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Excerpt from the Book "History of Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan: Its Prominent Men and Pioneers"

D.W. Ensign & Co., Philadelphia, 1880.


By David Schwartz

Boundaries and General Description-Pioneers and Early Settlements-Township Organization. Name, and Civil List-Churches- Schools-Porter Grange, Patrons of Husbandry.


PORTER, originally attached to Decatur township, covers an area of six miles square, and occupies the southeastern corner of Van Buren County, its boundaties being Antwerp township on the north. Cass County on the south, Kalamazoo County on the east, and Decatur township on the west. Designated in the original survey as town 4 south, range 13 west, it was not named until 1845, when it was set off from Decatur with separate jurisdiction.

The surface of the country is generally hilly, and from many of the eminences picturesque views, reaching over a wide extent of territory, may be obtained. In the southeast there is considerable swampland, altlough elsewhere the drainage is good and effective, by means of numerous lakes. The largest of these is Bankson's (or Mack's) Lake, which has an area of about 600 acres. Cedar Lake covers about 5O0 acres, and among the smaller ones may he mentioned Grass, Gravel, Barker's, Van Sickle's, and Hersey. The water in Bankson's Lake is deep and clear, and abounds in fish, having recently been stocked by the State. Gravel Lake has a remarkably fine, hard beach, which admits of a superb roadway around its entire circuit.

Porter has no immediate railway conveniences, although the Michigan Central line touches the northwestern corner. In 1870 the township voted $15,000 in aid of the Paw Paw Valley Railroad, which was to pass through Porter, but the project failed. The township contains no village, has but one church building, and has no post-office, no store, or mercantile enterprise of any kind except one sawmill. The business interests are entirely agricultural. The population of Porter in 1874 was 1182. and the assessed valuation in 1879 was $357,400.


The southwestern corner of section 13, now occupied by Samuel Kidney, is conspicuous in being the first tract of land entered in Porter township. Abner Mack, now living in Kalamazoo County, located the lot in 1833, and built a cabin upon it. He concluded, however, within a short time to abandon it. and effecting with Jonas Barber, of Kalamazoo County, an exchange for land in Prairie Ronde, he moved away. Barber hired Milton Van Duzer to work the Porter place, and there Van Duzer was living in 1835, when James Young, his half-sister, Elizabeth Gibson, and her sons, Washington and Robert, moved in from Prairie Ronde, and occupied a tract of 67 acres on section 14, bordering upon Bankson's Lake. According to the best obtainable evidence, therefore, Porter's first settler was Mack, its second was Van Duzer, and its third Young. Washington Gibson still occupies the original 67 acres. Young started for Utah in 1850, to cast his fortunes with the Mormons, but lost his life while on the way, by falling into the hold of a Mississippi River steamer. Mrs. Gibson died in Porter in 1870. Van Duzer remained but a brief period, and then removed farther west. The second house built in the township is supposed to have been put up by one Crooks, of Kalamazoo, although the structure was never finished or occupied. It stood on section 13, north of Mack's, and, as the story goes, Crooks, repenting his choice of location, abandoned the place before preparing it for habitation, and Porter saw him no more.

Settlements in the township having begun in the east, this narrative will accordingly follow at first the settlers who came as pioneers into that district.

The Kinney Settlement - The father and founder of that portion of Porter known for years as the Kinney settlement was Elijah Kinney, who in 1835 came from Milan, Ohio, with his wife, seven unmarried children, his son Luther and family, and his son-in-law, Samuel Corey. The elder Kinney had bought four 80-acre lots. and built his cabin on section 24, where he died in 1864. The place is now occupied by his son Stephen. Luther located south of Mr. Kinney's, and removing subsequently to St. Joseph, still lives there. Up to the time of Elijah Kinney's arrival, James Young and Milton Van Duzer had been the only permanent settlers in Porter. Uri Kinney, Elijah Kinney's nephew, was a settler in 1835, upon section 12, where he lived until his death.

Nelson Corey and his brother Sanford, both young men, entered Porter in 1836, and labored upon the farms of others until 1840. In that year Nelson bought a place on section 26 of one Chapin, who had located there in 1838, and who upon selling to Corey went to Illinois. Sanford purchased also on section 26, of T. R. Smith, a settler, who moved in 1840 farther west. Nelson Corey now lives on section 16. His brother Sanford died in Porter in 1878. Among the settlers in the Kinney settlement in 1836 were George Wilson and Mathew Lewis. In that year Lewis lost a child by death, and buried it on the Luke Munger farm. Lewis' child was the first person who died in the township. Lewis afterwards moved west. Wilson died in Porter.

Stephen, brother of Elijah Kinney, came from Milan, Ohio, in the fail of 1838, with a family of eight children, accompanied also by John Webber and family and John Bennett. Stephen Kinney bought 240 acres of new land in section 26, where he died in 1847. His son, Orrin G., who came with him, located on section 25 in 1842, and still lives there. Webber settled on section 25, and died in Lawton. Bennett, who bought a place on section 26, went afterwards to Iowa, where he died. E.Z.K. Munger, who came as a farm-hand with Elijah Kinney in 1835, worked a year for Mr. Kinney, and then located 80 acres on section 25. He migrated subsequently to Minnesota.

