This interesting little history of Almont, Lapeer County, Michigan, was written br Dr. William B. Hamilton, and read to a gathering of the village and township people on the Fourth of July, 1877. At about that time it also appeared in the Almont Herald, the village paper, which was then owned and edited by A. H. Patterson. Thirty five years later, in March and April, 1911, it was again published in the same paper by the editor G. W. Paton. It contains much of interest to the people of Almont, and is worthy of being preserved for the use of future generations.
This little booklet is the work of the boys at the Michigan School for the deaf, Flint, Michigan, who are learning the printer's trade.
This little booklet is the work of the boys at the Michigan School for the deaf, Flint, Michigan, who are learning the printer's trade.
1827. The first trace we can find in the memory of the "oldest inhabitant," of the opening up of our beautiful township to the adventurous white man, takes us back to 1827. In that year William Allen, his son G.W. Allen and James Thorington, with Levi Washburn as hunter and guide, from the neighborhood of the township of Washington, with invading axes cut a road through northward, near the present main street of our village, to the pineries beyond. Tradition says they found the road about as hard to travel as the famous Jordon of the song, and that, when they "pitched their nightly tents," they were serenaded in such lively style by roving bands of wolves that sleep forsook their mossy pillows, and daylight was welcomed with more than usual pleasure. They found a fine tract of country, offering great inducements to the farmer; the southern portion somewhat rolling and consisting in great part of windfall land and oak-openings; the northern more level and covered with heavy timber, mostly beech and maple, intermingled with strips of pine.
The first purchase of land in the township was made in the spring of 1828, by Lydia Chamberlin, the e 1/2 ne 1/4 of section 5. In the fall of the same year James Deneen bought from government and actually settled upon the w 1/2 ne 1/4 sec. 9. To him belongs the distinction of being the leading pioneer of this township and county. For two years he was the only one, his nearest neighbors being some ten miles to the southward, while away to the northwest lay the great Saginaw Valley, now crowded with cities and villages; then known only as the seat of an obscure trading post. Mr. Deneen went to California in the height of the gold fever, and soon after died there. Honor to the pioneer hero!
Next came Jonathan Sleeper, who settled in the fall of 1830, on e 1/2 ne 1/4 sec 28. He built a log house on the south end of the lot, nearly one-half mile south of the center of our village. Opposite, on the east side of the road, the same fall, Oliver Bristol built a frame house, the first in town, which is still standing in good preservation; and next May, 1831, he moved in with his family. His brother, Bezaleel, came with him and located near by. A little farther south, on the town line, Elijah Sanborn bought in 1830 and settled in 1831. Those were trying times for the hardy pioneers, and we in our days of comparative ease and luxury, earned by their labors, can hardly realize how much they had to endure. Mr. Sanborn came in March, but the winter was unusually prolonged by a heavy fall of snow in April, and he had to feed his stock his scanty store of flour, and even the straw from the family bed ticks to keep the animals alive, while he went an arduous journey of twenty miles to Troy for supplies. Mr Sleeper was a poor man, and was obliged to leave home and work in the settlements south in order to support his family while clearing up his farm. While he was absent the wolves were impudent enough to come right up to the doorstep and even put their feet on the window sill and look into the house. Imagine the feelings of a lonely woman with her little ones, under such circumstances. About this time these ferocious animals killed and devoured a valuable cow belonging to Oliver Bristol, a sufficient proof of their power and murderous intentions. In those days a tub of soap grease left out over night was pretty sure to be gone by morning, and the smaller kinds of stock had to be carefully housed up in order to preserve them. The writer remembers hearing the howl of the wolves as late as '43 in a swamp in the southeast corner of the township, about the time when they killed seven sheep in one night for Reeves Hallock just over the line in Berlin.
In 1829 the first birth among the white settlers took place, that of Anna Deneen, daughter of James Deneen. This lady, now the widow of Chas. Walker, still lives on the old homestead. She was the first white person born in Lapeer County. The first funeral also occurred this year, that of an infant son of Bezaleel Bristol. On this occasion the first sermon ever delivered in Lapeer County was preached by "Old Father Abel Warren," as he was familiarly called. Mr Warren belonged to the M.E. Church, and was the pioneer preacher of a large tract of wilderness, embracing this and several adjoining counties. He must have been a man of many sterling qualities of brain and heart, judging from the success of his heroic labors, and the affectionate remembrances in which he is still held by the surviving pioneers.
