Pioneer Society Collections
Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan Together with Reports of County, Town and District Pioneer Societies
1877 pages 285-301 Muskegon

Part 7 - The Centennial History of Muskegon


    There was no newspaper published in Muskegon until the spring of 1857, when Charles Cowen started the Muskegon Journal. It was Rebublican in politics, and was published weekly in a room in the old Walton House. After a short time Mr. Cowen took in Thomas H. Hodder as a partner, and the firm continued  the publication of the paper until the autumn of the same year, when it was discontinued.
    The next newspaper  was the Muskegon Reporter, which was started in April, 1859, by Fred B. Lee & Co. This was also a Republican weekly, and was published until October, 1864, when it was discontinued. August 20, 1864, John Bole started the Muskegon News, which he published a few months and then sold to Wm. K. Gardner, who continued the publication until March, 1865, when he sold his interest to Ferdinand Weller. The latter soon after bought the press and type of the Reporter office and revived that paper, publishing two papers. After a time they were united, and known as the News and Reporter. The first Democratic paper started in Muskegon was the Muskegon Telegraph, which was succeeded by the Muskegon Enterprise, and Gazette and Bulletin, the latter being discontinued Sept. 9, 1873. Charles S. Hilbourn established the Democratic Lakeside Register in the fall of 1873, and still continues its publication.


     The harbor at the mouth of Muskegon river and lake remained in its natural condition until the year 1863, when the work of improving it was begun. Until this time, at the best stage of the water there was scarcely ever more than six feet on the bar,-oftener not more than four or five feet, and at times, after a strong wind from the southwest, the sand would be drifted in so that men have waded across. In 1863 a corporation called the Muskegon Harbor Company was organized, under the provisions of a law of this State, for the purpose of improving the channel. This company built a slab pier on each side of the channel, the south pier being 1,500 feet long, and the north pier about 500 feet. Previous to the building of the piers there was no well-defined channel, the water of the river spreading in every direction on reaching Lake Michigan. As a consequence, whatever there was of a channel was very changeable as well as crooked, and even after the piers were commenced the water did not flow directly into the lake. To obviate this difficulty, the superintendent resorted to the somewhat novel expedient of boring a channel through the sand. To accomplish this, he chartered the propeller Caldwell to force her way backwards from Lake Michigan into Muskegon Lake, agreeing to pay $1,500 for the job. The revolutions of the wheel cleared away the sand, so that the propeller continually "advanced backwards," but so slowly that the captain at one time was inclined to relinquish his undertaking, but on endeavoring to return into Lake Michigan he found that so much of the sand that he had displaced had settled behind the propeller that she could not move in that direction, and his only course was to go into Muskegon Lake, turn around, and then bore out again. The result was that the current of the river was so strong that it afterwards kept the straight channel to Lake Michigan open.
    This company was composed entirely of those interested in the Muskegon lumber business, and expended altogether about $40,000, all of which was donated towards this improvement.
    Congress soon after began to make appropriations for the same purpose,- the result of all which is that this harbor is undoubtedly the best on Lake Michigan, there being at the present time sixteen feet of water on the bar.
    The current of the river is so strong that the channel never freezes over. Even in the cold winter of 1874 it did not freeze, and had it not been for the ice on Lake Michigan, vessels could have entered at any time and run up to Muskegon Lake, a distance of nearly a mile.


    The first physician who settled in Muskegon was Dr. Chas. P. McSherry, in 1849.
    The first attorney was Edwin Potter, in 1857; the second attorney was Henry H. Holt, in 1858. The latter was elected prosecuting attorney of Ottawa county, of which Muskegon then formed a part, the same year.
    Samuel R. Sanford was elected sheriff of Ottawa county in 1858.
    R. O'Harrow has been general manager in the mill of C. Davis & Co. since January, 1854, a length of time in one position not exceeded by that of any person in Muskegon.
    The first banking office in Muskegon was started by Captain T. J. Rand in 1859. He also erected the building in 1867 now occupied by the Lumberman's National Bank, which was the first brick building in Muskegon.
    Muskegon county was organized in the winter of 1859, from territory detached from Ottawa county. C. Davis, E. W. Merrill, R. W. Morris were very active in securing the passage of the act, there being a very decided opposition to the measure. The first election of county officers was held on the fourth of April of that year, when James H. Lobdell was elected sheriff, E. H. Wyllie county clerk, J. D. Davis county treasurer, C. D. Nelson register of deeds, Jesse D. Pullman judge of probate, Henry H. Holt prosecuting attorney, and Edwin Potter circuit-court commissioner.
    The officers entered on the discharge of the duties of their several offices on the first of June following, when the new county commenced in existence.
    The first meeting of the board of supervisors was held in the office of Henry H. Holt, on the 18th of July, 1859, when E. W. Merril represented the township of Muskegon, I. O. Smith, Norton, Nathan Whitney, Casinovia, and Thomas D. Smith, Ravenna. E. W. Merrill was elected chairman of the board. The first business transacted was the detaching of a part of Muskegon township and organizing the same into the township of Eggleston.
    The supervisors of the townships of White River and Dalton refused to meet with the board, claiming that the organization of the county was illegal and void. I. E. Carleton, the supervisor from Oceana township, was afterwards prosecuted for neglect of official duty, a statement of facts was agreed upon and submitted to a jury, which found him guilty, upon a special verdict; whereupon Judge Littlejohn, who was the first judge of the county, imposed a small fine. Mr. Carleton then took the case to the Supreme Court, as it was understood that he would when a a decision was rendered, which sustained the organization, the court being equally divided.
    The first representative in the State Legislature from Muskegon county was Chauncey Davis, who was elected in 1860, and was reelected in 1862.
    The village of Muskegon was incorporated in 1861, and the first election was held in the basement of the M. E. Church on the 8th of July of that year, when Lyman G. Mason was elected president; E. Potter, R. W. Morris, C. P. Bigelow and Thos. Mills, trustees; Robert McQueen, recorder; Luman Hamblin, marshal; C. D. Nelson, treasurer, and W. P. Odell, and R. O'Harrow, aldermen of the first ward, J. H. Landreth and Alex. Rodgers, aldermen of the second ward, and Chas. Kreig and Dennis Riordan aldermen of the third ward.


    Among those who were born in Muskegon and are still residents of Muskegon counyt are Mrs. John Curry, Mrs. Horation Hovey, James and George Graham of Muskegon; and Mrs. A. G. Smith, of Lakeside; S. H. Lasley, of Montague; and William, Augustus, Michael, and Joseph Baddeau, of Holton.
    In closing this imperfect sketch of the early history of Muskegon, the writer wishes to express his obligations to Messrs. M. Ryerson, C. Davis, M. W. Lloyd, George B. Waterbury, R. O'Harrow, Geo. Ruddiman, A. A. Maxim, R. Ryerson, and Mrs. Susan Bohne, Mrs. Julia Witherell, Mrs. Fanny Sheperd, and many others for valuable assistance rendered in furnishing information.

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