As early as 1856 a strong desire to change the county seat from Greenville to some place nearer the geographical centre of the county manifested itself, and later, as other centres of trade became more clearly defined, and some became places of considerable business importance, as Langston, Amsden, and Sheridan, the contest grew in proportion, and each locality had its numerous and earnest advocates. To unite the various factions, in view of the contending interests, though difficult, was earnestly sought by the representative men of the county not directly interested in the growth of the thrifty village of Greenville.
Among the men most prominent in bringing about unity of action in this regard were John Smith, of Crystal; William Castel, of Bushnell; Aaron Lyon, of Bloomer; and George F. Case, of Evergreen, now of Stanton.
At several meetings of the board of supervisors the subject of removal was discussed and voted upon, but the west half of the county having a majority in the board all efforts for the time were unavailing.
In 1857 the township of Pierson, then comprising towns 11 and 12 north, of ranges 9 and 10 west, was severed from Mecosta County and annexed to Montcalm, with the ostensible reason (as is asserted by old settlers) of favoring Greenville. While the inhabitants of the eastern part of the county looked with exceeding disfavor upon this act of the Legislature, by which it broke the outline of counties to favor a particular locality, apparently for political purposes, they endeavored to counterbalance it by organizing new townships. In this, however, they, as well as the west part of the county, were unsuccessful, for the rival factions each held the other in check.
At the meeting of the board of supervisors in 1861 a petition was presented to divide the township of Pierson and organize two new townships. The members from the eastern townships persistently refused to favor this petition unless the supervisor of Pierson should vote to remove the capital to the geographical centre of the “old county.” To this he finally consented; at least, with this understanding the proposed new townships were favorably disposed of. The board, however, still refused to remove the county seat unless a deed be first executed conveying to the county the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section 1 in Sidney, which Fred. Hall, of Ionia, had agreed to donate should the seat of justice be located here. John Smith, the member from Crystal, declared that the board should have the deed before sunrise, and forthwith set out in company with Aaron Lyons, of Bloomer, for Ionia, reaching the residence of Fred Hall about eleven o’clock at night. He was roused from his bed, and the deed properly made out.
At an early hour the following morning the board convened, the deed was read, and their votes claimed. There was no chance for evasion now. The supervisor of Pierson, however, refused. The board immediately reconsidered its action in regard to the new townships. He then promised to vote for the measure if his townships would again be organized. The motion for removal was this time first presented, and having passed, new townships were erected without any serious inconvenience.
The county seat by this action was established in a forest of pine, four miles from the nearest white habitation, the nearest being probably the log cabin of Hiram Amsburg, in Sidney. Whatever means may have been resorted to bring about this removal, the benefit to the county on the whole cannot be questioned. At the next meeting of the board the new capital was called Fred, in honor of Fred Hall, of Ionia, and already referred to. In compliance with his earnest solicitation, however, the name was changed to Stanton, in honor of the Secretary of War during the Rebellion.
After the new location was decided upon, the contract for felling the timber on twenty acres being let to John Wilson, of Fair Plains, and a contract to build a court house was entered into with M. P. Follett, of Amsden, the clearing was at once begun and the court house was soon completed. At the first meeting of the board in the new building the members brought provisions and blankets with them, as there was at that time in the county seat no other building or accommodations whatever. But M. P. Follett had foreseen this emergency, and had taken some steps to provide for the board, and had secured the services of Dr. Sylvester Derby and wife, who lived near Derby Lake, in Sidney. Booms were temporarily fitted up for them in the court house, and necessary arrangements for cooking introduced. But there were no beds, and at night the members arranged themselves in two rows on the floor. But slumber did not visit them readily, and Westbrook Divine, who was a large, heavy man, rolled himself over the entire line of prostrate and half-sleeping forms. This he called “equalizing the roll.” As he continued in this equalizing process, M. P. Follett, the chairman of the board, requested the clerk to call the roll. As he proceeded to fulfill this duty every member, thinking it only a continuation of the order already observed, answered promptly to his name, expecting to be called to a sham session of the board. In this, however, they were disappointed; the session was called, but for a different purpose. When the roll was called, Mr. Follett, bringing his gavel down heavily on the table, said, “Now come to Limerick.” They roused up by degrees, and when in their order the usual formalities were duly observed, the regular business commenced. After a session lasting from one o’clock until three in the morning, they adjourned, and, entirely exhausted, betook themselves quietly to sleep. At this meeting it was decided to remove the county offices. Levi Camburn, the county treasurer, thought the prospect of living here very limited.
