Early Manchester

Ray Berg has graciously given MAHS permission to publish the results of some of his original and very interesting research. Thanks Ray! Get ready to learn some new and surprising things about our beloved Manchester area.

Manchester and... Lexington?

by Ray Berg

This mystery story began when Bob Miller, Freedom Township Historian, and I visited the Michigan Historical Center Archives in Lansing. We were beginning the compilation of information for the Freedom Township History book, which is now underway. We were curious what resources were available at these archives, and began by asking the state archivist "What is the oldest map that shows individual township level details in Washtenaw County?"

The archivist presented a map printed in 1844, prepared by a survey team led by Douglass Houghton, who had been appointed State Geologist. We were able to secure a digitally scanned, high resolution image of the map. An excerpted portion of the map showing the southwestern townships is presented below. The archivist also verified that this is the oldest Washtenaw County map with this level of detail, referencing an expert work by Louis Karpinski on Michigan map history.

The map impressed us with its detail, and we studied the roads, topography, settlements and other information compared to today. Many of the road patterns which exist today were already in place when the map was completed, but some things were different (for example, Chelsea didn't exist, but its predecessor village Pierceville did). The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad had been surveyed but not yet constructed.

But the most interesting thing was the presence of a "twin" village next to Manchester called "Lexington." I had never seen or heard of Lexington before. Manchester histories reference such places as Elba, Windham and Soulesville, but not Lexington. I made a quick visit to the Claire Reck historical room at the Manchester Public Library. There Allen Dyer and Jerry Swartout helped with some reference checks in various indices—but no luck. The 1856 plat map for Manchester Township did not show "Lexington." The 1881 Washtenaw County history and other references were also silent. There were no families with the Lexington surname showing up in the census data for the Manchester area.

By comparing the location of the "Lexington" area on the 1844 survey map with other historical Manchester maps, it is clear that Lexington is the settlement and location that was ultimately known as Soulesville, founded by initial settler James J. Soule in 1835. Soulesville sat in Section 1 of Manchester Township, on the west bank of the River Raisin, just north of Austin Road where the road crosses the river/millpond at the present village offices. Soulesville was a cluster of buildings including a dam, two mill races, a sawmill, homes and other manufacturing buildings, which Soule developed between 1835 and 1843, after which he sold everything and left the area for Wisconsin. The Manchester Village offices, library, parking lots and water treatment facility occupy the land first known as Lexington, then Soulesville, and then East Manchester (by 1870), and which finally was just absorbed by Manchester.

Douglas Houghton

So where did the name Lexington come from? I went on another mission to the archives to find out. I began with the records of Douglass Houghton's surveys. Turns out Douglass Houghton was a successful doctor in Detroit, a large landowner, and an eminent scientist. He was also best friends with Stevens T. Mason, the first governor of Michigan in 1837. Mason was concerned that Michigan was getting bad press with westward immigrants as an unhealthy, cold and poor farming state, and so he worked with Houghton to commence a complete state survey, including geology, botany, zoology and topography aspects. Houghton assembled a crack team, including Bela Hubbard (assistant geologist), Sylvester Higgins (topographer and map maker) and Columbus Douglass (assistant geologist). The team systematically moved from county to county, recording vast amounts of information for processing into maps and written reports.

The state archive contains Bela Hubbard's original field notebook and diary, which I was able to hold in my hands and read as he recorded his visit to Manchester on June 24 and 25, 1839. He made notes of conversations with Elijah Carr and other residents as he recorded information on the area, and prepared fantastic sketches of geological formations. So the map published in 1844 actually recorded field conditions, villages and roads from the team's survey in 1839, not 1844. I subsequently found confirmation from Sylvester Higgins' January 12, 1840 report to the State Legislature that the Washtenaw County survey was completed in 1839. Because of the state's budgetary problems resulting from wildcat banks, state financial support of railroad development, and inflation, the state did not come through with financing for the actual map engraving and printing (done in Washington, D.C.) until 1842–1843, and the county maps were issued in early 1844. And only after Houghton had found rich deposits of iron and copper in the Upper Peninsula, which brought out the settlers, the interest in the maps, and the money!

At the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan, Douglass Houghton's original field notebooks are preserved. It turns out he made his first cursory visit to Manchester on August 13, 1837. Since Houghton's primary objective in 1837 was quickly finding salt springs and various minerals and ores, he visited only briefly, leaving it to Hubbard to come back two years later and do the detail work. It is presumed that Sylvester Higgins also did his detailed mapping in 1839 as part of Hubbard's team. I could find no record of Higgins' field notes in my Internet research.

The Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad was chartered in 1836, capitalized by 1838, and a route surveyed by 1839, but the extension from Tecumseh through Manchester to Jackson was not completed at the time of Houghton and Hubbard's work. This further dated the map to the late 1830s.

East Manchester, 1872 (Click image to view larger version)

So, again, where did the name Lexington come from? Houghton's team members were experts, and their accuracy and meticulousness is well documented in the state records. So clearly they were told "Lexington" when James Soule was asked the name of the settlement. Given the propensity of our settlers to name settlements after their original homesteads in New York State, I went looking. Soule received his land patent for the Lexington location in September 1834, while he was a resident of Ontario County, New York (which is the county in which Manchester, New York is located). By early 1835 he is in Manchester, Michigan, receiving other government land patents in the area.

In looking at Ontario County, there is no current locale by the name of Lexington. But it turns out Soule lived all over New York during his life before Michigan, including at least four different counties. Lexington, New York is in Greene County, in the beautiful Catskill Mountain area. Could he have been there at one time, and developed some emotional attachment? And why didn't the Lexington name stick? At the time of writing this article, we haven't found the proof of what "Lexington" meant to Soule, but we'll keep digging. Perhaps we'll be able to report in a later edition.

An excerpt from the map, showing details existing in the summer of 1839. Lexington is the cluster of four buildings on the River Raisin bend in Section 1 of Manchester Township. (Click image to view larger version)

Finally, looking at the map (see left), and comparing the 1839 roads to today, we see many familiar routes. Three primary "roads" led into the Manchester area in the 1830s for early settlers coming from New York and New England. The Territorial Road west out of Ann Arbor brought settlers to Lima Center and Pierceville, and then south. The Chicago Road brought them from Detroit to the southern ends of our townships. And a Native American trail branching off the Chicago Road at the Textile Road-Platt Road intersection brought them through Lodi Plains and down the current Weber and Bethel Church roads into Freedom and Sharon Townships. But that is another story...

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine, Vol. 2, 1 May 2007. Presented here by permission.]

A Pioneers' Trail to Freedom Township and Manchester (Part 1 of 2)

by Ray Berg

In "Manchester and.....Lexington?" I wrote of Douglass Houghton's survey team and their visits to the Manchester area. One result of this survey in 1839 was the first published map to show individual township level details for Washtenaw County, which was published in 1844. It was surprising to see by looking at the map that many of the area roads we know today were already platted by 1839, only 13 years after John Gilbert first staked his claim to the original Manchester plat in 1826. There were a few differences though, and it was particularly interesting to note roads in 1839 which did not follow the rectilinear section, half-section and quarter-section lines which were laid out by the early surveyors.

The government surveyors in the 1820s had defined section lines for each of the townships, wherein a section is usually one square mile. Government land sales to pioneers were then platted relative to these section lines, so that land parcels generally had a rectangular component to their shape, and the boundaries were placed along these section lines or fractions thereof. Subsequently, roads were surveyed and platted along these whole or fractional section lines so that they ran along the borders of property. Thus, many of our roads follow straight section lines, or as close to them as possible where natural features prevent a straight line.

Prior to the platting of these roads, Native American trails criss-crossed the area, following the highest, driest ground and providing the best fording of rivers and streams. These trails were the natural conduit to bringing our first settlers into the area, as well as government surveyors whose duty it was to further develop the road system. The current US-12, also known as the Chicago Road and the Sauk Trail, is the best example of an original Native American trail in our area.

The Chicago Road was one route bringing settlers towards Manchester, although it runs well south of the village. A more likely native trail is the so-called "Raisin Road," which ultimately began near Flat Rock and Monroe on Lake Erie, and through a series of splits and turns, ended up in Freedom Township. This trail is believed to be the route by which James W. Hill, Jason Gillette and other early settlers made their way to Freedom Township, and is likely a route by which other settlers came to the Manchester area.

Our story focuses on the discovery of a letter and marked-up map found in the Michigan Historical Center Archives in Lansing. On December 20, 1893, Charles S. Woodard, the Washtenaw County Surveyor (an appointed position at that time), wrote to L. D. Watkins, Esq., of Manchester, a lengthy letter recalling his time spent working with Orange Risdon, founder of Saline and the chief territorial surveyor, performing the original survey of the Chicago Road. In this letter, small portions of which are excerpted below, Woodard recalls and maps out the portion of an original Native American trail which included segments of the Chicago Road and a branch which led off into Lodi and Freedom Townships, providing a more direct access to these areas.

Ypsilanti, Dec 20th 1893
L. D. Watkins Esq.

Dear Sir-

It is now over sixty three years since I came into Washtenaw County. It was then nearly an unbroken wilderness... At the time of the Black-Hawk War (1832), the few scattered settlements were naturally a little alarmed at the apparent activity among the Indians. At times, hundreds of them might be seen camped on the banks of the then beautiful Huron near where is now the east public square in Ypsilanti, or on the Gilbert Farm in the town of Pittsfield, and near the northwest corner of Section 27... Soon after the close of the last war with Great Britain, say about 1815, the government lands of this state—then territory—were being surveyed, and the surveyors were all acquainted with the Indian trails, as most of their provisions were packed in on the backs of men or horses along these trails—then Indians knowing well the dryest best ground, and the best fords of streams.

The surveyor was instructed, among other things, to note the point of crossing of these trails by the Section lines, so that they might be laid down on the government plats... By the help of such of these notes as I can command, and by own knowledge, I have made a rough sketch of the main trail, nearly through Washtenaw County, and a small portion of Wayne... It has always been understood, that the old Chicago Road was located on the general line of the main trail, thus admitting the Indians skill in that part of civil engineering—selecting the best ground on which to locate high-ways.

...Going west from this place (Ypsilanti), the main trail is correctly located as far as the town(ship) of Lodi, at any rate, to my certain knowledge for it was more or less used down to as late as 1834. The camping grounds were plainly marked by the ashes of the camp fire, and the then standing poles of the wigwams. A branch of this trail seems to have turned off on the north line of Section 26 in the town of Pittsfield...

Very Truly Yours,

C. S. Woodard

Working with Woodard's description and map, this trail left the Chicago Road (current US-12) in Pittsfield Township at the Textile Road junction (a Native American campground was located in the triangle of land at this junction, now a used car lot). It passed generally west along current Textile Road, through the Lodi Corners junction (Ann Arbor-Saline and Textile Roads), and merged into current Weber Road and Bethel Church Roads in Freedom Township. A rough illustration is shown here. Early settlers moving into Lodi, Freedom, Bridgewater and points west most likely followed this trail to claim their land grants.

The solid line is the approximate route of the Native American trail as recorded by Charles Woodard in field notes from the 1820s, and reproduced on an 1893 map in the Michigan Archives. The trail as observed by Woodard ended near Section 32 in Freedom Township. (Click to view larger image)

In 2001, John Miller, son of current Freedom Township Historian Bob Miller, utilized the original Freedom Township minutes books (1834 forward) to map out the original township road system described therein, including the existing Native American trails which were now named township roads. A segment of his work is shown below. Note the "Raisin Road" on this map, which aligns roughly with current Weber and Bethel Church Roads, and is the trail defined by Woodard in his 1893 letter and map. This trail, in Woodard's descriptions, eventually tied back to Flat Rock, Monroe and over water to the Canadian village of Malden. On both Miller's map, and the Houghton survey map, "Raisin Road" was following the original native trail contour west of the intersection with current Steinbach Road, which was subsequently abandoned after what is now Bethel Church Road was constructed along the section line. This caused Weber Road to tie into Bethel Church Road in a different manner than today. The route of the original trail can still be ascertained by looking southwest at the intersection of Steinbach and Weber.

An excerpt from a map prepared by John Miller in 2001, showing the location of roads described in the Freedom Township minutes beginning 1834. This excerpt shows the southeast corner of Freedom Township, where "Raisin Road" is roughly the current Weber and Bethel Church Roads, and which aligns with Woodard's 1893 route shown in the map above. (Click to view larger image)

In Part 2 [originally published in the September M issue], we look at how this route may have influenced settlement by James Hill and others into the area.

