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A HISTORY OF LEXINGTON
Chapters 1 - 2 - 3
It is a fact to be regretted that no great literary genius sprang from the Indian race, for any historian must needs go back to the source from whence has sprung the later commonwealth. With only Indian traditions as a warehouse of knowledge, the record of early events must indeed be meager.
The first Indians who possessed Sanilac County were the Sauks, who later gave way to the Chippewas who came from the Georgian Bay country down Lake Huron to Saginaw Bay, and who were in a more or less constant state of war with the Wyandotte and Iroquois Indians.
The following paragraph is taken from the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, Volume 38, page 453:
"Sanilac, according to Wyandotte traditions, was the name of a chief who took an active part in the early wars between the Iroquois and Wyandottes. Governor Cass has preserved many of these traditions in his manuscripts, and in 1831, Henry Whiting, then a major in the United States Army and stationed for many years in Detroit, published a poem entitled ‘Sanillac’ based upon the hints found in these manuscripts. The poem treats of the love of Sanillac and Wona, and Indian maid living with her father upon Mackinac Island, and of Sanillac’s adventures in warring upon the Mingoes (the name give to the Iroquois by other tribes), the hereditary foes of the Wyandottes, and the finale, after describing a sanguinary battle between the Mingoes and Wyandottes, in which the Mingoes are victorious leaves the fate of Sanillac and his Indian bride uncertain."
The county as originally laid out included Huron and Tuscola counties and was mapped out by Lewis Cass, governor of Michigan territory in 1822, evidence of which is also found in the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collection.
"And I have also thought it expedient to lay out the following county-all the county included in the following boundaries: beginning on the boundary line between the United States and the province of Upper Canada where the northern boundary of the county of St. Clair intersects the same; thence west to the line between the sixth and seventh ranges, east to the principal meridian; thence north to a point ten miles north of the shore of Saginaw Bay; thence northeast to the boundary line between the United States and the province of Upper Canada; thence with the said boundary to the place of beginning; shall form a county to be called the county of Sanilac.
Given under my hand, at Detroit, this tenth day of September, A.D. 1822, and of the Independence of the United States, the forty-seventh. Lew. Cass."
When the Wyandotte Indians were discovered by the Iroquois, a portion of them settled around Detroit and still retained their old custom of dressing the hair in the most fantastic style. When the French explorers saw them, they exclaimed, "Quelles hures!" (what heads). From "hures" comes "Huron" and the lake on which Lexington is situated was called for the tribe.
Intensive research has failed to reveal information as to why Lexington was first called "Greenbush." One can easily imagine that the beauty of the virgin forests prompted the name, and to view it now in summer makes one realize how apropos the appellation.
Mr. W.L. Jenks of Port Huron, a member of the Michigan Historical Commission, has this to say as to why the name "Lexington" was chosen for the early settlement of "Greenbush":
"I believe, although I know of no record evidence to justify it, that the name ‘Lexington’ was suggested by Reuben Dimond. He was a man of intelligence and education, and his mother is said to have been a cousin of Ethan Allen. The request for the erection of a new township would come from the people who were living within its proposed limits, and Dimond would be an outstanding man of those living there."
It is easy to imagine then that the name of the township of Lexington and later the village were suggested by Mr. Dimond because of his connection with Ethan Allen, whose Revolutionary War fame, and the Battle of Lexington, were still in the minds of the early settlers.
Records show that Mr. Dimond was the second white man to settle in this county, and the first Justice of the Peace, holding the first elective office in the county. In 1836 he taught the first school, occupying a small log house a short distance south of the present village of Lexington. He later built a saw mill in Worth township in 1843.
With the advent of the white settlers, the Indians slowly left the county, hence further history of them is limited. In the last days of their habitation, the smallpox broke out among them, and in spite of the efforts of the "medicine men" and supplications to the Great Spirit many Indians died of the disease.
A greater part of the Indian make-up was hostility, and when this was checked, together with their freedom to hunt and fish, they gradually passed away, and where once the smoke of their wigwams curled above the trees, now stands a modern village which in its infancy fostered the growth of this section of Michigan before it became a county.
Just as the Indians subsisted by hunting and fishing, so did the first settlers.
The family of John Smith was the first to settle in Lexington, coming from Canada in 1837. They built a log house on the lake shore, on the site where now stands the home of Michael Meyer.
Mr. Smith had a family of twelve children, and with the aid of his sons made a boat consisting of two large pine logs dug out and fitted together side by side. The Smiths remained until the neighbors became too thick, when like the Arab, he "folded his tent and silently stole away."
