Early History of Fredonia Township, Calhoun County, Michigan

Excerpt from the History of Calhoun County, Michigan

Written & publishedJuly 1, 1877


It cannot, then, be unimportant or uninteresting to trace the progress of Calhoun's gratifying development, from her crude beginnings to her present proud position among her sister-counties; and therefore we seek to gather the scattered and loosening threads of the past into a compact web of the present, ere they become hopelessly broken and lost, and with a trust that the harmony of our work may speak with no uncertain sound to the future.

                                                                        By Henry B. Pierce


FREDONIA was organized in 1838, and includes congressional township 3 south, and range 6 west. In 1870 it had a population of ten hundred and thirty-one, which has been considerably increased since.


The surface of the township is generally level, though rolling in a few localities on the west. The soil is excellent, and well adapted to raising the various products of southern Michigan, and its dairying facilities are also extensive. On the east the region known as "Palmer's plain" extends for some distance into the township, and the farms and improvements on this beautiful and fertile prairie are not excelled in the county, nor, haply, in the State. On the north and west are also fine farming regions, although in a few places not yet fully developed.


Water is afforded in abundance by Squaw and Nottawa-seepe Creeks, and numerous small lakes. Among the latter may be mentioned Lyon, Cedar, Long, Fish, and others, and parts of Nottawa-seepe and Brace lakes also extend into the township. Lyon Lake is a beautiful sheet of clear water, with clean, sandy shores, and very deep. It is a great resort for pleasure-parties during the summer season, as it abounds in excellent fish, and is large enough for sail-boats. It has lately been stocked with California trout and white-fish, and the angler may soon be enabled to have the greatest of sport in capturing the members of the “finny tribe”. The lake was named by the man who originally surveyed the township. His name was Lyon, and he undoubtedly named it after himself, because of its great beauty.


The other lakes in the township are more or less surrounded with low marsh lands, and are quite shallow. Cedar and Pine lakes answer for themselves as to the origin of their names. "Nottawa" Creek is called the "worst stream in Michigan," on account of its low, marshy banks, and the uncertainty as to the exact location of its channel. It drains a considerable extent of country, and finally discharges a large volume of water into the St. Joseph River, within the limits of St. Joseph County.


The timber of the township is yet abundant, and is of the various kinds peculiar to this region,-red, white, and burr oak, black and white ash, some maple, elm, etc., and occasionally a grove of tamaracks, which abound in the well-known " tamarack swamps" of this region, formed in the drift-period so many long years ago.


Nowhere in the country can better evidence be found of the terrible grinding and contortions of that period than here in southern Michigan and in northern Indiana. The deep beds of gravel, the many marshes and lakes; the shallow streams, the great distance to the rock, the detached masses of rock which have been transported here from some remote country, the sand and gravel ridges and knolls, and many other peculiarities are indisputable proofs of the mighty throes which agitated the country east of Lake Michigan when that stupendous water filled chasm was hollowed out, and the mass of debris, ground and polished, finally deposited in the shape we see it, wherever the eye is cast, for many miles.

