SYLVAN TOWNSHIP
Washtenaw Co MI


Although when the pioneers first visited Sylvan township, in the words of an early settler "They beheld a beautiful undulating country gemmed in part with clear lakes, and diversified by a range of romantic hills, the surface covered with oak openings that did not stand too thickly to prevent the growth of the luxurious blue grass beneath. Owing to all these natural advantages the hardships of the pioneers were ameliorated and the early settlers of the township were provided with feed for their stock and other necessaries, which very much lessened the hazard of beginning life in a new country. Game and fish were abundant, herds of deer were constantly seen cropping the rich herbage of the hills, and they made a novel and beautiful picture as they were seen amid the orchards of oaks, feeding leisurely or careering- swiftly among the trees." Although this was all true, when Michigan was admitted into the Union; Sylvan township had a smaller number of inhabitants than any other township in Washtenaw excepting Lyndon. The village of Chelsea had not yet been heard of when Washtenaw county had half as many people within its borders as it has to-day. Owing largely to the growth and enterprise of Chelsea, to-day the township of Sylvan has the largest population of any township in the county, and the village of Chelsea is the largest village in Washtenaw.

The township of Sylvan was organized in 1834, and the first town meeting was held at the house of Samuel Dunham, on the first Monday in April, 1834. Edmund E. Conklin was moderator of the meeting, and Stephen J. Chase clerk. The following township ticket was elected: Supervisor— Nathan Pierce; Town Clerk—Elisha Congdon; Assessors—Stephen Chase, Orlo Fenn and Edward E. Conklin; Constable and Collector—Calvin Hicox: Overseers of the Poor—Daniel Fenn and Samuel Dunham; Commissioners of Highways and Fence Viewers—Truman Lawrence. M. McCalf and Asahel Backus; Road Masters—Nathan Pierce and Edmund E. Conklin; Commissioners of Schools—Thomas H. Godfred. Samuel Dunham and Edmund E. Conklin; Inspectors of Common Schools—Nathan Pierce. John K. Jewett, Truman Lawrence. John C. Winans and Edmund E. Conklin. Sylvan early showed its recognition of the country's soldiers by electing as its first supervisor a veteran of the War of 1812.

When Michigan was admitted as a state, there was but one merchant in the township of Sylvan. Stephen Winans, who was located at Pierceville, a hamlet which has long since passed away. Pierceville was at the junction of the north and south territorial roads, south of Chelsea, on the land of Elisha Congdon. Pierceville was a postoffice and Albert C. Holt was postmaster. A physician was located here, a Dr. Stewart. Israel Bailey ran a blacksmith shop, while postmaster Holt had a sash and door factory. Pierceville might have been what Chelsea is to-day if it had been lucky enough to gain the enterprising inhabitants that Chelsea has had. When the Michigan Central railroad was built it did not strike Pierceville, but a station was erected called Davidson's Station, after Hugh Davidson, and Davidson's Station soon absorbed Pierceville. Mr. Congdon bought out the Holt property, Dr. Stewart's property, and one by one the buildings were moved to new locations. The little business center which grew tip around Davidson's Station was known throughout the country as "Guntown," because an old man whom the boys called "Old Gunn" lived there. The station was merely a stopping place for trains, having no depot until a rough station house was built in 1848, and a station agent, who was also a track repairer and wood sawyer for the road, was placed there. Elisha Congdon bought land at Davidson's Station and James Seeley established a store there. In the fall of 1848 the newly erected station was burned and the fire was believed to have been started by an incendiary but it was never rebuilt as the road believed that it could accommodate the people of Manchester better at. the point now called Chelsea, and decided to build their new station at this place which was then called Kedron, which was because, we are told, a creek ran near the locality. The first building located in Chelsea was a blacksmith shop which was built by Lewis L. Randall, who died in Lima, November 24, 1887, at the age of 85. This blacksmith shop stood until 1884. when it was removed to make room for the Chelsea creamer.

Chelsea is located on laud which was owned by the two brothers. Elisha and James Congdon. Both of these brothers represented Washtenaw county in the Michigan legislature, Elisha Congdon in the legislatures of 1863 and 1804, and James M. in the legislatures of 1871 and 1872. They came to Michigan in 1832. James M. Congdon. buying 300 acres of land, the eastern limit of which is now Main street, Chelsea, and Elisha Congdon buying 160 acres of land on the eastern side of what is now Main street. They were natives of Connecticut. Elisha Congdon built a frame house on his land about 1849 where the Congdon family mansion, afterwards the McKone House, was later erected, and this was the first dwelling house in what became Chelsea. This house was afterwards moved to the corner of Main and Church streets. The Chelsea station of the Michigan Central Railroad was built in 1850, and in the fall of that year Elisha Congdon built the first store in Chelsea on the east side of Main street, near the railroad.

