With the opening of the Erie Canal, many families in New York State and other eastern states felt the time was right to seek land in Michigan. The years 1835-1850 brought almost a flood of new settlers into the southern portions Michigan. The settlement of Jefferson Township was typical of those in surrounding areas of Hillsdale County.
Originally the township was part of Moscow and later Adams. However, in 1837, the state Legislature organized a separate township, six miles square to be known as Florida. Geographically the township is the most hilly of any of the townships. In the earliest period there was a two-mile wide strip of land known as “oak openings” which crossed diagonally from northwest to southwest of the township. Its soil was generally poorer in quality than the lands northeast and southwest. A large area of the township was covered by tamarack swamp—giving the name to Tamarack Rd. One homesteader recalled that you could travel a whole day without finding cleared land. However, the wild game was abundant and the many Pottawatomie Indians who roamed the area were friendly.
The earliest settlers were a hardy lot—even so death and illnesses took their toll and few families escaped the loss of a child or a mother or father early in their settling in the new Territory. Numbering among Jefferson Township’s first residents in 1835. was John Perrin whose family consisted of five sons and four daughters. Mr. Perrin soon built a saw mill and later a grist mill. The first registered land owner was James H. Thorn, who had come from New York State. He was able only to accumulate enough money to buy 40 acres but on May 22, 1835 his deed was recorded. Another early landowner was William Duryea. Duryea served his community by holding a variety of township offices at various times—supervisor, treasurer, commissioner of highways and justice of peace.
The first town meeting was held at the Duryea home in April 1837. The following is a list of every voter in the township at the time: John Perrin, John Perrin Jr, S.W. Perrin, J.H Thorn, Peter Failing, James Bullard, R. McNeil Jr. Rev. Jacob Ambler, Chauncey Leonard, W.S. Coon, Rowland Bird, J.H Spring3er, James Howell, H.P Adams, H. Hadley, William Heacox, O.B. Coffin, William Green, Frederick Duryea, H. Bullard, R. McNeal Sr. Fourtelett O. Anderson, H. Black, Perez Dimmick, A Orcutt, and John Duryea.
Jefferson, like many of the other townships in Hillsdale County has several small lakes. The largest and perhaps deepest is Bird Lake and was named for Rowland Bird another of the early settlers. In 1895 an unincorporated village on the southern side of Bird Lake was established. It was here that a small hotel known as Kimball Hotel was built and across from it was a dance hall. For a time until the 1920’s the area was quite an active community center and amusement park. Boating, dancing, horse racing, band concerts and baseball games provided many activities in the area. In the winter, farmers earned extra cash by cutting ice to be stored away among layers of sawdust until the summer time need.
Lake Pleasant is the second largest lake in the Township and was surrounded by marshy land.
Deer Lake, once called Brick Yard Lake is the largest in a chain of eight small lakes forming a partial circle around the village of Osseo. The village of Osseo grew out of a ruse conceived by residents of Jonesville who were vying with the city of Hillsdale over which town would become the county seat. An Osseo village company was formed and a village plat was registered in 1840. The claim for the village was that it was the nearest to the center of the county. However, the scheme did not work and the city of Hillsdale became the county seat.
However, the village of Osseo began to grow—sporting first a tavern, then a small grocery store, a ware house for the railroad which ran through the village, a black smith shop, a hotel, a brick yard, a hardware store and two drug stores. By 1873 the village ceased to grow. The population of Osseo in 1879 was about 350.
The first township school was established in 1836 with Sarah Bullard as teacher. Classes were held in a log schoolhouse near the site of a school, which was later established in Osseo. By 1879 there were ten district schools in the Township.
The first postmaster, Warren Thompson, was commissioned in 1839. The name of the office was to be Florida. However, through the efforts of Thompson, the name Florida was changed to Osseo and the Township’s name was changed to Jefferson in honor of Thomas Jefferson.
The first church services were held in the home of Horatio Hadley in 1836. Many of the original settlers were Methodists and the first church erected in 1860 was the Methodist Church of Osseo, later officially known as Osseo Methodist
Information for the early history of Jefferson Township and Osseo is taken from 150 in the Hills and Dales. Volume II.