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ORGANIZATION OF OTTAWA COUNTY AND ITS TOWNS
06.02.2010

ORGANIZATION OF OTTAWA COUNTY AND ITS TOWNS

BY S. L. LOWING

Fellow Citizens of Ottawa County:

In compliance with the request of your committee to write up that portion of the history of the early settlement of Ottawa county, that came under my knowledge and experience, allow me to say, that my earliest acquaintance with Ottawa County was in the fall of 1836, and the winter and spring following. I was then about eighteen years old, and had left the place of my birth and boyhood in Genesee county, New York, for the purpose of seeking my fortune; and like many others of that day supposed it was to be found in the far west, and with that purpose in view I found my way to Grand River,. by the way of what was then known as the Shiawassee trail. I arrived at Grandville, Kent county, about the 1st of October of that year, where I engaged as a laborer, in a saw mill, then owned by Brown & Britten, but operated by Hiram Jenison as their foreman. At this time the title of the Indians to the land on the south side of the river had been extinguished, and the lands surveyed and put in market at the Ionia land office.

On December 31, 1837, Ottawa county was organized, and five towns, to wit, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Talmadge, Norton and Georgetown. In the meantime the lands on the north side of the river had been surveyed and brought into the market. And owing to the fact that the lands on the south side of the river had been purchased and were held by speculators, the immigration was largely turned to the north side of the river, and settlements were formed rapidly along the river.

In those days local politics ran very high. The highways having a coutroling influence, each man being anxious to secure a well worked and traveled highway to his own door, even to the exclusion of his neighbor, and the office of highway commissioner was as eagerly sought after then as the presidency is at this day, and many roads were partially constructed, large sums expended on them, and afterwards- abandoned as useless and uncalled for.

The boundaries of townships were also a bone of contention along the river. as the river cut in two every surveyed town along its banks, leaving parts of the surveyed town on each side of the river. This interfered with the construction of highways and school districts to such an extent that the legislature was very often called upon to fix the boundaries of the townships, sometimes making the river the boundaries of townships, and sometimes repealing those acts and restoring the township to its surveyed limits. These frequent changes of the boundaries of townships frequently led to contention among the settlers, and sometimes to bad blood and trickery, and sometimes took a ludicrous turn. I will mention an instance: Georgetown, being mostly taken up by speculators, had large sums of money raised for highway purposes, while Talmadge was mostly Government lands, or what was then known as internal improvement lands, upon which no taxes couhl be levied. The settlers were very anxious to handle the highway and school money raised on the non-resident lands of Georgetown, and construct highways on the north side of the river. This could only be done by annexing the two towns and extending the highway district across the river. In 1841 and 1842, petitions and remonstrances were sent to the Legislature to have the river made the dividing line. Talmadge remonstrated, because that would give them three more inhabitants; while they had more than there were offices for, and each man must have an office, and it would cut off all the non-resident lands upon which they could raise money to build roads on the north side of the river.

The legislature granted the prayer of the petitioner, and made the river the dividing line between the townships, but, by a mistake in the newspaper report of the act, Talmadge was alleged to be attached to Georgetown, the town below (now Polkton) retaining the name of Talmadge; the town meeting to be held at Eastmanville. Talmadge outnumbered Georgetown in voters four to one, and they rejoiced in the prospect of handling the money of Georgetown for one year at least. Georgetown voters made efforts to induce Talmadge to remain on their own side, elect their officers, and apply to the legislature the next winter to legalize their acts, promising not to assess them or exercise any jurisdiction on that side of the river. This offer was refused by Talmadge, and a week before the township meeting Talmadge held a caucus, nominated a full set of officers on their side of the river, and rejoiced in the prospect of having everything lovely. In the meantime Georgetown sent to the Secretary of State for a copy of the act, when lo, it appeared that the river was made the dividing line. The next question up was how to retaliate on Talmadge; we were not long in drawing a plan; it was to let Talmadge remain in ignorance of the real facts and let them come up to the east part of Georgetown, the place of holding our election, and detain them there so long as to render it impossible for them to return to Eastmanville in time for them to vote there. In the meantime George M. Barker, who had been set off from Georgetown to Talmadge by the act, to go down to Eastmanville and inform them there and hurry up their township meeting and close the polls before Talmadge voters could arrive. This was successfully accomplished. Talmadge appeared in full force at the place now called Jenisonville and offered their votes; they were challenged of course; this led to long and laborious arguments, which continued until about one o'clock p. ji., at which time it was believed that there was sufficient time before the close of the polls at Eastmanville to induce Talmadge to attempt to get there, but not time enough to reach it in fact; they were then shown the certified copy of the secretary, and they at once saw the plot laid for them, and with one accord left for Eastmanville, some in canoes with the wind strong against them, two men on one horse in some instances, the greater portions on foot with hats and coats off, determined to make the distance of fifteen miles before the polls should close at Eastmanville. This was the most exciting campaign and the closest run for office that Ottawa county ever witnessed. Some few arrived at Eastmanville in time to vote, while others failed to reach there in time; those voting did so without organization, and the campaign was lost to Talmadge. Eastmanville folks took good care to get set off from Talmadge before the next town meeting.

