Muskegon County, Michigan

White River Township

This little gore about six miles long with an average width of two miles, is but a fragment of what was White River, which once extended far and wide but was successively denuded of portions of its territory until now less than half a regular township is left. It is in the Northwest corner of the County, range XVIII West, Township XII North, and is bounded on the North by Clay Banks in Oceana Co., on the East by Montague, South by White Lake, West by Lake Michigan. The earliest settlement was at the mouth, and the first settler was Charles Mears, who, however, found certain men holding claim for Hiram Pearson of Chicago, afterwards abandoned. Mears came in 1880, entering the White Lake by the old mouth which is to the North of the present channel and entered the lakes by sailing nearly a mile South. The Southern half of the town is drained by a creek which runs into the lake through a bayou and thence by the old channel. The Northeast by Flower Creek which crosses into Claybanks. There are a good many German farmers settled in the North.

In the North of White River there is considerable black muck, with some clay. To the North is the township now named Claysbanks, where the Indians had cleared large tracts and planted corn. We find it impossible to get an authentic municipal history of the township, owing to the township board in 1859 solemnly burning up the books, because of some tangle in the funds. This was certainly a new way to pay old debts. They thought they would start life anew with a clear balance sheet. What a simple way of cutting the Gordian knot this was, and how often many a puzzled book- keeper would like to adopt this primitive method of settling accounts. White River township at first extended from Manistee to Grand Haven and ever so far inland. The first white child born at White River was probably the son of John Hanson, a Swede, now of Claybanks. The first preacher was Deacon Bennett, the good old colored man. The first sawmill was Ferry’s. The first hotel was that of A. A. Cain and Chas. P. Cushway. There is still pointed out to this day an old dead tree in front of Bruce's store, where in 1858, a sailor who had committed some petty crime, was taken by the crowd and hanged on a limb until lie was nearly dead. They would then take him down and have a drink and hang him again. They got so drunk at last that they forgot to cot him down and he would have perished had it not been for Mrs. Storms.


Among the early representatives of this town were the Daltons, I. E. Carleton, and Jesse D. Pullman.

In 1859 when the county was set apart from Ottawa, G. W Eathbone, a sawmill owner, was supervisor for White River, Peter Dalton for Dalton, and I. E. Carleton for Oceana. All these were opposed to the union with Muskegon, and wished to be a portion of Oceana County, or at least of a new County, with a part of Oceana in it. In 1860, N. H. Ferry was supervisor of White River, and was elected chairman. He was re-elected in 1861. In 1863 Dr. J. A. Wheeler took the office, and in 186-1 J. B. Watson was elected, followed by Dr. Wheeler in 1865. In 1866 John Welch took the office, in 1868 P. W. Sumner, in 1859 .Jas. H. Doming, in 1870- 1-2-8-4 S. J. B. Watson again, in 1875-6-7 Jas. Whelan, since 1878 A. Rowe has been supervisor.


The first sailing vessel that passed through the mouth up to White River was the schooner Telegram owned by the Ferrys, and with one, McConnell as captain. Capacity, 80,000 feet of lumber, but it could not pass the bar at the month with a full load and was filled by lighters. She came through on the first of August, 1865, drawing three and one-half feet of water, and scraping on the bar. Nothing was done in the way of piers until 1855, when the Ferrys made slab piers in the old or natural channel a short distance to the north of the present harbor. Jesse Pullman took the first poles about eight inches in diameter, and put slabs across to hold them, making a crib three feet wide and eighty feet long, loaded so as to draw eighteen inches of water. This was done at the mill and there accompanied this a lighter loaded with slabs to sink the raft when in position. The raft, however, grounded before reaching the proper place, and had to be unloaded and pried into position. This was added to until a permanent structure was secured. Before this, large rafts of logs had to be towed by oxen along the shore, or poled in rafts, or carried by sail vessels, taken out by lighters to schooners in deep water outside on Lake Michigan, about 5,000 feet at a time, and thence to Grand Haven. There was a bed of white marl at the mouth, whence some suppose the Indians called the water White Lake. This was dredged by Noah Ferry and washed away by the current.

