FORMATION OF NEWAYGO COUNTY
by Terry E. Wantz
Before 1836 the local area of what is now Newaygo County, Michigan was inhabited by Indians. The Ottawa, the
Chippewa and the Potawatomi were known to inhabit the central portion of Michigan's lower peninsula. The Ottawa, specifically,
are considered to most likely have lived in this area.
The Indians were inclined to make camp near rivers. As long as the fish were running and there was plenty of game
nearby, they tended to stay in one place. For a number of years after the lumbermen and pioneers arrived there were more Indians
than white men in the area.
Contrary to popular belief, they offered no particular resistance to the coming of their new neighbors. They showed no
hostility toward them, though some of the pioneer women were apprehensive when Indians stopped by to trade their wares.
Newaygo County owes its beginning to the lumbering industry. In 1836, the Indians had given up title to the lands in what
is now Newaygo County and the territory was to be thrown open to settlers.
A group of Chicago speculators was formed in 1836 to operate in lands and timber. Hiram Pierson and Henry Pennoyer
headed this group. The group proposed to hold by "squatter's rights" the mouth of all of the streams north of the Grand River up to
the Manistee until the land should come into the Market, when they could then make claim to it.
They lost no time in taking possession of the proposed claims. Early in 1836 they landed at the mouth of Muskegon Lake.
Here, Pennoyer and two others built cabins. Other members established themselves as far up the shore as Manistee.
At this time the only other non Indian person living in this location was Mitchell Charleau, a French trader, who operated
a trading post one and a half miles above the Muskegon Fork.
One division of the group, headed by Clark Knights and Augustus Pennoyer, was to discover water power sites where
they could build a saw mill. They employed Mitchell Charleau to pilot them up the Muskegon River, as the river was obstructed for
miles with flood-wood. The party stopped at what is now Newaygo. Here, Augustus Pennoyer and Jack McBride established claims
at the mouth of the creek which they named Pennoyer. McBride built a cabin there and lived in it, thus becoming the first
permanent settler in the county. That fall McBride sold his claim to George Walton and then made a claim to the land at the mouth
of what became Brooks Creek. Augustus Pennoyer, that fall, also formed a partnership with Alexander Fulton of Muskegon.
The Co. was called the Muskegon Lumber Co. They chose the mouth of Pennoyer Creek as the site for their saw mill, thus the first
permanent settlement in the county was launched.
About this same time a second mill was built at the Muskegon Fork, which was later called Croton. Louis Bohne,
Herman Joachim, John Brooks and John Stearn formed a partnership and built a dam across the South Branch of the Muskegon
The trails made by moccasins feet were so well chosen, the early lumbermen and settlers often used them to cut their
way through the woods. Many of the early roads followed the same paths, and in some cases the railroads were built where the
Indians had earlier led the way.
The first saw mill was completed on September 1, 1837, and at once started to saw lumber. The first lumber cut was
floated to Muskegon on rafts and was shipped to Chicago on board the schooner Celeste. Although Muskegon later became the
lumber queen of the world, the first lumber ever shipped from Muskegon was from the Pennoyer Mill. This Mill shipped lumber for
more than a year before the first shipment from any mills in Muskegon.
During the next sixty years, lumbering was the chief industry of the county. Lumbering operations determined the pattern
of settlement of the county. The first mills were operated by water power and were located on the larger streams.
The logs for lumber were cut closely adjacent to the mills or to the streams on which the mills were located; being floated
down to the mills. The streams at first also formed the only highways of travel and transportation of supplies.
With the coming of the settlers, the Indians were no longer free to roam where they pleased. The Lumbermen polluted
his waters, cut his forests, and drove his game that he need for food and clothing farther away. The white setters also carried out
a system of land ownership unfamiliar to the Indians. Either he conformed to the practice or, as often happened, he found himself
forced into a reservation. Sometimes he simply left to find a more hospitable environment where he might continue his own culture.
The building of the Erie Canal in 1825 provided a boost to immigration, bringing most of the newcomers into Ohio, Indiana
and Detroit, Michigan. By 1837, Michigan had become a state; and a road had been completed as far as Howell, Michigan.
Many of these first setters were finding their way north to the lumber camps, which were starting to spring up and needed help.
There was increased activity down along the river, and in 1841 the first log drive to pass the low-lands below was
started. John A. Brooks put logs from above the "Forks", which is now Croton, into the Muskegon River. Settlers, lumbermen
and river men arrived daily and supplies continued to come up stream from Muskegon.
As the timber adjacent to these centers became depleted, the lumbering operations pushed outward from them in
all directions. Lumbering camps were established farther and farther away, making it necessary to haul the logs to the rivers.
