The country, originally heavily timbered with beech, maple, whitewood, basswood, elm, ash, black walnut, and butternut, covers a region of gently-rolling lands, whose rich, sandy soil makes the township's agricultural interests exceedingly profitable. Wheat averages from fifteen to twenty-five bushels per acre. Fruit grows in abundance, especially apples. Peaches were at one time cultivated extensively, but disease among the trees has cut the crop down to insignificant proportions. There are also at Lawrence village milling interests which contribute not a little to the sum of local prosperity. Excellent water-power is gained from Brush Creek, the most important tributary of the Paw Paw in Lawrence. The river itself flows through the northern portion of the township, which is watered also by numerous river tributaries, and a half-dozen or more lakes, the largest of which are Taylor's Lake, Lake George, and Prospect Lake. Prospect Lake, in sections 25, 26, 35, and 36, is a mile and a half in length and half a mile wide. It was earlier known as Crystal Lake, because of the clearness and purity of its waters, and is now a place of popular resort for anglers and pleasure-seekers.
The township contains but one village, - Lawrence,** -
which is connected by railway with the Michigan Central
line at Lawton, and by a daily stage with Hartford, on the
Chicago and West Michigan Railroad. The population in
1874 was 1726, and the assessed value in 1879 was
** The village of Van Buren was laid out on tbe north side of Prospect Lake, in Lawrence, in the flush times of 1836-37, with plenty of streets and lots, but no houses. In 1839 it was owned by T. E. Phelps, R. Christie, and Charles Chadwick, and assessed in the aggregate at $1135, according to the county records. The streets were named Water, Broad, Park, and Forest. The village failed to appear in any later documents.
The summer and fall of 1835 saw the arrival also of John R. Haynes, Thomas S. Camp, George and John Reynolds, and others. Haynes located on section 10, Camp on section 4, and the Reynolds family on section 13. Mr. Haynes became one of the most prominent men of the township, and was for some time one of the associate judges of the county court. He was postmaster at Lawrence many years, the second coroner of Van Buren County, also a merchant and miller. He held many local offices of trust, and lived in the village until his death, in 1856.
Sept. 1, 1835, James Gray, with his wife and six children, started from Lenawee Co., Mich., for Lawrence, and after a tiresome journey of ten days, made in a lumber-wagon drawn by two yokes of oxen, and over roads which the hardy Gray himself had ofttimes to make, they reached section 11, in Lawrence, where Mr. Gray had located a farm. Gray's cabin was in size 10 by 15 feet, roofed with tree-boughs, boasting the country's soil for a floor, and adorned with a blanket, which served as a door, before the only opening the establishment had. The roof let in the rain, and sometimes so freely that the tenants were actually afloat within the domicile. Gray did odd jobs as a carpenter, and also farmed industriously, but bad luck overtook him, and, being forced to sell his farm, he moved to Breedsville, whence he returned to Lawrence village, and there died in 1873. Gray did something in the early days of his settlement in the way of flat-boating on the Paw Paw, and it was owing in part to his poor success in that branch of traffic that he succumbed to financial misfortune.
Eaton Branch, of Ann Arbor, came to Lawrence in 1835, with his wife, and worked for John Allen a year, making roads, underbrushing at Mason village, and doing what else came to his hand, living meanwhile in the house vacated by Ephraim Palmer. In 1836 he entered 160 acres of land on section 4, and rather than go around by the section line, he bought of Judge Haynes the right of way through section 9, and cut a road to his farm. As this road happened to be chosen subsequently by the highway commissioners for a town road, Branch got his money back. On the farm he then entered Mr. Branch has ever since lived. He was actively concerned in township affairs, and, as highway commissioner for several years, laid out many of Lawrence's first roads. Israel Branch, brother to Eaton, came, in March, 1836, to Lawrence, with his wife and three children, and, setting up a cooper-shop in the village, worked at his trade several years. He then settled on section 4, where he died in 1873. Luther Branch, another brother, came from Oakland County in 1837, worked a while as a cooper in the village, and eventually located upon a farm in section 14. He moved to a place on section 5, where he died in 1845. Vine Branch, the father, became a resident of Lawrence in 1836, and with his wife made his home at the house of his son Eaton, where he died in 1852.