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine, Vol. 3, 1 Jul 2007. Presented here by permission.]

A Pioneers' Trail to Freedom Township and Manchester (Part 2 of 2)

by Ray Berg

In [Part 1], I wrote of a Native American trail that branched off from the Sauk Trail/Chicago Road (now US-12) in Pittsfield Township, and led into Freedom Township, providing an early route for the first settlers looking to purchase land and homestead in the early 1830s. This article continues with that story, through some elaboration on how settlers found land, and a first hand account of what it was like to travel in those early days. We also detail the settlement of two of Freedom Township's earliest settlers, who most likely utilized this trail.

An 1825 map prepared by Orange Risdon, surveyor of the Chicago Road, founder of Saline, and all-around entrepreneur and go-getter in the early history of Washtenaw County. The map provided the first details to would-be settlers of the terrain and settlements. (Click image to view larger version)

The previous article referenced the "Raisin Road" in Freedom Township, an extension of what was sometimes called the Huron or Pottawatomie Trail, which came up the Huron River from its mouth at Lake Erie to Portage Lake at the Livingston-Washtenaw county border. This trail is well documented as a pioneer path connecting Lake Erie with the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area. The trail followed the high bank along the river, and, in those days, poling of large flatboats carrying pioneers and their belongings was also possible to within four miles of Ypsilanti.

At Ypsilanti, pioneers could move from the Pottawatomie Trail onto the Sauk Trail (later the Chicago Road), which followed the high ridge separating the former Lake Erie lakebed flatlands from the remaining upland terrain of Washtenaw County. These early Native American trails followed the ridge line, in search of good hunting and crop lands. Quite often, these trails and their branches led to what were called "oak openings"—gently rolling land, with scattered clumps of oak, and very little undergrowth other than grass. Similarly, "burr-oak openings" were flat plains with clumps of evenly spaced burr oaks. Both of these types of openings were considered barometers of good farming land. Newly arriving settlers saw these lands as easily cleared and cultivated fields, and therefore oak openings (particularly with river frontage) were the first claimed parcels of land besides parcels along the main territorial roads.

The first surveys of what would become Washtenaw County were completed in 1819, and the boundaries of Washtenaw County were established in 1822. What drove the development of the county was the Land Act of 1820, which made land parcels available in smaller lots and at a lower price than before. This finally made land available to ordinary people with average income, rather than only the rich or the speculators. Owning land represented power and a chance to improve one's life. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, dramatically lowering the cost and time of travel, settlers from the East could now easily explore cheap land possibilities in Washtenaw County, select the desired land, and then return for their families and belongings. In addition, in 1825 funds were authorized for the Chicago Road, an improvement of the Sauk Trail which would greatly facilitate movement into the area.

The combination of existing Native American trails, the Chicago Road, and the 1820 Land Act, caused a huge swell of development in Washtenaw County beginning in 1822. Pamphlets were printed and sent east extolling the virtues of the land, enticing settlers to come to Washtenaw County (a sample of a pamphlet is in the Michigan Archives). Pamphlets were also prepared in German and sent overseas, swelling the ranks of German immigrants. Also in 1825, Orange Risdon, surveyor of the Chicago Road and founder of Saline, published a comprehensive map of the area, showing various natural features, settlements, rivers and other information which guided potential settlers to the area. Figure 1 shows the map, a full version of which is available in the Archives.

The 1839 Sylvester Higgins map from Douglass Houghton's surveys, shown in ["Manchester and.....Lexington?"], is another example which portrays these oak openings and other natural features, from which settlers could make predeterminations of where good farming and mill power locations could be found.

James W. Hill and Jason C. Gillette are historically viewed as the first two settlers in Freedom Township, both choosing land at the end of the "Raisin Road" trail in Section 32 of Freedom Township, but they came here in slightly different ways. We don't know specifically how James Hill chose his route, although anecdotal records say he came via an "Indian trail" from the southeast. Since later records show him to have been a well-educated man, he likely had access to the promotion pamphlets and Risdon's map, and could determine where the oak openings and other desirable features were. We don't have Hill's account of his journey, but presume he followed the Pottawatomie Trail and the "Raisin Road" trail into Freedom Township where he settled on his desired parcel. Most likely, after making his claim, he went back to New York, and returned with his family in spring 1832 via Detroit (where he completed his land purchase at the Detroit Land Office and probably purchased animals and supplies). He then returned from Detroit to Washtenaw County by way of the newly completed Chicago Road.

A contemporary account of a similar journey is available from L. D. Watkins of Manchester, who in 1894 wrote a paper describing his arrival in the Manchester area in May, 1834. A partial quote follows:

"We left Keene, New Hampshire on April 9, 1834, hired teams to convey us to Albany, NY, where we embarked on the Erie Canal for Buffalo. Thence by steamboat to Detroit, where two days were spent in procuring our outfit and supplies, a 'breaking-up' team of four yoke of oxen, a 'breaking-up' plow, and two wagons, on which we loaded our belongings. Two yokes of oxen were hitched to each wagon and with these, together with a horse and light wagon brought from New Hampshire, we started for our unknown home in the wilderness. We were six days on the road from Detroit to what is now Fairview Farm, a distance of 59 miles. Total travel time was 29 days."

James W. Hill was typical of New Yorkers who came to the Manchester area. He was born in 1791 in Rhode Island, but by 1820 is in Grafton, Renssellaer County, New York on the far east side of the state. By 1830, he is in Orangeville, Genesee County, New York, on the west side of the state, where he is married with three sons and four daughters. In the summer of 1831, he filed a patent for the SE quarter of Section 32 of Freedom Township (160 acres), in what was then a part of Dexter Township. It is today generally bounded on the west by Eisman Road, and runs along Pfaus Road. It is still considered excellent farming land, and a small part of it is now owned by the author.

An 1856 map of Freedom Township, noting in the southwest corner the location of land purchased by James W. Hill and Jason C. Gillett in Section 32, near the end of the "Raisin Road" trail recorded by C. S. Woodard in 1893. (Click image to view larger version)

The 1856 map of Freedom Township (left) locates the land purchased by Hill, as well as that of Jason Gillett discussed below. Although the map states James Hill (J. W. Hill) owns the land, he actually sold it in 1855.

Hill was a versatile and well-educated man. He served as a Democratic representative in the Michigan Territorial Legislature in 1835–1836, as well as being credited with the first house, barn, school, and religious service in Freedom Township. He served as director of the Miller's Bank of Washtenaw, and taught school for several years. In 1844, he transferred operation of his farm property to his son Hanson, and moved to Manchester Village, where in 1850 the census finds him 58 years old, practicing law, and living with his wife Esther, 42, a son Lodmua, 8, a ward Francis Walrow, 11, Phebe Ockrow, a 28 year old black female, and James Swesay, a 22 year-old student.

In 1855, he and his wife Esther, and Hanson and Amanda Hill, sold the original Freedom Township farm to Michael Alber, and by 1860, James Hill is 69, living in Prescott, Pierce County, Wisconsin, on the far western end of Wisconsin, near St. Paul, MN—maybe to be near one of his children? By 1864, he is back in Lenawee County, where he died in 1864 in Clinton. His wife Esther died in 1878 in Tecumseh. Hanson Hill and his wife Amanda relocated to Manchester Township by 1860 and thence to Columbia Township, Jackson County, by 1870.

Our other early Freedom Township settler, Jason C. Gillett, was part of a very large family group from Seneca County, New York who spread out across Freedom, Sharon and Saline Townships. Jason Gillett was in the county by the late 1820s, and lived in the Saline area when he married Emma Maria Fellows on October 17, 1829. In October 1831, Jason Gillett applied for a patent on the E half of the NW quarter, and the W half of the NE quarter of Section 32 in Freedom Township, consisting of 160 acres, bridging the south side of current Bethel Church Road at Eisman Road. This location is near the end of the trail discussed by C. S. Woodard in [Part 1]. This property is now the location of the Alber Orchard and Cider Mill, owned and operated by Therese and Mike Bossory.

So while not coming directly to Freedom from New York like his immediate neighbor to the southeast, James Hill, Jason Gillett picked prime land and had the advantage of published information in his search for property.

In the 1850 Freedom Township census, Jason Gillett is shown as 45, born about 1805 in New York, and married to Emma, 34 years old, with eight children, the oldest, Cordelia (19), being the first child born in Freedom Township. So it appears he married Emma when she was about 15, given some leeway for census data inaccuracies. A young start for her...

Gillett farmed, operated a blacksmith shop, and donated land for the first school, as well as serving on the school board. On March 6, 1860, they sold the land to Philip Schenk. The Gilletts' whereabouts after this sale have not been determined.

In the next [article], we'll look at Major John Gilbert, the "founder of Manchester." We'll provide his life story and answer the question: Why is Manchester Village located exactly where it is? We'll learn about the prodigious career Gilbert had before he even came to Michigan, how he first located the Manchester site, and the varied other interests he had in an 86-year productive life. We'll see how he used his "connections" to get the best land possible for the Manchester site and make good money in the process, and why he never actually lived in Manchester. Quite a story...

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine, Vol. 4, 1 September 2007. Presented here by permission.]

Major John Gilbert - The Founder of Manchester (Part 1 of 2)

by Ray Berg

In other historical articles, we looked at some early settlers of the Manchester area, and what brought them here. In particular, we saw the importance of the Native American Sauk Trail, its survey and development as the Chicago Road by Orange Risdon in the 1820s, and the attraction of oak openings and mill water power locations in the area’s development.

In this first of two parts, we learn about Major John Gilbert, the founder of Manchester Village. How and why did Manchester end up where it is? And who was John Gilbert? And what was his connection to Orange Risdon, the founder of Saline, and to John Mack, the original surveyor of what became Manchester Township? It turns out Gilbert had one very long, interesting and productive life, yet he never actually lived in our town. The story follows…

The Early Years

John Gilbert was born in Lenox, Massachusetts on March 16, 1774, the son of Captain Job Gilbert and Zibiah Sweeting. Lenox is near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, then a hotbed of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, and the site of large metal casting furnaces and water-powered mills. Job Gilbert, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was trained in surveying, furnaces, water mills, and large civil engineering works. He passed these interests and skills onto his son John. In 1792, at age 18, John accompanied his father to western New York, to begin major surveying work on what was known as the Phelps-Gorham Tract. This led to the development of Rochester and the surrounding areas including Manchester, New York. By 1795, John is back east on Long Island, furthering his skills at mill operations and civil engineering.

In 1799, John, along with his parents, returned to western New York and settled in Onondaga County near present day Syracuse. In 1801-1802, John and Job were instrumental in building the Onondaga furnace, the first of its kind in western New York, which produced large amounts of military equipment. On May 4, 1803, John married Susan Ann Haskins (1784-1873), the daughter of Captain William Haskins, a prominent resident and Revolutionary War veteran who served with Job Gilbert. The new couple settled in Manlius, New York, and John began a prosperous career of surveying, civil engineering and land speculation, achieving considerable wealth. They had six children: Lavina, Harry, George, John Jr., Susan, and Emily.

John and his brother Thomas performed substantial work at the prosperous salt works of Salina, New York, north of Rochester, around 1804-1805. He served as a cavalry quartermaster in the War of 1812, achieving the rank of major. After the war, he relocated for a short time to Oswego, New York, where he accepted large commissions from Governor Clinton to survey and construct the Erie Canal. John, along with his father Job, were responsible for the completion of large sections of the Erie Canal in the Syracuse, Rochester and Lockport areas, a project which would lead to massive migration of settlers to Michigan. During this period of 1818-1823, he met and worked with Orange Risdon, who possessed similar skills and worked for Gilbert while surveying on the Canal. Both men speculated in land in the canal area, and both profited handsomely. But John and Orange were just beginning…

Gilbert helped build the Erie Canal (Click image to view larger version)

The Early Surveys in Washtenaw County

The United States General Land Office initiated the first township surveys and maps in the Michigan Territory in 1815. John Mack, coming from the Chillicothe, Ohio GLO office, completed the survey of what would become Manchester Township in July 1824.

