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"E PLURRIBUS UNUM":  THE UNIFICATION OF MUSKEGON

By Lowell B. Dana,  March 1926

 

Submitted by Anita Pugh and Bill Moore

 

     The history of Greater Muskegon's development into its present status is a story of the gradual merging of many settlements into three corporations, viz. Muskegon, Muskegon Heights and North Muskegon.  Cities are built through consolidation of units and this consolidation is usually carried on to the point of greatest profit to the inhabitants, unless barred by geographical barriers, or inassimilable differences.

     The first settlements were made by adventurous traders, explorers or trappers at various points around the lake.  By  1861, at the time Muskegon was organized as a village, there were many groups of people, more or less separated from each other.  Lack of easy transportation made intercourse between settlements rather difficult and tedious.  Each community developed a sort of local spirit individual characteristics of its average citizens.

     Taking these villages in order starting at the big lake we will first describe Port Sherman.  This group had been first permantly settled by Fred Drexilus, who had the only real house there in 1850.  There were a half dozen white people living there and about four or five hundred Ottawa Indians.  The road to Bluffton wound around the sand hills on the Muskegon Lake side as at present.  The road around the shore of Lake Michigan and through the park was used later.  The village developed steadily from this time on.  The lighthouse was first built and the channel deepened in 1855.  In  1871 this first structure was torn down and rebuilt.  The coast guard was established in 1878.  The first saw mill was built near the Muskegon Lake end of the channel about 1856 by Smith, Fowler  & Company.  Mr. Smith was Dennis Smith, father of Lawrence A. Smith and Mrs. F. W. Wilson.  LeMieux had the mill, which was sold about 1864 for $28,000 to S.A.  Browne and Associates and this afterwards became the Browne & Nelson Mill.  Most of the inhabitants were people employed in the neighborhood.  There were employees of the sawmill, sailors and ship owners, fishermen, the lighthouse keeper, and later the coast guard.  Captain Eastman, a tug-owner, and Captain Nicholas Inglis, who owned a schooner, were prominent men.  The Sherman House was built in 1874 by Captain Fuller and was always crowed by resorters in the summer.  Many Chicago people came to Port Sherman to resort or camp even prior to 1870.  Several French Canadian families came in about this time, the descendants of whom still live there, namely, the Cardinals, Nedeaus and Beauvais.  The original plat of Port Sherman was called the village of Laketon.  The Community affairs were mostly settled at the Browne  & Nelson Mill office or at Joseph Bulger's saloon.  At an early date the guess was that the future city would be at the mouth.  According to Henry H. Holt, land at the mouth and at Bluffton was once selected by a commission as valuable endowment for the National Government to give the State University at Ann Arbor.

     Next east of Port Sherman was Bluffton.  Prior to 1880 this village had been built around the sawmills of Wilcox  & Company, Addis, Day  & Lattimer and Olson & Jones.  The Muskegon Post Office was first established at Bluffton in 1838 with Henry Penoyer as Postmaster.  For quite a time Bluffton was the center of the whole community, but population soon centered 4 1/2 miles east, at the present corner of Market and Terrace Streets.  The customs office was moved from Bluffton to Muskegon about 1879 and caused much complaint by shippers who had to take the trip for clearance papers.  The earliest name for Bluffton was Millville.  It had been a trading post since 1812.  French Canadians predominated here at an early date.  By 1880 Mike Sullivan had the principally saloon and community center.  A Catholic chapel was built here prior to 1880 and stood until recently on the hill back of Pasco's present place.

     Bluffton had a strong local pride and was an important trading and lumber center for a long time.  Some of its most prominent citizens were T.V. McNiff, H.V. Rifenberg and Edward Miner.  The eastern limit of Bluffton was about the site of the west end of the country club grounds.

     A void of wilderness separated Bluffton and Lakeside, its next neighbor to the east.  In 1870 Lakeside consisted of a string of shanties or small houses along Lake Street.  The Bluffton Post office was established in Lakeside and called Ryerson.  Most of the population was employed in the sawmills of Perley & Company, A.V. Mann & Company and Essau Tarrant.

     The three villages of Port Sherman, Bluffton and Lakeside formed the bulk of Lakeside Township.  It was a portion of Muskegon County set apart from Laketon Township, which had been organized in 1865, and was bounded on the north by the channel, south by Township of Norton and east of Muskegon Township.    The split from Laketon Township came in 1875 when it was apparent the lake was a natural geographical boundary.  The first meeting of Lakeside Township was held in A.V. Mann & Company’s office in 1875.  The first board of inspectors were J.W. Moon, A. M. Allen and F.H. Smith.