The old roads used for hauling these logs became a means of travel for those who wanted to become permanent settlers and to
clear up the land for agricultural purposes after the trees had been removed. A great many of these people worked in the woods
and mills in the winter and cleared up farms in the summers. Many a farm was paid for by working in the woods or mills or by the
settlers buying timbered land, cutting and selling the timber, and clearing up the land as they went.
To get to Pennoyer Mill from Grand Rapids you had to take a flat boat down the Grand River to Grand Haven, get on a
schooner going north to Muskegon, then take a flat boat up the Muskegon River to the Mill. Many of the lumbermen and settlers
were following a old Indian trail from the Grand River to the Muskegon River. This trail crossed the river near Pennoyer Mill.
The settlement there soon became known as New-way-to-go or Newaygo.
The settlement grew rapidly. Road were built--sandy mud tracks with logs in places most likely to mire the supplies
wagons. Mail came, but it was addressed "Chicago, in care of Brooks Mill" or some other mill. The mail was distributed from
Chicago to places in all the Grand Traverse region.
As the number of lumbering centers increased, roads were built to connect them with each other. With this ever
growing outward movement, wagon roads were built from Grand Rapids and Muskegon so that supplies could be hauled
from these supply centers. Thus, it was the needs of the lumbering operations that were responsible for building the first roads
in the county.
In 1843 John A Brooks started to build the fourth mill in the area (this was the same location as the third mill built
by McBride), on the mouth of Brooks Creek.
In 1844 Isaac. D. Merrill followed the old Indian Trail from Grand Rapids to Newaygo where John A. Brooks was
building the saw mill. Merrill went into partnership with Brooks for a year and then moved into the heart of the wilderness,
three miles up the river from the Indian settlement, to what was to become known as Bridgeton.
Merrill built a saw mill at the mouth of Sand Creek on Muskegon River and began cutting timber there.
In 1846, Brooks leased his mill to Sam Rose for $1,000 a year. Rose built up an extensive business. During the winter
of 1847 he put out more lumber than any other mill on the Muskegon River, a total of 5,000,000 feet. Rose shipped much of his
lumber to Milwaukee by a boat called the "Mitchell," owned by Thomas Davis of Milwaukee.
In 1847, ten years after the establishment of the first two mills in the county, these same two mills became the first
two Post Offices in the county. Pennoyer Mill was called Newaygo and the one at Muskegon Fork was called Stearns
Mill Post Office. The name of the Stearns Mill Post Office was change to Croton Post Offices in 1856.
It wasn't until 1851, that the land we now call Newaygo County became an independent organization. Before that,
the land had been part of Kent County. At first, the county had only two townships. These were Brooks Township, comprising
the western half; and Newaygo Township, the eastern half of the county.
About this same time Wright L. Coffinberry, who lived in Grand Rapids and had just passed the state's surveyor
examination, was hired by the lumbermen from Grand Rapids and Muskegon, who were starting to purchase upriver timber land.
Part of his first survey of this area was the old Indian Trail which the lumbermen and settlers were using as a road for supplies.
In his notes on his survey he called it the Newaygo to Northport Road. A short time later, this road became known as Grand Rapids,
Northport and Newaygo Stage Line, after that it became part of the "State Road".
Another road in the county was a road that John F. Stearns had brushed through in 1847 from Croton south to
Shangle's place on the Rogue River just east of what is now Sparta, Kent County, Michigan. That road, which roughly followed
an old Indian trail, about one mile east of what is now the Ensley Township west line. Croton had been growing and was soon to
become the headquarters of logging operation between that point and Leonard, now the present site of Big Rapids. In 1850 William
S. Utley built a bridge across the Muskegon River at Croton.
John Chidister cut a road from the settlement around Merrill Mill to Muskegon and in 1851, Chidister built a bridge
across Muskegon River and the settlement became known as Bridge Town, later the name became Bridgeton.
In 1849 Brooks begin again operating his mill at Newaygo himself until 1855, when the mill was purchased by
John A Brooks Jr. and Sarrell Wood.
At this time there were two fur traders named Joseph Troutier and Richard Ryerson working on the Muskegon River
from Bridgeton to Muskegon.
To the early trapper or land looker who travelled the east central part of Newaygo County, Big Prairie Township with
its beautiful country side and shallow lakes; it offered a view of open prairies; studded here and there with wooded areas of pine
and oak. Fire of undetermined origin had taken its toll in several square miles of the area, leaving a treeless plain and sandy, with
cactus growing in spots.