In January '32 the first wedding took place. Cullen Baldwin was married to Nancy Elderken by Father Warren, at the house of Oliver Bristol.. The happy couple settled in Bruce, but afterwards moved to this township. Both have since died; Mr. Baldwin only a year ago at Romeo.
John Walden came in the spring of '32 and died in the fall of '33, being the first adult white man known to have died in the township. Abner Fisher, Wm. Boles, Josiah Sleeper, Benj. Sleeper, Philip Frisbie and father, and others were added to the settlement at this time. David Ingalls came in '29, bought in '30, built in '31, and settled in '36.
In '33 there was a notable increase in the number of actual settlers. David Taylor, John Hopkins, James Thompson and Wm. Robertson commenced the Scotch Settlement in the southwest. In the winter Nathaniel Smith and in the fall Philip Smith located in the southwest, while Bradford, Philip and Varnum Wilcox and Elisha Webster settled in the northwest where, a year after, the latter built a saw-mill, which was for a long time the only one in town. In July of this year, also, the first house, a log one, was built on the site of the present village of Almont, on the spot now occupied by the Robertson block. Daniel Black was the owner and builder, and to him belongs the title of founder of the village. James Thompson is one of the few men now amongst us who assisted at the raising.
As early as the winter of 1834, Mr. Black kept a sort of tavern in his log house. He had to go to Pontiac and take out a license at a cost of $18, and then had to keep two extra beds and stabling for two spans of horses in order to comply with the law. He had several dances, and the young people used to come to them from Rochester and Utica. Considering the state of the roads in those days, this certainly showed a good deal of enterprise in the pursuit of pleasure under difficulties. Mr. Black was present at the first court held in Lapeer County in 1837. He was township collector ten years in succession, being very accommodating in dealing with the poor settlers, taking ashes, black salt, oats- in payment of taxes.
Bears were very abundant a year or two previous to this, and Oliver Bristol had a rather exciting adventure with one near the site of the present Cong'l Church. He was a cripple at the time,the result of a limb fractured some six months before. He had fired at the bear, wounding and knocking it down. When commencing to reload he perceived the bear, a very large one, making toward him. He turned to run, but his crippled leg failed him. His only resource was to reload. With a few of the liveliest motions he ever made in his life, he did so, and dropped the powder in the pan of his old flint lock just as Bruin rose to receive him with open arms. But for the luck shot that followed, the name of Oliver Bristol would probably have figured no more in this eventful history.
Quite a large influx of population took place in 1834. Six families of Houghs, viz: those of Witherell, Jedeiah, Edward, Ebenezer, Walter,K. and John B., with James Taylor, James Andrus, Elisha Farnum, Cyrus Humphrey, Otis Freeman, William and Harrison King, James H. Kidder, Stephen Smith, Milton Fox, Willard Wales, and Josiah Banghart were added to the number of influential citizens. Nicholson Richardson had come in '33, but did not settle till '34. Simeon Balch and Clark Bates came a year later. As an illustration of the pluck and energy commonly shown by these enterprising men, this circumstance is related in regard to Mr. Jas. Andrus. He reached this place on the 12th of May, chose a location 1 1/4 miles west on the 13th, traveled on foot to Detroit on the 14th, bought his land and walked back on the 15th, reaching Black's a little after sun-down. During the two days he was gone, his son James H. worked alone cutting the first road west from the village, and inside of two weeks from their arrival, the family were snugly fixed in a comfortable log house on the new farm.
This year was also rendered notable by the organization of the township under the name of Bristol, and the holding of the first town meeting. At this election thirteen votes were cast- not as many votes as there were offices. Those must have been rare times for office-seekers! Oliver Bristol, democrat, was elected supervisor, and for two years went as such to Pontiac the county seat of Oakland County, as Lapeer Co. was not then fully organized. This year witnessed also the foundation of our school system. The first school house was a log building, erected a few rods west of the present store of Farquharson and Taylor. Charlotte Freeman was the first teacher, and received the extravagant salary of 74 cents per week.!
