Vassar Firsts

Taken from The History of Tuscola County, Biographical Sketches and Illustrations, H. R. Page Co., Chicago, 1883. Transcribed by Bonnie Petee.

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Dr. William Johnson, the pioneer physician, furnishes the following:

"The first resident family was that of Leander W. VanKleeck; Mr. North’s family came in June, 1850, and the same year O. A. Gibbs, Jacob Alber, Chauncy Furman, Mr. Waterman, and some others. It was some time during this year that Joshua D. Smith and Sylvester Black located about two miles below Vassar, their clearings being the only ones between Tuscola and this place. Mr. Smith being extensively acquainted, his house became a frequent stopping place for all manner of travelers, Mrs. Smith ever showing herself a kind and attentive hostess. Having lived for many years in the family of her uncle, Mr. Smith, of Saginaw City, she had acquired a considerable knowledge of medicine and its use, and your historian and many others made frequent demands upon her remedial supplies. In 1851 a wonderful excitement prevailed, kept up by land-lookers coming in by scores, and others with the intention of actual settlement, and during this season several families moved up the river. This year the first frame house was built in Vassar, erected by James Saunders, and now occupied by J. D. Smith."

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"A school district was formed in the fall of 1850 or early in the spring of 1851. Mr. North spending three days tramping through the woods in order to find a sufficient number of persons – freeholders – to sign the petition. In the summer of 1851 the "Curtis shanty" was made over into a school-house, and four months of school taught by Miss Augusta Slafter. A frame school-house was built the following year, and school taught during the winter of 1852-53 by D. G. Wilder, now of Watrousville. The present brick school-house was erected in 1860."

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"The first sermon preached in Vassar was by Rev. Calvin Selden, in the spring of 1851. In the fall of that year, Rev. S. P. Lee, a Methodist minister, found his way in, preaching every two or three weeks; a society was formed, comprising five members, on the 14th of October. From this date there has been Methodist preaching, thought more or less irregular at the beginning. On the 12th of April, 1855, the Presbyterian Church was organized, the original membership being six."

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"During the years 1852-54 several families moved in and became residents – F. Bourns, E. W. White, E. Sturges, B. W. Huston and others. On Tuesday, November 24, 1857, the first copy of the Tuscola County Pioneer was issued by W. R. Bartlett."

"The first public discussion in the town on a specified topic was on the 2d of February, 1858, at the school-house. It shows the drift of national thought and the political question of the day. The notice read: There is to be a public discussion at the school-house, on Saturday evening of this week, to commence at early candle light. The question to be discussed is one of no little importance, as it is so minutely connected with the political issues which now agitate our country:

"Resolved, that the constitution of the United States recognizes and countenances negro slavery."

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A Glimpse of Vassar in 1855

Frederick Bourns, one of the early settlers, furnishes a view of Vassar in the spring of 1855, as follows:

"Those whose acquaintance with our town has only extended over the past few years, can have but little idea of its appearance in 1855. It was then just about six years of age, and numbered less than one hundred inhabitants all told. Most important places of business were the saw-mill of Messrs. North & Edmunds, now owned by our townsman, Mr. B. F. McHose, a blacksmith’s shop on the site of Butts & Stephens’ store, the wagon shop of Messrs. Matthew D. and Samuel North, near where the furniture store of Messrs. North & Johnson now stands, the tannery at the lower end of the village, the store of Messrs. North & Edmunds across the street from the grist-mill, and that of Arms & Bourns on the present site of Mrs. Meehan’s residence, and the public-house known as Pennell’s Tavern, a part of which is still standing on Main Street, just south of the First National Bank. Such is a brief description of the village of Vassar as it appeared in the spring of 1855."

During these years Vassar headed the march of progress, sending out its torch bearers to light the way. It was here the first house of worship in the county was built, and the first newspaper enterprise that ever embarked upon the trouble waves of journalism in the county, started out from this obscure post.

Along the lumber roads or trails or through woods came settlers with their bags of wheat or corn upon their shoulders, bringing it to mill to be ground into material for bread or johnny cake.

The old boarding-house of North & Edmunds was the bakery for all this region, and men who had come on in advance of their families in order to get a clearing started and provide shelter, would bring their flour to Vassar to be baked into bread.

The first brick building in Vassar was a dwelling-house, still standing on Main Street, built in the year 1855.

The first private residence of much pretension in the village is the one now owned by B. F. McHose, on Main Street. It was built in 1855 by John B. Joslin, and was the big house of this region. Mr. Joslin never occupied it but sold it to a Mr. Swett, who occupied it as a boarding-house.

Dr. William Johnson was the first physician and first postmaster.

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May 1998

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