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Camden Village & Township


The township of Camden, was, in 1839, a part of the town of Reading, and had before the organization of that town formed a part of the town of Allen, a bill was presented to the Legislation, in the session of 1839, to set off the south part of Reading into a separate town. A meeting was held, during the pendency of this bill, at the house of Eason T. Chester, to select a name for the new town. Among the names proposed were “Clarence,” “Echo,” and “Camden.” After considerable discussion the name of Camden, proposed by Mr. Chester, was settled upon, and the representative was notified of the choice and incorporated the name in the bill. This town was therefore named Camden, after the town of that name in Oneida, Co., N.Y.

The first settlement within the limits of this town was made by James Fowle, on 480 acres of land in the west central part, near Long Lake. He was a native of Monroe County, in the State of New York and at the age of twenty-four years married Mary Ann McKnight, and with her came to Michigan to make a home.

In 1837, a post-route was established from Toledo, Ohio to Lima, Indiana, and a post-road was cut through the woods, passing through the south part of Camden. Application was made to the Post-Office Department, and a post-office was established with James Fowle as postmaster. This office was called “Crawbrooke,” after the place in England from which the Fowle family immigrated to America. Mr. Fowle continued to hold the office until the election of Polk to the Presidency, when he was removed. He was the first supervisor of Camden, and was elected justice of the peace for the term at the first town meeting, and was re-elected at the expiration of his first term. He also served as representative in the Michigan Legislature three terms. He was a volunteer in the Black Hawk and Toledo Wars, and in his later years drew a pension on account of his services at those times.

His family consisted of eight children. His wife died September 17, 1856, and he subsequently married Mary Youngs, by whom he had one son. James Fowle died May 18, 1865, at the age of fifty-eight years.

The second settler was a man named Timothy H. Wilkinson, from Seneca Co., N.Y.

Samuel Seamans came sometime in the winter of 1836-37 and settle about one mile and a half north of Camden. He was an ardent Baptist, and when “Millerism” began to be preached immediately embraced the new doctrine. He was also a noted bee-hunter, and very successfully “lined” the bees to their hidden stores of sweets, fruits of their labor to his own and appropriated the delicious use. He was one of the first high way commissioners of the town, also one of the first overseers of the poor, and was repeatedly re-elected to these positions. He was accompanied here by his sons, and his son-in-law.

James Hall, from Lenawee County, settled in this town in the spring of 1837, on 40 acres. His son, Cheney W. Hall, was the first male child born in Camden. The spring of this year (1837) brought quite a number of new settlers into town. A company composed of Gurdon Chester and wife, and family of seven children; his son, Eason T. Chester and his wife; his son-in-law, Oliver R. Cole and his wife; Samuel S. Curtiss and family, and Timothy Larrabee and family came together at that time, and took up lands near the center of the town.

Eason T. Chester was born at Mexico, Oswego Co., N.Y., on the 3rd day of March 1807. When eighteen years old, he went to live with Jonathan Wales, at Whitestown, Oneida Co., N.Y. There, he worked on a farm for three or four years, and then accepted the agency for a papermill run by Messrs, Olmstead & Isbell, a position which he retained until the winter of 1837. IN February 1835, he was married to Emeline, a daughter of Walter Olmstead, one of the proprietors of the mill. On the 16th day of February 1837, he, in company with his father and brother-in-law, and their families left the State of New York, bound for this place, where he had previously purchased 400 acres of land. They traveled in two wagons each drawn by one span of horses, and came through the State of Ohio. Reaching Huron Co., Ohio, they found the roads so deep with mud as to be almost impassable, and renting a log house in the town of Florence for a month, they unloaded their goods, and leaving their families there with ample store of provisions for themselves and the horses, the men started out on foot, with their axes on their shoulders, for their new homes. They passed through the Maumee and Cottonwood Swamps, and when nearly at their destination, found James Fowle living in his shanty, covering it with split logs, and occupied that in company, while they cut logs and built houses, four in number. The flooring for these buildings was all split out of logs, and the roofs were made of the same material, covered with “shakes.” Then they returned to Florence and came on with their families, arriving here on the 24th of April.

