Image of the Residence of Orsemus Rathbun Caledonia Township, Kent County, Michigan
     Image of the Residence of Orsemus Rathbun Caledonia Township, Kent County, Michigan

Caledonia was organized as a township, May 4th, 1840, at the house of Peter McNaughton.

The town at its organization consisted of what is now Caledonia and Bowne.

The first officers were: John P. McNaughton, Supervisor; Justus C. Beach, Clerk; Norman Foster, Treasurer; J. C. Reach, Loren B. Tyler, Malcomb) P. McNaughton, Asahel Kent, Justices.
One hundred and fifty dollars was raised for town expenses.

The following names of voters are found on the record; and, as a specimen, showing how easy it was “to get office" in early days, the number of offices, to which each was elected, is set against the name: John P. McNaughton, Roswell Tyler, 4; Justice C. Beach, 3; Malcomb P. McNaugton, 2; Loren B. Tyler, 1; John A. Campbell, 2; Asahel Kent, 2; Asahel Tyler, 1; Norman Foster, 3; Wm. B. Thompson, 1.
All went home with their official honors thick upon them.

None of them could put on airs, or refuse to let their children play with those of their neighbors; for they too were officers’ children.

The town was reorganized by act of Legislature in 1869.

Main Street East, Caledonia, Michigan in 1910
In 1838, Mr. Asahel Kent conceived the idea of a public house in the wilderness, on the Battle Creek trail.

He accordingly came to Caledonia, then merely T. 5 N., R. 6 W., and opened the “Kent House,” which soon became famous.

And why! There was the jolly landlord, and his smiling dame, ever ready to welcome the weary traveler to a good fire, a smoking dinner, and a home-like, social visit.

What though the house was of logs, and the lodgings perhaps a shed, the welcome was genial, the fare good, and “Kent’s Tavern” became an institution where one was sure of good cheer; and where he “stopped again.”

The viands were not dealt out on the principle, so manifest at some of our restaurants, where each waiter seems to think he is a priest, administering the sacrament.

The table was “heaped” with what was good, and the beaming landlord, having cut the meat into huge slices, would say, “Lay to, and help yourselves, gentlemen and ladies; no ceremony here.”

It seemed to be his delight to feed the hungry.

The greater their appetites, and the faster his victuals disappeared, the more beaming was his look.

He loved to see his guests enjoy themselves, and the long breath of perfect satisfaction and fullness, as they withdrew from the table, was music to his ear.
‘Kent, the bountiful, soon passed away, with many blessings on his head, and his widow (as widows often do) married again.

But she didn’t leave the house. No.

She and her husband, Peter McNaughton, still kept up the establishment, which became as famous as “McNaughton’s” “as it had been as “Kent’s.”
This tavern is a thing of memory.

The opening of other lines of travel caused the Battle Creek trail or road to be deserted, and the tavern died the death of the righteous.

After a while, one after another, dropped in the settlers who came to live from the soil.

Kent had fed the hungry, and lodged the weary; his residence alone healing the monotony of interminable woods.

James Minsy came to raise something to feed himself and children, in 1839.

Soon followed Orsemus Rathbun, Lyman Gerold, Hiram McNiel, Eber Moffit, Peter McNaughton, Levi Tobey, John Sinclair, Henry Jackson, and Warren S. Hale.

The exact date of the advent of each is not known, neither is it important.

Some of them were after 1840.

The names already given are probably all who were in Caledonia and Bowne, at the time of its organization as a town.

For a number of years but few came to stay, though many passed that road, for it was on the “Battle Creek Stage Route.”

Fancy not, gentle reader, that this “stage route” as a smooth McAdam road, with its toll-gate once in ten miles.

It was merely a trail in the wilderness, with here and there an otherwise impassable place made passable.

The stage was a heavy wagon, covered with painted cotton cloth.

The road was dotted at long intervals by the settler’s cabin.
There were Gull Prairie, Slater’s Indians and Yankee Springs, on the way; as for the rest, it was “timbered lands” and “openings.”

