History of Tuscola County



     September 1881, destroyed twenty-one houses, and two saw-mills, and left eighteen families without shelter.  The greatest individual loss was that of Wm. Bates, whose mill, three miles south of Vassar village, was burned, together with a large quantity of logs.  The loss was estimated at about $10,000.


     Census of 1854: Population, 74; males, 39; females, 85; number of acres of taxable land, 1,226; number of acres of improved land, 241; bushels of corn preceding year, 750; bushels of wheat preceding year, 415; tons of hay preceding year, 10; pounds of butter made preceding year, 650; number of horses, 5; number of cows, 12; number of saw-mills, 1; feet of lumber sawed, 1,200,000.

     Census of 1860: Population, 229: number of families, 52; number of dwellings, 52; value of real estate owned, $27,100; number of occupied farms, 34; number of acres of  improved land, 715; number of horses, 19; number of cows, 26; bushels of wheat raised, 386; bushels of rye, 120; bushels of corn, 895; bushels of oats, 620; bushels of barley, 90; bushels of potatoes, 1,062; pounds of butter made, 2,620; tons of hay cut, 113; number of saw-mills, 2; feet of lumber sawed, 1,800,000; number of flouring mills, 1.

     Census of 1864: Population, 264; males, 138; females, 126; number of acres of taxable land, 2,794; number of acres of improved land, 439; bushels of corn preceding year, 1,010; bushels of wheat preceding year, 240; bushels of potatoes preceding year, 868; tons of hay preceding year, 207; pounds of wool sheared, 295; pounds of butter made, 1,400; number of horses, 33; number of flouring-mills, 1; number of barrels of flour made preceding year, 4,680.

     Census of 1876: Population, 775; number of families, 167; number of dwellings, 168; number of farms, 29; number of voters, 1,880; number of acres of improved land, 1,057; number of horses, 45; number of cows, 61; pounds of butter made, 5,175; pounds of cheese made, 330; pounds of wool sheared, 2,463; bushels of wheat raised, 2,136; bushels of corn, 3,105; bushels of oats, 2,640; bushels of potatoes, 3,795; tons of hay cut, 318; number of saw-mills, 2; feet of lumber sawed, 1, 708,000; flouring-mills, 1; barrels of flour made, 5,200.

     Census of 1874; Population, 1,308; males, 676; females, 632; number of horses, 54; number of cows, 110; number of sheep, 183; bushels of wheat, 932; bushels of corn, 4,214; bushels of apples, 185; bushels of potatoes, 1,895; tons of hay, 205.

     The report for 1879 shows 29 farms, 1,151 acres of improved land; and for the preceding year, ,278 bushels of wheat, 4,335 bushels of corn, 2,520 bushels of potatoes, and 314 tons of hay.

     Population in 1880, 1,734.  Total equalized valuation in 1882, $516,777.  For the year 1880 there is reported 4,064 bushels of wheat, 11, 227 bushels of corn, 322 tons of hay; acres of improved land in 1881, 1,639; number of farms, 44.



     The town officers since 1867, the earliest date of which any record can be found, are as follows:

