Pine River Township*

        In the early times Pine River Township was probably the most important township in the county in several respects. Its settlement was more rapid than that of any other township, consequently, with its large population, comparatively, it naturally would assume a position of importance among the townships. The reason for its more rapid settlement is not obscure. It had the advantage of being traversed by Pine River, with its power possibilities, a feature not to be overlooked in estimating the merits of a site for a settlement. The important and promising settlement on the township's southern border, first called Elyton, afterward Alma, increased rapidly in population and importance. On the eastern border was the Village of Pine River, afterward called St. Louis, increasing rapidly in population and importance. These were the causes responsible for the comparatively advanced position taken by the township at that period. In later years as the population became more generally diffused the importance and influence of the townships became better equalized.
        Topographically, the township is somewhat uneven or rolling in its surface features. The soil is an average; not so heavy as in some sections nor yet so light as in others. Generally speaking it is a good agricultural township, with some portions exceptionally excellent. As to its markets, with St. Louis on the east, Alma on the south and Forest Hill near the center, no farmer has more than about a five-mile haul to a railroad town. And, thanks to the efficient management of those having the matter in charge for the past dozen years, the roads are ranked among the best in the county.
        Much early history of the township is necessarily detailed in other departments of this work, consequently it seems superfluous to repeat it here. It will also be found that in the election, sketch, fire, casualty and death sections of this department, there is much that tends to round out and complete the local history of each township. At the pioneer meeting held at Ithaca September, 1907, Hon. Silas Moody read an interesting paper on early times in Pine River, and it is here given, mainly in Mr. Moddy's own language. He gives some figures and dates that I have not had time to verify by comparing them with my own findings from the official records: so, if there are any discrepancies, the reader may take it for granted the Mr. Moody is wrong to that extent. The matter will thus be easily got along with. He says:
        "As I came to Pine River April 29, 1861, from Medina County, Ohio, the previous history of the township I have gathered from those hardy pioneers who were here before me. Among these I take pleasure in mentioning Amos V. Packer, Alfred Holmes, John Thomas, Thos. Gallagher, Joseph Brady, Ezra Plowman and Jas. B. Allen. These settlers were in northern Pine River near the Isabella County line. West and south were Marcus Ring, Aaron Holmes, Frederick Wright, Lorenzo Kyes, Valmore Hoyt, Jas. Wood, Amos Johnson, Cornelius Holiday, Elijah B. Rice and Aaron Sloan. On the southeast were Wm. O. Johnson, Lyman Cohoon, D. R. Sullivan, Simeon and John N. Adams, Geo. L. Spicer, Orson Briggs, Frederick M. Badger, Ira Smith and his sons, Henry, Luther and Gordis Smith, Nelson Colburn, Hiram Burgess, Sidney S. Hastings, Lewis M. Clark, Richard G. Hillyer, Nathan Vliet, Dr. J. R. Cheesman, Elisha H. Brooks, Solomon and Sylvanus Sias, and others whose names are worthy of mention.
        "The first township meeting of Pine River was held April 2, 1855. The number of votes cast was 54. The first supervisor was Geo. L. Spicer; clerk, Henry Smith; treasurer Elijah Porter; justices, Elijah B. Rice, Hiram Burgess, Elijah Porter and Sylvanus Groom; highway commissioners, Aaron Sloan, Jas. Kress, Joseph Clapp. The early elections were held at private houses for several years.
        "The first circuit court in the county was held in Pine River Township, at Alma, in the school house where the Wright House now stands.
        "In the early days there was often a struggle on election days to determine where the next election should be held. Shortly after one o'clock in the afternoon the supervisor would put the question and then the east side would shout 'St. Louis' and the westerners would shout for 'Alma', while some in the north and west would favor Forest Hill. This strife often became exciting, and often the crowd had to be divided and noses counted.
        "The Forest Hill postoffice was first established on the farm of Elisha Brooks, on the west side of section 1 of Pine River, four miles north and one west of St. Louis. Later it was removed to the house of Amasa Packard who was postmaster, near the plat of the present Village of Forest Hill, where it has since remained. Then we had one mail a week, carried on horseback. St. Louis had a postoffice which received its mail from St. Johns and Maple Rapids, sometimes carried on horseback and sometimes on foot by Billy Gruett. At first the mail was continued on to the Elisha Brooks farm by Mitchell Packer and others, and on to Salt River near the present site of Shepherd. There was another route from Ionia north to Indian Mills, two miles down the Chippewa from the present site of Mt. Pleasant, the mail being carried by Samuel Brady who lived on the west side of section 6, Pine River. He used Indian ponies as far as he could, and went on foot the rest of the way.
        "In an early day there was an association formed called the St. Louis Academy Association. Elisha Brooks was the first president and was the promoter of the project. The object was to build an academy and start a school. The frame of the building was put up, and while being enclosed, a cyclone blew it down and broke many of the timbers. But by hard work it was again erected and so far completed that a school was begun with Rev. Randall Faurot and his wife, Letitia, as the teachers. It was under the auspices of the Disciple Church. But interest lagged and the school was dis continued. The building is that now occupied by Yearington's College.
        "About the year 1861 came a noted preacher from Indiana, named L. L. Carpenter. He, with Elisha Brooks and Elias Sias, held meetings in the school houses in Pine River and at Salt River Village. The result was a revival, and several small churches were formed. There also was sent from the east -- Connecticut -- a missionary named Alva Upson. He organized Sunday schools in Gratiot and Isabella Counties, and the result eternity will disclose. He wore out his buggy, his horse and finally himself in the Master's service.
        "The first cemetery in Pine River was on the farm of Fred. Wright. The first grave in St. Louis cemetery was made in 1863, when a Mr. Phillips was buried there. After Henry L. Holcomb came to St. Louis, in 1860, the grist mill and saw mill were improved, and all things took on new life. The demands for better roads became urgent. Crossways of logs and rails were made over the swampy places and the roads were otherwise greatly improved. A road was laid from St. Louis in a northwesterly direction, called the 'angling road.'  S. S. Hastings laid it out, assisted by Edson Packard and others. It is said that they located it by sending one man ahead with a tin horn. He would select the dryest place and then blow the horn, and the surveyor would then squint through his instrument and run the line toward the sound of the horn. The road is still in use.
        "The schools of Pine River were in active operation in 1861, in good log houses. The one at the Wright settlement where I taught the first winter -- 1861 -- had pins driven into the logs, on which boards were laid for desks. I had the privilege of boarding around with the scholars, and collecting a part of my wages by the rate bill. Theodore Nelson taught the school at Alma that winter. During this winter our suppers were often taken by the fire-light as they had no other light. Some of the schools were large. My first winter I had six Woods, six Churches, six Newcombs and six Thorntons. The following winter I had sixty-five scholars in the St. Louis school, there being no other school within three miles. The school house stood on the Bethany side of St. Louis, on the side no occupied by the beautiful Union School building. I boarded with the family of Sidney S. Hastings during this winter, and taught geography school nights from a set of Pelton's outline maps, by singing the lessons."

*Tucker History of Gratiot County, Pages 480-482

Back to Pine River Index