History of Lenawee County, Michigan - Chapter 16, Palyra Township

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PALMYRA TOWNSHIP. The Township of Palmyra was one of the' five civil divisions provided for in an act of the territorial legislature, approved March 7, 1834. It then constituted the territory described as follows in the act creating it: "All that part comprised in surveyed Townships 7, 8, and 9, and fractional Township 1o south, in range 4 east." Thus it will be seen that the Township of Palmyra at that time embraced in addition to its present territory all that now comprises the Township of Ogden, besides all of what is now Amboy Township and three tiers of sections of Fulton Township, in Fulton County, Ohio. At the time of the organization of Palmyra the southern boundary of Michigan was claimed and generally conceded by everyone-save the Ohio partisans-to be the so-called "Fulton line," and all County and Township jurisdictions bordering on Ohio were extended to that line. But in the spring of 1837, when by a legislative compromise the "disputed strip" passed tinder the unquestioned control of the Buckeye State, the Township of Palmyra was correspondingly reduced in size to the present limits of Palmyra and Ogden. In a few years it became apparent that this territory was altogether too large, as from the northern to the southern boundary was a distance of about thirteen miles. In 1837 provision was made for the organization of the Township of Ogden, thus putting the Township of Palmyra into boundaries described as "Congressional Township 7 south, range 4 east." On March 21, 1851, an act was passed, providing that "All that part of the Township of Palmyra which lies south of Raisin river, between the point where the line between Palmyra and Ogden intersects the above river, to that point where said river enters the Township of Blissfield, be taken from the Township of Palmyra and made a part of the Township of Ogden; and all of. Ogden which lies north of Raisin river shall be taken from Ogden Township and be made a part of Palmyra." The surface of the Township of Palmyra is rolling, and the drainage is entirely to the River Raisin, which flows completely through the Township in a southeasterly direction. The soil of this valley is rich alluvial, washed from the higher lands, and is well supplied with the elements producing crops. In fact the soil of the entire Township produces good crops of wheat, oats, corn, rye, barley, clover, timothy, and potatoes. In the early days wheat was the principal money producing grain, and it was marketed at the village of Palmyra, but later stock-raising received more attention. Wheat growing becoming less advantageous for several reasons, the acreage grew less and corn came to yield more abundantly. More attention was then given to stock-raising, and dairying has been found to be a fruitful source of farm profits. The village of Palmyra was for many years a center of activities.

The early settlers of Palmyra Township generally possessed money sufficient to purchase a yoke of oxen and a cow, a few hens and pigs, and some farm implements. Those who were unable to purchase a full outfit borrowed from the neighbors, who willingly loaned. In every instance grain was planted, the sower scattering by hand. The harvests of grain were gathered with a hand cradle, the wild grass was mown with a scythe, and a grind-stone, axe, plow, and fork, completed the utensils for early farming. They were a people well adapted to endure the privations necessary to improve a new country. They were generally of small means, with a limited education, and all strong in the faith of the religion of their ancestors. That their triumph over difficulties was well established, behold the large holdings of their descendants, who now are the possessors of well stocked farms. The Township of Palmyra was settled nearly as early as any of the Townships of Lenawee County, and the first purchase of land in the Township is said to have been made by N. W. Wadsworth, from Connecticut, Oct. 7, 1823. To Ezra Goff and Henry J. Paddock are ascribed the honor of having` been the first actual settlers, in 1826, followed soon thereafter by Timothy B. Goff, William Foster, Benjamin Mather, Americus Smith, Nathan Gibbs, Jr., Julius Gibbs, Daniel Clark, Lester P. Clark, Walter P. Clark, John Comstock, Wait Chapin, and William Beldin; and prior to 1834, Benjamin Clark, Stephen Warner, Alonzo Mitchell, Horace Whitmarsh, Robert Craig, Orrin and Nathaniel Gleason, Dr. C. C. Robison, Reuben Tooker, Rollin Robinson, David Buck, George and Barzilla J. Harvey, Gershom Noyes, Alexander R. Tiffany, Asahel Brown, George Colvin, Edwin Holloway, and Edward Underwood.