John Mack’s 1824 Survey Map of Future Manchester Township (Click image to view larger version)

On the survey map, Mack noted by pen marks across the River Raisin and the words “a good mill seat”, a location in the extreme NE corner of Section 11 – where the southern mill pond is in downtown Manchester today. Hence Mack is responsible for first spotting where future Manchester would be located. The large elevation drop in the river and the surrounding topography clearly held potential at a time when milling was a major economic necessity.

An Enlargement Showing John Mack’s Notes on a Good Mill Seat (Click image to view larger version)

Meanwhile, in 1824, Congress passed the General Survey Act of 1824, authorizing, among other things, the survey and improvement of a military road from Detroit to Chicago. Expert civilian surveyors and engineers were commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers to assist in the project. Since the Erie Canal was completed, the expertise of John Gilbert and Orange Risdon was well known and soon employed. Risdon was appointed the survey director. Both men relished the opportunity to come to the Michigan Territory to work on the survey, and, of course, to find the best land to speculate in!

The Chicago Road survey in our area was completed in the period 1824-1825, after which Risdon published his map. Gilbert was obviously a key part of the team, which first brought him to the Manchester area. Like Risdon, who patented prime land along the Chicago Road at the Saline River crossing and salt works, Gilbert looked about while on official duty for good investment opportunities. Thus, being a part of this survey team with Risdon, he got the “first shot” at the best properties about 6-7 years ahead of the general settlers and land speculators who followed.

Gilbert clearly had Mack’s 1824 survey map, and noted the map location of the good mill seat in Section 11. He quickly filed for this land patent along the River Raisin (80 acres) in what is now the south end of Manchester Village and the mill pond, and in Section 27 along Iron Creek (80 acres), viewing both as good water-powered mill locations. Both locations were patented at the U. S. Land Office in Monroe on May 10, 1826. He augmented this with a purchase of 80 acres in Section 2 on December 1, 1831, 80 more acres in Section 2 on October 1, 1835, and 320 acres in Section 1 on October 9, 1835. These purchases ultimately comprised most of the downtown residential and commercial areas of Manchester. He also purchased large holdings in the downtown Ypsilanti area and in future Pittsfield Township along the Chicago Road – a total of 2480 acres in all, just in Washtenaw County. He also purchased extensive holdings in Lenawee, Jackson and Hillsdale counties. It was location on or near the Chicago Road, good mill water power availability, and oak openings that drove his selection of these lands.

After the survey work was done in 1826, Gilbert and Risdon both returned to their homes in the Rochester, New York area, waiting to see how things developed, and to continue their prosperous work there. But as it turned out, events which they didn’t anticipate caused them to return to Michigan for good. Both were devoted Masons, and rising anti-Masonic feelings in upper New York led them both to migrate permanently to Michigan by 1830.

John Gilbert in Michigan

John, his wife Susan, their six children, and his father Job migrated in December 1830 to Ypsilanti. Their decision to leave in winter reveals the severity of the anti-Masonic pressure they were feeling in Rochester, New York. They traveled through Canada in their own conveyance over roads blocked with snow, and crossed the Detroit River in a birch bark canoe, leaving their horses to come on afterwards by ferry. They stayed and recuperated at the famous Ben Woodworth’s Hotel in Detroit, and then arrived in Ypsilanti in January 1831. Job Gilbert died shortly after reaching Ypsilanti, and John and family began settlement on their large holdings on the east side of the Huron River (an area roughly bounded today by Michigan Avenue and Cross Street, including a part of modern-day Depot Town).

In Part 2 of this article, we’ll learn more about Gilbert’s rapid rise in Ypsilanti society, his many political activities and business ventures, and his ultimate troubles, fall from power, and eventual recovery. For now, we’ll focus on his initial founding of Manchester Village.

The Platting Of Manchester Village

By spring 1832, John Gilbert had built up his initial Ypsilanti homestead and business operations. He now turned his attention to the River Raisin lands he had acquired in 1826 and 1831, in what was by 1832 a part of Hixon Township (eventually split into Bridgewater and Manchester Townships). He viewed the location just north of the border of Sections 2 and 11, which straddled his land holdings, as the ideal location for a village, being in a large burr oak plain, with excellent river elevation drop and steep surrounding topography. He commissioned the construction of a grist mill by engaging Emanuel Case as a general contractor and mill operator, and William S. Carr and Elijah Carr, patent land holders west of him, to fell and shape timber for the mill. He also sent in his son Harry H. Gilbert as overseer and carpenter, who eventually purchased adjoining lands in Sections 10 and 11 south and west of his father’s land in March 1839.

In 1833, Gilbert commissioned a survey and plat for the future village, which was prepared by Hiram Burnham, and is shown as Figure 1. This original plat consisted of 14 blocks, with some street names assigned. It is noted that Manchester in 1833 consisted of two mills (saw and grist), one house, one barn, one store, one dam and one bridge, all clustered at the river. This is also the first recorded use of the name “Manchester”. While platted in 1833, the survey was not formally filed with the county until March 25, 1835.

Figure 1 - The original plat of Manchester Village, prepared by surveyor Hiram Burnham for John Gilbert, dated 1833, and filed with Washtenaw County on March 25, 1835. In 1833, our village was two mill structures, one house, one barn, one store, one dam and the bridge. (Click image to view larger version)

In speculating as to what the name “Manchester” meant to Gilbert emotionally, we review his earlier travels. First, the current Town of Manchester in New York State, which includes the Village of Manchester, is on the Erie Canal, on a portion where Gilbert was performing civil engineering in the 1820s. This New York Manchester adopted its name in 1822, in admiration and emulation of Manchester, England, then one of the premier manufacturing and mill towns in Britain. There is also evidence that Job Gilbert lived there in early times during the prior surveying of the Phelps-Gorham Tract. Another John Gilbert living in Manchester, New York, was the first publisher of the Book of Mormon in 1830, although the family connection has not been proven. It seems certain that our John Gilbert had spent time in that area, had an emotional connection to it and the name “Manchester” based on his previous work and family connections, and hence assigned it to our village.

There is no evidence that John Gilbert ever planned to live in our Manchester Village. As we’ll see in Part 2, he was mighty busy back in Ypsilanti, where he made his permanent home. Manchester was apparently just an investment opportunity. In Part 2, we’ll also look at the second plat of Manchester, wherein Gilbert expanded upon his holdings to create the full downtown residential and commercial area we know today, then sold it all at a very handsome profit!

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine, Vol. 5, 1 Nov 2007. Presented here by permission.]

Major John Gilbert - The Founder of Manchester (Part 2 of 2)

by Ray Berg


In Part 1 of this article, we learned about the early life of Major John Gilbert, the founder of Manchester Village, including his initial survey and platting of the village. This civil engineer, mill operator, surveyor and all-round entrepreneur arrived in Ypsilanti in January 1831, and immediately set about building substantial business and political connections, including his investment in Manchester.

Gilbert’s Busy Life in Ypsilanti

Gilbert’s wealth, accumulated back in New York State, and his immediate involvement in the community, business and political affairs of Ypsilanti, quickly led to a position of prominence. He was elected the first Village President of Ypsilanti in September 1832 and served two terms. He was a primary investor in an 1833 shipping boat venture between Ypsilanti and Detroit, which ultimately failed. He was vital in the development of the first railroad into Ypsilanti in 1838, as a major financial sponsor and booster. But where he really excelled was turning his skills in engineering and milling into the purchase and development of the large Huron Mills complex in 1835. This mill was located on the east side of the Huron River, south of the Michigan Avenue bridge, and became the largest mill of its kind in the area. Adjacent to the mill, he developed a major feed and supply store for both the railroad and travelers on the Chicago Road. In retrospect, he built these facilities beyond the immediate needs of the time and his own resources, and ended up taking out substantial mortgages which cost him later.

The Huron Mills under a subsequent owner (Click image to view larger version)

Gilbert’s prestige and fortune were considerable in Ypsilanti throughout the 1830s. His speculation in Michigan properties had paid off well, and he slowly sold off parcels during the 1830s to invest in his mill operations. Milling in early Midwest towns represented the opportunity for greatest financial gain during the 1830s, and also represented to the farmers and townspeople their food supply, cornmeal and wheat flour. Gilbert’s experience in mills and water power locations in New York had served him well when being the first to see land and subsequently speculate in it.

By 1835, he was the fourth wealthiest man in Ypsilanti by virtue of taxable property ($7,200 assessed value, $36.00 in tax paid—assessment had a different way of being calculated back then). His first home (a wood structure) was located at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and River Street. By 1845, he built a more substantial brick structure at Grove and High Street (now 302 Grove). This home still stands, somewhat modified.

John Gilbert’s Ypsilanti home (Click image to view larger version)

The Second Plat of Manchester

Gilbert continued to acquire property in the Manchester area up to October 9, 1835. On November 23, 1835, after setting aside six village lots in his plats, he sold everything he owned in the Manchester Village area (i.e., approximately 440 acres) to Stephen Fargo of Lenawee County, for the price of $8,000. This equates to about $18.00 per acre, versus the $1.25 per acre he originally paid for it. Gilbert had done quite well with his investment.

But he was not quite through. As a close friend of Stephen Fargo, and with his son Harry Gilbert still present in the village, John Gilbert had one final role in securing the future of his earlier investment. A second plat of the village was recorded on October 4, 1837, expanding the village east of the river, with extensions also on the west and north sides. Figure 1 shows this plat. It is believed that John Gilbert commissioned the survey and plat preparation. The date of the actual survey creating this plat is not recorded, and is likely earlier than 1837. It is interesting to note the planned route of the Jacksonburgh and Palmyra Railroad right up to the mills in the center of the village, along what was called “Railroad Street.” This railroad of course was eventually constructed south of the village, and had its depot at the current Manchester Market location instead.

Figure 1 – The 1837 Second Plat of Manchester Village, believed to have been surveyed in 1835, and connected with the sale of village lands from John Gilbert to Stephen Fargo. (Click image to view larger version)

Gilbert’s 1835 sale to Fargo most likely was caused by the large cash investment going into the Ypsilanti Huron Mills and feed/supply store in 1835–1836. It was good he sold in 1835 before the wildcat bank fiasco of 1837, which certainly hurt Gilbert in Ypsilanti later on.

As for Stephen Fargo and what he did, more on him in another article!

John Gilbert’s Troubles

While being a shrewd investor in land and a political force in Ypsilanti, it seems John Gilbert did not possess the patience or day-to-day attention needed to continue running his mill operations successfully. Throughout the 1830s, milling in Ypsilanti and other Washtenaw County towns was a prosperous and sure way to success. But the completion of railroads farther west eventually opened up more lucrative and prosperous milling sites for wheat and corn, and the previous high profit margins of local mills declined sharply by the 1840s. Gilbert had invested heavily in his mills and taken mortgages. In the chaotic era after the financial collapse of 1837, Gilbert eventually lost control of the Huron Mills and some of his other operations. To what extent this was due to his lack of foresight or ability, or the unscrupulousness of others, is difficult to determine. He had also invested as a stockholder in the Bank of Ypsilanti, run by his son-in-law Abel Godard and his brother Lewis Godard. Gilbert had mortgaged much of his holdings and lands for bank collateral, and when the bank collapsed, he lost a large part of his funds. While he was a stockholder, there is no evidence that Gilbert was involved in any of the fraudulent activities of the wildcat bank schemes of the time. Mortgages were called in, and Gilbert lost control of the Huron Mills and much of his land holdings by 1843.

After 1840, John Gilbert managed to save a few pieces of property on the east side of Ypsilanti, including a large lot deeded to his son John, the family home, and property given to his daughter Emily.


After about 1840, John Gilbert retired from active political and business life, and turned over what operations remained to his son John, Jr. In the 1850 census, John Gilbert is shown living with his wife, his daughter Emily and her daughter, and several others, presumably in Emily’s large home, which had survived the crises. John Gilbert’s later years after about 1850 were clouded by a protracted illness, and he died at age 86 at the home of his son John Gilbert, Jr. on January 19, 1860.

John Gilbert was buried in Ypsilanti’s Highland Cemetery, a new cemetery at the time of his death, patterned after the rural cemetery movement sweeping the country at that time. Because of his prominence and early efforts in the city’s growth, Gilbert was provided with an honored burial location in the center of the Cloverleaf, one of the geometric patterns built into the cemetery layout. The entire extended Gilbert family is buried in concentric rings about a central monument.