The first shipwreck after this was I. E Carleton’a schooner, North Yuba, loaded with supplies, which were all lost with one man. This was in December, 1855.

The schooners Abigail, Kent and Magic, wintered oil the beach in 1856-7. The first was overhauled and rebuilt by Capt. Sims, her owner. The schooner, G. Barber, wintered on the beach in 1867-8 but was repaired in the Spring.

In the Spring of 1858 there was a tidal wave which rose six feet, washed over the docks, and “played hob” generally. The people thought the judgment day had come. The wave set a lighter on end thirty feet above its level, put out fires of the mills at Muskegon, and extended below Grand Haven.

In I860 when Joseph Heald came in there was but one horse team in Newaygo Co., and he brought in a horse and buckboard, which was the first carriage seen in the White River region. There was but a weekly mail to the Mouth.

Charley Cushway who came to the month in 1849, says the only white family when he arrived was the Laftertys who were getting out shingles, that C. Mears’ first schooner was the Honest John, and the sloop Ranger, John Hanson, Captain, carried fifteen cords of shingle bolts. Cashway returned in 1851, found Joseph Stebbins running Ferry’s mill, P. Hobler getting out shingle bolts, and he and A. A. Cain rented a hotel of Hobler, half log and half frame. There was no farming then except in a small way by Alex. Williams and Deacon Bennett


Through the kindness of Mr. I. M. Weston we are permitted to give the following letter from an old friend of his now in Chicago. We omit the name, but many will know the writer from the incidents he mentions:

“I left Chicago on the schooner Levant, Capt. Connell, in the Spring of 1859 for White Lake, and after a rough passage of forty- eight hours we came to anchor off White Lake, and with our yawl went ashore, thus for the first time setting foot on White River, taking the place vacated by our old friend, George E. Dowling, who had loft for California. At the Mouth was the old Ferry mill and store. On the opposite side of the bayou was Cain’s and Hobbs’ hotels. The Ferry store, in which I was duly installed as chief and only clerk, was the only one on White River, the store of the Carleton’s having been given up or sold out The Long Point mill started up during the season, and a few goods were brought in by Luscomb & Pierce, our old friend, Col. Monyhan, officiating as general superintendent, &c. The old ‘Jewell’ mill was lying idle. On the site where Montague now stands was Hie old Sargeant house and barn. On the site where Whitehall now stands the old Covell & Thompson mill and boarding house constituted about all the buildings. The Meats store was built during the season. The Rogers mill .was bought by Bathbone & Co., and Governor Rathbone went there that season, and near it Carleton & Dalton ran the steamer Oceana. During the season N. H. Ferry bought the steamer Croton, and brought her to White River. There she was commanded two seasons by Capt. Sims. The school was taught by Phcebe Clark, Mrs. Mary McLaughlin teaching in the 'Naske' district, and Miss Nettie G. Hubbard taught in the Sargeant district. Saturdays the teachers in the out-of-town districts came to town to stay over Sundays. During the Fall of 1859 Rev. Mr. Chapin was sent to White River by the M. E. Conference, and preached once in two weeks at the school house, and succeeded in awakening considerable religious enthusiasm. In the Spring of 1860, as the result of his labors, a Sabbath School was organized, with W. H. Woodbury, Superintendent; Geo. E. Dowling, Assistant Superintendent; Miss Emily Burrows (now Mrs. Capt. Dalton), Librarian. Money was raised and books bought, and the school progressed finely. My failure as a chorister was made painfully apparent during the early part of Mr. Chapin's ministrations. The 4 Young Americas portion of the congregation looked to me as leader, while the older and more conservative part looked up to Bro. Bennett, with his good old plantation tunes, or Bro. Friday, with his self-adjusting, telescopic tune that would, under his manipulation, suit any metre. On one occasion Bro. Chapin gave out a short metre hymn at the close of which your humble servant struck up a familiar tune, in which all joined, but found to our sorrow that at the end of the first line there was time left. Nothing daunted, we tried again with the same result, when Bro. Friday came to the rescue with his self- adjusting, tune, and carried it through in ample form, since which time I have never essayed to he chorister.

