Ionia County Courthouse and Jail
Ionia County Courthouse and Jail

In November of 1833*, Ionia pioneer family, the Cornells: Alfred Cornell, Cornell family patriarch, his wife Nancy and their son Thomas Cornell, his wife and two sons, Alfred, Jr., and Daniel packed up their belongings and left their home. They headed west to Michigan to see the opportunities they could experience. Upon arrival, they stayed with Samuel Dexter, who had already founded Easton Township near what is now the city of Ionia.

The Cornell family hailed from Madison County in New York. Why did the Cornell family leave? Perhaps they viewed posters advertising land for sale that commonly caught the attention of folks eager to relocate and Michigan, a territory at the time, needed thousands of more residents to obtain statehood. Another reason might be that they knew Samuel Dexter, who had settled the area some time prior. An experienced settler, he knew what best plots of land that were available, even though Antoine Campau, brother of Grand Rapids founder, Louis Campau, had already identified the area. A bonus was that there were good relations with natives at the time. It was a great time to make the journey west (1).

Once settled in, Alfred Cornell, Sr. met Erastus Yeomans. Erastus was the town surveyor and set up the first roads. He sold some land to Alfred, Jr., who in turn surveyed the area further for his family. The rest of the colonists worked together and built a log home for the Cornell family. While the men traveled to Detroit to get the rest of their needed supplies, the women hung blankets over window sills and doorways to keep the home warm. Winter transportation was not reliable, but luckily friendly natives assisted with food for the hungry settlers and heavy blankets for warmth until they could establish routine deliveries of supplies (2).

In 1835, Alfred Jr became active in assisting the formation of the local government. He won two appointments for himself as commissioner and inspector of public schools. This dual leadership role tells us that the community viewed this man as being intelligent, organized and capable and of his commitment to the success of the county(3).

In that same year, Alfred, Jr., married Amanda Yeomans, daughter of Erastus and Phoebe and they began their new life. They would go on to have five children together, four boys and one girl. Amanda taught in the first public school and summer school thereafter. In 1859, Alfred preached once a month at First Baptist Society of Portland and continued this for three years. This shows how active they were in their community as a family (3).

I will blog more about Alfred and his family as I explore Branch’s book in the future. I will connect this family with more important events to show how they might have lived their lives and how their contributions impacted the residents of Ionia County.

*Branch writes that they landed in 1893. This date seems to be a typo because it does not fit the timeline of events.

1. Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 103-104.

2. Ibid., 474.

3. Ibid., 351.

3. Ibid., .403.

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