The History of
Genesee County, MI
Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton
The first land entered in the township of Fenton was taken in March, 1834, by Clark Dibble, on section 34. In April of that year Dustin Cheney, and a family came from Grand Blanc township and settled where now is the village of Fenton. The years immediately following witnessed the growth of a considerable settlement in the southern part of the township, settlers coming in from neighboring counties and from New York. A settlement was made at the site of Linden in 1836. Very little land of the township remained in the hands of the government by the end of that year and by the following year settlement was reached up into the northern sections.
In 1834 came R. A. Carman and S. A. Donaldson; in 1835, Jonathan Shepard, Joseph Thorp, William Remington and Elisha Larned. Mr. Larned was from Yates county, New York, and settled on section 32, but in 1837 moved to Fenton. William Remington, a native of Rhode Island, and later a resident of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and of Dutchess and Ulster counties, New York, came with Mr. Larned in 1835, settling near him. Joseph Thorp came from Genesee county, New York, and settled finally on section 36, at the site of Fenton.
The Chapin brothers, Alonzo and Murzah, were two of the first settlers in Fenton township. Originally they were from Irondeqioit, Monroe county, New York, but had come to Wayne county, Michigan, in 1833, where they located in the township of Dearborn. Murzah Chapin and his family moved into Fenton township in 1836, and Alonza and wife, the year after. They settled first near Mud Lake, and later near Linden. During the years of his early residence in the township, Alonzo engaged in teaming in various parts of the state, transporting goods for settlers, and making trips as far west as Lake Michigan, becoming widely acquainted with pioneer families and the conditions of settlement over a wide area. He became one of the most prosperous farmers in the county and was for many years a strong influence in the growth of the Fenton neighborhood.
Very early in the settlement of the township, population began to concentrate about a site of great natural beauty on the Shiawassee river, in the extreme southeast, which was destined to develop into the present flourishing village of Fenton. The story of the discovery of this site and of its first settlers, cannot be better told than in the words of Hon. Dexter Horton in an address made in the centennial year of 1876:
Early in the year 1834, Clark Dibble was threading his way through a trackless wilderness from Shiawassee to Grumlaw (now Grand Blanc), and by some mistake he got on the White Lake trail. Reaching what is now Hillman's, he started to make farther north and first discovered this beautiful place which is not our village. He was so forcibly struck with its location that he stopped for a day and examined thoroughly the lay of the land. So taken up was he with the place that on his arrival at "Grumlaw," he induced Dustin Cheney, Loren Riggs and John Galloway, with their families to come with him to this spot; Cheney and family came first, then Clark Dibble, then Galloway and Riggs, all in April, 1834.
Mrs. Dustin Cheney was the first white woman that stepped on the spot where our flourishing village now stands. Today she is slowly passing away. She resides within one mile of where I now stand, having acted well her part in the great drama of life--the mother of eight children. for the last fifteen years she can truly say, "I'm blind, oh, I'm blind." Go and visit her, as I have done, and listen to her words of wisdom and her tale of pioneer life, and then say, if you can, if she has not performed well her part in life. Though blind to the world, though darkness obstructs her vision, she sees across the river with a vision as bright as the dazzling ray of the noonday sun. What a chapter, what a history might be written of this truly good woman!
Harrison Cheney was the first white child born here, and both mother and child are living. Cheney's family built the first house, on the ground where Mrs. B. Birdsall now resides, the next, where Ellery Anderson now lives; Galloway the next, near the gate to the fair ground.
Many weeks had not passed before the cry came from the little band in the wilderness. "Lost! Lost!" Louise Cheney, a little prattling, sweet cherub of seven years, had strayed away. Her mother, with some of the older children, had gone around a little swale, where Chandler's house now stands, to see if there would not be a good place to plant corn. She told the little girl to go back, but somehow she strayed away, and the cry of "Lost! Lost!" reached Grand Blanc, Groveland, Holly and White Lake, and the pioneers came to assist.
On the third day, r. Winchell, who had been at work on Dibble, mill, and who had been hunting for the child, came in nearly exhausted, and threw himself on the bed at about twelve o'clock. At about two o'clock he awoke, having dreamed where the child was. He immediately put on his hat and went and found the child in the exact spot where, but a few minutes before, he saw her in his dream. She had been lost three days and was found just over beyond the hill where the Baptist seminary now stands, near a little pool of water. She was in nearly an exhausted condition. The little thing would crawl down and take a drink of water, and then crawl back on dry ground to die. She afterwards became the first wife of Galen Johnson.
Dibble built the first saw-mill in 1834, and got it running in the fall. One by one the pioneers came: R. H. McOmber and family, Uncle Dick Donaldson and family, R. LeRoy, W. M. Fenton, E. Larned, W. Remington, Walter Dibble, E. Pratt, A. Bailey, etc.
