Oneida Charter Township
Geographical and Topographical
The township of Oneida occupies a position on the northern extreme of Eaton County, and is bounded east, south, and west, respectively, by the townships of Delta, Benton and Roxand, and north by Eagle Township, in Clinton County. Grand River flows across the northeast corner of Oneida through a deeply worn channel, and running parallel with it is the Detroit, Lansing, and Northern Railway, leading to Ionia and Howard City. The shores of the river are noted for their fine and carried scenery. Above the village of Grand Ledge the banks slope gently to the stream, but at and below the village they become abrupt and jut boldly out over the waters, laying bare the rugged masses of sandstone which here so closely underlie the surface. This rock, where exposed, is of a light yellow color, but taken from the lower strata is of a soft gray shade, and is much sought after for building purposes and is extensively quarried in the vicinity.
At the western extremity of the village a small stream, known as Sandstone Creek, discharges its waters into the river, after passing for some distance through a dark and rocky gorge, or “gulf”, grown thick with hemlocks. The admirer of the rugged in nature would not expect, on approaching the river at the point, the beauties which await him, and the surprise on a nearer approach is delightful.
A fine quality of soft coal for use as fuel is mined near Grand Ledge, although scarcely paying to produce for a home market, timber being yet so plenty. The vein averages from eighteen inches to two and a half feet in thickness, and on the farm of W.J. Babcock, north of Grand Ledge, near the county line; it has been found three feet in thickness. Mr. Babcock has mines more extensively than any other person in the vicinity, and at one time shipped large quantities to Detroit, Ionia, and Grand Rapids. He says it will yield 6000 tons per acre on his farm. The coal on his place is about sixty feet below the surface, yet he does not have to shaft to reach it and a natural drainage is obtained to the river. A vein has been recently opened on the south side of the river, west of the village, and is eighteen inches thick and of superior quality for fuel.
The portions of the township away from the vicinity of the river and its tributaries are generally rolling, and swamps of considerable size abounded when the town was first settled, but a judicious system of drainage has reduced them materially.
The soil is of good quality, and the amount of grain and fruit raised compares favorably with that of any township in the country.
Early Settlement-Pioneer Incidents
The first settler in the township of Oneida was Solomon Russell, from Orleans Co., N.Y. His journey was performed in the autumn of 1836, by ox-team, and his route lay through Canada and across the counties of Oakland, Shiawassee, and Clinton, in Michigan. He finally arrived in the township of Eagle, in the last-named county, and after having established a crossing over Grand River (since known as the “old ford”), he cut his way through the trackless forest to section 22, in what is now the township of Oneida, Eaton Co. He there built the first habitation erected by a white man in the township, and settled in it with his wife and several small children. He employed the first “ hired men’ in the township, Robert Rix, afterwards of Roxand, and William Henry, who became one of the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of Oneida. Not long after his arrival Mr. Russell had a hand severely injured by falling upon his axe while chopping, and he was carried on a litter to the township of Eagle, where he finally recovered.
The second settler in Oneida was Samuel Preston, who had come to Michigan from Cayuga Co., N.Y., in the spring of 1835, and located nine miles west of Adrian, Lenawee Co. In the fall of 1836 he paid Stephen Perkins twelve dollars for locating 160 acres of land for him in the Grand River Valley, and early in January 1837, visited his purchase, finding Mr. Russell ahead of him in the matter of settlement. The claims of the two men were about two miles apart. On this trip Mr. Preston stopped over-night with Robert Wheaton, in Chester Township and the next day Mr. Wheaton accompanied him to his land, which was covered with a thick growth of “gigantic trees,” as Mr. Preston expressed it. At that time but nine families had settled on the route between Mr. Wheaton’s and Jackson, a distance of forty-five miles. Mr. Preston returned to Lenawee County the day after he had “viewed his land,” and on the 2nd day of February set out with his family and two ox-teams, with the household effects, for their future home in Oneida. Three days later they arrived at Asa Fuller’s, near Mr. Wheaton’s, and after making arrangements to remain there for a time Mr. Preston, aided by the two gentlemen above named, began the task of cutting a road to his place.