Among the inhabitants of the Kinney settlement in 1838 were James Young, Elizabeth Gibson, George Colvin (on the Abner Mack place), Uri Kinney, Elijah, Luther, and Stephen Kinney, E.Z.K. Munger, T.R. Smith, Lyman Wood, and Clark Pratt. Colvin died in Porter. Wood moved to St. Joseph County, and there died. Pratt went to the far West.

Moses Monroe was considered the most useful man in the settlement. He was the only mechanic among them all, and he could turn his hand to carpentering as well as to shoemaking, while he was quite clever at any work requiring mechanical skill. Truly, Moses was looked upon as a boon to the pioneers, and he was never a moment suffered to be idle; there were constant calls upon him from every side. He lived in the settlement until his death, in 1872.

Luke Munger, who settled in 1840 upon section 24. died in 1863 on section 26, where his son Abner lives. James Maxam, now living on section 34, settled in 1844 upon section 27. Manasseh Kern located in 1846 upon section 13, where he now lives. In 1846 his neighbors on the north were the Wilsons, Longcoys, Harpers, Locks, and Finches. S.V.P. Bradt came in 1848, and located in 1848 upon section 24, his present home. In the same year Jacob Markle settled on section 3, where he has since resided. Mr. Markle came West in 1837, and in that year became a resident of Antwerp township, whence in 1848 he moved to Porter. - William H. McLane came from St. Joseph County in 1852, and located upon section 15, where he now lives; adjoining him, on the south, being his son John C., who bought his farm in 1860.

Settlements in the central part of the township were made as early as 1835, in which year Benjamin Reynolds, of Ohio, came with a large family and located 160 acres in section 15. His sons, Buell and Benjamin, Jr., attended to the land, which was divided into two farms, the elder Reynolds living with Buell until 1852, when he took up his residence with his son-in-law, William Perley, and there died in 1853. His only child, now living in Porter, is Mrs. Miles Van Sickle.

Daniel Alexander, also from Ohio, became a resident of Michigan in 1832, and for four years lived in Cass County on leased land. In 1836 he bought 200 acres of government land in Porter township, on sections 20, 29, and 30, and while preparing a place of habitation upon his new possessions, he lived with his wife (a daughter of George Tittle, of Decatur) in Dolphin Morris' old log cabin on Little Prairie. Alexander built on section 29 a log cabin 16 by 24, and when he moved into it, in 1836, he was the only white settler in the western portion of the township, except John Tittle, his brother-in-law, who kept bachelor's hall on a place adjoining Alexander. Indeed, he thought for a time there were no other settlers in the township until he accidentally discovered James Young while out on a trip of discovery. Mr. Alexander died in 1862, on his Porter farm, where his widow still survives him. Mrs. Alexander tells many interesting stories of her lonesome experiences among the Indians while her husband and brother were away from the cabin. She was at first much alarmed at the sight of the savages, but soon grew to understand that they were peaceable and inclined to be friendly. Indeed, they were at times exceedingly sociable, and more than once did she receive presents as tokens of Indian friendship. Her husband used to say that he desired no better neighbors than those same Indians. John Tittle, to whom reference has been made, moved to Iowa in 1855.

In the summer of 1836, Roderick Bell settled near Gravel Lake, where he lived until 1862, when he removed farther West. Near Gravel Lake also, in 1837, settled Nathan Cook, George S. Freese, and John B. Compton. Cook died in Porter in 1867, leaving a widow, who now resides with her daughter on section 16. Freese caught the gold fever in 1849 and went to California, where he was drowned shortly arterwards. About 1840 other settlers were Thomas Alexander and the Nelsons, the latter of whom sold out to Silas Gould and moved away.

Miles Van Sickle, who settled in Michigan in 1826 and in Porter in 1840, still lives in the latter township, on section 17. In January, 1840, his father, John Van Sickle came to Porter with Elias Harmon and Jacob Stillwell, and all three settled with their families in Porter. Van Sickle died in Porter in 1861. Elias Harmon, who settled on section 17, still lives in the township. StilIwell located on section 21, and died in Porter. His son John resides on section 9. In the spring of 1840, L.H. Weldon located on section 28. He died in the township in 1872. Two of his sons, Augustus and George, now reside in Porter.

John Nesbitt was one of the pioneers in the settlement of Keeler township, where he says he and his brother James turned the first furrow and kept for a time bachelors' hall in 1834. He came to Porter in 1837, and bought land on section 4. He hired one Wilcox to work the place, and pushed on to the far West. Coming back after an absence of two years, he married and settled upon the farm himself. In 1846 he changed his location to section 9, where he now lives. As an evidence of the newness of the country even at that date, it may be interesting to observe that when Mr. Nesbitt moved to his new farm, in 1846, he was obliged to make his own road, while his wife drove the ox-team. A quilt hung up before the cabin opening was the best door they could command for some time, while as to a kitchen, an open space under two whitewood trees was for two months the spot where Mrs. Nesbitt did all the family cooking.