YEARS            SUPERVISOR                        CLERK                     TREASURER

1883                Lewis C. Merritt                     John R. Bancroft            Mathew D. North

1882                Lewis C. Merritt                     John R. Bancroft            Mathew D. North

1881                Jefferson J. Wilder                    John R. Bancroft            Lewis C. Merritt

1880                Mathew D. North                   John R. Bancroft            Lewis C. Merritt

1879                Thomas H. Williamson            John R. Bancroft            Orange G. Emerson

1878                Thomas H. Williamson            John R. Bancroft            Orange G. Emerson

1877                Thomas H. Williamson            John R. Bancroft            Lewis C. Merritt

1876                Thomas H. Williamson            John H. Burgess            Lewis C. Merritt

1875                Thomas H. Williamson            James H. Dow                        Lewis C. Merritt

1874                B. W. Huston, Jr.                    Lewis C. Davis            James Johnson

1873                B. W. Huston, Jr.                    Lewis C. Davis            James Johnson

1872                Matthew D. North                   Lewis C. Davis       Thomas H. Williamson       

1871                Matthew D. North                   John H. Bourns James Johnson

1870                Matthew D. North                   William Lake, Jr.            James Johnson

1869                Matthew D. North                   John H. Burgess            James Johnson

1868                Matthew D. North                   John H. Burgess            James Johnson



    This village is situated on the Cass River, a little more than twenty miles from its confluence with the Saginaw.  It is distant from East Saginaw City about eighteen miles and from Bay City twenty-two miles, and occupies a positioning the northwest corner of the town of Vassar.

     The village is spread upon both sides of the river, and mainly on a level plat of ground, skirted all along on the west by an elevation, which from the river presents a bold and sometimes high and irregular front, that having been ascended brings to view a country whose surface is an almost unbroken level away to the Saginaw, twenty miles distant.  This ridge or terrace affords building sites which are most delightful, some of which are already crowned with elegant residence.  Upon a conspicuous point on the bluff stands the Union School building, a mammoth brick structure whch proclaims the intelligence and enterprise of the community.            

     There is a general expression to the village that is inviting.  There is a picturesque beauty about its location that delights the eye, but its chief charm is in the air of thrift and refinement that pervades its business places and its homes.  The population of village in 1883 is something over fifteen hundred and is steadily increasing, as is also its commercial strength and importance.

     The history of Vassar is particularly interesting and important from the fact that its birth and that of general progress in the county were simultaneous.  The men who projected Vassar were the ones who opened the gates for settlers to come into the county.



     On the morning of March 1st, in the year 1849, a company of four persons, consisting of Hon. Townsend North, the late Hon. James M. Edmunds, the late James Saunders and Joseph Grovenor, swung their packs from their shoulders and dedicated the site of Vassar to civilization and industry.  Messrs. North and Edmunds were the proprietors of the place and the two men accompanying were in their employ.  They had spent the previous night at Tuscola, and from that place made the journey on the ice.

      They halted at the mouth of the creek, near where the mill now stands.  Some lumber had been sent up in advance and with this they built a shanty, leaving a large opening in one side for a fire.  At night they cooked a supper and partook of a meal that perhaps may have tasted better than many others served amid more gorgeous surroundings.  After dark they gathered boughs and made beds upon which they slept during the night, and the next morning proceeded to lay the foundation of a village.

     They went immediately at work clearing a piece of land and putting in crops in order to provide supplies for the future, as markets were distant and difficult to reach.

     Work on the saw-mill was soon begun, a dam across the river built, and thus the wheels of industry were put in motion.  The mill commenced running early in 1850.



     Mr. North very soon perceived the advantages of location which this place enjoyed as a trading post and business center of the surrounding country.  The population of the county was less than three hundred, and nineteen-twentieths of its territory uninhabited.  But Mr. North proposed to induce immigration and direct its tide into these unoccupied townships, and for a long time at least this place would be their nearest trading point.

     Soon after a start in business had been made the company laid out a few streets and had a survey made in order to sell lots, though the regular plat was not made until 1853.

      Now Messrs. North and Edmunds were confronted with the task


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of adopting a title by which the place should be designated  and known.  This matter was the subject of much thought and discussion.  Mr. North being the real founder of the place some thought it should be named after him.  But no combination could be effected that was satisfactory to Mr. North, and he suggested the name of Edmundsville.  That name did not suit the fancy of Mr. Edmunds, and he suggested the name of Vassar.  Matthew Vassar was an uncle of Mrs. Edmunds, and Mr. Edmunds was desirous that the town should bear his name. The suggestion met the approbation of the others interested and thus the village took its name from the founder of Vassar Female College, Poughkeepsie, N. Y.