Yet this was the “thoroughfare”, until the opening of the Kalamazoo Plank Road, in 1853.

Then the genial landlord, Lewis, at Yankee Springs had to go to the Legislature, or be forgotten; for his famous log tavern was deserted, then the McNaughton house ceased to pay.

Campau, and the other drivers cracked their whips for the last time; and looked to some business other than driving and tipping over stages, for a living.
Many are the adventures on that route; our own among the number.

Among others we note that of our fellow citizen, H. P. Yale went to sleep on the way, and in the midst of his pleasant dreams, the stage gave a lurch and landed him heels up, head and shoulders in the mud.

He gathered up the fragments of himself, rubbed the mud from his eyes, and laughed, of course.

At another time the driver had the honor, in a dark night, of tipping into a mud-hole, John Ball, Mrs. T. B. Church and her baby Fred.

Fred came near being drowned or smothered in the mud; and then the country would have lost an embryo soldier, who was too proud to accept office, though commissions were thrust upon him; and art would have lost one, whose quaint conceits are a part of the spirit of Harper.

Our own adventures on the route might be passed, as perhaps of every day occurrence - a simple break-down, where a jolly song by Capt. Parks was cut short at the second verse; and to this day remains unsung.

The driver was the same Edward Campau, whose pleasant residence is now where he can overlook the scene of that catastrophe.

There he, with his fair wife - Yankee Lewis’ daughter-his cattle and his herds, is a well-to-do farmer; and is happy to welcome to his home those whom he tipped over on the Battle Creek road.
Long life to you, Edward! And may your soul never be less open, or your home less blessed.

We must, at one fell swoop, come down to 1846, when a man arrived, who “meant business;” who, seeing the fine waterpower afforded by the Thornapple River, determined to monopolize that power; and to a great extent he did.

Where he saw power, he purchased the land. His name was William H. Brown.

Among his doings was putting up the first sawmill; and, in company with W. S. Hale, the first grist-mill; around which has sprung up the village of Alaska.

Brown laid out the village in 1866.
This Mr. Brown had an adventure, which, at the time, he wished he was well out of.

Returning in the winter from his possessions in Caledonia to his home in Middleville, in a night of darkness and storm, he got lost.

In the snow he lost the trail; and had no way but to leave his pony to its instincts.

But he soon found himself sinking into that sleep which is the precursor of death from cold.

He dismounted, and walked backward and forward until morning, to keep himself alive.

With the coming of light, he trusted to his horse; for he, himself, had no idea of direction.

His horse took him to Green Lake. There he was tracked, and found by those who searched for him, expecting to find him dead.

We are not told what vows of reform he made in this dismal journey, but it is presumed that they were many and sincere.

Neither are we told that he had any evil ways to reform.

But how natural it is in trouble to think over all our sins, promising reformation, if spared, with time effectually to repent.

Who ever knew of a blaspheming reprobate, who did not pray and promise, when he saw death looking him right in the face?

And who ever knew the halter to press the neck of one who had not reformed and become a saint?

What good thing is danger to bring sinners to their knees!

A pious Negro woman had in vain tried to make her little woolly-headed sinner of a son say his prayers.

But the reprobate would sing “Jim along Josy,” instead of, with eyes closed and clasped hands, saying “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

She had exhorted him, whipped him, prayed at him. scolded him, and taught him to say his prayers; but he wouldn’t pray, and she was forlorn.

One day she heard him screaming, and running to the door, she saw the old cow had him between her horns, butting him against the fence, and he was screaming in his fright “O Lordy! O Lordy!”

She clapped her hands with delight, and said “Bress de Lord! the old cow has brought him to his prayers,” and left the cow to finish his conversion in her own way.

History does not tell whether Johnny became a saint; but it is to be presumed he did; and that he was swung into heaven at the end of a rope.

The village of Alaska has been mentioned as an outgrowth from the enterprise of Mr. Brown.

It is where it may be considerable of a place, and it has already made a fair beginning.

The water-power is first-rate, and is capable of further development.