Mr. Chester built the first frame barn of any size that was erected in this town. It was built in 1839. His first child was born in Camden, April 26, 1838, and was the second white male child born in this town. He was named Orson D. The other children were Juliette, who married Samuel Huggett, Ellen L., who married George Worden, Clement L., who died in infancy, and Delphine C., who married Jirah I. Young. Mr. Chester’s wife died May 20, 1877, and is buried in the cemetery at Camden.

From the time of his first settlement here, Mr. Chester was a land agent, and had negotiated the sale of many thousands of acres in this and adjoining states. He was the largest landholder in town, owning over 1400 acres within its limits, besides considerable in other sections. He served in the most prominent town offices, having been supervisor ten years, and justice of the peace nine years was a member of the State Legislature in 1844.

Samuel S. Curtiss came from some place on the “the Ridge” road, a little east of Rochester, N.Y. He was a teacher by profession, and a thoroughly well educated man. While living here, he practiced surveying, and laid out a great many farms and roads in this and adjoining towns. After residing here a few years, he returned to his former home in New York from there to Virginia, locating in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., where he died. He was the first treasurer of this town, and also one of the first justices of the peace.

The first town meeting was held at the house of Samuel S. Curtiss, on the 1st day of April 1839. The circumstances attending this meeting were as follows: the town was then Reading and the annual town meeting was called to meet at Perrinburgh, near the present boundary between the two towns. The citizens gathered together, but did not open the meeting because James Fowle, who was one of the Town Board, had not arrived. Mr. Fowle was also postmaster, and he, knowing that the bill to divide the town was before the Legislature, determined to wait untill after the mail arrived, to see what action, if any, had been taken on the bill. When the mail arrived, it brought the official notification of the erection of the town. Mr. Fowle at once repaired to the place of the meeting and reported, and the citizens separated according to their locations, the residents of Reading going north, and the residents of Camden coming south, to the respective places at which the bill designated their first meetings were to be held. Arrived at Mr. Curtiss’ house, the meeting was organized by electing James Fowle, Moderator; Eason T. Chester, Clerk; and Samuel S. Curtiss, Inspector of Election. Resolutions were passed: I. To raise a fund of $50 to be used to purchase necessary books for recording the town business, to pay wolf-bounties, and to build a pound; II. To pay a bounty of $2 for every wolf’s head, with the ears and skin entire thereon, that should be killed in the town before the next meeting; III. To build a pound 25 feet square and 6 feet high of round logs, to be furnished with a good door and padlock for the same. Eason T. Chester, Benjamin C. Bradley and Samuel S. Curtiss were the committee appointed to see the building of the pound.

The following officers were then elected for the ensuing year: Supervisor, James Fowle; Town Clerk, Benjamin Fisher; Town Treasurer, Samuel S. Curtiss; Justices of the Peace, James Fowle, four years; George C. Lewis, three years; Samuel S. Curtiss, two years; and Eason T. Chester, one year; Assessors, Eason T. Chester, James Holcomb, Benjamin Bradley; Commissioners of Highways, James Holcomb, Samuel Seamans, Joseph M. Hills; Poundkeeper, Gurdon Chester. At the conclusion of the canvass of votes, the meeting adjourned untill the first Monday in April 1840, to meet at the house of Eason T. Chester.

The following summer, among the accounts audited was a bill of $11.50 for building the pound, of $3.50 for books, and of $10 paid for killing five wolves.

The village of Camden was first started on the flat along the river. The mill, schoolhouse, and a few dwellings comprised all there was of it previous to 1850. Then Olney Seamans built a tavern, and a few years later a store was started by Joseph Tucker. The tavern burned down some five of six years after it was built, and about 1860 the store was sold to Nathan Alvord who enlarged it and kept a fine stock of goods, continuing in the business several years. In 1867, the first plat of the village was made, and a tract of some 30 acres in extent, owned by Eason T. Chester, Orson D. Chester, and Nathan Alvord, was laid out into streets and village lots. In 1871, there was talk of the building of a railroad from Mansfield, Ohio, to Allegan, Michigan, which was to pass through this place, and the project receiving active support from the citizens and of this and other towns along its proposed route, in 1872, the roadbed was purchased and graded through this town. The route selected led a little south of the village, on the higher ground south of the railroad. In pursuance of this determination, Mr. Hiram Bell, and Mr. Eason T. Chester decided to plat a tract of about 25 acres lying south of the railroad and west of the main road. This was done in the fall of 1872.

