AN EARLY HISTORY OF ADA TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN

Location And Boundaries—Physical Features—Village Of Ada— First Settler—Rix Robinson—Organization—First Officers —List Of Supervisers.

This is one of the four most centrally located townships in Kent County, the townships of Cannon, Grand Rapids and Plainfield being the others.

It is bounded on the north by Cannon, on the east by Vergennes, on the south by Cascade, and on the west by Grand Rapids.

It is said that it was named in honor of a highly respected young lady, Ada Smith, who then resided in the township.

The records of the township are not in existence previously to the year 1838, and this must have been about the date of its organization.

Its boundaries are four straight lines, and territorially it is an exact Congressional township, containing thirty-six sections of land.

The land is what is usually termed "oak openings" and as fertile perhaps as any other portion of the county, being generally very productive.

It was originally a fair alternation of openings and heavy timber, and the soil is sandy, being well adapted to fruit culture.

The valleys of the Grand and Thornapple Rivers are not extremely wide, and the general topography of other portions of the township might be described as level or gently undulating.

There is some excellent land, with fine farms and improvements, and it can be said that Ada is a specially rich and valuable territory.

The Grand River divides the township into unequal parts, following from southeast to Northwest, and Thornapple River comes up from the south to deposit its water into the main channel of the Grand.

In the pioneer days Thornapple was considered of sufficient magnitude to afford water power for the early mills, and it probably derives its name from the plentiful supply of thornapples which grew upon its banks.

There are a number of spring brooks which are tributaries of the two rivers, and these afford the drainage and water supply of the township.

The Grand Trunk Railroad traverses Ada, and besides being within a reasonable distance of the city of Grand Rapids, there is the village of Ada.

Ample shipping facilities are thus afforded, and the railroad accommodations are superior to most other rural districts in the county.

The country is traversed by well kept roads, which add to the comfort and convenience of interior travel.

The village of Ada is a shipping and trading point of importance and convenience to a large farming community.

1910 ADA VILLAGE, MICHIGAN
1910 ADA VILLAGE, MICHIGAN

The agricultural interests of the township are varied and extensive, stock raising and fruit culture being profitable accessories to the raising of grain and vegetables.

Much land is devoted to grazing uses, to which it is admirably adapted, by reason of the abundance of pure water, and successful growing of all kinds of grasses.

In an early day this locality was especially valued as a hunting ground, game of all kinds being found here in great abundance.

The first settler of this township was Rix Robinson. For a long time he was engaged in the fur trade with the Indians on Grand River.

Alone he traversed the forests, and "paddled his own canoe," surrounded with savages by nature—and sometimes by deed—but he remained unmolested by them.

The spirit of the natives had already been somewhat subdued by the influence of Christianity, and itinerant missionaries were then laboring among them. A tribe of these Indians remained on Sections 6 and 7 of the present township of Ada until about the year 1860, when they sold their lands and removed to Pentwater.

During the latter years of their residence on these lands they cultivated the soil, built comfortable dwellings, had well organized schools and very good churches.

They were of the Roman Catholic faith.

Mr. Robinson, or "Uncle Rix," as he was familiarly called, during his sojourn and life among the Indians, became quite attached to them; so much so that he chose one of their daughters as his partner for life.

A son was born to them, and he became well known throughout Grand River Valley and western Michigan as an energetic business man.

The experience of the pioneers of Ada was similar to that of other townships; they worked hard, they endured much, and they enjoyed much.

They lived a noble life, although it was a life perhaps few of us would choose.

And they did a good work.

Every stroke of their pioneer axe sounded a note in the song of a "thousand years."

Among the early settlers of Ada, in addition to the one we have already mentioned, may be named Edward Robinson, who settled in 1830; Tory Smith, Jedediah Riggs and Edward Pettis, in 1836-7; Peter McLean, R. G. Chaffee, Hezekiah Howell, E. McCormick, P. Fingleton, Gurden Chapel, John Findlay and J. S. Schenck, 1840 to 1845.

