CREATION OF THE TOWNSHIP AND CHANGE IN BOUNDARIES--TOPOGRAPHY AND WATER COURSES-NATURAL CONDITIONS-FIRST LAND PURCHASE-FIRST DWELLING HOUSE--FIRST PERMANENT SETTLERS-FIRST DEATH-FIRST ELECT ION-SANFORD HOUSE-JOSHUA WAKING-FIRST PUBLIC ROAD-EARLY RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS-FIRST PHYSICIANS-EARLY HARDSHIPS AND DIFFICULTIES.
The Michigan state legislature, on March 15, 1841, created the township of Ridgeway by the following official enactment: "All that part of the township of Macon, in the county of Lenawee, which lies south of the quarter-section line, running from west to east through the middle of sections 31, 32, 33. 34, 35, and 36, in township 5 south of range 5 east, as designated by the United States survey, is hereby set off and organized into a new township by the name of Ridgeway, and the first township meeting shall be held at the school house in the village of Ridgeway." This arrangement lasted until March 28, 1850, when an act was passed providing "That sections 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36, of the township of Ridgeway be taken from said township and attached to the township of Blissfield." The boundaries were again changed on Jan. 5, 1869, when, in response to a petition presented to the county board of supervisors, sections 25, 26, 27, and 28, were detached from Ridgeway and placed in Deerfield Township. The township of Macon joins Ridgeway on the north, the eastern boundary meets a tier of sections in Deerfield Township and also the county of Monroe, the southern boundary is the line that separates the township from Deerfield and Blissfield, and the townships of Raisin and Tecumseh are on the west.
The surface of the township of Ridgeway is somewhat broken and hilly. It receives its name from a ridge of land extending across the northwest corner of the township. On this ridge the pleasant village of Ridgeway is situated. Many believe from the geological formation of this ridge that it was at some remote period the shore of Lake Erie. In, the eastern part of the township is the land known as the Big Prairie, about five miles long by one mile wide and running nearly parallel with the ridge. It produced a coarse grass, known as blue joint, mixed with wild pea vine, and made very good hay, which was valuable to the early settlers of this and the surrounding townships for wintering stock, and what was not mown was burned in the fall or spring, making a fine illumination for several days in succession, leaving the land clean for a new crop. A portion of the land west of the ridge was oak openings; the remainder, to the prairie, was heavily timbered.
The drainage of the township is principally towards the east. The territory is well watered, the principal stream being the Little Raisin River, which flows from northwest to southeast through the central part of the township, and its tributaries, of which there are several. These streams are all Ted by many spring branches, thus affording good water power for the early mills which were established along their banks. Natural conditions in the township were favorable in early days to the existence of all kinds of game, ferocious animals, and venomous reptiles. These were, found there in great numbers by the white settlers, and Ridgeway was a favorite hunting ground for the Indians at a still earlier date. The soil of the township varies from a rich dark loam to a mixture of sand and clay, the former being highly valuable for the raising of all kinds of cereals, corn, oats, and barley, especially, and all the land of the township is made to yield profitable returns to the owners. Stock raising and fruit culture are among the principal industries, and these afford good margins of profit.
The people are, as a class, industrious and hospitable, and possess some of the best farms in the county. The first land purchased of the government was by Coonrod Lamberson, who left the town of Camilus, County of Onondaga, state of New York, Nov. 1, 1825, with a pair of horses, riding one and leading the other, and arriving at Tecumseh in December. In February, 1826, in company with Peter Lowe, he started out to select land. They crossed the River Raisin near Ezra F. Blood's and traveled to the first section corner south of the Champlain brook, thence east three miles, to the northwest corner of section 8, just east of the ridge one mile south of the village of Ridgeway. Mr. Lamberson found the land covered with early spring flowers, and it looked so beautiful that he located the north half of section 8, and built a house on that land in 1829. This was the only house at that time between the ridge and the French settlement west of Monroe. The nearest dwelling south of this was at Blissfield, and the nearest north at Ypsilanti.
The first dwelling house in the township, however, was built by Giles Hubbard, in the spring of 1828, about one mile west of the village of Ridgeway, on the farm afterward owned by Cecil Clark. The next was built by a Mr. Martin, on the prairie, in July, and was occupied by him about two months, when he removed to Monroe. The building was destroyed by fire the same fall. But none of the gentlemen mentioned could be called permanent settlers, and the first settlements of a permanent nature within the present limits of the township were made in 1831, by George Drown, J. O. Dennis, Jonathan Clark, and Robert Wilson, who were soon followed by John Palmer, Francis Coats, Stephen V. Miller, George Brown, Cecil Clark, John F. Schreder, and others.
