Factory and residence of Warren Babcock, Lowell Michigan

Factory and residence of Warren Babcock, Lowell, Kent County, Michigan

LOWELL, Kent County, Michigan

The early history of Lowell is the history of Vergennes.

The two townships were together organized as Vergennes, and continued in that relation until 1848.

The mouth of the Flat River was one of the points of earliest occupation; and was one of the centers from which settlement radiated.

The several centers were Grand Haven, Grandville, Grand Rapids, Flat River, Ionia, Lyons and Portland. All of these points were occupied in 1836, or before.

In this article the Flat River settlement will be considered.

In the ultimate arrangement, a part of it constituted the town and village of Lowell, and a part remained Vergennes.

The first white resident near the mouth of the Flat River, was Daniel Marsac, who came from Detroit for the purpose of trading among the Indians.

He did not, until 1831, establish a regular trading station.

Then he erected a log house on the left bank of the Grand River, opposite the mouth of Flat River.

Marsac remained an Indian Trader, with no rights but Indian sufferance until the region was open to settlement.

He then became a settler.

The real settlement at Flat River, dates from October 13th, 1836; when Lewis Robinson, Philander Tracy, Sylvester Hodges, Alva Jones, all from Scipio, New York; came up the river and located on the town line, two miles northwest of the mouth of the Flat River.

There was at that time no one resident but Marsac.

Tracy and Robinson had been there before, in July, and made their arrangement with the Indians; and Tracy stayed awhile to build a house, which he partly completed.

When the rest came on they finished it. It was on the right bank of the Flat River, forty rods below where now is Halch's grist-mill.

This house was built partly for a store, to be used by Rix Robinson, in his trade with the Indians.
The understanding with the Indians was, that they were to let Robinson have their old field, if he would break up another piece for them; and twenty acres of openings were broken up for them.
Robinson and Tracy fenced in about eighty acres, including what of the village of Lowell lies on the right bank of Flat River.

Hodges and Jones split the rails.

There Hodges set the first apple trees; one of which is now (1875) standing on what is owned by Mrs. Caroline Snell.

Luther Lincoln came the same fall, and located on the left bank of Flat River, where Lowell now is.

This Lincoln is the same one, who was before a pioneer at Granville.

The same fall came Ebenezer K. Bickford, who started a house, but did not bring on his family until the next spring.

Mr. Bickford stayed but a few years.

These are believed to have been all who came in 1836.

Mr. Hodges alone remains where he first located himself; the others having either died or moved away.

In their immediate vicinity, and in intimate relations with them were three or four hundred Indians, under an aged chief, whose name is variously given as Wobwindego (white giant) and Wobskindip.

He died that winter, and was succeeded by his son Shogwogeno, a young man.

Kobmoosa (the walker,) who had for wives three sisters of the young chief; was subchief.

The chief had three brothers; men of fine presence and character - Ashkilbegosh, Acango and Wabesis.

Quite an influx of settlers signalized the year 1837, many of whom were transient.

With regard to some there is doubt as to the date of their advent; the memory of the old settlers not altogether agreeing.

We can without much hesitation place in this year: John Thompson, James Thompson, Cyrus Bennett, George Bisbee, John Fox, Phillip W. Fox, James Fox, Dr. Silas Fallass, John W. Fallass, Caleb Page, Thompson I. Daniels, George Brown, Rodney Robinson, Lucas Robinson, Lewis Robinson.

These took up land before it was surveyed.

The three Robinsons were brothers of Rix Robinson, and were part of the ship load of Robinsons that entered the Grand River in 1835.

1838 shows quite an addition to the settlement - as far as we can gather: Charles Newton, Eliab Walker, Christopher Misner, Solomon Lee, Anthony Zerkes, Elder Wooster, Sherman Wooster, Morgan Lyon, William Robinson, Adam Van Deusen, Alfred Van Dunsen, Jesse Van Deusen, Walter Van Deusen (blind), Walter Hyler, Jacob Francisco, Wm. B. Lyon, Ransom Rolf, Matthew Patrick, Samuel Rolf, Ira A. Danes, Albert Smith, Ebenezer Smith, C. A. Lathrop, Samuel Moye, Joseph Dieffendorf, Daniel Dieffendorf and David Dieffendorf.

There will be no attempt further to trace the progress of settlement.

The town was organized as Vergennes, in 1838.

For ten years the two townships were together.

When Lowell was organized, the settlement did not cease to be a community, though belonging to two towns.

The first school in the Flat River settlement, or Vergennes, was taught in 1839, by Miss Caroline Baird, in a log house, built by the Robinsons.

She closed her labors in the school by being married in the school house to Mr. Caleb Page. It was made a day of general jubilee.