In 1848, John McBride, of the Pennoyer party from Newaygo, took up a land claim in this area. This claim was
purchased by Ephraim H Utley in 1849 when he arrived with his train of settlers, household goods and cattle. Mr Utley was
the first settlers in the Township.
In 1852 the Big Prairie Township was organized by taking the north twenty - four miles of the east side of the county
from Newaygo Township. This year the Big Prairie Post Office was also established, on the 4th of February. When the post office
was established, it was located in Sec.7 of the township, which was called Utley's Corner, with Ephraim H. Utley as postmaster.
On September 9, 1909, when the post office was discontinued it was located in Sec.17 of the township, which was the settlement
of Big Prairie and Adela Forwood was postmaster.
The bridge across the Muskegon River at Croton, which William Utley had built, was in bad shape. In 1852 one of the
first things that the new board of supervisors of Big Prairie Township did was to appropriated $100 dollars to repair the bridge.
In 1852, the Bridgeton Township was organized by taking the west nine miles of Brooks Township the entire length of the county,
and I. D. Merrill became one of the first supervisors. Also, one of the first things that the Bridgeton Township supervisors did was
appropriated $200 dollars to repair the bridge there.
In 1853 David and Andrew T. Squier got a contract to build a new covered bridge at Bridgeton. Its was
called "The Shingle Bridge". They received $40,000 for the job, half of which was in cash and half in land scrip, which gave
them the choice of many acres of pine lands at $1.25 an acre.
In 1854, Ashland Township was established from parts of Brooks and Bridgeton Townships. In 1855, the Ashland
Post Office was the fourth post office to be established. About one mile northwest of where Grant is located now. This settlement
was a stop on the Grand Rapids, Northport and Newaygo Stage Line and was called Ashland Station. After the railroad came to
Newaygo this post office was moved closer to the railroad and called Grant Station.
In 1854 Daniel Weaver settled at what is now Fremont. He established a post office there and called it Weaverville
Post Office. In 1855 the township of Fremont was organized by taking the north twenty-seven miles of Bridgeton Township.
In the early 50's, a small settlement developed in the northern part of Newaygo Township on the corner of what
is now Sec. 1 & 2 of Brooks Township and Sec. 6 & 7 of Croton Township, called Ryan's Corners. It's was located on the Grand
Rapids - Big Rapids Stage Coach Line. Jeremiah Ryan had a store on the south-east corner, Powers had a tavern on the
north-east corner and Tripps had a store on the north-west corner. One mile south of this corner; two hotels were located,
the Spencer House and the Washington House.
Ben Ensley came to the county in 1854 and settled in Section 12 of what is now Ensley Township. He also had
300 acres across the road in Montcalm County.
In 1856 Everett Township was formed by taking the west half of Big Prairie Township, making a total of seven
The settlers of Weaverville and Elm Corner built a school half way between them on the north side of the road.
This school was also used for church meetings, weddings, and many of the funerals. The cemetery was located across the
road from the school. The cemetery is now called "The Pioneer Cemetery".
In 1857, Dayton Township was established by taking the north twenty-two miles of Fremont Township. Also that
same year Amos Slater established a post office at Bridgeton and called the Bridgeton Post Office. At one time Bridgeton boasted
of four saw mills, two stores, a blacksmith shop and several residences. During the lumbering days it was one of the most
important places on the Muskegon River. A boom about a half a mile above Bridgeton kept the logs confined there until
they could be released to go down to Muskegon. The river was often full of logs for fourteen miles, from the boom to Newaygo.
On October 18, 1858, a meeting was held for the purpose of organizing a township. Ben Ensley offered
$100.00 to pay all the costs of organization plus an amount to cover the beginning operating expenses of the young
township, providing that it be named for him. His offer was accepted and Congressional Township 11 North, Range 11
West became, and still is today, Ensley Township. The township was established by taking the south east six miles square of
In 1858 the Greenwood Post Office was established in the northern part of Greenwood Township,
Oceana County, which later became Hesperia, Newfield Township on the Oceana/Newaygo County line. In 1867, the name
was changed to Hesperia Post Office.
The county appeared to be growing and during the late 1850's a State Road was built North from Ryan's
Corner; passed Utley's Corner; and it's first destination Leonard, Mecosta County, now Big Rapids. The road crossed the
Muskegon River where Rogers Dam is now located.
By 1860, Everett Township had taken over most of Brooks Township, leaving Brooks Township only a small
area between Croton and Fremont Townships.
This same year, Barton Township was established from the north six miles square of Big Prairie Township.
