Monthly Archives: March 2016

Township in New York Gave Lansing Its Name

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Sunday, March 16, 1947

Township in New York Gave Lansing Its Name

First House Was Erected Here in 1843 – Built of Logs

By George N. Fuller

The influence of central New York state upon the beginnings of Lansing was great. Few know that this city derived its name from a township on the shores of beautiful Lake Cayuga near Ithaca, N. Y., and that many of the pioneers came from that region.

The New York township was named after John Lansing, prominent Revolutionary war fighter, who became chief justice of the New York supreme court, and was better known as “Chancellor Lansing,” a tribute to his having served as chancellor of that state from 1801 to 1814.

Biddle City Came First

Strangely enough, it was several years after the first settlement of this area before there was a Lansing. This community began, on paper, at least, as “Biddle City.” Strictly a speculative venture, the site was sold for taxes. It was to be another decade before settlement began – and when it began this city was to overtake and pass its neighbors, because of the location of the capitol here.

The wilderness of the Ojibway Indians was invaded in the late 1840’s. Shortly before the first capitol was built here in 1847 there was a little cluster of log houses near the juncture of the Grand and Red Cedar rivers; another across the Grand at about the present intersection of Washington avenue and Main street, and a third in what is now North Lansing.

First House in 1843

In 1841 James Seymour sold a piece of land along Grand river in North Lansing to a Col. John W. Burchard who, two years later, erected a log house – Lansing’s first home.

Tragedy struck this original home when Colonel Burchard was drowned in 1844 when inspecting the dam he’d just completed. The property reverted to James Seymour of New York, who continued the work, although he did not arrive here before 1847. His workmen and their families were the only white residents on the site of the future Lansing when the legislature located the capitol here.

The legislative fluke by which the capital was removed from Detroit to “the township of Lansing,” then a virtual wilderness, has been told many times. One aspect, however, is little known.

Towns along the Michigan Central railroad, through a secret group known as the “Northern Rangers,” broke the deadlock. Well-disciplined, its legislative members log-rolled the measure through both houses, establishing the capitol site here.

A disgusted member of the opposition, who, with others, had treated the measure to bring the capital here as a “joke” and had voted for it, offered a section to the bill which read: “The sum of $100 is hereby appropriated to erect guide boards to direct members of the next legislature to the seat of government of the state of Michigan.”

Before the end of 1847 forest had been cut to make way for the first capitol on the southwest corner of Allegan and Washington. It was in use the following year.

The present capitol was completed in 1874. The old structure was sold. Fire destroyed this landmark in 1882.

These were busy years for artisans. They were building the foundations for the city of 100,000 even as Chief Okemos and his tribesmen wandered through the streets, bringing maple sugar, baskets and furs with which to barter for flour, cloth, and trinkets.

The “City of Michigan,” as the town was known, became “Lansing” with completion of the new capitol. Chief Okemos had died in 1858 and his tribesmen had scattered. The community was emerging from the pioneer stage.

It was still necessary to cut streets through the timber in the ’70’s. Covered wagons had rough going through the stump-filled lanes.

In North Lansing, things grew apace. It was now 30 years since that Fourth of July, 1845, when Indians had helped raise the first liberty pole for lack of white men. Dramatically, the first white child had been born here the same day.

Unlike most settlements, Lansing never passed through the incorporation village stage. From the beginning it formed a part of the township until 1859, when it was incorporated as a city. When Hiram H. Smith became first mayor, the total votes cast were 657.

Then, as now, housing was limited, and the hotels were filled to overflowing. It was many blocks from the hostelries to the capitol, and legislators were careful to wear boots.

First Bridge Across Cedar

The first bridge, a log structure, was built across the Red Cedar along one of of the early trails. A spring flood washed it away. Another was built. A covered bridge replaced it about 1860.

It wasn’t until 1847 that the first span was erected over the Grand, off Main street. Here, around Main and Washington, it began to appear, would be the business heart of the new community.

The city had several covered bridges by the spring of 1875. An immense ice gorge, swelled down with terrific force. One bridge was left.

The daily stage coach to St. Johns and the twice daily stage to Jackson connected Lansing with the world shortly before the Civil war. There was also a tri-weekly coach to Howell and Detroit and a twice weekly trip to Marshall, via Charlotte.

The first rails were laid during the Civil war, connecting the city with Owosso.

