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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.
Caledonia is one of the southern tier of townships of Kent County, and is bounded on the north by Cascade, on the east by Bowne, on the south by Thornapple, Barry County, and on the west by Gaines. It is traversed from south to north by the Thornapple River which divides it into two equal parts. The banks of the river are high and the country on both sides of the river is high and rolling. On the east side of the river the land is what as known as openings, the soil being sandy and gravelly with a slight mixture of clay, and is timbered principally with oak and hickory. The soil n this side of the river is especially adapted to wheat and fruit, but produces good crops of all kinds of grain and most grasses. There are several lakes on this side of the river. There is a lake on sections one, two, eleven and twelve, about one mile long, and from eighty to one hundred and sixty rods in width. The shore on the southeast side is sandy and on the northwest side mucky and marshy. Barber's Lake is on sections twenty-five and twenty-six. Tobey's Lake is on section twenty-three. Lovejoy's Lake is on section twelve. The Coldwater or Little Thornapple enters Caledonia on section thirty-six and empties into the Thornapple on section thirty-five. The west side of the river is all timbered lands, producing all kinds of timber that usually grown in this climate on such lands. The surface of most of this part of the town is high and somewhat rolling, with a clayey loam soil, that is well adapted to all kinds of farming purposes, especially to grazing. All kinds of fruits grow almost to perfection in this soil. There are a great many fine farms in this township, and its agricultural resources are being developed very fast.
The Thornapple is a very rapid stream here, and with its high banks is capable of affording a great amount of water power. Mr. Warren S. Hale informs us that there are at least nine chances for water powers, only three of which are developed, within the limits of this township, with a fall at each of from five to eight feet without overflowing the banks at any place. This river is full of picturesque islands, varying in size from one-half acre to three acres. With the rich agricultural county tributary to it, with its unfailing water power, the time must come when this town will be the Lowell of Western Michigan, when the busy hum of machinery will be heard from its northern to its southern boundary.
Nestled among the hills on the banks of the Thornapple, in the northern part of the township, is the thriving little village of Alaska, formerly known as North Brownville. It has a very pleasant location and is an active, enterprising place. It contains one dry goods and grocery store, one dry goods, grocery and drug store, one grocery store, one hardware store and tin shop, one flouring mill, two saw mills, one furniture manufactory, which ships a great deal of cabinet work in the white besides finishing for the home market; one carriage and wagon factory and one hotel, besides the usual number of blacksmith shops, boot and shoe shops &c. There is not a saloon in the place. Surrounded by a rich agricultural country, its growth must be rapid and its future prosperous.
Mr. Asahel Kent was the first settler in the township, settling on section thirty-five in 1838. Mr. Kent, and after his death, Mrs. Kent, kept a public house, which became famous for its good cheer, all over the surrounding country. A gentleman who lived at that time in New York State, tells us that he used to hear people who had been to Grand River tell about Kent's Tavern, and when one, would return, others who had traveled on this route -- the Gull Trail -- would always inquire after the Kents. Mrs. Kent afterward married Mr. Peter McNaughton and the place became equally well known to travelers on the Battle Creek and Grand Rapids stage route, as McNaughton's. And while talking of this subject there are some reminiscences of this stage route that Mr. Edward Campau relates, that we may as well give now, and which will help contrast the mode of traveling in those days with that of the present. Mr. C. says that in 1839, he, as a boy of 14, made the journey with three or four others from Grand Rapids to Detroit, and that they stopped at Kent's overnight, and he and the others of the men had to sleep out in a sort of shed, as the house was so small it would not accommodate them. At this time this was the only house from Ada to Leonard's, a distance of seventeen miles. About two years after this he commenced to drive stage on this route, and drove for several years. The road at this time wound round through the woods, and it was no uncommon thing to get stuck in the mud or to overset. At one time, a very dark, stormy night, they broke an axletree about six miles south of Ada, and the passengers, five or six in number, had to walk through mud and snow to that place, as it was the nearest settlement. At another time, Hon. John Ball, Mrs. Thomas H. Church and others were on the stage; they overset in a mud-hole and the passengers were all landed in the water. It was quite dark, and Mr. Fred Church, then an infant, was nearly suffocated before they found him. At another time Hon. Wm. A. Richmond and Hon. Harvey P. Yale were his only passengers, the roads were muddy and badly rutted out and the night dark. Mr. Yale fell asleep and the wheel striking into a deep rut pitched him out into the mud. After a hearty laugh he resumed his place and they labored along. There is a good contrast between travel over that route, and over the different railroad routes, with their elegant passenger coaches, now leading from the Valley City.
