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


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