A road which followed the Old Indian Trail from Newaygo went northeast to the township line between Everett and Big Prairie
Townships, then turned north and followed the township line. This trail went to Traverse City and was later called The
Grand Rapids and Traverse City State Road. About a mile south of the north Newaygo County Line, on the Barton and
Everett Township Line, there was a location called Cook's Station. This station was a stop for the stage coach running
from Grand Rapids to Traverse City.
The Lumbermen and settlers were moving into this area from east, where the settlement of Leonard
(later called Big Rapids) was located on the Muskegon River, and from the north where the Pere Marquette River was located.
In 1860, Daniel Weaver built a mill on White River where the river crossed the Newaygo - Oceana County Line.
After Weaver moved to his new mill on White River the settlement of Weaverville became known as Fremont Center,
as it was located in the center of what was then Fremont Township.
On June 9, 1860, the Ponama Post Office was established, with Lewis Martin as postmaster. This office was located
on Martin Creek (also called Harrington Creek) about one-half mile north of White River. When this post office was established,
it was located in what was then Dayton Township, later in 1869 this part of Dayton Township became Denver Township.
The settlement around the old Culp's Mill, now John F. Snow's Mill, soon became known as Snowtown.
This settlement was near where Hardy Dam is now located.
In 1861, the Home Post Office was established on the Township Line between Barton and Everett Townships,
about five miles south of the Newaygo and Lake County Line. In 1862, the Weaverville Post Office name was changed to
Fremont Center Post Office.
The Ensley Post Office was established in 1867 on the Ben Ensley's Farm. Mitchell's Prairie, Sitka and Cook
Station post offices were established in 1868, with Mitchell's Prairie being the oldest, established on the 6th of February. The office
was discontinued in 1870. Cook's Station Post Office was the next oldest, as it was established on February 27, 1868.
This was a stage coach station on the Grand Rapids and Traverse City state road. Sitka Post Office was in Bridgeton Township,
being established on December 14, 1868. It was discontinued in 1901 when the Rural Free Delivery went into effect. In 1869
three more post offices were established, Barton Post Office in Barton Township, Martinburg Post Office in Denver Township
and Lake Post Office in Grant Township.
In 1867, Fremont Township was split-up into parts of Dayton, Sheridan and Sherman Townships, also Grant Township
was established. In 1869, Beaver and Denver Townships were established from part of Dayton Township.
Also in 1867, the first serious fire in the history of the county occurred and the Newaygo Company's Mill burned;
this was called The Big Red Mill. It was rebuilt in 1869 at a cost of $40,000. The new mill had a 100 saws driven by 10 turbine
wheels. The company purchased a gas machine and lighted the big mill and yards with gas. The mill ran day and night. That year
they put 15,000,000 feet of logs in the river.
Newaygo became the headquarters of the lumber business north of Grand Rapids. As the lumbering operations kept
extending up the Muskegon River, the trade of Newaygo increased. It's two large hotels were crowded with guests.
From 1869 to 1873 there was some steamboat service on the Muskegon River to Newaygo. The first boat,
the "Lizzie May", sank near Maple Island about a year after it started. The second boat was the "North Star", which made weekly
trips from Muskegon to Newaygo. Another of the steamers which made trip from Newaygo to Muskegon was called the "Newaygo".
By 1871 both of the steamers "North Star" and "Newaygo" had more freight than they could carry.
By 1872, the Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad was completed to Big Rapids. The Grand Rapids, Newaygo and
Lake Shore Railroad was completed as far as Newaygo. Many lumbermen, settlers and railroad men were arriving daily.
Supplies for these men were being shipped into the county and lumber was being shipped out on these railroads. The County
Aetna Post Office was established in 1870, located on the White River in Sec. 25 of Denver Township. The post office
was in Calvin Barnes Store and the postmaster was Levi Simons. This year, Martinburgh Post Office closed and the Denver Post
Office opened across the river from Martinburgh. In 1871, the Hesperia Post Office was established on the Newaygo County side
of the county line.
In 1872, the Beaver Post Office was established in Beaver Township. In 1873, the Mineral Spring Post Office was
established in Ensley Township and the Morgan Station Post Office was established in what was Everett Township. Lake Post
Office moved one and a half mile west into Ashland Township to be near the railroad, which had just reached Newaygo this year.
Also Alleyton Post Office was established across the river from Morgan Station. Both of these post offices were located on the
Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad and the White River.
In 1872, Norwich Township was established south of Barton Township, from the north six square miles of Big
In 1879, Troy Township was established from the north six miles of Beaver Township. Wilcox Township was
established by taking the south-east six square miles corner of Monroe Township. The south-west corner of Monroe Township
became part of Everett Township.