The Gilbert family grave in Ypsilanti’s Highland Cemetery (Click image to view larger version)

The Rescue of the Family Fortune

It fell upon Gilbert’s son, John Gilbert, Jr., to resuscitate the family fortune and keep the name socially prominent. Gilbert, Jr. had a distinguished military career, and entered both the business and political fields. He was able to restore the Gilbert fortune and name through a series of businesses and municipal projects, including many of the buildings on Cross Street in Depot Town and industrial buildings on Grove Street. John Gilbert, Jr. served as Ypsilanti City Supervisor from 1862-1868, and his bequests to Ypsilanti, along with those of his son William who prospered in Grand Rapids, are today measured by Gilbert Park, the Gilbert Senior Residence, and many commercial and industrial buildings in the Depot Town area.

John Gilbert, Jr. built a large Second Empire mansion in Ypsilanti on the remaining family lands on Grove and High Streets, located at what is today 227 Grove Street. It was here that John Gilbert, Sr. died in 1860. This home remained in the family until 1946, then served as the home for Ypsilanti’s Boys’ Club for several years. It is now privately owned as a luxury apartment building.

John Gilbert Jr. mansion in Ypsilanti (Click image to view larger version)

The Gilbert family died out with the death of John Gilbert’s granddaughter Alice Gilbert in 1946, and no family members remain.

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine, Vol. 6, 1 Feb 2008. Presented here by permission.]

Manchester's Old Burying Ground

by Ray Berg and Alan Dyer (December, 2008)

In recent articles, we've learned about the earliest days of Manchester's history, including its location, founding and development by John Gilbert and the Fargo brothers, Stephen and James, among others. This process began in 1832, and the growth of Manchester proceeded quite rapidly as settler families moved in from central New York. The 1830s were a period of boom followed by bust as covered in the last article on the Bank of Manchester. Over the next several articles, we'll focus more on the 1830s and what Manchester looked like then, and who some of its other early and often unusual residents were.

For now, we look at one other activity that James Harvey Fargo undertook as the nominal "leader" of Manchester's civic activities in the 1830s—the establishment of its first cemetery. Few Manchester residents may realize that our original cemetery lies pretty much overlooked and forgotten at the north end of the village. Let's take a look at this site and what stories it may tell of our earliest residents…

The Platting of the Village Cemetery – 1836

Stephen Fargo acquired the bulk of the land and mill properties that John Gilbert built up on November 9, 1835, and then sold a half-interest to his brother James Harvey on June 19, 1836. As part of his plans for the ultimate development of the village, James Harvey Fargo laid out streets and common areas with a clear definition of their size and intent. He also set aside a parcel of land 165 feet by 165 feet (0.63 acre) in Section 2 of Manchester Township, on a bluff overlooking the north bend of the River Raisin, to serve as a "burying ground," as cemeteries were commonly called back then.

It is apparent that he never actually deeded this land to the township or anyone else, and the cemetery simply became land not owned by anyone, a legal complication which would cause problems later on. This site is within the Village limits, at the north end of Washington Street, opposite the current Millpond Condominium units (the cemetery covers the northeast corner at the intersection of the two condominium private drives).

Figure 1 shows a portion of the Second Plat of Manchester dated September 27, 1837, identifying the burying ground location defined by James Fargo. It is believed that the plat was actually prepared in the last half of 1836 after the land sale from Stephen Fargo to James.

Fig 1. The Manchester Plat Map of 1837, showing the Burying Ground (Click image to view larger version)

The need for a cemetery for the new village began right away in 1833, when Henry Annibal, one of the earliest settlers and an operator at the Manchester Saw Mill, died and was buried on Ann Arbor Hill near the present site of the Benjamin Root house. His body was subsequently removed to the cemetery. Other deaths in these earliest years have been recorded in Manchester, according to the published Manchester necrology of Albert D. English and the records of the Sarah Caswell Angell Chapter of the DAR, maintained at the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan. However, the first actual burial that can be verified as occurring directly into the cemetery is that of Dr. Eleazer Root, who died January 31, 1837. It is assumed that the cemetery probably began operation in 1836, and that burials prior to that occurred on private property, and may or may not have been relocated to the cemetery.

James Harvey Fargo was buried here in November 1840 upon his relatively young death. His remains were removed to Oak Grove Cemetery in November 1885 into the Kief family plot.

Publications concerning this cemetery often reference it as "the old Manchester Cemetery," the "Old Yard," and the "Old Burying Ground." A bier was used to carry the coffin from the gate to the grave. Several attempts to locate the original ledger book and plat map for the cemetery have proved fruitless. But we can reconstruct its history and some of its occupants through several sources. It became quickly evident that the small size of the burying ground would prove insufficient for the growing village, leading to the formation of the much larger Oak Grove Cemetery in 1856. When Oak Grove opened, burials quickly ceased in the Old Burying Ground, and many families moved their loved ones over to family plots in Oak Grove. The Old Burying Ground continued to show in the various atlases of Manchester published between 1856 and 1915.

The Years of Neglect

When Oak Grove Cemetery opened in 1856, the Old Burying Ground was quietly abandoned. There is evidence a few more burials occurred up to 1860, but after that, neglect set in. The township did fence in the cemetery in 1861, but that was the extent of the work. Since there was no legal owner of the property and, thus, no responsibility, vegetation and decay took over. This was not without complaint, though, as Mat Blosser, editor of the Manchester Enterprise, noted in an 1871 editorial, shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2. Manchester Enterprise, June 29, 1871 (Click image to view larger version)

Apparently little or nothing was done, for, on May 1, 1884, the Enterprise again complained:

"Our attention has been called to the fact that the old burying ground in Washington street is in a wretched condition. The fence is down and cattle wander through the sacred ground at will, and the graves of some of our early pioneers are being obliterated. Would it be well to appropriate money enough from the village or township treasury to clean up the yard and repair the fence?"

Our next record is from Annetta English, who in 1930 recorded that "lilac bushes protect the graves, and bushes of snowberries are scattered over the ground. A maple, or two, set along the central division of the cemetery, are flourishing." She counted 35 markers remaining at that time. The lack of any legal ownership or oversight group continued to add to the general decline of the property.

In 1964, local resident Don Limpert purchased the adjacent land, and discovered the lack of title on the Old Burying Ground. He filed a quiet title claim and was granted the cemetery land. He found one standing headstone and pieces of others. He commenced cleanup of the property and some restoration. Figure 3 shows the appearance of the restored land in 1972. The adjoining buildable land was developed into the Millpond Condominium units.

Fig 3. The Old Burying Ground in 1972, photo courtesy of Don Limpert (Click image to view larger version)

The developed property, including the cemetery, was sold in 1982 to an Ann Arbor developer, who retains possession today. The adjacent vacant land is generally not buildable, being in a low flood plain area, and the cemetery is titled as such in current Washtenaw County land and tax records. Restrictions on development rights for the cemetery property are in question at this time.

Today, small thickets of lilac bushes remain, but the snowberries are gone. Two mammoth maple trees still bisect the center of the cemetery. The site is generally overgrown and untended once again.

The current appearance of the Old Burying Ground is shown in Figure 4.

Fig 4. The Old Burying Ground today (Click image to view larger version)

The Occupants of the Old Burying Ground

We know that an unknown number of burials occurred from about 1836 to around 1860, followed by 88 removals to Oak Grove Cemetery throughout the 1858–1887 period. We are able to reconstruct some of the persons remaining in the Old Burying Ground by cross-referencing a series of records, some precise and some anecdotal, including:

  1. Cemetery tombstone inscriptions recorded in the 1930 time period by Annetta English in her History of Manchester Township.
  2. Albert English's "Necrology of Manchester" notebook, which lists deaths in Manchester from 1833–1928. The period 1833–1855 lists 198 deaths in Manchester.
  3. Records of the Sarah Caswell Angell DAR chapter in the Bentley Library.
  4. People known from various written and anecdotal sources to have been buried in the cemetery, with no evidence of their disinterment.
  5. Records of the Oak Grove Cemetery Association, including removal and reburial records.
  6. Miscellaneous sources, such as Richard Spafford's "The Old Cemetery."

From these records, we have confirmed at least 41 people known to remain buried in the Old Burying Ground, and there are probably many more. This research work continues. It appears that the persons remaining in the cemetery may have had no family members left in Manchester in the later part of the 19th century, or were children of whom memory had been lost, or were itinerant travelers in the area at the time of their death. Some were not removed to Oak Grove when other family members were, and this seems surprising to us now.

Some of the remaining occupants of the cemetery include Artemus Kief (1780–1857), the patriarch of the Kief family which was very prominent in early Manchester history. Artemus was 53 years old when he emigrated from New York in 1833 as head of a large family, and we'll learn more about him in a future article. Alonzo Fargo's first wife, Emily Caldwell, died in 1848 and also lies here.

Among the interesting stories of occupants in this cemetery is that of Dr. B. A. Parnell, a famous touring lecturer on phrenology. Phrenology is the belief that the shape of the skull influences a person's mental abilities and personality. Dr. Parnell came to Manchester in April, 1847, and presented a series of fifteen lectures to attentive crowds at the First Presbyterian Church. He died suddenly on April 22, 1847 at the Manchester Hotel. He was buried in the Old Burying Ground, at his request, with his feet towards the South, as he was also a strong anti-slavery advocate. He also asked that his head and brain be sent to noted phrenologists Fowler and Wells of New York City, which was completed by Drs. William Bessac, and Bennett and William Root. His grave location was lost, as no stone was raised and the wooden picket fence around his grave soon rotted away.

Where We Are

The authors have prepared a list of 41 confirmed people whose final resting place is the Old Burying Ground. Work continues to identify more through cross-checking of the different resources. Figure 5 is a list of those confirmed to be buried there. It appears that a much larger number of people may remain in this cemetery. For people researching their ancestry and family roots in Manchester, this effort will be useful in consolidating the records of our earliest settlers.

Karen Jenter has also contributed much to this effort, and we appreciate her work.

A local grass roots effort is also underway to find ways to preserve this cemetery and identify it with a permanent marker.

Fig. 5. Confirmed occupants of Old Burying Ground as of November, 2008

Annibal, Henry
Bennett, Alonzo
Coon, Sarah
Dodge, Elizabeth
Falconer, Elsie (Elise)
Fargo, Emily Caldwell
Hatch, Charles
Judd, Frank H.
Kief, John Dey
Noyes, Lorenzo B.
Royall, Timothy
Wheeler, Austin J.
Woodworth, Philetus
Parnell, B. A. (Dr.)

Baldwin, Lucy
Collins, Clarissa
DeForest, Merriman
Dodge, Samuel F.
Falconer, Isabel
French, Harriett
Hutchinson, Armenia F.
Kief, Artemus
Marshall, William M.
Noyes, Lorenzo H.
Taylor, Thomas
Wheeler, Emily Jane
Beirce, Hiram

Bierce, William
Coon, John D.
Dodge, Abner
Falconer, Alexander
Falconer, Nancy
French, Thomas
Hutchinson, Lyman S.
Kief, James A.
Parish, Jane and son
Townsend, Henry B.
Woodworth, Louisa
Mosely, Charlotte C.

Coming Up Next...

We've looked at some of the prominent early Manchester residents in the 1830s. In upcoming articles throughout 2009, we'll look at some of the other interesting people who first populated our town. For example, Artemus Kief, mentioned above, will be profiled, along with his extensive family, including the hotel and medicinal springs "cure" bathhouse built near the old cemetery. And we'll look at Dr. Eleazer Root, also mentioned above. And who was Velorious Hoey—mentioned in the Fargo and Fargo General Store Ledger? And then there's Dr. T.T. Gallalia, who bought a large amount of molasses, ginger, brandy, and various "powders" from the store in the mid 1830s—for his "medicines"?

We'll also look at a map of how downtown Manchester developed commercially through the 1830s, until the economic bust of the late 1830s brought things to a momentary stop.

Stay tuned…

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]

Shopping in Downtown Manchester Circa 1835 (Part 1 of 3)

by Ray Berg (April, 2008)

In previous articles, we looked at the life and accomplishments of Major John Gilbert, the founder of Manchester, and how he platted the original village and built the first water-powered mills. On November 23, 1835, he sold the remaining village lands he owned and the Manchester Mill operations to Stephen Fargo of Lenawee County for $8,000, and returned to his growing business operations in Ypsilanti. We now pick up the story with the three Fargo brothers: Stephen, James Harvey, and Alonzo, and look at the development of the Fargo & Fargo General Store, the first mercantile operation in Manchester.

