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Ionia County History

Ionia County Founders: The Cornells


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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Research Notes: Ionia Township Organizers


These organizers met at Antoine Campau & Co (brother of Grand Rapids founder Louis Campau) home on April 6, 1835.

At the meeting:

Mr. Alfred Cornell: Moderator
W.B. Lincoln: Clerk
Samuel Dexter, Esq: swore in electors

 

Previously chosen by ballot as electors, these men were:

Erastus Yeomans: Supervisor
W.B. Lincoln: Township Clerk

Accessors:
Franklin Chubb
Gilbert Caswell
Henry V. Libabrt

Commissioners of Highways:
Phillip Bogue
John E. Morrison
Nathan Benjamin

Directors of the Poor:
Samuel Dexter
John McKelvey

Constable and Collector:
Asa Spencer

Constable:
Daniel McKelvey

These electors agreed to have another meeting in 1836 at Antoine Campau & Co again in the township of Ionia. Township is now officially formed.

Ionia Timeline (March 1831-April 1837)

March 2, 1831– Legislature Act first to mention the creation of Ionia County.

March 7, 1834–Second Act states Ionia County also to be called Ionia Township. The first meeting to be scheduled is at Louis Genereaux’s home.

March 26, 1835–An amendment to the Act is passed that states citizens of Ionia will pay tax and meet at home of Samuel Dexter to elect officials and do business transactions ( township government).

April 6, 1835–First township meeting of elected officials at Antoine Campau & Co home. They set next meeting for 1836.

May 12, 1835–Special election held to elect commissioners and inspectors of schools.

March 24, 1836–Organization of Kent County completed. Ionia population nears 1000.

March 11, 1837–Ionia County and Ionia Township separate for voting purposes.

April 13, 1837–Elections held for county official seats.

Notes:

Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 48-52.

 

Research Notes: Ionia County Townships and Dates they were Officially Created


Current Ionia County map showing Township progression as they were officiated.

In the book, History of Ionia County Michigan by Rev. E. Branch, the townships listed are in alphabetical order. I put them in chronological order to show progression over time. I used a map, free, from the Belding library and drew the order on it to show the progress of the townships. This information will be referenced later when connections are made getting to know the founders of these areas.

Ionia: March 1837
Boston: December 1837
Otisco: March 1838
Portland: March 1838
Orleans: March 1840
Keene: February: 1842
Easton: March 1843
North Plains: February 1844
Orange: March 1845
Danby: May 1845
Berlin: March 1848
Lyons: March 1848
Campbell: March 1849
Odessa: January 1859
Sebwa: April 1867

Notes:

Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 16-20.

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