Sturgis History

Sturgis 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.

Sturgis township originally contained 3000 acres but was later divided, Fawn River and Sherman townships each receiving a part. In the early days, Sturgis Township was a part of the vast area known as Sherman Township. The large oval prairie of Sturgis was one of the most beautiful spots in St. Joseph County. It was high and dry with a fertile soil excellent for the raising of cereals, fruits and vegetables. St. Joseph County has so many lakes and swamps that were not as well drained as they are today and the decayed vegetation odor with the dampness caused epidemics of fever and ague. Many are the stories told of having the "shakes" as the aliment was commonly referred to. Sturgis township, because of its high, level elevation, was more free from the "shakes.'' In 1845 Sturgis was constituted the last township in the county.

The first settler in the township was Judge John STURGIS and a young man named, George THURSTON, who arrived on August 20, 1827. Breaking 10 acres of ground that lies east of the city of Sturgis, in what is now Fawn River township, they planted it to wheat and returned to Monroe, Michigan. Judge STURGIS had come to Monroe from Canada. He spent 10 years in Monroe before coming to Sturgis township. In the spring of 1828, Judge STURGIS and family, accompanied by the THURSTON boy and his father's family, started for their new home in this township. Many are the hardships they endured while bringing their worldly goods on wagons pulled by the several ox teams. They were 20 days on the way, fording rivers, going through or around swamps. They were a whole day going one mile through one of the Hog Creek marshes, frequently having to unload their wagons when they mired.

The THURSTON family located on Oxbow prairie, a few miles south of Sturgis, in Indiana. The STURGIS family built a log cabin just east of the city in what is now known as Maple Crest addition. This was a very favorable site along the Chicago Trail as well as being near the only source of fresh water-a big spring being located in the valley at the "big hill" east of the cabin. Water supply was very essential and to use springs was easier than digging a well. Later Judge STURGIS moved to Nottawa where he remained about two years, when he again returned to Sturgis.

The first real settler in the present city limits of Sturgis was George BUCK a native of New York who went to Canada in 1812. In 1828 he came to Detroit and coming as far as Brownstown with horse teams he exchanged them for oxen and arrived in Sturgis with them. Mr. BUCK's family lived in tents in the Hog Creek woods for 6 weeks while he built his home. As nearly as can be located today, his home was built on east Chicago Road, in the block that the Charles A. MILLER home and Lou MOON Funeral Home bounds. The house was made of logs and had no windows.

About a year after building his house Mr. BUCK and a helper by the name of Levi WATERMAN met death in a tragic way. They were digging a well in front of the BUCK cabin when the earth caved in upon them. There were few settlers in St. Joseph County at that time and men came from as far away as White Pigeon to work in relays for two weeks before they obtained the bodies. Their funeral services were the first religious services held in Sturgis.

Mrs. BUCK told her grand children about hauling grain to Hillsdale where it was exchanged for flour and salt. Two essentials the settlers had to have.

Among the early settlers were the names of Hiram JACOBS, John S. NEWHALL, David KNOX, Oliver RAYMOND, J. G. WAIT, Major Isaac J. ULLMAN, Luther DOUGLAS, Rev. J. E. PARKER and John PARKER. Jacob PEARSOLL, Hiram JACOBS, Nathaniel RATHBUN, Aaron GILHAMS, Parker WASHINGTON, Edward OSBORN, Philip AURNER, Michael WELLIVER, the NEWHALLs, RANSOM and Henry MUMFORD, all came from Livingston county, New York. Mr. PARKER was of the pioneer group, having walked to St. Joseph County and then back to New York to tell his friends of the new found "wonder land."

In 1837-8 the epidemic of ague "shakes" caused so many deaths that there were not enough people to care for the sick. Mr. NEWHALL traveled about rendering aid and said he helped to bury 14 people. On his trip from Lima, (Howe) Indiana to Coldwater, he could not get a single meal, so many were sick and his time was entirely taken up with his work of mercy. Rev. Gersham DAY died and there were only two people present besides the deceased's own son. The son preached his father's funeral. J. G. WAIT told of the terrible conditions of that period.