     Lakeside village was incorporated in 1883.  There was a strong community life in Lakeside.  Macabees and Good Templar Lodges were prominent.  The Swedish element predominated although there were quite a few Germans who came in the 80's.  The village maintained prohibition for a long time and one of the objections to coming to Muskegon in 1889 was the fact that it was wet.  The streetcar line, however, made it easy to get to either Pinchtown or Bluffton for an "eye opener" and this objection lost force.  In 1880 the population of Lakeside Township was 1702.  Some of its notables were J.W. Moon, Seth D. Estes, Newcomb McGraft, Geo. J. Tillotson, Hiram Parker, P.P. Misner and many others.  Lakeside village ran about to Ruddiman's Creek.

      East of Ruddiman's Creek was Pinchtown.  George Ruddiman settled here in 1840.  He planted an orchard on the hill on the East bank in 1848.

     Ruddiman made the original plat of "Pinchtown".  This plat dates from about 1872 or 1873.  Mr. Ruddiman was evidently much interested in the presidential campaign of 1872.  This is indicated by the street names he selected, Greeley Street, Brown Street and Grant Street, appearing on the map.  Brown Street was doubtless named after Mr. Greeley's running mate, B. Gratz Brown.  Grant, of course, was named after the general and successful presidential candidate of 1872.

     Montgomery Street beyond Laketon on the west was dubbed Washington Street on the Ruddiman plat and what is now the western extension of Palmer Boulevard was called Lincoln Street.  It will be seen the Mr. Ruddiman was an admirer of American notables.

     The name of Brown Street was later changed to Moore Street and the name of a former 8th ward alderman was substituted for Grant.  Division Street on the Ruddiman plat is now Robinson Street, in honor of the man who invented the name "Pinchtown".

     It is said that some asked Mr. Robinson, who fifty years ago combined the job of mill bookkeeper and keeper of the Lakeview House and saloon on Lakeshore Drive at the corner of Robinson Street, what they would call the new village which developed quite rapidly after the plat was made.  "Call it Pinchtown", Robinson replied.  "It's pinched in between Muskegon City and Lakeside.

     For many years Jim Robinson made Pinchtown famous.  The big hall in his Lakeview House was the scene of all of the local prize fights and cock fights.  Being outside of the city limits there was no ban on prize fighting and no closing hours for the saloon.  The sheriffs of those days were tolerant and it was commonly accepted that Pinchtown was the proper place for prize fights.  No less a notable than Jake Kilrain once fought there.  When Lakeside was annexed Pinchtown also came into the city and gradually with the decline of lumbering the old resort was abandoned.  Robinson started a saloon uptown, but died many years ago.  He was a wonderful penman and for years clerk of Muskegon Township.  It was said that the fact that there was always lots of treating at the bar was quite an inducement to voters of the township who for years made this out of the way corner of Muskegon Township the place of holding the annual town meeting.

    East of Pinchtown was woods at an early date.  The settlement about Brewery Hill and along the lakefront was a separate community as early as 1862.  Mr. F. Newmeister first operated a brewery on the hill and a little later.  In 1876 O.G. and G. Meeske took over the brewery and enlarged it.  G. Nineman came into the firm a year later.  In 1878 most of the hill was farmland owned by Alexander Rodgers, Sr., and W.H. Bradley.  The north side belonged to C.J. Hamilton & Company and the Thomas Turnbull estate.  About 30 families were supported by the brewery payroll in 1880.  A brickyard was established here at an early date and later abandoned.

     The building of the McCracken, Hovey & Company mill in 1881 followed soon afterwards by the Michigan Shingle and Lumber Company mill developed Brewery Hill and the land between there and Pinchtown quite rapidly.

     Muskegon was organized as a village in 1861 and on July 8, of that year Lyman G. Mason was elected President.  The first election was held in the basement of the M.E. church.  The charter, as a city, came in 1869.  At the first election Chauncey Davis was elected Mayor.  The charter was amended in 1871, revised in 1875 and amended again in 1879.

     Pine Street was the business Street until after the fire of August 1, 1874.  The first plat of the city drawn up in 1849 stretched in a wedge shape across the central business district of today.  The south end was about at the present corner of Miller Avenue and Second Street and the boundary ran directly to Third Street at the present site of St. Paul's Rectory.  Thence the line ran directly to a point near the present Post office following a line a few rods west of Hunter's Plumbing Shop to Muskegon Lake.  It then followed the lake shore to a point nearly opposite the foot of Pine Street, then ran directly back to present corner of Miller Avenue and Second Street, everywhere intersecting lots, streets and buildings as at present laid out.  In 1864 Muskegon Township had a population of 2712 mostly in the village.  The next six years saw the most rapid growth in the history of the city as in 1870 the Township had jumped to 6006 population according to the census of that year.

