The following early history of Elsie, was written by MRS. SARA SHOW, and was read at the W. L. C.
On the map of Michigan up in the northeastern part of Duplain Township is a little spot of black. It looks like a blot, but it isn't a blot. It is the village of Elsie. Just as important as any other place marked on the map. The people responsible for the platting of this little incorporated village have long been laid to rest in a spot sacred to the people of Elsie. Monuments mark the graves of these early settlers who erected greater monuments to their memories in the work they left behind them. Among these pioneers who struggled so bravely, combatting disease and all the hardships incident to pioneer life were the Cravens Brothers; the Sickels Brothers; Hiram Curtis; Jonathan Hicks; Alpheus Beebee; Franklin Tillotson; Kingston Wool and Joshua Cobb. Closely following them were the Finches, Blayneys, Carters, Eddys, Van Deusens, Chases, Bates, and others. Among our people today we find, the third generation of some of these families still carrying on and the same names posted on many of the rural buildings and mail boxes.
There was a time when one could count the houses of the community but no one dared to gossip about their neighbors for they were nearly all related. The Sickels married Cobbs; the Cobbs married Sickels; the Finches married Blayneys; the Eddys married Finches; the Tillotsons, Wools, and Curtis's were all related and so on and on.
About the year 1845 Thomas, Robert, and Joseph Craven each paid the Government $125, $5.00 down and the rest on demand, and between the three, 640 acres of land was owned.
They selected what they considered a good location on the bank of the Maple River and built a saw mill (no other saw mill being nearer than Ann Arbor). The building stood, I believe just on the hill east of where the grist mill stands. The brothers had great hopes that some day a village would be platted in the locality they had chosen. After a period of time Alpheus Beebe built a store and afterward sold it to the Sickels brothers, J. D. Sickels, father of Mrs. Alice Andrews, Mrs. L. G. Bates and A. L. Sickels, and Aaron and William.
Mr. Beebe also built a wagon shop and a tavern. The old tavern is still standing, i.e., the upright and part of the porch: it was built eighty five years ago and stands 3/4 of a mile west of Elsie on the north side of the street. Next Hiram Curtis built a cabinet shop, and The Corners, as it was called began to look up but hope was destined to die for the Sickels brothers soon moved their store one mile east to their farm and June 18, 1857 recorded the plat of ground and named the village Elsie, as a compliment to one of Franklin Tillotson's daughters. I believe she was the first white child born in Elsie. The second child born in Elsie, I have been told was George and Ross Carter's mother Julia Lewis.
Additions to the Sickels plat were made at various times by Franklin Tillotson, Jonathan Hicks, Elijah Cobb, son of Joshua Cobb, Levi Randall and Kingston Wool. Kingston Wool came from England. He built the home directly back of the M. E. Church, at the present time. It was built sixty-five years ago and is probably the oldest house in Elsie and is in a good state of preservation. The first improvement after the Sickels's store was a frame store built by Aaron Sickels and Elijah Cobb in the year 1858. About this time A. E. Gray opened a blacksmith shop and Farrell and Son started a chair factory that employed four men. They failed in business two years later. In 1865 Kelly Brothers launched out in a big new store and also built a planning mill at Craven's old stand, carrying on a big business for a number of years. The early shoemaker in the village was Henry Sexton who also owned a farm 1 1/2 miles east.
In 1868 E. W. Gay opened a wagon shop. A few of us remember Mr. Gay. As I knew him, he was a little elderly man, who walked so fast you would think he was running.
Elsie had but one well for a number of years. The town well was located on the main four corners.
The Post Office was established in the year 1857. Franklin Tillotson was the first Postmaster. Mail was received from the Colony, later from Ovid. Elsie's first tavern was built by D. B. Fox in the year 1859 and was located just west of the Elsie Bank. The one that most of us remember so well was the Doty House built by G. L. Doty in 1865 and was torn down a few years ago to make room for the new State Savings Bank, which is a credit to our little town.
In the year 1851, Joshua Cobb gave to the village of Elsie, land for a cemetery: Mr. Cobb died the same year and was the first to be buried there. Elsie's first resident physician was Dr. Tangerson who emigrated here from Texas. The next was Dr. E. V. Chase grandfather of Mrs. Helen Frye. Dr. Chase also conducted a drug store in the village for years.
Elsie M. E. Church organized in 1849 by Elder Fassett of the Colony. The organization took place in a school house south of Elsie. The first church edifice was commenced in 1880, but the people were poor and progress was slow and the building was not dedicated until four years later. The first minister after dedication was Rev. C. A. Jacokes. The leader was Lyman Cobb, the trustees were Durfee Sickels, Lyman Cobb, John Curtis, Hiram Curtis, J. W. Curtis, and Alfred Linman. The first Sunday School Superintendent was Alfred Linman.
The Free Will Baptist Church was formed in 1851. The Cheese factory established by Sheldon Eddy was later purchased by M. S. Doyle. In the year 1879 he manufactured 68,700 lbs. of cheese. The factory has changed hands from year to year until the present time: we have no cheese factory but a large plant that manufactures many kinds of dairy products and handles a large quantity of dairy supplies: also coal. The plant has been taken over by the National Dairy Products and at the present time is under its management.
