Early History of Ionia County
The following information was taken from the 150 year celebration souvenir booklet of Ionia County 1982.
In the summer of 1832, Samuel Dexter from Herkimer County, New York, visited the Grand River Valley area in Michigan. The area was occupied by Indians whose camp was at the foot of the river which is now near Mill Street in Ionia. He told the Indians that he would return with family and friends to settle the area in the Spring.
Mr. Dexter then traveled to the nearest U.S. Land Office at White Pidgeon, in southern Michigan Territory and filed a claim on the land. He then returned to New York State where he spent the winter gathering people and provisions for the new Michigan settlement.
Sixty-two people left New York for Michigan on April 22, 1833. There were six families, headed by Samuel Dexter, Erastus Yeomans, Oliver Arnold, Darius Winsor, Edward Guild and Joel Guild. They were also accompanied by five young, single men, Dr. William B. Lincoln, P. M. Fox, Abraham Decker, Warner Dexter and Winson Dexter.
The group traveled the Erie Canal by daylight, their horse teams used to pull the canal boat. They slept on the banks of the river at night. They reached Buffalo on May 7th and loaded themselves on the steamer Superior for the trip to Detroit. They reached Detroit on May 10, 1833. Most of the household goods were sent by a different ship to Mackinaw and then on to Grand Haven where they would be brought upriver after reaching the new settlement.
The group traveled a very primitive road from Detroit through Pontiac and on to Saline. From that point on, travel was through the unbroken wilderness. This path became known at the Dexter Trail. Parts of this trail can still be seen today. The trip was not without it's misfortunes. The group suffered it's first loss in a young boy, Riley, son of Samuel Dexter. Riley died of scarlet fever and was buried in a trunk at the foot of a tree in what is now known at Clinton County.
May 28, 1833, the travelers arrived at what is now known as the city of Ionia. The Indians were living close by in 5 bark huts. Four of these huts were about 10 feet square and contained bunk beds along the sides. The fifth hut was about 14 feet square. The Dexter colony bartered with the Indians and for these huts and for the harvest of the crops that had been planted in the Spring. A payment of $25 was agreed upon and it was in these huts that the women and children slept while cabins were being built. The Indians continued to be good neighbors to the settlers and provided them with venison, fish and maple syrup in exchange for things that the settlers could spare. The household goods sent from Grand Haven arrived midsummer.
That first summer, log houses were built for Samuel Dexter, Darius Winsor and Erastus Yeomans. The first child of these settlers was born in August of 1833, Eugene Winsor, son of Darius Winsor. This family also experienced the first death . Their six-year old daughter died that first summer.
The first frame house was built for Dr. W. B. Lincoln in 1834. Dr. Lincoln was Ionia County's first physician with a large practice extending from Grand Rapids of the west to about equal distances to the south and east of the settlement. Dr. Lincoln was also the first school teacher and the first Township Clerk.
The first marriage was that of Dr. Lincoln and Anthy Philene Arnold, daughter of Oliver Arnold. They were wed at the home of the bride's father on July 5, 1833.
Samuel Dexter built the first sawmill just west of the present Armory in 1833, using the water power of the creek that ran across Main Street at Dexter.
Following the settlement of the Dexter Colony, in May 1833, came Henry V. Libhart to the southwest corner of what is now Ionia township, the Cornells to Easton township, John E. Morrison to Berlin, and Philo Bogue and John Milne to Portland. All of these settlers arriving in the area before the end of 1833. Among those who arrived in 1834 were Franklin Chubb and Nathan Benjamin, who located in Lyons township, George W. Case, Horace Case and the Connor brothers in Easton township, John McKelvey and Gadd Bunnell on Ionia township.In the year 1835, the population of the county further increased with the addition of Alonzo Sessions and brother Job Sessions, in Berlin township; Chancellor Barringer in Danby township; and Selah Arms, the first settler in Orange township.
In 1836, the United States opened a land office in Ionia. Thus, there was a great influx of settlers to the area, particularly from New York.
During the winter of 1836-37, petitions were circulated, signed and forwarded to the state legislature asking that Ionia be organized as a county. The bill creating the county was signed by the Governor on March 18, 1837. The first elections for the selection of county officers was held in April of 1837 and resulted as follows: Associate Judge - Isaac Thompson, Judge of Probate - William D. Moore, Sheriff - Elhanan W. Curtis, County Clerk - Asa Bunnell, County Treasurer - John E. Morrison, Register of Deeds - Adam L. Roof, County Surveyor - Buel H. Mann, Coroners - Philo Bogue and Thaddeus O. Warner.