The first hotel was built, in 1837, by R. LeRoy and W. m. Fenton, where the Everett house now stands, and Mr. Fenton opened it with a dance. July 4th of the same year, Uncle Dick Donaldson's band did the fiddling and Elisha Larned gracefully made music with the tumblers and decanters behind the bar.
R. LeRoy opened the first store, where Richardson's wagon-shop not stands, in 1837, and in 1838 was appointed first postmaster, and held that office for thirteen years. A Mr. Taylor succeeded him, and after his death a part of the post office was found in his pocket.
This year (1838) the first school house was built and a Mr. Nottingham was the firs teacher. At that time the right of the schoolmaster to whip was not questioned, and a deeper and more lasting impression was often made with the gad than with the blackboard.
At this time, and in this old log schoolhouse, a pioneer and gentleman, now living a short distance from here, was called, as he thought, to preach, and in an hour of work and religious excitement he had what was called in those days the "power." He rolled over and over on the floor. Scott McOmber played that the young man had fainted, seized a pail of water, and immediately the "power" left him and the would-be preacher revived.
The first physician was doctor Pattison; the first blacksmith was Elisha Holmes, and the first bricklayer, was John Harmon. The first church organization was that of the First Presbyterian church, which took place February 28, 1840, in the third story of the now Britton store, and the following constituted its membership: Silas Newell, Sarah Newell, George H. Newell, John Hadley, Jr., Sophia Hadley, Benjamin Rockwell, Louisa Rockwell, Daniel LeRoy, Mrs. LeRoy, Lucy Thorp, John Fenwick, Jane Fenwick, James K. Wortman, John c. Gallup, Mrs. Gallup, Eliza McOmber, and Lucy LeRoy. The giant oaks were felled, migration continued to flow in, and God was in the wilderness.
Another Interesting reminiscence of early days in Fenton is found in an address made in 1878, by Dr. s. W. Pattison, who was the first resident physician in Fenton. Following is an extract from this address:
Dibbleville, now Fentonville, was a central point where several Indian trails came together, about sixty miles from Detroit and twenty-eight miles from Pontiac, having Holly on the east, Rose on the south, Byron on the west and Mundy on the north. I was satisfied that eventually it would become a place of some importance, and time has justified my expectation.
At this time the Indians were in the neighborhood in large numbers, cultivating some land near by. I will relate a little circumstance to illustrate the state of society in Dibbleville in 1836. While I was exploring as already stated, leaving my family in the building where the Indians had for a long time procured whisky, they could not realize he change and still visited the house in search of their poison--whisky. One day a very fierce and ugly-looking Indian came in and insisted upon being furnished whisky. Peeking around, he discovered a small trunk and shaking it, produced quite a jingling, as it contained one or two hundred dollars in silver. His conduct quite alarmed my wife, who feared she would receive another visit from this ugly-looking savage. Her fears were fully realized, for a bout one or two o'clock at night he commenced a violent knocking at the door, which was well barricaded, saying he wanted scoter (fire). He continued his knocking until it was evident he would break down the door. Wife calling for a gun to shoot the Indian, my son (editor of the Ypsilanti Commercial), then twelve years of age, found his way out from a chamber entrance and alarmed Mr. dibble, who scared the marauder off, and the next day scared him from the vicinity.
It soon became known that a physician had settled at Dibbleville, and I had professional calls quite a distance--to Highland, White lake, Grand Blanc Deerfield, Hartland, etc. I was guided to many of these places through timbered openings by marked trees, often following Indian trails. At this time government lands were being rapidly taken up, and while some lands were taken by speculators, the country was being dotted all over by real residents, and the greatest number were enterprising, thrifty and intelligent, making good society. Highland, generally known as "Tinney Settlement," and White lake are samples, building school houses and churches almost from the first settlement.
Many of the first settlers, however, were poor, and when they had taken up their homes had but little left to live on, and provisions were very high. I well remember paying fifteen dollars for a barrel of flour and every kind of eatables in proportion. Much of corn, oats, etc., came from Ohio, but Tinney settlement was our Egypt. There was corn there. The second year I made several meals among the farmers on boiled wheat for bread, and it was no sacrifice. This scarcity was of short duration. Soon there was a surplus of provisions, and Detroit, sixty miles away, was our market, and money was as scarce as provisions had been. During the months of august and September, the intermittent and remittent fevers--diseases peculiar to low or flat countries--prevailed to a large extent. The well were the exception; whole families wee down; many became discouraged, and some fled back to New York; but it was remarkable that most of these returned again to Michigan. But here and there an old pioneer can realize the privations and hardships of the first settlers of this part of Michigan. They were generally industrious, and the axe and the plow soon converted the forests, oak-openings and prairies into fruitful fields.
The first Sabbath school at Dibbleville was begun in my house and conducted by my wife. Assisted by Norris Thorp, then a young man. It was soon after removed to a log schoolhouse on the east side, and strengthened by a Mr. Warrens; family and others moving in. It became a permanent institution.