The little old red school house was built on the property now owned by Geo. Schenck. This location was chosen on account of the spring which flows out of the bank of Maple River, back of Mervil Keenan's home. The little red school house was moved many times. The last time being to Elsie Main Street where it was occupied for many years for business purposes. The building was torn down last year.
The partial destruction of the house, owned by Mervil Keenan, west of the village probably means the finish for what, with possibly one exception, is the oldest building in this section. It was erected by Alpheus Beebe in 1856 and served as a tavern while the business section of what was to be the village of Elsie was located at the settlement know as "The Mills." The building retained about the original shape, until recently, when the eastern part, that was probably the office (and maybe the 'Taproom') was torn away.
The Indian Trail, along the river bank, north of the Tavern, was the residence section of the settlement and perhaps the home of Charles Baldwin, who opened his house for a meeting called to organize a school. The district was formed to take in a territory 3 1/2 miles East and West by 2 1/2 miles North and South, or some 8 1/2 square miles -- quite a sizable territory in these days of good roads -- but the settlers kids had sturdy legs and worked off some of the energy now used in 'Athletics' in walking to school. The school-house was erected at a spot a few rods east of the Tavern in 1851 and one of the early teachers, if not the first, seems to have been Eleanor Rockwell, who was afterwards known to a younger generation as 'Aunt Eleanor Bennett.' School started off with some 27 pupils and the primary fund amounted to $9.23 a substantial amount towards the teachers salary.
There was at least one burial in the section between the Tavern and the school house, as as late as 1885 a mound near the highway was marked with a small headstone. A cemetery was soon established at the present location and if there was any intention of a burial ground near the Tavern it was abandoned for the present site donated by a Grandfather of Mr. Arthur Cobb.
The Indian Trail soon became a "Tote Road" for the settlers and a thoroughfare across the township from the northeast and further north of the old settlement, near where present kids go to coast down hill, the curious can still detect the wheel tracks made by the settlers wagons.
It is difficult for the present generation, to recall the names of the early settlers at "The Mills" and of those who lived in the Tavern prior to 1900. The names of many that were so important at that time have disappeared. A few have mounds, marked by small headstones, in the present cemetery. Some moved away and a few are remembered by their distant relatives of the community. We like to think we are of importance and necessary to our local and social affairs but one and all we return
The Red Schoolhouse is now a pile of old lumber back of a barn in the west part of the village.
Elsie has seen her good young manhood pass out of their home town to enlist in three wars. The Civil War, Spanish American and the World War. Some of them came back and others found a grave where they fell in action.
Of the Civil War Veterans, but two remain in the village, Abner Letts and David Austin. While writing this paper I have been thankful that I have been permitted to know many of these good old pioneers and can drive through the country and enjoy the beauties they helped create and left for us.
There are a number of farms adjacent to Elsie that are owned by the second and third generations. The farm now owned by Ralph Woodard. The present George Blayney farm was purchased in the year 1856 and owned by John Jasper and George Blayney. The Phillip Finch farm owned since 1853 and kept in the family all these years.
The farm owned and occupied by Arthur Cobb for so many years has been in the family since 1844. The Lyman Cobb farm nearly as long and has passed to the third generation and one of the fourth generation is now taking an agricultural course at Michigan State College, no doubt fitting himself to till the same farm.
The first paper published in Elsie was the Yankee Clipper, edited by Loren Austin, first in his country home, later moving his printing press to the village. Fifty years ago he changed the name of the paper to the Elsie Sun. The first bakery was owned by Rice and Lucy Beebee and stood on the lot now occupied by Guy Sherman's residence near Frank Clement's home. The A. A. R. R. was built in the year 1884 and since that time has served the community. Automobiles however have operated greatly to the detriment of this as well as nearly all other R. R.'s. Many of the daily papers, much express and freight arrive by truck and the possibilities are, all mail may soon be received in like manner.
The Elsie Bank was established in the year 1889, by O. B. Campbell, T. P. Steadman, and H. N. Keys. It occupied the building now used as a bakery until the new building was erected a few years ago.
Among the later business pioneers were J. B. Wooley, J. T. Hasty, L. G. Bates, Herbert McCumber, Chad Lee, Lorenzo Downey, Chas. Eddy and Joseph Craven. I believe the greatest factors in the prosperity of our community have been our churches, the schools, the cheese factory, the Elsie Bank, and our Elsie Paper.
Mary Porubsky provided me with a copy of this article. There is no date, but I assume it was originally printed around 1930 in Elsie. Sara Show's essay complements Lloyd Craven's Early History of Elsie. The author Sara Elizabeth Kelley Show (1873-1949) was the daughter of Abner and Melissa Kelley and the wife of John Gail Show (1874-1943).
Photo of Elsie High School in 1909 courtesy of Wayne L. Caswell and William Tompkins.
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Last modified by pib on July 6, 2003.