     The beacon light of immigration was now hung upon the tower of Vassar, and at this date the continuous and successful settlement of Tuscola County began. The time was ripe for reclaiming this wilderness and handing it over to the domain of civilization, and the projector of Vassar possessed the sagacity and energy to carry forward the enterprise.  Roads were projected and improvements made in every direction.  Mr. North and his co-workers sought the aid of legislation, solicited appropriations for public improvements, instituted schemes of industry, gave publicity to the character of the country and by every possible means invited immigration.  The spirit with which they worked imparted a momentum to general progress, results of which are now visible upon every hand.


     Among The pioneers of Tuscola County there is no one better known or more universally respected than the gentleman whose name is at the head of this sketch.  And if he is well known in his own county his name is also a familiar one in most parts of the State of Michigan, of which he has been a citizen for about forty-seven years.

     Hon. Townsend North was born September 24, 1814, in Ulster County, N. Y.  His parents moved form that part of the State when he was an infant, and for a number of years lived in the towns of Fayette and Tyre, in Seneca County.  His father, who farmed in a moderate way, was a carpenter and joiner by trade, which avocation his son learned.  In 1835 the father removed to Washtenaw County, Mich., and the year succeeding the son came to Michigan and followed his trade in the counties of Washtenaw and Lenawee until 1839.  In 1840 he was one of the sub-contractors on the first dormitory building for the university of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, where he lived some five years.  During his residence in that part of the State he also had a farming Wahtenaw County, which he commenced to improve.

     In 1845 he removed to Flint, Genesee County, where he opened a lumber yard and also kept a hotel.  He remained in that city for some three years.  During the time he kept the hotel an incident occurred which completely changed his plans for the future.  The capital of the State then was Detroit, and the members of the legislature from Saginaw County used to stop at his house on the way to Detroit.  One evening he got into conversation with Charles Palmer, who was the Saginaw member, and among other things asked him what measure he had in view for the benefit of his county.  He replied that he had no especial thing in contemplation.  Mr. North then called his attention to the fact that the United States government had made a grant of five hundred thousand acres of land for internal improvements in the State of Michigan, and suggested that an appropriation for a bride across the Cass River at Bridgeport might be procured and the building of the bridge would be a great benefit to Saginaw County.  Mr. Palmer, to whom the idea had not occurred up to that tie, during the session introduced a bill which was prepared by Judge Edmunds, Mr. North’s brother-in-law and also a member of the legislature.  It made a grant of 3,000 acres of land to build the bridge and was passed by the legislature, the grant to be expended under the sanction of the board of supervisors.  They let the job of building the bridge to the lowest responsible bidder, and a tender made by Mr. North was accepted.  In his bargain with the board he stipulated that they should make him their agent to select the lands, which he was to receive for building the bridge.  In locating them he was impressed by the fine quality of the pine timber along the Cass River and also the excellent quality of the oil. In addition to the amount received for the bridge, he, in company with Judge J. M. Edmunds and his brother, Newton Edmunds, bought other lands.  In 1849 they built the saw-mill (which is now standing) south of the bridge in the village of Vassar.  The firm was known as North & Edmunds.  J. M. Edmunds and Newton Edmunds carried on the firm’s store at Ypsilanti, and Mr. North was the resident partner at Vassar, superintending their lumber and other operations at that place, with occasional aid from the Edmunds.  They also had a mill at East Saginaw, which was built in 1853, which was managed by the Messrs. Edmunds.  In addition to the saw-mill at Vassar they also kept a general stock of merchandise at Vassar, it being the first store in the county.

     In 1854 the firm was enlarged by the addition as members of William W Carpenter, Thomas W. Lockwood and Samuel Barstow, all of Detroit.  In 1858 Judge Edmunds and his brother Newton retired from the firm.  The duration of the co-partnership was limited to six years, but was continued until1864, when Mr. North bought the interests of the three Detroit members.  Judge J. M. Edmunds, now deceased, was afterward commissioner of the United States land office and postmaster of the city of Washington, D.C., and Newton Edmunds was at one time governor of the Territory of Dakota and now a banker at Yakton.  During the continuance of the co-partnership, his partners being non-residents, Mr. North was unable to tender such aid to any proposed local public improvements as he would liked to have done, as he feared that his zeal might outweigh his judgment to the detriment of his partners.  After the dissolution he was in a more independent position, and he has largely aided in many works which have been for the benefit of his chosen home and Tuscola County.