William M. Fenton, once lieutenant-governor of Michigan, after whom the town and village were named, writes interestingly about this time of the early days in
Fenton; especially appropriate here is the following:
Dibbleville--so-called from Clark Dibble--in 1836 comprised a small saw-mill, situated where the flouring mill in the village now stands; a small frame shell of a house, near Clark's house (a shell also), and another occupied by Dr. S. W. Patterson.
The road from Springfield passed the house of James Thorp, east of the village, and crossed near the present bridge. Dibble's house was near the west end of the bridge. Thence the road to the "Grand River Country," passed near the west end of the present road near the public square; thence by L. P. Riggs' and Bailey's farms and on by "Sadler's Tavern' west. Another road branched off to "Warner's Mills," now Linden, passing John Wilbur's and Dustin Cheney's farms. Wallace Dibble occupied the farm south and Ebenezer Pratt, that north of the village, and a road ran north passing McOmber's and so on to William Gage's and thence to Grand Blanc.
The above names comprise the nearest settlements at that time, and the above all the roads, which were simply tracks marking the first passage of teams through the county. This point was early noticed by business men of Pontiac; which was the market for flour at tht time from Scott's Mills at DeWitt; the flour being drawn down this road, crossed the stream here, thence to Springfield and to Pontiac. Scott's gray team was familiar with its load to all on this line, walking at the rate of four miles an hour day after day, and fed only nights and mornings.
In the year 1836, Robert LeRoy and William M. Fenton were selling goods in Pontiac. Their attention was turned in this direction. Judge Daniel LeRoy (father of Robert) predicted that this point would be on the great and principal thoroughfare and line of railroad to the western portion of the state, and LeRoy and Fenton, having the choice of buying here or that part of Flint west of Saginaw street and south of the river, chose by Judge LeRoy's advice this point, established themselves here in December, 1837. The work of starting a village was commenced by putting the little uncovered saw-mill, with its single saw, in motion; a road to flint (present plant road), another to White lake, etc., were projected, and a new saw-mill, a grist-mill, tavern, store and dwellings begun. Benjamin Rockwell purchased a third interest and added by his means to the enterprise. The first building they erected was the house, corner Adelaide street and Shiawassee avenue (southwest corner), build of plank, sawed within the week in which it ws erected, and at once occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Fenton as residence and boarding house for fifteen to thirty mechanics until the hotel; was built.
The household goods were brought on lumber-wagons from Pontiac and the stream was crossed on a bridge of logs. I well remember driving such a load, reaching the stream after dark, finding it swollen by rains, hailing "Clark," who came down to the river-side with a lantern, and then, with its light as my "guiding star," cracking my whip and driving across, every log afloat and sinking a foot or more under the horses' feet: but we were safely across, and that little pioneer experience only added zest to our enjoyment of new scenes and primitive modes of life, which must be seen to be appreciated.
In the spring of 1837 a township meeting was held at the house called "Sadler's Tavern," four miles west of Fentonville. The towns of Fenton and Argentine were then one and called Argentine. About two o'clock p. m. of town meeting day, a load of working men (as were all the pioneers) from Fentonville drove up tot he polls and offered their votes. James H. Murray and Dr. S. W. Patterson were on the board and refused to accept the votes, stating they had voted for supervisor in the morning and "declared off." The secret was they had declared off for a Whig and the load were Democrats. They feared the result. An argument ensued; they canvassed and counted up, and following the vote offered would not change the result, received them, Doctor Patterson stating their way of declaring off was the law, because they did so in "York State." We couldn't se it, and the result of this trifling affair was that application was made at the next session of the Legislature, and, through the influence of Daniel B. Wakefield, then senator from this district, the township of Fenton was set off, and henceforth managed its own business in Michigan, and not In York state fashion. * * * * * *
Prudence and forethought are seldom the characteristics of the pioneer. To illustrate: On visiting this place in the winter of 1836-1837, Clark dibble's house furnished the only entertainment. He was a pioneer proper. He had a wife and plenty of small children; his house was a shell, only sided up; rooms it had none, but a blanket separated the boarders form the family; the latter occupied the stove-room, in which were a bed, a few chairs and a table. Here were the family and what few clothes belonged to them, with some sets of crockery, knives and forks; and here we must eat or starve. Clark would arise with the lark, go to a log he had drawn up before the door, chop off enough to make a fire, then take his gun and go to the woods and in a little time, bring in a deer. Venison was the staple meat and buckwheat cakes, the bread. Tea could be had at intervals and whisky occasionally; butter, wheat, flour and pork were scarce commodities.
Many a curious scene has transpired in that shanty. Old Nate Bailey was one of the characters, John Wilbur, another, and the traveler stopping to warm would be regaled by a conversation and see the peculiar leer of the eye and shrug of the shoulders of those half-ragged and bandit-looking men, and feel, as he left them, he had escaped a danger. Peace to Clark Dibble's ashes! He has gone from among us, killed by the fall of a tree on his own place, to which he had removed over the hills south. But his housekeeper must come in for a note in "historical incidents."