Orrin Sutton was a settler upon the Holland Purchase, N.Y., and in 1834, coming West with his family, located first in Washtenaw Co., Mich., and in 1836 in Mason village. He helped John Allen build the first saw-mill at Mason, worked about the neighborhood a short time, and then settled upon a farm in section 7, returning, however, to the village, from which he migrated to Hartford, where he died in 1868, and where his son Luther (editor of the Day Spring) now resides. Orrin Sutton was the first township clerk of Lawrence, and during his residence therein served extended terms as justice of the peace, town treasurer, and in other local offices.
Horace Stimson, who became distinguished as the first postmaster at Lawrence, moved from Kalamazoo to section 1 in Lawrence, in 1836. Orrin Sutton built a double log house for Stimson, and finished it just in time to be used for the first town-meeting, held April 3,1837. Stimson moved out of the township soon after, selling his place to Daniel Buckley, who died in Allegan County.
Thomas S. Camp, hailing from Connecticut, came to Lawrence in 1836 and made purchase of considerable land in the township, and lived upon a farm in section 4. July 12, 1861, while fishing with a Mr. Brown, in Monroe's Lake, he was drowned. One of his daughters, Mrs. Eliza West, lives on section 4.
In the Reynolds family were George, the father, and four sons, - John, George, William, and Burr. The elder Reynolds put up a log tavern on the Territorial road in section 13 early in 1836, and there for many years kept the old Reynolds tavern. His sons lived with him a while, and then all but John moved out of the township. John Reynolds, who had in early life been a boatman on the Ohio, renewed that occupation when he settled in Lawrence, and for some time was actively engaged in flat-boating on the Paw Paw between Lawrence and St. Joseph. His river experience elevated him to the dignity of flat-boat "captain," and he was a man of some local river fame for that reason. He was by trade a baker, and when he left Lawrence he opened a bakery in Paw Paw. He now lives on a farm south of that village.
J.R. Monroe, one of Lawrence's most eminent and honored citizens, was for forty years closely identified with the most progressive interests of not only Lawrence township, but of Van Buren County. At the age of twenty (in 1826) he was engaged at Detroit with Gen. Cass and Campau in locating Western lands. He went back to New York in 1828, and in 1830, returning to the West, he undertook an exploration of Michigan, making his home at Prairie Ronde. In 1833 he entered the land upon which the village of South Haven now lies, and in 1835 laid out a road from Prairie Ronde to South Haven. That road passed through Lawrence township in the northeast corner, and crossed the Paw Paw on the west line of section 1. He built the first house ever put up in South Haven.
His permanent settlement, however, in Michigan was made in Lawrence in 1837, upon land in section 2, through which the road from Prairie Ronde to South Haven had its course. On that farm he lived until his death, in October, 1876. Mr. Monroe was a large land-holder, and a man of mark in the community which was proud to claim him as a member. He was an earnest supporter and promoter of beneficent public enterprises, did much for the encouragement of public education, assisted in the foundation of both the State and Van Buren Agricultural Societies, occupied the judicial bench (sitting as associate judge in the first court held in the county, June 6, 1837), filled numerous local public trusts (serving twenty-five years consecutively as county commissioner of the poor), and stood until his death at the head of the County Pioneer Association, which he called into existence, and of which he was the only president during his life.
During Judge Monroe's extended service as poor commissioner, he frequently provided at his own house for the wants of indigent poor, and to such his residence came to be known as the poormaster's house. One day, while the judge attired in shabby garments was at work in a ditch on his farm, be was accosted by an apparent traveling pauper with the inquiry, " Where is the poormaster's house?" and upon the judge pointing it out without revealing himself, continued, with a look of curious examination, "Do you work for him?" "Yes," replied the judge. "And what does he give you for working?" "0h, he gives me just what he has hitnselt," was the judge's answer; " pork and beans, potatoes, johnny-cake, and old clothes." "Well," exclaimed the tramp, preparing to move off, "if that's all a fellow can expect, I'll be goll-darned if I stop with the old hedge-hog." And away he went, determined that the county shouldn't support him on those terms.
