History of Lenawee County, Michigan - Chapter 39, Agriculture and Related Industries

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AGRICULTURE AND RELATED INDUSTRIES. The history of agriculture in Lenawee county would be preeminently, and almost exclusively, a history of the county itself, for Lenawee county is the greatest agricultural county in Michigan, and one of the greatest in the United States. When the tide of emigration turned to Michigan, in 1836-37, Lenawee county was practically a wilderness, heavily timbered, and offered to the pioneer settler, who desired to produce crops, the hardest kind of hard work in felling the forests and clearing up the lands for agricultural production. We are not able to present the statistics of early production in Lenawee county, as we have not been able to obtain the census reports back of the year i86o. In that year the county had 197,ooo acres of improved land, and 147,000 acres of unimproved land. In 1870 the improved land had increased to 263,197 acres, and the unimproved had decreased 10,000 acres. In 1880 the number of acres of improved land amounted to 341,179, and of unimproved land there were 177,787 acres. In 1890 the acres of improved land were 345,606 and the acres of unimproved land were 102,639. In 1900, which is the last census report available, acres of improved land were 352,000, and of unimproved land 95,000.

As was natural in the settling of a fertile region of this character, the number of farms constantly increased. In 186o there were in the county 3,251 farms. A gradual increase was shown in each decade until in igoo there were 5,562 farms in the county, with an average size of eighty acres each. It is interesting to note from statistics of production the growth of the county from the pioneer state to the state of intensive agriculture. When a country is first settled up the large areas of land induce the production of wheat and other cereals, and also the keeping of large numbers of sheep; which can thrive on the pasture of the wild lands which exist in the early history of a county. But as settlement proceeds and intensive agriculture develops, we see a gradual decline of the cereal and sheep crops, and an increase in crops that require more brains and give better value for the skill employed than the primitive agricultural occupations.

The census of 186o shows that there were 2,247 working oxen in Lenawee county. In 1870 the number had dropped to 367, in 1880 to 249, and in 1890 to 79, while during the next decade an effort by the Lenawee County Agricultural Society to find a pair of working oxen to exhibit on pioneer day was a failure, not one existing within the county. During the same period milk cows increased from 11,235 in 186o to 20,600 in 1900, and in view of the large increase in dairying during the last decade there are undoubtedly 25,000 milk cows in Lenawee county at the present time. The rise and decline of the sheep industry in Lenawee county, as sheep pasture flourished and then passed away, is interesting. In 186o there were 89,929 sheep in the county. In 1870 the number had increased to 112,653. In 188o the high watermark was reached, with the figures 116,508. From this point the decline began, and in 1890 the sheep numbered 110,446, in 1900 but 101,000, and undoubtedly the census of 1910 will show a decline of 20,000 from the above figures.

The rise and decline of the growth of wheat, which is a. sure indication of the gradual settlement of a new country, is also interesting. In 186o the county produced 423,843 bushels of wheat; in 187o, 685,000 bushels. In 188o the high water mark was reached along with sheep production, the county raising 1,251,479 bushels of wheat. In 1890 the production had decreased over half a million bushels, to 719,000. In 1900 a still further decrease was shown, to 321,000 bushels. Just as the production of the above crops, which are pre-eminently those of a pioneer country, decreased, so the crops that require skill and care in the management increased, and also with them, those cereals that are used exclusively as food for live stock. The census of i86o shows the production of corn to he 1,213,311 bushels, and each decade showed a gradual increase until, in 1900, the county grew 2,700,000 bushels of corn. In 186o the county grew 198,9o1 bushels of oats. Heavy increases followed in each decade until, in Igoo, the county grew 1,881,720 bushels. The production of wool in the meantime, starting at 280,047, in i86o, and reaching the high water mark in I8So, at 663,598, had decreased in 19oo to 462,000 pounds. No branch of agriculture requires more skill and intelligence in production than the manufacture of butter and the production of milk. In IS6o the county produced 993,558 pounds of butter, being second to Oakland county in production of both butter and milk, but today Lenawee county leads Oakland, producing, in 1900, 2,132,000 pounds of butter upon the farms. In I8go the county produced io;691,000 gallons of milk, and in 1900 it produced 11,775,000 gallons. In i88o we have the first record of the production of eggs, the county in that year having produced 1,099,000 dozens of eggs. In 1900 the county produced 2,363,000 dozens.

