The City of Hillsdale
The City of Hillsdale can boast of several distinct features. It is the County seat, it is the home of Hillsdale College, its streets are lined with beautiful old maple trees, and its downtown section has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To receive such a designation an area must have “such properties that are deemed worthy of preservation because of their importance in American history and culture. (See Map of historic section)
The village of Hillsdale was incorporated in 1847 and received its charter as a city in 1869. It was bounded by Bacon Street on the south and Rail Road Street (later called Carleton Rd.) on the north and Short Street on the east.
- 1834-Jeremiah Arnold erected a cabin on what is now the Hillsdale County Fair Grounds.
- 1835-Adam Howder established the first tavern
- 1837- John Potter Cook and Chauncey Ferris arrived with a wagon load of mercantile goods and established a grist mill on what was later to become Stock’s Mill.
- 1838-First school house built of log, located on what is now State St.
- 1839-Hillsdale’s first religious service conducted in Howder’s Tavern. First village plat recorded.
- 1840-Chief Baw Beese and his tribe forced to leave for the west by Federal troops.
- 1843-- Hillsdale reached by Michigan Southern Railroad. Hillsdale became County Seat after being located at Jonesville for 9 years and at Osseo for 3 years.
- 1846-Hillsdale Whig Standard started publication. This was the linear ancestor of Hillsdale Daily News.
- 1849-Fire consumed Courthouse and most of the county records.
- 1853-Hillsdale College dedicated after its removal from Spring Arbor.
- 1880-Hillsdale’s rowing crew won National championship.
- 1885-High school building on West Street dedicated.
- 1908-Mitchell Public library opened.
- 1912-New Post Office erected on Hillsdale.
- 1920-Almo Farm Light occupied one of the finest industrial plants in Southern
- 1921-Modern Hillsdale City Hospital opened on Manning St.
- 1933-City bought Baw Beese Park.
- 1934-Hillsdale Municipal Airport opened on site of what is now Industrial Park.
- 1950-One hundredth Hillsdale Fair opened.
- 1955-Owens Memorial Park given to the City.
- 1956-Last passenger train left Hillsdale.
- 1959-Stock’s Mill sold after ownership by the same family for 90 years.
- 1969-Hillsdale celebrated 100 years of existence.Veeder Broom Factory begun in 1873, discontinued its operation.
1970 -Large crowd enjoyed Tip-Up Festival. A total of 120 patients transferred from Old Maple Lawn to the new Hillsdale County Medical Care Facility.
- 1972-City House Commission received $12,000 for preliminary planning of 60 units for senior housing. Hillsdale High School Band went to Europe for 17 days. City considered land option to extend runway at airport.
- 1973-Intensive Care Unit opened at Hillsdale Community Health Center. New jail constructed on West Fayette St. Hillsdale Garden Apartments constructed on Barr St.
- 1974-Hennessy’s Drug Store sold to Wm. Nash after 50 years in one family. Hillsdale Daily News is purchased by Staffer Publications.
Dial-a-Ride began operation.
State of Michigan opened 1st bicycle path between Jonesville and Hillsdale.
The first settler, Jeremiah Arnold and his wife Percy Round Arnold made their way to the Michigan Territory in 1834. Arnold received the first land patent in 1835 for the northwest quarter of section 35 in what was then Vance Township (later to become Hillsdale County). He built a log cabin on land that is now the Hillsdale County Fair Grounds.
It was said by one of his grandsons that Arnold believed in hard work but had little regard for education. However, he did allow his children to attend district school. Additionally several of the children subsequently attended Spring Arbor College and then Hillsdale College after the College was established in Hillsdale. One of his grandsons, Bion J. Arnold, graduated from Hillsdale College and became widely known as an electrical engineer. It was he who developed the electric trolley car system in Chicago and New York.
Jeremiah Arnold did not remain in Hillsdale, choosing instead to move on to the west.
Arnold was soon followed by Adam Howder who came from Lockport, New York in 1835 and established the first tavern near Arnold’s log cabin on land that is now the race track at the Hillsdale Fair grounds. His “ball room” was the scene of all the pioneer social functions-and was, on Sunday, the location of the church services Howder later was elected sheriff of Hillsdale and served two terms but eventually moved to Reading, MI and established another tavern.
John Potter Cook and Chauncey Ferris
The third and fourth men to come to Hillsdale proved to be the “movers and shakers” for the community during their entire lifetime. John Potter Cook and his friend, Chauncey Ferris at the young age of 20 left their home in Cato, New York to journey to the west with a wagonload of mercantile goods. They stopped first in the small settlement of Jonesville and established the first store. However, by 1834 they decided that Hillsdale offered them more opportunities. In 1838 they set up the first grist mill using the mill pond race as it merged with the St. Joesph River. It was a simple mill using only a millstone and a water wheel to furnish power but from 1838, a mill on this same site has continued to operate to the present time. ( The mill was purchased from Ferris and Cook by F. W. Stock in 1869 and was operated by that same family for more than 80 years) See link to F.W. Stock
One humorous note concerning Cook was, that as the settlement evolved into a village, he was designated as the wrestler to test any newcomer to the area.