In 1838, Uriel T. Barnes left Calhoun Co., Mich., where he had been living four years, and with his family set out for Van Buren County, his chief reasons for making the move being that in Calhoun County there was not timber enough to suit him, while peaches, he was satisfied, would not grow there. Arriving at Paw Paw at the close of a cold day, the family put up at Dodge's tavern, and there, Mrs. Barnes being asked by some person where the family was bound, replied, "For Brush Creek." "Brush Creek!" replied her interrogator, "why, you'll starve there. All the people out there are starving. It's in the woods, and you won't be able to raise a thing." " Well," replied the lady, "I've had a four years' pioneer experience and haven't starved yet. I think, therefore, that I won't starve yet awhile."
Pushing on, Mr. Barnes soon reached the hospitable cabin of Uncle Jimmy Gray, on section 11, in Lawrence, and in a trice the strangers were made welcome and comfortable. The next day the Barnes family moved into an abandoned log cabin on what is now the Baker & Richards farm, in section 14; a few days thereafter, Mr. Barnes bought 80 acres of land of Eaton Branch, on section 5, put up a frame house, and transported his family thither as soon as possible. Eaton Branch had cut out a road from the village to his place, and from Branch's to the farm on section 5, Mr. Barnes cut the road himself. Mr. Barnes lived upon that farm until his death in July, 1853. His son, A.U. Barnes, occupies the old place, and adjoining him lives his brother, H. G.
Mrs. Allen Rice, a daughter of Uriel T. Barnes, says that when her father came to Lawrence there were but four families in the village, - those of J.R. Haynes, Dexter Gibbs, John Allen, and Israel Branch. She says further, "A saw-mill had been erected and a school-house built. I well remember the first time I went to school in that old school-house. I expected to see something like a village, but after walking what seemed a great distance through the dense woods, I came to a house and inquired how far it was to the village. 'To the village, dear?' returned the woman; 'why, you are in the village now, only you can't see it for the trees.' ' Well,' said I, ' where is the school- house?' ' Only a little way farther in the woods,' was her response; and after walking what appeared to be half a mile, I found the school-house. There were about 30 scholars, and the teacher was Truman Foster, of Keeler."
The widow McKnight, who came to Lawrence in 1838, was a sister of John and Joseph Haynes, and for some time kept house for Joseph. She brought with her two daughters and a son, and owned a little place in the village, now occupied by her daughter, Mrs. A.F. Haskins. Mrs. Henry Mayner, another daughter, lives in the township. The son removed to California some years ago.
Ephraim Taylor, originally from New York, came to Lawrence in 1836 to work for John Allen, sold goods for him in Gibbs' tavern, drove stage, and finally settled on a farm in section 30, where he died in 1877.
A.H. Phelps, one of Lawrence's early settlers, lived in the village about 1840, and soon afterwards, with his brother Theodore, built what is now called the Chadwick mill, south of Lawrence. He subsequently became interested with H.N. Phelps in milling and other business enterprises in the village, and for a long time was known as a fur trader, while he also manufactured deer-skin gloves and mittens. He dealt extensively with the Indians, and was himself esteemed during his early life in Lawrence as a great hunter. He lived an honored citizen in the township nearly forty years, and died in the village in 1877, only a few weeks after celebrating his golden wedding, leaving a widow who still survives him.
George Parmelee, who came to the village in 1838, was a tinner. After working about in the vicinity some time, he married a daughter of T.S. Camp, and went to live upon a farm on section 8, given him by Mr. Camp. He moved to Bainbridge a few years after, and subsequently to St. Joseph. He lives now at Old Mission, Grand Traverse Co., Mich., and is president of the State Pomological Society.
H.P. Barnum, who was among the earliest and ablest of the county surveyors, settled in the eastern part of Van Buren in 1835, and in 1838 selected a permanent settlement upon section 11 in Lawrence township, where he lived until his death in 1851. Mr. Barnum surveyed nearly all the early roads in Lawrence, and devoted himself also assiduously to his farming interests.
R.B. Danks came to Lawrence from Washtenaw County in 1836, and worked a farm for John Allen on section 14. Subsequently he bought a farm on section 19, west of Taylor's Lake, and moving thence to Hartford, died in the latter place. Danks was a firm believer in Spiritualism, and in his strong devotion thereto he frequently exhibited apparent eccentricities which gave him a peculiar local celebrity. Among other stories related of him, one is told of how when his horse fell sick he sought to cure him by mesmeric influence, but the influence was not quite strong enough to keep the animal alive.