The next to come was John Beebe who attempted to locate part of the land south of Huron Avenue and east of Main Street, but failing to do so, sold to Reuben Simons who settled on this land in 1838. He built a frame house, the first in the county, which was destroyed by a fire a few years later. One of Mr. Simons’ children perished in the flames and another son was badly injured. This house stood on the present site of the Methodist Aid rooms.
In 1838, John B. Hyde brought a span of horses and settled north of Lexington. As there was no passage through the timber nor feed for the horses they were traded for a team of oxen, the only yoke in the vicinity. These oxen were used by the neighborhood in general when any hauling was to be done. Neither hay nor corn being raised at that time, and to keep his oxen from starvation, Mr. Hyde was obliged to cut down huge maple trees each evening after returning from work and feed the leaves of these to the animals.
This was but one item in the pioneers’ heroic struggle for life. Fred Hyde and Percy Hyde who live in Lexington are grandsons of this early pioneer.
About this time a temporary fishing dock was built by a Mr. Wild, and a small store near the dock by John A. Wright who was succeeded by Zophar Wright and who was called the first merchant in Lexington. A little later Darius Cole started a store and in company with Mr. Boynton, an ashery.
Isaac Leuty came a few years later and succeeded Boynton in the partnership with Cole.
About this time Samuel W. Monroe and William Monroe came and platted and owned that part of the village which has since been known as Monroe’s plat, and which includes Boynton Street. Preston Monroe who lives in Lexington is a grandson of Samuel Monroe. His father was Andrew Monroe.
Jerould Miller came in 1843, brought some leather and made shoes, being the first shoemaker in the county. He bought land in the northern part of the village and cleared the present Lexington park.
Webster Stevens, another early settler, came here in 1839 or 1840.
When Richard D. Schenick came to Lexington from London, Canada, in 1838, at the age of twelve years, the village included by three buildings, one owned by John Smith, the second by Samuel Monroe, and the other by Zophar Wright. At the time of his arrival Dick had a capital of six cents. Being chiefly in need of employment, he obtained it without delay, and until he was twenty years of age was occupied in the various occupations of those days. In 1846 he established the foundation of the business which later became a permanent one in Lexington. Having been a practiced carpenter, he gradually extended his operations until he was largely engaged in the manufacture of furniture, sash, doors, and other articles of wood, and built a factory, the first of its kind in the Huron Peninsula. It was destroyed by fire in 1879, but immediately rebuilt.
While these men were characteristic early settlers, the causes that led to their settlement and of others who followed are interesting.
A rebellion had started in the British provinces in 1837, partly on account of the dissatisfaction of the inhabitants who settled there after the war of 1812-14 under what seemed to them the very liberal terms of the Canadian government which gave to each settler one hundred acres of land. A large portion of the upper province was colonized by emigrants from the New England states whose sympathies and impulses had been imbued with the spirit of popular government so that they became dissatisfied with British rule. They seized every opportunity for insurrection, and at a time when her majesty’s troops had been called home, the new settlers and their sympathizers made a general movement to make themselves free with a view to annexation to the United states. The scheme was a failure and those connected with it were declared rebels, arrested, and thrown into prison. A number were banished to Van Dieman’s Land, and all who could removed to the United States.
The early settlers were of this class and many had suffered severely on account of their connection with the rebellion. Many of the first settlers here had accumulated fortunes there, but were compelled to leave empty handed and start anew in a wild strange land. Having endured and conquered the forests of Canada, they knew how to do it here, and found the shores of Lake Huron responded beautifully to their efforts. Lake Huron not only afforded a convenient source of communication with Detroit, but its waters yielded an abundant supply of fish. Berries were found in the forests as well as wild game of every variety.
The generation of today has little conception of the mode of life of those early settlers and the hardships which met them on their journey from civilization to their forest homes. The route lay through wild country where swamps and rivers were crossed with great danger. Nights were passed in dense forests inhabited by wild beasts, long weary days and weeks of travel were endured, but their indomitable will drove them on until their eyes were gladdened by a sight of their future home. Before building their cabins, trees had to be felled, and the structures went up a log at a time. Each pioneer helped the other, and the day for a cabin raising was announced far and near.
The old cabins were gradually replaced by frame and brick structures but many of those who attained comfort and luxury in after years were heard to remark that the kindness which prevailed among neighbors in those early days brought more happiness than was attained in after life.
