Caledonia -- Its Resources and Advantages -- Some Interesting Incidents of Early Travel -- The Pioneer Taverns -- Kent's Tavern -- Incidents of Early Settlement
Caledonia is one of the southern tier of townships of Kent County. It is traversed from south to north by the Thornapple River, which divides it into two nearly 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 you have the "openings," the soil being sandy and gravelly, with a slight mixture of clay, and is timbered principally with oak and hickory. The soil on 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. The shore on the southeast side is sandy, and on the northwest mucky and marshy. The Coldwar, or Little Thornapple enters Caledonia on section thirty-six, and empties into the Thornapple on section twenty-five. The west side of the river is all "timbered lands," producing all of the kinds of timber that usually grow in this climate on such lands. All kinds of fruit grow almost to perfection on this soil. There are a great many fine farms in this township, and its agricultural resources are being developed very fast.
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 is a very pleasant location, and is an active, enterprising place.
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 quite famous in the pioneer settlement. It was called "Kent's Tavern," and the route leading to it from the outside world was called "Gull Trail." Mrs. Kent afterwards 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."
I will give a few reminiscenses of this stage route here, in order to contrast the present mode of travel with that patronized in Caledonia in 1839. One person says that in this year, he then a boy of only fourteen, made the journey with three or four others from Grand Rapids to Detroit, and that they stopped at "Kent's" over night, and he, with others of the travelers, had to sleep out in a sort of shed, as the house was so small it would not accomodate them.
At this time this was the only house from Ada to "Leonard's," a distance of seventeen miles. About two years after this gentleman 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 axeltree 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 B. Church, and others were in the stage; they overset in a mud hole and the passengers were all precipitated into the water. It was very 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 fearfully dark. Mr. Yale fell asleep, and the wheels striking into a deep rut pitched him out into the mud. After a hearty laugh he resumed his place and the stage moved along.
But let us go back to the early settlement of Caledonia. Among the first comers were John Minsey, Eber Moffitt, Hiram McNeil, Peter McNaughton, Levi Tobey, John Sinclair, O. B. Barber, John Pattison, Henry Jackson, Wm. H. Brown and Warren S. Hale. Mr. Lyman Hale was the first settler on the west side of the river. Mr. William H. Brown erected the first saw mill at Alaska.
Among the incidents connected with the early settlement of the township, showing some of the hardships the pioneers had to endure, I will give the following: Mr. Wm. H. Brown, previous to his settlement at Brownsville, but after he had 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 horse back, intending to return the same day. After making his own observation and examining his land, about where the village of Alaska now stands, he started for home; night came soon on, and after endeavoring to follow his track for a while, he found out that he was lost. His dismounted, and as he had nothing to kindle a fire with, cleared the snow out of the path with his feet and covered it with some bark from a dry tree, and walked to and fro over it all night. When morning came he mounted his horse, and, after riding for some time, came out at the Green Lake House. His friends has started after him in the morning, expecting to find him frozen to death, and followed his tracks until they found him at Green Lake.
But in Caledonia, as in all settlements in Michigan, pioneering has mostly passed into history. It is now a flourishing township, the inhabitants rejoicing in the ample rewards of labor.