Ionia County MIGenWeb Project

Ionia County, Michigan MIGenWeb Project


In order to research any given family line, one must understand the important historical events that influenced the movement of families from one given locality to another. Following you will find a "time-line" of sorts with reference to the important events of Ionia County and of the state of Michigan.

1668 - The oldest Michigan community, Sault Ste. Marie was founded by the French. Detroit was founded in 1701.

1763 - The British took possession of the area but strongly discouraged settlers.

1787 - Michigan became part of the U.S. Northwest Territory. The British were still in control of both Mackinaw and Detroit

1796 - The British withdrew from all remaining posts, including Detroit. White men were beginning to settle in the Ionia County area for the purpose of fur trading. There was money to be made from selling furs to the French. The first known trading post in the Ionia area was established near Lowell (just west of Ionia County) by a Madame Framboise.

1800 - Michigan became part of the Indiana Territory

1805 - Congress created the Michigan Territory

1818 - 1832 Transportation methods were improving and settlement of new areas was encouraged. Steamship transportation on the Great Lakes, especially from Buffalo, New York to Detroit was in full operation by 1818. The Erie Canal was completed to Buffalo in 1825. The Chicago Road that linked Chicago to Detroit was completed in 1832. Those that had made their fortunes in the building of the Erie Canal often made their west to settle new frontier lands. Samuel Dexter was one of those individuals. He and Dr. Jewett arrived in what is now Ionia in 1830. They filed a land claim and then returned to their homes in Herkimer County, New York, to gather up a group of pioneers that were brave enough to head for the wilds of the Michigan Territory. The pioneers arrived on May 28, 1833 after a long trip down canals, rivers and across unbroken wilderness to stake their claim.

1833 - 1837 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 arrived 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.

*The above information was taken from the 150 year celebration souvenir booklet of Ionia County 1982.

Samuel Dexter wanted to call the place "Washington Center" after the first president, but when the paperwork got signed, the city was officially called "Ionia County Seat" and "Ionia Centre" and later shortened to "Ionia."

1835 - Michigan lost part of it’s southern border in the Toledo War with Ohio. At this time though, Michigan gained the property of the Upper Peninsula. The first post office in Ionia County was established in August of 1835.

1837 - Michigan becomes a state. Until 1836, the Ionia area was still administered as a township of Kent County. In 1837, Michigan finally achieved statehood. The capital originally in Detroit was moved to Lansing. A U.S. Land Office was established in Ionia County Seat. Those wishing to purchase land in the north central area of Michigan, came to Ionia to have the papers drawn up. The town became a organized and elected their first County Commission.

1840 - By 1840, the County was divided into six townships, with nine post offices, and a white population of approximately 2,500.

1850 - In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s the fur trade was replaced with the lumbering trade. Lumber saw mills were found all along the Grand and Flat Rivers. There was actually more money made from Michigan White Pine than there was in the California Gold Rush!

1854 - 1857 - Steam boats were traveling the Grand River from the Lake Michigan shore to Lyons. Hotels were being built, and hundreds of settlers interested in Michigan White Pine came to or through Ionia. The 1854 census reported that Ionia County's population had reached 10,727.

1857 - The railroad reached the city of Ionia. The Detroit & Milwaukee RR came in from the east. Soon, the Detroit, Lansing & Northern came into the area.

1860 - The County's population was nearly 17,000. Most were rural farm families, but the many towns in the County included Hubbardston, Kiddville, Patterson's Mills, Wheatland, Palo, Matherton, Ronald Center, Saranac, Montrose Station, Pewamo, Stoney Creek, Lyons, Muir, Maple, South Boston, Skipperville, South Cass, Campbell, Russel, Orange, Sebewa, Portland, Stebbinsville, Kossoth, and Danby.

1861 - 1865 Over 90,000 men served the Union in the Civil War. Of these 90,000 men, 14,000 lost their lives. Many of Ionia's soldiers fought with the 16th Michigan, trained at Camp Segel in the fields east of Ionia. These volunteers are commemorated by a large monument in the Ionia Courthouse Square.

1875 - The Michigan Legislature appropriated money to begin construction of the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia. This prison, still in service today is the State’s second oldest prison. Construction continued until 1880.

1877 - The Ionia County economy recovered after the economic "Panic of 1877." Many State Senators, Representatives, Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys General, Lieutenant Governors and other high-placed government officials came from Ionia. In the 1870’s, the Detroit, Lansing & Northern Railroad established their first "car shops" in Ionia, including a roundhouse and manufacturing facility.

1885 - The Ionia Asylum for the Criminally Insane was opened with 217 patients.

1900 - All of Michigan’s 83 counties had been settled.




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This page was last edited December 2, 2002 10:55 AM