“We had weekly mails, and when we saw old man Brittain, or his son Ralph, with their two ponies loaded down with mail bags, all hands would go to the post office to wait until the worthy P. M., S. J. B. Watson, would distribute the mail to us. Capt. James Dalton states that the first Fourth of July celebration in White River was in 1818, in the presence of about fifty Indians and twenty whites. The Captain was the orator of the day, and after a sumptuous repast of pork and beans, the whites hurrahed and the Indians, who felt quite patriotic, joined in the shout. The schooner Mitchell hoisted the flag. There were about half a dozen of the fair sex in White River then. “the mouth," as the entrance to White River is called, is a beautiful and romantic spot, and it will probably soon be a fashionable summer resort for those who love pleasant rural scenery, pure Like breezes, and splendid bathing and boating. The shore of the lake here is, as usual, a range of sand extending for about one hundred yards, and then high sand bluffs abruptly rising from the sandy plain and covered with forests of pine, maple and other beautiful foliage. To the south of the Mouth is the beautiful and extensive pleasure grove of I. M. Weston, Esq., who is fully alive to the aesthetic and financial qualities of such a location, and generously allows the public to use it to the fullest extent. There is already, overlooking the inland lake, a covered pavilion for dancers and picnickers, and it is probable that a summer hotel will be built on the bluff on the Lake Michigan side. The grove lies like an isthmus between the broad and breezy waters of Lake Michigan, almost the largest fresh water sheet in the world, and the bright little inland White Lake, and constant communication can be had by steam ferries or private boats with the pleasant and hospitable villages of Whitehall and Montague, about five miles off at the head of the lake. In summer the grounds are daily used by parties of pleasure-seekers, who drink in renewed strength in these halcyon days.

The light house and Government piers are substantial structures and are on an artificial channel. Still farther to the north winds the old channel on its tortuous route, the old Mouth being closed up and the waters running up to the northeast in a long bayou. At the old Mouth is the first historical spot of White Lake history. Here were enacted the stirring scenes of pioneer days. All now is ruinous and decayed—a ruined saw mill here, a tumble-down boarding-house there, a few fishermen's huts, with I nets drying on the sand, and the reader has a time picture of the old Mouth in 1882. The route of trade has taken another channel, and nature has closed up what once was the only entrance into a rich lumbering region. The new Mouth is well chosen and a great deal of time is saved by getting direct to and from the bike.


The light house is situated on south side of the channel, and shows a white light varied every minute by a red flash. The illuminator is catadioptric of the fourth order, lighting 180 degrees of horizon. Local plane 88 feet above ground, and 57 above mean lake level. The light in clear weather, on a vessel’s deck 10 feet above water, can be seen fourteen miles. Structure is brick, one and a half stories high, with a square tower on N.W. comer, of yellow unpainted brick. The location is latitude 43 degrees, 22 minutes N., longitude 86 deg. 25 minutes West.