Together, Ferris and Cook platted much of the settlement which became Hillsdale.
These two men, with foresight knew development would be enhanced with a railroad connection. Cook, becoming a contractor for Michigan Southern Railroad and working with Henry Waldron and Charles T. Mitchell (two more of the early settlers), was able to extend the railroad from Adrian in Lenewee County, where it had ended, to Hillsdale. Recognizing the benefit the men then erected warehouses along the terminus in Hillsdale in order that products might be shipped from the area.
By being instrumental in organizing Hillsdale as a county in 1835, Cook was appointed Treasurer and Ferris became the County Clerk. Ferris also was elected supervisor and served as a school commissioner and as mayor of Hillsdale. Appointed by Martin Van Buren, Cook became Hillsdale’s first Postmaster. They were also given the task of building the first frame Court House.
Additionally, Cook served in 1845 in the State Legislature and then in the State Senate. He also was elected to two state Constitutional Conventions in1850 and 1870 when Michigan framed its State Constitution.
With his friends, Waldron, Mitchell and Ferris, Cook organized the first bank in the village and then in 1874 established the Hillsdale Savings Bank.
Cook labored for his community tirelessly as a member of the Hillsdale Board of Education and the Board of Trustees of Hillsdale College when it was moved from Spring Arbor in 1844. Through Cook’s efforts the Hillsdale County Fair was organized and Cook served as its first Treasurer.
Hillsdale was well served by the work and the promotion throughout their lives by John Potter Cook and Chauncey Ferris.
Henry Waldron’s name appears in many locations in the city of Hillsdale and the County. The small town of Waldron in the southern part of the county was named for Waldron. It is said by the early historians that Waldron gave money for the school bell and as a consequence the residents gave the village his name. In the city of Hillsdale, the Waldron block is in the business section and houses the District Court and a street bears his name.
Waldron came from Albany, NY in 1839. He was trained as a civil engineer and is credited for laying out the rail line extending the railroad from Adrian to Hillsdale ( He had at age 18 already been employed by Michigan Southern Railroad to make a preliminary survey for the extension of the line). Waldron, like Cook, in 1848 built a warehouse along the tracks in Hillsdale to store goods to be trans-shipped east and west.
He was director of the Michigan and Southern Railroad and then President of another rail line known as Detroit Hillsdale and Southern. He engaged in a large real estate business and platted land north of Railroad St. (now Carleton Rd). In 1851 he served as the village president.
In the midst of these commercial activities, he was one of the directors of the first bank in Hillsdale. He then established the Second National Bank and still found time to serve on the Board of Trustees of Hillsdale College in its early years in Hillsdale.
Waldron also began to become involved in politics. When he was only 23, he was elected to the State Legislature. In 1854, as a member of the new Republican Party, he was elected to the House of Representatives, served three terms and was re elected in 1870 for three more terms. Waldron, elected as the Vice President for the Republican National Convention, took part in the proceedings which nominated Ulysses S. Grant for U.S. President.
When he died a banner stretched across Hillsdale St., which read, “ Hillsdale Mourns her Dead”. This man too contributed greatly to the progress of Hillsdale.
Closely connected in time (1834) and development of Hillsdale was Charles.T. Mitchell who together with John P. Cook, Chauncey Ferris and Henry Waldron raised enough money to lay out the line and extend the railroad to its new terminus in Hillsdale. He then erected the first warehouse along the track to serve as a “forwarding business.” Hillsdale was the shipping point for three counties. Grain came by wagon from White Pigeon, Homer, La Grange, and Angola in Indiana. Often double lines of wagons would form on Howell St., the main street in Hillsdale, in order to wait to unload their grain into the warehouses.
Mitchell was a partner with Waldron, Cook and Ferris in the creation of the first bank in Hillsdale.
Mitchell was also involved in national politics. He was appointed to the National Republican Convention in Baltimore where Lincoln was nominated for a second term.
At his death and that of his wife, his will directed that his large home on Manning St. constructed in 1868, be given to the city to be used as a public library. Hundreds attended the dedication of the library in 1908.That building still is in use as a library in this year 2002. However, a new and connected building to house the ever growing collection is presently underway.
His son, William, later, gave to the County the Court House Meneely bells which are duplicates of those in Westminster Abbey in England. His gift also included the clock which was placed in the tower. (The Court House tower had stood empty for twelve years after the Court House was built in 1899.)
Caroline Ford, daughter of Benjamin Ford, became the first school teacher in Hillsdale in 1839. Four years after the arrival of Jeremiah Arnold, Miss Ford presided over the training of about six children in a district school on the north side of State Street. In 1841 a one story frame village school was built on E. Bacon Street. However, the building was destroyed by fire when struck by lighting and the village voted to build a new school
which was to be constructed on the Courthouse Square in 1848. Miss Ford in 1855 became the first art teacher at Hillsdale College. Her sister, Mary Jane, married Henry Mead, the first lawyer in Hillsdale. The tradition of teaching was carried on by Mrs. Leithel Ford, the wife of Caroline Ford’s grandnephew. Mrs. Leithel Ford taught for many years in the 1930’s and 40’s in the Hillsdale School system.
