The History of Lincoln Lake (Gowen, Michigan)

By Duane Mead

Chapter 2

(Transcribed by Susan Hallock with permission of Duane Mead 2002)

 

Native Residents and European Migration to Spencer Township in prehistoric times great ice caps and glaciers covered the area where Spencer Township is now situated. As the climate warmed and cooled and the glaciers retreated and advanced accordingly, lakes, swamps and marshes resulted from the varying degrees of resistance to this erratic erosion. As the last glaciers withdrew from the area, Lincoln Lake and the river system were created, as an integral part of a larger network of rivers on the western side of Michigan between Lincoln Lake and Lake Michigan. Most of these river systems had outlets into Lake Michigan which were protected by huge sand dunes, thus allowing the earliest natives to use these areas as ‘natural’ protective havens for fishing, hunting and agriculture.  Lincoln Lake, in particular, is part of the Great Flat River Basin which (according to Archaeologist Dr. Michael Stafford of the Cranbrook Educational History Museum in Bloomfield, Michigan) was the hunting-fishing territory of the Ottawa, Huron and Potawatomi peoples. Due to its fertile land, excellent hunting and fishing, and the annual supply of natural resources such as berries, fruits, wild rice, honey and maple syrup, Lincoln Lake with its connection to the navigable Flat River offered these native peoples a great diversity of natural products. Around 500 B.C. agriculture had developed to a degree among these settlements. It is documented by remains from Dr. Stafford’s archaeological digs that the native peoples produced some of their own food-corn, squash, beans and possibly, tobacco. Winters at Lincoln Lake, however, have always created a harsh, inhospitable environment supporting Dr. Stafford’s research that these Native American family groups used the lake mainly as their ‘summer home’. These seasonal residents, who date back to the arrival of the first European explorers (missionaries, trappers and fur traders in the 1600’s) travelled from the Ohio River Basin up the Flat River, along Cooper Creek, which divides into Clear and Black Creeks, and around Lincoln Lake from early spring to late autumn. After trapping, fishing, hunting and harvesting until the arrival of the first heavy snows, the families then returned south to the more hospitable environments of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Dr. Stafford, in a letter dated January 14th 2002, wrote that there are three documented stone-age settlements on the banks of Lincoln Lake: all from the late New World Prehistoric age cc.1400-1600A.D. In addition, he believes ‘that the earliest human habitation of the Lincoln Lake area would exceed 5000 years ago’ and would be similar to those sites which he has excavated in the Wabasis Creek area of Oakfield Township (south of Lincoln Lake).

From Dr. Wyman Bock’s Recollections, in an interview by E.C. Cummings, on January 6th 1960, the early residents, according to a local ‘authority’ by the name of Edward H. JONES, had traced and mapped the old Indian trails. The Saginaw-Pentwater Indian Trail (as illustrated in map 2-1) clearly shows the trail running by Bowen Lake along Clear Creek to the southern tip of Lincoln Lake. Historically, the Flat River Basin was settled by a succession of different peoples. Little information is documented for Spencer Township, but the author assumes that the native peoples in that area had contacts with the earliest Europeans, who would no doubt have visited this area just as they are documented to have done elsewhere in Michigan.

The French were the first to explore Michigan, via the St. Lawrence River system. In 1600, they established themselves at Fort Michilimackinac. While attempting to discover the route to the orient Jean Nicolet, in his 1634 expedition to Green Bay, landed at the Straights of Mackinac, Michigan. This unsuccessful expedition was followed by the Jolliet and Marquette expedition in 1673; again, as we know, the route to the orient was not found.  These expeditions, however, introduced to the French Government an awareness that there was an abundance of valuable furs in their New World Colony (New France) and, especially, in Michigan. Therefore the King of France declared ‘Royal Rights’ to this natural resource. In the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, during the reign of King Louis XIV, the wearing of furs by the royal and privileged classes created a demand for the furs of the lynx, wolf, marten, deer, bear, mink, raccoon, elk, muskrat, opossum and, especially, beaver, which were all caught in order to cater for the demands of thefashion-conscious European. These animals would have all been hunted or trapped in the Spencer Township area by the ‘Voyageurs’. These were outdoorsmen who, by exploring the Michigan Rivers and Lakes, would have journeyed into Spencer Township to acquire furs for the trading centers of Detroit, St. Joseph and Mackinac by hunting and trapping, or trading with the Ottawas, the Potawatomis and the Hurons.