The Early Fargo Family History

Historical records show the Fargo family first in Connecticut, then moving their way across New York, a common pattern of early Michigan pioneers. Our Fargo family first settled in Ann Arbor in 1825, coming from the Manlius, Onondaga County, NY, area, the same home as John Gilbert. A specific reference is made to the Village of Borodino in Onondaga County by William G. Fargo (grandson of James Harvey Fargo), to whom credit is given for preserving much of the information presented in this article. We’ll talk more about the Fargo family roots and development in Part 2 of this article.

Stephen Fargo was born about 1807, and first shows up in Ypsilanti in November 1830 purchasing land from William M. Harwood, one of the three initial founders of Ypsilanti. In fact, Stephen’s purchases along the east side of the Huron River and south of the Chicago Road (Michigan Avenue) place him as a direct neighbor of John Gilbert, who arrived two months later. This indicates that Fargo either knew Gilbert from New York, or became his acquaintance, which led to their connection in Manchester two years later. Stephen continued to make various land purchases in Ypsilanti in the early 1830s, but by 1833 is relocated to Tecumseh, where he partners with both Selleck Brougham and Joseph W. Brown in dry goods and general mercantile stores. Stephen was very ambitious, and branched his business operations into Manchester in August 1833, although he continued to reside in Tecumseh until at least 1841. Stephen remained single all his life.

James Harvey Fargo was born about 1803, and first appears in Washtenaw land records with the June 29, 1836 purchase from his brother Stephen of a large portion of the Manchester Village plat. It is likely that James Harvey was living and working with Stephen in Tecumseh, but relocated to Manchester in 1833 to run the family business in Gilbert’s mill. James Harvey married Elizabeth T. Kief, daughter of Artemus Kief, another prominent early Manchester settler. They had two children, William Harvey Fargo (1835–1906), who married Nellie S. Gilbert (1835–1902) on May 11, 1864 in Manchester, and who relocated to Jackson by 1863, and Charles Briggs Fargo, who married Susan and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio. James Harvey died November 16, 1840 in Manchester, was buried initially in the old burying ground, and then moved to Oak Grove Cemetery.

Alonzo Fargo was born about 1817, and first shows up in Manchester in the 1840 census. Alonzo probably clerked at the mill and store in the early days, and continued with a dry goods mercantile business in various partnerships in Manchester until the May 1853 fire, after which he relocated to Grass Lake to partner with his cousin George Lord in the Lord and Fargo operations. Alonzo was married first to Emily Caldwell, who died April 3, 1848 in Manchester. They had a son Edward H. Fargo. He later married Caroline Fisher in Grass Lake in 1862 and had a daughter Josie Fargo.

We'll follow the histories of these three families more in Part 2 of this article.

The Fargo & Fargo General Store and Manchester Mill (1833–1841)

We are able to learn much about the early operations of the Manchester Mill and the resident Fargo & Fargo general store due to the preservation of the early mill and store ledger books by William G. Fargo, grandson of James Harvey Fargo. William G. Fargo (1867–1957) donated these books and various files of genealogical material to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. We’ll learn more about William G. Fargo in Part 2 of this article, and how the family tradition of harnessing water power carried on through the family. But in the meantime, let's pick up with the establishment of the store by Stephen and James Harvey Fargo.

Fig. 1. The General Ledger and Day Book of the Fargo & Fargo General Store, and the Manchester Mill Wheat and Saw Mill Ledgers (Click image to view larger version)

As mentioned earlier, Stephen Fargo and John Gilbert had clearly known each other long before the purchase of the mills and village lands by Fargo on November 23, 1835. Stephen and James Harvey Fargo established the Fargo & Fargo General Store on August 21, 1833, with James as the resident agent and Stephen continuing the operations back in Tecumseh. The store was likely opened originally in the flour mill structure, but may have been located in its own building by 1835 opposite the mill on the southwest corner of what is now Main and Adrian Streets, at the Comerica Bank Building site. The exact locations will be confirmed as part of an ongoing, long-term study to reconstruct the business and residential map of Manchester in the 183–1840 period.

The first purchases at the general store were by James B. McRay, who on August 21, 1833 bought nails, codfish, and bed coil. He paid $2.71 cash and gave five bushels of oats at $1.00 for a total of $3.71. Other early buyers that day were Truman Cole, Jacob Ketchum and George Brown. The general ledger book runs from this date through 1838, and contains several hundred named accounts. It is a valuable tool for determining who was living in or near Manchester in these early days, and what they bought. Almost all accounts are in men's names—it is very rare to see a woman's name on an account, and only for very small cash purchases. As an example, let's look at John Gilbert's account page:

Fig. 2. The Ledger Page of John Gilbert (Click image to view larger version)

We see Gilbert purchased goods from August 21, 1833 through April 22, 1835. Among other things, he bought "sundries," glass, a silk camblet, a horse, mackerel, brooms, sugar, tea, coffee, whiskey, a stove, mittens and cranberries. A camblet is woven fabric with images embedded or burned into the fabric. For whatever reason Gilbert bought the camblet, he returned it for a full refund two months later! Cranberries? Were these being grown locally in bogs? And were they considered a preventive medicine (some research indicates yes)? You could buy food such as salted or smoked fish, clothing, hardware, sewing supplies, drinks of all kinds, and, apparently, place an order for something unusual to be shipped in. Sounds like Fargo & Fargo carried it all (for the times)! Transfers of goods between the Manchester and Tecumseh stores were common.

Along with the General Ledger book, the Bentley Library holds one of the "Day Books," which contain the day-by-day running account of operations. This book begins November 7, 1836 and ends May 2, 1838. A typical day (November 7, 1836) is shown below.

Fig. 3. November 7, 1836 at the Fargo & Fargo General Store (Click image to view larger version)

The Wheat Mill and Saw Mill journals are also preserved at Bentley. The Wheat Mill journal runs from September 1, 1837 to December 9, 1841, when Stephen Fargo ceased control of the mill. The preserved Saw Mill journal runs from December 1, 1835 through 1838. These journals provide an excellent record of early Manchester area wheat farmers, the transactions of flour, and lumbering operations around the area. The signed opening page of the Wheat Journal is shown below.

Fig. 4. The Signed Cover Page of the Wheat Mill Journal (Click image to view larger version)

It appears that Stephen and James Harvey Fargo ran a prosperous and successful mercantile store and mill operation from 1833 through 1841. As mentioned in the previous article on John Gilbert, the high profit margins of small wheat and saw milling operations in Washtenaw County began to decline by 1840 as more efficient operations opened farther west and railroad transport became available. This fact, combined with the untimely death of his brother and resident agent James Harvey Fargo on November 16, 1840, caused Stephen Fargo to sell the mill operations to Charles Noble and Austin Wing in September 1841. Stephen Fargo remained in Manchester until about 1845, selling off his remaining lands and home to Alonzo Fargo in 1843. He then relocated to Washington Township, Elkhart County, Indiana, where in 1850 he is again a mill merchant and very prosperous. By 1870, he is back in Grass Lake, Michigan, retired, and living at the home of his brother Alonzo. He died in Grass Lake at home on December 23, 1873.

Alonzo Fargo carried on in Manchester, operating the Fargo & Fargo dry goods and mercantile store under various partnerships until after the Manchester Mill fire in 1853 destroyed much of downtown. After this he relocated to Grass Lake and became very wealthy working with his brother Stephen and George C. Lord in milling and dry goods operations once again. Alonzo passed away sometime before 1900.

We'll pick up on Stephen, James Harvey and Alonzo Fargo in Part 2 of this article, where we'll look more at their lives and contributions in Manchester, and what became of them and their families. Lots more interesting stories to come…

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]

Shopping in Downtown Manchester Circa 1835 (Part 2 of 3)

by Ray Berg (June, 2008)


In Part 1 of this series, we saw the takeover of the Manchester Mill operations by Stephen Fargo in November 1835, and the earlier August 1833 creation and subsequent growth of the Fargo and Fargo General Store by Stephen and his brother James Harvey Fargo. We also saw how rapidly early Manchester developed, by looking at the large number of store credit accounts which were opened in less than a year after the mills were built and John Gilbert began settlement of Manchester. The diversity of goods that could be purchased in these earliest times was also surprising, reflecting that our pioneers were not limited to just basic staples at the store. We also had a biographical introduction to the three Fargo brothers (including Alonzo Fargo), who would be so prominent in Manchester's earliest days.

In this Part 2 of the series, we look more at the history of the Fargo family, what these three brothers and their descendants contributed to the development of Manchester, and what became of them.

The Fargo Path to Manchester

Our Fargo brothers descended from a large family whose ancestry is well documented on the Internet back to France (Jacent Fargeau, born about 1622). Moses Fargo, the first immigrant, landed in Connecticut in 1668, and our part of the extended family eventually made its way to Onondaga County, New York, settling around the towns of Pompey, Borodino and Spafford, all near Syracuse. The first Fargo family in our area (a Calvin Fargo) located in Ann Arbor in 1825, purchasing land from the founders of that city. A sister of our three Fargo brothers (Mary Jeanette Fargo) married Richard Lord and then Thomas Spafard, early pioneers in Sharon Township and Manchester. The father of our Fargos, Daniel Fargo, eventually followed his sons from New York, lived in Tecumseh for awhile, and then ended up in Greenville, Montcalm County, Michigan where he died in 1857. There are other Fargos who pass through Manchester briefly, but don't stay long. So we'll look at Stephen, James and Alonzo, and what they were involved in and contributed to Manchester's early days.

Stephen Fargo

Following on from Part 1 of this series, when looking through deeds and other public records, it is clear that Stephen was the business driver, the consummate entrepreneur, and the risk-taker. He never married, and apparently never took part in social, government or other "non-business" activities. He did all his investing in partnership with others. He lived in Tecumseh from 1833–1841, and apparently moved to Manchester only after the sudden death of his brother James in late 1840. After his brother's estate was cleared and he sold the Manchester Mill operations in 1841, he moved on to Indiana around 1845 and set about building a new highly prosperous mill operation. He did return back to Michigan as a "retired" passive investor to live with his brother Alonzo in Grass Lake, where he died in December 1873.

James Harvey Fargo

James came into Manchester in 1833 to open and run Stephen's "branch store" of Fargo & Fargo Co. (Tecumseh was the business headquarters throughout the 1830s). It was James who became deeply involved in Manchester government and social activities. He married Elizabeth Kief, daughter of Artemus Kief, another of the earliest settlers. He was elected the first Supervisor of Manchester Township upon its creation on April 3, 1837, and served through 1839. In perhaps an early example of the need for better county recognition of Manchester's needs, he ran for Washtenaw County Sheriff as a Democrat on November 3, 1840, only to lose by 369 votes in the Whig Party political sweep of that year. And as we'll see in Part 3 of this series, he also led Manchester educational and social development in the 1830s.

By September 1837, James and his wife Elizabeth, Stephen Fargo, and a pair of investors, Shepherd and Catherine Knapp of New York City, were the actual owners of the roughly 440 acres purchased from John Gilbert in 1835, which comprised what is now the downtown residential and commercial areas of Manchester. The September 27, 1837 second plat of Manchester Village, while probably reflecting John Gilbert's initial input, was clearly the primary design work of James, but received the approval of the other investors in late 1836. James' instructions on the platting of the village street widths, common areas and retention of existing rights were explicit in this deed, including the confirmation of the name "Exchange Place" for our downtown.

James died unexpectedly on November 16, 1840, while only 37 years old and just two weeks after the sheriff's election he lost. He was initially buried in the original "Burying Ground", but later moved to Oak Grove Cemetery. His passing led to local Fargo influence transferring to his younger brother Alonzo.

Fig. 1. The grave of James H. Fargo, Oak Grove Cemetery (Click image to view larger version)

The current Manchester home at 121 W. Main has been historically attributed to James Harvey Fargo, constructed circa 1835 from the Carr brick works. It is believed that James, Stephen and Alonzo all lived here at some point. This will be researched and discussed more in a future article.