At dinner, one day, the boiled venison and buckwheat cakes were being rapidly bolted by hungry men. More venison was called for. She put her fork into the kettle for another piece and raised, to the consternation of his guests, what? Not a piece of venison, as was anticipated, but one of Clark's cast-off stockings, no doubt accidentally inserted in the boiling vessel by one of the little imps cutting capers around bed and stove. It an be better imaged than described how hungry men seized a buckwheat cake and declared themselves perfectly content to go their ways and eat no more of that particular mess of pottage.
One of Wilbur's familiar illustrations, when he wished to be considered as saying something shrewd, was, "there is a wheel with a wheel, Mr. LeRoy," for many years he settlers were amused by his saying, while they recollected and recounted their earliest impressions of Uncle John and old Nate Bailey--the latter peculiarly looking the brigand, although in fact as harmless as a dove.
One of he maxims of that day was a barrel of whisky was better in a family (especially to bring up a family) than a farrow cow. This may be so--it is not necessary to argue the point--but there seemed reason to believe that "Argentine Madeira." As whisky from Murray's was called, had a good deal to do with the brigands, their queer looks and mysterious sayings and shrugs.
Let not old Nate be confounded with one of the earliest settlers, Elisha Bailey. He was a well-digger and, although advanced in years, at one time received upon his back, in the bottom of the well, a falling tub filled with stone. Most men would have been killed by the blow. Bailey survived and, while much injured, still recovered and dug more wells. * * * * *
The immigration of 1836 was continued, but with some abatement, in 1837. The influx of settlers in and around Fentonville was large' farmers settled about the village and for several miles in each direction, and each made his bee and summoned all to his aid; mechanics and men of all employment sought this point and soon after the opening of the spring, a store and hotel, saw-mill, grist-mill, blacksmith shop, carpenter's and painter's shops and houses were under way and in rapid progress of construction. The hotel first built was what is now known as the Riggs House; it was the first store on the opposite corner of the street, since changed to face south, and is the building now standing on the northwest corner of Shiawassee avenue and LeRoy street. No better store or tavern was known north of Detroit in those days. The house on the north side of the public-square (occupied by Sheldon) was erected also by William M. Fenton, and then considered a big house. Houses on the sides of the river were erected; Judge LeRoy build the house now constituting part of LeRoy Hotel and Benjamin Rockwell, one on the north side of the river now occupied by Nathaniel Hodge.
These, in my recollection not to forget Elisha Holmes' blacksmith shop, were among the first buildings and mostly finished in 1837-38. The lumber was sawed principally at the old mill, and the new, after it was up, including some pine logs from Long Lake. Whitewood and basswood were used to a considerable extent, but the better quality of pine required, including sash- and door-stuff and shingles, were hauled from Flint.
This spot showed in that year all the bustle, activity and enterprise of a village soon to grow into large proportions, and here let me remark, as a well-known fact, that but for the pecuniary embarrassment and want of capital of the early proprietors, Fentonville in its first three yeas growth would have increased in population at least fourfold beyond what, with its limited means at hand, it was destined to reach. But there was no lack of perseverance and unity of feeling then among its population; all labored late and early, and when any public occasion called them out, none remained behind.
The Fourth of July was celebrated that year in perhaps as gay and festive style as it ever had been since. The hotel was unfinished, but its roof was on, aides inclosed and floors laid, and Esquire McOmber was invited to deliver the usual address. Marshal Hamilton, as he was called (a carpenter, since removed to Tuscola), in the red sash of one of his ancestors, directed the procession, and an extensive one, rest assured, it was; not a pioneer-wagon for ten miles around had deposited its load in the forest but it was here that day, with all its former living freight, and the newborn infants to boot. Fifes and drums, too--the remainders, perhaps of some York state militia training--were in requisition, and guns were fired from Holmes' anvil. Shiawassee, Livingston and Oakland turned out in numbers large for the time and seats of rough boards were placed for the assemblage as they gathers to that promising building--the hotel. Esquire McOmber delivered one of his finest speeches, a free lunch was zealously partaken, the toasts were patriotic to the core, and, to crown all, we had, as usual, not only great heat, but a violent thunder-storm just at the close of our feast, which shook the earth and heavens, and made the building tremble and dishes rattle, whereat Esquire McOmber, being in his happiest mood, turning his eyes upward, poured forth a stream of fervid eloquence., and made use of some tremendous expletives which it becomes not a veracious writer of history--to b ready by all the human family hereabouts--to relate. The old settlers, if any read this, will remember and supply the omission.