Timothy B. Goff was born in Massachusetts, April 25, 1790. When a boy, he learned the printer's trade at Royalston, Mass., where he worked until his health failed, and then he turned his attention to farming. About the year 1820 he moved from Massachusetts to Niagara County, New York, and purchased a farm. In 1827 he migrated to Michigan and settled in Palmyra on the southwest fraction of section 26, the farm containing 202 acres. It was very heavily timbered land, but he worked hard ands faithfully to subdue the wilderness, until his death, Sept. 17, 1843. During his residence here he served as an associate County judge. Americus Smith, another pioneer of this Township, took Lip land from the government in 1832. He came to Lenawee County as a young man in 1828, and was a member of the first Methodist church organized. in Adrian, being one of but five members. In the spring of 1833 he went to Palmyra Township, where he had entered some land, and for a time he lived in a shanty, one and a half miles from Palmyra village and five miles from any other settler. A mill was improvised by hollowing out the top of an oak stump and rigging a pestle on a spring pole, with which he crushed corn into "samp" for food.

Lester P. Clark was born in Connecticut, Aug. 22, 1805. At the age of fourteen he went to Norwich, Chenango County, New York, where he went to school and afterward learned the carpenter's trade. He resided in Norwich until his twenty-second year, when he went to Rochester and followed his trade for about one year, assisting in building the first Presbyterian church erected in that city. About the year 1827, he emigrated to Michigan and settled in Monroe. He immediately commenced business and established himself as a contractor and builder, opening a shop and manufacturing furniture aS well as carrying on a general carpenter shop. He built several edifices in Monroe before 1830, and he was also a vessel owner on the lakes, at one time commanding his own vessel. On one of his trips from Buffalo, in 1828, he brought Isaac Dean and his family to Monroe. In the summer of 1834 he came to Lenawee County and located eighty acres of government land on section 4, and he also purchased from Daniel Clark 103 acres of land on section 8, all in Palmyra, afterward adding to it until he had a farm of 450 acres. On the 1o3-acre farm there were only about two acres cleared, with a small log house, when he purchased it. He cleared it all tip, erected good buildings, and was at one time one of the largest and most successful farmers of the County. In the spring of 1845 he had just finished one of the largest and finest farm houses in the County, when, on May 23 of that year, it took fire and was totally destroyed, with nearly all of its contents. During the construction of the Michigan Southern railroad from Monroe to Adrian, and the building of the LeRoy, bridge, he accommodated thirty boarders for one year, besides occasionally caring for the surveying party, seven in number. This surveying party consisted of Henry Hart, who was the engineer, and six assistants. Mr. Clark was at one time a prominent dry goods merchant of Adrian and was an active business man of that city. He died in Palmyra, April 23, 1877. John Comstock was born in Massachusetts in 1774, and was reared a farmer, his father, Nathan Comstock, being one of the first settlers of Ontario County, New York, settling in Farmington in 1788. The son was educated in Canandaigua,.N. Y., and afterward studied law with judge Howell, of that village. He practiced law in -that County for several years, and in 1830 migrated to Adrian with his family. He took tip a part of the land now known as Oakwood cemetery, but soon thereafter entered 16o acres in Palmyra. He afterward sold this farm and purchased a small place in Raisin, near the "Valley," where he died in June, 1851. He was one of the very first settlers of Lockport, N. Y., in company with his nephew, Zeno Comstock, taking up the land upon which nearly all of that city now stands. He was a brother of Darius Comstock, and followed him here, being one of the active and prominent pioneers of Lenawee County. He never practiced law after he came to Michigan.