To go back to the settlement of Caledonia: Mr. James Minsey settled on section thirty-six in 1838 or 1839. Among the earlier settlers were Orsemus Rathbun, Eber Moffitt, Hiram McNiel, Peter McNaughton, Levi Tobey, John Sinclair, O. B. Barber, John Pattison, Henry Jackson, Wm. H. Brown, and Warren S. Hale. Mr. Lyman Gerrald was the first settler on the west side of the river. Mr. Wm. H. Brown erected the saw mill at Alaska, now owned by L. W. Fisher, in 1848, and the flouring mill now owned by J. W. Boynton, in 1853, and is now one of the proprietors of the Caledonia mills, two mills above Alaska, on section twenty-two. Mr. Orsemus Rathbun is the oldest settler now residing in the township.
Among the incidents connected with the early settlement of the township, showing some of the hardships the pioneers had to endure, we have the following: Mr. Wm. H. Brown, previous to his settlement at Brownsville, but after he located his land, lived at Scale's Prairie or Middleville. Having occasion to go there one winter, he started from home in the morning on horseback, intending to return the same day. After making his observations and examining his land about where the village of Alaska now stands, he started for home; night soon came on, and after endeavoring to following his track for a while he found out that he was lost. He dismounted, and as he had nothing to kindle a fire with, cleared snow out of a path, with his feet, and some bark from a dry tree, and walked backwards and forwards in it all night. When morning came he mounted his horse and after riding for some time he came out at the Green Lake House. His friends had started after him in the morning, expecting to find him frozen to death, and followed his tracks until they found him at Green Lake.
At the mouth of the Coldwater was a great Indian camping ground and burial place. They did not leave here entirely until within a very few years. One of them, old Soh-na-go, Squirrel, has been since seen visiting the burial places and the hunting grounds of this fathers, but the White man's axe had been there, and it was no longer a home for him.
Caledonia has nine school houses, all wooden buildings, and two churches, viz: The Baptist Church at Alaska, and a Catholic Church on section twenty-five, both wooden structures. There are two hotels in this township, the Alaska Hotel, at Alaska, Wm. H. Lock proprietor, and the Oak Grove House, O. B. Barber, proprietor, on section twenty-six. There is a saw mill on section twenty-seven Jacob Brown, proprietor.
The postoffices are as follows -- Alaska, Warren S. Hale, P.M.; Caledonia, O. B. Barber, P. M.; Caledonia Station, Adam B. Sherk, P. M.
The Grand River Valley Railroad crosses the southwest corner of the township and has a station on section twenty-nine.
The township of Caledonia was organized in 1840 by the choice of the following named officers:
Supervisor -- John P. McNaughton. Clerk -- Justus G. Beach. Justice of the Peace -- Justus G. Beach, Loren B. Tyler, Malcolm P. McNaughton, Asahel Kent. Treasurer -- Norman Foster. Assessors -- Roswell F. Tyler, Malcolm P. McNaughton, John A. Campbell. Highway Commissioners -- Asahel Tyler, Asahel Kent, Norman Foster. School
Inspectors -- Norman Foster, William G. Wooley. Directors of the Poor -- Roswell Tyler, John Campbell. Collector -- Roswell F. Tyler. Constables -- Roswell F. Tyler, Frederick B. Thompson.
OFFICERS IN 1870
Supervisor -- Adam B. Sherk. Clerk -- Daniel S. Haviland. Treasurer -- Sherman T. Colson. Justices -- Adam B. Sker, Levi White, High B. McAllister, Elijah V. E. Pratt. Highway Commissioners -- John Patterson, David Kinsey, Isaac Stauffer. School
Inspectors -- Alfred W. Stowe, Levi White. Constables -- Fayette McIntyre, Charles E. Emmons, Eliphalet Scott.