Tory Smith, one of that noble band of pioneers who were among the founders of Kent County, was born in Burlington, Vt., Nov. 12, 1798.

In 1832 he removed to near Rochester, N. Y., where he followed farming, and for two years carried the mail from Rochester over the noted Ridge road.

In the autumn of 1837 he came with his brother, Sydney Smith, to Ada, Kent County.

He entered fifty acres on Section 35 and subsequently forty acres more.

He owned an interest in and conducted a ferry across the Thornapple until the bridge was built.

Mr. Smith died Oct. 6, 1870, after a long life of usefulness.

Jedediah Riggs was a native of Connecticut, born July 8, 1776.

He came to Michigan in 1835 and entered 160 acres of land in Jackson County.

In April, 1837, he came to Ada and entered eighty acres of land, his being the fifth family to settle in Ada, east of the Grand River.

He died in August, 1868.

Edward Pettis was born in Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, Jan. 5, 1818.

In 1826 he came with his brother-in-law, Horace Lathrop, to Oakland County, and in 1836 to Ionia County.

In April, 1837, he pre-empted 104 acres on Section 6.

He disposed of this tract in 1842 and in June of that year purchased 105 acres, which he increased by subsequent purchases to nearly 400 acres of well improved land.

At this period there were no roads and no bridges, and the only available grist-mill was at Grand Rapids.

One notable occasion is related. Mr. Pettis left home with his wife, mother-in-law and twenty-five bushels of buckwheat, and drove his ox-team to Grand River, where he kept a canoe.

He ferried the women and buckwheat across, compelled the oxen to swim over, and, returning, dissected his wagon and carried the pieces in his canoe to the opposite shore, where he reconstructed his train and proceeded.

The return process was the same and three days were consumed in the trip.

Mr. Pettis aided in building the first church and schoolhouse and roads; he piloted the first boat from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven and, in 1847-8, assisted in the subdivision of twenty-two townships in Oceana, Newaygo and Manistee Counties.

He also lumbered on the Flat River about fifteen years. Peter McLean was born in Caledonia, Livingston County, New York, Dec. 11, 1815.

He was reared on a farm and attended school in the pioneer log schoolhouses.

Though the advantages were meager his diligent application fitted him for a teacher, in which vocation he spent fourteen successful years.

In 1836 he went to the island of Put-in-Bay, in Lake Erie, where he helped build the first frame house and barn, and six months afterwards returned to New York.

In May, 1838, he came to Jackson County and in February, 1843, "took up" 160 acres of State land on Section 13 in Ada township.

Almost the entire face of the country was covered with woods, settlements were "few and far between," and the Indians who had a village on Section 1 were still numerous.

Mr. McLean was a factor in all the early improvements of the township and took his share of the hardships of the first settler.

He served as a member of the Board of Supervisors sixteen years and as a justice of the peace eight years.

Patrick Fingleton was a native of Ireland, born in the year 1800.

In 1844 he crossed to America and settled in the State of Michigan.

For twenty-four years he was engaged in farming in Ada township, and he died in 1868.

Gurden Chapel was a native of New York State, but removed to Canada, as he was probably of English descent.

He came to Michigan in middle age and first located in Oakland County, but later in Kent County, and he died at Ada in 1876, at the age of eighty years. Jacob S. Schenck was born in Potter, Yates County, New York, May 17, 1819.

In October, 1845, he purchased 200 acres in Ada township, paying therefor $1,000, and on this he located in the spring of 1848.

His land was covered with woods—there were fifty acres cleared and a log house and barn had been built—but, with Mr. Schenck's untiring industry and well directed energy, it was converted into beautiful fields.

Ada Michigan in 1915

 Above - Ada, Michigan in 1915

Below - Ada, Michigan in 2016

Ada Michigan in 2016

The township was organized April 2, 1838.

The first election was held on the date above given, at the house of J. W. Fisk. Edward Robinson was moderator, and Peter Teeple was clerk of the election.