Stephen Warner was born at Cummington, Mass., April 18, 1779. With his wife and family of nine children he came to Palmyra Township in August, 1831, his oldest son, Norton D., having preceded him the year before in order to locate lands. The family made the journey by the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, and across Lake Erie on the schooner "William Tell," there being but one or two steamboats on the lake at that time. Landing at Monroe, they proceeded by lumber wagons over a corduroy road and through deep mud to the residence of an old friend and cousin, Calvin Bradish, who had settled in Madison Township, and there they remained for a few days, until their log house was ready for, their reception. Through all the privations and sickness incident to a pioneer life, as well as in all the varied experiences of after years, Mr. and Mrs. Warner ever exercised tender sympathy and charity. Both lived to a good old age, he being 71 and she 83 at the time of their respective deaths. Five daughters married and for a time were settled in Palmyra. Eliza, the oldest of the family, married Dr. Caius C. Robinson, of Palmyra, N. Y. He came west in 1832 with his brother-in-law, Judge A. R. Tiffany. Mr. Robinson bought a large tract of land where the village of Palmyra now stands, built a mill and laid out the village, giving it the name of his former home. It was in his humble log house that the first church of Palmyra was organized, and there the meetings were held for many months, he leading the meetings and superintending the Sunday school. He was a great lover of music and always led the singing, accompanying his fine voice with the bass-viol. Eminent and most successful in his profession, esteemed as a citizen for his integrity and zeal in promoting every object that tended to the common good, and admired in the social circle for his geniality and humor, his early death was deeply mourned by those who loved and honored him. Alonzo Mitchell was a native of the Bay State and was born in Cummington, Hampshire County, March 28, 1807. He commenced going to school at an early age and continued his studies until fifteen years old. Afterward his services were utilized in a tannery conducted by his father, in the details of which he became thoroughly posted, and he remained a member of his father's household until 1828. He then proceeded to New York City, where he worked a few months as a carpenter, but returned to Massachusetts .and engaged in a tannery at Cummington for two years following. He was not satisfied with his condition or his prospects in the East, and accordingly, in the month of April, 1831, accompanied by John Bryant, brother of the poet, William Cullen Bryant, started for the great West. They proceeded by wagon to Troy, N. Y., where they took passage on a canal boat to Buffalo, thence by the lake to Monroe, Mich., and from there on foot to Adrian, about forty-five miles distant. They landed in what was then but the beginning of a village on May 4, after sixteen days travel. The post office at Adrian was then in a log house and the country around was but thinly settled. Mr. Mitchell entered a tract of government land on section 22 in Palmyra Township, a part of which tract is now included in the village. Having a good opportunity .to sell he parted with this soon afterward and entered another tract on the same section. He then returned to Massachusetts, where he was married, and upon again arriving in Palmyra Township he rented a small house adjacent to his land, and there the young couple lived more than a year, at the end of which time they moved into a new log dwelling on their own land. In the embryo village of Adrian there was fortunately a saw and grist mill, which proved a great convenience to the early settlers, and the country around abounded with all kinds of animals, including deer, wolves, hears,' wild turkeys, and wild-cats. Mr. Mitchell was a good marksman and kept the family well supplied with choice meats. The howling of the wolves was a serenade they would willingly have dispensed with, but it gave way in time, as the country became settled and the rifles of the pioneers caused these animals, with the others, to disappear. Mr. Mitchell from his early training and natural gifts was at once recognized as a man of more than ordinary ability, and was destined to become a useful member of the community. He was foremost in those enterprises calculated to develop the resources of the country and improve the condition of the people. He encouraged the establishment and maintenance of schools and was one of the seven original members who organized the Presbyterian Church at Adrian. Later he assisted in the building of 'the church edifice at Palmyra, and was one of the most liberal and cheerful contributors to the support of the society there. He labored early and late, both on his farm and in behalf of the interests outside, and was prominent in local and political as well as religious affairs. He assisted in the organization of the Republican Party in this section and was ever after one of its most faithful adherents. He served as assessor and highway commissioner, and in his district as School director and trustee. During the Black Hawk war of 1831-32 he campaigned seventeen days. William Mitchell, the father of Alonzo, followed the tanning trade in Massachusetts until 1833. He then sold out his business and, migrating to Michigan, located in Palmyra Township on section 18, where he erected a frame house and afterward put up a tannery, and there he carried on business until he rested from his earthly labors, his death taking place July 17, 1856. Nathaniel Gleason was born in Massachusetts, July 6, 1774. He was a farmer, and went to Chenango County, New York, about 18o6, and there he purchased a farm and lived until 1823, when he sold out and went to Wayne County and lived until 1830. In 1829 he came to Michigan and took up the west half of the southwest quarter of section 31, in Palmyra, and in June of the following year he moved his family upon this land. He at once commenced clearing, but was soon taken ill with a cancer and died Feb. 24, 1832. When he moved in, he brought two barrels of salt pork and a horse team, but he soon traded the horses for oxen and grain.

