History of Lenawee County, Michigan - Chapter 28, Riga Township

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RIGA TOWNSHIP. This township was formed of territory included in the original township of Blissfield, which, prior to the organization of Riga (or Pottsdam), extended to the southern boundary of the county. On March 9, 1843, the township of Pottsdam was created by an act of the state legislature, as follows: "Township 8 and fractional township 9 south, range 5 east, now a part of the township of Blissfield, shall be organized into a separate township, called Pottsdam, and the first township meeting shall be held at Hendrick Wilby's." The name of the township was changed from Pottsdam to Riga by an act of the state legislature, approved Feb. 29, 1844. The surface of the township, in common with the greater portion of the territory embraced within the county, is level and in some places slightly rolling. The soil is principally loam, with a clay sub-soil, while some portions are sandy, and it produces the finest crops of grain and. vegetables known to this part of the state. There-is comparatively little waste land in the township and the condition of the farms, buildings, and surroundings are indicative of thrift and prosperity. As a grain-growing and stock-raising township it is not excelled in the county, and it is also noted for its heavy yield of fine grass. What is known as the Big Ravine extends from west to east through the south central portion of the township, and this, with the little streams flowing into it, forms the drainage system of the township.

The township of Riga was mainly covered with heavy timber, and in the observations made by the gentlemen who first made the survey, the timber is described as sugar, beech, ash, cottonwood, sycamore, elm, and maple. Some of the choicest timber was used for building, making rails, and sawing into lumber, but much of it which would now be very valuable was burned in clearing the land. The township was first called Pottsdam, after a village of the same name in New York. Zebina Smith, from New York, was the first actual white settler in Riga, in 1836, and he was followed, the same fall, by Reuben Tredway and E. S. Guernsey. The first settlement was in the southern portion of the township, but Roswell 1V. Knight moved into Pottsdam, from Blissfield, in 1839, and erected the first house in the northern part of the township, the site being where the village of Riga is now situated.

Roswell V. Knight was born in Canaan, Conn., April 11, 1792. He lived on a farm with his parents until he was about eighteen years old, when he went to Hornellsville, N. Y., where lie worked in a store until 1812, and then he enlisted as a drummer boy and served throughout that war. At the close of hostilities, he returned to Hornellsville and established himself in the mercantile business, conducting a grocery and provision store, and he also carried on a saw mill and did an extensive shipping business for many years. In 1837, he came to Michigan and settled in Blissfield. Shortly afterward, he took up forty acres of land on section 4, in Riga, on the north side of the Cottonwood swamp, on the old State road, between Toledo and Adrian. He built a log house, which, as before stated, was the first building erected in the northern part of the township, and he kept a hotel for several years. While thus engaged, he took the contract of rebuilding the Erie & Kalamazoo railroad between Sylvania and "Crane's Curve," west of the village of Palmyra. In 1853, he founded Knight's Station (now Riga), and also Wood's Station, three miles east. At Knights Station he erected the first house and established the first store, making his son, A. T- Knight a partner. At that time, he was known as the "King of the Cottonwood Swamp," and he was a friend and benefactor of every man who settled in the township. At Wood Station, he built side tracks and erected large sheds, which he donated to the railroad company. He afterward furnished thousands of cords of wood to the company. He gave the ground for all the churches and school Houses in the village of Riga, and donated seven acres to Bradbury & Wilkinson for the purpose of erecting a saw mill. He also gave seven acres of land to the railroad company for station purposes. At different times he owned 657 acres of what was then called swamp land, and he was the instigator of the "big ditch," which made the land tillable. He was an enterprising, sagacious, honorable man, and was greatly respected by all of the settlers. He was the first justice of the peace, and the first postmaster at Riga, and he resided there until his death, which occurred March 12, 186o. He was buried two days later, and his funeral is said to have been the largest that ever was held in the eastern part of the county. In 1839, with some other gentlemen, Roswell H. Knight cut a road through to the settlement in the southern part of the township, and while thus engaged, his son Almon killed a bear which weighed 205 pounds. John Dings, a German was also an early settler and lie located in the southwest corner of the township. John Gordineer took tip land adjoining Mr. Dings soon afterward. Lawrence Miner, a German, was the second man to settle in the present village of Riga. The next man to come in was Stephen A. Stoddard, who erected the first building-a log one-that was especially designed for hotel purposes. Up to 1850, the most of the township of Riga, especially that portion of it comprising what was known as the Cottonwood Swamp, was not considered worth anything, but shortly after that time the "Riga ditch" was put through the center of the swamp, and it has, since been enlarged until it is now almost equal to a canal in size, and, with intersecting ditches, has drained the land completely. Since 1853, the township has been rapidly settled, mostly by Germans, and it is now a very productive portion of the county. Among early settlers we may mention Armon Barrett, Rufus Wells and George Westerman. The first white child born in the township was Martin Tan Buren Tredway, who served as a volunteer in the Forty-seventh Ohio infantry, and was killed in the battle of Resaca, Ga. The first mill was built by Daniel D. Sinclair and T. G. Templeton, in 188. The first church in the township to rear its spire heavenward was the German Lutheran, in 1865. The Indians were very tenacious of their "happy hunting grounds," in this part of the country at least, and up to 1852, they made the southern portion of Riga their abode.

Riga is settled mostly by the German element-a sturdy, thrifty race, and from whose ranks have come many of the leading business men and some of the prominent officials of the county. The township enjoys the distinction of being one of the best agricultural townships in Lenawee County. Its soil is especially adapted to diversified farming, and fruit growing, in which pursuits, combined with stock raising, the intelligent and industrious farmers have met with phenomenal success. The pleasant homes and thrifty surroundings are abundant proof of this, while an occasional handsome mansion, with modern improvements and appliances, affirms the conclusion that even in. this favored land, some have been more successful than their worthy rivals. The village of Riga is the only village in the township, and the beginning of this place has been mentioned in connection with the career of Roswell AV. Knight. The various business and mechanical industries are carried on, and the handsome little village bustles with busy life. It affords an excellent market to the grain and stock interests.

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

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