In 1838, Nelson S. Marshall, of Oakland Co., Mich., moved with his family into Lawrence and sought quarters in the Dexter Gibbs tavern, Marshall's wife being the daughter of Dexter Gibbs. The Marshall family lived in the Gibbs house a little more than a year, and then, Nelson's brother, Harvey, having joined him in the purchase of a farm on section 17, formerly owned by Dexter Gibbs, the brothers moved to the place in 1840 and managed the farm jointly. Nelson Marshall moved to Watervliet in 1856, and died there in 1863. Harvey Marshall still lives on the farm which he has occupied continuously since 1840. H.M. Marshall, one of the leading merchants of Lawrence, is one of Nelson's sons.
When Marshall entered the village there were there the Gibbs tavern and the houses of Orrin Sutton, Alex. Newton, J.R. Haynes, and Watson Pool. When he moved to his farm on section 17, Peter Dopp was living on section 31, where Dopp's widow and her son Amos now reside. Mrs. Dopp was a woman of determined energy, and more than once, when there was sickness in her household, used to walk alone through the woods to the Marshall place, nearly four miles distant, to ask Harvey Marshall to ride to Paw Paw for a doctor. Harvey was then about the only one in the township boasting the possession of a horse, and for that reason was frequently called upon to perform the kindly service of riding away after a physician when sudden emergencies arose. The only other dwellers in the southwest corner in 1840 were David and James Dopp, Peter's brothers, Cyrus Bateman, Hosea Howard, and Roderick Irish, living on section 32. All these settlers came to Lawrence in 1836. Irish died in Keeler in 1878. Orrin Sutton, already mentioned, moved to a farm two miles and a half west of the village, and subsequently to Lawrence, where he died. Alexander Newton went to Kalamazoo and remained. He lived in a log house that stood upon the site now occupied by the village tavern. Newton was not the most industrious man in the community, and, apropos of his inordinate fondness for lingering within grateful shade on a summer day, it is related that H. P. Barnum once said that he could always tell the time of day by marking Newton's gradual march around a house in the wake of the moving shadow of the building. Cyrus Bateman, above mentioned, lived on the place of his first settlement until his death. He and Roderick Irish married sisters of the Dopps.
Samuel Gunton, the first elected sheriff of Van Buren County, settled on the Territorial road, one mile south of Prospect Lake, in 1836. In 1839, nearly all the members of his family being dead, he returned to New York State, his former home.
S. M. N. Brooks, a young man, lived with his brother- in-law, John Reynolds, in 1838, roved about for a time, and settled eventually in Keeler. In the same year John Andrews located on section 14, east of Baker's Lake; he moved afterwards to Hartford, where he now lives. William R. Williams, a New Yorker, settled upon section 20 in 1836, and at an early day, selling his place to John Raven, moved to the eastern part of the State. Thomas Price and his widowed mother came from New York in 1836, in company with David Dopp, who had previously married Mrs. Price's daughter. They all lived together at the village a short time, and settled in company upon a farm in section 29, where Mrs. Price died. Her son Thomas lives now in the far West. In 1836, also, John Mellen, with his wife and ten children, journeyed from New York, and located on scetion 17, in Lawrence, where both Mellen and his wife died in 1843. All of their children moved out of the township. Mellen was at the time of his death a blacksmith in the village.
Joseph Haynes, a carpenter, located in Brush Creek in 1836, worked at his trade there some time, and settling upon a farm in section 15, died there in 1858.
Volney A. Moore, a nephew of Harvey Marshall, came to Lawrence in 1838, lived with the Marshalls for a time, and marrying, bought a farm on section 30, where he died. General B. F. Chadwick, who bought the Phelps mill, south of the village, owned also a small farm near there. He lives now in Hartford. The old mill is still known as Chadwick's mill. Mr. Chadwick says it used to be called "Chad's old mill," and "old Chad's mill," just as the popular humor fancied. Leonard Watson who settled in Breedsville in 1835, and in Lawrence in 1838, married one of Judge Haynes' daughters, and died in Cass County. In 1838 also came Warren Van Vleet, who owned a farm on section 13, and who still lives in the township. Barney and Daniel Evans came to Lawrence with their father in 1838, and located near Prospect Lake. They are all dead. Barney's widow lives on section 16.
