Morenci History I
"Our Journey In Time" was written for Morenci's Bicentennial celebration in 1976. The book is now out of print, but the text follows, in four parts.
In 1833 a small settlement was established in the wilderness along Bean Creek. It seemed an ideal location as the virgin forest was an excellent source of timber for log houses, and the creek furnished water power for grist mills.
The name given to this settlement was Brighton. However, it was discovered that another community of pioneers to the north in the territory had prior claim to the name. There has been some controversy as to how the name “Morenci” was selected. Some say it was an Indian name but others believe that it was taken from the name “Mount Morency” and the ‘y’ changed to ‘i.’ The two men most responsible for the name were Simon D. Wilson and Jeptha Whitman.
Morenci was not a fast growing community in the early years, due in part to the fact that the clearing of land was a slow process. Indians were often used to help peel bark for the roofs of the cabins. Many settlers suffered through the early years from hunger, cold, snakes and wild animals from the forest.
About the same time, two other settlements were flourishing north of Morenci. A lumber mill was in operation in Medina in 1836. Both Medina and Canandaigua had established churches and schools.
Morenci became an incorporated village in 1871 with Joseph Hagerman as its first village president. It remained under the status of a village until 1934 when a city charter of home rule was adopted and it became a city. Dr. James A. Blanchard was the first city mayor.
The first post office was established in 1838. The first hotel was called the “Morenci House.” The first furniture store and undertaking parlor was started in 1851 by Silas A. Scofield, who was an inventor. The first child born was Mariette Beckwith, who later became the mother of Mr. E.D. Stair.
E.D. Stair was generous to his home town and gave money to help build the Stair Auditorium, Stair Gymnasium, Stair Public Library and at various times donated money for other causes.
In 1872 a railroad began its route through Morenci (“Old Dolly”) giving freight and passenger service to the community. A new school building was erected as well as several new churches to replace old structures.
Horses, buggies and wagons lined the streets of Morenci in the early and late 1800’s. Farmers came to town to bring their grain to the grist mill and women came to purchase the necessary items needed from the various stores and emporiums. Everything from spices and clothes to all sorts of household items were available.
At one time there were 72 business places and three schools to serve the community. There were also many doctors, lawyers and other professional men. An early newspaper, one of the first published, was called “The New Era.” The newspaper contained advertisements of lawyers, doctors, hotels, jewelry and millinery shops and a stage line. One stage line ran between Morenci and Clayton and the round trip fare was 75 cents. In 1885 another stage line traveled from Wauseon, Ohio to Hudson, Michigan passing through Morenci and this was also 75 cents.
Entertainment of the time consisted of church socials, traveling shows, local fairs, and horse racing.
In January 1908 the Stair Auditorium was opened with a stage play called The Fatal Flower. This building served for many years as the center of all entertainment. Until the new high school was built, all graduation exercises, school plays and other school events were held there. In the early 1960’s it was not being used and was in a state of disrepair. The city was no longer able to keep up the building, and like many other beautiful old structures it was torn down to make way for progress.
Another building that stood as a landmark was the Mausoleum at Oak Grove Cemetery. It was built by a company of men who had permission from the village to erect the structure and to sell compartments. In the early 1950’s it too was in need of repair, and like the auditorium, fell to the hands of a demolition crew.
In the early days it was necessary to have a good fire department since nearly all buildings were constructed of wood. The fire department was the most important group within the village and consisted of a Hook and Ladder Company No.1 and a Fire and Bucket Brigade. In 1880 there were about 75 members who served as volunteer firemen. The first motorized fire engine was purchased in 1914, the second in 1924 and the third in 1934. This last one is still in the possession of the present fire department. Many pieces of modern equipment are now in use and the volunteer fire department today is still one of the most valuable organizations in our community.
In 1891 an ordinance was adopted by the village to prohibit gaming within the village and Oak Grove Cemetery. The same year a poll tax was instituted at the rate of $1.00 per person. Many early ordinances were adopted pertaining to the building of plank sidewalks and the construction of wells in various parts of town.
It was not uncommon in the late 1880’s for a person to run for office on two or three tickets. In 1884 there were 281 votes cast at an annual election. In 1886 a grand opening was held for a new building on West Main Street which housed the village offices, the jail with several cells and the fire department. The total cost of the building was $3,481. At this time a bell was purchased to hang in one of the towers for use by the fire department, but was found to be unsatisfactory since it could not be heard by everyone. It was returned for another one. The cost of the bell was $127.43 and the cost of hanging it was $4.18.
Through the years many organizations have influenced the life of Morenci and its residents. There have been fraternal and civic groups which flourished for many years, some of them disbanding when interest waned. Two of the oldest organizations still active are the Masonic Lodge and the Order of the Eastern Star.
Cultural clubs were organized and through the efforts of the Morenci Monday Club our public library came into existence in 1930. Through generosity of Mr. E.D. Stair the former office of Dr. C.H. Westgate was purchased. In 1961 this building was remodeled and a two level addition was added to increase the size of the library.
Many veteran organizations such as the GAR, American Legion Posts and Auxiliaries and Veterans of Foreign Wars and their Auxiliary have been faithful to the community in their patriotic efforts.
The years have passed and brought many changes to our community. Now we find it difficult to imagine the small settlement of log cabins surrounded by virgin forests. Our hardy pioneer ancestors made many sacrifices to settle in a wilderness far from families and friends. However, they made for themselves and for us, a pleasant place to live along the banks of Bean Creek.
