Van Buren Co MI

 Decatur, Michigan


Decatur, MI (Michigan Central Railway) 1909 - Contributed by Paul Petrosky

Until 1847 the present site of the village of Decatur was simply a hunting-ground, and a favorite place of resort it was for the Nimrods of the time as far back as 1834, while near at hand, on the banks of Pickerel Lake, anglers gathered from far and near, for the waters of that lake were in the olden time very abundantly supplied with fish.

In 1847, Beers & Sherwood, of New York City, had acquired government grants for 5000 acres of land, in which was included the site of the present village of Decatur, and when the Michigan Central Railway began to push its way westward from Kalamazoo they determined to lay out a village on the line and call it Decatur. They donated land for depot buildings, which were put up in 1848, in which war also the railway was completed from Detroit to Niles. October 7th of that year an excursion-train from Detroit to Niles, in celebration of the opening of the road, passed through Decatur.

The village did not, however, begin its growth until 1849, when it was platted according to the original design, and christened Decatur. C. S. Tucker, who had been boarding railroad hands in a shanty south of the depot, opened a boarding-house in a building previously used by Beers A. Sherwood as an office, which stood upon the place now occupied by the Duncombe House. In the same year a number of village lots were occupied, and stores were opened by A. H. Dixon. Goss & Dixon, and T. E. Phelps, in the order named. Hiram Lee, now living in the village and resident longest therein, bought the first village lot, in 1848, before the village was platted. It was designated as the third lot west of the public square. The completion of the swamp road, in November, 1849, opened communication with a hitherto unapproachable tract of country, and gave to the new village a decided impetus. The first village school-house was built in 1848, and school was taught in it during the winter of 1848-49 by Miss Sarah Cook, whose pupils numbered 20.

Trade, Past and Present. - In 1854 the present business centre of the village was occupied by a drug-store, two general stores and one dry-goods store. Jan. 1, 1880, the village population was closely estimated at 2000, and, in the matter of mercantile trade, there were five general stores, one furniture-store, one shoe-store, and various small business stands. Ten brick store buildings of some pretensions embellish the main street, and bestow upon the town an air of substantial thrift. Decatur is famous as a great "trading town," and is likewise an important grain-purchasing point, and makes large annual shipments by railway, as will be seen in a table of statistics printed elsewhere.

In the earlier history of the village, when no man dared venture upon opening a store, trading was done at Kalamazoo or Paw Paw. Dixon's store, which stood where Hathaway's store now is, was esteemed a fine establishment for that day, - indeed, some thought it rather finer than was needed. Theodore Phelps' store stood on "Chadwick's Corner," and was ultimately converted into a hotel known as the Downs House. In 1851 the main street of the village boasted the stores of A. H. Dixon, Theodore Phelps, and E. Ingalls, and a bar-room, kept by Robert Willis. Willis was then known as the wealthiest man in Decatur, but subsequently his prosperity declined and he sunk to proverty.

Henry Canoll was keeping a drug-store in the building put up by Dr. Bartholomew, and on the corner now occupied by the Duncombe House L. R. Barker was keeping the Decatur House. Barker had taken the place originally set up by Charles Tucker as a railroad boarding-house, added a front, named it the Decatur House and made it a reputable hotel.

At that time the spot now occupied by the thriving village of Decatur was literally in the woods, and the sight of deer and wolves in the very heart of the village is said to have been no uncommon one.

George Sherwood, an employee of Beers & Sherwood, was one of the first justices of the peace in the village, and with William N. Pardee practiced law whenever occasion required, but occasions of that sort were not plentiful enough to call for extraordinary exertion on their part.

In 1850, Beers & Sherwood engaged Nathan Wilcox to put up a steam saw-mill near the village. A whisky-distillery subsequently took the place of the mill, although its career was brief.

The first carpenter and joiner to locate in Decatur village was L. T. Olds, who came July, 1849, and who was for five years one of the only two mechanics plying their trades in the viillage. In July, 1849, the railway-depot, the kitchen of what was afterwards Barker's Hotel, and three dwellings comprised all there was of Decatur village. During the first five years of its existence the village was increased by about 75 new building, - 12 of which were erected by Robert Willis as tenements. L. T. Olds (above mentioned) and Mary Elliott, who were married by 'Squire George Sherwood, May 18, 1850, were the first couple married in the village.