With the capital here and arrival of the “iron horse,” men with money to invest were attracted.

Booming pioneer towns attract newspaper ventures. Lansing was no exception. The State Republican, founded in 1855, has endured, having become The State Journal.

A strong competitor was a paper called the Free Press, founded in Detroit in 1848 and moved to Lansing in 1850. Aligned with the Democratic party, it went through many name changes, finally becoming the Lansing Journal. In later years it was absorbed by The State Republican.

It was popular then, as now, for these papers to call attention to overcrowding of state office building facilities. During and after the Civil war the old state capitol and a state office structure located on the site of the present capitol were filled to overflowing.

Lansing businessmen tried to quiet the cry for removal of the capitol. They pushed legislation to build the present capitol structure, new railroads and other improvements.

The fate of Lansing hung in the balance.


John Lansing

John Lansing

original article

original article


Lansing Grew Rapidly As New State Capital

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Tuesday, March 18, 1947.
(Article written during the Centennial Celebration of Lansing being named the State Capitol of Michigan).

Lansing Grew Rapidly As New State Capital

Building City Was Soon to Become Manufacturing Center

By Dr. George N. Fuller

Lansing grew apace as the years rolled on. The budding city was soon to have its iron works, carriage works, planing mill, marble works, woolen mill, barrel factory, furniture factory, brick manufactory, tannery and brewery in addition to its saw-mill and flour mill.

Already in these days after 1850 Lansing was forging ahead as a manufacturing town. In anticipation of these improvements a bank was established as early as 1850 but the first bank building was not built until 1855 on what has come to be known as the bank corner – Washington and Michigan. The First National banks organized in 1864 and the Second National bank later that same year.

Most of this expansion came after the Civil war.

Along with this expansion of business went growth in public utilities. Water was on the prime necessities after the Civil war. Doctors who had served in the army came back with knowledge of how easy water of open wells is made unfit for drinking. They were impressed with how disease could be controlled by pure water and sanitary surroundings. They denounced open wells and appealed to the people of Lansing to start a city water system.

Water System Started in 1855

In 1872, through the efforts of Dr. Henry B. Baker and others, the state board of health was established and used its influence. But it was not until 1855 that the city council took action and established the beginning of the present municipal water system.

Doctor Baker, as head of the state board of health, sought to form in each township, village and city a branch board. The first health board in Lansing came in this way.

With the improvement in the water system. The matter of fire protection came into the spotlight. It was very crude in the early days. For several years after the capitol came the only fire protection was a volunteer ladder and bucket company. All able-bodied male citizens were members. Each kept his ladder and bucket. The fire alarm was a pair of strong lungs put into violent action by the person discovering the fire. Then all neighbors with their ladders and pails rushed to the scene of the blaze to put out the fire if they could. Water was taken from the rivers or from wells within reach.

Several Disastrous Fires

Disastrous fires swept the city in 1853 and 1857 and inspired the organization of the Lansing fire department and the purchase of a hand engine. Two more severe losses by fire in 1866 and 1871 led to he purchase of two steam engines. In spite of this a half dozen heavy fires occurred within as many years, culminating in the great fire of 1877 in which about an acre of the city was burned over.

Lansing’s greatest difficulty in handling a fire was the long scattered reach of two miles from north to south. And again, the fire department had no municipal water supply to draw upon.

It was not until 1895 that Lansing had a police department. In the early days the city was guarded by a city marshal and one or two constables, assisted by the county sheriff and his deputies. Night watchmen were employed to report fires.

The jail was in “Middle Town” on East Allegan street, a wooden two-story building, in the top story of which the city council met. This was used until the city hall was built.

Lighting Was Problem

Along with other civic improvements came the problem of lighting streets and public buildings. Before the Civil war candles and whale oil lamps were used. Then came kerosene lamps. Before 1873 even the state capitol was thus lighted.

In 1872 the first Lansing factory to make illuminating gas was built. The city has not even yet undertaken to supply its own gas as a public utility.

It was different with electricity, which came as a public-owned utility in 1893.

With the establishment of the state capital here, came the schools. The first was a district school in “lower town” where most of the families were. It was the only cleared ground in the woods. The teacher was Eliza Powell,, daughter of a pioneer. The school started with 10 pupils. The school building was a log shanty. It was soon overcrowded and the school board built a frame building. Miss Powell’s salary was $2 a week.