William Miller recorded a plat of about 45 acres lying on the east side of Main Street, and extending along that street until it reached the first plat. Building was immediately begun and several stores and dwellings were put up.

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Click here to view full size picture These photos were taken circa the mid nineteen-teens judging from the autos on Main Street Camden, (east and west sides.)

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Click here to view full size picture CAMDEN TOWNSHIP, continued

Camden Township lies in the extreme southwest corner of Hillsdale County. It has the distinction of a marker referred to as the “Tri-state marker” since Ohio and Indiana and Michigan converge at the extreme corner of the Township.
Map
Settlers began coming into the region as early as 1835. Originally Camden Township was a part of Allen Township but was set off by the Michigan Legislature in 1839. The village of Camden is located along the St. Joe River and was incorporated in 1899. Camden, first referred to as Camden Corners, was named by Eason Chester, one of the early settlers in the township. Land in the township, like most of the land in southern Michigan, was heavily wooded but it also was very fertile.

As Camden began to grow small businesses were established. A flour and grist mill was located on the River and nearby was the Cheese Factory. Ben R. Alward’s Moss Rose flour was produced until World War I. Because clay was abundant in one area of the village, John Smith Sr. began the Brickyard and almost all the businesses in Camden were constructed of the handmade bricks made in the Brickyard. Today “Brickyard Hill” is the hill which leads out of town to the north.

The first store was operated by Nathan Alvord. The merchandise ranged from hardware for the farming community, to household goods for the women, and poultry and food products (even deer, quail and wild turkey) for those who could afford to buy or barter for such products. Other small businesses were a creamery, an apple drying shop and a chain pump business.

The first Post Office in the Township was located on Post Rd. now known as Territorial Rd. This is near the locality of South Camden which once acquired a humorous nickname. Legend of the name was derived in this manner. James Corselet who had settled in the area of the present day intersection of M-49 and Territorial Rd. built not only a long cabin, but a tavern as well. After one of his patrons became violently ill with indigestion, the settlement became known as “Crampton Corners.”

The small village of Montgomery is also located in Camden Township. In 1869 Montgomery could only boast of two houses located in the area of an “Oak Opening.” However, the building of a rail line Ft. Wayne, Jackson and Saginaw created a realization that a depot should be built since the railroad would help the farmers. Soon stores, a hotel and steam saw mill were built. The village was first called “Frog Eye” because of the frog ponds nearby but later was named Montgomery after William R. Montgomery, registrar of the County.
More on Montgomery
Settlers began to arrive in Camden Township in 1835. Among the first was James Fowle who took up 480 acres in Section 28, 32 and 33, near Little Long Lake. Since there were few roads, he had to cut his way through the forest with a team of oxen as did many of the early land owners. Fowle was active in many affairs of the growing Township. He served as the Postmaster, the Supervisor in the Township, Justice of the Peace and was Representative to the Michigan Legislature for three years. His daughter, Louise, one of his eight children, was the first white child born in Camden in 1837.

Timothy H. Wilkinson was the second man to arrive in 1835. He was joined by his son-in-law, Frederick Perring. Also a part of this same family group was Oren C. Hiram, Philander Wilkinson, Nehemiah Wilkinson and Murray Knowles (another son-in-law of Perring). This area soon became known as “Perringburgh” until a post office was established with Knowles as Postmaster. (Knowles renamed the area Edinburgh which later was shortened and spelled as “Berg”).

Several other men who were seeking good land decided that the water and soil of the Township would suit their ambition to settle in the wilderness. In 1835, Benjamin Bradley, Robert Sutton, Charles W. Westfall and Benjamin Fisher located in Section 33 and 34. (Their families came a few years later –after the land was a bit more cleared).

James Holcomb in 1836, purchased land from Abraham Wortman in the SW quarter of section 6 paying $1,25 an acre in addition to a $50.00 bonus. James and his eldest son, as so many of the early arrivals, had to cut their way through the forest from Sand Creek to their holding in the Township.