To obtain material for building purposes was next to impossible. Ryder’s saw-mill, in Evergreen, which was the nearest, was four miles distant, but the only route was by way of Sheridan, and the road north from that village was scarcely passable more than half of the distance. The weather was extremely cold, and the action of the board seemed to be very premature. They voted, however, to allow Mr. Camburn the use of part of the court house for a dwelling. This avoided present difficulties, and the offices were soon transferred. The family of Levi Camburn was therefore the first to settle in Stanton, or, as it was then called, Fred. The first business place was opened by Abram Roosa, who, in the summer of 1862, built a log house one story and a half and twenty-four by thirty feet, in which he commenced keeping hotel. This, having received a number of additions, is now lost in the Stanton House, of which it forms a part.
In 1865-1866, Alexander Vinecore built the Bailey House. The first dwelling house was that of Levi Camburn, built in August, 1862, and is still standing, and is the first house just east of the court house. In 1863, E. K. Wood opened the first stock of groceries, and soon after D. M. Gardner opened the first stock of dry-goods.
___ Starkweather built a small saw-mill, which was a most valuable addition, as it furnished an abundant supply of lumber for building up the village. From that time the development of the lumbering and business interests of the village and the agricultural interests of the immediate vicinity was rapid.
The village of Stanton was incorporated in 1867, and the first election under the charter was held on the 7th day of November of that year. The following is a list of the several presidents of the village from 1867 to 1880, inclusive:
1867, Jenson P. Beers; 1868, Jenson P. Beers; 1869, Levi Camburn; 1870, Jenson P. Beers; 1871, W. G. Wilkinson; 1872, Lyman C. Moore; 1873, John C. Mattison; 1874-1876, Oscar Fenn; 1877-1878, Norman Shepherd; 1879-1880, Charles W. Hawley.
The locating of the county seat at Stanton did not settle the question permanently. Greenville, in the mean time, had grown rapidly in wealth and population, and certain prominent men from that part of the county earnestly advocated it as the only proper location, and at the meetings of the board of supervisors this question was not infrequently the cause of exciting debate. It is probable, in view of the favorable inducements offered by that village, that action adverse to Stanton would have sooner or later been taken had it not been for the magnanimous conduct of her leading citizens and tax-payers generally. By special act of the Legislature the village was permitted to issue bonds to the amount of ten thousand dollars, in order to secure the requisite loan. Accordingly, on the 20th day of May, 1879, in compliance to a petition, a town meeting was held and the loan decided upon by a vote of one hundred and twenty-six in the affirmative to three in the negative. The action of the village in this respect and in the matter of issuing its bonds and raising the money has been prompt and commendable throughout. The court house was completed and dedicated in the summer of 1880, at a cost of twenty-two thousand dollars.
The statement of the Detroit, Lansing and Northern Railroad for the month of February, 1880, shows that the freight forwarded during that month weighed 648,737 pounds, being 326 car-loads; the charges amounted to $5,167.44. The freight received amounted to 1,243,296 pounds, and the charges collected to $2,250,77. Local passenger tickets sold, 890; receipts for the same, $770.50. Foreign tickets sold amounted to $275.80. Total receipts for the month, $8,464.51.
The report for April, 1880, is as follows: Freight billed, 9,653,956 pounds; charges collected, $8,781.16; freight received, 2,212,583 pounds; charges on the same, $2,550.95; 912 local passenger tickets sold, amounting to $667.75; 75 foreign passenger tickets sold, amounting to $290.70; aggregate from this source, $958.45. During four weeks in this month the freight billed and shipped from this station consisted of 289 cars of lumber, 81 of shingles, 20 of staves, 6 of lath, and 3 of feed; making 399 cars.
