South-Central Border Region

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With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New Yorkers and New Englanders migrated westward into Michigan following the early Indian trails. Later, roads and railroads replaced the trails as the migration routes. Settlers took up claims, cleared land, and cultivated it into some of the state's best farmland. They transformed the wilderness of the hardwood forests and grassland prairies into replicas of the communities they had known in the East. The gently rolling hills and dales of the south-central border counties became a region of frontier farms and villages.

The architectural character of the countryside of south-central Michigan reflects the background and traditions of these eastern settlers. As soon as the settlers had raised crops for cash and improved the transportation and communication systems to the East, they began to involve themselves in local government and started in the 1830s and continued into the 1850s to build plain, Greek-inspired houses and churches. The Greek Revival style served equally well for inns, mills, and public and government buildings. A remembrance of the eastern prototype and the illustrated builder's guides, especially by Minard Lafever and Asher Benjamin, inspired Michigan builders. After the Greek Revival, other architectural styles came into favor, and fine examples are found in the south-central border region.

After the cessation of Indian titles, the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan set off Lenawee County in 1822, and in 1829, another group of counties. Lenawee County was organized in 1826, Jackson County in 1832, Branch and Calhoun counties in 1833, and Hillsdale County in 1835. Village greens with courthouse squares re-created the physical ambience that the settlers had known in the East: evidence of the New England square remains at Jonesville, although the seat of county government was moved to Hillsdale.

Early Michigan residents sought to establish commercial ties with the East, and transportation routes were essential to their success in that endeavor. In 1827 an appropriation of federal funds made construction of a road west to Chicago possible. The development of other corridors followed, many of which later became interstate highways. Three of the six important railroad lines that traversed the Lower Peninsula crossed the counties of the south-central Border Region, and they connected the area to the eastern markets. Branches, or feeders to the main trunk, spread over and interlaced the area. First, in 1836, the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad was built from Toledo to the Kalamazoo River through Blissfield and Adrian, and in the early 1840s, the Michigan Central Railroad reached from Monroe to Adrian, Hillsdale, Jonesville, and Jackson.

Towns developed at crossroads, at points where trails crossed rivers, and where inns and taverns served and sheltered travelers. Jonesville, for example, grew where the St. Joseph River and the Chicago Road meet. Later towns, such as Hillsdale, Jackson, Adrian, and Battle Creek, flourished at shipping points for grain, livestock, and produce. Towns were also settled where waterpower was available. On the River Raisin, power mills were located at Blissfield, Adrian, Tecumseh, and other sites; in the St. Joseph Valley, they were located at Jonesville, Litchfield, Hillsdale, Union City, and Coldwater; on the Kalamazoo River, mills could be found at Homer, Albion, Marshall, and Battle Creek.

The New England Yankees brought with them their Puritan reformist spirit and expressed it in such movements as the abolition of slavery, temperance, women's rights, dietary reform, utopian socialism, and new schemes of education: they built churches, colleges, sanitariums, and institutes. Baptists founded a college in Spring Arbor in 1844, which moved to Hillsdale ( HI7) in 1853, and Methodists established Adrian College in 1859 at Adrian. Methodist Episcopalians planned Albion College (see CA24) in 1833; chartered in 1835 as Spring Arbor Seminary, it was moved to Albion in 1839. Seventh-Day Adventists established the Western Health Reform Institute, later the Battle Creek Sanitarium ( CA9). Quaker and abolitionist Laura Haviland (b. 1806), with her brother Harvey, founded Raisin Institute (1837) in Raisin Township, Lenawee County, Michigan's first college to admit African Americans and women. It closed from 1850 to 1856 and permanently in 1864.

Architects and firms with national reputations—Clas and Ferry, Weary and Alford, Albert Kahn, and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum—worked in this region. While most of the major buildings were designed by architects from Detroit and Toledo or from the region's cities, the majority of residential and commercial buildings were designed and executed by carpenter-builders like C. F. Matthes of Adrian and Marcellus H. Parker, Ebenezer Saxton, and Asbury W. Buckley of Coldwater.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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