Fig. 2. The Fargo homestead at 121 W. Main, built circa 1835 (Click image to view larger version)

Alonzo Fargo

Alonzo was about 15 years younger than Stephen and James, and he first shows up in the 1845 Manchester census. It appears Alonzo took over the general store operations after James' passing, but had no involvement in the Manchester mills. Alonzo formed several mercantile partnerships in Manchester throughout the 1840s and 1850s, primarily with Kief family members and then with George C. Lord, his cousin. Alonzo lost his first wife, Emily Caldwell Fellows, on April 3, 1848 at age 22, and she is buried in the original Manchester Cemetery ("the Burying Ground" on Washington Street, another subject of a future article). Their mercantile business was likely destroyed in the May 1853 Manchester fire, for by 1855 Lord & Fargo Co. has moved to Section 9 of Columbia Township north of Clark Lake, and then by 1856 they are beginning major investments in the Village of Grass Lake. From 1858–1878, Lord & Fargo was the premier business in Grass Lake, running a large general mercantile operation, grain mills, drovers, railroad shipping operations, and building ownership and rentals. For reasons not yet determined, their business operations ran into serious trouble in 1878 and bankruptcy was declared. Alonzo then became an express shipping agent in Grass Lake (our Fargos were cousins to the William G. Fargo of Wells Fargo Co.). But by approximately 1885, Alonzo and his second wife Caroline had relocated to Seattle, Washington with his stepdaughter's family, where Alonzo died sometime before 1889.

The Descendants

Stephen had no children. James had two sons—William Harvey Fargo and Charles Briggs Fargo. They, and their mother, lived with the Kief family in Manchester throughout the 1840s after James' death. But by 1855, Charles had moved to Cleveland, Ohio (reason unknown), where he lived out a relatively uneventful life and did not return to Manchester. William Harvey moved to Jackson in 1851, clerking in several stores, then went to Cleveland in 1857 for six years, then returned to Manchester to marry Ellen Gilbert in 1864, and then spent his life in Jackson as a renowned accountant and financial advisor. They had one son, William G. Fargo, born 1867. William H. Fargo only returned to Manchester to visit the Gilbert family and to be buried here upon his passing on June 11, 1906 at age 71. His wife Ellen S. Gilbert Fargo had passed away April 15, 1902.

Fig. 3. Charles B. Fargo, circa 1855 – The oldest located Fargo photograph (Click image to view larger version)

Alonzo had a son Edward with his first wife Emily, who became a bookkeeper first in Grass Lake and then in Lansing, passing away around 1930. Alonzo had a daughter Josie with his second wife Caroline Fisher in Grass Lake, but Josie disappears from public records after her marriage in 1876.

So by about 1855, all of our male Fargos are gone from Manchester. Yet the one grandson of James, William G. Fargo, carried with him a love for his ancestral village and a desire to preserve some of its earliest history, which is how we know so much about these early days.

William G. Fargo

William G. Fargo was born December 6, 1867 at Jackson, the only son of William H. Fargo and Ellen S. Gilbert, and died February 2, 1957. William had an astonishing career as a civil engineer and surveyor. As the founder of Fargo Engineering Company of Jackson, he was a renowned developer of dams and hydroelectric power plants throughout Michigan, and was instrumental in the formation of Consumers Power Company. He developed the first planning maps of the City of Jackson, and the first Zoning Ordinance for Jackson. He was also a famed paleozoologist, and held curator and research positions in zoology and birds at the University of Michigan in his later life.

But he also had an innate love of Manchester, and, while never living here, made frequent visits, probably seeking his emotional "roots" in the Manchester Mill dam and structures, which he wrote about on his visits. He preserved the previously described mill and store ledgers, and wrote extensive genealogical information, which is kept at the U of M Bentley and the Michigan Historical libraries. The value of these papers has been critical to the preparation of these articles.

William G. Fargo never married, and it appears that no survivors remain of any of the male Manchester Fargo lines. Perhaps knowing this, he preserved the ledgers and other papers. But in a strange twist, he wrote to a Manchester step-cousin in the 1950s that because he was a sole child and a single man, and thought no one cared about the family photographs he had acquired, he had destroyed the Fargo photograph albums but donated the written records to the libraries! So probably photos of Stephen, Alonzo, and William H. Fargo were destroyed. But we continue to search for other photos of the Fargos and also daguerreotype photos of early downtown Manchester (yet another forthcoming article)…

Fig. 4. William G. Fargo (1867–1957) (Click image to view larger version)

Among his many civic and business duties, James Harvey Fargo tried one other thing. He was the founder of the Manchester Village Lyceum in 1836. This debating society sought to promote the study of "moral, political, scientifical, and literary" issues in the Village. Among William G. Fargo's bequests was the preserved journal of the Lyceum. We'll look at the interesting, and still timely, topics brought before the Lyceum and its distinguished members, and we'll also meet some of these early residents who interacted with Fargo at the Lyceum. When looking at the topics brought before the Lyceum, we see that one topic they debated in 1837 was "Is War Justifiable to Instill Democratic Principles in an Oppressed Country?" What do you think the decision was?

Also, there's a lot more on "our" Fargos and the residents of 1835 Manchester coming up in future articles…

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]

Shopping in Downtown Manchester Circa 1835 (Part 3 of 3)

by Ray Berg (August, 2008)


In the previous parts of this article, we have learned about the earliest days of Manchester Village. It began with General Land Office surveyor John Mack first stopping in July 1824 at the River Raisin in today's downtown Manchester, and noting the location as a "good mill seat." We saw how John Gilbert, a wealthy businessman and land speculator from New York, used this information while on the survey team for the Chicago Road, bought up this good spot in 1826, and subsequently established the first Manchester milling operation in 1832. We've also seen how the brothers Stephen and James Harvey Fargo, acquaintances of Gilbert from New York and Ypsilanti, established the first general store in August 1833 across from the mill as Fargo & Fargo.

In the most recent article, we also saw that James Harvey Fargo's grandson, William G. Fargo (1867–1957), was instrumental in preserving the original mill and general store ledger records, genealogical information, and a variety of other resources. These have been very helpful in preparing these articles, and getting a true picture of life in early Manchester. These records reveal several findings not previously written about the earliest days of Manchester:

  1. The Fargo & Fargo general store ledgers show a very rapid growth in early Manchester village and surrounding areas once John Gilbert got things started, as determined by the hundreds of accounts opened up beginning in 1833. The speed of settlement is surprising, but may have been caused by the strong degree to which the settlers generally knew each other back in New York State, coming from the same New York towns. In other words, they generally came as family or neighbor groups to Manchester, not as individual pioneers one by one. The Gilberts, the Fargos, the Kiefs, etc. came as a planned group.
  2. The diversity of goods available at the Fargo & Fargo store extended well beyond the basic staples you might expect at an 1830s general store, including luxury items like silk, perfumes, and foreign teas. These were available from the store's beginning in 1833. Our ancestors did not want for the finer things in life, and apparently had come to Manchester with money, not necessarily as struggling pioneers. Many had come because of the Anti-Masonry movement which erupted in 1830–1831 in central New York, and committed Masons such as Gilbert and the Fargo brothers simply decided to leave New York, and go elsewhere and multiply their money!
  3. And cultural influences came right along with the money and way of life! We learned more about James Harvey Fargo in the most recent article, and his key role in the development of early Manchester Village, its platting, and early governance (he served as first Manchester Township Supervisor from 1837–1839). He ran the successful and very profitable Manchester Mill and the General Store (the 1830s were boom times for mills in Washtenaw County). His premature death in November 1840 interrupted his influence and leadership, but the available records carry one other item of interest he brought to Manchester – the Manchester Village Lyceum.

    Fig. 1. Earliest known view of Manchester, circa 1855 (Click image to view larger version)

    The Lyceum Movement

    The Lyceum movement in the United States during the general period 1826–1860 was a series of organizations that sponsored public programs and entertainment. It flourished particularly in the northeast and midwest, and was named after Aristotle's Lyceum in ancient Greece, which was the school outside Athens where Aristotle taught in the third century B.C. Lyceums and agricultural societies were important in the development of adult education in America, and improving the social, intellectual, and moral fabric of society. The Lyceum movement was particularly influenced by the development of the Erie Canal and the railroad, which allowed noted lecturers and entertainers to easily travel from city to city. After the Civil War, lyceums evolved into the Chautauqua movement and vaudevilles, and became more entertainment and elaborate. The first American lyceum was founded by Josiah Holbrook in Massachusetts in 1826. The mark of an up-and-coming American town in the 1830s and 1840s was to start a lyceum. Manchester was no exception.

    The Manchester Village Lyceum

    Clearly James Harvey Fargo had experienced the lyceum movement, for he organized the Manchester Village Lyceum on Saturday evening, November 25, 1836 at the Manchester Village schoolhouse. He felt strongly that culture and adult education were an important part of life in the new village, and recruited several prominent citizens to participate. Sitting as Chair for the organizational meeting, he led the membership through the development of Articles of Organization which he had previously drafted (see Figure 2). The "objects" of the Lyceum were stated as "the discussion of morral, political, scientifical and literary questions."

    Fig. 2. Page 1 of the Articles of Organization, Manchester Village Lyceum (Click image to view larger version)

    Provisions were made for weekly 6:00 PM Saturday meetings, for lamp oil and candles, and for "some boy to light the fires in the schoolhouse" prior to the meetings. The articles also called for the collection of funds, and for the appointment of debating teams (affirmative and negative), whose arguments would be heard and an outcome decision made by the presiding President. Presidents held four week terms. Dues were 25¢ at initiation.

    The initial membership list is shown in Figure 3. It's an early glimpse at 1830s era residents who were interested in this intellectual stimulation. At the next meeting, Messrs. Lamb, Huff and Norris joined. Another member who joined was James W. Hill, the first settler of Freedom Township, who was introduced in a previous article. Hill had to ride a horse four miles into Manchester on a winter's night to participate!

    Fig. 3. The founding members of the Manchester Village Lyceum (Click image to view larger version)

    The Debate Topics

    So what did they discuss? Twenty-six questions for debate were initially proposed by individual members and a Committee of Questions. Here are some of them the group came up with (not all were eventually debated, as we'll see):

    • Which is the greatest source of wealth to the people of the U. S. – agriculture or manufacturing? (introduced by James H. Fargo)
    • Do the works of nature excite man more than those of art? (Committee of Questions)
    • Ought the sale of ardent spirits be prohibited? (Committee of Questions)
    • Is ambition more deleterious to the world than superstition? (J. Fargo)
    • Do the rich enjoy more happiness than the poor? (L. M. Pike)
    • Ought Michigan be admitted into the Union without compromise? (A. Walker)
    • Does anticipation afford more happiness than participation? (L. M. Pike)
    • Are debating societies useful? (A. W. Morris)
    • Have we conclusive evidence of the immortality of man? (Marcus Carter)
    • Were Brutus, Cassius and their associates justified in taking the life of Caesar? (M. Huff)
    • Is yearly spirit in a Republican Government salutary? (J. H. Fargo)

    As can be seen, topics ranged from very practical and timely, to quite ethereal and classic. The topic would be assigned one week ahead, and one or two members would be tasked with preparing and presenting affirmative and negative arguments. Arguments were presented at the next lyceum meeting, and the President would then often call for open discussion, but had final responsibility for deciding for the affirmative or negative.

    An interesting topic debated in late 1836 was "Is War Justifiable?" The topic was debated extensively without clear resolution, until the Committee of Questions modified the question to "Is War Justifiable to Instill Democratic Principles in an Oppressed Country?" The context of this debate question was most likely the beginning evolution of Manifest Destiny. This policy germinated in the later years of Andrew Jackson's presidency (his term was coming to an end at that point), the recent war over Texas in 1836, and the perception among some that America had a God-given right (duty?) to spread democratic principles in places like "oppressed" Mexican territories. Walker Morris and James Fargo argued the affirmative, and Marcus Carter and L. M. Pike the negative.

    President Emanuel Case, Esq. decided in the affirmative on November 30, 1836. A precedent for future American debates on invading other countries had been set in Manchester.

    James W. Hill, a lawyer as well as a farmer, proposed a topic on February 8, 1837, which led to heated debate and an overflow crowd in the schoolhouse:

    • Is the statute law which imposes a fine and imprisonment on any person who may deny the being of a God, or speak reproachfully of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Christian religion, or the books of the Old and New Testament, or shall expose or ridicule any of them, consistent with natural liberty, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press?

    President Marcus Carter, upon hearing all the arguments that night, decided in the affirmative.


    Something happened after this. On February 15, 1837, at its next and 12th meeting, the Lyceum members voted to suspend operations until "later in the season," specified as the second Monday of November next (i.e., nine months hence).