The increase in the production of wealth was accomplished to a great extent by labor saving agricultural tools, and the figures show the large amount of money that the farmer pays annually for implements to further his production. In i86o the total value of farm tools in the county was $329,000. In Igoo this item had increased to $966,000. Horses on the farms increased from 9,542, in i86o, to I8,ooo in 1900. From the census returns one of the abandoned industries of Lenawee county seems to be the growing of tobacco. In 186o the county produced 25,602 pounds of tobacco. In I87o but 155 pounds were produced, and since that time apparently none has been raised in the county.

The hop industry imported by the early New York pioneers has also passed away. In I86o, 14,858 pounds of hops were produced in the county. In 1870, 16,872 were produced. In i88o, the amount produced had fallen to 2,251 pounds, and in 1890 but 3,500 pounds were produced, since which time the culture of hops has apparently been abandoned in the county. In the meantime, Lenawee has been helping to make Michigan one of the greatest potato-growing states in the Union. Very few people in Lenawee county realize the extent of the potato industry in their midst. In i86o, the county produced 295,803 bushels of potatoes, and an increase has been shown in every decade until in 1900, the county produced 405,000 bushels, this being a larger production than many Northern Michigan counties that are classed as potato districts. Very few people are aware of the fact that Lenawee county stands at the very top of all counties in the United States in the production of agricultural wealth, and the figures, as shown by the census of Igoo, are surprising. In that year the value of farm lands in the county was placed at $15,496,740. The value of buildings on these lands was placed at $6,339,000. The value of live stock on these farms was $2,79I,ooo. The value of agricultural products on the farms, not fed to live stock, reached the enormous total of $4,005,543. Thus the total value of agricultural Wealth in the county in that year was over $6,800,ooo. We have made a careful comparison from the census reports of the United States of the various counties in the Union to ascertain the place Lenawee occupies in the production of agricultural wealth. We find that three counties in California and four counties in Illinois exceed the production of Lenawee county in dollars, but these counties all have from one-half to three times more land than this county, and proportionately they do not produce as many dollars per acre as Lenawee county. The only counties in the United States which produce more agricultural wealth than Lenawee county, and which are the same size as Lenawee county, are eleven in number. They are: Baltimore county, Maryland, in which is situated the city of Baltimore; Middlesex county, Massachusetts, in which is situated the city of Boston; Monroe county, New York, in which is situated the city of Rochester; Onondaga county, New York, in which is situated the city of Syracuse; Orange county, New York, which is situated near the city of New York; Wayne county, New York; caster county, Pennsylvania, and Fon du Lac county, Wisconsin. caster county, Pennsylvania, and Fon du lac county, Wisconsin. In every one of these counties is situated a very large city, and naturally the land around these cities is devoted to highly intensive farming and truck growing, and the prices created by the immense demand of the adjoining urban population undoubtedly gives a somewhat fictitious value to farm products. Taking this into consideration, we think that we can truthfully say that Lenawee county stands at the head of the list of counties in the United States for the production of agricultural wealth, provided the counties have equal area and no large cities exist within their borders. It is interesting to trace the production of agricultural wealth in Lenawee county in connection with the same production in various other counties in Michigan. Lenawee county leads every Michigan county in every item of agricultural wealth shown by the census. Its leading competitor, which occupies second place in the value of agricultural products produced, is Oakland county. Formerly, Oakland county exceeded Lenawee in the production of agricultural wealth in many respects, and it should today, for Oakland has twenty-five townships, six miles square, while Lenawee has only twenty, but for the last three decades Lenawee has led Oakland in the total production of agricultural wealth, as well as in every item thereof, showing that the agricultural population of Lenawee county comprises the most intelligent in the state; for, in spite of good land and improved farm methods, all now realize that brains form a greater factor in agricultural operations than any other item, and if this county is leading not only the state, but the United States, ' in proportion to is population and farm area, it does so because of the superior intelligence of its farming community.