In the fall of 1850 the village was platted by Elisha and James Congdon. In the same year a brick blacksmith shop was built on the east side of Main street, north of the railroad, by C. H. Wines, for Aaron Durand and Newton Robinson. That year also Asel Harris built a hotel in which there was a saloon, just south of the depot. In 1851 John C. Winans built a barn in which he lived with his family while constructing his house, and also a store on the corner of Middle and Main streets. In 1852 William Smith and Thomas Hastings each built stores, and in 1854 the Fenn brothers and Mr. Clark erected stores. It will be seen that Chelsea began to grow rapidly from its very inception. During these years Thomas Godfrey moved to Chelsea from Sylvan Center, and built the Chelsea House. Jacob Berry, who located in 1852 in the village, was a carpenter who worked on many of the first buildings of the village, as did Elijah Hammond, who was one of the early settlers. The first death in Chelsea was that of Louis Backus, and the first birth that of Edward Sargent.

As has been stated the building of the Michigan Central was the direct cause of the downfall of Pierceville and the growth of Chelsea; and Chelsea has proved to be one of the greatest shipping points, for its size, upon the line of the Michigan Central. The first shipment from Chelsea was made on May 2, 1850, by M. P. Hutchins, and consisted of a single barrel of eggs, weighing 130 pounds and consigned to Detroit. The second shipment was made four days later and consisted of two boxes, one shipped by Thomas G. Miller and the other by the first station agent, Finn. The station at Chelsea originally consisted of what might be called a freight house and it was not until 1880 that the village had a passenger depot, when a fine large station was opened to the traveling public in December, 1880.

Elisha Congdon was the first president of Chelsea village and Henry Kempf the second president. In the big fire of 1870 the village records were destroyed so that a list of the first village officers would be hard to find. The state red book even leaves the date of the incorporation of the village blank, stating that the records were burned in 1860, leaving no record of the original date. The first school in Chelsea was in a building near the present Congregational church, and was taught by W. F. Hatch. In 1854 a house was built on the corner of West South and Middle streets, which was used for school purposes until 1860, after which time it was occupied as a residence by Heman Woods. In 1860 a brick union schoolhouse was erected on the corner of East and East South streets. Elisha Congdon contracting to build it for $5,000. Tn 1875 a $3,000 addition was made to the building, and in 1880 a smaller building for the primary department was built adjacent to the union school.

The Congregational Church of Chelsea was organized in the winter of 1849, and for a time services were held at schoolhouses in the neighborhood until a church was built in 1851. This church is the successor to a church organized in the Vermont settlement, March 21, 1835, under the name of the Presbyterian Church of Sylvan, at a meeting over which Rev. Mr. Beech presided, with Mahlon Wines as clerk. Among the members iu 1835 were Ira Spanieling. William D. Davis. John C. Winans, Obed Cravath, Alfred C. Holt. Mrs. Chloe Spaulding, Abigail Davis, Hannah Cravath, Lucy E. Cravath, Adaline L. Holt, Matilda Lawrence, Ann Wines. Lucy Davis. Harriet Warner, Sarah Beacon and Mehitable Preston. The first pastor of the Congregational Church of Chelsea was the Rev. Josephus Morton. and the earlier succeeding pastors were Rev. Thomas Jones, Rev. Hiram Elmer, Rev. James F. Taylor, Rev. O. M. Thompson, Rev. Robert Hovington, Rev. Benjamin Franklin, Rev. D. F. Hathaway, Rev. Thomas Holmes. The church building was burned February 18, 1894, and a new church was erected.

The Methodist Episcopal church of Chelsea was organized by the Rev. Mr. Hedger, who was then preaching at Lima, in 1853, the members of the first class including Mr. and Mrs. M. M. Boyd, Mr. and Mrs. Fred A. Bolles, and Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Berry. The first regular pastor was the Rev. Ebenezer Steele and the earlier pastors who succeeded him were Rev. E. H. Brockway, Rev. Stephen C. Stringham, Rev. Mannasseh Hickey, Rev. Orrin Whitmore, Rev. William Anderson, Rev. William Shier, Rev. Mr. May, Rev. George Smith, Rev. George Lowe, Rev. John Levington, Rev. David Caster, Rev. William Holt. Rev. J. W. Campbell and Rev. D. Shier. At first the services of this church were held in the Congregational church building. They began to build a structure of their own in 1858, finishing it in 1859. This was replaced in 189— by the present large and handsome structure in which they hold services.