They both now sleep with the dead.

The next school was taught by Miss Maria Winslow, of Grand Rapids.

She was the daughter of Dr. Winslow - the pioneer physician of the Valley; and for more than twenty years was known as a highly educated and efficient school teacher in Grand Rapids, and the towns around; and many are those who will remember her with veneration.

She is now the wife of Heman Leonard, Esq., of Grand Rapids.

The first preacher in the settlement was Elder Mitchell, a Methodist missionary from the Ohio Conference.

He soon found himself incompetent to endure the hardships incident to the pioneer circuit, and withdrew, to be succeeded by one who could endure them-the Rev. Mr. Frieze.

Frieze was made of the right material for a missionary in the back-woods; with a physical constitution that defied labor to fatigue, and a soul singly devoted to his work.

He had a circuit from Grandville to Cook's Corners, in Otisco.

On this circuit he was obliged to go on foot, generally guided only by Indian trails; often obliged to camp in the woods at night, when going from station to station, engaged in his labor of love.

Buoyed by the desire to win souls, he was ready to endure all hardships, and to endure all privations.

At one time, coming to Flat River, - he got lost in the night, and floundering in the swamps, and wandering in the woods, his clothes were torn in tatters.

Emerging at length, hungry and faint, he was ready to preach; but he was not in decent trim to appear before his backwoods audience.

He was supplied with clothing, and filled his appointment.

Frieze made his home for a time in Cannon, and is numbered there as one of the first settlers.

He is now supposed to be in Ohio.

Should he come in to the Grand River Valley, many an old pioneer would greet him with a humble welcome, and a "God bless yon, Frieze."

It takes faith and godliness to preach on a circuit of forty miles, go on foot, and get no pay for it; but not much of either to preach for $5,000 a year, in a fashionable church, with the admiring eyes of a thousand to keep one in countenance.

The poor heretical writer thinks he could preach under such circumstances; but such labors as those of Frieze, he is afraid he should leave to such as Frieze.

Lowell was set off from Vergennes, and organized as a town, April, 1848.

The first election was held at the house of D. A. Marvin.

The first officers were:
Cyprian S. Hooker, Supervisor; Timothy White, Clerk; C. S. Hooker, Daniel McEwan, Samuel P. Rolf, Ira A. Danes, Justices.

  • In 1849, by the Legislature, a bridge was authorized at Lowell.
  • In 1857, 500 acres of land were appropriated for improving Flat River.
  • In 1857 the name of the village was changed from Danville to Lowell.
  • In 1859 an act legalizing the incorporation of Lowell was passed. (It had before been incorporated by the supervisors.)
  • The village never organized under this act of incorporation.
  • In 1861 Lowell village incorporated by the Legislature.
  • In 1869 Lowell was authorized to re-survey.
  • Such in brief is the legislative history of Lowell.

To give it, we have anticipated the history.

Returning to the early times:

A tract of land on the east side of the Flat River had been set apart as University lands; and had been pre-empted by Luther Lincoln, who built a log house there, which was used by Dan A. Marvin as a tavern.

Lincoln sold out his claim to Daniel Marsac, who, in 1847, platted it; and, liking his own name, called it Dansville.

In 1850, Abel Avery, of Ionia, bought out Marsac.

As yet Dansville was only a paper village.

In1846 Cyprian S. Hooker came from Boston; put up the first frame house; and moved his family into it two weeks from the time he commenced.

In 1847 he erected a grist-mill, bringing the water in a race.

In 1849 he built a dam across Flat River.

He showed the Yankee Disposition to do something.

From his enterprise the village took its start.

Soon a respectable public house was built by Mr. Avery; and by degrees the place was developed, until it has become one of the smartest villages that are dotting the West; the Flat River is used to nearly or quite its full capacity for driving mills and machinery.

It is a market town for the region north and south doing perhaps as much business as any village of its size in the State.
As a village it sprung into existence.

It was only a hamlet, with its mill, its tavern, its stores, etc., on a small scale until the D. & M. Railroad was constructed.

Then, what had been a vision of fancy in the mind of Marsac, Avery, and a few others, became a fixed reality - Lowell must be a market town.

Capital was attracted there, and men of enterprise selected it as their place to achieve fortunes.

It did not grow up, as grow the villages that surround a mill, but sprung at once into a form that was based on solid substance.

The style of building indicates independence, and little of the makeshift of many new places.

Its blocks of stores would do credit to a larger place.

Its streets, filled with teams, show trade.

Its mills and manufacturing concerns give evidence of business life.

The churches show that religion has a hold there, and the well-sustained Union School is evidence that intellect and culture are not ignored; and the cosy houses bespeak a refined anti independent people.