     There were many distinct neighborhoods of settlements on the outskirts of this first plat.  Each had a sort of unity and maintained its local loyalty for a long time.  Some of the settlements called by their characteristic names were:  The settlement along Myrtle Street, east of Spring Street, which consisted mostly of Hollanders who did manual labor in the saw mills, this was known as "Dutch Town".  Many of the old country habits and styles of dress were preserved in this community for a long time, among them the use of wooden shoes.  Some people gave this settlement the more aristocratic name of "Amsterdam".  Another Dutch settlement around the present section of Third Street, near Monroe and Merrill Avenues, was known as "Rotterdam".  The Dutch inhabitants of these towns were rather slow to mix and the absorption of these districts was gradual over a period of time.

     Another settlement was under and above the Jackson Street Hill called "Killgrubbin".  It contained a preponderance of Norwegian, though in general the group was cosmopolitan.  Michael Dwyer, about 1860, ruled over Killgrubbin as a sort of "Mussolini".  Another name for the upper part of this settlement was "Norwegian Hill", later it was known only as the First Ward.  The first Township meeting was held in 1838 at Newell & Wilcox house near the present site of Damm's hardware.  Uppertown was the old business district between Pine Street and Second Street.

     Middletown was rather poorly defined in its limits, but was the next portion west of Second Street extending down to about Sixth Street.

     West and north of Sixth Street was Lowertown.  This section comprised the lower land of the city.

     These last three sections were not particularly dominated by any group or nationality, but were the general run of citizens in all walks of life.

     On the outskirts of the city in 1870 between Getty Avenue and a stretch about 1/2 mile out the Old Grand Rapids road as the City is now laid out, was Bucktown, spirited from the City by a long stretch of small oaks.  These settlers were gardeners, laborers, and clerks.

     Before the Heights boom there were half a dozen houses on south Terrace Street on the old Ferrysburg road, along which were those of F.F. Clark, Oscar Lyons, E.E. Tyler and others.

     There was a small settlement south of the G. R. & I. railroad on Peck Street.  William Collier was there in 1874 and Maffett's vineyard was near the Street named after him.

     Henry Street, for a mile south of the present city limits, had a scattered settlement as early as 1870.  The prominent men of this group were Hubert Stein, Patrick Crowley, Patrick Dowd, Edward Reynolds, Frank Young, Edward Pett, Joseph Gunn, W.J. Pingree, Charles McGregor and others.  This settlement worked out its own problems and almost like a village.

     At the head on Mona Lake there was a group of houses and the Water Mill was on Big Black Creek as early as 1850.

     Muskegon City Railway Company was one of the biggest factors in eliminating community boundaries.  It was organized in 1883 and rapidly placed about 11 miles of track in operation.  It was first used as a horse car line.  By 1890 the system was electrified and was substantially, the same as at present (1926) with the exception of the Mona Lake and Jackson Street Hill additions.  The Pine Street line also ended at the entrance to Evergreen Cemetery.  The car barns were built in 1891 and employed about 60 men.  With the Street Railway and the gradual diversification of industry, people were able to go greater distances for daily employment.  Intercourse between the far sections was more frequent and boundaries were less closely maintained.

     Muskegon Heights was the direct result of a syndicate of business men formed in 1890 known as Muskegon Improvement Company.  There were few settlements in the present limits of Muskegon Heights prior to this time except the one around Maffett's Vineyard.  The section was laid out into lots, ten acres were reserved for parks and 110 acres for factory sites.  The first lot sale was held May 12, 1890, and 2800 lots were sold at $130.00 each.  One mile of pavement on each of Jefferson and Peck Streets and one-half mile on McKinney Avenue were put in.  The city was incorporated as Muskegon Heights January 2, 1891, and by 1892 had 1300 inhabitants and a factory payroll of $20,000 per month.  From the rather late start Muskegon Heights has grown to its present size and importance.  It has weathered many depressions and stagnation periods.  Many industrial plants that promised much have gone out of business and have been forgotten.  New industries have come in and have grown so that we now have a very prosperous and permanent city with unlimited possibilities for expansion.

     The city government at the Heights is spending money on much needed improvements, but there are still some problems, which will have to be worked out rather carefully.  Among these is the problem of water supply.  Many citizens of the Heights are employed in and own property in Muskegon and visa versa.  The cities are separated by governments only.