George C. Lewis soon followed the Holcombs, coming in 1837. He settled in Section 4 and 5; Samuel Seamons with his sons, Olney and Samuel Jr. and a son-in-law George Summins came in 1836-1837 in order to settle in Sections 14 and 15. Seamons was a “bee hunter” locating beehives in order to acquire the honey for his family’s use. Later he was the first highway commissioner and one of the overseers of the poor.

Taking up 40 acres in the SE corner of Section 9 in 1837 was James Hall. Taking land in the NW quarter of Section 35 was Zachariah Jackson. At about this same time George Swiger, his son, Leonard and sin-in-law, John Flake and Enoch Thompson arrived. These men had found that the hunting was becoming unprofitable in Ohio so now they were ready to begin the task of clearing land for farming but continued to do a good deal of hunting. Many of their neighbors benefited from the game they provided.

Sometime the early families would set up their own Company. This was true of the Chester family. Gurdon Chester was the founder of the Company. Members of the Chester Company were Eason, Gurdon’s son, Abby Chester Cole and her husband, Oliver Cole, Samuel Curtiss and his family and Timothy Larrabee and his family. (Curtiss became the first township treasurer and also served as Justice of the Peace). The Company took up about 400 acres of land in the center of the Township in 1837.

Orson Chester, son of Eason and the second white child born in Camden, became the major entrepreneur of the village. He established the Bank of O.D. Chester, the Camden Flour Mill, the cheese Factory and creamery, the lumber yard and two large dairy farms. He was given the title of Father of Camden.

Chester Hills together with his three sons, Chester Jr., Joseph M. and Levi came to the Township in 1837 and purchased 320 acres of land in Sections 4, 9 and 10. Land that had been previously owned by Robert Sutton in Section 33 was purchased by Richard Huggett in 1839. In 1841 Eli Westfall settled only briefly in the township before moving on to Hillsdale. John G. McWilliams in March 1842 took up 107 acres in the SW corner of Section 29. In this same year, Harvey Osborn bought land in Section 1.

Samuel cough moved from New York State to Camden Township with his wife, Katherine, in 1845. The Cough family was joined by James H. Seeley and his wife Margaret Cough Seeley, daughter of Samuel and Katherine Cough. After an arduous wagon journey through swamp land and unchartered trails the family homesteaded about two miles west of South Camden.

Orlando Curtiss came to Camden as a young man having been born in Ohio in 1827. He established a harness making and carriage trimming business and later set up a boot and shoe business.

The Person family took up land amounting to 80 acres in a portion of Section 11 in the Township. The land was first owned by Alexander H. Morris, sold to Eliza Robbins and then purchased by James Parson in 1866. James Parson changed his name to James Person and the family owned the same 80 acres for 111 years.

The following settlers are listed chronologically as near as possible:

1839 – Ivory Woodman, Levi Barber, Joshua Myers
1841 – Morgan McCarty, Thomas McKnight, Samuel wilds, Dewey Barber, James R. Mason,
Salmon Wheeling
1842 – Francis D. Youngs, John W. Stewart, Nahum Shaw, A.B. Goodwin, William Parlamene
1843 – Robert Seeley, Addison t. Pound, Erastus Keyes, John W. Robbins, John Trim, Jeremiah
Peck, G. Campbell, D.L. Thompson, Ebenezer Youngs
1844 – Nelson Palmer, Hezekiah Barber, John Lords, Jacob I. Marquitt, William R. Montgomery,
Elijah Campbell, Joseph Seeley
1845 – William P. Kingman, Daniel Graves, Samuel Whaley, Potter c. Sullivan, William R.
Worden
1846 – Elisha Y. Palmer, Isaac Baldwin, Simeon O. Whaley, Elihu Braman, David Steel, Grant
Lester, Thomas Pierce
1848 – Parley Brown, Thomas Fitzsimons, Linden Cummings
1850 – Andrew Blair, Adam Beaver.

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Hershey`s Store-So. Camden [Click here to view full size picture]

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North West Lodge #722 IOOF & Store [Click here to view full size picture]

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Cheese Factory circa 1898 [Click here to view full size picture] For captions to photos, hover on image, to enlarge click

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Camden Roller Mills [Click here to view full size picture]

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Camden School [Click here to view full size picture]

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Camden  [Click here to view full size picture]
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