Rollin Robinson came to this section of country from Wayne County, New York, where he was born June 3, 1810. He continued on the farm of his parents until fifteen years old and then removed with them to Palmyra, N. Y., where he continued his studies in the schools of the village and carried the Wayne Weekly Sentinel to the subscribers in the town. He also learned to set type in the office, which he entered when seventeen years of age as a regular apprentice. He was thus occupied two years, and in the meantime assisted in the printing of the first edition of the "Book of Mormon," or Gold Bible, for the prophet, Joseph Smith, with whom young Robinson became well acquainted, and who was a neighbor of his father. In 1829, wishing to see something of the world, he started out by himself and made a tour of the New England states, then returned home and engaged in clerking until the fall of 1832, when he migrated to the Territory of Michigan. He employed himself at whatever he could find to do in the new country, chopping wood and assisting in clearing land at twenty-six dollars per month, and he assisted in the erection of the first grist mill at Palmyra. In 1835 he purchased a tract of timber land on section 22 in Palmyra Township, on the west side of the River Raisin. He put up a good house on the place, but never occupied it, as he returned to New York State soon thereafter and engaged as a clerk in the city of Buffalo one summer. He then returned to Michigan and commenced operating as a grain dealer in Adrian. In 1843 he was appointed station agent of the Michigan Southern railroad at Adrian, which position he occupied five years, and when the state sold the railroad, he returned to Buffalo and purchased a line of canal-boats, with which he engaged in freighting on the Erie Canal until 1854. He afterward proceeded to Chicago and became agent for the American Transportation Company, but in the spring of 186o he returned to Lenawee County and resided in the village of Palmyra two years, then repaired to the farm where he spent the remainder of his life. He was the first constable and collector of Palmyra Township after its organization, and represented the township several terms on the County board of supervisors; he also served as justice of the peace for a period of eight years. He cast his first presidential vote for Andrew Jackson, but 'being directly opposed to the extension of slavery he was a Republican during the Civil war period and then returned to his former allegiance. Asahel Brown was born in Stafford, N. J., April 9, 1803. He removed with his parents to western New York when young, and there he was reared to farming and received a common school education. In 1833 he came to Michigan, first settling on a farm in Palmyra Township, but in 1836 he removed to a farm in Algansee, Branch County. The first town-meeting there was held in his log cabin in 1838, and he was elected the first supervisor, which position he held consecutively until 1851, also in 1853, 1856, 1857, and from 1861 to 1865. He was also for several years justice of the peace. He was a strong Whig until 1854, then a Republican. He was a delegate in the constitutional convention of 1850, also that of 1867, and state senator in 1857-8-9. He owned a large farm, and for several years was president of the Branch County Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Company. He died June 8, 1874.

Edward Underwood was a native of Dutchess County, New York, and was born in February, 18oo. Upon reaching manhood he purchased twenty acres of land in Wayne County, but later bought out the heirs of his father's homestead and took possession of that, which he occupied until 1836. In the spring of that year, leaving his family in the Empire State, he started for the undeveloped West and purchased zoo acres of land on section 18, Palmyra Township, for which he paid eleven dollars per acre. In-the fall of the same year he brought his family here. They came by team to Buffalo, thence by the lake to Toledo, which was then a small place, and thereafter traveled through the cottonwood swamp to this Township, There was a log house on the place he had purchased, and a few acres had been broken by some immigrant with less courage, perhaps, than the one who now took it in hand. After establishing his family as comfortably as circumstances would permit in the log house, he commenced the improvement and cultivation of his farm. In the course of a few years he found himself the proprietor of a comfortable homestead, which he occupied the remainder of his life, his death taking place on May 20, 1878. In the meantime the first primitive dwelling had been succeeded by a handsome, substantial brick residence, flanked by a frame barn, a good orchard, and the other improvements naturally the result of industry and enterprise. A large portion of the land had also been brought to a high state of cultivation. Mr. Underwood was a man held in respect by his neighbors and esteemed as one who had contributed his quota toward the development and progress of Lenawee County. The experiences of the early settlers were similar, regardless of locality, and, to some extent, without regard to wealth. Necessaries of life, as we of later generations class them, were not to be procured, by reason of the great distance to be traveled, and hazards encountered in reaching the older settlements. The forest supplied the meats, for the most part, as it did, also, the fruits and sugar. Coffee and tea were luxuries seldom used. This is mentioned to show the simple fare that satisfied the demands of the times. A dinner of corn bread alone, or of meat without bread, was a common repast. Potatoes were early raised, but had not become a household necessity as now. Maple sugar and syrup were among the old-time luxuries easily obtained. The cabins usually had a "shake" roof, fastened on by weight poles, with a clay or puncheon floor and a door made of boards split from native timber, and fastened together with 'wooden pins, or, in the absence of this, a blanket hung in the opening: The dimensions of the cabin were usually limited to the smallest size which would accommodate the family, the walls of rough logs, cracks "chinked" with split sticks and stones and plastered with mortar, with sometimes a little cut straw mixed in the "mortar" to prevent its falling out.