Robert Wilson was a native of New York, and was reared partly in Wayne and partly in Genesee county. When he left the Empire State for the purpose of establishing for himself a home in southern Michigan, he started with a team and wagon and $300 in money. He went by the canal to Buffalo, thence by lake to Detroit, where he loaded' all his earthly possessions on the wagon and followed the trail to Lenawee county, stopping at Tecumseh, where he remained one year. He then came to Ridgeway Township and invested $200 of his money for 16o acres of land, upon which lie settled. He obtained his land-of Uncle Sam, and the purchase papers were signed by President Jackson. On this place, on section 32 of what was then called Macon township but was afterward included in Ridgeway, he built his primitive cabin, a pleasant little log house, which was his home for some time. In the course of events, this gave place to a larger and finer residence, one of the best then in the township, and Mr. Wilson lived to see' almost all of the farm well improved, and he owned at the time of his death nearly 20o acres. He was an old-line Whig, casting one of the first four Whig votes in the township, and later he was a solid Republican. He was an active, energetic man, and accomplished a great deal in the development of this township and county.
John Palmer was born in Washington County, New York, in October, 1788. He was reared a farmer and owned a farm in Valworth, where he lived until the spring of 1831, when he emigrated to Michigan with his family, arriving in Tecumseh on May 17. On the same day he went to Ridgeway, and stopped in a shanty with Calvin Drown until he could build one for himself. Four years previous to this, in 1827, Mr. Palmer came to Michigan and located I6o acres on sections 5 and 6, in Ridgeway, and it was upon this property that he built his shanty. From the time lie moved his family here he always lived upon this farm, and previous to his death he had purchased 400 acres, clearing 25o acres and building a large frame house, with barns and everything that was needed. The same year he settled here, he cleared off twenty acres of heavy timber land and put it into wheat, and the following year he reaped 40o bushels, which he sold for $2.5o per bushel. He also raised fifty bushels of potatoes among the stumps and trees the first year. The death of his son, Decatur Palmer, who was drowned in the Little Raisin River, was the first that occurred in Ridgeway Township. John Palmer died in Ridgeway, in 1864.
John F. Schreder was born in Orange County, New York. He was in early life a miller, and when a voting man' he went to Pennsylvania, where lie lived until his migration to Michigan. He then came across the country with teams, and entered government land in Ridgeway Township, in June, 1831. He then resumed his employment as miller, in which lie engaged for some time in Tecumseh, managing the first mill that was ever built in the county, on the banks of the Raisin River. He afterward commenced the improvement of his land, and made his home on it until four years before his death, which time he spent with his daughter, Mrs. Arner, at Ridgeway. His useful life was prolonged much beyond the usual number of years that generally fall to man, his death occurring Nov. 26, 1882, at the age of nearly ninety-five years. In his day he was a strong Democrat.
The first township election was held April 5, 1841, and, the records show eighty as the whole number of votes cast. Augustus Montgomery received eighty votes for supervisor, the first township clerk was Timothy Baker, and Sanford Hause and Joshua Waring were also given official positions.
Sanford Hause was born and reared in Seneca County, New York, where he grew to manhood and was married. He then continued to reside on a farm in Seneca County until, feeling the necessity for better opportunities to use the limited means at his command, he decided to join the tide of emigration which was then setting toward southern Michigan, and which place accordingly became his home in the late 30s. The country was then in its primitive condition, and the settlement below the Ridge, in Ridgeway township had few inhabitants other than the wild game and animals which the settlers found there upon their arrival. This section was then very low and flat, being thought by many to have originally formed a part of Lake Erie. The land was exceedingly wet and muddy, so much so that it was known as "The Muddy Swamp," and was greatly dreaded by travelers. Mr. Hause took up his home on this flat land, building himself a log hut on the principal road. When travel began to increase, he enlarged his original cabin and converted it into a public house, known in those times as a tavern, which he operated for some years successfully and gained the reputation of being a genial landlord. The muddy condition of the roads contributed to his prosperity, as it frequently necessitated delay on the part of travelers, and lie kept many of his guests two nights. Travelers would get within a mile or so of the house, and leaving their wagons in the muddy road, would proceed to the tavern and put up, in order to give their worn-out teams a chance to recuperate. The next day they would not get very far on the other side of the hotel, and would return to the house and spend another night of comfort and good cheer. An incident told by one of the guests who stopped at this wayside inn will serve to illustrate the condition of the primitive roads in that section. The author of the story was a real Yankee, and some allowance should perhaps be made for the exercise of his imagination. As he was coming through the swamp, so he said, and was nearing the tavern, he saw a hat, as he supposed, lying on the ground. He reached down from his animal, which was sinking deep into the bog, to pick up the hat, but was told by a voice from tinder it to let it alone, as the wearer was all right, since he had a good horse under him. The meat supplied for Mr. Hause's guests consisted chiefly of venison, which was prepared by the landlord's faithful wife. Sanford Hause lived to a ripe old age, and died Feb. 15, 1885. He filled the office of supervisor for several years, and was many times elected justice of the peace, being known for many years by the familiar name of "Squire Hause." He was a charter member of the First Christian church of Ridgeway.