Philip McOmber, the father of the McOmbers now known in Fenton, was a lawyer from Saratago county, New York. At an early day (say 1835) he settled in Genesee county. Long Lake was the spot he selected and upon its banks, wehre now stands the Long Lake Hotel, he erected a dwelling. Enterprising and talented as a lawyer, he soon became widely and favorably known. * * * and it is due to Philip H. McOmber, as well as his sons, that honorable mention in this sketch of our early history should be made of one who, with others, made the wilderness "to bud and blossom as the rose." For many years, on the banks of Long Lake, a hospitable mansion welcomed all who came, and the delicious peaches raised by him for many years among his friends or who made his house their home or the time being. He, ranked among his friends of this region, has gone to his last resting-place, and to him, with others, we who survive should not hesitate to award the need of praise for their untiring energy in bringing into notice this region of country, now teeming with its busy population and its industrious citizens.
Among the many incidents of interest in the early settlement of this town, let me not forget to name that the first piano, the tones of which were heard in Fentonville, was brought here in 1887 by Mrs. Benjamin Rockwell, a sister of W. M. Fenton. It was placed in the hotel (now Riggs House), in the large room, southeast corner, second story. Mrs. Rockwell and Mrs. Fenton were both good players. At a place not of Long Lake resided a band of Indians; many of them were well known, but more especially the one called "King Fisher." He was the chief of the tribe and from year to year received the presents of his tribe, not only from the United States, but from Canada, traveling annually for that purpose to Detroit and Malden. The band was large. Fisher, the chief, was, on accessions of his visits, dressed in a frock coat of navy blue, a tall hat of furs, ornamented with silver bands and medals, rings pendent from his ears, gaiters and leggings of deerskin and strings of wampum and beads appended. Take him all in all, he was worthy of his name. Small in stature, but with a bold, manly bearing, erect and dignified, he trod the earth as one of nature's noblemen, which he certainly was. His house (of logs) was always open to welcome and cherish the weary traveler, and no more hospitable board or convenient lodging was found in all the country round. The traveler was furnished with the skins and furs of the wild beasts of the forest for his bed, and as by magic, when he retired to repose around him fell, in gentle folks, a light gauze protection from the enemy of sleep (mosquitoes), in those days so little known to ordinary inhabitants, but carefully provided for his quiet by "King Fisher." Would you know how in those days he looked, find the portrait of Aaron Burr, or one who has been him as he trod Wall Street, in his falling days, and the one is a counterpart of the other. Fisher, with some of his family, (now living and known to most of the readers), came down to hear the music of which he had been told. He, in his full dress, was, with some of his tribe, ushered up and in his kingly majesty took the chair offered him and sat, but without uncovering; his attendants stood respectfully about him and a little retired. Petowaukuet, an Indian and a good deal of a joker, familiar to the pioneers and usually full of fun, awed by the presence of majesty, stood back in respectful silence. Mrs. Rockwell struck the keys. The Indians generally seemed enchanted; King Fisher's muscles were rigid, not a movement or sound of surprise from him; he was all dignity and bore himself as a king. The piece played, the song sung, and he turned to Mrs. Fenton and, through Dan Runyan, who was present as his interpreter--for his disdained to speak English, although he fully understood it, as in his squiby (drunken) moods was readily seen-asked her to dance! Of course, this was too much and was respectfully declined, but it was about as much as kingly dignity could do to prevent all the little Indians from tripping it on the light, fantastic toe, to the music of the piano as played by Mrs. Rockwell. Arising with the dignity peculiar to his race, Fisher exclaimed, as he gazed at the piano, "Man could not make it; Manitou made it!"
In front of the Riggs House, and near the sidewalk, stood then two or three oak trees of medium size and fine shade. In preparing for building, these were carefully preserved until after the hotel was completed, and travelers and others began to hitch their horses near, when the constant stamping of horses and cattle abut their roots caused them decay. I have often thought it would have been money well invested to have inclosed those trees with a substantial fence, far enough from their roots to have preserved them. Like the one which still remains at the house of Ben. Birdsall, those trees would not have towered up in the grandeur of the "tall oak of the forest," and spread their branches wide and shaded and sheltered the traveler and pedestrians as they passed along LeRoy street. But they have gone; the doom of decay was upon them, and, like all things terrestrial, they were soon passing away.
My recollection is that the first preaching we had in Fentonville as from Elder Jones (late of Holly, and whose sons are settled there, or near), a Baptist minister, and that he held forth at the house of Doctor Patterson.