     In 1849 when operations were first commenced at what is now Vassar, there was no settlement nearer than Tuscola, the present site of their village.  The village of Vassar was surveyed, and the plat recorded in August, 1854, for the company, by D. A. Pettibone a surveyor who then lived in Bridgeport, Saginaw County.

     In 1865 he sold his saw-mill, grist-mill, a quantity of pine lands, etc., to B. F. McHose.

     In 1867 he and his son James E. (who had charge of the mill) purchased another saw-mill and run it until after the death of this son in 1874, when he sold it to Worden & Delano.  The mill was originally owned by Stephen Bunnell, from whose hands it passed into those of Col. William B. McCreary, of Flint, who sold it to Mr. North.

     In 1867 he started the Vassar woolen-mils, an institution which is known all over the State for the excellence of its products.  In 1882 a joint stock company was organized and a new factory built. The capital stock of the company is $25,000.  Operations in the new building, which is a large three-story brick structure, will be commenced in 1883 and about thirty operatives will be employed.

    In 1875 he and Bostwick Noble, of Lowell, Mich., opened a bank. After about a year Mr. North purchased Noble’s interest, and recently took into partnership his only son, Frank, and the institution was known by the firm name of T. North & son. Until

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July 5, 1883, when the First National Bank of Vassar commenced doing business with Mr. North as president.

     In 1872, when the D. & B. C. Railroad was in the course of construction, he built a number of miles of it, commencing to Otter Lake and extending about a mile and one-half beyond the village of Vassar toward Bay City.  He also was a stockholder in the road to the amount of $5,000.  Although the investments, both stock and contract, were far from being paying ones, yet they have aided in giving to Tuscola County a much needed outlet to better markets for its agricultural and other products.  He also built some ten miles of the State road to Blumfield, which was continued form Goodrich to Bay City.

     In 1862 he was appointed assessor of internal revenue for the Sixth District of Michigan, by President Lincoln, holding the office four years, and in 1871 was re-appointed by President Grant, holding the office until it was discontinued in 1873.  Mr. North never has been what is known as an office-seeker, the foregoing appointments having been made without any solicitation on his part.  He has held a number of other public positions, all of which have been more of honor than profit.  He was the first register of deeds of Tuscola County after its organization in 1850, member of the State senate in 1875, supervisor for Vassar six yeas and member of the school board sixteen years.  He was also president of the board appointed by Gov. Croswell to locate the Michigan school for the blind.

     Mr. North has been married twice and has had seven children born unto him by his first wife, only two of whom survive, and three by his present wife, who are all living.

     Aside from his banking and other business in the village he is an extensive farmer, having two farms, one in the township of Fremont and the other in Denmark.

     Mr. North’s residence at Vassar is very handsomely situated, presenting a fine appearance and being on an eminence it commands a view of the village and a large extent of surrounding country.  The grounds are tastefully laid out and the interior of the house is finished in a manner in which elegance and comfort are combined.




     Mrs. E. H. Hudson, now of Potterville, Mich., a daughter of William Jameson, one of the pioneers of the county, relates the following reminiscences connected with Vassar in its infancy:

     “On the 7th day of September in the year 1850, a party of eight persons might have been seen wending their way over the hills and through the forest from Tuscola village, then but a small hamlet, to where a thriving and beautiful village now stands.  That party was my father and mother and six children.  The youngest was a babe one year old, which I, with my mother took turns in carrying.  That babe is now Mrs. A. W. Ale, of Caro.  As we slowly made our way for long miles through these trackless wilds, crossing ravines and occasionally climbing over some fallen monarch of the forest, where for a few moments, we would sit and rest our weary limbs, we viewed with admiration not unmixed with awe, the wonderful growth of timber and vegetation of these wild, uncultivated tracts of land.