    The Lyceum never reconvened. What may have happened? Did Hill's topic arouse too much anger and ill feelings? 1837 turned out to be an eventful year locally and nationally. Michigan was admitted to the Union. Manchester Township was formed by breaking off from Bridgewater Township. James H. Fargo took on the role of Township Supervisor. But what really may have distracted the esteemed members of the Lyceum was the financial panic and economic depression which followed the "Wildcat Bank Fiasco."

    These bank failures were caused by federal laws (or lack thereof), and subsequent state banking laws, which allowed the formation of local banks and the issuance of local paper money supposedly backed by gold deposits. Manchester was not immune – it had proudly formed the Bank of Manchester (see Figure 4). Many of Manchester's prominent citizens invested or participated in this bank, which failed spectacularly when caught in a massive fraud. The shock clearly disturbed the community's financial roots, and participating in a weekly Lyceum may not have been at the front of their minds anymore. Anyways, the Lyceum register ends abruptly and there is no evidence it ever started again. And we really don't know why.

    Fig. 4. Bank of Manchester $5 Note, 1837 (Click image to view larger version)

    We'll look next time at the complete history of the Bank of Manchester in the 1830s, and what its impact meant to our local community. We'll also continue with more on the Fargo brothers and some of the other citizens who participated in the Lyceum's brief days. Stay tuned…

    [Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]

The Bank of Manchester - Speculation, Boom and Bust in the 1830s

by Ray Berg and Alan Dyer (October, 2008)


In previous articles, we have seen the influence of the Fargo brothers, Stephen F. and James H., in the early development of commerce and government in Manchester Village. The brothers opened the first general store on August 21, 1833, and in 2008 we celebrate the 175th anniversary of commerce in Manchester. In addition, James H. Fargo served in organizing Manchester Township as its first supervisor, and in establishing the Manchester Village Lyceum for educational, scientific and moral enlightenment. The year 1837 proved pivotal to Manchester, as Michigan entered the union, Manchester Township was formed, and the village itself got caught up in a speculative and frenzied era whose "bubble economy" has many similarities to today. As we read today about the current credit crunch, real estate foreclosures, and banks "going under," let's look back to 1837–1840 when the Bank of Manchester was created, grew and died in the days of "wildcat banks" and banking fraud.


The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 made pioneer travel easier and much more economical, which started a tide of emigration that rapidly swept westward for more than a decade. Detroit and Monroe served as terminals of the principal water routes from Buffalo, and the population of Michigan Territory increased from 31,639 in 1830, to 87,278 in 1834 and 175,169 in 1837. This rapid increase of population, and the equally rapid taking up of available government land, aroused fierce speculation in real estate. It was not uncommon for a "promoter" to hunt up a mill site or some other location supposedly available for a town site, purchase a quarter section from the government at $1.25 an acre, make a plat showing the river and mill site, water lots, a public square, and other home sites, and then promote a golden vision of the future. The speculative value of land and general inflation quickly rose throughout the 1830s, and new sources of capital were required to keep up. Federal banking policies promoted by Andrew Jackson also led to government surpluses, distribution of reserves to state banks, and a rapidly growing sense of business euphoria by 1837.

This speculation also led to a craze for internal improvements, such as railroads, canals, dams and plank roads. Because the purported capital needs for these improvements far exceeded the available money (which was almost exclusively "specie," or gold and silver coinage), and because a regulated banking system as we know it now did not exist, local pressure developed to create a "free banking system." This law was intended to promote the development of local infrastructure and to aid local farmers in land development when specie was limited. This consisted of local banks established by a group of twelve or more residents, upon application to the county treasurer and clerk for the right to conduct business. On March 15, 1837, the Michigan State Legislature passed a law allowing the formation of these banks, which initially did not require a state charter and were not subject to any Federal regulations.

The Bank of Manchester

The young village of Manchester certainly considered itself a candidate for prosperity and growth, and no doubt was influenced by the frenzy in land speculation, the booming economy of the times, and the resulting inflation in prices. The bank was organized in October 1837, and was capitalized at $ 100,000, with the sale of stock to take place at the Manchester Hotel from November 6–9, 1837. During the appointed days, the residents of Manchester and the surrounding townships eagerly subscribed to the stock of what they saw as "their" bank, and the issue was quickly sold out. A list of stockholders as has survived is shown in Figure 1.

Fig 1. The stockholders of the Bank of Manchester, as printed in 1839 (Click image to view larger version)

This list might be considered to include the leading citizens of the Manchester area at the time.

The names of the bank's nine directors have not been positively determined—a fire destroyed the internal records of the Michigan Bank Commission of that period. But we know that George Howe served as the bank's first and only president. Howe had arrived in Manchester in 1832, settling in what was then called Hixon Township, and in 1833 was elected first supervisor of Bridgewater Township. Andrew G. Irwin was elected as cashier for the bank. The bank began operations on November 22, 1837, two days after the first notes were signed by Howe and Irvin. In December, it was included in a state list of banks that had begun, or were about to begin, operations, but had not been visited by state bank commissioners.

The Bank of Manchester, like all free banks established under Michigan's law, created bank notes to transact its business and encourage capital flow. The bank took advantage of commercial printers who stood ready to issue highly ornate and idealistic engravings which would instill confidence and pride in their holders. Vignettes or illustrations highlighted rural scenes, fertile lands, large and healthy cattle, and images of Revolutionary War heroes. Prosperous farmers sowing their rich lands and beautiful farm wives wielding the sickle would often grace these bills. The bills also carried the term "Safety Fund" and "Real Estate Pledged and Private Property Holden" to promote further confidence in the bank. The Bank of Manchester started off with the full faith of local stockholders and a belief that the "good times" created at the end of Andrew Jackson's presidency were here to stay.

Figure 2 shows the $3 bill with a likeness of Benjamin Franklin, a statesman, inventor, businessman and scientist, but also most importantly, a man of industry and thrift. A very healthy bull complements the image of prosperity. Other denominations portrayed Washington and Lafayette and similar scene of tranquility and happiness.

Fig 2. The Bank of Manchester $3 note, signed November 20, 1837 (Click image to view larger version)

The Michigan free banking law required 30% of the issued notes to be backed by specie (gold and silver coin) held at the bank's location. The rest could be backed by either bonds or mortgages upon real estate within the state, or in bonds executed by resident freeholders of the state. Two problems quickly developed. Because there was initially no regulation or oversight of the specie, bankers began transferring specie from bank to bank to "guarantee" different bank notes. They also filled bank vault boxes with an upper layer of actual specie, but used it to cover scrap iron, nails, broken glass pieces and other heavy but worthless materials to create an appearance of ample specie on site. Potential problems with bonds and mortgages on real estate include inflated appraisals and depreciated real estate values, particularly when mortgages began being called in as the banks ran into trouble. In some cases, cities and villages were platted for the purpose of raising the price of land to be mortgaged for the issue of more bank bills. There is speculation that the platted village of Windham in Manchester Township, which never developed, was done for this purpose.

The Bank of Manchester is sometimes referred to as a "wildcat bank." Various explanations have been given for this term, but the most common reference is to "reckless" or "financially unsound" Michigan banks established during the 1830s in remote and inaccessible locations, and often fictitious towns, "where the wildcats roamed." In the free banking period, such locations benefited the banks because they hampered the note holders' attempts to redeem notes, and banks with fewer notes redeemed could hold less specie and generate higher net revenue for their owners. The Bank of Manchester was not remote or fictitious to its local users, but it fell victim to the same speculative temptations which affected other wildcat banks. Bank of Manchester notes issued in late 1837 were themselves the focus of a major fraud committed in the wildcat Miners Bank of Dubuque, Iowa in 1838.

The Bank of Manchester was located on Lot 2 of Block 4 of the Original Plat of Manchester, which is now 107 W. Main Street. The lot was sold by James Fargo to Andrew G. Irwin on December 28, 1837 for $ 75. It is apparent that Irwin built a home there which also served as the bank office. However, after the bank problems occurred discussed below, Irwin supposedly sold the property to the Bank of Manchester on November 30, 1839 for $ 3,000. This somewhat questionable transaction was apparently negated during the bank's troubled period, and the property was sold by Irwin to Oliver Kellogg on March 6, 1845 for $ 800. The 1856 plat map of Manchester shows no structure on this site. It is not certain what happened, and perhaps the structure was demolished or moved prior to 1856, or destroyed in the 1853 fire. But the 1864 plat map does show a structure, which is believed to be a house which was subsequently moved to 325 S. Macomb Street after a sale by Dr. Walter Klopfenstein, who built the current home at 107 W. Main in 1907. Information provided by Annetta English in an earlier Manchester history may have incorrectly attributed the original Bank of Manchester building as being the current 325 S. Macomb home.

The Short Life of the Bank of Manchester

It quickly became apparent by late 1837 that multiple cases of specie fraud were occurring at various banks. The same specie (i.e., exact same combination of gold and silver coin denominations) was being noted at different banks. In some cases, paper notes saying that a bank officer possessed specie were themselves treated as legitimate specie. Specie was being moved by speedy overnight coach from bank to bank before the bank commissioner made his arrivals at different banks, but eventually the state bank commissioners became aware and started investigations and audits under a state banking amendment in January 1838. The commissioners would tell the first bank they inspected that they were next going to a specific bank, but instead paid a surprise visit to a different bank. Several of these specie fraud cases involved the Godard brothers, Abel and Lewis, owners of the Bank of Ypsilanti and other banks. Abel Godard was the son-in-law of John Gilbert, the founder of Manchester, and when the Godard brothers' fraud was uncovered, not only did John Gilbert suffer severe financial setback, as discussed in an earlier article, but the ramifications quickly spread to other Washtenaw area banks.

Pressure on the state legislators resulted in increased inspections led by state bank commissioner Alpheus Felch, who as a legislator had opposed the formation of Michigan's free banks. Felch came to Manchester, and on February 21, 1838, Andrew Irwin, the cashier of the Bank of Manchester, swore to Felch that only $ 34,000 of the bank's bills had been placed in circulation, within the specie and mortgage/bond backing limits. In reality, the bank had actually issued between $ 107,000 and $ 118,000 in bills, exceeding the legal limit. We can surmise that Irwin, clearly with George Howe's participation as they were both signers of the bills, got caught up in the financial frenzy. The fraud was certainly common knowledge by April 19, 1838, when the State Journal reported:

"The Cashier of this institution (Bank of Manchester), we understand, has taken leg bail, having disposed of some fifty thousand dollars without knowledge of the Directors! Hurrah! For the General Banking Law! The wildcat tory currency! Three cheers for Gov. Mason's "principle correct in theory, but mischievous in practice!" One hundred guns for this immortal display of modern democratic, wildcat, tory, loco foco wisdom!"

James H. Fargo replaced Irwin as cashier. In May 1838, a Washtenaw County Circuit Court grand jury found that Irwin should stand trial for falsely swearing to the number of bills in circulation, and a perjury warrant for his arrest was issued May 18, 1838. He was taken into custody and bail granted. A second warrant was also issued on May 18 against both Howe and Irwin for fraud, for having "willfully, unlawfully and contemptuously refused and neglected to report to the bank Commissioners whenever they discovered such violation." Bail was also posted for these warrants.

With its officers facing criminal charges, and a general wave of financial hysteria beginning to unfold concerning all the wildcat banks, the Bank of Manchester had to do two things fast. It first had to find a means of providing security for the illegal outstanding bills in circulation. A plea was made to the community for its help, and largely due to the efforts of James H. and Stephen Fargo, land appraised at $ 91,282 was mortgaged to the state's auditor general in June and July 1838—a feat which was gratefully acknowledged in the Bank Commissioners' report to the State Senate in 1839. These mortgages reveal a long list of Manchester area residents participating in the rescue beyond the original stockholders.

Second, the Bank of Manchester was faced with redeeming or buying back its bills. This was made possible by the general rapid depreciation of wildcat money which allowed it to be bought back at less than face value. James Fargo moved expeditiously to accomplish this, and by September 1838, Commissioner Felch reported that total circulation was down to $ 45,334, and the bank now deserved the public's confidence. By January 1839, the number was down to $ 25,514, with sufficient bank assets to cover its liabilities. Still the commissioners recommended the bank be closed, in keeping with a letter written by Commissioner Felch to his wife on January 10, 1839 stating that he was in Ann Arbor engaged in his "old business of Killing Banks." (Felch became governor of Michigan in 1845).

