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Historical account of the early history of the Michigan Grand River Valley, first published in 1877. This work was prosecuted under the auspices of the Old Residents' Association Of The Grand River Valley, the members of that hody having the desire that the scenes of the past should, not pass into oblivion.
That the Grand River Valley was explored by the French Indian Traders, we have authentic traditions. Michigan lias long been known, and the two posts, Detroit and Mackinaw, have been occupied for a long time as the centers of the Indian trade, and as military posts. Missionary stations and trading posts had been established before the reglon was open to actual settlers. So it was with the Grand River Valley. A mission station was established about 1825 on the west side of the river at (fraud Rapids, under the care of the Rev. Mr. Slater; and two Indian Traders had located themselves among the Indians. Soon after the treaties had opened the land on the right bank of the river to settlement, Slater and his band moved off. Their history is of little importance here, however interesting in itself. It left no permanent impression. The Indian Traders, too, might be passed by, were it not for the fact that they both became citizens, foremost in developing the region, when the white man took possession. These traders were Rix Robinson and Louis Campau.
These Indian Traders were living on Indian sufferance; had no rights but such as were given by them, and by a license from the Government. There were until 1833, no white persons in the valley, except such as were connected with the Mission, or with the Indian trade.
By common consent Robinson and Campau arc considered the pioneers; not merely as Indian Traders, but as settlers, and workers for the settlement and development of the Grand River region. As they will be more particularly spoken of in biographical articles, no more will be said of them in this connection.
The settlers of 1833 are spoken of in connection with the places where they located. The four points occupied that year were Ionia, Grand Rapids, Grandville or Wyoming and Grand Haven. At first there was a diversity of opinion as to where the big town would be. Louis Campau and Lucins Lyon had faith in the Rapids; secured land, and platted it; the one as "Grand Rapids "and the other as "Kent." The settlers at Grandville had faith in their location; and there platted a city. Those who came to Ionia believed in land; and thought less of founding a city than of cultivating the soil. At and near Grand Rapids we at this time find the Campans, and those in their employ.
In 1833. and while the settlement was Louis Campau and his dependents, a young-physician, Dr. Willson—a man whose name is held in singular'y affectionate remembrance—came to try his fortune at the Rapids, lie was fresh from the schools, and brought nothing with him but his youthful wisdom and gentlemanly manner; and these were his passport to public confidence, and resulted in perhaps the deepest and most affectionate respect ever felt for any person in the Valley. All concur in pronouncing Dr. Willson a gentleman. No single voice has ever claimed for him less than that he was the ideal nobleman—gentle, agreeable, sympathizing, generous, intelligent, manly. He came poor and empty-handed, without medicines or instruments. Mr. Campau liked the young man, and took him under his wing; bought for him a complete set of instruments and a stock of medicines. When the boxes came Willson fairly danced with delight. There was the young Esenlapins fairly launched into practice among a population of fifty persons. He died about twelve years afterwards, leaving a great blank—a dark, vacant spot in the Grand River Valley. The feellng with which the early settlers speak of him, shows how strong a hold he—the manly physician—had on the hearts of the people. May we have many more like him, and fewer of those soulless quacks, whose only object is to grow rich on the sufferings, or unnatural crime of the base, the ignorant or confiding.
It has been said that the basis of civilization is the blacksmith's anvil block. This much is certain : that man can make but little advance in the arts, or anything, that distinguishes savage from civilized life, without the labor and skill of that artisan. The superiority of the Philistines over the Jews is manifest in this : the Jews had no smiths. The United States, in their laudable endeavors to civilize the nomadic tribes on our frontiers, do not send the cabinet maker and jeweler, but the farmer and blacksmith.