Among the notable events in the early history of the township were the following: The first death was that of a child of James Nixon at Canada Settlement; the first marriage, that of Robert Rix and Mrs. A Carr; the first birth Horace Preston, second son of Samuel Preston. The first national celebration was held at the house of J.H. Nichols, when about thirty or forty persons gathered to enjoy the exercises of the day. In the winter of 1839 twenty-seven of the thirty-two inhabitants of the town were afflicted with the measles, but none died.
In the southeast corner of the township of Oneida is what is known as the “Canada Settlement,” from the fact that the first arrivals in the neighborhood were from Canada. Hon. Robert Nixon thus gives the history of its settlement in an article published in the Charlotte Republican in October 1869.
In the month of June 1839, the population of the township was increased by the arrival at the Canadian Settlement of Freeman W. Nichols and a family of eleven person, with Samuel Nixon, then a lad, and a hired man named John Brown, all from London, Canada West. The trip was made with four wagons and a drove of cattle and swine, which Mr. Nichols’ son, George W. Nichols. Was deputed to drive. The journey was attended with the usual adventures, and they finally rested in a log cabin eighteen feet square, which had been built for them by Mr. Nichols’ brother. The building had no floor and was rather small for the accommodation of twelve persons. Mr. Nichols’ sons, Jason and George, made a trip to mill in the fall after their arrival, getting twenty-five bushels of wheat at Capt. Scott’s, where now is the village of Dewitt, and going with it to Wacousta to get it ground in the small mill at that place. This mill contained a single “run” of stone, without bolt or screen. Four days after leaving home they started on their return, and met with numerous adventures on the way, the streams being high and facilities for crossing them not numerous, but finally reached home in safety.
Peter M. Kent, a millwright by trade, and a native of Pennsylvania, after looking around for a desirable place to locate in New York and Ohio came to Michigan in the spring of 1836, visiting numerous points in the southern part of the state. He had previously received an invitation from Mr. Newman of Portland, Ionia CO., to come and build a mill for them, and finally went to that place, voyaging down the Looking Glass River in a “dug-out”, which shipped water at every slight turn, and finally upset at the rapids near Portland, spilling out Mr. Kent and his two companions, who all scrambled ashore with their effects and were kindly received by the inhabitants.
George Jones, Philander Parmenter, William Henry, Amadon Aldrich, and others of the early settlers occasionally indulged in the luxury of a bear-hunt, and this was especially the case on one occasion, when the four men mentioned followed a bear, which had unluckily got into a wolf-trap and carried it off, nearly to the site of the present city of Lansing, and after an exciting fight with the two dogs which they had along, his bearship was finally killed by a lucky shot from Mr. Jones’ rifle. The carcass (a large one) was cut up and each carried a portion of it home, where they arrived about sunset.
George Jones, from the State of New York, settled early in Oakland County, Mich. About 1840 he came to Oneida but returned soon to Novi, Oakland Co., and did not make a final settlement here until 1848. He is still living in the township. His wife and the wife of L.H. Ion were sisters. Mr. Ion came from England when he was seventeen years of age, and about 1841 or 1842 settled in Oneida, where he became a prominent citizen. He afterwards removed to Charlotte, and was well known throughout the county. He filled the position of county clerk, was a long time member of the board of county superintendents of the poor, held numerous other official positions, and was widely and favorably known as one of the proprietors of the “Old Eagle Hotel” in Charlotte.
William Henry and Amadon Aldrich were early settlers in the same neighborhood with George Jones. The latter son, G Homer Jones, is the present recorder of the village of Grand Ledge, and supervisor of the township of Oneida.
Benjamin Covey, a native of Sandy Creek, Oswego county, N.Y., emigrated to Michigan in 1835, and settled in the township of Brighton, Livington county, on the 25th day of May, in that year. He removed to Eaton County November 20, 1845.
The settlers in Oneida, although forced to endure much in the way of pioneer hardships, were not without the qualities which enabled them to enjoy the backwoods life the led, and at the raisings, the town meetings, the social gatherings, or in the chase, they found food for sport and merriment, and in this way they passed more easily over the rugged paths of their peculiar lives, and the survivors are staunch and worth citizens.