Village Physicians - Decatur's first physician was Dr. Bartholomew, who put up in 1848 a small office and drug-shop on Railroad Street, - the building now doing duty as Shelter's Hotel. Dr. Bartholomew remained but a short time before taking the California fever, and went away to the Pacific slope. He now resides in Keeler. During Dr. Bartholomew's time, and subsequent thereto, Dr. Wells, of Little Prairie, visited Decatur frequently to teach a singing-school, and occasionally practiced also the healing art in the town. In 1851, Dr. J. T. Keables opened an office in Decatur, and since that time has practiced medicine in the village continuously. Dr. Foster, of Climax Prairie, made a location in Decatur about 1855, but made his stay a short one. For some years Dr. Keables had the field to himself, and, like all physicians of the day, practiced over a wide extent of territory. The physicians of Decatur now number six, - Drs. Baker, Broderick, Dillon, Keasbles, Roberts, and Rose.

Town Hall - One of the most imposing architectural features in the village is the town hall, in which the post-office has roomy quarters, and where the township and village authorities have their offices. A commodious public hall gives accommodation for public entertainments, as well as town-meetings. The structure is of brick, measures 37 feet front by 72 deep, was erected in 1870, and cost upwards of $11,000.

The Union School - The school in School District No. 4 (embracing Decatur village) was organized in 1862 as a graded school. In 1863 work on a new school building was begun, and in September, 1864, sessions were held in the edifice. It is of brick, of handsome and substantial appearance, cost $12,000, employs 7 teachers, has an average attendance of about 400, and requires for its annual support about $4300.

Post-Office. - A post-office was established about 1852, and George Sherwood appointed postmaster. W. N. Pargee succeeded Sherwood, and Charles N. Poor in turn followed Mr. Pardee. After him Theodore Phelps was the incumbent. Upon his death his widow was appointed his successor, and following her Eri Beebe filled the place, which he relinquished to J. W. Rogers, the present occupant. The office receives and delivers four daily mails, and twice a week receives and delivers a stage mail. The sale of stamps, envelopes, etc., average about $600 each quarter, money-orders issued average $1300 each month, and money-orders paid about $600 during a like period.

The Village Press - Decatur's earliest newspaper was called the Van Buren County Tribune, and its earliest publisher T. O. Sweet. The Decatur Clarion, edited by Moses Hull, was the successor of the Tribune. These and other newspapers will be found mentioned more fully in the general county history.

Village Incorporation - The village of Decatur was incorporated by the board of supervisors Oct. 11, 1859, and reincorporated by Legislative act approved March 15, 1861. The first president of the village was E. P. Hill, and the first recorder Orrin S. Welch, both of whom were elected in 1859. The earlier records of the village are somewhat imperfect, and the list of those who have been chosen presidents, recorders, treasurers, and trustees each year can be given only from 1862 to 1880:
1862 E. P. Hill Charles Shier   Hiram Cole, Myran Hinkley, J. H. Wallace, Carlton Wheeler, Charles N. Poor, John Tarbell
1863 J. Teed C. J. Poor    
1864 C. Wheeler L. C. Noble    
1865 C. Wheeler W. T. Gerow    
1866 E. P. Hill W. T. Gerow William Hodges E. L. Hawkes, R. Nutting, J. B. Higgins
1867 J. M. Moore W. T. Gerow E. D. Clark O.S. Abbott, H. A. Northrop, D. C. Rogers
1868 J. M. Moore W. T. Gerow E. D. Clark J. B. Higgins, R. Nutting, E. L. Hawkes
1869 E. P. Hill W. T. Gerow E. D. Clark O. S. Abbott, M. Hinckley, J. S. Dowd
1870 James Haynes David Squires J. P. Warner W. Tuttle, Jr., D. W. Stevens, Jacob Kissell
1871 Eri Beebe H. C. Church W. E. Trowbridge R. Hutting, A. A. Abbott, D. C. Rogers
1872 Eri Beebe A. A. Abbott W. E. Trowbridge Thomas Browning, William Tuttle, W. Russell
1873 H. J. Hendryx E. A. Blackman   R. E. Nicholson, F. N. Chadwick, R. Nutting
1874 H. J. Hendryx E. A. Blackman S. N. Thomas Thomas Browning, E. P. Hill, Walter Russell
1875 Eri Beebe Jerome Coleman S. N. Thomas L. F. Rawson, David A. Squire, John L. Harrison
1876 H. A. Northrop Samuel Ellis S. N. Thomas A. N. Chamberlain, L.D. Roberts. Henry Bull
1877 Lucius Nutting R. E. Nicholson S. N. Thomas M. Hinckley, George Bennett, E. F. Ruggles
1878 Lucius Nutting Charles W. Barrett S. N. Thomas L. D. Roberts, Dennis Jordan, William Pritchard
1879 E. P. Hill A. E. Johnson S. N. Thomas A. B. Copley, William Tuttle, L. F. Rawson

