney moved on his place there was no road from there to Grandville except as he followed the frails that wound around through the woods. Mrs. McKenney says that they moved into their house the 19th day of November 1844, and that there were neither doors nor windows in the house, and no floor below. They moved into the loft or chamber, and the next day Mr. McKenney was taken sick and was confined to his bed for two weeks. And before he was well enough to build a fireplace and chimney there was two feet of snow. And that during all this time she had to do all of her cooking out of doors by a log fire. Mrs. Tuft says that they moved on their place the last day of December 1843 and all the sign of a house they had was a small sled load of lumber. Mr. McKenney says that for some time he used to carry his "grist" to Jerry Boynton's, a distance of three miles, on his shoulders, get him to take it to Grand Rapids to mill, and when he returned, carry it home again.
During the year 1845 Messrs. Corkins Barney, Clark S. Wilson, and William Davidson settled within the limits of the township. Among the early settlers whose names we have been able to procure are Josiah R. Holden, Bradley Weaver, Daniel Prindle, Carlos Weaver and Prentice Weaver, who settled in Byron from 1846 to 1849. During 1850 to '51 Messrs. Eli Young and James M. Barney settled on section thirty-two. About this time is famous among the old settlers as the "wolf year." Mr. Young says that he killed one within four rods of his door, with his dog and corn cutter. Mr. William Boynton says that frequently, before this time, however, when he was obliged to work at Grandville to get provision for the support of his family he would work all day, get the proceeds of labor in provisions, and at dark, start at home, a distance of about five miles, through the woods, while the wolves were howling all around him and sometimes coming almost within read of the good, stout cudgel which he carried. Mr. James M. Barney says that during the first summer that he lived on his place he had to keep his cow and calf in a high log pen near his house, nights, to keep them from the wolves. He says that one night, after being kept awake until almost morning, he took his gun just at daylight and sallied forth, determined on vengeance. When he went out the wolves retreated for a short distance. But when he came into a thicket of bushes they surrounded him, and he backed up against a tree, and they kept him there for about two hours, until broad daylight. He shot at them several times, but the bushes were so thick that he did not kill any, although they would come so near that he could her them snap at each other. They wolves were never very thick after this season, and as they decreased, until about 1856, deer increased and became very thick. Mr. Barney says that has had during the winter from forty to fifty deer hung up in the woods at one time.
The first township meeting (the township of Byron then embraced Wyoming also), was held at the house of Charles H. Oaks, in Grandville, on Monday, the second day of May, A.D. 1836. The following officers were chosen, viz:
Supervisor--Gideon H. Gordon. Township Clerk--Isaac A. Allen. Assessors--Eli Yeomans, Ephraim P. Walker and Justin Brooks. Justices of the Peace--Gideon H. Gordon, Robert Howlett and Ephraim P. Walker. Collector--Lorenzo French. Commissioners of Highways--Gideon H. Gordon, Eli Yeomans, and H. Pitts. Commissioners of Schools--Joseph B. Copeland, Sanford Buskirk, and James Lockwood. School Inspectors--Gideon H. Gordon, Isaac A. Allen, and Eli Yeomans. Overseers of the Poor--Ephraim P. Walker and Justin Brooks. Constables--Lorenzo French and Sanford Buskirk.
At the first general election held at Grandville, November 1836, the highest number of votes cast for electors for President and Vice President was twenty.
The following are the present township officers, viz.: Supervisor, William P. Whitney; Township Clerk, Silas L. Hamilton; Treasurer, Samuel A. McKenney; Justices of the Peace, William P. Whitney, James M. Brown, George W. Ewing and Isaac M. Winegar, Jr.; School Inspectors, George W. Ewings and William P. Whitney; Commissioners of Highways, Jerry Boynton, George W. Ewings and John Homrich; Constables, A. A. Palmer and William D. Tibbits.
The whole number of votes cast at the last general election held at Byron Center, November 1868 was 337.
For the first few years the settlement of Byron progressed very slowly. It required a brave heart and a strong arm to encounter the dangers and hardships consequent to the opening up of a new and heavy timbered country. But gradually the forest yielded to the axe of the pioneer; beautiful fields, thrifty orchards, comfortable dwellings, and well-filled barns have taken the place of the little log cabin and unbroken forest. Byron is now fast becoming one of the foremost agricultural townships in Kent County. With a varied soil, adapted to nearly all of the different branches of husbandry, and especially to fruit growing, and the very best facilities for marketing its produce, its farmers must soon stand among the best. Byron is traversed by two railroads, viz.: the northern branch of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern R. R. and the Grand Rapids and Indiana R. R. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern runs north and south through the town and has two stations on its line, in Byron, viz.: Byron Center and North Byron. The Grand Rapids and Indiana runs north and south through the eastern part of the township, and has one station near the south part of the town. The present population is 1,328.
Mr. George L. Tobey carries on the manufacture of lumber, at his mill, on section twelve, and Rosenberger Bros. & Co. carry on the manufacture of flour, feed, lumber heading, at the village of Cody's Mills, on section twenty-five.
Cody's Mills, Byron Center and North Byron.
Byron has eight school houses, ranging from first-class to indifferent. District No. 1 has a fair wooden house; District No. 2 has one of the finest country school buildings in the county; it was erected in 1858. There is a very good school house at Cody's Mills. The people of this township support their schools liberally.