The pioneer shoemaker, gunsmith, and blacksmith were welcome adjuncts to the early settlements, as were, also, the backwoods schoolmasters and preachers. The first schools usually embraced only the rudiments of the "three R's." The "master" taught twenty-two days for a month, at a salary of about eighteen or twenty dollars per month. He was oftener selected because of his muscular development than on account of his scholastic attainments, though both were considered essential to complete success. The school "furniture" was in keeping with that which adorned the homes of the pupils, entirely home-made, and of the variety created for utility rather than beauty. The desks were puncheons, or at best planks, resting on wooden pins driven into auger holes in the logs of the wall. These were bored at an angle of about thirty degrees. Fronting the desks were stationary seats made of slabs or puncheons, with flaring legs of wooden pins, and these were made high enough to accommodate the largest pupils, while the smaller ones sat-with their feet dangling in mid-air. Globes and outline maps were unknown to the pupils, and were a mystery to the masters. The "text-books" comprised Adams arithmetic and Webster's Elementary Spelling Book. These covered the curriculum of reading, and spelling, mathematics, language and literature, history and science. The ancient "pot-hooks," more difficult to form than any letter in the alphabet, comprised the first lessons in writing, but were never heard of afterward. There was no system by which these characters were made; hence each "master" had a "system" of his own. Sundry boxing of ears and other barbarous punishments often followed the pupil's futile efforts at imitating these useless hieroglyphics. And yet we must credit the pioneer schools with producing a class of plain and neat writers, a feature very noticeable, and often commented upon, in the reading of ancient documents. It is equally true that most of the students, of those early days were excellent spellers, according to the rules then in vogue. But the primitive schools of pioneer days have long since been succeeded by the excellent school system so nicely provided for, in part at least, by the reservation of a portion of the public domain for that purpose. The village of Palmyra was at one time thought to be destined to become a thriving city, but fortune was against it, and as the country developed the currents that tended to the upbuilding of a place turned toward Adrian, and Palmyra was left to continue its existence, in the language of an old pioneer, as "an imaginary city." It is located near the center of the Township, six miles east of Adrian, on the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad and the Toledo & Western electric line, and although the fond hopes of its founders were not realized, it has always been an important trading and shipping point for the farmers. And this particular locality has always been a prominent landmark to both the resident and stranger. It derived its name, as did also the Township, from the fact that many of the first settlers came from Palmyra, N. Y. A post office was established there soon after its first settlement, and as related above, there were high hopes of its becoming a city, but it was finally surpassed by other localities which were favored with superior advantages. Palmyra boasts of an excellent school, in which the patrons take great interest. For many years after the settlement of the Township, religious services were conducted by the traveling ministers, of various denominations, usually at private houses, or in the school-houses of the Township. In the year 1836 a Presbyterian Church society was formally organized at the village of Palmyra under the supervision of the Rev. Joel Walker, who became the first regularly installed pastor thereof. This organization, like most of the other religious societies of the County, has been compelled to pass through the various evolutions of adversity and prosperity-seasons of diminution and of gradual growth-but it is now housed in a commodious and tastefully finished house of worship. There is no regularly installed pastor in charge at the present time. A regular appointment of the Methodist Episcopal Church was established at Palmyra, by the Michigan conference in the fall of 1838, the Rev. John Scotford being the first pastor assigned to the charge. This was on the antiquated Maumee circuit of the Michigan conference, but the charge, district, and circuit, have long since passed from existence. George Crane was the first supervisor of Palmyra.. The first saw-mill was built in 1834 at the village of Palmyra, and the first grist-mill at the same place, by a Toledo company, in 1836-7. The grist-mill had four run of stone and cost $60,000. It was burned in 1870, and was never rebuilt, the site now being occupied by a paper mill. The first marriage was that of Elisha Franklin to Miss Lucy Noyes, the notice of which event was published in the first issue of the first paper published in the County. Lyman L. Goff, son of Judge Timothy B. Goff, is supposed to have been the first white child born in the Township, the event occurring on Sept. 3, 1829. In 1837 Palmyra had a mild experience with a "wild-cat" bank, but it only did business for a few months. Palmyra is one of the prosperous Townships in Lenawee County. Agriculture being the principal industry, and in fact almost the exclusive occupation of the people, it has received careful and thoughtful attention, and the farmers are equipped for the varied branches of agricultural pursuits, including extensive stockraising and fruit-growing. Early attention was given to the introduction of improved strains of domestic animals, and this has proved a source of pleasure and profit. The well tilled farms, with their substantial residences of modern design, or the old and well built mansions of more ancient days, together with an occasional log house or unpretentious cabin, all evince the varying degrees of prosperity attained by their owners, and emphasize the fact that "there is no place like home." The inhabitants are a class of intelligent, public-spirited people, who trace their lineage, with just pride, to patriotic ancestors, and the perpetuity of our great Repul, he they are ever ready to defend.

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History of Lenawee County
published by The Western Historical Society in 1909.

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