Railway Shipments. - Decatur is an important wheat and lumber shipping-point, and as a matter of interest a table is presenting showing the shipments at the station of the three leading articles of grin, lumber, and stock for the six months ending Dec. 1, 1879, the figures in each case representing car-loads.

Months               Grain          Lumber          Stock
June ...............    31              23              2
July ...............    10              22             ...
August .............    70              15              9
September ..........    58              22             12
October ............    68              19             17
November ...........     3              13             13
Totals .............   240             114             53

During the year 1878 the shipments of apples at Decatur station aggregated 10,000 barrels.

Manufactures. - There is at the village of Decatur a manufacturing interest of considerable importance, which contributes in no slight degree to the prosperity of the town.

M. Hinckley & Co occupy about two acres of ground for a barrel and stave manufactory, and employ from 25 to 40 men. They turn out about 3,000,000 staves yearly, and an equal proportion of barrel-heading, besides making about 10,000 apple-barrels and 5000 packing-barrels. The works were established in 1858 by Jones & Chapin, and since 1871, Mr. Hinckley, of the present firm (which was organized in 1876), as been interested as a partner.

Daggett & Percy, of Chicago, are doing a very flourishing business at Decatur in the manufacture of wooden butter-plates, fruit-packages, fruit-baskets, etc. They occupy a building formerly used by R. Hoppin & Son as a tannery, and have been engaged since January, 1879, in the present enterprise. About 20 men are employed, The manufactory is in charge of Mr. Charles King, who is the representative at Decatur of the owners.

John M. Conkling & Brother carry on a foundry, which was built in 1870 by Mason & Herring. The present firm took possession in 1876, and since then have been steadily employed in the manufacture of plows and iron castings of all kinds.

The other manufacturing industries are Charles Duncombe & Co.'s grist-mill (with five run of stones), built in 1867 by Abbott & Matthews; J. J. Balcomb's custom grist-mill, with two run of stones; H. B. Babcock's planing-mill, and the saw-mills of Bull & Ackley and Enoch Hopkins.

Bank. - Previous to Oct. 15, 1870, Decatur village had enjoyed only such limited banking facilities as were furnished by the private banks of John Tarbull and Joseph Rogers. ON the date above noted, the First National Bank of Decatur was charted, with a capital of $75,000, the first directors being Messrs. Charles Duncombe, C. W. Fisk, A. b. Copley, Levi B. Lawrence, E. P. Hill, O. S. Abbott, and A. S. Hathaway.  A. B. Copley was chosen president and E. P. Hill cashier. The capital of the bank is now $50,000; its circulation, $45,000; deposits, $45,000; loans and discounts, $55,000. In 1873, Mr. Charles Duncombe put up a fine brick building for the use of the bank, which the institution subsequently bought. The president of the bank is A. B. Copley and the cashier L. D. Hill.


Decatur Lodge, No. 99, F. and A. M., was organized Jan. 14, 1858, with 23 members, after having worked under dispensation a year. Under the charter H. Canoll was Master; M. Winner, S. W.; and J. E. Hollister, J. W. Of the 9 members of the lodge when it was constituted 8 of them were Hubbell Warner, Loomis Warner, James F. Avery, M. Winner, --- Barney, --- Sloan, H. Canoll, and Edward Harris. The membership is now 30, and the officers as follows: Enoch Hopkins, M.; George Pollard, S. W.; Charles Schuster, J. W.; William Meade, Sec.; H. A. Northrop, Treas.; Marvin Hinckley, S. D.' Warren Botsford, J. D.; M. Winner, Tiler.

Decatur Chapter, No. 75, R. A. M., was organized Jan. 10, 1871, with 10 members, of whom Horace Arnold was H.P.; James Haynes, K.; and E. R. Farmer, Scribe. The membership is now 16, and the officers: H. A. Northrop, K, and Acting H.P.; Enoch Hopkins, Scribe; Henry Bull, Acting Sec.; S. N. Thomas, Treas.; L. D. Roberts, 3d V.; Orrin Hodges, 2d V.; Loomis Warner, 1st V. The lodge and chapter occupy a handsomely appointed room in Chadwick's block, Decatur village.

