History of GRATIOT CO., Michigan. Historical Biographical, Statistical

By Willard D. Tucker pub. 1913 Press of Seemann & Peters, Saginaw, Michigan

Village of Ashley;  pgs.  1063-1094

                                                    VILLAGE OF ASHLEY.

                                                         Location—Elections—Biographies, etc.

The Village of Ashley, as incorporated, consists of a square mile of territory in the northwestern part of Elba Township. It is mainly on section 7, but though the west line is identical with the township line the incorpora­tion takes in a portion of section 8 on the east, for the reason that section 7 is fractional and not a mile in extent east and west. A portion of section 6, on the north is also taken in as part of the incorporated tract.

Ashley is an important station on the Ann Arbor Railroad, and is the junction point of that road with the Toledo, Saginaw & Muskegon division of the Grand Trunk Railroad. The Grand Trunk trains run over the tracks of the Ann Arbor from Ashley to Owosso, where connection is again made with the Grand Trunk system. The original business portion of Ashley was platted in the fall of 1883, certified January 18, 1884, and recorded March 3, 1884, by Register of Deeds John L. Sinclair. Miles W. Bullock was the surveyor. The plat was made by Ansel H. Phinney, George P. Dudley and Miles W. Bullock, former citizens of Howell, Mich., who rightly presumed that the Ann Arbor Railroad, at that time under construction, would adopt the location as a site for a station, with the necessary sidetracks for the shipment of the forest products of the surrounding country. The products of the forests were at that time the principal incentives to industrial action in that part of Elba Township. People in this year of grace—1913—looking over the fertile fields of that locality can but faintly realize what dis­couraging conditions existed there to confront the home-seeker. A period of 30 years has sufficed to transform the unpromising country into a section far more desirable for agricultural purposes and for homes, than the most sanguine could have anticipated at the time of the founding of the Village of Ashley. The removal of the forest growth, together with the compar­atively thorough drainage accomplished, have been the influences that have brought about the great improvement.

Stirling Street, Looking North

The tract first platted embraced the most of the east half of the north­west quarter of section 7, the territory now constituting the business portion of the village. Several additions have been platted and recorded from time to time as follows: A small addition to the east of the northern portion of the original plat, by Abraham Shellenbarger, March 18, 1884; Thos. H. Harrod, surveyor. Another by George P. Dudley on the west of the southern portion of the original plat, June 8, 1886 ; Miles W. Bullock, surveyor. At the same time Miles W. Bullock made an addition to the south of the original plat, extending from Ash Street to Wallace Street—one block. November 20, 1887, George P. Dudley made a second addition, the territory lying directly west of his first addition. Ansel H. Phinney platted an addi­tion in the northwest part November 29, 1887. Recorded by C. W. Martin, register of deeds. June 6, 1888, Seymour Goodale platted six blocks adjoin­ing Dudley’s additions on the south.

Salliotte & Chittenden came in 1884 and put up a saw mill with a hoop and stave mill in connection. Two fires set operations back somewhat, but the buildings and industries re-built, continued in active service until 1910, when, owing to scarcity of timber, business was suspended.

Chas. Lyon, also Starkweather & Clifford, established other mills which did good service in furnishing employment and using up the surplus timber. Another industry that was of much importance was that of making charcoal. Cole & Rheubottom were the proprietors of a long string of coal kilns, which old settlers will remember seeing along the railroad tracks. Rows of brick structures, shaped and appearing like Esquimaux huts, probably about 16 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. These works used up timber not suitable for lumber or staves.

Brick and tile works were put up by Fred Tompkins and A. E. Fuller, which are still in operation, W. S. Dove present proprietor. Some of the early business men of Ashley were Frank Nichols, who started and operated a harness shop ; John Schermerhorn, who did business as a blacksmith ; Jas. Helt established a tin shop. Frank Kneeland was a pioneer grocer and was the first station agent. His daughter, Cora, was telegraph operator.

E. Z. Fuller and wife settled in the place in 1884, their house being the seventh house erected. They are both now deceased. Mr. Fuller was prominent, officially, in township and village. The Elba and Ashley elec-tion records in this connection give some of the details.

In a series of articles written by Rev. George W. Harris, of Ashley, in January and February, 1913, for the Gratiot County Journal, bearing on Ashley’s history. I find some facts that will be of interest and value in this connection, and which may well supplement what has been written. I quote:

“In the fall of 1881, L. M. Hutchinson arrived in the neighborhood of where Ashley now is. There were at that time but four families in the entire community—Daniel Robinault, Abram Shellenbarger, Charles Mark­ham and William Proctor. There was a small clearing on the Shellenbarger corners and that was about all. The railroad project of an earlier day was revived and the road was built through in 1884. James M. Ashley, of Ohio, was the promotor and builder of the road, and so the place got its name—Ashley. The first building erected in Ashley was a small, crude shed-roofed concern built by Ansel H. Phinney on the spot where Chas. E. Beck’s brick store now stands, and was first used as a grocery store, and afterward by Helt as a tin shop.

“Henry Couch and his brother came one night at about midnight, got A. H. Phinney out of bed and bought two lots. By 9 o’clock next day they had commenced the erection of the first dwelling house ever built in Ashley. It was on the west side of New Street nearly opposite the M. E. Church, between C. E. Chittenden’s and W. S. Dove’s. Mr. Frost then erected a dwelling where M. D. Gunn’s icehouse now stands. Then came the hotel where the I. O. O. F. hall now stands. A. H. Phinney was Ashley’s first postmaster, and he erected the next business building, which is now owned and occupied by D. W. C. Tiffany as a general store. Here was located Ashley’s first post office. The depot was a small building on the corner of Oak and Sterling Streets. Frank Kneeland was the first station agent and his daughter Cora was the first telegraph operator. Somewhere about this time Ashley’s first physician Dr. B. C. Sickles—arrived and built the dwelling (or part of it) now owned by David Duncan. Then Ashley began to loom up.”

Mr. Harris stops here long enough to remark that he “finds so much discrepancy in the statements of the early settlers, as they remember build­ings, dates and locations, that it is next to impossible to give anything like correct details until we reach a much more recent date.” So? Others have had their troubles, it seems!

Ashley Depot - G. T. Curving Westward

“About this time Chapman & Lyon came in with a saw mill and located on the site where Chas. A. Green’s lumberyard now is, and which, with a few changes, became the old Starkweather mill. This mill cut many ties for the Ann Arbor Railroad besides making lumber. Then came Salliotte & Chittenden with a hoop and stave mill, which proved to be a most sub­stantial enterprise and had more to do in developing Ashley and the adjacent territory than all the other manufactories combined. Mr. Chittenden proved to be a hustling and shrewd business manager, as his farms and present holdings amply attest. A Mrs. Huson erected a hotel directly south of where C. E. Beck’s store now stands. This soon burned down and was Ashley’s first serious fire. Chas. H. Gunn, from Ionia County, and a man named Bishop, opened a meat market very near where his daughter, Mrs. Bessie Chapman, now has a milliner store. Mr. Gunn continued to conduct a most substantial business for several years and it is still continued by his son, M. D. Gunn. Mr. Gunn was village marshal and deputy- sheriff many years, and a most efficient officer he was.



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