Hon. Townsend North

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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Among the pioneers of Tuscola County there is no one better known or more universally respected than the gentlemen whose name is at the head of this sketch. And if he is well known in his own county his name is also a familiar one in most parts of the State of Michigan, of which he has been a citizen for about forty-seven years.

Hon. Townsend North was born September 24, 1814, in Ulster County, NY.  His parents moved from that part of the state when he was an infant and for a number of years lived in the towns of Fayette and Tyre, in Seneca County.  His father who farmed in a moderate way, was a carpenter and jointer by trade, which avocation his son learned.  In 1835, the father removed to Washtenaw County, Mich., and the year succeeding the son came to Michigan and followed his trade in the countes of Washtenaw and Lenawee until 1899.  In 1840 he was one of the sub-contractors on the first dormitory building for the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, where he lived some five years.  During his residence in that part of the State he also had a farm in Washtenaw County, which he commenced to improve.

In 1845 he removed to Flint, Genesee County, where he opened a lumber yard and also kept a hotel. He remained in that city for some three years. During the time he kept the hotel an incident occurred which completely changed his plans for the future. The capital of the State was then Detroit, and the members of the legislature from Saginaw county used to stop at his house on the way to Detroit. One evening he got into conversation with Charles Palmer, who was the Saginaw member, and among other things asked him what measure he had in view for the benefit of his country. He replied that he had no special thing in contemplation. Mr. North then called his attention to the fact that the United States government had made a grant of five hundred thousand acres of land for internal improvements in the State of Michigan, and suggested that an appropriation for a bridge across the Cass River at Bridgeport might be procured and the building of the bridge would be a great benefit to Saginaw County. Mr. Palmer, to whom the idea had not occurred up to that time, during the session introduced a bill which was prepared by Judge Edmunds, Mr. North’s brother-in-law and also a member of the legislature. It made a grant of 3,000 acres of land to build the bridge and was passed by the legislature, the grant to be expanded under the sanction of the board of supervisors. They let the job of building the bridge to the lowest responsible bidder, and a tender made by Mr. North was accepted. In his bargain with the board he stipulated that they should make him their agent to select the lands which he was to receive for building the bridge. In locating them he was impressed by the fine quality of the pine timber along the Cass River and also the excellent quality of the soil. In addition to the amount received for the bridge, he, in company with Judge J. M. Edmunds and his brother, Newton Edmunds, bought other lands. In 1849 they built the saw-mill (which is now standing) south of the bridge in the village of Vassar. The firm was known as North & Edmunds. J. M. Edmunds and Newton Edmunds carried on the firm’s store at Ypsilanti, and Mr. North was the resident partner at Vassar, superintending their lumber and other operations at that place, with occasional aid from the Edmunds. They also had a mill at East Saginaw, which was built in 1853, which was managed by the Messrs. Edmunds. In addition to the saw-mill at Vassar they also kept a general stock of merchandise at Vassar, it being the first store in the county.

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In 1854 the firm was enlarged by the addition as members of William W. Carpenter, Thomas W. Lockwood and Samuel Barstow, all of Detroit. In 1858 Judge Edmunds and his brother Newton retired from the firm. The duration of the co-partnership was limited to six years, but was continued until 1864, when Mr. North bought the interests of the three Detroit members. Judge J. M. Edmunds, now deceased, was afterward commissioner of the United States land office and postmaster of the city of Washington, D. C., and Newton Edmunds was at one time governor of the Territory of Dakota and now a banker at Yankton. During the continuance of the co-partnership, his partners being non-residents, Mr. North was unable to tender such aid to any proposed local public improvements as he would liked to have done, as he feared that his zeal might outweigh his judgment to the detriment of his partners. After the dissolution he was in a more independent position, and he has largely aided in many works which have been for the benefit of his chosen home and Tuscola County.

In 1849, when operations were first commenced at what is now Vassar, there was no settlement nearer than Tuscola, the present site of their village. The village of Vassar was surveyed, and the plat recorded in August, 1854, for the company, by D. A. Pettibone, a surveyor who then lived in Bridgeport, Saginaw County.

In 1865, he sold his saw-mill, grist mill, a quantity of pine lands, etc., to B. F. McHose.

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In 1867 he and his son James E. (who had charge of the mill) purchased another saw-mill and run it until after the death of this son in 1874, when he sold it to Worden & Delano. The mill was originally owned by Stephen Bunnell, from whose hands it passed into those of Col. William B. McCreary, of Flint, who sold it to Mr. North.

In 1867 he started the Vassar woolen-mills, an institution which is known all over the State for the excellence of its products. In 1882 a joint stock company was organized and a new factory built. The capital stock of the company is $25,000. Operations in the new building which is a large three-story brick structure, will be commenced in 1883 and about thirty operatives will be employed.

In 1875 he and Bostwick Noble, of Lowell, Mich., opened a bank. After about a year, Mr. North purchased Noble’s interest, and recently took into partnership his only son, Frank, and the institution was known by the firm name of T. North & Son. until July 5, 1883, when the First National Bank of Vassar commenced doing business with Mr. North as president.

In 1872, when the D. & B. C. Railroad was in the course of construction, he built a number of miles of it, commencing at Otter Lake and extending about a mile and one-half beyond the village of Vassar toward Bay City. He was also a stockholder in the road to the amount of $5,000. Although the investments, both stock and contract, were far from being paying ones, yet they aided in giving to Tuscola County a much needed outlet to better markets for its agricultural and other products. He also built some ten miles of the State road to Blumfield, which was continued from Goodrich to Bay City.

In 1862 he was appointed assessor of internal revenue for the Sixth District of Michigan, by President Lincoln, holding the office four years, and in 1871 was re-appointed by President Grant, holding the office until it was discontinued in 1873. Mr. North never has been what is known as an office-seeker, the foregoing appointments having been made without any solicitation on his part. He has held a number of other public positions, all of which have been more of honor than profit. He was the first register of deeds of Tuscola County after its organization in 1850, member of the State senate in 1875, supervisor for Vassar six years and member of the school board sixteen years. He was also president of the board appointed by Gov. Croswell to locate the Michigan school for the blind.

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Mr. North has been married twice and has had seven children born unto him by his first wife, only two of whom survive, and three by his present wife, who are all living.

Aside from his banking and other business in thevillage he is an extension farmer, having two farms, one in the township of Fremont and the other in Denmark.

Mr. North's residence at Vassar is very handsomely situated, presenting a fine appearance and being on an eminence it commands a view of the village and a large extent of surrounding country.  The grounds are tastefully laid out and the interior of the house is finished in a manner in which elegance and comfort are combined.

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May 1998

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