The first land entries were made by Ezekial METCALF of New York state, in 1828. Geo. BUCK, Ruth A. CLARKE of Fairfield, Conn., Hart L. STEWART of Pennsylvania, all entered land in 1828.

The first real farming operations were begun in 1829 by George BUCK and Ephriam BEARSS, who plowed and planted 75 acres in the east part of the city limits. Plowing was done with four yoke of oxen- Corn was dropped in furrows or chopped through the sod with an ax-good crops secured IF the season was not too dry. And we hear of the farmers hardships of today!

The following year after Mr. BUCK's, death his son Philip H. BUCK, built a double log house, the upper rooms of which were used for some years as a place of religious worship and school.

Oliver RAYMOND built the first frame house and it was used as a hotel. John B. CLARK built the first real hotel in Sturgis, of logs.

The CLARKE hotel was on the present site of the ELLIOTT Hotel. Major Isaac ULLMAN ran the hotel a while then was succeeded by Luther DOUGLAS and Mr. BACKUS. About this time (1831), Oliver RAYMOND built a frame hotel opposite the CLARKE hotel and competition began. In 1854 PECK and WALLACE built a brick building on the southeast corner from the hotel, hauling the brick to Sturgis from White Pigeon. When the building was rebuilt, in 1874, after the great fire, the brick were found to be in a perfect state, so well were they made.

The first marriage was William STEWART and Mary CADE in the fall of 1831. The first birth was a daughter, born to Mr. and Mrs. John B. CLARKE in May, 1830. The first deaths were George BUCK and Levi WATERMAN as before related.

Dr. HENRY who was the first physician, was also the first school teacher, teaching in the second story of the Philip BUCK log cabin. The first school house was built “on the east side of Nottawa and south of Chicago streets.” it was built in 1833, of logs and not very large. In 1838 it was rebuilt of frame construction. These first schools were not “free” schools but a rather heavy assessment was laid on the parents for each child. The first money received from the state for school purposes was in 1839. The schools were not "free" until 1859. One of the first school boys, called the "long haired boy" because of a lack of barber work, was later President GRAHAM of the Hillsdale College. In 1852 the school board adopted a series of textbooks. They were DAVIES' Algebra, OLMSTEAD's Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, BECK's Chemistry, and CUTLER's Anatomy and Physiology. The Athletic Field was the whole countryside. In September, the people voted to levy a general school tax in the enormous amount of $200.00 and make it a "free" school. In 1861, the new brick Union School House was completed and placed Sturgis ahead of the surrounding county in school facilities. This school was torn down just a few years ago to be replaced by the new Central School and later, the Gymnasium. The first graduating class received their diplomas in 1874 and were Verina MORRISON, Anna BARROWS, Huldah SEELEY and William P. STOUGHTON.

Oliver RAYMOND was the first post-master in the village. Some of the first post-masters were Judge STURGIS, Philip H. BUCK, Major C.C. HOOD, Capt. Wm. McLAUGHLIN, and the Hon. J. G. WAIT. The first mails came by the old Savery coaches from the old DIGGINs Tavern at White Pigeon. Samuel STEWART was the township postmaster at that time. The first stage coach line to serve Sturgis regularly was the SAVERY line. The scare of the Black Hawk war almost ruined its trade. General BROWN, De Garmo JONES, and FORSYTH started a state coach line between Detroit and Chicago, running daily, in 1833. From 1836 until 1840 they did a rushing business, for it was during this time, the greatest rush of travel was westward.

The first railroad to give impetus to Sturgis was the Southern Michigan and Lake Shore in 1871 and the Grand Rapids & Indiana in 1867. Hon. J. G. WAIT was very instrumental in getting both railroads through Sturgis and profited from the effort by securing the contracts to build the stations from Coldwater to Niles as well as the high board fences along the tracks. He helped to secure the right of ways through Branch and St. Joseph Counties. Constantine and Three Rivers wished the Lake Shore railroad to pass through their villages but were "asleep" and Sturgis and White Pigeon obtained it. Later running branches to those villages.

The first church was a Methodist Episcopal built in, 1843. The first cemetery was laid out north of the Lutheran church where the Royal Chair factory now stands.