In addition to its large mercantile interests, Stanton has two good flouring-mills, two planing-mills, a saw-mill, a foundry and machine-shop, and two weekly newspapers. The population is two thousand. In the fall of 1880 a fire destroyed about one-fourth the business portion of the village and entailed a loss of fifty thousand dollars. The burnt district is rapidly rebuilding.
The first school was taught by Miss Nancy Green in the court room in the summer of 1863. There were five scholars, and she received ten shillings per week for her services. The next winter Mrs. Levi Camburn taught a school in her own private house. There were then seven scholars. This was the first taught by a regularly inspected teacher, and it secured the organization of the district and the school fund. These first two schools were paid for by private subscription. The school district which includes Stanton is No. 3 fractional, and includes a part of the four adjacent townships of Sidney, Evergreen, Day, and Douglass, and was organized by the school boards of the respective townships May 9, 1863. At the first meeting Abram Roosa was chosen moderator, Levi Camburn director, and D. O. Cornell assessor. On September 9th the board voted to raise one dollar per scholar and five dollars for immediate expenses. The school house site was established and two hundred dollars voted for building purposes. The board was appointed building committee, and the house was erected and accepted in 1866. E. K. Wood, now a prominent merchant of the village, was the first teacher in it, and was the first male teacher in the district. It was organized as a graded school in 1866, and is now in successful operation. The first board of trustees under the graded system were Oscar Fenn, Asa Morse, J. P. Beers, Harmon Smith, Aaron Lyon, and E. K. Wood.
First Free-Will Baptist
The society of this church was organized under the supervision of Rev. H. E. W. Palmer, Oct. 26, 1866. H. E. W. Palmer, Cornelia H. Palmer, Nancy Davis, G. F. Case, Mary E. Case constituted the first organization. Mr. Palmer was elected pastor, G. F. Case clerk, and David Morse, G. F. Case, and J. P. Beers trustees. This society erected the first place of worship in the village, which was dedicated Jan. 3, 1869. Elder Van Vleck was pastor at this time. A. E. Mather and S. B. Fish assisted in the dedicatory service. The church cost three thousand dollars. The lot upon which it stands was donated by George F. Case. The present membership is one hundred and three, with C. C. Miller as pastor. The society has a neat and commodious parsonage, which cost fifteen hundred dollars, and was purchased in 1878.
First Methodist Episcopal Church of Stanton
The first class of this church was organized Dec. 12, 1865, and consisted of ten members, five of whom were residents of the village. Their names were as follows: Mrs. A. H. Camburn, Mrs. A. French, Mrs. P. Meach, Miss M. E. Meach, Mrs. Lavina Hunt, M. Beebe, N. Beebe, Mrs. A. Waters, Alphonso Brundage, Elizabeth Brundage. Mr. Brundage was elected first class leader of the society. The first board of trustees was composed of Gideon Dingham, Miles Dunham, Sheridan Forward, Peter Lee, James Lee, R. W. Paling. F. A. Swan was pastor at the time of formation.
The vicissitudes through which the society passed were of a severe and trying character. During its first years it, as well as the other religious denominations, held meeting in the school-house until upon the completion of the Baptist church, the first in the village, the school board refused the society the use of the room. They then met at the court-house until refused it by the board of supervisors. They next had recourse to two halls, which were both destroyed by fire. Mrs. N. H. Turner, in a reminiscence of the early days of the society, says: “These were dark days for Methodism. With a membership of sixteen, of whom ten were women, it did not look much like building up a church, or even supporting one.”