Officers were elected as follows: Supervisor, Sidney Smith; township clerk, Nelson Robinson; assessors, Rix Robinson, Hamilton Andrews and Peter Teeple; collector, Carlos Smith; overseers of the poor, Tory Smith and Miniers Jipson; commissioners of highways, William Slosson, Edward Robinson and Lewis Cook; constables, Carlos Smith, Rix R. Church and Michael Early; commissioners of schools, Nelson Robinson, George Teeple and Lewis Cook.

A complete list of the supervisors of Ada township is as follows: 1838, Sidney Smith; 1841, Rix Robinson; 1842, Norman Ackley; 1843, Sidney Smith; 1844, Rix Robinson; 1845, Amos Chase; 1846, Nelson Robinson; January to April, 1853, Emory F. Strong; 1853, Gurden Chapel; 1854, John H. Withey; 1857, Peter McLean; 1859, Moses O. Swartout; 1860, Peter McLean; 1866, William H. Mekeel; 1867, Hiram A. Rhodes; 1868, Peter McLean; 1870, John T. Headley; 1871, Peter McLean; 1875, Rudolphus G. Chaffee; 1877, John T. Headley; 1878, Peter McLean; 1879, John T. Headley; 1881, Peter McLean; 1882, Walter S. Plumb; 1885, John T. Headley; 1887, E. B. Clements; 1888, John T. Headley; 1889, Edward B. Clements; 1892, Lucius C. Warner; 1894, James H. Ward; 1895, Edward B. Clements; 1896, James H. Ward; 1908, Patrick J. McCormick; 1911, James H. Ward, present incumbent.

Amos Chase came from New York to Lenawee County, Michigan, in 1842, but the following year returned to his Empire State home.

In June of the same year, however, he came to Kent County and entered all of Section 10 of Ada township and thirty acres of Section 11, besides eighty acres of Section 36 in Cannon township.

He was quite prominent among the pioneers. William H. McKeel was born in Philips, Putnam County, New York, Jan. 31, 1831.

When twenty-one years old he engaged in cutting ship timber in York State, and this business he followed the most of his life.

In 1854 he came to Kent County. In 1857 he made a second trip here and bought a farm of 100 acres on Section 29 in Ada township.

He lived there two years and then returned to New York, but in 1860 he moved to Ada the second time and thereafter made it his home. John T. Headley was born in Sussex County, New Jersey, Oct. 6, 1822.

He grew to manhood in Steuben County, New York, and in 1862 came to Michigan, buying land in Cascade township, but three years later located in Ada.

He pursued farming in the summers and attended to his lumbering interests during the winter seasons.

Ada Hotel Ada Michigan 1912
Ada Hotel Ada Michigan 1912

The various industries of commerce and manufacture were early established and prosecuted with intelligence and success.

The first grist mill erected in the township was on Section 24, by H. H. Ives and Robert L. Shoemaker.

Many of the present-day citizens and men of affairs are the sons of the early pioneer settlers, who have left their impress upon the succeeding generations, and the people are generally well-to-do and progressive.

The first school house was at Ada. In 1854 the second school house was built near where stands the school house of Ada today.

It was a very convenient structure, and Moses Everett, then recently from New York, a teacher by profession, was first placed in charge.

About 1870, the second house having become too small to accommodate the rising village, a brick house was built and the school opened in it.

This was succeeded by the present graded school building. At present the district schools of the township are in keeping with the high standard of excellence maintained throughout the county.

Ada village was laid out into lots by Dalrymple & Dunn when the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad was built, about the year 1858; and although one or more additional plats were made its growth has seemed to be quite slow.

 

It is located on Sections 33 and 34, near the confluence of the Thornapple and Grand Rivers, ten miles by the railroad from the city of Grand Rapids.

It possesses a tolerably good water power, which has never been fully improved. A good grist mill appears to be doing a good business, its proprietor being John Becker.

The village also contains a good school house, hotel, one drug store, three grocery stores and several other establishments.

Its church needs are supplied by the Christian Reformed, Congregational and Dutch Reformed denominations.