Watson Pool, a carpenter, became a resident of Mason in 1837, and besides his work at the bench attended to the cultivation of a few acres on what is now called St. Joseph Street. His widow still lives in the village.
The first birth in Lawrence was that of Sarah, daughter of John and Jane Reynolds, her advent occurring March 21, 1836. She died in Lawrence in her youth.
William R. Williams and Elizabeth Gibbs were the pioneer wedded couple of Lawrence, but as they mated before Lawrence had a "squire" they were compelled to go to Schoolcraft to have the ceremony performed. The first marriage in the township was that of Ephraim Taylor and Emeline Gibbs. They were joined in the autumn of 1836, by Justice Jay R. Monroe, in Dexter Gibbs' double log tavern, which was, on that important occasion, alive with merry-making, and radiant with a joyous gathering, from far and near, of friends and fellow-settlers. Judge Monroe was on his way to Schoolcraft when he was overtaken by a messenger in hot haste, and told that he was wanted to marry a couple at Dexter Gibbs'. The judge turned about, got to Gibbs' at nine o'clock that night, married them, and resumed his trip.
No death occurred in the little settlement until 1838, when, in the month of April, Dexter Gibbs' wife was called from her earthly cares, and three months later her daughter, Mrs. Ephraim Taylor, died. Dexter Gibbs himself did not remain long, for in October of the same year he followed the others. Mother, father, and daughter were buried upon the banks of Brush Creek, just outside the present eastern limits of the village. This place was afterwards used as a public burial-ground until the present village cemetery was laid out.
The frequent necessity of sending a grist to mill was to the early pioneers of Lawrence a task of considerable magnitude. For the first two or three years after its first settlement, "going to mill" meant going to either Kalamazoo, Prairie Ronde, Flowerfield, or Whitmanville, and sometimes even to Three Rivers, - places from twenty-five to thirty miles distant. A journey like that through a wild country, and over rough roads, or no roads at all, was not a pleasant subject for contemplation, but the necessities of the hour offered no loophole of escape, and the issue had to be met. The tree stump corn-mill at home served many a good turn, and was a valued and useful coadjutor in the business of producing corn-cake. Of course the march of improvement soon relieved the settlers of the inconvenience attendant upon reaching distant mills, but while the exactions continued, they were distressing. Matters improved somewhat in that respect in 1838, when John R. Haynes put a small run of stones into his saw-mill at the village of Mason.
As an illustration of the difficulties encountered by the early settlers in procuring the necessaries of life may be cited an incident in the experience of Mr. Warren Van Vleet. He spent, on one occasion, several days in a fruitless search through the country for some flour. Eventually, he discovered a man in Prairie Ronde who had eight barrels, but who refused to sell less than a barrel, and that at an extortionate price. Van Vleet was pretty nearly desperate at the dealer's obstinacy, and told him that he had better lock his flour up somewhere, for the people might presently be urged by hunger to deeds of violence, "and then," said he, "where would your flour be?" Failing to get flour Van Vleet bought a lot of rice at Paw Paw, but when he got home he found that there were no edibles in the house but the rice. Thereupon he roamed the woods in search of wild honey, and finding some, he and his family subsisted several days on honey and rice. His next search for flour resulted in his finding 80 pounds at Paw Paw, which he lugged home on foot, a distance of nine miles.
"When we bought a piece of pork," says he, "it was generally the thickness of a finger, with hair on it long enough to lift it out of the pot with, and by the hair we, indeed, used to lift it out and hold it, too, while we ate it."
When Ephraim Palmer got fairly located in the house he put up on the site of Lawrence village, he had as guests one day Edwin Barnum, the surveyor, John Allen, and James, his son. Supplies were all out, and Palmer started for Kalamazoo for a stock, but a fearful rain-storm coming on, the country was flooded, and he was six days making the trip. Meanwhile the Allens, Barnum, and Mrs. Palmer subsisted on cranberries and coffee. Allen caught a woodchuck, but there was no salt in the house, and the project of cooking it was about to be abandoned, when a few wild leeks being found, they were forced to do duty as seasoning, although the dish was voted distasteful, despite the hunger of the party.