EARLY SETTLEMENTS:  The first settler in the present limits of Fredonia Township was Thomas Burland. He was born at the village of Riccall, Yorkshire, England, and in 1831 came from there, accompanied by several families who were bound for White Pigeon prairie, in southern Michigan. Mr. Burland's family then consisted of his wife and three daughters. On arriving at Detroit, Mrs. Burland was unable to go farther for some time, and the other families went on and left them. Just after Christmas they started again and came in a sleigh to Marshall, making a quiet trip. For about fourteen months the family lived in Marshall, and in May, 1833, removed to the farm on section 24, where Mrs. Burland is still living with her son William. The latter was born in Marshall, February 13, 1833. Two other children were born after the family came to Fredonia. Five are yet living. Mr. Burland died August 7, 1872, aged seventy-three years. In April, 1833, before moving his family from Marshall, he and his father, William Burland, Sr., built the log house which was the first on the place, rolling the logs up with the aid of oxen. One log rolled upon the elder Mr. Burland and broke his leg. He came from England in the winter of 1832-33, sometime after his son left. Thomas Burland located the northeast quarter of section 24, and his nearest neighbors, outside of Marshall, were Charles K. Palmer and Silas Comstock, who lived just east of him in Eckford, having settled there in 1832. The log house which Mr. Burland built in 1833 stood just east of the site occupied by the present brick dwelling owned by William Burland. It was used as a residence until 1861. Mr. Burland was raised a farmer in “Merrie England”, and chose a beautiful spot for his future home on his arrival in Fredonia. He owned the first span of horses and the first cows which were brought into the township; made a clearing near his house, and sowed and raised the first wheat; went to Detroit for plow castings, and had the first plow which was ever used in the township; the wood-work to it was done by Colonel John Ansley, who lived in Marengo township, and to whom Mr. Burland went to have the plow put in shape for use. With this plow and a strong team he afterwards broke up a great deal of land for other settlers, and his “breaking-plow” was in constant requisition during the season for the use of such an article. Orchards were set out and fruit raised some two years before Mr. Burland had any on his farm. He was a fine marksman with a shot-gun,-never used a rifle much, —and killed a great many wild turkeys and the varieties of smaller game. Badgers were occasionally found, and he killed two and stuffed them for curiosities.

John Houston, Sr., the second settler in Fredonia, was born in Hanover, New Hampshire, and, when a young man, removed to Rochester, Monroe county, New York. October 1, 1833, he and his wife, with his three children, left home and started for Michigan. In the month of November they arrived on the farm where Mrs. Houston now lives. From Rochester they came to Lewiston, crossed over into Canada, and came all the way through to Fredonia in a covered wagon. Mr. Houston had been out in June previous and located his land. Upon it he built the first frame house in the township, a small structure which is now a part of the residence of his widow. The lumber he procured at a saw-mill, which had but recently been started in Marshall by George Ketchum. In the spring of the fall of 1834, Mr. Houston set out upon his place the first orchard in Fredonia Township, procuring the trees at Jackson. The same season he also sowed his first wheat. He had located three eighty-acre lots on section 9. He died in the month of October, 1869, aged seventy-five years. His wife, who is still living, is the mother of ten children, who are all living but one. Mrs. H. was his second wife. Her daughter, Sarah E. A. Houston, now the wife of Abraham Van Voorhees, was the first white female child born in the township, her birth occurring September 28, 1834.

Ezekiel Blue located land in Fredonia, either in 1833 or 1834. He first entered all of section 13; except the east half of the northeast quarter, and afterwards took up a “forty”, on section 28, and bought considerable additional land from second hands. Mr. Blue came from Yates County, New York, with his wife, three sons, and one daughter, and on the 14th day of May, 1836, they arrived at their new home. Mr. B. had been back and forth between New York and Michigan two or three times previous to this, and made necessary improvements and rendered things comfortable for his family. On a quarter-section he had purchased on section 24, of Robert Williamson, the latter had partially built a log house, which Mr. Blue finished up, dug a well, and made other improvements. In the fall of 1835 he had set out an orchard, which is still standing. He was a carpenter by trade, and had come out that season to build a barn on his place. He could get his chest of tools brought no farther than Ann Arbor without paying full price for a load, so he bought fifty young apple-trees and with them completed a load, and brought them along and set them out, thus securing the second orchard in the township. He brought cherry, currant, and plum sprouts with him from New York, and set them out also. When the family came from New York they traversed the route by team as far as Buffalo, thence by boat to Detroit, and the remainder of the distance by team, the trip from Detroit to Fredonia consuming four days of time, which was a quick passage, the secret being good roads. The route taken by most of the early settlers was much the same as that taken by Mr. Blue and his family. Some came as far as Buffalo, by canal; some only to Toledo, on the boat; others came all the way through by team, either via northern Canada or Ohio; while occasionally some persevering person, with more pluck than pocket-money, walked the greater share of the distance. Mr. Blue died January 2, 1846, aged sixty-three years. His wife died December 13, 1845, at the age of fifty-six. Three of their children are now living, all in Fredonia township, and close neighbors to each other. Peter lives on section 13, Gilbert on the homestead on section 24, and Phebe A., now the wife of George W. Briggs, also on section 24. The other son, Jeremiah P. Blue, died in September, 1844, then twenty-nine years of age. The farms which Mr. Blue purchased originally are all on Palmer's Plains, and are among the best in the township.

