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
By HENRY H. HOLT
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
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
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,
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
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