At the Conference of 1872 the matter was talked over. It was a doubtful place. A young man, a number of years a successful teacher, had joined the Conference. He wanted work, and offered to go to Stanton. He thought he had clothes enough for the year and could live somehow. He arrived at Stanton Sept. 27, 1872. The first member to whom he introduced himself looked at him pitifully and said, “You do not know what kind of a place you have come to.” He replied that he had come to build a church. The same day he visited the school and gave out an appointment for the next Sabbath, and looked up a choir. The next day, Saturday, he swept and mopped the school-house floor, cleaned the hall and stairs, filled the lamps, and dusted the seats. He found favor. Services were held every Sabbath morning and evening to a crowded house, many at times failing to get seats. He at once commenced to build a church. At the end of seven weeks a surprise party was given the minister, at which time eighty dollars was paid him. The work of building was prosecuted so energetically that on the 25th of May, 1873, the church, which cost three thousand dollars, was dedicated. The membership increased from sixteen to about one hundred. Rev. R. V. Rook, for his energy and noble qualities in this trying time, still retains the gratitude of the society.
First Congregational Church
The following account of the organization of the Congregational Church is entered on the records of that society: “Agreeable to previous appointment, the members communicant of the Presbyterian Church of Stanton and a number of resident Christians of the same place (not being members of other church organizations in the village), as well as beloved friends of the proposed organization, met at the Baptist church in said village on the 4th day of March, A.D. 1874. The meeting was opened by prayer by Leroy Warren, superintendent of the Home Mission Society of Northwestern Michigan, after which Levi Camburn was chosen moderator, Hiram Smith secretary. On March 7th, Levi Camburn and Andrew B. Nevins were elected deacons, Harmon Smith clerk, Wealthy B. Vinecore treasurer. On March 9th, after the organization of the society had been duly recognized in the usual way, Edwin R. Wood, Brayton H. Payne, Andrew B. Nevins, Levi Camburn, Alexander Vinecore, and Andrew J. Sterling were elected trustees. During the latter part of 1875 the society built a church, which was dedicated on Jan. 30, 1876.
Secret Benevolent Associations
Stanton Star Lodge, No. 250, F. and A. M. – Organized in 1868 under a dispensation issued by S. C. Coffinbury, M. W. G. M., the charter of this lodge bears date Jan. 15, 1869, and was issued to the following persons: Robert Wallace, Levi Camburn, Ira C. Horton, J. P. Beers, William F. Turner, Henry L. Parker, J. Morris Zinkham, Seymour Underwood, Alexander Vinecore; with the following as first officers: Robert Wallace, W. M.; Levi Camburn, S. W.; Ira C. Horton, J. W.; William F. Turner, S. D.
Pine Grove Lodge, No. 202, I. O. O. F., was organized in Stanton on Feb. 7, 1873, with the following named persons as charter members: F. A. Goldsmith, George F. Case, M. P. Baker, A. Walker, M. Jay, George W. Stoneburner. The following officers were duly elected: F. A. Goldsmith, N. G.; George F. Case, V. G.; G. W. Stoneburner, Sec.; M. P. Baker, Treas. The membership is now eighty-five in good standing. The hall is well furnished and arranged. The encampment was organized Feb. 1, 1879, with W. J. Fairbanks, H. P. Morton, A. Jennings, Martin Jay, Thomas Earine, M. T. Tenney, and R. Sawtels as members. The membership is now twenty-four.
Stanton Lodge, No. 63, A. O. U. W. was organized was organized March 18, 1879, with the following charter members: S. W. Richards, M. A. Bradford, W. P. White, James F. Datson, T. E. Powell, George W. Rudolph, F. B. Sweeney, William C. Steere, N. W. Newhouse, and Samuel Hurd. The present membership is twenty-four.
James W. Willett was born in the city of Auburn, N. Y., March 13, 1839. He received a common school education, and at the age of seventeen came to Michigan, and settled in the town of North Plains, Ionia Co., where his brother, the Hon. A. Milan Willett, had previously settled. He learned the trade of a carpenter and joiner, which avocation he followed several years.