Closely allied to the agricultural interests of the county are the factories that produce sugar, butter and cheese. The statistics given above for butter represents only the production of butter made on the farms. In addition to this, scattered throughout the county, are various creameries and skimming stations which produce over a million pounds more butter in addition to the amount given. The manufacture of cheese was begun in the early days of Lenawee county by the late Samuel Horton, who originated the distinct type of Michigan soft cheese, which is made throughout Michigan today, and is distinct from the type made by other cheese factories in the country. The business of Mr. Horton has been very much enlarged by his son, Hon. George B. Horton, of Fruit Ridge, who has the distinction of being the largest individual cheese manufacturer in the United States. The production of Mr. Horton's factories, which are situated in the southern part of the county, totals nearly two million pounds of cheese, and he pays to factory patrons monthly, during the cheese making season, $30,000 and upwards for their milk. Lenawee leads all Michigan counties in both the production of cheese and butter, and the township in which Mr. Horton lives has as many cows as it has human beings, according to the census reports. It is said in the Good Book that, "The last shall be first, and the first shall be last," and never was this better illustrated than in the settlement of Lenawee county. When the early pioneers had reached Toledo, and were obliged to take the overland route to Adrian, they entered, in the southeastern portion of Lenawee county, near the two townships of Riga and Ogden, what was known to the early settler as the "Cottonwood Swamp." The terrors of the "Cottonwood Swamp," as related by the early pioneers, were certainly fierce. It was a level, alluvial piece of land, apparently composed of black muck and clay, and of unlimited depth. In this so-called "Cottonwood Swamp" there were immense cottonwood trees, which grew from six to nine feet in diameter, interspersed with soft maple and hickory, also of immense size. It was a veritable wilderness, and was supposed to be the only part of Lenawee county that was worthless. Naturally, these two townships were the last to be settled. Eventually, however, they were peopled largely by Germans, and it was found necessary to ditch every road and to tile every field. When this had been done, to and behold, there was not one square foot of swamp in either of these townships, and they became not only the garden of Lenawee county, but the garden of Michigan.

The state tax commission in its efforts to determine the most .valuable township in the state concluded that the township of Riga was by far the best township, agriculturally, in the state of Michigan, and the township of Ogden ranked next. Today the people of these townships grow enormous crops of corn, and the land has proved to be an ideal place for the growing of sugar-beets. At first the sugar-beet factories of Central Michigan came down to these two townships to fight for sugar-beet acreage, for the yield was extra large there and the percentage of sugar exceeded that of any county in Michigan. As a final result, a sugar-beet company was organized and a factory was built at Blissfield, and the townships of Ogden and Riga today probably exceed any other townships. in Michigan 'in the production of sugar-beets. Beet growing has spread from these two township to other adjoining townships until today the Blissfield factory, operating under the name of The Continental Sugar Company, is producing an immense output of sugar annually and the terrors to the early settlers of the “Cottonwood Swamp" has been turned into blessings for the beetsugar growers of to-day. The reader will naturally wonder what particular clement has entered into the life of agriculture in Lenawee county to make it the greatest producing county in the Union. Other counties have richer soils and are better located for market, and have better climates than Lenawee county, and yet this county in proportion to its acres is the largest producer in the Union. The writer believes that this fact is largely due to the organization of the farming population in the county. It is a well known fact that only the most intelligent of any class organize. Among the city laborers it is not the digger of ditches or the street cleaners that organize, but the more intelligent of the laboring class, like the carpenters, masons, and printers, and so it is with the agricultural class, that only the most intelligent and enlightened see the benefits of societies and organizations and maintain them, and Lenawee county probably holds the first place as being the best organized agricultural county in the Union.

The first farm organization to be formed in Lenawee county was organized in the early '40's by a party of fruit growers in the city of Adrian, under the name of The Adrian Horticultural Society. Today the same society, under the name of the Lenawee County Horticultural Society, is one of the largest organizations of its kind in the state, and holds regular meetings, which it has done for a period of over sixty years. Its influence upon fruit-growing in Lenawee county has been very great, as the county is known as a large producer of good, fine fruit. Previous to the Civil war, the Lenawee County Agricultural Society was organized, and with its successor,_ under a different name, annual fairs have been held in the city of Adrian for over sixty years. Today the annual fair of the Agricultural Society of Lenawee County is the largest in the state outside of the State Fair. It is also the most successful, both. from a farmer's standpoint_ and financially, as it draws larger crowds than any other fair, has larger grounds, and better buildings,'and it is. practically out of debt-a tribute to the intelligence and energy of Lenawee county farmers. The largest of all the farm organizations represented in Lenawee county is the Grange. Early in I8i3 the Grange made its way into Michigan, and Lenawee at once took the lead in the organization of granges in the state, and it has ever since maintained that lead, both in having the largest number of organizations and the largest membership. The first grange organized in Lenawee county was Upton Grange, followed closely by organizations at Tecumseh and Macon. Soon afterward the granges in Palmyra, Adrian, and Raisin townships were organized. These were followed by the organization of Medina, Fairfield, Morenci, and Fruit Ridge, under the name of Weston Grange, and the Onsted Grange. These early granges had their trials and tribulations, as all pioneers had, and many of them died and were later reorganized, but today all are in a flourishing condition. In addition, the following granges have a live and active existence in Lenawee county: Bean Creek Valley, Blissfield, Britton, Cadmus, Clinton, Deerfield, Four Towns, Gorman, Hudson Center, Lime Creek, North Adrian, North Rome, Ogden, Raisin Valley, Rollin, Rome, South Dover, Sugar Town, Victorsville, Wolf Creek, Woodstock, and Working Grange. There are at the present time in active operation thirty-four granges in Lenawee county, having an active membership of from 3,500 to 4,000 persons, and it is almost impossible to over-estimate the influence of these organizations. Most of them hold meetings once in two weeks; and, for the last thirty years, every other week when these meetings have been held public questions have been discussed and literary programs have been given; co-operative buying has been practiced, until the immense benefit, both intellectually, morally, and financially upon the community is hard to estimate. Of the thirty-four granges now existing in Lenawee county, twenty-six own their own grange halls, and these are of the most substantial type, costing from one to five thousand dollars. In every community in Lenawee county the grange hall is as much a fixture in the community as the country church and the schoolhouse, and it has kept up its end with the church and school-house in the education and enlightenment of the community.