The first Catholic church in the vicinity of Chelsea was built four miles northwest of Chelsea, and was a building surrounded by a cemetery which is still used for burying the dead. It is thought that the church was organized by the Rev. Father Cullen, of Ann Arbor, who organized many of the Catholic churches in the county. The first officiating priest in this section was the Rev. Father Hennessey, of Detroit. Rev. John Van Genip of the Dexter church held services in Chelsea for some time, and in 1869 a church was built in Chelsea, and Rev. Father Patrick Duhig was placed in charge of it. The church cost about $12,000, and a priest's residence was soon erected at a cost of $4,000. Money has been subscribed and plans drawn to build a $20,000 parochial school to be completed by September 1,1906.

The Baptist church was organized in Chelsea at the residence of Dr. R. B. Gates on April 28, 1868, with nineteen members, and Frank Everett was made deacon. The first pastor was Rev. H. J. Brown,who was succeeded on October 26, 1868. by the Rev. J. C. Armstrong, during whose pastorate a church was built on Main street at a cost of $6,000. Rev. Mr. Armstrong was succeeded by Rev. Mr. G. Meseleias, Rev. L. C. Pettengill, Rev. William Bird, Rev. A. A. Hopkins, Rev. E. A. Gay and others. A parsonage was erected in 1876 and in 1880 the church originally built was enlarged.

St. Paul's German Lutheran church was organized February 2, 1868, the original membership being G. Wackemhut, G. Heselschwerdt, M. Lehman, J. Bieler, F. Vogel, D. Faist, J. Schaible, G. Mast, I. Vogt, J. Schumacher, J. Morlock, F. Bresemle, J. Fahner, J. Scheffel, J. Schultz, A. Buss and F. Buss.

Vernor lodge, I. O. O. F., was founded March 31, 1861, by James M. Congdon, J- Berry, A. Blackney, E. Hammond, D. Tompkins, A. Natten and Stephen Siegfried. The records of this lodge were burned in the fire of 1876. Olive lodge. No. 156, F. & A. M., has long flourished in Chelsea, its records like so many other Chelsea records having been consumed in fires. Chelsea to-day be in a flourishing condition, has many secret societies, all of which seem to Oak Grove cemetery was established in September, 1860, and much pains have been taken to render it beautiful.

The Chelsea Savings Bank is the lineal successor of the co-partnership of Noyes & Glazier formed in August, 1868, between Michael J. Noyes, of Chelsea, and George P. Glazier who had recently come from Palmer, Jackson county, for the purpose of setting up a bank exchange business in Chelsea. To this business, three months later, they added a brick store, and in April, 1871, Mr. Glazier purchased Mr. Noyes' interest and continued the business of banking alone for nine years, associating Dr. Armstrong with him in the drug business. In January, 1880, a state bank was formed with S- G. Ives, president; George P. Glazier, cashier; and Thomas S. Sears, Luther James, A. T. Gordon and Heman T. Woods, with the president and cashier, directors. This bank now occupies a beautiful memorial building erected to the memory of George P. Glazier at a cost of $60,000 in 1902, and no other village in the state of Michigan possesses as handsome a bank building as the village of Chelsea. The banking house of R. Kempf & Bros, was established in 1876 and was afterwards reorganized as the Kempf Commercial Savings Bank and has been doing a safe, conservative and prosperous business.

Chelsea has been visited by several big fires, the first of which occurred in April, 1870, when the entire row of buildings on the west side of Main street between Middle street and the railroad was consumed. The fire caught in the tailor shop of George Buel and soon the entire block of wooden buildings was in flames. The block was immediately rebuilt, much better buildings being erected. In February, 1871, the store of James Hudler in the center of the new row of buildings was burned, but the fire was kept from communicating to the adjoining buildings. In November, 1876, the east side of Main street between Middle street and the Chelsea House was burned, the fire originating in a saloon in the middle of the block. The burned buildings were wooden structures, and were replaced by brick stores. At 11 o'clock Tuesday night, February 8, 1887, fire started in J. Bacon's hardware store and burned until 4 o'clock in the morning, when with the aid of the Jackson fire department it was extinguished, but not until a loss of $23,000 had been inflicted. The hardware store of J. Bacon, E. G. Hoeg & Co.'s bazaar, Drury's meat market and Van Husen's restaurant were burned and adjoining buildings damaged. On Sunday, February 18, 1894, the Glazier stove works office and wareroom's, part of the Chelsea House, the Congregational church and parsonage. Fire raged from 2 to 5 p. m. The village chemical engine was useless and a steamer arrived from Jackson at 4 p. m. Loss $35,000. On March 25, 1895, fire broke out in the tin shop of the Glazier stove works and inflicted a loss of $50,000 with $31,000 insurance.

