DENNIS HARMON PIONEER
Of Dayton Township, Tuscola County, Michigan
(Dennis, Hiram, Simeon, Simeon, Nathaniel, Nathaniel, John)
Dennis Harmon was born October 01, 1815 in Phelps, Ontario County, New York. He was the son of Hiram and Jane Berdan Harmon. Dennis was brother to Violetta, Austin, Eliza, John, Sally Ann, and Spencer Harmon all born in Phelps New York.
In 1830, Michigan Territory began blooming with many pioneers coming from the East. Land Grants were plentiful. In 1831 Hiram and Jane and their family came to Michigan Territory, (not yet a state). They journeyed by canal to Buffalo, and then by a boat named “ The Henry Clay” to Detroit. They applied for a land patent at the Detroit Land Office on May 23, 1831, for 80 acres, in what is now known as Canton Township in Wayne County. It was a two day walk from Detroit to Canton Township where they set foot on the land to be theirs.
At the age of 16, Dennis and his family had to make a new life in the wilderness. The Siblings were all close in age, Dennis being the middle child, and were a great help in their teen years in clearing land and building a cabin and homestead.
There were great hardships in 1831 when there was not much civilized living going on in that area. Finally, with a lot of hard work, the land patent of 125 acres was lived up to and a homestead in place. Now it was time for Dennis to move on and start a life of his own.
At the age of 23, Dennis married Emeline Westbrook on September 18, 1838 in Plymouth Michigan. We assume that Emeline was a next door neighbor as there was a Thomas Westbrook family farm next to the Harmon farm in Canton according to “Cornerstones” the history of Canton. That Westbrook family also came from Phelps New York about the same time as the Harmon family. It is quite possible that Dennis and Emeline knew each other for a very long time.
In 1842, son James was born to Dennis and Emeline. In all they had ten children. The first four were born in Plymouth, Wayne County, Michigan, and the next three in Nankin Township, Wayne County, Michigan, and the last three in Dayton Township, Tuscola County, Michigan. About 1855/56, Dennis came north to what is now known as Tuscola County with his family of seven children. He applied for a land patent at the Genesee Land Office. There was nothing in Dayton at that time except for a few lumbermen, some Indians, and a few other pioneer families. There were no roads, only foot paths, probably made by Indians. Dennis and Emeline and their children might have come part way by stage coach, but probably came all the way on foot. They were given a map for directions from the land office, to show them the way. It was a long way to come on foot, estimating the distance to be approximately 90-95 miles.
It was strictly wilderness. Other Pioneers had come earlier that year. They were the Mead family, Crawford family, and a few others. However, it was probably a while before Dennis and Emeline realized that others were in the area. Dennis planted his feet on section 5 of Dayton along what is now known as M46 or Sanilac Road between Murray and Lee Hill Roads. He cleared the land and planted crops. It is hard to picture what the area really looked like in 1856. There were no close neighbors, no well for water, no electricity, no cabin, no horse, no barn, only a place to start to build a homestead. Three more babies were to come on this place. A log cabin was built and life went on for the Harmon family.
Soon others came and the township of Dayton was proclaimed and molded into a community. Dennis took part in important jobs such as road commissioner and constable. A short distance down the road to the east of the homestead, a store and post office was erected at what was then known as Hurd’s Corners. Mail probably didn’t come every day to a mail box in front of your home. You were lucky to get mmail once a month which you picked up at the post office. District country schools came later in the late 1870s.
In 1857, Dennis had his land patent after living up to the agreement according to the application. The land now belonged to Dennis Harmon.
In the 1860 US Census for Dayton Township, these facts were known. Population 129, 28 families, 28 dwellings, 18 farms, 514 acres improved, 1 horse, 25 cows, 25 oxen, 107 bushel of wheat raised, 1635 bushel of corn, 395 bushel of oats, 1340 bushel of potatoes 1550 pounds of butter, and 25 tons of hay. Numerous saw mills and gristmills began appearing throughout the Township. Many of the lake and road names in Dayton was named for the early settlers, including Lorenzo Hurd, Dennis Harmon, N.C. Phelps, and Michael Shay.
