Burr Oak History

Burr Oak History

The excerpts written out below are from a small booklet entitled,
"St. Joseph County Historical Review and Business Guide"
written and compiled by Roy D. F. Sowers, Historian.

As to the first settlers of Burr Oak and its township we confess it's antiquity is obscured by a veil hiding the remote past. From mounds and earthen fortifications around Burr Oak and Colon, it is very evident that a prehistoric race once occupied the same land. It would be very interesting if we could pierce this veil of the past but -we cannot- so we must begin with the year of 1831.

In that year the first white settler and his family, Mr. Samuel HASLET, and a bachelor by the name of George MILLER, located on the site of Burr Oak. In the year of 1832, Mr. and Mrs. HASLET became the proud parents of the first white child born in Burr Oak Township. The SNOW family also arrived in 1831, both families moving here from Branch county.

In 1833 more families, hearing of the fertile land and streams of Burr Oak and surrounding country, began to settle here. Some of those pioneer families' names were Reuben TRUSSEL, ELDREDS of Vermont, SPURGEON, Cephus A. SMITH. A negro by the name of LEWIS took up a claim of land, but due to ill treatment of some of the white settlers, eventually moved on to parts unknown.

The first frame house was built by Reuben TRUSSELL in 1834, of lumber from DUGG's sawmill. In 1855 H. S. WILLIAMS built the first brick house.

During the year of 1838, talk of a new township was started and accordingly, Burr Oak township was formed. It formerly was a part of Sherman township, which was at that time a very large township. In 1837 the first highway of four rods wide was ordered built in this township.

Mr. SHELDON, of Vermont, a highly educated and respected citizen, of Burr Oak, died in the fall of 1833. He was buried in a rough handmade coffin, hauled to the burial place by two oxen, over a rough four mile trail. He was buried on the Hon. Wales ADAMS' farm. The first cemetery was laid out in 1838. Prior to this the pioneers were buried on their own land.

There were several schools organized and taught but the first we have record of was a school taught by Julius A. THOMPSON. Next came Miss Sarah WASHBURN (later Mrs. Nathan HACKETT) east of the Thompson and Farley corners. In 1838 the township was arranged into four school districts. In 1876 there were seven school houses-six frame and one brick, besides the grade school of Burr Oak. Of the 507 children of school age (five to twenty years old) 447 attended school. They were taught by six men and twelve lady teachers.

Prohibition was not the most important question in those days, as history of this township records the building of religious houses and the old HOPPER distillery in 1840.

The land of this vicinity was very rich and almost level, producing a wonderful growth of Burr Oaks, from which the village was named. The land was well watered by Prairie River, Swan River and five lakes. The township contained 23,040 acres of territory, 400 acres being water surface.

In 1874 the manufacturing exhibits were one flour mill, one saw-mill, one foundry, one stave and heading factory employing twenty-eight people. Two hundred and thirty-four farms, averaging 91.47 acres each, constituted this garden spot of Michigan. At this time the population numbered 1,949.

The village of Burr Oak proper was laid out on the land of William LOCK, in 1851. The first frame house was built in 1850 by William BETTS. The first store was owned and operated by John TALBOT. It burned down on December 14, 1865. Julius A. THOMPSON built the first Tavern in 1851. The Baptists built the first church in 1858. In 1852 the post office was moved from "Thompsons' Corner" to Burr Oak, with John CLEWES being the first postmaster. In the summer of 1853, D. PAGE built the first mill operated by steam. It was destroyed by fire in 1853. A new mill was soon built. Caleb J. CRANE, in 1859 built a grist-mill on Prairie river.

The first phsycian was Dr. Nathan MITCHELL, locating here in 1851. Two years later he left and was succeeded by Dr. Harvey LOOMIS, who administered to the sick for so many years.

Hiram TYLER was the first attorney locating here in 1854.

James TOWER built and operated the first blacksmith shop in 1852.

The village was incorporated on October 11, 1859 with the following named citizens as officers: President, E. F. GOFF; Trustees, George BOARDNER, Henry P. SWEET, Ira C. ABBOTT, Chester A. WARD, William FULLER and Julius A. THOMPSON; Clerk, Gilbert M. LAMB; Treasurer, Allen C. ARNOLD; Assessor, Henry T. WILLIAMS.

In 1851, the Michigan Southern and Lake Shore railroad was built and as the New York Central system, still serves this community. The village was well supplied with stores in 1877 and had church edifices representing the following denominations-Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and Episcopal. Lodges were well represented in those early days.

During the war of rebellion, Burr Oak was well represented, and in the late World War her manhood responded as they had in 1861-1864.

Today, Burr Oak is a flourishing little village with several industries, modern homes, stores, and a live newspaper.

Although just a few miles off of a state highway, it is very pretty, a desirable place to live. Like the sturdy Oak from which it derives its' name, it will continue to have a strong healthy growth.



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copyright This website is created and copyrighted 2007 by Joel Newport