The judiciary branch of the settlement of Ottawa county was not neglected. Four justices of the peace were elected in each township, who each, for himself felt that the entire responsibility rested upon him to see to it that the path of each citizen was made straight, and that he walked therein, and there was more litigation per capita then than there ever has been since, each justice and constable feeling that he was not elected for ornamental purposes only. Many ludicrous scenes in court might be- mentioned, but time and space will not permit. Conspicuous among the elements of litigation was the so-called Church & Dalton mill, at Sand Creek. This proved to be a source of revenue to two old attorneys at Grand Rapids, Moore and Abel, and a vexation to the settlers around; they being few in number, were quite too frequently called from home, as jurors, to decide upon the contentions of the two owners of the mill. This mill was built at Sand Creek about the year 1838 or 1839, by B. Church, a Seventh Day Baptist, who resolved that his property should not labor on Saturday, and James Ualton, a Catholic, who resolved that his property should labor on Saturday, but not on Sunday. This was the first bone of contention between them, but led tomany others. The difficulty was partially compromised after awhile, by an arbitration, in which Amos Robinson was the principal arbitrator. He determined that each man should use the mill the alternate week; but that did not stop the litigation, which continued without abatement until both parties were very much impoverished, and was only terminated by a separation of the parties. Mr. Dalton abandoned his property and went to Chicago, where he has since remained. Both parties having cut their pine, the mill went into disuse, and 'was swept away a few years ago by the flood. Abel and Moore each lost the pearl of great price, and both abandoned the practice of the law soon after.

At the time that Georgetown was organized, in 1840, it embraced four townships, those that are now known as Jamestown, Zeeland. and Hiendon. Jamestown was organized about 1849. Jamestown took its name from three James's—James Skeels, the second supervisor, James Brown, and James M. Conkwright. The land, although mostly located by specu lators, in 1835 was mostly put on the market, and was rapidly settled by emigrants largely from Ohio. The first settler in Blendon was Booth Kinney. who settled on Dec. 12, about the year 1845, now dead. Afterwards a family by the name of Woodruff,—Milton, and Henry,—who settled on the same section. This town settled very slow. Stoors & Wyman built a mill in southeast pnrt of the town somewhere about 1850. The town was organized in 1856. First town meeting held at the house of Booth Kinney. Albert Vredenburg was the first supervisor. Zeeland was set off from Georgetown and attached to Holland, and was after organized, and one D. Young was the first supervisor: this was about 1850. The heads of families of the settlers as early as 1840 are now nearly all dead. Henry Griffin, J. V. Harris, Samuel Hart> Thomas Woodbury, Daniel Rieley, and Mrs. H. Steel are the only survivorswho first settled Talmadge.

Hiram Jenison, Luman and Lucins Jenison, S. Yeomaus, L. Burdsly, Edward F. Bosworth, and Freeman Burton are the only survivors of the residents of Georgetown, in 1840, at the time of its organization. The settler* of that day endured many trials and privations, such as are incidental to a: new country. The western portion of the county, and particularly on the south side nf the river, was regarded valueless for agricultural purposes, and had been a great drawback to the settlers in the eastern part of the county, owing to the malaria rising from low lands, causing much sickness, from which very few, if any, of the older settlers were able to escape. It was not unfrequently the case that whole families were found sick with the ague and burning fever at the same time, and no one able to offer a draught of cold water,—and frequently these families resided many miles from other settlers. The mdsquitoes and fleas were intolerable.

The contrast in the appearance and comforts of this county in 1840 and the present day is very great.

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posted by Trevor Lowing
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