Nicholas Richardson was one of our first highway commissioners. Some idea may be formed of the state of the roads in those days from the fact that he pronounced it utterly impossible to make a road on the site of our present beautiful turnpike to Romeo.
Dr. Caleb Carpenter, the pioneer physician, settled in the village this year. Dr. Leete followed in a year or two, in the southwest part of the town.
About this time our village was first christened and strangely enough the baptismal font was a keg of whiskey. A "bee" had been called to open a road one-half mile north from the corners. To aid in the work a keg of spirits was procured by subscription; but someone who loved a horn himself, fearing, perhaps the men might abuse the blessing, slyly took measures to prevent this, and serve a private end besides, by boring a hole in the keg, drawing off a large portion and filling up with water, and then carefully obliterating all traces of the operation. So he may be truly said to have in-auger-ated the first effort in behalf of temperance. When the whiskey came to be used, it did not have the expected effect; suspicion was excited, an investigation instituted, and the discovery made that the keg had been tapped. So it was then and there decided to call this place Tapshire, and the oldest inhabitants often called it such to this day. Philip Frisbie suggested the name.
In 1834, also, the Almont M. E. Society was organized consisting of five members, and was included in Mt Clemens circuit for that year and the next. In 1836 Romeo circuit was organized, and this class was included in it, and remained so until 1844, when it was separated under the name Newburg circuit.
1835-36: In '35 the first parcel of land was sold to second hands on the village site. Dec. 19th Hubbard Hall bought off Oliver Bristol eight acres on the northwest corner of section 27 for $80, and soon after sold to Philo Farnum one acre from the northwest corner for $10. The present value of this acre, with its buildings, is something near $20,000. Here he built a log house, and shortly after a small shop; and commenced as pioneer in the shoemaking business. In the spring of 36' or thereabouts, Dan'l Black sold out his land to Otho Bell, except a small piece on the southeast corner where his house stood. This he disposed of to Lewis Alverson, who here kept the first stock of groceries ever brought for sale into this place; but the first building raised for a store and occupied as such was Chas. B. Keeler's. It was built on the present site of Farquharson and Taylor's store, and was filled with a general stock of dry goods and groceries in 1836. Albert Southwell established the first blacksmith shop about this time; and the first hotel building, the present Exchange, was erected by Hubbard Hall, and immediately purchased and kept by Henry Wing. In this year the State government was organized, though the State was not admitted to the Union till the following January; the county of Lapeer was also organized and this township incorporated therewith, and the name Newburg adopted by the village, which now consisted of a school house, hotel, store, blacksmith shop, shoe shop, and five dwellings. The first plat of the village was made and recorded Sept. 8th of this year by Oliver Bristol, Jonathan Sleeper, C.B. Keeler and James Thorington. John Dewitt, Jas. Learmont, George W. Allen, Gerritt Schenck, Samuel Kidder, Garry Goodrich, Amasa Ross, Hiram and Reuben Howland, Truman and Calvin Shaw, Wm. B. Owen, Amos Hewitt and John Matthews became settlers here during this and the following year. Caleb Carpenter was supervisor in '36, and C. B. Keeler in '37 and'38.
For many years during those early times Dr. Caleb Carpenter used to carry the mail once a week on horseback through from Royal Oak, and often the weather and roads were so bad as to prevent his getting through as often as that. And people were glad enough to get the news once a week and to get letters even at the rate of two shillings apiece. The first regular post office was in Caleb Carpenter's house in '35; the second was in C.B. Keeler's store in '36. Ezra Hazen became postmaster in '38.
837: In '37 Dr. Jones came and built the first physician's office, the building now occupied by Mc George's meat market, and Stephen A. Mc George commenced gunsmithing. The same year the Baptist Society was organized with sixteen members under Rev. C. Churchill, who remained their pastor till '44.
1838: In '38 a grist mill was built by Adam Boles one-half mile east of the corners. Orrin Belknap commenced merchantile business, Wm. and John Steele succeeded Chas. B. Keeler in the Newburg store, and Dr. F. K. Bailey settled in the northern part of the township and commenced practice. Cook Wells also settled in the northwest. On this year's 4th a crowd was assembled and anvils fired to celebrate the day for the first time. On Dec. 6th nine individuals formed the body now known as the Almont Congregational Society, and six weeks after fourteen more were added to their number. Their first pastor was Rev. Hiram Smith, and meetings were held in a school house one mile west. Mr. Smith's ministry continued three years, and an important revival occurred in the second year.