Chelsea owns its own water works and electric light plants. These were built by a private company, of which Frank P. Glazier was the principal owner. They were afterwards sold to the village for $40,000.

The principal manufactory of Chelsea is the Chelsea stove works. These employ a large number of men and have proven very prosperous. New buildings have been erected from time to time and the plant extended to mammoth proportions. Hitherto they have been making an oil stove, but plans are now on foot to erect several large new buildings and to make gas and coal stoves.

The night of September 10, 1863, John C. Depew, a leading farmer of the township who had several times been its supervisor, and who was a democratic candidate for the legislature, was murdered, but the perpetrators of the murder were never discovered. He was at the time engaged in selling agricultural implements in Chelsea and was supposed to have had a considerable sum of money upon his person, when Around Cavanaugh lake a large cluster of summer cottages has been built.

The hamlet of Sylvan Center was a postoffice until rural free delivery was established. In territorial days William Dunham had a tavern at this point and in 1838 Elihu Frisbee opened the first store. He was followed in 1839 by George Lord and in 1841 by John C. Winans, who ran a store there for ten years, during which time he was postmaster, moving his store to Chelsea in 1851. About this period Joseph Perry ran a grocery and saloon, and in the years following Thomas IL Godfrey ran a store at this point. In 1853 a grist mill was established, the money to build it with being raised by subscription. It was run for a number of years by Orlando Boyd. Hut the tavern at Sylvan Center was probably not the first in the township, for in 1832 Hugh Davidson had a hotel east of the short hills and Andrew Murray had one a mile west of Sylvan Center.

The first cemetery in Sylvan township was started on section 24 at the time of the death of Mrs. Jesse C. Smith, in 1835, her death being the first death in the township. As there was no cemetery at the time, Aaron Lawrence donated ground for a cemetery, and the body of Mrs. Smith was the first one buried in it. This cemetery has since been enlarged to two acres and many of the pioneers of the township arc buried in it.

The first school house in the township was built just south of the residence of Stephen J. Chase, and Miss Harriet Wines, afterwards Mrs. Dennis Warner, of Dexter, was the first teacher. In 1833 the First Baptist Church of Christ was organized, the meeting for this purpose being held on July 5th. and the sermon being preached by Elder C. Twiss. The fourteen original members who were present at this meeting and presented letters were Benjamin Danielson. T. C. P. Fenn, Orlo H. Fenn. Luther Chipman. Calvin Chipman, Mrs. Eunice Danielson, Mrs. Huldah Fenn. Mrs. Sallie Gage. Mrs. Fannie Hammond. Mrs. Euseba Chipman. Mrs. Celinda Chipman. Mrs. Ruth Eastman, and Mrs. Betsey Ann Fenn. Elder Benjamin Danielson was the first pastor and the first meetings were held in the log schoolhouse at Bingham's Mills, the meetings afterward being held in a frame school house; and in 1851 it was decided to locate the church at Sylvan Center, where meetings were held in the Sylvan Center schoolhouse until in a few months a church building was erected. The first pastor of the newly built church was Rev. Mr. Hosford. In 1871 the Baptist church at Sylvan Center joined the Chelsea Baptist church.

In 1837 Sylvan township had a population of 480, 62 horses, 98 sheep, 660 hogs and 576 head of neat stock; and during the years its farmers had raised 6.893 bushels of wheat, 2,530 bushels of corn, 8.280 bushels of oats, 1,409 bushels of buckwheat and 101 pounds of flax. At this time there was a grist mill and one merchant within its limits.

The supervisors of Sylvan since 1849 have been:

Joel B. Boyington ...................1849-51
Stephen J. Chase................... 1852-3
Azel Backus ........................1854
Hiram Pierce....................... 1855
John C. Depew..................... 1856-7
Thos. H. Godfrey................... 1858
Hiram Pierce....................... 1850-60
Horace A. Smith.................... 1861
John C. Depew..................... 1862
Hiram Pierce....................... 1863
Horace A. Smith.................... 1864-7
Orrin Thatcher .....................1868-72
M. J. Noyes........................ 1873-4
Wm. F. Hatch...................... 1875-7
Timothy McKone................... 1878
W. E. Depew....................... 1879-80
Erastus S. Cooper................... 1881
James L. Gilbert.................... 1882-93
Hiram Lighthall.................... 1894-8
William Bacon...................... 1899-02
Frank Sweetland.................... 1903
Jacob Hummel...................... 1904