The initial early settlement which grew to be the present city of Morenci was and remains geographically bounded on the northwest and northeast by Lenawee County Michigan townships of Medina and Seneca respectively. On the southeast and southwest our neighbors are Chesterfield and Gorham Townships of Fulton County, Ohio. This segment of our heritage review concerns this area and all its generations of residents.
From our earliest beginnings we were primarily an agricultural people. Many pioneers who had chosen an agricultural life were convinced they could find what they wanted here. It is recorded that some settlers came into the area experienced in different trades but eventually the majority turned to farming. Through the long years which included hard work, adversity and sacrifice our agricultural lands were developed and became highly productive.
Before 1845 a family in a log cabin at the edge of a forest had a “slashing” where they hoped to have a crop of corn, wheat, barley, vegetables, sorghum and flax to be used for their own needs. The farm tools at that time consisted of an axe, froe, one horse plow, a spiked tooth wooden drag and a flail. With honey and meat from the forest animals our pioneers were able to stay alive. During this early period nothing was sold and very little was traded.
Following 1845 through the Civil War years, agriculture included clearing the land for the plow, planting fruit trees and building dams to power flour and saw mills. Lumber was needed to build better homes and farm buildings. During this period small settlements and villages sprung into existence.
Progress in agricultural mechanization was rapid and wide-spread between 1865 and 1900. The one bottom plow gave way to the steel gang plow, the reaper replaced the scythe and cradle and the cultivator took over for the hoe. The corn planter, hay press and twine grain binder had all been invented by 1876. The common denominator among these machines was that they were powered by animals. Horses and mules became the standard draft animals. Before the turn of the century horses did yield some work to mechanical power as a result of the portable steam engine. Agriculture now started to become profitable.
As the villages and towns grew in size there was a growing local market for milk. Practically every farm had a dairy herd, just as it had pigs, poultry and sheep. A great impetus to dairy farming came with the building of railroads and their branches which reached villages as well as big city markets. In the early days milk from the area went to market in the form of cheese and butter, products of the individual farms. Because the climate and soil conditions were suitable for dairy cattle Lenawee County had become the leading dairy county in Michigan at the turn of the century.
By 1902 cheese making factories were abundant. George B. Horton of Fruit Ridge had nine cheese factories including locations in Seneca and Canandaigua. S.S. Beatty had factories in Morenci and Lime Creek. Local creameries started to exist and eventually refrigeration allowed milk to be transported daily to the people in the cities. Our area townships helped their respective counties to become national leaders in the production of dairy products.
Probably no machine was more rapidly adopted by farmers than the horseless carriage. For all practical purposes, the automobile did not exist in 1900. By 1914 there were 343,000 autos and 15,000 trucks on American farms (compared to 17,000 tractors).
For farmers, the auto was more than a better way to move about, it was a work vehicle adaptable to all sorts of hauling and pulling tasks. It brought the markets closer to the farms and helped put an end to rural isolation, thus narrowing the differences between rural and urban life.
With the introduction of tractors and electric power, farming today has very little in common with it’s “yesteryears.” Today as we celebrate our 200th birthday as a nation we find the spinning wheel, the oxen, the single wooden plow, the churn and in general the pioneer home with it’s security, a fact of history.
Today in this area we find a small group engaged in the business of agriculture, They produce great amounts of grain with the aid of commercial fertilizers and powerful machines. Some wool, milk products, meat animals, poultry and eggs are still produced on our area farms. Agriculture that was once a “slashing” at the edge of the forest and a pioneer family that had little use for money, now consists of hundreds of acres of improved land, owned and operated by one farm family. It is now possible for one man to do the work of many and thus has changed our agriculture to the extent that we are no longer primarily and agricultural people.
“Historic preservation is, or should be, a part of every community’s development plan. Without a sense of place, without visual ties to the past, a people will become essentially rootless and fragmented.”
To make our people more aware of our agriculture heritage, what could be more appropriate than to print a 1976 listing of the officially designated Centennial farms in our area. Basically to be so designated, a farm must have been in continuous possession of the same family for 100 years or more. Each owner, after becoming certified and registered with its State authorities, receives a certificate embellished with the Great Seal of the State. Official plaques or markers are provided to Lenawee County farms by Consumers Power Company and in Fulton County through the County Extension Office. Take time to look for the display markers on our historic farms.
Lenawee County Michigan
Harold E. and Hazel Acker 1868
George Sawyer Burdick 1866
Edwin Haff Farm 1864
Ward C. Joughin 1859
Leslie and Lois Moore 1835
Clare Root 1849
T.R. and E. Doris Sims 1861
Richard G. Walter 1847
Roy H. Gould 1837
James A. and Kathryn B. Marlatt 1841
Robert and Sandra Packard 1853
Dale and Geraldine Pelham 1833
George H. Rorick 1853
John and Julia Rorick 1845
Harold and Minnie Wolf 1851
Fulton County Ohio
Mrs. Hale H. and Calvin Canfield 1860
Mrs. Eugene Carncross 1837
(Nee Mary M. Griffin and Lawrence Griffin)
Leroy Hochstetler 1874
Crandal and Faye Lester 1837
Floyd and Audrey Bates 1864
Walter P. and Mary Jane Bates 1864
Gail Buckley 1836
Burton A. and Adeline Deyo 1864
Roy and Ruth Marks 1860
LaRay and Ruth Stong 1858
Donald and Orvilla Stubbins 1843
Mabel H. Stutesman 1849
Charles and Betty Stutesman 1835
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