In common with settlers in all parts of Michigan, the pioneers of Lawrence were annoyed by wolves and other wild beasts, although no serious trouble was at any time occasioned. Wolves used to howl about the cabins in an apparently very fierce manner, though really they were cowardly curs unless running in packs. Still travelers were not without apprehensive fears when called abroad after dark, and usually took precautions to ward off the attacks of beasts. Sheep, calves, and hogs were carried off sometimes in broad day by the marauding creatures, despite the utmost vigilance of settlers.
There was, however, some consolation in the knowledge that game was plentiful, and that a day's hunting was sure to produce a fruitful yield, especially of deer, which were so numerous that they could be shot from doorsteps, while the organization of grand hunts in the winter seasons provided fine sport for the inhabitants, and helped materially towards supplying the means of subsistence.
A road from Mason village towards Keelerville, surveyed in 1836 by Jesse L. Church, was laid out in 1837, and about then, also, another, called road No. 4, was laid out from the southeast corner of section 32 to the northwest corner of section 16. The river road, the Paw Paw road, a road north from Mason, one from the south side of section 4 to the Black River road, and one from the southwest corner of section 19 to the southwest corner of section 20, were laid out in 1837.
Among the roads laid out in 1838 were the Breedsville road, Hand's road, Phelps' road, Olds' road, Hammond's road, Taylor's road, Barnes' road, and Branch's road. In 1839 the roads included the town line road between Alpena (now Hamilton) and Lawrence, Major Heath's road, the Briggs road, Mellen's road, Peter Clark's road, and others.
Until 1839, James Gray and Eaton Branch were the highway commissioners who performed the work set down for the board, and until 1841, Eaton Branch was more actively engaged than any other citizen in the work of laying out roads. H.P. Barnum was the surveyor of many of the earliest roads in Lawrence, although Jesse L. Church and E.H. Keeler performed an important share of the businsss. The Territorial road, which reached from Detroit to St. Joseph, passed through the southeastern portion of Lawrence. It was an important highway of travel from 1835 to 1848, and before the completion of the Michigan Central Railway resounded daily with the roll of many wheels, and bore upon its surface great numbers of stagecoaches and freight-wagons, which in the early days plied between the eastern and western boundaries of the State.
Prospect Lake Post-Office, on section 26, was established in 1851, H. Jacobs being appointed the first postmaster. His successor, Dennis Cooper, now in charge of the office, was appointed in 1876. When Stimson was appointed post- master, the mail for Lawrence was conveyed over the route between Paw Paw and South Haven, Stimson's house being on that road, near the Paw Paw River. Allen's contract for carrying the mail between Kalamazoo and St. Joseph began Jan. 1, 1836. From that time to January 15th, the mail was carried from Kalamazoo to Lawrence by team and wagon, and from Lawrence to St. Joseph on horseback, John Reynolds being the mail-rider. From January 15th, during the winter, Ephraim Taylor carried the mail from Lawrence to St. Joseph in a sleigh, but when spring set in the roads to and from Lawrence became so bad that the mail-route via that point was abandoned in favor of the Territorial road.
The second hotel built in Lawrence village, and the only one, besides Gibbs', which the town has ever had, was erected in 1849 by H.N. Phelps. Slightly changed since then, the building still does duty in its original character, and is now known as Mather's Hotel. Phelps kept the house until 1853, and sold it to H.S. Dolph, who was succeeded as landlord and proprietor in 1855 by S.G. Mather. Mather kept it until January, 1858, when he sold it, but took it back again in the fall of 1860. In 1866, Mather rented it to Capt. Whittaker, and in 1867 to E. Waterman. In 1869, Mather was again the landlord, and in 1876, A.G. Warren took it, only to relinquish it in 1878 to Mr. Mather, who is still its proprietor and occupant.
There were two log taverns on the Territorial road within Lawrence, and, until the abandonment of the stage-route, they were features in current history. George Reynolds opened the first one near Lake George (or Reynolds' Lake), and kept it upwards of ten years. South of him, on the banks of Prospect Lake, H.N. Phelps opened a stage- house in 1837, and, as it was for some time a place where the stages changed horses, it was considered a place of some consequence. Phelps sold the tavern to Robert Christie, who was its last landlord.
The place occupied by Phelps for his tavern he bought from John D. Freeman, who had it from Stephen Fountain, - the first white settler in Lawrence. Freeman is now living in St. Joseph County.