The first hotel in the village was built and kept by C.L. Mills in 1840. He traded it a short time later for a farm to James Yake, a cousin of the present owner, who in turn sold it to J.W. Buel whose mother, Mrs. Mary Buel, kept the place until the house was torn down. In 1880 the Hotel Cadillac was built by John L. Woods and opened to the public July 4 of that year. Jeremiah Jenks was the first proprietor and kept it until 1863 when William Wilson took it for a year. Amos James then rented and kept it for two years, when Mr. Woods sold the property to John Cole in 1866. Mr. James, who had been in Port Huron for two years, returned to Lexington and purchased the property, but turned over the proprietorship to his son, Will D. James. Those who succeeded Mr. James were: Messrs. Adams, Secor, Wagg, Hacking, Long.
James S. Yake, the present owner, has restored it to its former position as one of the most popular hotels along the lake shore. Mr. Yake does his own cooking and his fish dinners have brought to him a well deserved fame.
The Parsons House, built about 1860, was purchased by George Henry in 1871 and known as the Henry House. In 1878 a lumber yard was added to the business which continued until Mr. Henry’s death, August 4, 1897. Mrs. Henry died September 15, 1926.
John L. Bell & Son established a drug store in 1848 which was the first in the county. The firm also carried paints, oils, cigars and fancy groceries. After the death of John L. Bell, Sr., his son, John, carried on the business, and he in turn was succeeded by his son, Frank L. Bell, the third generation to carry on the business in Lexington and in the same location.
One of the oldest firms in Lexington is that established in 1849 by John L. Woods who conducted the business for nine years and admitted W. R. Nims as partner, the name of the first becoming J.L. Woods and Company which continued until 1863, when Benjamin Farrington also became a partner, and name changed to Woods, Nims and Company.
After two years Mr. Farrington retired and with him the Co. of the firm name. No more changes were made until 1873 when S.C. Tewksbury purchased an interest and the name changed to Nims, Tewksbury and Company. In 1880 Rudolph Papst purchased the interest of Mr. Nims and the firm name of Tewksbury, Papst and Company was adopted. Mr. Woods retired in 1884 and later Mr. Papst so that the name finally became that of S.C. Tewksbury and Company and remained thus until several years after the Tewksburys left Lexington when Albert E. Sleeper and Arthur Fenton became owners and the firm name A. W. Fenton and Company. Following the death of Mr. Fenton, Frank Wolfel became manager and holds that position at this time.
In 1858 F. L. Walther came to Lexington with his parents and was employed in Hubbard’s mill until 1860 when in company with John L. Fead he built a brewery. In 1865 he purchased the interest of his partner and in 1884 sold the business to Purkiss Brothers who operated it until 1888 when it was destroyed by fire which destroyed seven other buildings including Mr. Walther’s home. The next year Mr. Walther became postmaster which position he held under President Cleveland. After leaving the post-office he conducted a grocery until ill health forced his retirement in 1910. He died April 23, 1913, and Mrs. Walther February 18, 1932.
William Wolfel who came here in 1857 had a meat market in the early days with his brother, Charles. He later worked with his brother, Nicholas Wolfel, in the flour mill. He died in 1906 and his wife, who was Minnie Denzien, in 1903.
The family of Martin and Cornelia Wixson Regan have been connected with the village since Mr. Regan came here in 1868. He opened a bowling alley and later entered the employ of Peter Janette and Rev. Fr. Denissen. He afterward became associated with the J.L. Fead knitting mill. Mr. Regan died August 17, 1926, and Mrs. Regan, December 16, 1920.
Other early business places in Lexington were:
Bernard Miller, merchant tailor, established 1851 was succeeded by his sons, Charles and Henry.
W. M. Grice, saw mill supplies, steam and gas fixtures, guns, revolvers, cutlery, sewing machines and supplies, established 1864.
J.P. Niggeman, jewelry and books, 1863.
Milo Smith, boots and shoes, tinware and bakery, 1864.
F. Komoll, clothing and tailoring, 1873.
Jonathan Frostic, shoe shop, 1873.
John Schmidt, shoe shop, 1878.
F. Hicks and son, only exclusive boot and shoe shop in Lexington, 1873.
Bernard Fox, harness, saddles and horse hardware, 1854.
George H. Mason, 99 Cent Store, dry goods, notions, groceries, Mr. Mason purchased this building from Mrs. Ida Allen in 1882.
Mrs. S. Goulding, millinery store, 1877.
Mrs. C.A. Vasey, notions, 1883.
Clarke’s Store, originally built by Arthur M. Clark, 1858, who later took as his partner his brother, Dr. Ira Clarke. Later the sons of the latter, Ellis and Daniel, became owners. This was a general store in which Mrs. D. Clarke had a millinery department which she had purchased from Miss Martha Vasey who established one of the first, if not the first, millinery stores in the county.
W. T. Lee, groceries, books, stationery, confectionery and notions. He purchased this from Samuel Burgess who established it in 1872.