Upon the breaking out of the war of the Rebellion he enlisted in Berdan’s Sharpshooters, and went to the front. He remained in the service until 1864, when he returned to North Plains and engaged in farming. In 1872, in company with his brother, he engaged in the manufacture of sash, doors, and blinds in the village of Muir. Here he suffered the loss of his property by fire, and in 1876 removed to Stanton and built the mill he now operates. He is at present engaged in lumbering in connection with his planing-mill, and owns twelve hundred acres of farming and pine lands.
In 1864 he was married to Miss Mary Annette, daughter of the Hon. G. W. Germain, of North Plains, one of the pioneers of that town and for many years one of its prominent citizens. She was born in North Plains, June 18, 1845. They have five children.
In his political and religious affiliations Mr. Willett is a Republican and a member of the Church of the Disciples. He is a man of pronounced temperance principles, and the cause finds in him an earnest advocate and a strong supporter.
Since his removal to Stanton Mr. Willett has identified himself largely with its growth and development, and has left his mark upon the architectural features of the most prominent business structures and residences of the place. Altogether, he is one of those enterprising, energetic business men whose identification with any community is always productive of good.
Henry H. Hinds, one of the pioneers of Stanton, was born Oct. 9, 1840, near Montrose, Pa. His father, Preserved Hinds, was a native of Connecticut. He was a farmer and carpenter by occupation, a man of temperate and industrious habits, and one of the pioneers of that county. Henry H. received a common-school education.
In 1861 he enlisted in the Fifty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and was made First Sergeant of Company A. In the spring of 1862 his regiment was attached to Gen. Kearney’s division and joined the Army of the Potomac. Mr. Hinds took part in the battles of the Peninsula campaign in 1862, and received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the fall of the same year. He participated in the second battle of Bull Run and the battle of Chantilly, where Gen. Kearney was killed. He was wounded at the battle of Fredericksburg, and soon after was commissioned First Lieutenant. He was again severely wounded at Chancellorsville in the spring of 1863, and was wounded and taken prisoner at the battle of Gettysburg. He was confined in Libby Prison, and was one of the party that escaped with Col. Streight. He was recaptured and confined in a dark dungeon for fifteen days. He was a prisoner for a period of twenty months, during which time he was confined at Danville, Va., Macon, Ga., Charleston and Columbia, S. C. and Charlotte, N. C. He was paroled at Goldsborough, N. C., March 1, 1865. During his imprisonment he was placed under the fire of our own guns in the city of Charleston for a period of six weeks, by order of the rebel Secretary of War. He was commissioned Captain in 1864, and was mustered out of the service in July, 1865. In the fall of the following year he emigrated to Michigan and settled in Stanton, where he engaged in merchandising and lumbering. He is at present largely engaged in real estate and farming. In his political affiliations Mr. Hinds is an active Republican, and has identified himself largely with town, county, and State politics.
He has occupied many positions of trust. He has been supervisor of his township, and chairman of the board of supervisors, and member of the village board of Stanton for several years. He has always taken a deep interest in educational matters, and is a member of the board of education of Stanton. In 1876 he was appointed by Governor Bagley a member of the board of control of the State public school, and in 1877 reappointed to the same position by Governor Crosswell, which position he still holds. He is president of the Montcalm County Agricultural Society, and a member of the board of directors of the People’s Mutual and the Home Mutual Insurance Companies of Ionia, Montcalm, and Clinton Counties. In 1872 he was elected senator for the Twenty-seventh District. He served two years, and was a member of several important committees. He is a prominent member of the Ionia Commandery of Knights Templar, and has been for a number of years Master of the Stanton Star Lodge, No. 250, F. and A. M.
In December, 1861, Mr. Hinds was married to Miss Mary E. Sherwood, of his native county. They have two children,___ Edna, born Sept. 17, 1875, and Alma, born Feb. 15, 1877. Mr. Hinds is one of the early settlers of Stanton. He has witnessed its transition from a wilderness into one of the important villages in this part of the State, and in his own person typifies many of the agencies that have wrought these changes. His name is connected with nearly all the initial events in Stanton’s history, and he may with propriety be considered one of its founders.