Township History

"In April, 1837, George Miller came to this State, walking the entire distance from his home to Lockport, NY, where he took the canal boat to Buffalo, and the steamer to Detroit.  He then resumed his journey on foot to his new home in Independence Township."

Portrait and Biographical Album, 1891

At the end of the War of 1812, the federal government set aside six million acres of homestead land for soldiers returning from the war with Britain, two million of it was to be located in Michigan.  In preparation for land distribution to the soldiers, the territory of Michigan was to be surveyed.  Initial reports from the Surveyor-General indicated that Michigan " all appearances, together with information received concerning the balance, is so bad (swampy) there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there should be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation."  A result of this report was the temporary abandonment of the survey, and the subsequent distribution of homesteads to the soldiers.  By 1816, the survey was re-instituted, due in large part to the persistence of Lewis Cass, the territorial governor of Michigan.

In the early years, emigration into Michigan was slow.  With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the numbers of settlers arriving in Michigan significantly increased.  Prior to the opening of the canal, travel to Michigan from the east was primarily by stage coach over the Mohawk and Genessee turnpike, and by covered wagons and horses.  Although this method would generally take less time than traveling by the canal, it was also more costly.  In addition, it did not allow for the livestock, wagons and household goods that the emigrants would need to take with them to settle their land.

The first settlers arrived in Independence Township in the mid 1820's and early 1830's, primarily from New Jersey and New York.  The first settler to purchase and settle land in the township was John W. Beardslee, from Sussex County New Jersey.  Beardslee purchased his tract of land in section 35 in 1826, and settled on it five years later in 1831.

By 1834 nearly every section in the southern half of the township had been purchased, while only a few settlers had ventured north into sections 14 and 15.  The lower sections of the township, characterized by flat plains, were generally more conducive to farming.  The Sashabaw Plains, located in the southeastern corner of the township, were the most notable plains.  They extended north and south nearly three miles, and east and west about two and one-half miles.  this is the area where many of the earliest settlers first purchased land.

The rest of the township was a mix of flat plains, rolling hills and numerous lakes - connected by branches of the Clinton River.  There was considerable marsh surface in the vicinity of these lakes, and nearly all were bordered by swamps.

In 1840 there were eight hundred and thirty people in the township.  Among the adult men in the township, the primary occupation was farming.  Two hundred and twenty-five men declared themselves as farmers on the 1840 Federal Census, while only seventeen were reported as associated with manufacturing and trades, and two in commerce.  By the 1850 Federal Census, the population had increased to well over twelve hundred people, and farming remained the dominate occupation.  While there was a slight increase in the number of farmers (two hundred and sixty-one), there was a tremendous increase in the number of other professions, due largely to the growth of Clarkston Village.  Professions listed on the 1850 Federal Census included:  carpenter, cooper, blacksmith, wagon maker, shoe maker, merchant, cabinet maker, physician, preacher, teacher, and ten others.  The most prevalent of this group were the carpenters, with twenty-four located in the township.  This was undoubtedly due to the significant number of houses being constructed during the mid 1800's.

While the most significant number of settlers is reported in the 1850 Federal Census originated from the New England states, there were also emigrants from Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany, with the number of English settlers being the highest at forty-six.

By 1877, nearly all of the swampy "waste-land" had been put into agriculture, with the help of artificial drainage.  The 1880 Federal Census reported that there were sixty-nine farmers in the township, and fifty-three farm hands, the distinction being that farmers owned the land that they farmed.  Many of the larger farms had multiple farm hands living on site.

While the township was primarily agricultural in the late 1800's, the numerous lakes were beginning to draw vacationers out of Detroit in the hot summer months.  Several inns located throughout the township were the initial destinations for travelers, who would arrive by railroad and disembark at the township's railroad depot, just south of Clarkston,  By the early 1900's, travel to the township was made even easier with the convenience of the personal automobile.  Small summer cottages began to be built within the township, and farms - especially those around the lakes, began to be sold and subdivided.  This trend continued until the early 1930's, when the depression put a temporary end to further land developments.