C.C.L. Sly, furniture, cabinet ware, undertaker and builder, 1878.
Michael Meyer, blacksmith, 1879.
William McIntyre, photographer, 1877.
Andrew Monroe, saloon, bakery and grocery, 1864.
George Lord, baker and confectionery, 1882.
George Oles, barber, 1854.
Charles Miller, barber, 1875.
Fenton and Cruickshank, blacksmith, 1868.
Purkiss and Son, meat market, 1875.
William White, meat market, 1882.
Lexington Bank of B. R. Noble, 1876.
W. Beach and W. Macklem, attorneys, 1865. This firm was formerly Nims and Beach, but C.S. Nims moved from the county in 1882 and was succeeded by Mr. Macklem. The original firm owned and controlled the Jeffersonian which later became the property of Mr. Beach alone.
John Divine, the first attorney in the county, opened an office in 1850. In 1859 W. S. Mills became a partner. Two years later Mr. Mills received an appointment in the treasury department at Washington and Mr. Divine took as a partner Levi L. Wixson. This partnership was maintained for eighteen years when Mr. Wixson was elected Judge of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, and J. W. Babcock took his place. Mr. Divine was village attorney for many years and was succeeded in 1879 by Watson Beach who in turn was succeeded by Isaac Wheeler in 1881.
During these early days the mails were driven from Port Huron to Port Austin by stage. Among the first owners of a stage line were Peter Janette and Jeremiah Jenks, who established the line about 1856, being appointed by President Buchanan. On July 4, 1875, William Swackhammer became owner of the line, and assisting him in driving was Alfred Ridley, who, until his death, lived on a farm two and one-half miles north of Lexington.
H.H. Nims was postmaster here in 1861. Upon his death his widow was appointed to succeed her husband and she was succeeded by E.L. Nims, Samuel Burgess, F. L. Walther, William Baker, W. R. Nims, John Papst, Clara Regan, Mrs. Roger Gorton, Miss Inez Peasley, and Mrs. Margaret Stuber.
Gradually other industries started in the town. John L. Fead and Rudolph Andreae built a factory for the production of woolen goods. When Mr. Andreae retired from the business, Mr. Fead took his sons into partnership, the firm name changing to John L. Fead and Sons, and continued until the factory was destroyed by fire twenty-eight years ago. This took from Lexington the several Fead families who moved to Port Huron and built a factory there which is now operated by the sons of John L. Fead.
A foundry was built on Washington Street by a Mr. Crippen on the second floor of which an organ factory was operated by H. Gould and son and became a prosperous concern. The building was destroyed by fire forty years ago on Memorial Day just as the people had started to assemble at the Opera House for the program to be given by the children of the school.
Mr. H. Way built a hotel on the present site of the Michael Meyer home. Other proprietors were Mr. Bedford and John Graham, and when the building was torn down was known as the Franklin House.
A bakery and ice cream parlor was conducted by Fred Hykes. He made his own ice cream which was famous over a wide territory and of which he zealously guarded the recipe.
In 1858 Nicholas Wolfel came to Lexington, and in company with Charles Decker erected a flour mill. They conducted its interests together until Mrs. Decker met her death in the mill by becoming entangled in the machinery, after which Mr. Decker withdrew and Mr. Wolfel managed the mill alone for four years. In 1873 he formed a connection with Gustav Saety. The old mill was torn down and replaced by the building which has recently been razed. A company of stockholders eventually became owners of the mill. A number of these were able to take out in flour the amount of their stock while others held theirs hoping to realize a profit in after years. But after a flourishing business for many years the mill was forced to close its doors. About ten years ago the stockholders or their heirs agreed to place the mill on the market to be sold, a prospective buyer planning to remodel it into a hotel. The proposition fell through and the mill stood in a dilapidated condition until the fall of 1933 when the D. C. Howard Company of Harbor Beach purchased it, razed it, using the foundation for an ice house. They then built a dock and modern fish house on the shore adjoining the property.
Rudolph Papst became connected with the history of Lexington in 1857 at the age of nineteen years. After working in the woods, chopping and hauling wood, he secured employment as clerk in the Hadley grocery store. He later was employed as a surveyor, and in 1861 while working in Huron County with George Pack surveying roads, they camped in the spot which is now Bad Axe. There were relics of former camps at this place, and when Mr. Papst found an old axe and called it a bad one, they decided "Bad Axe" would be a good name for the camp, and cutting a slab lettered it with those words and nailed it to a tree. Mr. Papst’s war record is well known. After the war he held many public offices in the county and was engaged in the real estate business. It has been said of him that he knew every inch of ground in Sanilac County and his services as county official were invaluable. He died January 17, 1912, and is survived by his widow, Eleanor Lewis Papst and one daughter, Alicia.
