Celebrating Michigan’s Sesquicentennial Cities
In 1869, the State of Michigan was just 32 years old (statehood day was January 26, 1837…while President Thomas Jefferson had first created the Michigan Territory on January 11, 1805). The population at the time would have been over one million (the 1870 census reports 1,184,059…up 58.1% from the previous census in 1860 (at 749,113).
That year, several notable communities were official organized in the state – meaning this year, they’re celebrating their 150th Sesquicentennial Anniversaries – including my hometown of PLAINWELL!
According to Plainwell.com, “Plainwell, formerly known as Plainfield, became an incorporated municipality in 1869, and later became designated as a city on March 12, 1934. Main Street in Plainwell, also known as 10th Street or Old US-131, at one time was part of the Old Plank Road that extended from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo.”
Plainwell is situated in southeast Allegan County, bordering Kalamazoo and Van Buren Counties to the south, Kent and Ottawa Counties to the north, Barry County to the east and Lake Michigan to the west. I wasn’t aware, but apparently there are no other communities in the United States named Plainwell…which has the nickname of “The Island City” because you must cross one branch of the Kalamazoo River (or Mill Race) in order to get into the downtown area.
A handful of sites and districts exist in Plainwell that are listed National Register of Historic Places, including:
- James Noble Sherwood House at 768 Riverview Drive added in 1984
- West Bridge Street Historic District (320, 414–550 and 321–563 W. Bridge Street) added in 1991
- Island Historic District (roughly bounded by Hill St., Anderson St., the Mill Race, Park St., Bannister St. and the Kamazoo River) added in 1991
- Cherry DeLefebvre House at 115 W. Chart Street, added in 1991
- F. Eesley Milling Co. Flour Mill (also known as Plainwell Elevator Co.) at 717 E. Bridge Street, added in 1991
Among the notable people with ties to Plainwell are Dr. Dwight B. Waldo, the first President of Western Michigan University in nearby Kalamazoo. While he was born in New York, he spent his childhood in Plainwell. He was elected as principal of WMU on April 1, 1904 and served through 1936.
Plainwell is also the hometown of NFL football player Jack Conklin, internationally recognized cartoonist Dave Coverly and actor Ed Gale.
For more on the history of Plainwell and its neighboring city of Otsego, check out “Otsego and Plainwell” a 2006 book by Ryan Weiber and Sandy Stamm, available from Arcadia Publishing: www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9780738541167.
Or, for information on the Allegan County Heritage Trail, which traverses through Plainwell.
Upcoming Sesquicentennial in Plainwell events include:
- Tuesday, May 28: Presentation by President Ulysses S Grant 6 p.m. in Fannie Pell Park
- Saturday, June 15: Plainwell Days Festival – Dress in your best period costumes for the day. Participate in good ole’ fashion fun such as a Period Fashion Show, Quilt Raffle and Unveiling of the original Stagecoach that ran from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids
- Sunday, June 16: Family Day – Good Ole’ fashioned games in Fannie Pell Park with a Father/Child Pie Eating Contest
- August (Date / Time TBA): Historic Walking Tour
- Saturday, September 21: Vintage Baseball Game with the Kalamazoo Continentals vs Plainwell Celebrity Team followed by an Ice Cream Social
- October 12-13: Cemetery Walk – Self-guided tours on Saturday, October 12 and guided tours on Sunday, October 13.
