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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 Gaines -- town 5 north, of range 11 west -- is situated in the southern tier of townships of Kent county. It is bounded on the north by Paris, on the east by Caledonia, on the south by Leighton, Allegan county, and on the west by Byron.
The first settler in this township was Alexander Clark, who located on section 8, in the spring of 1837. He was joined in autumn by Alexander L. Bouck, who located on section 5, his present homestead, and Andrew and his son, Renssalaer Mensard, who located on section 17, the place now occupied by Henry Kelley, and soon after by Foster Kelley, Charles Kelley and Joseph Blain, who located on their present homesteads, on sections 4 and 5. Gaines at that time had little to recommend her to the eyes of civilization; being nothing more or less than 36 square miles of wilderness. Yet to the hardy, enterprising pioneers her heavy forests of beech and maple, and in some localities pine and oak, abundant supply of fresh water, with an average supply of bear, wolves, deer, wild turkeys, etc., possessed a charm that was irresistible. And the ice once broken the development of her resources was only a question of time.
At this time the only thoroughfare within the limits of the territory of Gaines was a road known as the ãOld Gull Roadä running a zig-zag course from north to south. And the first settlers seemed for evident reasons to strike for the vicinity of this road. And we know find some of the richest farms in the county near it. It was afterward straightened as the township became settled, to correspond with the section lines, and became a stage route from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo until the completion of the plank road in 1854.
Among the first settlers who still reside in the township, and identified with its organization, growth and prosperity, are Daniel Woodward, Stephen A. Hammond, John E. Woods, Charles B. Keefer, Benjamin Colburn, R. C. Sessions, Jas. Reynolds, William Kelley, John Wolcott, R. R. Jones, William Hendrick, Aaron Brewer, Thomas and Wilmot H. Blain, William Budlong, James M. Pelton, Orson Cook, Peter Van Lew, Eseck Burlingame, James T. Crumback and Bryan Greenman.
Gaines, aside from her agricultural prospects, offered but little inducement to business men. Plaster and Buck Creeks both rise near the center of the township, but were too small during most of the year for mill sites. There was, however, a small water mill erected on the latter stream about the year 1852, by Eseck Burlingame, on section 18, which is still running, and which cut the lumber for some of the first frame buildings in the township.
Most of the settlers of Gaines, as is usual, were poor, having barely means enough to enable them to purchase their land of the government at $1.25 an acre, get their families and household goods transported through the wilderness, and gain a foothold on their farms. But with persistent energy they set to work, and the heavy forests began to disappear. It was soon found to be one of the richest tracts in the vicinity for agricultural purposes, and at the present date is one of the best in the county. The north half of the township is gently rolling, is well watered with springs and small streams. The soil is good and of almost every variety. Apple and peach orchards abound. Pears, grapes, quinces, and cherries are cultivated to some extent and with good success.
The southern portion comprises a range of beautiful hills and table lands, admirably adapted to fruit and vine culture, and although not developed to any great extent, has some of the best orchards in the county. The soil is gravelly with a mixture of clay and loam, and is well adapted to all kinds of grain.
The first attempt at organization was as a part of Paris, in 1839. Foster Kelley, Joseph Blain, Alexander Clark and Andrew and Renssalaer Mesnard were among the township officers of said organization. In the year 1848, it was organize under the name of Gaines, and the first township meeting was held at the old red school house, on the northeast corner of section 8. Among the laws passed at the first meeting was the following:
On the motion of Orson Cook, it was voted that a tax of two dollars and fifty cents be raised for every wolf killed in the township.
