MEMORIES OF THE EARLY STAGE ROADS 

OF BARRY COUNTY

Paper Written Many Years Ago By, Mrs. A. D. Thomas of Middleville,

Whose Step-Father was Peter McNaughton, Proprietor of the “Oak Grove House.”  


      My father was the first settler in Caledonia, Kent County. We settled there in the fall of 1839 on section 35 on what was called “Gull Trail," an Indian trail from Gull Prairie to Grand Rapids. At that time all the southern part of Kent county was called Ada, so called after Ada Smith, the first white child born in that township. Her parents lived very near where the Thornapple River empties into the Grand River .

       Sometimes during the winter of 1840 the stage road from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo, by way of Ada, was surveyed by Mr. Slawson. They were at our house several days during which time father helped them. They were helped in that way by all the settlers along the route.

      In the spring of 1840 the two townships of Caledonia and Bowne were organized as one and called Caledonia. Every voter had an office and some had two. There were no political parties and no man was slighted, but every man must do his part.

      At this time Coldwater River, or Chick-see-na-bish as it was called by the Indians, was crossed by a long bridge. For the building of this bridge a day was appointed by the settlers and every man and every boy old enough to use an axe, came and worked on the bridge. Mr. William Lewis of Yankee Springs came a distance of fourteen miles to help at this bridge building. The Thornapple River at Ada was crossed by ferry. In the summer of 1840 the first frame bridge across these streams was built by Mr. McCullum of Yankee Springs. The men were at work on the one that crossed the Coldwater at the time of father’s death.

       As soon as Mr. McCullum heard of our sorrow he started for home, stopping at all the houses and telling the sad news. At the first house, Squire Leonard’s a distance of five miles, a Methodist minister, who was on his way to Grand Rapids, had stopped for the night. Mr. Leonard kindly asked him to remain and preach the funeral sermon, which he did. It was seldom that we had divine service even at a funeral and kind neighbors came eighteen miles to attend.

       The burying ground was at what is now Bowne Center and contained but one grave, a child of Mr. Wm. Wooley having been buried there the previous winter. The place was surrounded by woods except a swamp on one side; not a dwelling in sight, although two houses occupied by Mr. Tyler and son were not far away. Their clearings were small, the forest very dense, and heavy timber land. This was a school section which would bring it in the center of the township and that was why that location was chosen for the burying ground.

      The road from our house to the burying ground was very new, not much but a trail; a man went ahead of the teams with an ax to cut and clear any obstructions that might be in the way. There was but one horse team which was my father’s and that drew his remains to its last resting place; all the rest were ox teams. Those were sad days for my mother; she did not despair but did the best she could to make a home and everyone was very kind to the widow and one child left alone in the wilderness. 

      About this time the parents of our mutual friend, Mrs. Duncan Campbell, settled in what is now the town of Bowne .

       Our house was situated at the forks of the road, one leading to the mouth of Flat River, or Lowell, 14 miles distant, Saranac and Ionia, and the other to Grand Rapids by way of Ada. The stage ran from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids once a week, the nearest post office Yankee Springs, fourteen miles away and letter postage 25 cents. The stamps were good large ones and very choice at that price. The stage driver would deliver all mail along the route as far as our house.

       The stage was a large wagon drawn by two horses; as travel increased the wagon was made better and had an oil cloth cover and four horses. The roads were better, not so many grubs, ruts and stumps, swamps were drained or crossed by corduroy bridges covered with dirt and gravel. The road ran from Battle Creek , intersecting the Kalamazoo road at Gull Prairie; the stage came twice a week now.

       In March 1842 my mother was married to Peter D. McNaughton and our place became known as McNaughton’s tavern.

       Mr. Amos Rathbun, who afterwards settled in Caledonia, came through with a drove of cattle and horses, driving them from Ohio and Indiana and selling them to the settlers. Every man could keep quite a drove of cattle, his land was worked by oxen and he must have one or two yoke and sometimes more. He could raise good corn and potatoes, rutabagas, and as much hay for winter use as he had a mind to cut, in the summer he had the woods for a pasture let of many miles in extent.

       About this time, perhaps 1843, my step-father was appointed post master.

       In 1845 or ’46 the stage road from Battle Creek by the way of Hastings was opened, intersecting the Kalamazoo road on the county line between Kent and Barry counties, about a mile south of our place, and a daily stage ran from Battle Creek to Grand Rapids. The road from Battle Creek to Hastings was through heavy timbered land, and at times was very muddy. Passengers used to carry rails to pry the stage out of the mud. The cars were now running to Battle Creek. The stage would leave there for Grand Rapids soon after the cars came in, perhaps four or five o’clock p.m., arriving the next morning, and would leave Grand Rapids at four o’clock a.m. daily, one day by the way of Yankee Springs to Kalamazoo and the next by the way of Hastings to Battle Creek. The people now began to think they were in touch with the outside world.

       In the winter, when the sleighing was good, a great deal of plaster was hauled from Grand Rapids by farmers from Marshall, Battle Creek, Sturgis, Kalamazoo and intervening places. They would go in companies of from five to twenty or thirty teams from one vicinity, taking loads of pork or beef, or some kind of farm produce to sell. (Grand Rapids at that time was supplied, in a great measure, by the southern part of the state. We raised no fruit that was all brought in from the southern part of the state.)

      These farmers would buy a warm supper and breakfast but carry a cold lunch from home for dinner, drive into Grand Rapids, sell their load, for which they would find a ready market, and load up with plaster for home. Often times we would have the same company two nights in succession. They were up early in the morning and had a good start on the road by daylight.

       This little sketch covers a period of about ten years and shows the rapid growth and development of a new country.


A type written copy of  this paper written by Mrs. A. D. Thomas can be found at the 

Library of Michigan, Lansing, Ingham County, Michigan.
 

  Barry County MIGenWeb Index Page