There were many changes in the post offices also. In 1874, the Home Post Office name was changed to Woodville
and a year later, in 1875, the post office moved to Monroeville, which was located on the Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad.
When Woodville moved, Home Post Office was re-established in 1875, north of Woodville. In 1876, the Hungerford Post Office
was established along the Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad north-east of Woodville. In 1877, the Morgan Station Post Office
name was changed to White Cloud Post Office. The Ashland Center Post Office was established in the center of Ashland
Township in 1879.
The Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad consolidated with the Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore line, north out of
Muskegon in 1878, to become known as the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad.
Many other small settlements were forming along the railroads; Dash or Brunswick (at the county line), Reeman,
Lake Station (north side of Fremont Lake), Wooster Hill (Ryerson's Camp), McLane, Traverse Road, Lumberton, and Hungerford
on the line from Muskegon to Big Rapids. On the line from Grand Rapids to Manistee there was County Line, Ashland City, Ashland,
Grant, Brooks, Diamond Lake or Diamond Lock, Park City, Otia or Dingman (now Brohman), West Troy, Lilley, Jewell and Alderson.
Many of these settlement disappeared when the lumbering was done.
It was a lot cheaper to cut the logs into lumber at local mills and then ship the lumber on the trains than it was to float
the logs to Muskegon or White Lake and cut them into lumber there. This was also a way to use the hardwood trees as you
couldn't float these logs.
On August 17, 1881, a fire destroyed the entire business section of Alleyton and nearly every building on the west
side of the railroad tracks. A total of 47 building were burned. The loss amounted to between $40,000 and $50,000, with very
little insurance. By September 14, 1881, seven new building had been started. Among these were a large hotel and T.
McDonnell's big saloon.
In its palmy days, Alleyton had a reputation equal to any lumbering town in the country. With more saloons than any
other kind of business, they were often not only the scenes of revelry, but of bloodshed as well.
In 1881, Lincoln Township was established from the north-west part of Everett Township and the east third of
Denver Township. Garfield Township was established from the south part of Sherman Township and all of what was Brooks
Brooks Township was then reestablished from the west half of Croton Township (this put the village
of Newaygo in Brooks Township). In 1882, Goodwell Township was established from the north half of Big Prairie
Township and in 1884, Home Township was established from the north half of Monroe Township.
There were many post offices changes during this time. In 1881, Brooks, Dash, Diamond Lake and Jericho Post
Offices were established.
In 1882, Jenson, McLane, Otia, West Troy, Walk Up and Wooster Hill Post Offices were established.
Also this year, Fremont Center Post Office name was changed to Fremont. The Home, Walk Up and Jericho Post Offices
closed. In 1883, Barnard, Dickinson, Dingman, Grove and Palmerville Post Offices opened. Barnard closed after
only three months, and Jenson and Otia Post Offices closed this year. In 1884, the Lilley Post Office opened and Palmerville
Post Office closed.
Merrill Township was established in 1911, by taking the west 1/3 of Monroe Township and the east 1/3 of Beaver
Township. In 1912, Lilley Township became the last township to be organized, by taking the west 1/3 of Troy Township
and the east 1/3 of Home Township. It took 62 years, from 1851 to 1912, to established the twenty four townships of
Newaygo County as we know them today.
With the lumbering company cutting more and more of the trees, more settlement were springing up.
In 1888, the Dickinson Post Office was established. The next year in 1889, a total of six post offices were established.
Brookings Post Office, located at Brookings Lake began operations on 7th of February. Fields Post Office started on the
17th of June. This settlement was a saw mill, bark camp and a flag stop on the Chicago and West Michigan R.R. Keno
was also established on the 17th June, at a saw mill belonging to the firm of Hartt and Horning, a few mills north of Woodville.
Kirk was the next office to be established on 14th of July, follow by Biteley on 19th of September (name was change
to Bitely later). Hawkins was established on the 13th of November. In 1890, the Brookside and Stiles Post Offices were established.
Parks and Plumville Post Offices were established in 1892. In 1894, the Reeman office and in 1895, the Wooster office was
In 1897, the Shaw Post Office was established. By 1898, the lumbering industry had practically
disappeared. Several new post office were established to give service to the agricultural communities.
The offices of Diamond Loch, Bishop, McLeans, Willcox and Goodwell were established.
The next ten years following the turn of the century saw the establishment of five more post offices.
These were Holmdale, Huber, Jewell, Cole Creek and Alderson. This period saw the establishment of Rural Free Delivery.
This proved a death to many of the small post offices.