Sprague Lodge, No. 113, I.O.O.F., was organized Oct. 28, 1867, with 5 members. The membership in January 1880, was 50, when the officers were Norman S. Hammond, N.G.; Peter Pardonnet, V. G.; George W. Wait, R. S.; Johnson Parsons, P. S.; Benjamin Adams, Treas. Regular sessions are held every Tuesday night at Decatur village.

Decatur Grange, No. 346, was organized in June, 1875, with 60 members. L. R. Anderson was the first Master, --- Thomas the first Secretary, and Jonathan Curry the first Treasurer. The officers Jan. 1, 1880, were Oscar Cadwell, M.; S. Roberts, Overseer; James Cadwell, Steward; John Lewis, Assistant Steward; C. A. Moulton, Sec.; Mary Powers, Chaplain; Julia White, Sec.; William Powers, Treas.; Mrs. Blades, Ceres; Mrs. Lurkins, Pomona; Mrs. Kidder, Flora; Mrs. Lewis, Lady Assistant Steward. The membership is now 54. Regular sessions are held once in two weeks in Trowbridge's hall, Decatur village.

The Decatur Reform Club. - A strong temperance movement was inaugurated in Decatur in the spring of 1877, by O. D. Beebe, of Kalamazoo, and H. C. Rogers of Dowagiac, and so popular did the new departure become that when the Rogers Reform Club was organized in Decatur village, April 15, 1877, upwards of 800 persons were enrolled as members. A reading-room was opened in the village, and subsequently the name of the club was changed to the one it now bears. The reading-room, which is still maintained, is free for all and is a place of pleasant and profitable resort. The club membership now 300, and includes many prominent people. The officers for 1879 are Charles Labardy, President; J. H. Tuttle, Secretary, A. C. Copley, Treasurer.


In 1831 public religious worship was held occasionally in Dolphin Morris' log cabin, and after that there was preaching in George Tittle's house and the Le Grand Anderson's barn. Methodist preachers were itinerating through Michigan in those early days, and they stopped here, there, and at all places where the presence of new settlements promised a field for labor. Among the earliest Methodist preachers who held services in Decatur were the Revs. Felton, McCool, Cobb, and Elder Meek, an exhorter. There happened along also, once in a while, Baptist preachers and those of other denominations, but the names of these latter have not been preserved. A Methodist Episcopal organization was effected in 1834, and July 27th of that year a first quarterly meeting was held at George Tittle's.

Beyond the limits of Decatur village there is but one church building in the township, - that of the colored Baptists, in the northwest. Although small, this church congregation supports preaching once a week. There are in the south part of the township two church organizations, -- Disciple and Methodist Protestant (worshiping in school-houses), -- which are in a flourishing condition.

The First Presbyterian Church of Decatur village was organized by Rev. Marcus Harrison, an evangelist, Fed. 1, 1852, with the following members: Lydia Harrison, Mrs. Eli Rich, and Joseph McClintock, three in all. Mr. McClintock, who was chosen ruling elder, is still living near the town. Mr. Harrison concluded to make Decatur his home after organizing the church, and continued to preach for the little band during the ensuing three years. Jan. 4, 1853, the church was attached to the Kalamazoo Presbytery. During Mr. Harrison's ministry he bought a village lot and erected upon it the frame for a school-house and meeting-house. The lot and building frame he set apart to be donated to the First Presbyterian Church Society when it should be formed, and the society being organized during the pastorate of Rev. Samuel Fleming, who succeeded Mr. Harrison in August, 1855, the building of the church edifice was pushed forward, and Sept. 18, 1856, the house of worship, the first one in the village, was dedicated, the dedication sermon being preached by Rev. A. C. Tuttle, of Paw Paw.

The succession of pastors following Mr. Fleming includes Revs. T. C. Hill, S. R. Bissell, W. T. Bartle, J. J. Ward, E. M. Toof, E. Pl. Goodrich, Henry Hoyt, and C. W. Wallace. The elders are Joseph McClintock (who was served as deacon and elder since the organization of the church), W. E. Trowbridge, E. P. Hill, D. Hodges, and Jerome Coleman. The deacons are Joseph McClintock, W. E. Trowbridge, and D. Hodges.

