It was the summer of 1821, when fifty-five Potawatomi Chiefs gathered to sign the treaty of Chicago which granted this part of the country to the United States. The first recorded history of Calhoun County began with the signing of this treaty.
Would you believe the Michigan Territory was described as“ ...unfit for habitation, made up of poor, barren and sandy land in the intermediate spaces between swamps and lakes, on which scarcely any vegetation grows...” in a federal survey published after the Revolutionary War? In the early 1800's, newspapers and Morse’s geography marked Michigan as an “interminable swamp”.
Therefore, settlers did not venture into the
Henry R. Schoolcraft and his crew of surveyors provided a more accurate description of the land west of Detroit. By 1825 the Michigan Territory was described as “fertile lands”. Territorial Governor, Lewis Cass, and Michigan’s Territorial representative to Congress, Father Gabriel Richard, worked together to get assistance in opening up the interior lands of Michigan for settlers. In the fall of 1829, Congress authorized the Territorial Road and surveying began in January of 1830. Traveling by way of the Territorial Road, which really was a trail at the time, settlers began to arrive from the east coast and Europe. On their way west these settlers left Detroit on the Chicago Road. Near Ypsilanti they continued west on the Territorial Road which went directly through the counties we know today as Wayne, Washtenaw, Jackson, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, VanBuren and Berrien.
Calhoun County was named in honor of John C. Calhoun on October 29, 1829, when the legislative council of the territory met to assign boundaries to the county. At the time, John C. Calhoun was a member of President Jackson’s cabinet and also served as a senator from South Carolina.
In 1830 Calhoun County’s first recorded entry of land was made by Ephraim Harrison in Albion. The Peabody’s were the first settlers to arrive in Albion. Dr. Foster and Isaac Tolland were the first settlers in the Battle Creek Billage site. George Ketchum and his party were the first settlers in the Village of Marshall in 1830. The Ketchum party built a cabin and a sawmill on Rice Creek, and then built a grist mill which began operating in the fall of 1832.
In the early summer of 1830, New Yorker, Sidney Ketchum rode along Territorial Road until he reached the community we now know as Marshall. Sidney acquired land claims in the area and returned to upstate New York and New England to recruit settlers. He recruited merchants, doctors, lawyers, ministers and other professionals for his new settlement. In 1832 a schoolhouse was built, since most of the first settlers came from educated communities. Before the Village had even a dozen children of school age, a Miss Brown was summoned from Ann Arbor to teach.
Oshea Wilder originally settled in Marshall and then located in lower Eckford Township. It is claimed that he originated the idea of a canal connection between Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Many of the early village plats in the county were surveyed and platted by Oshea Wilder. Another prominent citizen, Ezra Convis, settled near the Battle Creek Village site and became the county’s first state legislative representative from 1836-1837.
“We are not yet in the Union but shall be on Monday or Tuesday of next week!” Serving as Michigan’s liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives, Isaac E. Crary wrote these words on January 19, 1837, from Washington, D.C. Crary was right and Michigan became a state the following week on January 26, 1837. Michigan was supposed to have become a state exactly two years earlier on January 26, 1835. What kept Michigan out of the Union? A boundary dispute called the “Great Toledo War”. The dispute ended with Michigan giving up the so-called “Toledo Strip” to Ohio for the western half of the Upper Peninsula.
By 1835, the Village of Marshall had a population of 300. The village was the center of a rapidly growing agricultural area, and midpoint on the Territorial Road for settlers coming to Michigan. Many settlers were traveling through the village and public houses were overcrowded. Colonel Andrew Mann of Connecticut recognized the great need for accommodating travelers and built what we know as the National House Inn. The Inn began operating in the fall of 1835, and was the first brick building in Calhoun County. It is interesting to note that the first log cabin in the community was built just five years earlier. The Inn soon became the economic, social and political center of Marshall, serving as headquarters for the county courts until 1838.
The Cornerstone of the first county courthouse was laid on October 22, 1837. The Building was completed in 1838, at a cost of over $25,000, and included a jail in the basement. In 1850, a jail break occurred when nine prisoners managed to heat an iron on the stove. They escaped by burning off the lock fastenings, and also freed one prisoner secured to an oak log by burning off the staples. A jail separate from the courthouse was built in 1869 for housing approximately thirty prisoners. During 1875, a new courthouse costing just under $55,000 was completed. The new courthouse replaced the original courthouse which had become structurally unsafe.
Calhoun County continued to grow during the early 1900's with the Industrial Revolution. During World War I the cities of Albion, Marshall and Battle Creek emerged as industrial centers. Today there are many industries in the county including: Eaton Manufacturing, Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, Graphic Packaging (formerly Michigan Carton Company), Ralston Foods and Progressive Dynamics. Battle Creek is known throughout the world, and serves as Headquarters of Hart-Doyle-Inouye Federal Center in conjunction with the Department of Defense in Washington DC.
Also, Battle Creek is the home of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Bronson Battle Creek which has been in operation for over 100 years through several mergers. Dairy farming accounts for over one third of the county’s total agricultural income today. The principal crops raised in the county are corn, hay and wheat.
Education has been important to the people of Calhoun County since the 1830's. Today, Isaac E. Crary and Rev. John D. Pierce are best remembered as founders of the Michigan educational system in 1834. Albion College is one of Michigan’s oldest denominational colleges. Other schools in the county include the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Kellogg Community College, formerly known as the Battle Creek College established in 1958 and the Robert B. Miller College founded in 2002.
Calhoun County has 500 miles of streams and 138 inland lakes for recreation. There are twenty-two major parks in the county for citizens to enjoy and fifteen public sites for fishing. The Kingman Museum of Natural History has more than 125,000 specimens of wildlife, minerals, prehistoric mammals, Indian exhibits and rare relics available for viewing.
People make a difference and they are the first ingredient of any community. The population of Calhoun County at the time of the 2010 census was 136,146. The governmental units of the county are made up of nineteen townships, four villages, four cities and ten school districts. The Board of Commissioners has seven members, representing equal population districts. The present County Building was built around the 75 year old Courthouse in 1955, at a cost of $1,550,000. The Calhoun County Justice Center and Correctional Facility was dedicated in Battle Creek on June 22, 1994, at a cost of $39,100,000. Calhoun County continues to grow through its citizens innovative ideas. We must always remember the great deeds and foresight of the county’s pioneers as we look to the future.