Several wrecks have occurred at the Mouth of White Lake, in one of which a large number of men, in 1887, were cast on the almost desolate shore late in the Fall, and so frozen that their limbs were amputated by Dr. Charles Shepherd, of Grand Rapids, who had to come all the way, over fifty miles, through the wilderness to perform the operations, which he did with great skill and success. Moses Valois, fisherman, describes the memorable wreck of the Woodruffs in September, 1877, in rescuing the crew of which lie took an active part. The Woodruff had lost most of her canvas and also her anchor off Big Point Sauble, and with the few remaining rags she made her way to the mouth, where a portion of her crew came ashore to telegraph for a tug to tow her to Grand Haven, Upon returning to the vessel the heavy wind had increased to a terrible gale, the boat was dragging her small anchor which she had retained, and the crew awaited in suspense the rapidly approaching moment when she would strike the beach. Their fears were soon I realized and instantly the small boat was lowered away, but the moment it touched the raging breakers it tilled with water, and breaking the painter it was tossed like an eggshell far out of reach of the despairing crew, while the rapidly gathering crowd on the beach stood powerless before the ill-fated vessel unable to lend a helping hand or suggest a thought toward rescue. A dispatch was sent to Grand Haven for a life-boat, and this fact conveyed to the crew by means of large letters, inspired them with a gleam of hope, while the miserable hours dragged by before the coming of the boat. But they were doomed to disappointment, for upon the arrival of the boat the line which was shot out to them got caught on the bottom, and all efforts to remove it were unavailing. In despair the crew then took to the water, and as the waves threw them upon the beach with all signs of life apparently extinct, they were seized by the friends and everything that lay within the power of willing hands and kindly hearts was done in the work of resuscitation.

Gradually the groans of anguish told of the success of these efforts, and the crew passed from apparent death to life again, excepting two who were beyond the reach of human effort.


Deacon Bennett.
One of the “whitest men” at. White River, according to the testimony of all the old settlers, was Deacon Abner Bennett, a colored man, and one of the earliest settlers in the township. The Forum of September, 1879, says: “Mr. Abner Bennett, of White River Township, was 80 years, 2 months and some days old. Mr. Bennett had been a resident of this vicinity for 81 years, was a member of the M. E. Church, and for many years the only preacher in this section, often going from fifteen to twenty-five miles up White River to assist in the last sad rites of some early settler, having been a licensed exhorter for 89 years in the M. E. Church; was the first person to establish religious services in this vicinity, and has always given freely to all benevolent enterprises. The first Sabbath school ever held in this vicinity was started by Mr. and Mrs. B., and for fifteen years they gave the use of their house for this purpose. Mrs. Bennett has been an extensive traveler in her younger days, having been a ladies maid for the wife of the Captain of a Merchant Trader on the Atlantic for five years, visiting nearly all the European ports in this time. Mr. B. leaves a host of warm personal friends. William F. Bruce. Among those who were destined to meet the inevitable hardships incident to pioneer life may be mentioned

William F. Bruce.
His parents are of Prussian origin, his father, John Bruce, being a soldier in the Seven Years War between Prussia and Austria. His mother, formerly Charlotte Marks, was born in Berlin in the year 1816, but being desirous of securing the advantage which America has ever offered the citizens of other countries they emigrated] thitherward and located for some time in the State of Ohio, at which place Win. F. was born on the 5th day of July, 1842. In 1848 his parents moved to Milwaukee. At the age of fourteen years he shipped on board the schooner America, Capt. Hanson, and started 011 his first experience “before the mast". The vessel was stranded a short distance below Pigeon Hill on the Muskegon shore, where it remained until Spring before being taken off. The crew, however, was rescued, and Mr. B. landed near Whitehall in this county, where lie has resided mostly up to the present time. This vicinity was but a wilderness without improvements of any nature or facility of travel save in so far as the beach of the lake could be utilized as a highway. With his native pluck he went to work in a sawmill, but the company becoming involved went into bankruptcy, and Mr. Bruce’s “settlement” consisted of one pound of tobacco on a basis of $7 per month, which was the salary for which he was laboring. Not discouraged, however, he repaired to the clay banks about nine miles north, where he worked two years and nine months, after which he engaged in mercantile business for himself at “The Mouth” of White River. About this time he was appointed Postmaster for that locality, which office lie conducted in a faithful manner for five years. He was married in the year 1661 to a very estimable lady, Miss Mary Harty, born on the 18th day of February, 1845. This union lasted thirteen years, when consumption removed the wife on the 13th day of September, 1874, leaving four children; Nellie, born Aug. 19, 1865; Willie B., April 18, 1869; Albert B., April 1, 1871, and Emma B., Oct. 5, 1872. About this time Mr. Bruce sold out his store and engaged in buying and selling farm stock. He became very much depressed during the illness of his wife, both mentally and financially, as he had employed the most noted physicians from Milwaukee, Chicago and other prominent places. Mrs. Bruce was buried by the Order of Odd Fellows of Montague. He was united in marriage the second time to Miss Lena Mok, who was born February 6, 1850.