Freeman put up a small frame building, in which he proposed to open a store, and matters began to look encouraging for Van Buren Centre. Before any considerable result was reached, however, the wild-cat money of the day became worthless paper, Freeman failed, and his ambitious projects went down with him. Phelps, having become interested in the prospective village, put up a tavern opposite Freeman's store building, and was the landlord when, in 1837, Robert Christie, of Washtenaw County, came along with his family en route to Hartford, where he had bought considerable land. The ideal village of Van Buren Centre consisted then of Phelps' tavern and Freeman's abandoned store building, into which latter Christie moved his family, proposing to stop there until he could prepare his Hartford place for habitation.
He and his two eldest sons went to Hartford, in July, worked there until Saturday night, and returned to the lake to spend Sunday. They were, however, stricken with ague, and from that time until the next January not only they, but the rest of the family, lay helpless with fever and ague. During that time Christie exchanged his Hartford land with Phelps, taking the latter's 23 village lots and tavern stand therefor. Christie thereupon took possession of the tavern, converted his village lots into a farm, and was a landlord until the stages were withdrawn from the Territorial road, when he closed the tavern, but continued to reside there until his death, in April, 1865. Five of Mr. Christie's sons are now living, namely, Henry, Charles E., and James E., in Lawrence; David, in Decatur; and McDaniel, in Hamilton.
John H. Stoddard, a son-in-law of Robert Christie, came from Washtenaw County the year following Christie's settlement, and located south of Prospect Lake, where he lived a year, and then moved to Paw Paw. He remained there until 1863, returning in that year to the lake, where he now resides. When Mr. Christie came to Prospect Lake, Samuel Gunton was living on section 35, but two years later returned to New York, whence he had come. Nathaniel Starkweather was living in the southern portion of section 36, but left about 1840 for other parts. In that vicinity other early settlers were Oliver Witter, - whose two sons, 0.J. and L.M. Witter, now live in tbe township, - Rodolphus Howe, Cyrus Rathbone, and Leonard Watson.
Hosea Howard, a Vermonter, came to Lawrence in 1839, and settled in section 32, upon a farm purchased of William M. Lee; Hector Yorke located the land in 1836, and sold it to William Clark, who settled upon it, but remained a short time only.
The records of the township furnish the following report touching the first township-meeting:
"At the first township-meeting of the inhabitants of the town of Lawrence, held at the house of Horace Stimson, on the 3d day of April, 1837, John R. Haynes was called to the chair as moderator, and John Reynolds was appointed clerk pro tem. Proclamation was made by the presiding officer of the days for opening of the polls for the election of township officers. . . . The following persons were duly elected, to wit: John R. Haynes, Supervisor; Orrin Sutton, Township Clerk; Hiram Hilliard, Collector; Joseph Haynes, John Reynolds, Horace Stimson, Assessors; John D. Freeman, James Gray, and Eaton Branch, Commissioners of Highways; Hiram Hilliard, William R. Williams, Constables; George S. Reynolds and Dexter Gibbs, Directors of the Poor.
Resolutions were passed at this meeting as follows:
"Resolved, That there be a bounty of five dollars on each wolf-scalp taken in this town the present year, and five dollars on each panther-scalp caught in this town the preent year.
"Resolved, That there be eight overseers of highways in this town the present year. The following persons were chosen overseers of roads: For road district No. 1, Truman Gillman; No. 2, Eaton Branch; No. 3, William M. Reynolds; No. 4, Orrin Sutton; No. 5, William R. Williams; No. 6, Samuel Gunton; No. 7, Peter Dopp."
At a special meeting, on April 29th, in the same year, justices of the peace and school inspectors were elected, as follows: Justices, George S. Reynolds, Dexter Gibbs, Richard B. Danks, Alvin Harris; School Inspectors, Nathaniel B. Starkweather, Hiram Hilliard, John Reynolds.
The persons chosen annually, from 1838 to 1879, inclusive, to serve as supervisors, clerks, treasurers, school inspectors, and justices of the peace, are named in the following list, with years of their election, viz.:
The Township Board for 1879 comprised Charles Rockwell, J.B. Potter, Henry Donaldson, Jabez Burcham. The School Inspectors were Henry Donaldson and Rev. L.A. Cole (School Superintendent). The Justices of the Peace were H.A. Donaldson, J. Burcham, and W.H. Page.
Go to Part 2 of the History of Lawrence Township.
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