     Returning to Muskegon the western portion of Ottawa Street grew right along with Muskegon and was part of it.  C. & W. M shops, now the Pere Marquette shops, came in the latter part of the 70's and employed some settlers in this part of the town.  Lumber workers formed most of the balance of this section.

     Around the mouth of the Muskegon River was the Muskegon Booming Company grounds and there were a great many shanties and amphibious homes.  The inhabitants were mostly employees of the booming company, loafers, trappers, and there were some Indians.  The booming company was chartered in 1864.  At its high point this company had 900 men with an annual payroll of $200,000.  The earliest white settlement group on the North Side started in August 1837 when one Jonathan H. Ford began building a water mill at the mouth of Bear Lake.  Afterwards this spot was occupied by the Ruddiman Flour Mill.  A few houses gradually sprang up here and there were several sawmills there prior to 1880.  This developed into "Picket Town".

     Bay Mills had a dozen houses when the mill was abandoned in 1893.  There were several Polish people employed in this mill but they have scattered.

     The eastern section of the north side was known as Reedsville and was platted very early by Archibald Reed.  This is one of the earliest if not the earliest plots on the lake.  The first house was built by James Drahan in 1847.  The John Ruddiman saw mill was here in 1850.

     The village of North Muskegon was incorporated in 1881 and E.C. Misner was elected president.  Geo. D. Farr, Treasurer, N.L. Downie, Clerk & Assessor and Wm. Wells and Mr. Malloch, Justices.  Transportation to the south side was by ferry boats.  Bridge built about 1867.  The population was largely employed in the mills, although there were several farmers.  The only large mill prior to 1880 was that of Torrent and Arms.

      Regarding the consolidation of these settlements, it was apparent that all the south side of the lake had the same main interests.  All needed fire protection, water, and police protection.  Paving had to be done and the elimination of boundaries by easier transportation and a spreading together of dwellings made this evident to the population.

     At a meeting of the city council in January 1889, a committee reported in favor of the annexation of Lakeside Township.  Lakeside people had voted in favor of it.  The assets of the village were reported to be in good shape, including a water system and fire protection apparatus estimated to be worth $25,000.

     The committee also recommended that steps be taken to annex sections 36, 31 and 32 of Muskegon Township.  This portion of the township included territory between Laketon Avenue and Sherman Boulevard and Henry Street and Pinchtown community.  Had this plan been carried out there would have been no Heights question to solve.

     The committee asked for further time to consider a proposition to annex North Muskegon.

     The North Muskegon proposition was dropped and nothing came of the proposal to annex the tree sections of Muskegon Township.

     The annexation of Lakeside was formally consummated March 15, 1889.  Pinchtown was acquired in 1895.

     The land surrounding the City of Muskegon as first chartered was gradually taken into the city until present limits have been reached.  One of the acquisitions not generally mentioned was the 110 acres north of the channel.  W. H. Deweese had a translake proposition also a belt line railroad and he claimed it would be of advantage for the city to control both sides of the channel.  This strip was added in 1893.  Other men interested in this project were George Irwin, F.JH. Holbrook, D.D. Irwin, and A.F.Temple.

     The land between the Grand Trunk and Pennsylvania railroads from Getty Avenue to about Catholic Cemetery was added in 1917.

     The city will undoubtedly extend in many directions as settlements are built up.  Some promising groups now are settlements east of Getty Avenue, south of limits around Jackson Street also the Henry Street District.

     North Muskegon is now a flourishing city.  It has many problems which should make it willing to be annexed.  Muskegon would welcome this addition and the new road planned will help bring this proposition to a head.

     The Heights would be a valuable city to join with Muskegon.  Both cities would be benefited, and the expansion would be natural, as there are no physical obstacles.  There seems to be no reason for postponing this union.  Revision of the City Charter might be necessary but the plan could be made mutually advantageous.

     One objection might be the fact that the merger will throw the representative districts of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights out of balance with the County.  The first district now comprises Muskegon City and the second contains Muskegon Heights.  Population of first in 1920 was 36, 7866 and of second 25,792.  Muskegon Heights had 9514 of the second district.  By throwing the Heights and Muskegon together the first district would have 46, 280 and the second 16, 278 or a little more than one third.  This could not be avoided because the State Constitution forbids the division of a city for representative district purposes.  This should not be a serious difficulty.

     A union of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights and North Muskegon estimated at 55,000 people would bring Muskegon's population ahead of Bay City, Jackson, Kalamazoo, and very nearly up to that of Saginaw.  This would give us the advantage of unity and give Muskegon a little greater significance.

 

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