Every winter, throughout the county, are held farmers' institutes, with speakers furnished by the state, and the _grange halls furnish the -natural place for these meetings; and- throughout the year -they are the center of the social life of the community. In addition to the thirty-four granges in Lenawee county, there is the Pomona, or county grange, which exercises a supervisory control over all the others, meeting in different parts of the county from month to month, and encouraging grange effort and enthusiasm. The writer believes that the first farmers' club to be organized west of the Allegheny Mountains was organized in the township of Adrian, just after the war. At that time the Central New York Farmers' Club met at Utica, N. Y., and attracted wide attention as it was the pioneer farmers club in the country. Some enthusiastic Lenawee county farmers determined to organize a similar club in this county, and for that purpose ,met at the Steere schoolhouse, near the present site of the Industrial Home, and there organized a farmers' club. The writer well remembers, as a little boy, attending that club with his father and listening to discussions. The only men that he can now recall taking part in that organization were B. W. Steere, the veteran nurseryman; A. Sigler, of Adrian, and the writer's father. For over a year this club held its meetings in the Steere school-house, and the memory of the writer is not clear why the club was discontinued, but since that time a large number of clubs have been organized in different sections of the county and they meet, as a rule, monthly at the homes of the members and discuss various farm topics. It will thus be seen that with its agricultural and horticultural societies, its granges, its farmers clubs, and in addition the many lodges of "Gleaners," which is another farm organization in the county-the farmers of Lenawee county are probably better and more thoroughly organized than those of any other county in the Union; and it has undoubtedly been due to the efforts made by and the education afforded by these organizations that the superiority of Lenawee county in the production of all farm products has been attained. We have given in a brief and concise manner the position that agriculture occupies in Lenawee county affairs, but we doubt if very many of its inhabitants have realized its overwhelming importance. The cities and villages of Lenawee county are engaged in the very laudable effort of endeavoring to attract to their respective municipalities various manufacturing concerns, and the county properly boasts of its wire-fence factories, which make thousands of miles of fence each year; but the annual product of the cackling old hen on the farms in Lenawee county exceeds in value the entire product of all the fence factories of the county, and the old hen never closes down her industrial plant nor runs short hours on account of industrial depression. She is everlastingly at it, year after year, without intermission. The great farm factory of Lenawee county is annually producing over six million dollars' worth of finished product, and at the same time the farmers are riot following out a course of farming that depletes the soil. Practically all of the great cereal productions are fed upon the farm, and every year hundreds of cars of western sheep and cattle are imported. After having been fed all that the county produces, they the finished off with western corn, and thereby the productivity of Lenawee's land is being constantly increased by the intelligent farmers of the county. In the future, every year will see this great farm factory producing over six million dollars' worth of wealth, and gradually increasing its production. Whether the times are good or poor the factory is run for the full output, and the effect of this large production of wealth by the agricultural interests means great and continued prosperity to the cities and villages of Lenawee county.


This work dedicated to all the native americans, pioneers, and settlers of this great land. God bless America, and God Bless Lenawee County.

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Scanned, edited and published by Terrence A. Weadock, Dominant Systems Corporation, All Rights Reserved Copyright 2004-2017.

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

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