     “The only sign of civilization that greeted us was the small clearing of Mr. J. D. Smith, where we stopped for dinner.  Never, in all my life, can I remember a meal fraught with so much sweetness as the one prepared by the good Mrs. Smith for the hungry, tired and foot-sore travelers that invaded her quiet home on that, to me, long remembered day.

     “Rested and refreshed we again took up our line of march and in a few hours reached the city of Vassar, as my father, good-naturedly, called the settlement.

     “I shall never forget my first impressions.  Emerging from a forest so dense and dark as to be a lost gloomy on that bright September day, we came to a corn field, the contents of which, if my memory serves me rightly, was about three or four acres; it might have been more, it might have been less.  A zigzag path across this soon brought us to the North & Edmunds’ boarding-house, where we were welcomed by Mr. Chauncy Furman and a younger portion of the Rogers’ family who were one day in advance of our party.  These persons consisted of Mr. George and Jackson Rogers and their wives, and Miss Mary ,now Mrs. Thomas Hunter, of Caro.  The boarding-house was a huge structure built entirely of boards and slabs, with an enormous fire-place and stick chimney.  Beside this there were five board shanties with stove pipes projecting through their slab roofs, the frame of a saw-mill and a building about the size of a modern corn crib, which we soon learned was the store.  In front of the boarding-house was collected quite a number of persons, and as I looked them over shyly I thought they were as motley a group as my eyes had ever rested upon.  There were huntsmen with their rifles, and workingmen in their overalls and blouses, some of them smoking and talking, one or two reading, and all seemingly content and happy. It was a lovely Sabbath afternoon, and as I thought of this, and the grand old church in Washtenaw County where I had spent so many happy Sabbaths, my heart sank within me.  I felt that I had left everything worth living for behind.

     “A Little later in the day a large deer, the first I had ever seen, was brought in, and as I looked upon this beautiful creature, his eyes now glazed in death, and his head now laid low which only a few hours before had borne aloft so proudly those immense horns,  I almost felt indignant that it should be the hunter’s victim.  I am quite certain that the hunter’s name was John Beach. 

     “I soon learned that life with me had only just begun.  I , who had ever been a child and knew nothing of labor or care, took up life that Sabbath day anew, and, as I scanned the future and took in its responsibilities, I grew years older.

     “But we were not alone in our trials.  No one who came to this county at that early time but can tell of hardships, of hard work and discomforts.


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     “My father and brother helped to fell the first trees where the beautiful and romantic village of Vassar now stands: and as I come upon each well remembered landmark my heart swells and my eyes fill with tears.  The old homestead now owned by Mr. James Smith is shorn of everything that made it home to me.  The dear old ivy-covered house is gone, and the hands that reared it have moldered back to dust.  I see forests turned into immense fields of waving grain, and beautiful orchards laden with their rich and abundant fruitage.  I see broad acres of beautiful pastures where but a few years ago the wild deer roamed at will, where the bear prowled and the wolf howled his midnight dirges.  I see everywhere grand strides of civilization.  Where I once climbed the steep banks of a ravine in search of blackberries stands the Vassar Union School-house.  And there, too, on the hill beyond and in the vale below stand beautiful edifices whose spires point to a house not made with hands.” 


     Dr. William Johnson, the pioneer physician, furnishes the following:

     “The first resident family was that of Leander W. Van Kleeck; Mr. North’s family came in June, 1850, and the same year O. A. Gibbs, Jacob Alber, Chauncy Furman, Mr. Waterman, and some others.  It was some time during this year that Joshua D. Smith and Sylvester Black located about two miles below Vassar, their clearings being the only ones between Tuscola and this place.  Mr. Smith being extensively acquainted, his house became a frequent stopping place for all manner of travelers, Mrs. Smith ever showing herself a kind and attentive hostess.  Having lived for many years in the family of her uncle, Dr. Smith, of Saginaw City, she had acquired a considerable knowledge of medicine and its use, and your historian and many others made frequent demands upon her remedial supplies.  In 1851 a wonderful excitement prevailed, kept up by land-lookers coming in by scores, and others with the intention of actual settlement, and during this season several families moved up the river.  This year the first farm house was built in Vassar, erected by James Saunders, and now occupied by J. D. Smith.

