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EARLY SETTLEMENT OF NELSON, OAKFIELD,
PLAINFIELD, SOLON AND SPARTA
NELSON township is one of the northern tier. Twenty years ago this township was an unbroken wilderness, where wild animals made their homes.
In 1851, Wm. H. Bailey came and settled in Nelson. Mr. John S. Jones moved into the township during the same year, and is said to have been the second settler, and among those who followed were John M. Towns, Josiah Towns, N. R. Hill, D. B. Stout, H. M. Staunton, George Stout, Andrew Stout, Raleigh Smith, Samuel Punches, Joseph N. Clark, A. S. Tindell, J. N. Tindell, John Dean, Elisha Dean, H. D. Streter, Thomas Almy, Mr. Ream and his two sons, Bradford Baily, and Joseph Wood.
Nelson was organized as a township on the 13th day of October, 1854, and the first township election was held at the house of Chas. H. Leake, on the first Monday of April, 1855.
OAKFIELD was first settled in 1838, Wm. R. Davis being the pioneer of civilization. There seems to have been no one save himself and family to break the solitude of the wilderness till June, 1839, when Mr. Isaac Tower, Stephen S. Tower and William Thornton came with their families and settled near Mr. Davis. These were the only settlers till 1842, when Thomas Crinion and David J. Gilbert located on sections eighteen and nineteen, respectively. Then followed S. Ashley, Henry McArthur, Giles McArthur, Errie McArthur, Maurice Hart, M. W. Mack, John Davis, Levi White, James Eletley, Wm. Peterson and Benjamin Potter.
The first town meeting in Oakfield was held in April, 1849, at a little school house on section twenty-nine. This was the first school house in the town. The log cabin was replaced in 1852 by a frame structure of respectable size and appearance, and is still known as the White Swan School.
In Oakfield, pioneer life has passed almost entirely away, first-class schools are located in every settlement, and a goodly number of churches are handsomely supported. There are several mills on Wabassis Creek, all doing a profitable business. The first saw-mill in the township was built by John Davis, in 1846. It was located on Beaver Dam Creek. Three times it was swept into ruins by the freshets, and as often repaired or rebuilt by its persevering owner.
PARIS is next to the oldest township in the county. As early as 1833, Barney Burton, Edward Guild, Joel Guild, Danield Guild and James Vanderpool located within its present limits. Among the early settlers who followed were Jacob and Minor Patterson, James Patterson, O. Spaulding, P. Brown, N. Carleton, Hiram H. Allen, DeWitt Shoemaker, Clinton Shoemaker, Robert Shoemaker, Alom H. Wansey, J. Wansey, James Bollard, Stephen Hinsdill, A. Laraway and Robert Barr.
The trials and hardships endured by the pioneers of those days seems to have been unusual. Nearly all of the settlers were poor, and the lot of some was peculiarly distressing. During 1837, or the "wild cat" times, many of the settlers endured untold hardships. Only a few of them had any considerable part of their farms clears, and a still smaller part cultivated, and consequently were obliged to buy their provisions. Those who had been in the county longer and had larger improvements, raised a few bushels of wheat more than was required for their own use, but they could sell it neither for money nor for groceries.
While wheat was selling for only fifth cents a bushel, flour was selling for $15 and $20 a barrel, pork, $36 a barrel, potatoes $2 per bushel, and butter fifty cents per pound.
Mr. Burton built the first log house in Paris, and erected the first barn in the county. He also erected the first frame house in the township. When Mr. Burton was on his way from Gull Prairie, one night in pioneer times, he and his few companions halted as usual, spancled their horses and took their rest. In the morning the horses belonging to Mr. Burton were not to be found, so he started in search of them. He wandered about in the thick woods for several hours without success, and finally turned about with the intention of returning to the camp. He traveled until the sun was low in the west, and no camp could be found. Night came on, and he rested himself, a lost man in a dense forest. He spent the second day the same as the first, but on the third he came out to the settlement of Ada. Thence he proceeded to Grand Rapids, where he found the settlers considerably excited over his disappearance. Mr. Campau had already dispatched several Indians in the direction he supposed he would be, to search for him.
At one time in the winter of 1835, the cries of what was supposed to be a man were heard in the vicinity of Mr. Burton’s residence. He was answered, horns were blown, and other noises made to attract his attention, with no result. About the same time a grey horse came to the residence of A. Laraway, not many miles away, which none of the settlers claimed. Early in the spring a skeleton was found on what is now called the Penny Property, in Paris. Its appearance indicated that death had taken place some months previous. A few dollars in money, a watch and some papers were found on his person, the latter indicating that his name was Moore. Nothing further was ever ascertained in regard to the matter. He probably lost his way in the pathless woods, wandered about for several days, perhaps lost his horse, and starved to death; or, overcome with weariness, sank down to rest and perished by the excessive cold.
I might go on with incidents such as this in the history of Paris, but the want of space forbids.
PLAINFIELD was first settled in 1837. It was named for the many plains within its borders.
Its first township meeting to complete its organization was held in April, 1838, at a rude log school house on section 23.
The township is well watered by the Grand and Rouge rivers and Mill Creek. The first mill was erected in 1840 by G. H. Gordon. It had a grist mill attached, and there the Indians and settlers carried their corn to be ground.
Among the early settlers of Plainfield I will mention Geo. Miller, Jas. Clark, Thos. Friant, W. Dexter, C. Friant, Z. Whitney, G. H. Gordon, Daniel North, Samuel Post, Jacob Post, Samuel Gross and Chester Wilson.
The first family on the ground was that of Mr. Geo. Miller, and the deprivations which fell to their share was the common lot of all who came to make a home in the wilds of Michigan at that day. Grand River was the only thoroughfare and means of communication with the outside world, hence the settlers depended mainly on what they raised, and their own ingenuity to prepare it for food. Pork, if imported, was $60 a barrel. The nearest flouring mill was sixty miles away, and the bread eaten in the family of Mr. Miller, for eighteen months, was ground in a coffee mill.
In 1838 the lands, although being surveyed and rapidly located, were not in the market, and it was no uncommon thing to see white men and Indians tilling corn in the same fields together. But in the fall of 1839 the great land sale came off, when the settlers secured their claims and the red man vanished from the scene.
SOLON township lies in the north part of the county. It was first settled in 1854. J. M. Rounds and Mr. Beals were the first settlers, but were soon followed by John and Martin Hicks, Robbins Hicks and many others. The township was attached to Algoma until 1857, when it was organized into a separate town under the name of Solon. The first annual meeting was held at the house of Walker Rose, and the following officers were elected: Edward Jewell, Supervisor; John E. Roys, Clerk; John D. Watkins, Treasurer; Andrew Fluent, M. Robinson and Obidah Smith, Justices of the Peace.
This township is well watered, is being rapidly filled up with enterprising settlers, and is fast increasing in wealth and importance.
SPARTA is one of the northern tier of townships, and was first settled in 1844 by Lyman Smith, Norman and Edwin Cummins, who erected small shanties and began pioneer life with its usual hardships.
Soon after Lewis W. Pardy came, bringing his family, and erected a log house, and in 1845 Joseph English followed with his family. Thus the settlement began and continued, until the wilderness disappeared to give place to civilization and industry. Sparta is now a flourishing township, containing several villages and many enterprising citizens.
Document Source: Tuttle, Charles R., History of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids: Tuttle & Cooney, 1874.
Transcriber: Evelyn Sawyer and Karen Blumenshine
Total Names: 92
Created: 13 October 2001[an error occurred while processing this directive]