The original church building was sold in 1869 to the Universalist Society, which, dissolving in 1877, disposed of the structure to the Catholic congregation, by whom it is now used.  The Presbyterians replaced their old house of worship with the fine large church now in use, and expended upon it upwards of $6000. The church has now a membership of 102, and in the Sabbath-school, of which Jerome Coleman is superintendent, the average attendance in 150. The number of members received into the church since its organization is 219. The church trustees are J. M. Conkling, Henry Upton, and John Pollock.  D. Hodges, the clerk, has occupied that place since 1864.

The Church of the Holy Family (Roman Catholic). - About 1855, Rev. Mr. Koopman, a Catholic priest of Marshall, visited Decatur village, and arranged with the few families there and in the vicinity professing the Roman Catholic faith to hold religious services there once in three months. The first meeting was held in the house of Henry Brown, where Father Koopman preached four or five times, and after that, when Mr. La Belle, of Kalamazoo, took charge, the place of worship was transferred to the house of Mr. Dennis Jordan, which remained the church for ten years afterwards, or until the congregation gaining strength more commodious quarters were necessary, and so public bails were used. In 1877 the church edifice formerly used by the Universalists, and before that by the Presbyterians, was purchased. Father La Belle preached once in three months for about twelve years, and was succeeded by Fathers Sweeney, Herbert, and Roper, from Silver Creek. Father Wernert, of Paw Paw, has been in charge about a year, and holds services once a month. The attendance includes about thirty families. The church trsutees are Daniel Kearney, James Howland, and James Cregan.

First Method Episcopal Church of Decatur. - The early records of this church having been lost, the date of its organization cannot be positively fixed, although it is generally believed that the class was first formed in 1856; at all events, it is known that in 1857 it contained but 7 members. Of those who joined the first class none now live in the village, and personal recollection even of early events cannot therefore be utilized. In 1860, however, the church had grown considerably in strength, and in that year a commodious church edifice was erected. The church embraces now three points to wit: Decatur, East Decatur, and South Hamilton, of which the combined membership is 200. Rev. Mr. Carlisle, the present pastor, preaches at Decatur twice each Sunday.

The present officers of the church are as follows: Class-Leaders, E. F. Ruggles, W. C. Acton; Trustees, Thomas Browning, William Blowers, William Powers, J. G. Parkhurst, H. B. Clapp, W. H. Clark, J. F. Barry, E. F. Ruggles, William C. Acton; Stewards, J. N. Peters, W. M. Blowers, W. H. Clark, Thomas Browning, T. Threadgold, William Powers, J. M. Lombard, O. Beach.

The Sabbath-school, which has on its rolls the names of 170 scholars and an average attendance of 120, is in charge of E. F. Ruggles, the superintendent, assisted by 18 teachers. The volumes in the library number 220.

A Protestant Episcopal Mission, attached to St. Mark's Church of Paw Paw, has existed in Decatur since 1877. Services have been held in Trowbridge Hall once in four weeks, the average attendance being about 30.


The first school taught in Decatur was opened in 1835 in the house of Dolphin Morris. The teacher was William Alexander, and of his 20 pupils, several were from Cass County. Anderson was a relative of Le Grand Anderson, and coming from Virginia to visit Anderson, was persuaded to stop the winter and teach school. After a winter's term he went back to Virginia. John McKinney, of Porter, was a teacher in Decatur in 1837. Jonathan Curry, now living in Decatur, was one of McKinney's pupils.

Appended is a table of statistics related to the schools of Decatur, from a report for the year ending September. 1, 1879:

Number of districts (whole, 6; fractional, 1).........        7
Number of children of school age .....................      753
Average attendance ...................................      651
Number of school-houses (brick, 2; frame, 5) .........        7
Value of school property .............................  $19,900
Number of teachers employed ..........................       22
Amount paid teachers' wages .......................... $3378.63
Total expenditures ...................................    $5412

The school directors in 1879 were L. R. Anderson, W. K. Van Hise, E. F. Chappell, I L. Harrison, F. Carpenter, A. M. Lyle, and Wm. Cole.



History of Berrien and Van Buren counties, Michigan. With ... biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers. Ellis, Franklin, 1828-1885., Johnson, Crisfield., D. W. Ensign & Co. Philadelphia: D. W. Ensign & Co., 1880.