James H. Crosby was born in the town of Compton, Quebec, in 1843, and was about, five years of age when his parents removed to Chicago, IU. In 1849 they removed to Grand Haven, in 1852 they came to White River Township. At thirteen years of age Mr. Crosby’s father died, and he resided first with a sister a year, and with a brother until 1801, when lie went to work in the sawmills. On the 19th of July, 1802, he enlisted in Co. F. 5th Mich. Cavalry, and after serving eleven months he was discharged for physical disability. In 1866 he took up a farm on Section 1, White River, and the same year married Laura A. Crosby, of White River, by whom he has one child.

Chas. P. Cushway, sawyer, at Heald's mill, Montague, was born in Saginaw in 1829, is of French extraction, and the son of an Indian trader, who was also born in Michigan. After various moves with his parents, at eighteen Charles came to Grand Haven and shipped on the schooner “Honest John," and also the sloop “Ranger,” both belonging to Charles Mears, the latter carrying but fifteen cowls of shingle bolts. He also sailed a coaster called the Ocean, and worked for years for the Ferrys at “the mouth,” and for the last nine years for Heald & Co. He married in 1855 Esther Louisa Storms, whose decease a few years ago he had to mourn, and who for the last ten years of her life was an intense sufferer. He is the father of four sons and two daughters. Mr. C. is of a small but wiry and well-knit frame, capable of enduring great hardships, is yet vigorous and delights in telling tales of his early pioneer days. We are indebted to him for help in picturing these times.

Thomas Hawks was born in Devonshire, England, March 10, 1824. As a boy he worked round for the farmers of the vicinity, until he concluded to try his fortune in the New World. In 18-47 he landed in Quebec, went thence to Port Hope, Ontario, and finally to Janesville, Wis., where he remained six months, when he went into the employ of Charles Mears, with whom he remained nine veins. In 1858 he purchased land in Section 11, of White River Township. Mr. H. desirous of selecting the very best locality, had tried Canada and Wisconsin and found nothing to suit him better than his present place, which he purchased on the advice of Mr. Mears. It was a wilderness when he moved on it with his family into the log cabin he had built. It is now one of the finest farms in the township. Ho has purchased in all 280 acres. In 1856 he married Miss Angeline Harder, of Woodstock, IL by whom he has six children, four of whom survive.

Robert Hawks was born in Cornwall, England, in 1828. In 1849 he came to Quebec, and thence he shortly removed to Port Hope, Ontario, and in two weeks removed to Milwaukee, going thence to Janesville, Wis. In the fall of 1850 he went to work for Charles Mears, remaining in his employ thirteen years, part of which time he was in Canada and also in Chicago. .After this he lumbered two years, then worked a year for Mr. Mears, and in 1859 he bought a farm in Sections 10 and 15, in what is now Fruitland, living on it three years, after which he worked in Whitehall for several parties for four or five years. For four summers he wooded steamers of the Lake Shore line, and for three summers he wooded for various boats. In 1872 he purchased a farm in Section 11, White River Township. June 5, 1856, he married Miss Elizabeth Harder, of Woodstock IL by whom he has had six children, of whom three survive. In 1862 Mr. Hawks purchased six lots in Whitehall village, on which he built, and was offered for the property $1,000, a part of which he still owns. He has a very fine farm with boil of a clay loam, and he has about the best fruit, farm in the vicinity. In 1881 he realized quite a snug from his trait He has endured many hardships in the various callings in which he has engaged.

