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Memorials Of The Grand River Valley

Historical account of the early history of the Michigan Grand River Valley, first published in 1877. This work was prosecuted under the auspices of the Old Residents' Association Of The Grand River Valley, the members of that hody having the desire that the scenes of the past should, not pass into oblivion.



That the Grand River Valley was explored by the French Indian Traders, we have authentic traditions. Michigan lias long been known, and the two posts, Detroit and Mackinaw, have been occupied for a long time as the centers of the Indian trade, and as military posts. Missionary stations and trading posts had been established before the reglon was open to actual settlers. So it was with the Grand River Valley. A mission station was established about 1825 on the west side of the river at (fraud Rapids, under the care of the Rev. Mr. Slater; and two Indian Traders had located themselves among the Indians. Soon after the treaties had opened the land on the right bank of the river to settlement, Slater and his band moved off. Their history is of little importance here, however interesting in itself. It left no permanent impression. The Indian Traders, too, might be passed by, were it not for the fact that they both became citizens, foremost in developing the region, when the white man took possession. These traders were Rix Robinson and Louis Campau.

These Indian Traders were living on Indian sufferance; had no rights but such as were given by them, and by a license from the Government. There were until 1833, no white persons in the valley, except such as were connected with the Mission, or with the Indian trade.

By common consent Robinson and Campau arc considered the pioneers; not merely as Indian Traders, but as settlers, and workers for the settlement and development of the Grand River region. As they will be more particularly spoken of in biographical articles, no more will be said of them in this connection.

The settlers of 1833 are spoken of in connection with the places where they located. The four points occupied that year were Ionia, Grand Rapids, Grandville or Wyoming and Grand Haven. At first there was a diversity of opinion as to where the big town would be. Louis Campau and Lucins Lyon had faith in the Rapids; secured land, and platted it; the one as "Grand Rapids "and the other as "Kent." The settlers at Grandville had faith in their location; and there platted a city. Those who came to Ionia believed in land; and thought less of founding a city than of cultivating the soil. At and near Grand Rapids we at this time find the Campans, and those in their employ.

In 1833. and while the settlement was Louis Campau and his dependents, a young-physician, Dr. Willson—a man whose name is held in singular'y affectionate remembrance—came to try his fortune at the Rapids, lie was fresh from the schools, and brought nothing with him but his youthful wisdom and gentlemanly manner; and these were his passport to public confidence, and resulted in perhaps the deepest and most affectionate respect ever felt for any person in the Valley. All concur in pronouncing Dr. Willson a gentleman. No single voice has ever claimed for him less than that he was the ideal nobleman—gentle, agreeable, sympathizing, generous, intelligent, manly. He came poor and empty-handed, without medicines or instruments. Mr. Campau liked the young man, and took him under his wing; bought for him a complete set of instruments and a stock of medicines. When the boxes came Willson fairly danced with delight. There was the young Esenlapins fairly launched into practice among a population of fifty persons. He died about twelve years afterwards, leaving a great blank—a dark, vacant spot in the Grand River Valley. The feellng with which the early settlers speak of him, shows how strong a hold he—the manly physician—had on the hearts of the people. May we have many more like him, and fewer of those soulless quacks, whose only object is to grow rich on the sufferings, or unnatural crime of the base, the ignorant or confiding.

It has been said that the basis of civilization is the blacksmith's anvil block. This much is certain : that man can make but little advance in the arts, or anything, that distinguishes savage from civilized life, without the labor and skill of that artisan. The superiority of the Philistines over the Jews is manifest in this : the Jews had no smiths. The United States, in their laudable endeavors to civilize the nomadic tribes on our frontiers, do not send the cabinet maker and jeweler, but the farmer and blacksmith.

The first who placed his anvil and bellows in the Grand River Valley, was A. D. W. Stout. His shop was at Grand Rapids, at the foot of Pearl street, where now stands the Opera House. There his bellows breathed its long-drawn sighs, and there he fashioned, first a fish-spear, and afterwards the many different articles demanded by the wants of the white man or the Indian. This Mr. Stout was afterwards one of the first settlers of Cannon. At the present writing (1876). he is living in Plainfield. Mr. Campau during this year put up some buildings ; built a pole-boat—the "Young Napoleon ; " and the same year the Indian Mill was built, on the creek that enters the Grand River in the north part of the city on the west side. Its site was some 60 rods from the mouth of the stream. It was a small concern ; just the cheap mill appropriate to the circumstances and time. It was of the old sash saw, flutter-wheel pattern, capable of cutiing 1,500 feet of boards in a day. The creek was dammed so as to make a pond ; and the stream being insufficient to run the mill continually, it was operated by the pond ; that is, when the pond was drawn down, stop until it was filled. The cheap run of stones put in that mill were a wonderful convenience to the inhabitants, as there was no chance for grinding elsewhere nearer than Gull Prairie. The, it is to be hoped, perpetual..

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