Between 1760 and 1796, the French flag in Michigan was gradually replaced by the British flag. The transfer of power was short lived for after the end of the American Revolution and the Act of the Treaty of Paris, the land in Michigan ceded to the British was transferred to the United States. Life among the trappers changed little as fur trading continued to be the main source of revenue for the territory. Immediately after the War of 1812, John Jacob Astor and his company the American Fur Company at their headquarters in Mackinac Island, dominated the fur trade in Michigan. There the company employed approximately 3,000 boatmen and trappers who journeyed throughout Michigan to acquire the furs. By eliminating competition at source and through ‘ruthless’ practices, Astor destroyed the Voyageurs. Trade goods were supplied by the American Fur Company at the highest market value possible, while the furs were purchased from the trader and trapper at rates which allowed for possible decline in value.

The Ordinance of 1785 stated that before any land belonging to the United States could be sold, it had to be surveyed into townships, 6 miles squared, each containing 36 sections, 1 mile squared. By 1836, all the land north of the Grand River (Spencer Township and Lincoln Lake) which had been ceded by the native peoples had been surveyed.  Due to a change in European fashion, as well as to a decreasing supply of furs, the trade slowly subsided. Around this time, those lands which had been surveyed gradually received an influx of farmers. One of the most important developments which permitted this steady wave of migration of new settlers, mainly from New York State, was the construction of the Erie Canal in 1825. This man-made waterway connected the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Thus, the time and distance required to migrate to Michigan was reduced considerably. Agriculture in Spencer Township progressed at a slower rate than in adjoining townships because the land, although fertile, was hilly and contained dozens of lakes, swamps, marshes and creeks. In addition, it was covered by an ‘unwanted’ natural resource-the virgin forest. However, several catastrophes which occurred during the 1860’s-70’s helped to bring unexpected prosperity to Spencer Township.

Although the Civil War (1861-1865) caused severe hardships to many states in the Union, life in Spencer Township continued as usual.  The devastation to many northern and southern communities had to be rectified; thus the vast rebuilding program of the war-torn cities created a huge demand for timber. While many Spencer Township men had enlisted or were drafted into the war, lumbering operations, although in their infancy, continued to show growth and the many vacancies were filled by the new immigrants from the east or from Europe. During the same period another ‘boom’ was occurring, as the industry of railroading was being developed in Spencer Township, resulting in the building of the railroad communities of Harvard, Spencer Mills, Lorenzo and Lincoln Lake Station. Then, on October 8th 1871, the famous Chicago fire roared out of control for 48 hours, consuming most of the city. Violent electrical storms also on the same day caused numerous forest fires between Holland and Mackinac City and destroyed 2 million acres of timber and claimed 200 lives. These factors: the Civil War and the destruction it caused followed by an immense rebuilding program, the Chicago Fire, the subsequent Michigan forest fires and the lumber-railroad boom created a tremendous demand for the virgin timber stands throughout Michigan, including those from Lincoln Lake.

Information documenting the early history of Spencer Township clearly shows that logging and farming were the two important incentives for the early settlers to move there. Although area folklore (and some historians) give Luther LINCOLN and his son credit for being the first settlers of Spencer Township, historical documents clearly indicate that Cyrus B. THOMAS, from Washtenaw County, with his two sons William and Levi in 1845 as well as Henry STROUP in 1848 were the first pioneers to settle permanently in Celsus (Spencer Township).  It is generally assumed that Luther LINCOLN visited Lincoln Lake since it bears his name. His importance in the area is illustrated by the following extracts from ‘Indians, Sawmills and Danes’ by Robertson M. Augustine.  "A tract of land lying on the east side of Flat River was set apart as University Lands. In 1836, Luther LINCOLN from Grand Rapids, formerly from the south part of the State where he had been quite a wealthy man, came and settled on a small lot of this University land and built a log house which was afterward used by Don MARVIN as a tavern.  Mr. Lincoln and Rodney and Lucas ROBINSON (brother of Rix Robinson of Ada) helped the Indians to fence in a tract of about 100 acres, on the east side of Flat River and about a mile from Grand River, for a planting ground.  Luther Lincoln, who entered land at the junction of Black Creek and Flat River (Lot 7, Sec. 30 Montcalm Township; Nov. 6, 1839), was the first settler in Montcalm Township, and one of the first in the county. His entry at that time comprised the NW quarter of section 30, upon which, near the junction referred to, he built the first cabin in the township, and with his son continued to reside there and in that vicinity for many years. He is said to have been peculiar and eccentric in many particulars but on the whole, a man of estimable qualities. During the first years of his stay, he cleared a small piece of land and raised several crops before any other settler entered in the township. Some years later he dammed the river and built a small mill with an upright saw; this was on section 30. It employed two men who, besides Mr. Lincoln and his son, were probably the only ones in the township. This property passed to other hands before his death. His mind for several years before this event is regarded as being clouded, and it is to this fact that his business reverses and disasters are attributed. His son, who subsequently removed to Kent County, was killed by lightning." (HIM)