A two-story brick school house was erected in 1851. Later a second school district was formed, but in 1859 the two were consolidated and after the Civil war, with the formation of other wards, the present unified system of primary, grammar and high schools was adopted.

A wooden two-story high school building was built on the old Central high school square, but in 1874 this was replaced by a three-story brick building which lasted through the pioneer period.

Methodist Society Formed in 1846

Quite as early as the schools, the churches came to Lansing. In 1846 the Methodists formed a society in “lower town” with four members. The society grew and included a number of Presbyterians. In 1865 the Presbyterians formed a church society of their own and built the Franklin Presbyterian church. The Central Methodist church was built in 1888. Three Baptist societies were formed as early as 1848. The Congregationalists worshiped with other denominations until the 1870s when the present church on Allegan street was built. A Lutheran society was formed and a church built by Lansing’s early Germans in the 1850s. The Catholic church in Lansing received its first strong impulse from the work of Father Van Dress, a Belgian priest, who came to Lansing in the period of the Civil war.

Fraternal orders gained a footing here with the coming of the capital or soon afterward. Among those was Masonry. The present Grand Lodge of Michigan had been organized only in 1844. Lansing Lodge No. 33 was organized in 1849 and Capitol Lodge No. 45, I. O. O. F. was instituted in 1850.

Other organizations came into being after the war. Among them was the Lansing Cornet band, 1865; Independent Order of Good Templars, 1866; Order of the Stars and Stripes, originally political and charitable in character, 1875; Lansing Library and Literary association, 1871, out of which grew the Lansing Woman’s club in 1874; Grand River Boat club, 1872. Lansing acquired an opera house in 1873.

The city was growing rapidly. Great improvements were made. Streets showed fewer stumps. Grading was well under way on Washington avenue. Frame houses were going up. There were some of brick.

The population of Lansing by the 1860 federal census was 3,085. By 1870 it had reached 5,241. Outside the city, Lansing township numbered 823 persons.

Only yesterday, as it were, the first citizens of Lansing were riding behind ox teams up Washington avenue in not a very straight path because they had to dodge the stumps, often with mud half way to the wagon hubs.

Woods and Indians yesterday, a modern city today.


LPD in 1894

LPD in 1894


Original Article

Original Article

Lansing’s Upper Town in the 1840’s

Note – This is before Highway 496 was built in the late 1960’s just north of Main Street.
And the name of Main Street was changed to Malcolm X Street in 2010.

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Sunday, May 22, 1949

Site of New Bridge Was Once Thriving Business District
By Birt Darling (Journal Staff Writer)

History is about to repeat itself up along the Grand river where the mighty span of a million dollar bridge is beginning to take shape.

“Sidewalk superintendents,” watching the progress of construction on the new Main Street bridge, are probably not aware that this will be the third span across the river at this point.

They haven’t heard it because their parents probably hadn’t heard it, and if their grandparents ever did, they were pretty small shavers and forgot to pass it on.

And the thriving little community that once extended from east of S. Cedar st. to S. Washington ave., that too, has been forgotten, although 100 years ago now it vied with the present downtown district and North Lansing as a business center.

With a new Main Street bridge and a widened S. Cedar St., it’s a good guess that this once-thriving business sector will make a comeback.

They called it “Upper Town” a century ago, because it was up-river from “Middle Town” (present-day downtown) and “Lower Town” (North Lansing.) It had three hotels doing a booming business; it had a tinsmith, a bowling alley, a general store or two, a shoemaker and a baked goods shop.

Its citizens snapped their fingers at the denizens of “Middle Town” and “Lower Town” because it had the new city’s first post office, the first hotel, and the first bridge within what are now the Lansing corporate limits. Even “Lower Town” couldn’t beat that, although John Burchard’s cabin had been built by the North Lansing dam in 1843 – four years before “Upper Town” got under way.

The first Main Street bridge, a crude log span, was completed in 1847, very soon after the bill was passed to remove the capitol from Detroit to Lansing.

Promoters of this venture were “Bush & Thomas,” who, by not much of a coincidence, were also the promoters of “Upper Town.”

Charles P. Bush was a legislator, and moved fast when he heard the capitol was going to be moved to a spot known as the “Town of Michigan,” on the far-away Grand river. John Thomas, an astute merchant, was the other leading light in the community-to-be.