On the north side of the river, about where David Smith's house is, was a log school house. Ministers of other denominations made occasional visits and preached there. The want of some convenient place for church and public meetings was soon seen and a house for that purpose was built by William M. Fenton on the southwest corner of Elizabeth and LeRoy streets. It was a one-story building of fair length and width, fitted up with seats and a plain desk, and answered the purpose, not only for religious, but public meetings for some years, and was free of rent. The first Presbyterian minister was Mr. VanNess, who was succeeded by Mr. Burghardt, and all seemed very glad to have a place for worship. Several political meetings were held there also and a debating school was started with headquarters in the same building. It may be that the numerous young men of Fentonville who have become somewhat eminent in the legal profession gained their first ideas of oratory in that same first church edifice, which, after the building of the First Presbyterian church, was sold to Robert LeRoy, who removed it to where Roberts' hotel is, and it now constitutes his bar-room. Among the young men, graduates from Mr. Fenton's law office, which stood adjoining, may be named Thomas Steers, Jr., now of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and late United States consul at Dundee, Scotland; Thomas A. Young, late a soldier in the Thirteenth Michigan Infantry, killed and buried on the battlefield of Shiloh; J. G. Sutherland, of Saginaw, now judge of that circuit; and Henry Clag Riggs,. Esq., well known among us, now journeys to the far West, seeking perhaps a new home and more room for his ambition to soar in. they have all done themselves credit in their profession, and we need not be ashamed that their first training constitutes part of our early history. Among the merchants of Fentonville may be named Samuel N. Warren and William M. Thurber, now of Flint, and David Shaw, of the same place. Physicians of an early day were Doctor Patterson, before named; Dr. Thomas Steere, long and favorably known, whose remains, with those of his wife, now repose in the cemetery; Doctor Gallup, now principal of a female seminary in Clinton, New York, all intelligent and highly respectable as practitioners and as citizens and doing themselves and the resident of their adoption credit while among us.
The log house was soon found to small for the rising generation (for be it known that pioneers are generally young married people, whose offspring come fst upon the stage and require schooling) and a school house of fair dimensions and tolerable appearance was erected near the site of the First Presbyterian church. The lot for us, as well as the church, were donations--so was the cemetery--to the public, but church and school have disappeared. The title to the lots is voted in private persons, but the cemetery remains a monument to those who have passed away, and there are none among us who visit its scenes without being reminded of the familiar and beloved faces of friends, relations and companions, who once trod the stage of life and mingled in the busy scenes of the little village in its incipient enterprise and gradual development.
Among the earlier mechanics were one Sage, a very near joiner; Snapp, a millwright, living now, I believe, and one of the first who helped to start East Saginaw in building its first mill. David smith was prominent among them, and could then do more work in a day than any man I ever knew; perhaps he can now--at all events, he is reliable every way. Ed. Franks was another' he is father-in-law of Russell Bishop, of Flint, and keeps hotel at Mackinac. Mrs. Bishop was born in Fentonville (I believe in the second story of the store, corner LeRoy and Shiawassee avenue, where Franks kept house. Let me not forget Seth Rhodes, who was a timber-hewer and one of the best ever known. It was said after a stick was tolerably scored and Rhodes had struck his line, each blow of his broad-axe (and it was a very broad one) would carry the keen edge through the stick, leaving a surface as straight and smooth as if countershaved. Rhodes had forty acres of land adjoining Wilbur's, enough to have made him comfortable, could he have kept it. But, alas! like many others, his running expenses outran his income, and after he had got out and hewed the timber for the first grist-mill and settled his accounts,, he found it necessary to sell out to pay his debts; it was familiarly said of him that he with his family (all huge eaters and provisions high) had eaten up his year's work and forty acres of land. He, too, has gone from among us--peace to his ashes--yet history would be imperfect without mention of his name.
The first regular hotel-keeper was Thomas Irish, and at that hotel the first town-meeting was held after the organization. Irish was a carpenter also--in fact, there was no man among us who could not turn his hand to building fences, putting on siding, laying floor, painting, etc., and this all who participated in the earlier settlement of our place will remember well. in the early part of March, 1838 (say 5th), the ground between Ben Birdsall's house and the west line of the village, extending from Shiawassee avenue down north to the marsh, had been plowed and was sowed with oats. It was protected by a rail fence. During the month there was no rain in the daytime, but, like the period in the building of King Solomon's temple, gentle showers watered the earth at night. The air was balmy and warm as in the months of June and July; and vegetation was well advanced, until before the close of the month (say 25th) there could be seen , where now stand several fine dwellings, a beautiful green field--oats springing up luxuriantly, and oak-openings all around presented to the eye the beauties of spring. In the early history of the country it was not unusual to plow in February, but in this year (1838) crops were generally sown in March. The variation of the seasons then was remarkable, for the preceding year ice was upon the ground up to April.
Some one who has preceded me in relating the historical incidents of this town has said that the changes in streets have created some confusion and that the record thereof could not be found. For the convenience of reference to inquiring minds in that regard, I have caused examination to be made, and find that the record exists among the archives of the circuit court for the county of Genesee, in the first volume, on page 75. It is an order vacating certain streets, and was made the 7th of March, 1842. Before that time that highway commissioners (in 1839) had altered Shiawassee avenue and the dwelling house of Judge LeRoy had changed hands. Its front, once north, had been reversed to face the new street, and in a short time after, by the aid of the first church moved to its new front, was converted into the "LeRoy House," and kept for a while by Robert LeRoy. It is a little curious to examine that old record. It was made at a time when the court had what the lawyers called epaulettes--that is, associate judges. At tht time the counties kept in office by election two judges, who sat upon the bench with the circuit judge (who was also a justice of the supreme court, as then formed), and that is about all they did, viz.: to sit on the bench with the presiding judge. True, the two could, being the majority of the bench, overrule the presiding judge, but they seldom did it. Sometimes their sympathies for their neighbors involved in litigation, perhaps under indictment, would lead them to act, and in such case, if they happened to differ with the learned circuit judge, he would, after consultation, five the judgment of the court accordingly, but with a frown and a distinct announcement that it was not his opinion, but he was overruled by his learned (?) associates.