Increase A. Pendleton came from the State of New York, and located on section 24 in 1834. His son William, born the same season, was the first white male child born in the township. The Pendleton’s left after a few years and went to Marshall, and finally to Kalamazoo. Mr. Pendleton is now deceased. His wife was a sister of Charles K. Palmer, who located in Eckford Township in 1832, and from whom “Palmer’s Plain” derived its name.


Stephen Maynard came to the township in 1836, and settled where he now lives on section 12, south of Brace Lakes, near the Eckford township line.


Caleb Tilton came from Conway, Franklin County, Massachusetts, and in the year 1831 or 1832 located at Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan. After a few months' stay at that place he came to Calhoun County and settled in Marshall. In 1834 he located land on section 2 in Fredonia Township, and in 1835 located the farm where he now lives, also on section 2. His half-brother, John Tilton, came to the same place in 1835, and Caleb boarded with him, being then a bachelor. John Tilton and wife came from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, with one son, then a small boy. Mr. Tilton died in 1849, at the age of forty, leaving his wife and three children. His widow afterwards married Caleb Tilton, and they are now living on the old homestead. The land was purchased from the government, the Tiltons being the first settlers upon it. Caleb Tilton has lived upon the old place ever since he came to it. John Tilton lived in Tekonsha for some time, and also for a year and a half in Bellevue, Eaton County. After the Tiltons came to their place, which was in the spring of 1835, they erected a log house, which stood where the barn now stands. Caleb Tilton had previously cleared a small piece of ground, the land being in the white oak openings, and not very heavily timbered. Mrs. Tilton says when they came there was but one house between them and Tekonsha, ten miles away. Indians were numerous and almost daily visitors. They were usually peaceable. One day a huge warrior, very drunk, and with an old shawl tied around his head, turban fashion, sat down by the wayside to “sober off”. After a while he became thirsty, and going into the house asked Mrs. Tilton for a drink. She gave it to him and he went out again. Presently he came in for another drink, this time without the shawl, and still comfortably drunk. He came a third time and wanted his shawl, making signs to indicate what he was after, and Mrs. Tilton told him she did not have it, which was the case. The second time he came in he had probably taken it off and left it lying on the ground, and some other Indian, on coming along, had seen it and taken a fancy to it and carried it off. The fellow was not satisfied with what Mrs. Tilton told him, and went away with many expressive grunts. Some days afterwards he came back and wished to borrow a pail, saying he had found a “bee-tree”, and wanted something to take the honey out in. She told him she was afraid to let him have it, for fear he would not bring it back again, but he said, " Oh, yes; me bring him back; me good Injun!" She finally let him take the pail, and that was the last she ever saw of it, he evidently thinking he had got even with the "pale-face squaw," whom he considered as having taken his shawl. She saw him once afterwards in a store, but he no sooner caught a glimpse of her than he vacated the premises, and never showed himself again in her sight. He was evidently ashamed of the ruse he had played after having time to think seriously over it. The Indians were able to procure whisky at some of the stores in Marshall, and, after getting filled with “fire-water”, were accustomed at certain times to assemble to the number of several hundred on the plain on the south side of the Kalamazoo River, build a huge bonfire, and have a noisy celebration. On such an occasion a white dog was killed, and a weird dance kept up until a late hour at night, the playing of their feet and the gyrations of their naked bodies keeping time to the wild notes of a drunken song. Their dance was a kind of hop, skip, and jump, and their yells and howls made a horrid din which would completely shatter the nervous system of some of the "fidgety" people of the present. Above the other noises could be heard that which was made by beating an undressed deer-skin, which was stretched tight over the end of a hollow log. The more noise and the fiercer gesticulations they could make the better. As fast as any of them became wearied and fell out of the line their places were supplied by others, and thus "The night drove on with songs an' clatter". Imagination is impotent to paint the scene which was thus rendered, and no description can give the fantastic shapes and curious contortions which these wild denizens of the forest indulged in. It needed to be seen to be appreciated, and once seen was never forgotten.