Charles H. Moore is another man closely associated with early history, coming here in 1854. He engaged in farming and being an able carpenter, he aided in building the first pier on the lake. He later entered the employment of the J. L. Woods & Co. and remained for thirty years. He married Sophia Hodges whose philanthropy became a household word in these parts. The story is told of her that young boys who picked berries in the woods several miles distant from Lexington raced each other to town so as to be the first to reach the home of Mrs. Moore. She made two quarts of berries out of one, paid them accordingly, and always gave them a piece of pie or cake, something they did not get at home. Mr. Moore also ever went about doing good to the needy. The daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Moore, Ella, Emma and Mary, who in after years bestowed upon Lexington the Moore Public Library and the cemetery mausoleum, inherited the kindly benevolence of their parents.
The Sanilac Jeffersonian was the first newspaper established here in 1858 with Charles Waterbury as editor. The "Jeff" remained an outstanding paper in the community and in 1865 passed into the hands of Charles S. Nims and Watson Beach. Mr. Nims went to Harbor Beach in 1882 and Mr. Beach remained the sole proprietor. In 1895 Jaspar H. Keys came to Lexington and taking over the paper, called it "The Lexington News", which he published until his death. Roger Gorton was the next publisher, and after his removal to Carson City, David Hubbell of Croswell purchased the printing machinery, moved it to Croswell, and re-christened the paper the Croswell Jeffersonian. After Mr. Hubbell’s death Harold Baker became publisher. Mr. Baker is a grandson of William Baker who was postmaster in Lexington beginning in 1889.
Watson Beach who came here in 1859 began studying law at the age of eighteen. He enlisted in Co. D, Tenth Michigan Volunteer Infantry of the Civil War and served until March, 1865. In May, 1865, in company with Charles S. Nims, he purchased the "Jeffersonian" which newspaper was operated by Beach and Nims for seventeen years after which Mr. Beach became sole owner. He later entered into a law partnership with Wilford Macklem. He held many offices of trust in the village and later in the county which he served as Prosecuting Attorney and Judge of Probate. He became Circuit Judge of the twenty-fourth judicial circuit which office he held thirty-eight years from February, 1886, when he was appointed by Gov. Alger to fill the unexpired term of Levi Wixson who died in office, until December 31, 1923. Mrs. Beach, who was Frances Waterbury, died May 21, 1893, and Judge Beach passed away May 21, 1927. Four sons survive, Wilbur of Bad Axe, John and George, Lexington, and Fred of Foo Chow, China.
Dr. D.C. O’Brien came here in 1858 and practiced medicine for fifty-five years. He was married in 1876 to Sarah Jenney, and died November 19, 1922. Mrs. O’Brien was prominently connected with the Maccabees in which organization she was Great Finance Auditor and later Great Lieutenant Commander. Ill health forced her retirement and she died November 17, 1923.
Augustine R. Schell was born in Ingersoll, Ontario, November 4, 1853, coming to Lexington with his parents, Robert and Catherine Fitzgerald Schell in 1858. As a young man he was employed as a telegrapher in Port Huron and Detroit, and later entered the employ of S.C. Tewksbury & Co. as bookkeeper. Banking interested him and he became cashier of various banks throughout the state, coming back to Lexington in 1919 as cashier of the Lexington State Bank. To Mr. Schell the writer if indebted for much valuable information. His keen memory of early events, his alert mind and unfailing interest in affairs of the day have aided materially in building not only the foundation of this history but the entire structure.
Dr. Reuben Nims came here in 1854 and remained a year. His sons, William R. and E. L. entered the employment of John L. Woods, the former being admitted as partner in the business. Upon his retirement Mr. W. R. Nims purchased a farm and specialized in the raising of thoroughbred cattle and horses. He was chosen state senator in 1864 and was village postmaster in 1898. He died October 5, 1903, and his widow, Helena Schell Nims, survives at the age of eighty-five. Mr. E.L. Nims died January 28, 1910, and his wife, Rebecca Schell Nims, February 7, 1916.
Dr. John W. Norman was the only dentist in Lexington for many years, coming here in 1867. He was a member of the state legislature from 1893-1896 and held prominent offices in the village until his death November 3, 1909. Mrs. Norman, who was the daughter of Israel and Melinda Huckins, died April 20, 1901.
Physicians who have practiced here were Brown, Oldfield, West, O’Brien, Banting, Schurer, Foster, Fraser, Grice and Estrin.