During much of this time Squire Oliver Bristol was chief justice of the peace, and administered the judicial affairs of the town with due rigor and impartiality. One case is recalled to illustrate the times. It was a jury trial. During the process of the case a jug of whiskey had been introduced among other arguements, a proceeding which completely disarmed the prosecution. Several of the jury were soon so powerfully affected that in the words of truthful James, "the subsequent proceedings interested them no more;" and the judge became so mellow that he exclaimed, "Come boys, let's quit lawing and settle this thing up." The counsel and clients literally laid their hands together and wound up the suit with a compromise- and another drink! Both Oliver and his brother Bezaleel have long since departed this life. Their children are still among us, and the excellent memory of Joseph and Shelton, sons of Bezaleel, this history is indebted for most of its earlier dates and incidents.
About the close of the patriot war there was a free immigration from Canada, and the town became quite populous, so that in this brief sketch we can no longer mention all the names. Several families of Churchills and Edgertons were among these new comers. But little wild land was left untaken.
1840: In '40 a commodious frame school house was erected on the site of the present residence of Wm. Colerick. The M.E. Society was largely increased by a revival under REV. L. D. Whitney. To show how far a little money went in preaching in those days, it is stated that in this year the class was assessed only $9.12 for pastor's salary! In September, 1842, Eliphalet Parker succeeded Hiram Smith as pastor of the Cong. Church, a position which he held for two years, when he gave place on account of ill health to James R. Taylor, chosen from their own membership and licensed by the Eastern Association. Soon after Mr. Parker instituted the first academic school, and conducted it with success in person for several years, in the building still standing next east of the Baptist Church. In the fall of 1843 Price and Hendershot started the first foundry and machine shop, on the site of the present shop of Currier & Bro.
During this decade the Scotch Settlement was largely reinforced by the numerous families of Cochranes, Mortons, Millikins, Hamiltons, Muirs, Mairs, Marshalls, Fergusons, Reids, Braidwoods and Patons, with John Wason, Wm Wallace, and others; and these added largely by their industry and thrift to the material prosperity of the town.
A few prominent names of the later pioneers might be mentioned here: Zadoc H. Hallock, who came in '38 and settled one-half mile east, where he still lives, and who cut the first road and took the first wagon through eastward into Berlin; Joshua Smith and Thomas Morton, who settled by the "Red Run" in '38, of whom the latter might be styled the "advance guard" of the army of Scotch who followed after '40. Mark Farley in '40, David and Wm. Clark in '38 and '40, and Virgil Parmlee were added to the settlement north. The Chas. Kennetts, Sr. and Jr., Solon Spafford, and Wm. Nichols also came about the same time. Adam Watson and J.G. Thurston came two or three years later.
In 1840 Beach and Rundell started the first wagon shop; in '42 John Roberts joined the firm, withdrawing a few years later to go into the grocery and fur trade with his brother Amamah (sp?).
In 1843 Isaac McKeen opened the first law office in town. A pearl ash factory was also established by Dan'l Black and Garry Goodrich a few rods north of the present Cong'l Church, and Stephen Briggs built his carding and fulling mill, which is still in operation. Henry Stephens, afterwards so prominent in the business of this place, now made his first venture in the merchantile line, also running opposition in the ashery business; but at this time he only remained about six months. In November, Calvin A. and D. R. Shaw succeeded the Steeles in the Newburg store, and soon worked up a business that took the lead for about eleven years.
The summer of this year is probably remembered by many on account of a grand squirrel hunt in which the whole town took part, the north part being pitted against the south. It was arranged in connection with the second celebration of the 4th of July. A dinner was to be provided by contributions from the farmers, and fifty squirrel tails were required from a man and twenty-five from a boy to entitle him to a seat at the table. The hunt lasted a week, and almost any one who chose to try could secure the requisite number, so exceedingly plentiful was the game. The result of the hunt was 5,700 tails, the southern division being victors. A grand jollification followed.
This is a work in progress; more to come...