Dennis was a good hunter. He had to hunt to provide food for his large family. Of course back in the mid-1800s, there was plenty of wild game in Dayton Township and the surrounding area such as bear, elk, deer, etc. Dennis wounded an elk on one of those hunting days. He chased the elk for a mile or so when he came upon a nice lake to the south and west of his homestead. This would mean maybe some fish would be another kind of food for his family. He named the lake, Lake Emeline, after his wife who was waiting back at the cabin for his return. The lake was later re-named Harmon Lake and today is inhabited by many families along the shoreline.
Dennis and Emeline now had nine children and another one on the way. Son, James, had a job at a neighboring farm in Wells Township and the two oldest girls, Lucia, and Caroline had gotten married to young men who were of neighboring families. Winter was setting in and the ground beginning to freeze solid. Supplies were very low and with so many mouths to feed, food and other necessities were badly needed. It was close to Christmas time. Dennis and a neighbor, Mr. Wells, went on foot to Saginaw for supplies taking the trail of what is now known as Wells Road. The trail began almost directly in front of the Harmon home and went straight through to what is now known as Wahjamega where there was a lumbering camp and a crossing of the mighty Cass River. From there Dennis and Mr. Wells might have taken a stage coach, but more than likely went on foot to Saginaw. It is an estimated distance of about 40-45 miles one way. The trip probably took 2-3 days. Upon return with their supplies in hand, and being very tired from their long journey, Dennis and Mr. Wells decided to spend the night at the lumbering camp boarding house (or tavern) at Wahjamega. During that night the tavern caught on fire leaving Dennis and Mr. Wells, as well as others, badly burned. Others perished in the fire. A few days later on December 22 1861, Dennis and Mr. Wells died as a result of their burns and smoke. They were buried in shallow graves and were to be moved to a cemetery after the spring thaw. Their bodies were never located and it was said that the wild animals had dragged the carcasses away and eaten them. There is no evidence to be found about the demise of Dennis and Mr. Wells. There is no record at the court house of his death or burial. This story has been handed down from the family of Dennis.
Dennis was now gone at the age of 46. Soon after his death he became the father of another son, Philo. Now the family of Dennis and Emeline was complete. A few years later Emeline died at her home near what is now known as East Dayton. Her remains are in a grave site at the East Dayton Cemetery. A headstone there bares here name and date of death. As with Dennis, there are no court house records about the death of Emeline. The headstone is the only record.
Descendants of Dennis do not know anything of his stature. We can only guess about his appearance. There is a photo of three of his sons, Spencer, Albert, and Philo. Philo appears quite tall with dark hair and eyes, and Spencer had dark hair and eyes, while Albert seems on the husky side with lighter hair and appears more medium in height. Civil War pension papers tell that another son, Arthur, was five feet eight and a half inches tall and had black eyes and light hair. Photographs of daughters Emma and Caroline have been found.
There are many descendants of Dennis and Emeline Harmon. James and Rosannah Bylington stayed in the East Dayton Area. Lucia and Julius Hurd had a large family and moved on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and later on to Oregon. Caroline and Philo King moved on to Ohio. Arthur Douglas and Lucinda Hall stayed in the area. Spencer and Rhoda Belknap stayed in Dayton Township and had many descendants spreading across Michigan. Charles moved on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at Manistique where he married Louisa Lang. Emma and John McLaughlin stayed in the area and later moved on to the Detroit area. Andrew died young and was single. Albert and Lucelia Richley lived in Wells Township. Philo and Lillian Putman lived in Tuscola County.
There are many stories about all of the descendants of Dennis and Emeline Harmon telling of beginnings and endings in many other places across the county.