HUSTED'S Nurseries.
Husted's Nurseries, the largest in Michigan, were begun in 1862, on one-half an acre of land.

In 1863, three acres were added.

In 1864 Husted purchased eighty acres, and set out 40,000 apple trees, and a small assortment of other fruits.

From that time he enlarged rapidly, going into a general nursery business, until, in 1672, the nurseries covered 200 acres of ground, and the sales were $50,000 a year.

But it is sad to say that when blown up to this size, it "busted," and promises not to be so big a thing hereafter.

In 1874, the property passed from Mr. Husted, into the hands of assignees, and Mr. Husted was left to ruminate on the impropriety of doing too big a business.

He talks just as the boy does, whose father is putting him through a course of sprouts: “I never will do so again."

There is such a thing as doing too big a business.

Many a man has to go under because his debts are half as much as the amount owed to him.

The balance sheet shows rich, but stern fact says, all is not well, that looks well on paper.

Hatch & Craw's flouring-mill is a thriving concern, and the men who own it mean business.

And we would specially notice the enterprise of the Blodgett Brothers, who run a snug woolen factory.

The making of cloth has in general been left to the States further east.

We send our wool there, and then buy it back in the shape of cloth.

It is hazardous, away from the manufacturing centers, to invest capital in cotton or woolen factories, for the reasons that it is about impossible to get the skilled labor necessary to carry on the business.

Men are unwilling to put themselves under the power of' one' company, so that, if discharged, they must go without employment, or go five hundred miles to seek it.

For that reason, the manufacturer of cotton has not come to us at all, and only small numbers of woolen factories are in Michigan - those generally doing a small business.

Knowing that these disadvantages attend the woolen manufacturer in Michigan, we look on the man or company that starts a pioneer factory with special favor; and hail their enterprise as we do that of the hardy woodsman, who opens the way with his ax.

To invest $1,000,000 in a woolen or cotton factory at the East is only a business enterprise - an investment of capital.

The man or company, that does it, is on a par with those who put up immense saw-mills at Grand Rapids, which would, with its clumsy sash, cut 1,000 feet of boards in a day, was a thing for the history to commemorate; the bigger concerns that followed, are looked on as only things of business.

The day will come when the Grand River region will be dotted with cotton and woolen manufactories; when the Grand, the Flat, the Rogue and the Thornapple rivers will be utilized; and the whirr of the spindle and the clack of the loom will enliven the cities and villages on their banks.

God speed you, Blodgett, in your attempt to prove that Michigan may manufacture, as well as raise, its wool.

It is true that all good things do not come at once.

The saw-mill is the pioneer. Immediately follows the indispensable grist-mill.

Then come manufactures in wood; and, as the evidence that a higher plane is reached, of the textile fabrics, and articles of luxury and taste.

Michigan is still a young State, and has not reached her highest development; but, like John Brown’s soul, she is "marching on."

The grave historian may stoop from his dignity, and speak of trifles light as air, for the amusement of the gay.

But no apology is made for this little story of Rodney Robinson of early times:

In 1837, Robinson went to Kalamazoo for breadstuff.

He stayed over night at Yankee Springs.

Many other teamsters were there, and also a minister.

Yankee Lewis had a large fireplace, and the wood had burned down, leaving a great bed of coals.

Before going to bed they had prayers, and as they were getting ready to retire, a big bully, by the name of Scott, seized Rodney's dog and threw him upon the coals, evidently to pick a quarrel. Rodney seized Scott, and Scott followed dog.

The company cheered, and the minister said, “Amen; God bless you!” 

Scott was badly burned, but seeing the eye of Rodney, was not at all disposed to try his revenge.

He said "Guy Rivers! I did not suppose there was a man here who could do that." Robinson said "I did."

Scott felt fight, but concluded to let out the job.

We hope the lesson was remembered by the bully, and that a wholesome fear afterwards would arise in his mind, lest the dog he would injure, should prove to be "a spaniel."

Young as Lowell is, it has had its centenarian, in the person of Mrs. Lucky, mother of Mrs. Patrick.

She died, aged 103. Her portrait was taken when she was 100.

In contemplating these rare specimens of humanity, who outlive their generation and themselves, we can see the full beauty of the language of a Shenandoah chief, who said: "I am an aged hemlock.

The winds of an hundred winters have whistled through my branches; I am dead at the top.

Why I alone of all my kindred remain, the Great Spirit only knows."

But,--Life's long waking ended,

She sweetly sleeps at last.

Lowell Area Historical Museum,

PO Box 81 - 325 W. Main Street,

Lowell, MI  49331,

(616) 897-7688