     “A school district was formed in the fall of 1850 or early in the spring of 1851, Mr. North spending three days tramping through the woods in order to find a sufficient number of persons---freeholders—to sign the petition.  In the summer of 1851 the ‘Curtis shanty” was made over into a school-house, and four months of school taught by Miss Augusta Slafter.  A frame school-house was built the following year, and school taught during the winter of 1852-53 by D. G. Wilder, now of Watrousville.  The present brick school-house was erected in 1860.

     “The first sermon preached in Vassar was by Rev. Calvin Selden, in the spring of 1851.  In the fall of that year, Rev. S. P. Lee, a Methodist minister, found his way in, preaching every two or three weeks; a society was formed, comprising five members, on the 14th of October.  From this date there has been Methodist preaching, though more or less irregular at the beginning.  On the 12th of April, 1855, th Presbyterian Church was organized, the original membership being six.

     “During the years 1852-54 several families moved in and became residents---F. Bourns, E. W. White, E. Sturges, B. W. Huston and others.  On Tuesday, November 24, 1857, the first copy of the Tuscola County Pioneer was issued by W. R. Bartlett.

     “The first public discussion in the town on a specified topic was on the 2d of February, 1858, at the school-house.  It shows the drift of national thought and the political question of the day. The notice read: “There is to be a public discussion at the school-house, on Saturday evening of this week, to commence at early candle light.  The question to be discussed is one of no little importance, as it is so minutely connected with the political issues which now agitate our country:

     Resolved, That the constitution of the United States recognizes and countenances Negro slavery.”



      Frederick Bourns, one of the early settlers, furnishes a view of Vassar in the spring of 1855, as follows:

     “Those whose acquaintance with our town has only extended over the past few years, can have but little idea of its appearance in 1855.  It was then just about six years of age, and numbered less than one hundred inhabitants all told.  Most important places of business were the saw-mill of Messrs. North & Edmunds, now owned by our townsman, Mr. B. F. McHose, a blacksmith’s shop on the site of Butts & Stephens’ store, the wagon shop of Messrs. Matthew D. and Samuel North, near where the furniture store of Messrs. North & Johnson now stands, the tannery at the lower end of the village, the store of Messrs. North & Edmunds across the street from the grist-mill, and that of Arms & Bourns on the present site of Mrs. Meehan’s residence, and the public-house known as Pennell’s Tavern, a part of which is still standing on Main Street, just south of the First National Bank.  Such is a brief description of the village of Vassar as it appeared in the spring of 1855.”

     During these years Vassar headed the march of progress, sending out its torch bearers to light the way.  It was here the first house of worship in the county was built, and the first newspaper enterprise that ever embarked upon the troubled waves of journalism in the county, started out from this obscure port.

      Along the lumber roads or trails or through woods came settlers with their bags of wheat or corn upon their shoulders, bringing it to mill to be ground in to material for bread or Johnny cake.

     The old boarding-house of North & Edmunds was the bakery for all this region, and men who had come on in advance of their families in order to get a clearing started and provide shelter, would bring their flour to Vassar to be baked into bread.

     The first brick building in Vassar was a dwelling-house, still standing on Main Street, built in the year 1855.

     The first private residence of much pretension in the village is the one now owned by B. F. McHose, on Main Street.  It was built in 1855 by John B Joslin, and was the big house of this region.  Mr. Joslin never occupied it but sold it to a Mr. Swett, who occupied it as a boarding-house.

      Dr. William Johnson was the first physician and first postmaster.