The first who placed his anvil and bellows in the Grand River Valley, was A. D. W. Stout. His shop was at Grand Rapids, at the foot of Pearl street, where now stands the Opera House. There his bellows breathed its long-drawn sighs, and there he fashioned, first a fish-spear, and afterwards the many different articles demanded by the wants of the white man or the Indian. This Mr. Stout was afterwards one of the first settlers of Cannon. At the present writing (1876). he is living in Plainfield. Mr. Campau during this year put up some buildings ; built a pole-boat—the "Young Napoleon ; " and the same year the Indian Mill was built, on the creek that enters the Grand River in the north part of the city on the west side. Its site was some 60 rods from the mouth of the stream. It was a small concern ; just the cheap mill appropriate to the circumstances and time. It was of the old sash saw, flutter-wheel pattern, capable of cutiing 1,500 feet of boards in a day. The creek was dammed so as to make a pond ; and the stream being insufficient to run the mill continually, it was operated by the pond ; that is, when the pond was drawn down, stop until it was filled. The cheap run of stones put in that mill were a wonderful convenience to the inhabitants, as there was no chance for grinding elsewhere nearer than Gull Prairie. The, it is to be hoped, perpetual..
Read complete book at Google Booksip was a hardship. The season was early and some weren't dressed warm enough to stand the exposure of ten days in the open.
After arriving in Peru, William bought 100 acres of land, a short distance from the "Paper City". which people had laid out for the Village. It was well located, and soon north and south, as well as east and west roads were surveyed with a road on each side of his land. The land also abutted the Little Sauble River. William had learned, during the time he was "bound out" to the lumberman, a good deal about the advantages and operations of a saw mill. He erected a saw-mill on this river and also placed in it stones so it could be used as a grist mill.
This mill must have made money, for he soon paid for his 100 acres and bought 156 acres east of his farm. At his death in 1802 (6 years later, he only owed $30,00 [sic] on the mortgage on this 156 acres.
William's mill was the first in Peru, but later a man by the name of Harrington built a saw-mill directly across the small river from it. The nature of the land along the river was such that after Harrington had used his water right there remained 2 feet of water for the Lowing mill, which made the Lowing right more valuable and this mill was free of debt at the time of William's death.
At the first election after he moved to Peru, he as elected assessor, an office he held for six years, or until his death. .
In those days most of the land was unfenced and unbroken and was used for grazing, by the pioneers. Their crops had to be fenced against cattle and these fences were often makeshifts and were easily broken down by cattle. So --"Fence-viewers" were appointed to pass upon what was and what was not a fence. William was made head of the Fence-viewers, on April 2, 1799, which office he held until his death.
In those days a road builder was called a "Path Master". As a road bounded his property on four sides, with a ford crossing one of them and another road leading to his grist mill, he was made Path-master and spent much time keeping the roads in passable condition.
Schools as well as homes were built of logs or rough boards, with few windows and were usually heated by fireplaces. The desks were home made, with backless benches.
There were few schools to a county as there were often not enough children to form a school. Some person, in the district would open a private school in his home, and it was such a school that the Lowing children attended. The early teacher had, little more than a Fifth Grade education. Only a small percentage of settlers could read or write. William had had enough education before leaving Jamaica, to be able to do both. They had no pencils, but used quill pens and ink, made from berries. Few letters were written, but William assisted in making deeds and in their recording.
Men teachers were more successful than women, for the pupils were often big, strapping fellows of seventeen or older, and it was necessary to subdue the pupil before he could be taught. Tales are told of pupils carrying the teacher out and locking him in an outside privy, thereby causing his dismissal. Land was cheap and cultivating it was easier than teaching, so that many good teachers became farmers instead.
There were so few schools in Peru County, that one Board had supervision over the whole county and they were looked to for every means of operating the schools. Money to pay the teachers was the most difficult to find, so that teachers boarded with the families of the children, living a set time with each family. Married men were usually furnished their food and little else. Sometimes no payment except crops.
In 1800, William Lowing, Elisha Arnold, and Elmer Lott, were chosen Peru County School Board. They held this office during the years until William's death.