- October 19: Historic Home and Business Tour
JOIN the Plainwell Sesquicentennial Facebook Group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/336441717131038/
For more: http://www.plainwell.org/Services-Departments/Visiting-and-Recreation/Special-Events/Sesquicentennial.aspx
Other 2019 sesquicentenarian cities include:
- CORUNNA was originally settled in the early 1840s by a group of businessmen called the Shiawassee County Seat Company…ironically it became the “county seat” of Shiawassee County about that time. The town was named after Corunna, Spain (where one of the founding fathers had visited to purchase sheep). Michigan’s Tenth Governor, Democrat Andrew Parsons, was a long-time resident of Corunna – serving from 1853 until his death here on June 6, 1855. Today, Corunna is known as “City of History / City of Growth.” http://www.corunna-mi.gov/visitors/corunna_sesquicentennial/index.php#.XOQw5chKjIU
- MUSKEGON was built up around lumbering, as logs traveled the Grand River out to Lake Michigan. Muskegon is known as the “Lumber Queen of the World” and the “Port City” which pay tribute even to this day to the lumber barons like Charles Hackley and Thomas Hume who shaped the community. Timber from this area helped rebuild Chicago after the great fire of 1871. During this era, Muskegon boasted more millionaires than any other town in America. According to the City of Muskegon website, “the name ‘Muskegon’ is derived from the Ottawa Indian term ‘Masquigon’ meaning ‘marshy river or swamp.’ The ‘Masquigon’ river is identified on French maps dating from the late seventeenth century, suggesting French explorers had reached the western coast of Michigan by that time. https://www.muskegon-mi.gov/community/history/
- NASHVILLE remained nameless for more than 30 years after the initial plat land was purchased in 1836. It was part of Barry Township and then Hastings Township until 1842 when the land became part of the newly formed Castleton Township. In 1866, the chief engineer for the Grand River Valley Railroad – Garaudus Nash – recommended that his name be used and without any objection from nearby residents the name Nashville was approved. On March 26, 1869 Michigan Governor Henry Baldwin signed into law the incorporation of the Village of Nashville. https://www.facebook.com/NashvilleSesqui/
- PORTLAND is located in Ionia County, between Grand Rapids and Lansing. It is known as the “City of Two Rivers” because it sits at the confluence of the Grand River and the Looking Glass River. As early as 1833, the land in this area was owned by Elisha Newman with the first post office arriving in 1837. The first train arrived in 1869 – the same year it was incorporated. Portland has a rich Native American history, with several tribes residing in the area. This is also believed to be the dwelling place of Chief John Okemos, a Michigan Ojibwe (Chippewa) chief. According to historical records, he participated in Tecumseh’s War and was a signatory of the Treaty of Saginaw. https://miportland.org/block-party
- SOUTH HAVEN was first founded in 1787 by Ottawa, Miami and Pottawatomie Native American tribes who named the land, “Ni-Ko-Nong,” or “beautiful sunsets,” according to SouthHaven.com. “In 1833, pioneer J.R. Monroe founded South Haven, Michigan when the U.S. government granted him a land patent for 65 acres of land along the shore of Lake Michigan.” This port town continued to grow over the subsequent decades and in 1867, the channel was widened to allow for commercial and recreational vessels. A lighthouse soon followed, first lit in 1872 and today one of the more than 120 lighthouses in Michigan (more than any others state). Industry, agriculture and tourism shaped South Haven and remain vital even today. This year is the 56th anniversary of South Haven’s most noted festivals, the National Blueberry Festival, August 8-11. In fact, South Haven is known as the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” https://www.southhaven.org/150
- WAYNE has an interesting history as noted on Wikipedia: “the site of Wayne was crossed by the Sauk Trail, and due to this, the area was visited by Potawatomi and French fur traders for years before permanent settlement. The first settler was George M. Johnson, who built a small log cabin on 80 acres of land in 1824 (a state historical marker can now be found at the site). The cabin served as a tavern for travelers along the trail, by then known as the Chicago Road. The area soon became known as Johnson’s Tavern. After a few years, the tavern was sold to Stephen G. Simmons, who continued to operate the business until he murdered his wife while in a drunken rage. Simmons was arrested and taken to Detroit, where he was tried and hanged September 24, 1830. He became the last person to be executed in Michigan, as the territory abolished capital punishment shortly thereafter. In 1832, Ezra Derby bought the tavern and land from the Simmons heirs and began establishing a settlement. [Two years later,] a plat was recorded in Detroit with lots and a town square under the name Derby’s Corners. In 1836, the name of the settlement was changed to Wayne, in honor of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne. In 1869, Wayne was incorporated as a village with a population of about 800 people. (In 1960 Wayne officially became a city.)” https://www.ci.wayne.mi.us/
According to Wikipedia, here are other notable businesses, attractions and buildings celebrating 150 years of operation:
Alcona County, Michigan
Bay Furnace, Michigan
Belleville High School (Michigan)
Benzie County, Michigan
Charlevoix County, Michigan
Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore Railroad
Colfax Township, Mecosta County, Michigan
Colfax Township, Oceana County, Michigan
Copper Harbor Front Range Light
Ferry Township, Michigan
Fountain Street Church
Grand Rapids and Lake Shore Railroad
Grand Rapids, Newaygo and Lake Shore Railroad
Kalamazoo and South Haven Railroad
McGulpin Point Light
Meade Township, Huron County, Michigan
Mendota (Bete Grise) Light
Michigan Lake Shore Railroad
Muskegon and Ferrysburg Railroad
Old Cheboygan County Courthouse
Osceola County, Michigan
Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Phi Delta Phi
Sturgeon Point Light
Wexford County, Michigan