The first actual bridge built in the Lansing area, although not within the early city limits, was a log affair over the Red Cedar river on S. Cedar st., constructed in either 1840 or 1841, by George Matthews of Meridian. But today it can qualify as the site of the first bridge, since it wasn’t within what are now the boundaries of the city.

We find Bush living in a house on Lot 16, Block 177, in 1847, just east of where the Barnes mansion was to be built in 1876. Bush also owned Lot 17, according to later (1851) records. It was on the latter lot that the mansion was to be erected – very old to us nowadays, but undreamed of then, at the south foot of S. Capitol ave.

Bush and Thomas started a store on the south half of Lot 1 of Block 227, about at the point of the east end of the new bridge. Lansing’s new first post office, although not shown on the 1859 map, was believed to be just east of this store. Bush sold out to Thomas and died in 1857, but, by the time, “Upper Town” was already on the downgrade as a business section, due to the growth of “Middle Town,” which was in the neighborhood of the new frame capitol in the block bounded by S. Washington and Capitol aves., and W. Allegan and W. Washtenaw sts. Bush and his wife are buried in Mt. Hope cemetery.

Blooming Politics
Like Bush, the first postmaster was also a politician. He was George W. Peck, also a newspaperman, born in New York city in 1818. William Hinman, his deputy, married his daughter. Peck had been elected to the legislature from the Livingston county in 1846, and was speaker of the house the following year, becoming secretary of state in 1848. He and Bush were powers in the new city.

However, when Upper Town’s hotel-owners tried to get tavern licenses, the predominately dry element of Lower Town (North Lansing) presumed to show the Upper Towners, even with the two politicos in their midst, they “weren’t so much,” and for some time the Main streeters from quenching their customers’ thirsts.

Lansing’s first hotel site is believed to have been on the northwest corner of River and Main sts., close by the old bridge. Adams’ local history says it was built “about 1848,” but George Hammell, East Lansing historian, has found a record of a ball being held there on July 4, 1847, and others showing it was started that May, plus a map by Hazen and town records of an application to sell “spirits” in July, 1847.

The original hotel, called “Michigan Exchange,” was started by Levi Hunt, and, according to Theodore Foster, local historian, was a rendezvous for the wagons of the pioneers who came up the “Cedar Trail” from Jackson.

Hunt didn’t retain possession of the Michigan Exchange very long, for we find Bush and Thomas taking over. It is assessed against John Thomas in 1849, and the following year we find Levi Hunt listed as a butcher in the 1850 census. Hunt is assessed in 1853 on other property. He owned Lots 7 to 10 in Block 218 and was assessed for $1000 – a high amount indicating that it must have been business rather than residential property, leading to a conjecture that he may have run a slaughterhouse on his later sites. Land transfer records show that he left Upper Town soon afterward.

Steadily Growing
The “National hotel” was the second in Upper Town, with the record that one Daniel Clapsaddle applied for a tavern (hotel) license on Nov. 27, 1847. It was granted, and he paid all of $4 for it. This was the city’s second hostelry, since Milo H. Turner of “Lower Town’s” (North Lansing) Seymour House didn’t apply for a license until that Dec. 17.

Upper Town also enjoyed the distinction of witnessing the arrival of the first mail coach. This jouncing vehicle, greeted with more fanfare than we of would today would welcome a four-engine DC-4, pulled up before the Bush & Thomas frame store, its horses lathered after the 36-mile run from Jackson, in May 1847, the same month after the capitol removal from Detroit was approved.

Lots in the new “Town of Michigan,” which took in Upper Town, Middle Town and Lower Town, went on auction that July, but Upper Town residents paid little heed, figuring their section was already well-established, and would be the center of population, business and industry.

They had reason for their outlook as they watched the flatboats sweeping ’round the bend, bringing supplies from Jackson and Eaton Rapids, and they talked glibly about the day when the river steamers, which now stopped at Grand Rapids, would come all the way down to Upper Town, which would become virtually a Great Lakes port – with a little widening of certain parts of the Grand river, of course.

Quite a Community
They had justification for their Yankee optimism because of the extent of their little business center.

