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Early Settlement of Ada -- Rix Robinson -- His Life Among the Indians -- His Attachment to Them -- Scene of a Town Meeting -- The Village of Ada
We will now leave Grand Rapids and observe the events that were transpiring in other parts of Kent County during that period through which the reader has been conducted in the preceding chapters.
The township of Ada originally embraced a large tract of country, including several of what are now the adjacent towns. It was of Ada as it then existed that Rix Robinson was elected the first Supervisor. The first entry on the records is under date of 1835, to the effect that Norman Smith was elected Supervisor by one majority, he receiving in all thirty-two votes. The whole number of votes cast was only sixty-one. The sight of a town meeting in those days was an interesting one. Here they came, one by one, from the different points of the compass, hard-working, honest men. It is a gala day with them. They meet, perhaps, for the first time in months. They go early in the morning and stay late at night. They urge their brief political campaign in their homely way. They enjoy as well as perform their duty, and then part for the scenes of stern labor.
One of the most prominent of the early settlers was Rix Robinson, the first white man who settled in the township. For a long time he was engaged in the fur trade with the Indians on the Grand River. Alone, he traversed the forests in the interests of the American Fur Company, surrounded with savages by nature, and sometimes by deed, but was unmolested by them. The spirit of the natives had already been somewhat subdued by the influence of christianity, and devoted missionaries were then laboring among them. A tribe of these Indians remained near the town of Ada until 1860, when they sold their lands and removed to Pentwater. During the latter years of their residences on these lands, they cultivated the soil, and built respectable residences, had well organized schools and comfortable churches. They were of the Roman Catholic faith.
Mr. Robinson, during his sojourn and life among the Indians, became remarkably attached to them; so much so that he chose one of their daughters as his partner for life, with whom he still lives. They have but one son, and he is well known throughout Grand River Valley as an energetic business man, and more recently as a local preacher of the gospel.
Mr. Robinson's life is fraught with toil and peril, and actual suffering. "It is pleasant," said an old resident, "to sit and listen while 'Uncle Rix' tells of the dark days in the history of his experience. I have often heard him repeat the story of the nights he spent in the woods alone, far from any house; of fording streams in winter; of encounters with wolves and other animals; of the poor log house with its chimney; of sickness and death in the family, with no attending physician, and so on through the long list. But I was not the only delighted one. What a change came over the countenance of the aged man as he recounted those scenes!"
The experience of the pioneers of Ada was similar to that of other townships; they worked hard, endured much and enjoyed much. They lived a noble life, although it was a life, perhaps, few of us would choose. Among the other early settlers in Ada, I will mention Edward Robinson, who settled in 1830; Torrey Smith, A. H. Riggs and Edward Pettis, in 1836; Peter McLean, R. G. Chaffee, Hezekiah Howell, E. McCormick, P. Fingleton, Gurden Chapel, John Findlay and J. S. Schenck in 1840 to 1845.
The principal rivers in the township are the Grand and Thornapple. Grand River crosses the township from the northwest to the southwest, and is navigable for small crafts. Before the completion of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad steamboats passed up the river as far as Ionia. Chase's Lake is the only one worthy of mention. It is located on sections two and eleven, and contains about one hundred and sixty acres. The timber is mostly oak, the land being mostly what is usually termed "oak openings." The soil is rather sandy, being well adapted to fruit culture. It is well suited, also, to the production of different kinds of grain.
Ada village was laid out into lots when the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad was built -- about the year 1858 -- and although one or more additional plats have been made, its growth seems to be quite slow. It is located on sections thirty-three and thirty-four, near the confluence of the Thornapple in Grand River, ten miles, by railroad, from Grand Rapids. It possesses a very good water power, which is only now beginning to be improved. There are already several extensive mills on the Thornapple River, most of which are doing a profitable business.
The school houses and educational facilities of the village are as good as any place of equal population in the State. The business interests of the place are growing rapidly, and will, no doubt, continue to increase.