Constantine 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.

In the summer of 1828, William MEEKS of Wayne County, Ohio, located on the site of Constantine. Later moving his family here and erecting the first saw mill. For years the village was known as "Meeks' Mill," some of the first settlers being very reluctant to change, the name. The BONEBRIGHT, FITCH, HAMILTON, ARNOLD and DRIGGS families were some of the first settlers. The township of Constantine was wonderful prairie land becoming somewhat rolling near the rivers. The river bottom lands were heavily timbered. Wheat, corn and potatoes were the chief crops. Cattle, hogs and sheep raising was a productive business. Much wool being raised and manufactured into wool fabric in St. Joseph county mills.

The first white child born in the village was Henry BONEBRIGHT, son of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob BONEBRIGHT, on February 3, 1830.

The first marriage was that of Elliott WOODS and Eliza MEEKS in 1830. The first cemetery was laid out in 1853. Thomas CHARLTON taught the first school in the basement of the Niles F. SMITH store. The first church to be organized was the Methodist Church. The first merchant was Niles F. SMITH, Josiah FISHER put up a shingle mill in 1831 and Mr. MEEKS built a second saw mill while Isaac BEHAM erected a foundry. A shipyard was located here that built flat bottom boats that carried grain, cloth, leather and whiskey to St. Joseph on Lake Michigan. HOUSE and ULMANN made plows in 1836 and HUNT and GROVER made fanning mills about the same time. A Mr. CARTER built sleighs, BEAUFAIT made furniture and GOULD made chairs. Carding machines, wagons, separators, pumps, reapers, mowers, water-wheels and steam engines were manufactured here. Later more foundries and grist mills were built.

Today, in 1932, Constantine has two casket factories, a creamery, paper board mill and power plants of the Michigan Gas and Electric. The Crater Guarded Razor and New World Washing machines were manufactured here. The first railroad was the Lake Shore and Michigan branch coming here from White Pigeon. The wonderful power sites along the rivers drew many manufacturers to Constantine. The present Harvey Hotel is on the site of the first store and was operated as a store by Governor BARRY for years. Gov. BARRY was chosen three terms by Michigan voters and made a wonderful record in office.

Constantine had one of the earliest bands and orchestras in this part of the state, the band going to Lansing for inauguration of the governors so favorably was it known.

Our village numbers many prominent men among the early pioneers. Foremost were Gov. John S. BARRY, Gov. John J. BAGLEY, Prof. Joseph R. WILLIAMS of M. A. C., Editor Levi T. HULL, Franklin WELLS for 30 years on the State Board of Agriculture, Judge E. W. KEIGHTLEY, Frank LINCOLN, the humorist, otherwise known as Gustavus U. HOPKINS, Judge Fredrick W. KNOWLEN, Brigadier-General Frank D. BALDWIN, Major Gen. H. H. BANDHOLTZ, Hon. H. H. RILEY who was a noted editor, lawyer, author and historian.

In the early days Constantine voters believed in electing the man regardless of party and their office holders were a mixed crowd serving for a long term of years.

The surrounding community was full of wolves-timber wolves and prairie coyotes-so much so that a bounty was placed on them.

Mr. Niles F. SMITH, the first merchant, suggested calling the town Constantine instead of "Meeks' Mill." For a long time the natives did not take kindly to this new name.

Mr. GLADDING, the first jeweler and watch maker, kept a complete file or the "Republican" newspaper from July 6, 1836 to 1838.

The present city park was a swamp in the early days but drainage has made it a place of beauty.

This village has had two bad school fires. The first in 1894 and in 1926. Another fire about 1870 did very little damage.

During the Civil War Mr. A. BRISTOL had a "Wood Shop" and turned out walnut gun handles, securing the wood from surrounding country.

In 1843 the first steam boat arrived at the village wharves.

In 1845 the warehouse was built on piles over the river by Gov. BARRY. This was considered very remarkable and aided in the quick loading and unloading of boats. Grain and various things were hauled from as far as Jackson, Mich., to be loaded on the boats. Boats were towed from Constantine to St. Joseph and back again until 1851.

The foundation timbers in the Harvey Hotel, operated now by Mr. Edward ESTERMAN, are the original timbers of the old Barry Warehouse.

There are many interesting and humorous stories related about Constantine and the early pioneers but space will not permit us to go into detail, much as we would like. The complete record of its citizens is one to be proud of. Few villages furnished as many noted people as Constantine.

 

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copyright This website is created and copyrighted 2007 by Joel Newport