Byron -- Pioneer Life -- "Raising" the First Log House-- Roast Potatoes the Only Food -- Fighting the Wolves -- The First TownMeeting
In the summer of 1836 Byron was an unbroken wilderness. The ruthlessarm of the white arm, armed with that terribly destructive weapon, theaxe, had never been lifted midst the beautiful forests that crowned thesloping hills and shaded the broad green values. The trackless forestsstood in the beauty in which the God of Nature created it. But the dayfor the pioneer's axe had come, and very soon it was heard in its depths.
During the summer of this year Mr. Nathan Boynton located a farm onsection five, and selected a place to build a house, on a little hill nearthe forks of Rush Creek. Mr. Boynton returned to Grandville, where he wastaken sick, but, in August or September, sent his brothers, William andJerry, to build a house for him. The only guide they had was the sectionline. This they followed until they came to the line between the presenttownships of Byron and Wyoming, where they, not knowing there was a variationin the section lines of the different ranges of townships, lost the line,and were a considerable time finding the place Nathan had selected forhis residence. After finding it they proceeded to erect a house. It wasbuilt of small logs such as they could carry and put up. The roof was ofsmall basswood, split in two parts, and gutters cut with and axe on theflat side. One tier of these was laid with the flat side up and the flatside down, so that the outside edge of the upper tier fitted into the gutterof the lower. The floor and door of the house were made of plank, or, aswoodsmen usually call them, "puncheons," split from basswoods trees. Thefire place was built of clay, which Mr. Boynton mixed by treading withhis bare feet, and was built up with small twigs. The chimney was builtof split sticks, laid up in the same kind of mortar. This fire-place andchimney were used for several years and did good service. Such was thefirst house erected in Byron.
Jerry and William Boynton soon after located farms on sections eightand nine, respectively, and commenced improving them, which, by their skilland energy, they have rendered very productive. In 1837, Mr. John Harmonlocated on section nine, and during the same year Mr. H. Kellogg locatedon section three and Mr. James B. Jewell on section nine. Mr. Ella Judsonfollowed in 1838. The latter gentleman says that when he built his loghouse, he had to go a distance of four miles to get men to help "raise,"and could get only eight men at that.
The settlers that followed were Mr. Larkin Ball, Peter Goldin, Eli Crossett,Amelek Taylor, Alden Coburn, Benj. Robinson, William Olmstead, Samuel Hubbel,and Henry A. Vannest. When Mr. Hubbel's house was "raised," the job couldnot be completed in one day, and it was so far for the hands to go home,that they stayed and camped out one night, and finished "raising" the nextday. All the hard working men had for supper and breakfast was roast potatoes.
Among the settlers who came to this township in 1843-4 were Mr. Fox,Mr. Ezekiel Cook, Mr. Tuft, E. R. Ide and James M. McKenney.
When Mr. Cook moved into the woods they had no neighbors nearer thanfour miles, and their nearest post-office was at Grand Rapids, a distanceof fourteen miles, through an unbroken wilderness. When Mr. Kennedy movedon his place there was no road from there to Grandville except as he followedthe trails that wound around through the woods. When Mr. McKenney movedinto house there were neither windows, doors or floor in the house. Thenext day after moving in Mr. McKenney was taken sick and was confined tohis bed for two weeks, and before he was able to build a fireplace andchimney, there was two feet of snow. During all this time Mrs. McKenneyhad to do all her cooking our of doors by a log fire. Those were hard days.There was hardly a ray of happiness let into this desolate household. Thestorm and wind beat through the open windows, and sang mournfully throughtheir forest home.
When Mr. Tuft moved on to his place the only signs of a house he hadwas a small sled-load of lumber. He began to build in December, and hisfamily shivered around until the rude hut was completed.
During the year 1845 Messrs. Corkins, Barney, Clark S. Wilson and WilliamDavidson settled within the limits of the township. Among other early settlersI will mention Josiah R. Holden, Bradly Weaver, David Prindle, Carlos Weaver,and Prentice Weaver, Eli Young and James M. Barney. The latter gentlemancame during the famous "wolf year." Mr. Young says he killed one of theseferocious animals within one rod of his own door with his do and corn-cutter.
Mr. William Boynton would often, before this period, when he was obligatedto work at Grandville to get provisions for support of his family, workall day, get the proceeds of his labor in provisions, and at dark startfor home, a distance of about five miles through the woods, while the wolveswere howling on every side, and sometimes coming within reach of the good,stout cudgel which he carried.
The first year Mr. James Barney lived in his house he had to keep hiscow and calf in a high log pen near by at nights to save them from thewolves. He says that one night, after being kept awake until near 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 hecame into a thicket of bushes they surrounded him; he backed up againsta tree and they kept him there for about two hours. He shot at them severaltimes, but the bushes were so thick he did not kill any, although theywould come so near that he could hear their teeth snapping together. Afterthis year the wolves became, happily, scarce.
The first township meeting was held at the house of Mr. Charles H. Oakes,in Grandville, on Monday, the second day of May 1836. The following listof officers were there chosen: Supervisor: Sideon H. Gordon; Clerk, IsaacA. Allen; Assessors, Eli Yeomans, Ephraim P. Walker and Justin Brooks;Justices, G. H. Gordon, Robert Howlett and E. P. Walker; Collector, L.French; Commissioners of Highways, G. H. Gordon, Eli Yeomans and H. Pitts;School Commissioners, Joseph B. Copeland, Sanford Buskirk and James Lockwood;School Inspectors, G. H. Gordon, Isaac A. Allen and Eli Yeomans; Overseersof the Poor, E. P. Walker and Justin Brooks; Constables, L. French andSanford Buskirk.
During the first year the settlement of Byron progressed very slowly.It required a brave heart and a strong arm to encounter the dangers andhardships consequent upon opening up a new and heavily timber country.But gradually the forests yielded to the pioneer's axe, and beautiful fieldsand thrifty orchards, comfortable dwellings and well-filled barns havetaken its place. Byron has already become one of the foremost agriculturaltownships in Kent County.
With varied soil, adapted to nearly all the different branches of husbandry,and especially to fruit growing, and the very best facilities for marketingits produce, its farmers must soon stand among the best and most wealthyin the State.
Byron is traversed by two railroads, the northern branch of the LakeShore and Michigan Southern Railroad, and the Grand Rapids and IndianaRailroad. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern runs north and south throughthe town, and has two stations on its line in Byron, called Byron Centerand North Byron. The Grand Rapids and Indiana runs north and south throughthe eastern part of the township, and has one station near the south partof the town.
This township is composed of what is known as "timbered lands," comprisingwithin its limits nearly every variety of trees known in the climate. Itis quite well watered by Birch and Rush Creeks, and the springs and numeroussmall streams that form these creeks.
Almost all signs of pioneer life have passed away, and the greater partof the township is being rapidly improved. The old pioneer farmers arenearly all wealthy , and take pleasure in telling the stories of earlierand darker days.