Augustine then proceeds to quote from various sources: "So we quit exploring in that direction (north and west of the rapids on the Grand River) and struck out for the Flat River, coming out about Greenville. There I found the country much more satisfactory, rich burr oak plains and good pine timber. I there found Luther Lincoln with his son, a boy of about thirteen, who were living a hermit’s life, the only inhabitants of Montcalm County.  Still, he seemed to be glad of company, and explored with us while in those parts.’ (From John Ball’s journal of his observations, in 1842, of the Grand River Valley, as he was land-looking for sections to be reserved by the State Government). Thomas CORNELL, the present surveyor of Ionia County, penetrated the wilds of Montcalm in the spring of 1837, and there found Mr. Lincoln and his son, a lad of about thirteen years of age, living near the junction of Flat River and Black Creek. (HIM)

In 1839, Messrs. COOK (Rufus), J.L. MORSE, LINCOLN and BALDWIN (?Belding?) built the first sawmill in Montcalm County. It had a capacity of three or four thousand feet per day, which at that time was considered large." (HIM)

He continues to say:

"On January 1, 1842, Luther Lincoln deeded to R.R. COOK, VOLNEY and Thomas BELDING, and Charles L. MORSE, an undivided 4/5 of the NE 1/4 of the SW 1/4 of Section 30. (Register of Deeds, Montcalm County).  In the spring of 1844, Mr. PRATT (Lyman H. Pratt) and his brother-in-law, S.D. BARR, purchased ‘Lincoln’s Saw Mill’ at the mouth of Black Creek. This mill had then just been erected and was the first and only mill in Montcalm Township, and was of the most primitive kind. No white man had disturbed the waters of the Flat River. (MPC Vol.31 and HIM) The first white inhabitant of Spencer (Township, Kent County) was an old trapper by the name of Lincoln.  He had a shanty on the bank of the lake of that name, and there he lived, Boon(e)-like, for a number of years." (HKC) "Lincoln is written on the east 1/2 of the SE 1/4 of Section 26, Spencer Township, Kent County, on an 1855 map. This is a short distance to the east from Lincoln Lake. Clear Creek from Lincoln Lake flows through it (the author is assuming that this Lincoln is not Luther Lincoln).  "Mr. Luther Lincoln (Jr.), a farmer of Greenville, was killed by lightning yesterday P.M. Mr. Lincoln was about 30 years of age and leaves a family consisting of a wife and three children and an aged father." (Greenville INDEPENDENT, July 6, 1858.)

The DAILY ENQUIRER AND HERALD, Grand Rapids newspaper of the mid-1800’s, noted in its issue of June 30th, 1858, that the weather had been a ‘scorcher’, with temperatures in the 90degree range. One man had reported that his measuring device showed it to be 144 degrees, but this was evidently not in the shade.

The issue of Friday, July 2, 1858, carried a news item that had appeared in another paper, the EAGLE, on the evening of July 1.  "Mr Luther Lincoln, a farmer of Greenville, was killed by lightning yesterday afternoon. He had been at work in a field, from whence the rain had driven him home, and at the time of his death was standing in his woodshed, conversing with a neighbour. The fiery bolt came through the roof of the shed, striking Mr. Lincoln in the forehead and passing down the body and one leg into the earth, cutting off the foot in its passage. Mr. Lincoln was about 30 years of age and leaves a family consisting of a wife and three small children and an aged father. He has a sister living in the city to whom the sad news came this morning and who is strongly affected thereby-the deceased being an only brother.’