The water can be used several times in a short distance.

As years pass on, Michigan will turn her attention more to manufactures, and then the Thornapple will be dotted with Yankee notion factories; and Alaska do business in a thousand of the gimcracks that are the wealth of the land of wooden nutmegs and steady habits.

There is a Baptist church at Alaska, and a Methodist church in the central part of the town.

The G. R. Valley Railroad crosses the southwest corner of the town.

A small village is there, which has made a beginning in the way of using the power at its disposal.

On the farm of Ed. Campau is a noted beaver-dam, which once made a pond of several acres.

The dam is in two parts; one eighty and the other sixty yards in length. Its height was apparently three feet or more.

By the rotting of the material, and the trampling of cattle, it is now a simple ridge of earth, a foot or more in height.

It is built on a spring marsh. Near the middle of the dam is a kind of island of solid earth.

Taking the height of the darn on that, and where at the ends it is on solid earth, the general height must have been about three feet.

This great work of beavers is not near as long as the one in Tyrone, but it was a “big thing” for so small animals to build.

General Store of J. A. Liebler Caledonia Michigan Kent County

Image of the General Store of J. A. Liebler Caledonia Michigan Kent County

1870 image of Caledonia Station, Kent County, Michigan

                     1870 image of Caledonia Station, Kent County, Michigan

Caledonia Station was the first name of the present village of Caledonia.

Dwight Goss in the "History of Grand Rapids and its Industries" wrote that the Grand Valley railroad promised 4 trains daily each way, and made a very appropriate New Year's gift to the business interests of the area.

From it's start, the railroad was a part of the Michigan Central railroad and on the 18th of April, 1870, it became the Grand Rapids division of that corporation.

Caledonia, Michigan Depot - West Side-South End, around 1910
Caledonia, Michigan Depot - West Side-South End, around 1910

David Kinsey, who owned and farmed the land surrounding the station, laid out and platted the northern part of his farm for the village of Caledonia was was incorporated on March 21, 1888.

1913 image of the Michigan Central railroad Yards in Caledonia, Kent County, Michigan

                   1913 image of the Michigan Central Railroad Yards in Caledonia, Kent County, Michigan

Caledonia Michigan Depot - around 1910
Caledonia Michigan Depot - around 1910

Baseball was a well attended event in the early days of Caledonia, Michigan.

The image below is from Maloney's Field that was located at the corner of Kraft and 92nd Street.

There is no evidence of the ball field at that corner today.

Maloney's Ball Field Caledonia Michigan

Maloney's Ball Field Caledonia Michigan

 

From the article of The Caledonia News, Thursday, May 8, 1913

Caledonia Threatened By Raging Fires

In the blaze of last Saturday evening, Caledonia saw the worst fire in its history.

The triangle to the southeast between the railroad and Lake Street is the site of the ruins.

The elevator, Philip Geib's Carriage Shop, and the Blacksmith Shop of C. F. Geise are no more.

The five hours after 7:30 of Saturday, May 3, 1913, razed what a score of years had built and ran well toward a $35,000 loss, about one-third of which was covered by insurance.

The elevator, owned by M. Wilson, was by far the greatest loss, not only to its owner, but also to the welfare of the village and its surrounding territory.

With it went an estimated $20,000 dollar building and $8,000 contents, and industry that has afforded nearly a dozen men and a score or more of girls and women work: with it too, went a business and enterprise second to none in the village - one it cannot afford without, and a market for grain and produce that farmers around to a fair extent have found and appreciated.

Mr. Wilson came into the business some fifteen years ago when he purchased the main wing to the building just destroyed and followed John McQueen in grain dealing.

To this main wing, Mr. Wilson has built four additions, three wooden and only a few years ago, the fourth, a large engine room of cement blocks.

Image of George Weitz's manufacturer and Dealer in Boots and Shoesat Caledonia Station, Caidonia, Kent County, Michigan

Image of George Weitz's manufacturer and Dealer in Boots and Shoesat Caledonia Station, Caledonia, Kent County, Michigan