Job B. Kinnison, son of John J. and Betsey Kinnison, was born in the town of Parny, Monroe County, State of New York, on the 18th day of August, 1826. At the age of fourteen, he bound himself as an apprentice to a cabinet maker. He remained in this position for five years, giving the closest attention and untiring energy to mastering the details of the trade. The first practical account to which he turned his knowledge of cabinet making was at Munday Valley, whither he went and engaged to work for Edward and Samuel Swayne, but after one year and a half in their employ his health became seriously affected from the inhalation of dust arising from black walnut turnings. After two years of suffering he was sufficiently recovered to resume business, but not daring to risk another attack by working in contact with walnut he purchased a boat on the Genesee Valley Canal and conducted that business during the ensuing season. It was at this time that Mr. K. met Miss Ellen Marks, a very estimable lady, daughter of Samuel and Betsy Marks, of Old Dansville, Livingston County, N. Y., and on the 7th day of June, 1818, they were united in marriage. Mr. K. removed to Michigan three years afterwards and has been a resident of the State ever since, residing in various portions. Mr. K. enlisted Aug. 5, 1861, in Co. G, 6th Mich. Infantry Volunteers, under Col. Curtemas. He was mustered into the service at Kalamazoo on the 21st day of August, 1801. This regiment was enlisted for three years. It was sent to Baltimore, thence to Newport News, and was at Forts St. Philip and Jackson during the siege of those noted places. His regiment was the first to unfurl the union; colors in the city of New Orleans. He was afterwards sent to Vicksburg, Baton Rouge and Alexandria, where he partook of two sharp engagements; also Bnizin City, La., Pattersonville, and in capturing the rebel gunboat, William H. Cotton, while on a scouting expedition near Lake Pontcliartrian. Mr. K. received injuries from which he has never recovered and for which he is now drawing a pension of 618 per month. These injuries were caused by falling through a railroad bridge while in pursuit of the retreating rebels. Soon after returning from the army Mr. K. came to White River Landing, on the 9th day of June, 1800, and has lived there ever since. His occupation at present is fishing. He has represented the interests of the town to a considerable extent during his resilience there, holding the offices of Town Clerk, Justice of the Peace and Postmaster, to which office he was appointed April 1, 1880. His family consist of the following named: Mary H., born April 6, 1858; Lucretia B., born July 20, 1850; Mary Ann, born Aug. 10, 1858; John S., bora Sept. 24, 1800; Eliza E„ born Dec. 28, 1801; Of this number Mary Ann died Sept.C, 1800, at Cheshire, and John S., died September 21,1800. There was also one child Maud H., which died in its infancy. Lucretia B. is the wife of Frank S. Nickett, married at Clay Banks, Jan. 22, 1871; and Eliza E. was married Feb. 21, 1821, to Benj. F. Johnson. Doth of the latter named gentlemen are at present residing in White River.

S. J. B. Watson, farmer, is one of the oldest and most prominent citizens of White River, and has filled many public offices, but is now retired to his fine farm. He was born June 20, 1814, in Hartford, Conn., moved when throe years old to Watertown, N. Y., and in 1855 came to White River as carpenter to the Ferrys. He was postmaster from 1858 to 1804, receiving about $300 annually; was Supervisor for over ten years, also County Superintendent of the poor, Deputy Sheriff under Gray of Ottawa, Justice of the Peace twenty years, and is still Superintendent of Schools, also Treasurer and Assessor for two years. In politics he is an old time Democrat. He married first, Silvia Slate, in 1886, at Watertown, and the only issue is T. S. Watson, of the Mears Hotel. About 1840 he married Mary Hewitt, by whom he has Sanford Watson, of Montague.


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