Directly west of Levi Hunt’s tavern, for instance, was John Berry’s drug store on Lots 3 and 15 of Block 174, on the north side of the 300 block of E. Main st. But Berry didn’t stay long, because by 1849, the property had been transferred to James B. Waite. Waite was a shoemaker, and must have been a “big shot” for those days, for we find him assessed at $500 and $300 in personal assessment in 1849. Born in Pennsylvania in 1802, he died in 1852, but the 1850 census shows that he had $800 in capital invested and that he produced 1,280 pairs of boots and shoes valued at $3,200. He employed four men and paid them an average of $22 a month. For his day he was a “big operator.”

Across the street from Waite was Alanson Ward on Lot 3 of Block 176, who was also a shoemaker, a man of some consequence in the community. A Vermonter, born in 1800, he lived until Feb. 10, 1870, and is buried in Mt. Hope cemetery.

A man with the unusual name of Philander E. Pierce lived nearby on Lot 5, Block 176, in 1848. We can’t trace him too well and don’t know the business he was in, but assessed $150 for property and $7 personal assessment. He disappears from the view of the historian by the time of the 1849 tax rolls.

Amos Ford was right next door on Lot 6, Block 176, although he didn’t stay long. He must have been a competitor of Bush & Thomas, since he sold, among other things, crackers, fish and a “small grocery supply.” However, he, too, disappears by the 1850 census, and isn’t on the 1851 assessment roll.

Strikes and Spares
If anyone thinks bowling is a recent sport in Lansing, let him turn to the 1850 census report showing William G. Sweet, listed as a “merchant” on Lot 9, Block 176, and we know that he operated a bowling alley here along E. Main st. There’s a William G. Sweet buried in Maple Grove cemetery, Mason, and historians suppose it’s the same.

Right next door to Bush & Thomas at the east end of the old hewn-timber Main street bridge was a grocer named Henry Bloss on Lot One, Block 227. He was granted a license to sell “arduous spirits” on June 10, 1848.

Upper Town even had a hardware store, possibly the first in the entire city. Edward Elliott is listed as a “tinsmith” on Lots 5 and 13, Block 228. He bought his supplies of Bush & Thomas, who seemed to have a corner on almost everything, and employed a tinner. Born in Canada in 1819, he died in Williamston in 1895, and is buried in Mt. Hope cemetery.

Where S. Washington ave. is being widened just north of the Washington ave. bridge was the home of Dr. Charles A. Jeffries on Lot 13, Block 177. We didn’t know when his old home was razed, but it antedated the existing Scott white-columned mansion by at least half a century.

On the river’s east side of Lot 4, Block 227, was a grocery store owned by Newcomb Mitchell, who came to Lansing in 1847. Like many another, he didn’t stay long before he moved to Bennington, Shiawassee county. He was a native of Bennington, Vt. As late as 1880 he was still living in the former town.

On E. Main st., 100 years ago, Peter C. Smith’s bakery shop was a popular place on Lot 12, Block 176, but he apparently had moved away by 1857.

Over east of S. Cedar st. was Nelson Underwood on Lots 1-5, Block 229, called a “brickmaker” in the 1850 census, and historians think he probably had a brickyard there.

Just south of Bush & Thomas’ store on the west half of Lot 2, Block 227, was “Peter J. Weller & Son,” who operated a restaurant of sorts. The senior Mr. Weller died in December, 1849, at the ago of 48, and rests in Lot 10, Section 8 of Mt. Hope cemetery in an unmarked grave – hardly befitting a pioneer. His son, Augustus F. Weller, is listed as a grocer in the 1850 census, and died in 1887.

Next door to the Wellers was Dr. William L. Wells, who came here from Howell, to which he returned after a short stay. Assessment on his property indicates he may have run an apothecary shop. He is recorded as having been back in Howell by 1849 and still living as late as 1880.

The number of deaths among merchants of Upper Town indicates that typhus and other “swamp” diseases of the time discouraged early settlers in this particular part of town, but they failed to discourage construction of still a third hotel, the famous “Benton House,” which, built about the time of the removal of the capital to Lansing, was located on the northwest corner of Main st. and Washington ave., where the present R. E. Olds mansion is located. A three-story brick hostelry, portions of it existed until late in the last century.

“Upper Town” was quite a place, although not a vestige of it remains.


Map of Upper Town - Lansing, MI

Map of Upper Town – Lansing, MI

Original Article

Original Article