Fig 3. Alpheus Felch, the Bank Commissioner (Click image to view larger version)

James Fargo worked to close the bank in an expeditious and secure manner. As the receiver, he took charge of all assets and property, determined what debts and liabilities existed, and collected outstanding debts to the bank. Fargo served as receiver until his death in November 1840, and final paperwork was filed with the state in late 1841. The state annulled the bank's charter in its 1840 session, effective February 1842. In retrospect, the Bank of Manchester ended up among the more fortunate of the financial outcomes of the wildcat banks, but this only occurred due to the Fargo brothers' work and the timing of Alpheus Felch's challenge of cashier Irwin in February 1838. Bills totaling $ 180,000 had been printed, but $ 62,000 of them had not been issued when Felch showed up. Had these notes been issued, Fargo and his colleagues might not have been able to rescue the bank and bring about an orderly shutdown.

When it appeared that the Bank of Manchester would be able to recall its notes, repay creditors and effect an orderly shutdown without an outright collapse, the charges against Howe and Irwin were never pursued beyond their initial bail hearings and Irwin's grand jury appearance. The County dropped all charges by 1840. Perhaps once it was determined that the bank could meet its obligations, the idea of prosecution lost its appeal, and the Manchester community just wanted to move on. The banknotes eventually saw value as collectors' items, wallpaper, and some limited use as currency in the Confederacy during the 1860s.

Fig 4. The banking scandals led to economic depression – An 1840 political poster (Click image to view larger version)

George Howe and his family left Manchester and became involved in the development of the Village of Jefferson, Alaiedon Township, in Ingham County with his brother-in-law, Joseph Cowles, building a sawmill and farm. It is recorded that he passed away in 1846, and his wife and children had relocated back to Manchester by the 1850 census. Andrew Irwin relocated to Brooklyn, where he lived out his life as a farmer.


Interested readers of this Bank of Manchester story can contact author Alan Dyer for more information on his extensive research on this subject, as well as the similar Farmers' Bank of Sharon. You can also find Bank of Manchester notes available on eBay and other historic auction websites.

In the meantime, stay with us for our next article, where we'll discuss the origin, history and occupants of downtown Manchester's "Original Burying Grounds," another of James Harvey Fargo's initiatives.

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]

The Kief Family in Manchester (Part 1)

by Ray Berg and Alan Dyer (February, 2009)

We continue our exploration of early Manchester families in the 1830s. We've previously learned about the early developers John Gilbert and the Fargo brothers, Stephen and James. Some of the traditional printed histories about our early settlers have been shown to be incorrect, as these men and their families were often from well-to-do professional backgrounds, and were not coming as struggling pioneers. These early founders tended to be Masons, leaving central New York because of strong anti-Masonic sentiment and jealousies in the early 1830s. They came with money, and the intent of investing in raw Michigan land and growing their wealth. These early Manchester residents came from the same general geographic area of Onondaga and Madison Counties, New York, and in many cases knew each other in New York before coming here. So it is most probable that early Manchester Village settlement consisted of clusters of men and their families coming together as a planned move, not as random pioneers who all happened to end up here.

The large Kief family was part of one such group, and in the next two articles we look at the various Kiefs, who resided here from 1833 until the 1930s. In particular, we'll look in detail at the patriarchal head, Artemus Kief, and the varied life of his son John Dey Kief, whose habit of dabbling in many business ventures and interests shows the great variety of lifestyles and choices in early Manchester.

Introduction to the Kiefs – Massachusetts and New York

The Kief family is typical of the migration pattern of many of Manchester's early settlers. The earliest Kief generation that can be reliably traced begins in western Massachusetts, where a large segment of the Industrial Revolution began. Jeremiah Kief (also written in the records as Keef) was born about 1750 in Colrain, Massachusetts. He was a tailor, and served in the Continental Army off-and-on from 1777 to 1784. By the 1780s, he is located in Williamstown in Berkshire County, in the far northwest corner of Massachusetts. This was a manufacturing center utilizing the mill power of the Hoosic River, and is also near the town of Lenox (home of John Gilbert).

Jeremiah has one son and three daughters, but dies before 1790, as his widow Mary Keef shows up in the 1790 Williamstown census with the children. Mary lived to age 90, passing away in June 1836 in Williamstown. The one son is Artemus Kief, born July 8, 1780, and trained as a blacksmith. In those days, blacksmiths had a much larger role in general metal-working than we commonly think of today, and their position in a town's economy was substantial. Any household device made of metal was typically fabricated by the local blacksmith, often to the customer's specific order.

Fig 1. Artemus Kief as blacksmith was an important citizen of the town (Click image to view larger version)

No record has been found of Artemus or Mary Kief in the 1800 census, and it may be that they are living in a household with a different male person as head.

Artemus Kief marries Saloma Gregory (born December 1, 1789) on March 7, 1807, and they remain in Williamstown until around 1810, when the census shows him in Fayetteville, Manlius Town, Onondaga County, New York (called Manlius Four Corners at that time), with an extended family. This includes his father-in-law Esben Gregory, who lived with Artemus until 1837, when Esben moved to Troy, Michigan with a son.

Artemus makes his first recorded land purchase in 1816 in Fayetteville. Records show him operating a prosperous mill and blacksmithing operation at the north end of Fayetteville, and acquiring substantial land holdings between 1816 and 1842. We also see him in various legal proceedings, such as witnessing the will of his neighbor in August 1814 in Fayetteville.

Fig 2. An 1848 photograph of Fayetteville, NY, showing Artemus Kief's former shop at right (Click image to view larger version)

His location in Fayetteville was economically enhanced by its position on a feeder canal to the Erie Canal, which is constructed in this period. It is likely he met and/or knew John Gilbert, as Gilbert set up a home in this area in the same time period. James Harvey Fargo also ran a wagon mail route in this area beginning in 1827.

The Family of Artemus Kief

Artemus and Saloma Kief had five children we can positively identify, all of whom except Betsey moved to Manchester in the 1833 time period:

  1. William D. Kief, born 1808 in Massachusetts, died January 2, 1882 in Manchester, who remained single all his life, and was a millwright. He appears to have been a quiet man, always living with siblings, of an introspective, intellectual bent, and not getting involved in community business leadership like his brothers.
  2. Betsey Ann Kief, born January 1810 in Massachusetts, died May 16, 1890 in Manchester. She moved to Manchester in 1842 with her father Artemus. She was married October 18, 1863 to James Harlow Fellows in Manchester. James Fellows was born April 14, 1809 in Onan, Onondaga County, and died April 21, 1884 in Sharon Township. Betsey appears to have been a dutiful spinster daughter to her parents in New York, and then to Artemus until his death in 1857, after which she marries and settles in Sharon Township.
  3. Lucien Bonaparte Kief, born December 24, 1810 in New York, died February 16, 1890 in Ypsilanti. He was married on December 19, 1850 in Ypsilanti to Corinna P. Howland, born December 17, 1826 in New York, and died August 28, 1893 in Ypsilanti. Lucien initially built a large farmstead north of Manchester, and had some limited involvement in early Manchester commerce in partnership with his brother John. But he eventually settled in Ypsilanti in 1865 where his wife's family had relocated from Manchester. There he ran a successful woolen manufactory at Rawsonville, and lived in a nice home at 310 S. Huron. Lucien may have also moved to Ypsilanti to "make his own mark," away from his more outgoing (and impetuous) brother John.
  4. Eliza T. Kief, born 1812 in New York, died 1888 in Manchester, who married James Harvey Fargo in 1834 in Manchester. After James' death in November 1840, she lived with her brother John for several years, and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio with her two sons for a few years. She subsequently returned to Manchester and married widower Joseph McMahon around 1864. See previous articles for more on her story.
  5. John Dey Kief, born 1815 in New York, died October 2, 1883 in Manchester, and named after Artemus' good friend and neighbor in Fayetteville, John Dey. John Dey Kief married twice—first, Jane A. Hough, born 1817 in New York, the daughter of a prosperous merchant, and who died young on April 9, 1849 in Manchester, and second Louise D. Merriman, born September 18, 1828 in New York, died July 20, 1886 in Manchester. John D. Kief had a varied and interesting life, and Part 2 of this article focuses on him because of his prominence in Manchester commerce and various "fads" of the time.

We believe that the male Kiefs were all Masons, based on the strength of this movement in central New York in the early 1800s and their economic positions in the local society. They most likely left for Manchester as a combined result of "Michigan Fever," the developing anti-Masonic movement, and having known John Gilbert.

Fig 3. A typical anti-Masonic pamphlet from central New York, 1831 (Click image to view larger version)

Artemus Kief in Michigan

So Artemus Kief followed the pattern of several early Manchester residents: born in western Massachusetts in the late 1700s, moved to Onondaga County, New York for about 30 years building wealth and experience, then being swept up in the speculative and emotional "Michigan Fever," precipitated by the Erie Canal completion and economic boom times. His children first left in the 1830s, and Artemus eventually moved to Manchester in 1842 after the death of his wife Saloma, to be with his children.

We know Artemus arrived in Manchester in 1842, because we see several real estate transactions in Fayetteville in 1842 where Artemus is selling off his property along Genesee Street (and making a donation to permanently establish the Methodist Church building there), and where John Dey and Lucien have returned to get their father and also clear out their remaining land holdings. Artemus then takes a ½ interest in son Lucien's farm acreage north of Manchester.

Artemus may have also continued as a blacksmith in Manchester, but by the 1850 census he is 70 years old, and no occupation is shown. He is living with son Lucien. He dies on November 26, 1857, and is buried in the Kief family plot with his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in the Manchester Old Burying Ground. His grave was marked with a tombstone commemorating him and his two grandsons, but for unknown reasons his remains, and those of Jane Hough Kief and her two sons, were not moved to Oak Grove Cemetery when other Kief family members were relocated. Their gravesite is now lost.

The Kief Family in Manchester

The arrival of the Kief siblings in Manchester around 1833 coincided with the rapid growth of commerce in Manchester at this time. John Dey and Lucien Bonaparte Kief seem to have been the ambitious ones, and soon began a general dry goods store on what was then known as Exchange Place (now Main Street) in downtown, most likely initially renting a building on the north side of the street. Lucien eventually purchased substantial farmland in north Manchester Township and southern Sharon Township, and gradually shifted his focus to farming until 1865, when he moved to Ypsilanti. Their brother William worked as a millwright in the existing flouring mill on the river.

The first deeded land purchase by a Kief in Manchester is dated June 29, 1838, from James Harvey and Eliza Kief Fargo, and Shepherd and Catherine Knapp, to John D. Kief for Lots 9, 10, and 11 of Block 22. This would constitute the area now roughly occupied by the Clark gas station, Frank's Restaurant and Pyramid Office Supply. Thus John D. Kief becomes involved with the "northwest corner" of Exchange Place, including the establishment of the Manchester Hotel. We speculate his mercantile business was also located here.

While John D. Kief became involved in the mercantile business, and eventually many other things, there is no evidence that he took interest in local government. We can find no records that he ever sought political office. Nor are there any records of participation by brothers Lucien and William in civic affairs. William did join the Manchester Lyceum as a charter member, but there is no record of him participating in the ensuing debates or selection of topics. What John D. Kief did do is participate in a wide variety of celebrations, schemes, fads and business careers, all with varying degrees of limited success.

As for Betsey and Eliza Kief, it is difficult to learn much about them personally. In mid-19th century American life, women's lives and interests, and a part of their individual identity, became encapsulated with their husbands', and therefore little written information can be found about them. We do note, however, that Eliza always shows up signing individually on property transactions involving her and her husband James Fargo, contrary to the typical situation where the husband was the sole legal owner and decision maker.

Fig 4. What did John D. Kief contribute to this 1867 scene of Manchester? [see Part 2 of this article] (Click image to view larger version)

Coming in Part 2...

We'll pick up on the children of Artemus Kief in Part 2 of this article, particularly John Dey Kief and his many ventures. In particular, we'll see him open the Riverside Medicinal Bathhouse on the River Raisin, which he promoted as offering many "cures." We'll also see examples of his involvement in civic activities and causes, his competitive spirit, his impetuosity, and how he "battled the ups and downs of life." We'll also look at how the whole Kief family evolved through the 1930s here in our town. Keep following along with us…

[Previously published in M, Manchester's Magazine. Presented here by permission.]