In the court where the order referred to was made sat only one, as the records show--Lyman Stow, formerly of Flint, now sleeping that long sleep that knows no waking. No one accused Judge Stow of any remarkable legal acumen, but he was one of the earliest of the pioneers of out county, and as such deserves honorable mention. When the red man was almost the only human being in all the country round, Judge Stow penetrated the forest and preceded at first, but ultimately lived to see developed, the march of civilization which levels the forest and brings in train enterprising villages, mills and manufactories, and converts the wilderness into productive farms. May he be as happy in the home to which he has gone as his honest worth in this world seemed to entitle him!
One of the earlier settlers of the town was Joseph A. Byram, who lived on a lake bearing his name (Byram lake). He was from Flushing, Long Island, and with his family had lived in luxury. The quiet of his grounds was seldom disturbed by the white man's tread until Augustus St. Amand--then a young Frenchman, just form Paris, who, by the way of New Orleans and the Mississippi, had reached Michigan--made Byrams' acquaintance. The result was he came out with Bryam from Detroit and purchased near him. His fowling-piece and fishing-rod brought with him afforded him amusement, and in the bachelor's hall which he erected out of logs were all the various articles of luxury he had been able to bring with him--indeed, we found in the first experience of pioneer life a real; treat and pleasure in visiting the beautiful openings and clear lakes, as well as the hospitable dwellings of both Bryam and St. Amand. Not the least romantic of the earlier scenes of pioneer life was what befel St. Amand. In one of his journeys to Detroit for provisions (for be it known what little money a man brought here was soon used up in that way). On his return, when on the Saginaw turnpike, near Springfield, he found a carriage broken down. A gentleman and lady were there--father and daughter; the lady appeared to be in distress, the gentleman taking things easy, as was his wont. But the chivalric feelings of St. Amand could not be restrained, especially as he gazed on the young form and saw the youth and beauty, with the intelligence and sparkling eye of a damsel in distress, and quick as thought he was upon his feet, rendering such assistance as was required to repair damages and see the travelers on their way to Pontiac. St. Amand could at that time speak but few words of English, but a look of gratitude and admiration beamed in tender eyes, and St. Amand felt the dart of love piercing his heart, as, moving his hand, he bade the damsel adieu, and exclaimed, "Au revoir." It was indeed with them "Au revoir," for the attachment formed on that then romantic and forest road soon culminated, and Augustus St. Amand became the husband of Caroline LeRoy. Sweet girl she was, and became the mother of sons, one of whom was laid down his life in the cause of his country, falling a sacrifice in the war to restore the Union.
In times gone by there was an excitement known as "Anti-Masonry," in western New York, and there was a place called Stafford, near Batavia. At the first-named place dwelt, among others, a man named Elisha Holmes, who removed to and became one of the pioneers of Fentonville, In the days of our early settlement, after Holmes had finished his labor in his shop, (he was a blacksmith), he would regale his listeners with racy anecdotes and with many a tale of how Morgan was supposed to pass through Stafford, inside the stagecoach of the "Swiftsure Line," gagged and manacled, on his way to "that bourne from which no traveler returns," just before the dawn of day; and, as he was postmaster, he would day, "If there was anything of the kind, wouldn't I have known it?" and so he would defend those who had been accused of the big crime of abduction, and wind up by saying "Weed, the whisker-clipper, circulated the story, and boasted that the body he found was a good enough Morgan until after election."
Elisha Holmes was a man of strong memory, and especially in the political history of the country unequaled. From his post office of Stafford he brought barrels of newspaper, and if ever at a loss for facts (which seldom happened), would ransack the barrels, until he found a document--and he was always right, his memory infallible.
The first mail obtained in the new village was by a mail-route, procured after a long effort, running from Pontiac via White Lake twice a week. I well remember, in those days of slow mails, the anxiety we experienced on the eve of an important event. One with which Holmes was connected as illustrative of many:
The national convention of Democrats was assembled for nomination of a President in 1844, and anxiety to hear the result was general. Cass was a candidate, and others. A crowd had assembled, waiting for the expected mail, which was sure to bring the news, and after much speculation, Holmes, in his dry way, said, "Gentlemen, you are all mistaken. The nominee will be a new man; guess who.' At last Holmes said, "Gentlemen, I have for the history of this country, and its statesmen in and out of Congress, in my hand, and the nominee will be James K. Polk." "Polk--Polk--who is he?" "Why," said Holmes, "you don't read the newspaper; it is James L. Polk, of Tennessee." Yet the bystanders were not satisfied; indeed, they all agreed that for once Holmes was mistaken. But the mail came and Holmes was right. The old anvil was brought out, the nomination saluted in ancient style, amid shouts of "James K. Polk, of Tennessee, The very man I thought 'twould be." and Holmes was triumphant.