Joshua Waring was a native of Newburg, Orange County, New York, and was born April 3, 1803. He was moderately well educated, and when a young man learned the trade of a chair and cabinet maker, at which he was engaged for two years after his marriage. In 1834, with his young bride and her brothers, Daniel and William Lockwood, he set out for Michigan in the usual way, going via the canal and lakes. When they came into this county the country was quite new, and Mr. Waring took up his home in the woods on section 9, the property afterward owned by Justus L owe. After he had settled on his new homestead, Mr. blaring erected a small shop, in which he could ply his vocation as cabinetmaker, and thereby furnish the early settlers with such articles of furniture as were needed here in the early days of settlement. By this means he was enabled to have his heavily timbered farm improved, receiving labor in payment for his furniture. Later, he devoted his entire time to farming, and finally, in 1865, removed to the village of Ridgeway, where he made his home until his death, which occurred March I7, 1884. He was devoted to the interests of the people in general, -and especially to the church, being a liberal contributor to and a strong supporter of the Methodist Episcopal denomination. He was a fine vocal musician, leading in devotional singing, and he took a great interest in prayer meeting. His life was an example of moral rectitude.
The first road opened through the township was by Musgrove Evans, William Tilton, Curtis Page, Ezra F. Blood, John Coon, Peter Lowe, and others, in the summer of 1824, and it was the direct road from Monroe to Tecumseh, being near where the La Plaisance Bay turnpike afterward was located. The first circuit preachers that preached in Ridgeway were Rev. J. F. Davidson and Thomas Wiley. They labored on the Tecumseh circuit, in 1835, and preached at Joseph Edmundson's and at Peter Miller's, in Macon. By the efforts of Mrs. Peter Davidson, Mrs. Asa Russell, and Mrs. Jehiel Miller, a Sabbath school was organized in Ridgeway, in 1835. A Mr. Hall, who lived where Minor Davidson afterward 'resided, was the first superintendent. The first Methodist Episcopal class formed in Ridgeway village, of which there is any record, was Jan. 25, 1840, A. Billings, presiding elder; W. Sprague and U. Hoyt, circuit preachers; Joshua Waring, leader. In 1845, the society built a house of worship, partially completed it and used it the same fall. It did service for twentyone years, and then the society erected a new and more pretentious building, the old one being afterward used as a dwelling by Samuel Arner. A Dutch Reformed Society, organized in 1842, built a house of worship in 1843. Rev. Charles DeWitt was the first pastor, and for many years it was a prosperous society and accomplished much good. Eventually, it disbanded, some of the members going to Pennington's Corners and the remainder to other societies. The church building was sold, and was afterward used as a wagon shop. A society was formed in East Ridgeway, in February, 1849, known as the First Church of Christ, and a house of worship was erected the same year.
It is uncertain whether Drs. Saxon or Norton was the first to locate in Ridgeway, but Dr. DeMott was the first to remain a considerable length of time, as he was the first that was acceptable to the people. But he had very unpleasant roads to travel. On one occasion he attended Mr. Hocum, who lived on what was afterward known as the G. L. Oliver place, and he called Dr. Palmer, of Tecumseh, as counsel. They had to ford the Macon river (it was in the spring), and on returning, Dr. Palmer's horse lost its footing, and although the Doctor was a high church man, he was completely immersed in the cold water of the raging stream, and rode to Ridgeway without change of clothing. Mr. Hocum died, and Mr. Lupton went on horse-back to preach the funeral sermon. Three yoke of oxen being hitched to a, lumber wagon, Mr. Lupton drove the lead team, and a man in the wagon the other two, and in this way the corpse was brought to Ridgeway for burial.
The early settlers of Ridgeway had many things to contend with. It was said that the land was too low or the water was too high, and there was no way to get the surplus off. The land was heavily timbered and it took much labor to fit a small piece for cultivation. When the crops commenced to mature wild animals and birds were early, on hand to gather their share. Small clearings were made, but being surrounded by dense timber, very little air was moving, and the sun beat down on them with intense heat. The roads through the woods seemed to have no bottom, and long pieces had to be covered with logs, rails, and brush, in order to make them passable. The streams had to be forded, and the settlers went to mill, to church, and to visit each other, with ox teams and lumber wagons. They did not listen to the sweet sounds of the organ or piano, but to the howls of the wolf, which could, it appeared to the listener, multiply himself until one would appear to be ten, and ten one hundred; also, to the hoot of the owl, that flew so noiselessly that in the night one would not be aware of his presence till the hoot broke with startling effect near by, warning the listener that if a chicken could be reached it would be missing in the morning. But through the indomitable courage and persevering efforts of the early pioneers, this has all been changed; the woods have disappeared, the roads have become smooth and pleasant to travel. The wild animals and destructive birds have also disappeared, the log cabin is gone, and fine farm dwellings and large and productive orchards and small fruits of all kinds have taken their place; but the pioneers have removed to that house not made with hands.