Judge STURGIS introduced the first improved farm machinery---it was a McCORMICK reaper, in 1843. 1831 the corn crop failed and provisions were high. Nails were 20c per pound, salt $20 a barrel or its equivalent 80 bushels of corn. Thorough bred stock was rather slow in starting in Sturgis, reaching its zenith in 1860-70.

The first road surveyed through the township and village was the great national military road from Detroit to Chicago--now called Chicago Road or U.S. 112. The next was the territorial road, starting from the Indiana state line on south Nottawa and running north through the village to, eventually, Grand Rapids. Chicago Road was built through here in 1834 by James JOHNSON, a big Sturgis contractor.

The city has always been very strongly Republican. 1874 census showed a population of 2,248.

The early settlers had many a joyous party at their various homes where the music was furnished by "Tommy" JONES, a brother of De Garmo JONES. He was a "fiddler." The first celebration was held on July 4, 1835. Elias Boulton SMITH, M.D., was the orator. In 1839 a big July 4th celebration was held and 1,500 persons were present. Many notables spoke on this occasion. A man by the name of WEBB had his arm torn off by the explosion of a cannon. July 4th, 1852, was another long-to-be-remembered day. General Isaac D. TOLL, of Fawn River, was the Marshall of the day; Hon. Wm. L. STOUGHTON the orator. Several veterans of the war of 1812 were present.

The numerous military parades, and court-martials were always very amusing to the residents. In times of peace the settlers did not take their military enlistments seriously but in times of need St. Joseph County and Sturgis was unusually loyal.

Various lodges and churches began to be formed. In 1874-76 Sturgis had a famous band led by A. A. WILBUR.

The first store in Sturgis township was opened by Mr. CLEMENT but Edwin KELLOG, formerly of White Pigeon, was the first merchant in Sturgis, beginning business in 1830-31. Others to soon start were, E.S. SWAN, J.G. WAIT, WASSON & GREENE, Major ULLMAN, C.B. PECK, L.E. WHITE, and J.C. HERBERT.

The First National Bank of Sturgis was organized in 1865. The Citizens Bank being organized some years later.

Sturgis has known several hotels. The old "Exchange" was located on the ELLIOTT House site, “Pap” ELLIOTT and Sons. It was burned down on Jan. 1, 1876, and rebuilt and opened the following Christmas. The BERRIDGE House is located on North street near the New York Central depot. The Central Hotel and Dining Room on the opposite corner from the ELLIOTT House is gone as is the old Sturgis House located where the Citizens State Bank and HAGERMAN & FREELAND building is now.

Early manufacturers were: Philip H. BUCK and a Mr. FILKINS, blacksmith shop, J.G. WAIT, had six shoemakers making shoes, in 1837 he opened a furniture factory, William MORRISON built a large mill and distillery which were later burned down. LESTER & BOLFE made wagons and carriages, C. BURROUGHS made wagons. In 1837 D. PAGE built a foundry. MORRIS & VESEY built the first steam mill on the site of the City Fire Station in 1847. WALLACE built a planning mill. A.T. DRAKE & Co. built a mill. Z. H. WALLACE built a Sash, Door and Blind factory which was considered a model of its kind. The Sturgis Manufacturing Co. was organized in 1873 to make furniture. F. S. PACKARD operated a Fruit Drying factory, as did ALDEN who perfected the ALDEN process and the JONES Brothers were the originators of a drying machine that was sold and used extensively in this country. E. H. FUNK patented a churn and manufactured it for years.

In 1859 Sturgis had a fire that swept the entire business section on the south side of Chicago Road. In 1867 the HERBERT block and STURGIS Hotel burned. There have been several serious fires since then, notably the old STURGIS Steel Go-Cart and MORENCY-VAN BUREN factory. Today Sturgis is known far and wide for its 18 or 20 large industries.

Sturgis has a Commission form of government, wonderful water and sewerage system, modern fire department, schools, owns its own power plant along the St. Joseph river, has more pavement than any city of like size in the United States and a hospital that would be a credit to cities many times larger.


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copyright This website is created and copyrighted 2007 by Joel Newport