But the town goes on: enterprise still exists. Even at an early day David L. Lafourette, Esq., now an enterprising citizen and banker among us, came to a Western home. He was the first to encourage the growth of flax and entered into the manufacture of linseed oil. Like many other pioneers, this didn't make him rich, but his enterprise in another sphere of action did (so said); and now, with new life and energy, he is putting his should to the wheel to open another iron road to our pleasant village. May his efforts meet the success they deserve!
Among the men of Pontiac who came here at an early day was Judge Daniel LeRoy, of whom mention has before been made. He was singular in many things, and the least of which was that he became pious, joined the church and thereupon became one of the abolitionists of the old stamp, who, though in a very small minority, thought they were right, and went ahead, believing that time would, with patience and perseverance, accomplish all things, and like Wellington at the battle of Waterloo, that they could pound the longest--and so they have. * * * * * This is a digression, perhaps, but illustrative of the times when the judge took the only abolition paper circulated in Fentonville--The Star of the East--published in the state of Maine.
While on this subject let me call to mind some of the scenes of 1840--"Tippecanoe and Tyler, too." There was an immense gathering and great excitement in our usually quiet village. Tom Drake and others were here, and the frame of the new flouring-mill was up and the roof on. There the people began to assemble. Drake walked to and fro in front of the hotel--hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground--digesting the matter for the coming speech and preparing, as well as he could, to digest port and beans and hard cider with which the crows was to be regaled. Wagons with hard cider were drawn up in front, the kettles were on the fire, the pork and beans were boiling, and one team had arrived from Flint with a load of shingles to be used in dealing out the refreshments, for be it known that knives, forks and spoons were alike interdicted; pork and beans were served on shingles and from a spit shingle spoons were formed. The speeches went on in the usual way. The people were told that in the White House gold spoons were used; that Van Buren contemplated a standing army of at least twenty thousand men, and insisted on that odious scheme called the "sub-treasury," whereby the money of the people was to be locked up and we were all to be reduced to beggary--a shilling a day and a sheep's pluck for wages and meat--and "that same old coon." Dead but stuffed, was run up on a [pole, and all the people shouted and roared, and drank hard cider, and pulled out their "latch strings." And are pork and beans off a shingle with a split shingle for a spoon, while Elisha Holmes, quietly hammering away at his anvil, looked down the vista of time, ransacked his memory for a parallel, and with prophetic vision, exclaimed, "Go it while you're young, boys; feel good while you may; but if my name is Elisha Holmes, your "Tyler, too." Will be a tartar; for my history tells me Tyler is a life-long Democrat, and you will find his policy stamped on the next administration, or I am not Elisha Holmes."
And history has recorded the truth of his prophecy. Would that there were more among us who looked to the lessons of the past, and so performed their duties as good citizens to bring about the greatest possible good in the future!
Another of our early settlers deserves mention here. Hon. Jeremiah Riggs, who settled in Michigan when it was a territory, was a member of the territorial council (as was Judge LeRoy), and at the formation of the state government took part as one of the framers of the first and best constitution--for surely innovations have not improved our first constitution. He was a man of kind and genial disposition, beloved by all, and for many years after he came to this village might be seen at the Riggs Hotel, his mind treasured with memories of the part and his conversation instructive and amusing beyond what is often found. He has left behind him sons, some of whom are among us, and a memory which will be cherished with respect by all to whom he was known.
Dustin Cheney, the first settler in the township as well as in the village of Fenton, was a veteran of the War of 1812. Mr. Cheney's son, Harrison Cheney, was the first white child born in the township (1835). Immediately following the arrival of Dustin Cheney at the site of Fenton, came Clark Dibble, George Dibble, Lauren P. Riggs, John Calloway and Robert Winchell. With them at the early "raisings" were John Alexander Galloway, William Gage and Hannibal Vickery. One of the early "characters" in Fenton was "Johnny" Wilbur, also a veteran of the War of 1812, noted for his joviality, quaintness and honesty. "Uncle Dick" Donaldson was another favorite among the pioneers of Fenton. Robert LeRoy, the partner of William M. Fenton in laying out and building up the village, came with his father, Daniel LeRoy, from New York to Detroit in 1818 and, after a residence in Pontiac from 1830, came with Mr. Fenton, in the winter of 1836-17, to the site of the latter village. They opened he first store in the place. Others came in rapidly and in a short time the settlement began to take on the aspects of a promising village.
History of Genesee
County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
HTML by Deb
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