Wolves were rather troublesome neighbors in those days, and the author of that motion probably owed them a grudge for their former depredations. Wolves made frequent visits to the early settlers, and would make the very earth tremble with their howlings and complaints to the intruders of their time-honored homes, and usually levied a tax before morning. And, like the wolves of the present day, were only satisfied with the best quality of mutton. One occupation of the boys and larger girls of that day used to be to fire old stumps about the place in the evening to scare away the wolves. About the year 1846, there was a wolf who had her beat from this vicinity to Gull Prairie, in Barry county, and was known as the Gull Prairie wolf who usually made the round trip once a week. (Better time than the early stages.) The dogs would not molest her, and she seemed to fear neither man nor beast. She had been caught once in a steel trap, and all efforts to entrap her again were for a long time successful. Even the children, in time, learned to distinguish her voice from other wolves, and were in the habit of listening for her on certain nights. She seldom disappointed them, and made night hideous with her dismal howls. She finally killed four sheep in one night on the premises of Mr. Mesnard, belonging to Mr. Rice. Mr. R. R. Jones, who lived near, requested the owner to leave one of the carcasses which madame wolf had partially devoured, and he did so. Mr. Jones and Orson Cook then held a council of war. It was determined to make one more effort to entrap her. Accordingly two traps were set about the carcass. But on her next visit she contrived to remove the carcass several rods, taking care to avoid the traps. Another council resulted in some more traps. Four were set -- placing in the intermediate spaces small pieces of iron, which were left in sight, while the traps were carefully concealed. This time they outwitted her. For after visiting two barns in he neighborhood, and trying to obtain a fresh quarter of mutton, she put her identical fame foot into one of the traps. Early on the following morning, Messrs. Jones and Cook took the trail in pursuit. They obtained a glimpse of their victim near the present residence of Mr. Blake, on section 15, and, after following her to the vicinity of Duncan Lake, in Barry County, succeeded in getting her headed toward home. They followed and overtook her on section 25, in Gaines. She caved in, completely vanquished and submitted to being bound with bark and slung to a pole; our two hunters resolving to carry her back alive to the scene of her recent murders. A thing, by the way, much easier resolved than executed. For they were soon satisfied to leave all but the pelt, for which they received one dollar, and ten and a half dollars in the shape of County and State bounties. They soon after caught a neighbor's boy by the heel, in one of the same traps. A large, good natured specimen of the Genus Yankee about twenty years of age, who, anxious to become versed in all the mysteries of woodcraft, was peering about to see how a wolf trap was set. He found out -- as well as how one was sprung. His cries soon brought his father to his assistance, and gave the wolf hunters no further trouble.
But the wolves, and their allies the bears and wild-cats, have disappeared. The growth of the township has not been rapid. It could not be expected when we consider the difficulties to be overcome. At the first township meeting only 35 votes were polled. Yet in 1868, at the Presidential election, she polled 252 votes, and her present population (1870) is 1,205. Thrifty farms greet you at every barn; comfortable frame cottages take the place of the log hut of the pioneer; stands on section lines traverse all parts of the township; and, from 36 square miles of wilderness, she has grown in thirty-three years to be an enterprising, thrifty, agricultural town.
The first school was taught in a log house erected by Mr. Clark, on the northeast corner of section 8, about the year 1842. This, in time, gave way to a small frame building, painted red, and known throughout the country as the red school house, which was succeeded, in 1863, by the present elegance structure on the same site, which takes the name and color of its predecessor. There are, in all, eight school houses in the township -- all comfortable frame buildings.
The society of United Brethren built a church on section 28 in 1867, which, although plain and modest, is neat and tasty, an honor to the association and an ornament to the community. It is situated on one of the most elevated points in the township, and can be seen for miles around.
Gaines has been without railroad communication until the present year (1870) when the Grand River Valley Railroad was constructed, through her territory. Hammond Station was established on the farm of S. A. Hammond, on section 11, and a large freight and passenger depot, with telegraph office, erected. Woodward & Buckingham have erected a large grain elevator. W. W. Pierce and Philetus Marsh, Esq., have each a small grocery running, and place already shows a business aspect.
FIRST TOWNSHIP OFFICERS
ELECTED APRIL 3D, 1848
Supervisor -- Peter Van Lew. Clerk -- James M. Pelton. Treasurer -- Charles Kelley. Justices of the Peace -- Joseph Blain, Josiah Drake, and Robert R. Jones. Assessors -- Foster Kelley and Abraham T. Andrews. Commissioners of Highways -- Daniel Rice, Levi M. Dewey and William Kelley. School Inspectors -- Renssalaer Mesnard, A. T. Andrews. Poor Directors -- Orson Cook, Levi Cheney. Constables -- Lorenzo W. Sandford, John E. Guild, Foster Kelley, Daniel Williams.
PRESENT TOWNSHIP OFFICERS
Supervisor -- James M. Pelton. Clerk -- George Cook. Treasurer -- Morris Freeman. Commissioners of Highways -- Chester C. Mitchell, John M. Hanna, William B. Pickett. School Inspectors -- Abraham C. Clemens, Aaron C. Bowman. Overseers of Poor -- James M. Pelton, Morris Freeman. Constables -- Samuel Zelner, John M. Hanna and
Thomas M. Read.