In Oakfield Township, situated on Wellman Road NE, quarter of a mile south of M-57 and a short distance east of Wabasis Lake Road NE, stands a quiet rustic little chapel cemetery. Amongst the graves are two gravestones which read: ‘Luther Lincoln 1794-1867’ and ‘Luther W. Lincoln, died June 30, 1858, age 30 years 8 mo." (Photos 2-2, 2-3)

Thomas SPENCER, an early pioneer of Spencer Township, moved to this small rural community in 1855, settling in the southeast corner of section 27, where he built Spencer Mills on Black Creek. Another mill, the J. VAN WICKLE Mill, was founded on Black Creek in the following year. The operations of these two mills were divided into lumber, shingle, lath and planing, giving employment to approximately 30 men. Unfortunately for this tiny community, which was dependent upon the lumber mills, the Thomas Spencer Mill was destroyed by fire in 1861.

The name Celsus was changed to Spencer Township on January 9th 1861, and in April of that year the first township meeting was held at the home of Thomas Spencer. The meeting was held with Thomas Spencer as moderator, with Shepherd B. COWLES and Jesse HASKINS, Inspectors. The first officers elected as Township officers were Freeman VAN WICKLE, Supervisor; Henry A. FREEMAN, Clerk; Daniel HASKINS, Treasurer; William H. HEWITT, Commissioner of Highways; F. VAN WICKLE, William HEWITT and Edwin D. CLARK, Justices of the Peace; Hiram COUSE, Alfred HULBERT, School Inspectors; William SMITH, George McCLELLAND, Henry STROPE, and Darius GRAY, Constables.

1861 to 1881, the following officers for the township were:

YEAR

SUPERVISOR

CLERK

TREASURER

1861

Freeman Van Wickell

Henry A. Freeman

Daniel Haskins

1862

Thomas Spencer

Henry A. Freeman

M. B. Hatch

1863

Charles DeCou

M. B. Hatch

Beriah G. Parks

1864

Charles DeCou

M. B. Hatch

Beriah G. Parks

1865

Charles D. Spencer

M. B. Hatch

Beriah G. Parks

1866

Jacob Van Zandt

M. B. Hatch

James Bradshaw

1867

Matthew B. Hatch

Aaron Norton

Beriah G. Parks

1868

Matthew B. Hatch

Aaron Norton

Beriah G. Parks

1869

Matthew B. Hatch

Aaron Norton

Beriah G. Parks

1870

Matthew B. Hatch

Aaron Norton

Beriah G. Parks

1871

Matthew B. Hatch

S. B. Cowles

Beriah G. Parks

1872

Matthew B. Hatch

Richard Clifford

Beriah G. Parks

1873

Matthew B. Hatch

Jacob Van Zandt

Beriah G. Parks

1874

Jacob Van Zandt

Scott Griswold

Beriah G. Parks

1875

Scott Griswold

Jabez W. Griswold

Theron Lamberton

1876

Scott Griswold

S. B. Cowles

Theron Lamberton

1877

--------------

Warren F. Getman John Moran

1878

 ------------------- A. S. Woodhull John Moran

1879

John Moran

Lafayette Hough

E. L. Boynton

1880

John Moran

C. D. Spencer

Theron Lamberton

1881

Michael Ward

C. D. Spencer

Theron Lamberton

By 1881, Spencer Township had a population of 1,196, with Spencer Mills being the largest village, offering to the residents of the township a wide range of amenities. It had the Spencer Mills School and Post Office, the Thomas SPENCER Baptist Church, the E.L. BOYNTON Dry Goods and Mercantile Store, the Pennsylvania Mill Company, George STROPE Sawmills, C. SMITH Shingle Factory, Dr. J. GASE and Dr. Charles KING, Physicians; Palmer COLE and Charles RILLEY, Justices of the Peace; J.E. WHEELER, Village Blacksmith; C.D. SPENCER, Wagonmaker; WHITE and FRIANT, PAYNE, SPENCER and J. GRISWOLD, Lumbermen.  As the lumber industry declined in Spencer Township, the small community of Spencer Mills did not recover and slowly, through fire, neglect and demolition, the logging hamlet of Spencer Mills dwindled to nothing.


Transcriber: Susan Hallock
Created: 27 September 2002
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/townships/spencer/history.html