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

By dhowell - Posted on 18 November 2009

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.]