In the early settlement of the country, while the tide of immigration flowed in, every house along the road was a public tavern, and they were all built of logs. As soon as a house was erected it was little else than a public house in any case, as it never was known in the early history of this region that a person was turned away who asked for a shelter. Everybody kept the latch-string on the outside, and what little the settlers possessed was freely shared with those more needy, even though it was a matter of serious consideration as to the source of the next meal. The hospitality of the pioneers was worthy the encomiums of those who came after, and many a figurative loaf was cast upon the waters of charity, with no note taken for its return. “Charity suffereth long and is kind" was the motto, and if the bread did not "return after many days" the feeling of joy at relieving a poorer individual was at least left as a noble reminder of good deeds.

Nearly every person who came to the country in the spring or summer season speaks of the wondrous beauty of the landscape and the surprise felt at seeing such a magnificent region spread out before them. Everywhere on the plains bloomed countless numbers of wild-flowers, sending forth sweet fragrance; the open prairies with a few scattering trees dotted the surface, and the groves along the streams and on the borders of the plains formed a dark, rich background of green, which altogether completed the capture of the senses of the beholder, and rendered him unwilling to go farther lest his dream should be dispelled and he awake to a realization that he had gone much farther and fared much worse.

SCHOOLS:  The first school-house built in the township was erected on the corner of David Aldrich's land, in the spring of 1836. It is now referred to as the Houston School - District No. 1. It stood on the north side of the road, in the corner where the orchard now is. The first teacher in it was Miss Jeannette Baldwin, now the widow of Elisha Gilbert, of Marshall. This school-house was constructed of logs, and stood a number of years, being used as a place in which to hold schools, meetings, elections, etc. It was finally torn away and a neat frame building erected on the south side of the road, a quarter of a mile farther east.  ((NOTE:  The Houston School was rebuilt in the 1950's on C Drive South in Fredonia Township. The school was in operation until 1967 and moved to the Calhoun County Fairgrounds in 2005.))


In fractional District No. 4, schools were taught in private houses previous to 1850, and during that year in Mr. Jager's house, where Miss L. Gould taught. The first teacher in the district was probably a Miss Sophia Fish. Miss Laura Kimball, now Mrs. John Fredenburg, also taught in this district. The present school-house is a substantial frame building, on section 5, on the farm of W. Lee.


In fractional District No. 7 a school was taught about 1839-40, in a house built for a dwelling, by Stephen Case. It stood on the southeast corner of the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter of section 2. The first term was a winter school, taught by Jeannette Baldwin. The next summer Miss Laura Mason was the teacher. Miss Baldwin has already been mentioned in connection with District No. 1. Miss Mason was married to a Mr. Haskell, of Fredonia and is now deceased.

Shortly after 1840, a school-house was built of logs, on land owned by Jesse Thurston, south of Caleb Tilton's place; also on section 2. It stood for a number of years, and was finally torn away. The present schoolhouse in this district stands on the town line, eighty rods west of the northeast corner of section 2.


The first school-house in District No. 6 was built by Ezekiel Blue, about 1838-39. It was a log edifice, and stood on the east Shore of Lyon Lake, distant but a few rods from the water. It was used for school purposes a number of years. Jane Markham, Halsey Southworth, and others were among the early teachers in it.  The frame school-house now standing on section 13 is the third one in the district, and was built in 1853.


In District No. 5 a school-house was built some years after the one in No. 6, and is yet standing on section 26, south of Lyon lake.


In 1877 it was noted that 'Fredonia Township is at present divided into thirteen districts and fractional districts, and contains eight substantial school buildings, which are a credit to the township'.

In 2005, the Houston School was moved from Fredonia Township to the Calhoun County Fairgrounds and is now a museum to our past:

Houston School District No. 1 Schoolhouse ~ Exterior & Interior (2005)

8803 17 Mile Road, Marshall, Michigan 49068                                                             © 2020 Fredonia Township