Henry S. Mead
Henry S. Mead was one of the first lawyers taking up residence in Hillsdale about 1839. He was elected to the State Legislature and held several elected offices in the county. He and his wife Mary Jane Ford later moved to Jackson.
Henry Barnes Armstrong
Henry Barnes Armstrong came to Michigan probably by way of the Erie Canal-living first in Adrian but then moving to Hillsdale in 1843.. He, together with his brother, John H. Armstrong, founded the company of H.B. and J.H Armstrong, dealers in leather, hides etc. Henry traveled extensively buying and selling for his company. The Armstrong home was located at 37 S. Howell Street.
Stephen Burden built the first hotel in Hillsdale, called Hillsdale House. This was located on Broad Street near Railroad Street (Carleton Rd.). The hotel was later to become Mosher House. He wife, Caroline came to Hillsdale in 1846 and after Stephen’s death married Henry Armstrong.
Dr. Joel French
Dr. Joel French was the first pioneer doctor who arrived in Hillsdale in 1838. He wrote later that in 1838 and for three years following many people became ill and died. It was not common that whole families would be stricken at the same time with a fever (probably malaria). No family was exempt. Such was the life or the death of the early residents.
William T. Howell
William T. Howell was also an early resident and a lawyer. He was appointed to a judgeship and later moved to Jackson.
Dr. George Underwood
Like many of the early residents of Hillsdale, Dr. George W. Underwood was born in New York State. He was a graduate of Amherst and Union Colleges. Coming to Hillsdale in 1843, he established a drug store, selling medicines, paint, oil, groceries, dyestuffs and surgical instruments. No records indicate that he ever received a degree in medicine, but it was often accepted practice that a druggist also functioned as a Dr.
Dr. Underwood was elected first mayor of Hillsdale in 1869 when the city received its charter. In that same year, Underwood erected the three story Underwood Opera House located on the west side of Howell Street. between McCollum and North Street. The structure had a large stage, dressing rooms, and a stage entrance. It boasted red plush draperies and a seating capacity of several hundred. In the late 1800’s, it served as the cultural center for Hillsdale.
Underwood was active in civic affairs taking part in the founding of the Hillsdale Agricultural Society and promoting the Hillsdale County Fair. He also organized the Oak Grove Cemetery Association and added his support to the establishment of Hillsdale College as it was moved from Spring Arbor.
HOW HILLSDALE`S STREETS WERE NAMED
Hillsdale Street for The City.
St. Joe Street for the river.
Reading Avenue—Highway to Reading.
Rippon Avenue for Thomas Rippon.
Hallett Street for the Hallett family.
Spring Street, supposed to be named from fine Spring.
Westwood Street, combined of West and Norwood.
Glendale Avenue, named by L. A. Jones.
Lewis Street, for the Lewis family of early days.
Barre Street, for C. Barre
Montgomery Street for W. R. Montgomery.
Mauck Street for J. W. Mauck.
Wolcott Street for Nelson Wolcott.
Manning Street, named for Rockwell Manning, who came to Hillsdale in 1835: afterward resided in Jonesville.
Howell Street for Judge W. T. Howell who moved to Jackson in 1835.
BudLong Street for Alonza Budlong who was here in 1835.
Howder Street for Adam Howder, who built first house
here in 1835.
Salem Street for Salem J. King, one of the first merchants
Cook Street for John P. Cook, one of the first business men in 1836.
Ferris Street for Chauncey W. Ferris-one of the first businessmen 1836.
McCollum Street for Judge Jack McCollum-one of the earliest investors 1837.
Waldron Street for Henry Waldron-Bank President and Congressman, 1838.
Griswold Street for D. Alex Griswold-moved to Washington, D. C., 1840.
Bacon Street for Nathanial Bacon-Jonesville 1840.
Mead Street for Henry T. Mead-first lawyer in Hillsdale
Welch Street for Walter Welch-first foundry here.
Sharp Street for Salmon Sharp, who came in 1837.
Ellen Street for Mrs. Ellen Mott, widow of Dr. J. F. Mott.
Broad Street-”The old Turnpike”
Fayette Street-the Township.
Charles Street for Charles Stone, son of Judge F. H.
College Street-die college.
West Street-Boundary lines.
North Street-Boundary lines.
South Street-Boundary lines.
River Street-St. Joe River
Railroad Street-The railroad.
Ludlam Street for James Ludlam.
Barry Street for Mr. Barry.
Monroe Street for the 0. C. Monroe family.
Armstrong Street for the George Armstrong estate.
Oak Street for the great oak trees.
Dickerson Street for Christopher Dickerson.
Fairfield Street for President Fairfield.
Misc. City photos
Maps- Hillsdale Historic District