Isaac Hall came to Michigan in 1834, and to Porter in 1842. His brother Amos, also a Michigan pioneer of 1834, settled in Porter in 1846, when in the neighborhood between Grass and Cedar Lakes. The other settlers were Silas Gould, L.H. Weldon, David Gilson, and the Widow Merritt. Shortly after 1840, Thomas Fletcher, a Virginian, came to Porter and bought two hundred acres of new land on section 23, of Joel Clarke, living in Prairie Ronde. Fletcher made a settlemont at once, and lived on the place until his death, in 1875.

Samuel D. Harper, who settled in Porter in 1843, died in 1873, on section 5, where his son William now lives. Jeremiah Barker, a New Yorker, traded in 1845 some New York land for 320 acres on section 9, in Porter, and in that year settled there with his family, and there he died in 1849. John, a son, died on section 9 in 1876. Joseph, another son, still lives on a portion of the original farm. William Hathaway, of New York, was a settler in Antwerp township in 1838, on section 27, and there in the same year died of fever and ague, which was then fatally prevalent in Antwerp. In 1848 his three sons, A.H., William N., and Charles E., settled in Porter The only one of the three now in the township is A.H., who lives on section 16. His two brothers are now residents of Iowa.

The pioneers of Porter found a heavily-timbered but an inviting country. There were great tracts of heavy timber and oak openings, through which it was easy enough to drive a team without clearing a road. The vicinity of any one of the large lakes was peculiarly attractive to the eye of the new-comer, while the rich sandy soil promised the farmer an abundant yield and cheered his eager anticipations. Wolves, deer, and all kinds of game abounded in great profusion. But the wolves, although numerous, were troublesome only as depredators upon small live-stock, which required careful watching. Although Porter has now no post-office, it was better favored in the earlier days. About 1840, George S. Frees was appointed postmaster, and kept the office in his house near Gravel Lake. What little mail he received was left with him by a mail-rider, who traversed a route extending from Schoolcraft to Dowagiac. In 1845 the custody of the office was transferred to Isaac Hall, and shortly after the completion of the Michigan Central Railroad to Lawton, the Porter office was abolished.

In the matter of mills, Porter has never had anything to boast of, chiefly for the reason that the township has no water-power. There was no saw-mill even until 1866, when Samuel Strong built one on section 35. The only mill in the town now is the saw-mill of Leonard Waldron, on section 23. The early settlers were, however, not so badly off for mill conveniences as pioneers in some towns, for Flowerfield and Whitmanville, with a grist- and saw- mill, were not very far distant.

The only store ever opened in Porter was one kept at the Centre by a Mr. Lewis, which had, however, but a brief existence.

The only tavern was a house known as the Sisson place, but even that was not much more a tavern than every house in the town, since every resident kept open house in the pioneer days whenever a traveler sought entertainment.

The first marriage was that of William Nixon, of Bertrand, to Electa, daughter of Tinker R. Smith, one of Porter's pioneers. The ceremony was performed in Mr. Tinker's house by Rev. Samuel L. Julian, and took place some time during 1837.


The township of Porter was originally a portion of Decatur, from which it was set off in 1845.

Mrs. Harriet Van Antwerp says that one day, after it was decided to set the township off from Decatur, there was a consultation at the house of her father, Nathan Cook, as to what name ought to be selected. Miss Cook happened just then to be reading in the room "Cooper's Naval Heroes," and struck by the story of Com. Porter's career, suggested that as Decatur had appropriated a naval hero's name, the new township should follow the example and take the name of Porter. The suggestion was voted an excellent one, and adopted at once.

The first township meeting was held April 7, 1845, when the greatest number of votes cast for any candidate was 45. A full list of the officials chosen on that occasion is given, as follows: Supervisor, Harvey Barker; Clerk, Isaac Hall; Treasurer, Isaac Hall; School Inspectors, W.S. Corey, Harvey Barker; Highway Commissioners, William L. Barker, John Nesbitt, and William I. Finch; Constables, Miles Van Sickle, John Bennett, and Richard Wilson; Overseers of the Poor, Ira Harman and Benjamin Reynolds; Poundmaster, John Tittle; Justices of the Peace, Harvey Barker, Samuel D. Harper, H.H. Adams, John Nesbitt; Overseers of Highways, Peter Van Etten, Orrin G. Kinney, William McMinn, William L. Barker, Jacob Stillwell. The Township Board consisted of Horace H. Adams, Stephen Kinney, David A. Alexander, and Samuel D. Harper; Clerks of the Board were Nathan Cook and Warren S. Corey.

The jurors chosen to serve for the year 1845 were Samuel D. Harper, William McMinn, Uri Kinney, Luther Kinney, John Webber, Orrin G. Kinney, Buell Reynolds, David Gilson, Jacob Stillwell, Elias Harmon, Thomas Alexander, Charles Mitchelson.

The supervisors, clerks, treasurers, school inspectors, and justices of the peace from 1846 to 1880, were as follows:

The Township Board for 1879 was composed of J.C. McLane, Jason Atwell, and J.W. Burlington. A neat town hall at the Centre, built in 1869, serves for all meetings connected with public affairs.

For continuation of article, go to Part 2 of The History of Porter

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