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History

Albion Township's Beginning

Nearly two centuries ago, pioneers scouting what would become Albion Township discovered two key natural assets: rich, well-drained soil ideal for grain and fruit production and a river whose power could be harnessed to run mills and factories. When word of these resources reached people planning to move from the East, historians say, the area was quickly settled. Many early arrivals’ descendants remain in the township today, some on the land originally occupied.

Calhoun County was surveyed into townships in 1824 and subdivided into sections in 1825, according to H.B. Pierce’s History of Calhoun County, Michigan. But before Albion Township became an independent entity in 1837, according to Pierce, it was part of Homer Township, which had been organized in 1834 as a 12-mile square unit in the southeast corner of Calhoun County that also included present-day Eckford and Clarendon townships.

Settlers began arriving in Albion Township in the early 1830s. Among the first were Tenney Peabody, Wareham Warner, and Peter Holmes, according to Pierce. Peabody arrived in 1832 from Niagara County, New York, and is recognized as the first settler in the village of Albion (which was part of the township until the village was incorporated in 1856). Warner, who left Monroe County, New York, for Michigan, arrived in Albion Township in 1834 after a brief stay in Marshall. He joined with Peabody in 1835 to build a sawmill along the Kalamazoo River in what is today the Market Place in Albion. Holmes arrived in 1833 from Massachusetts, built a log house, and took up farming.

The mid-1830s brought a surge of settlement and by 1840, little land in the township was left unclaimed, writes John Kinney, a longtime resident whose essay “A Brief History of Albion Township, Calhoun County, Michigan 2007” is part of the Albion Township Master Plan.

The settlers realized the importance of educating their children and soon began building schools, Kinney writes. “Several of the early schools were taught in lean-tos attached to log homes or in free-standing log huts. Shortly, school districts were established so that all the township was included in one district or another. Many of these districts were fractional in that they included areas in more than one township or county.”

Although religion was a key part of many early settlers’ lives, few church buildings have been erected in the township. The South Albion Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1839 on the southwest corner of 29 Mile Road and H Drive South, according to a “Morning Star” column by Albion historian Frank Passic. Membership reached 120 by 1869, but as modes of transportation and roads improved, residents gravitated to churches in Albion, Homer, and Concord. In 1894, the South Albion Methodist Episcopal Church closed and was moved to the first farmstead south on 29 Mile Road to be used as an outbuilding. Members of the First Baptist Church moved to a new building at 29 Mile Road and Albion Road in the township in 1971 after worshipping for 120 years in the North Superior Street structure in Albion.

Since the days of the early settlers, many of Albion Township’s residents have been well acquainted. “Generations of the same families rose up and passed away on the same or nearby farms,” Kinney writes. “There has been a remarkably stable population of families, known to each other for generations.”

And from the start, the focus has been on agriculture. “It seems each new generation attempted to build on the successes of the previous; better farming methods, new crops, new orchards, larger dairies, and livestock facilities,” Kinney writes. “It remained so for over a century.”

Then, after World War II, under constant pressure to expand or sell out, some of the township’s farmers exited the industry, according to Kinney. “Many livestock operations and dairies gave way to more corn and soybean production. The few cattle and hog operations that remain have generally grown in size and the dairies have nearly disappeared. Fewer and larger are the by-words in agriculture today!”

Beyond farming, the energy and manufacturing industries have impacted the township since the mid-20th century. Kinney points out that the discovery of oil and gas south of Albion in the late 1950s boosted the income of farmers on whose land wells and other facilities were placed and spurred a new wave of immigrants who came to work in the energy sector. The oil boom lasted more than two decades. “By the 1980s many wells were ‘played out’ and the task of closing them in and cleaning them up began,” Kinney writes.

The township has had a significant manufacturing presence for decades with companies such as Hayes Lemmerz and Brembo operating a brake component operation at M-60 and 30 Mile Road. Since acquiring the factory from Hayes Lemmerz in 2007, Brembo has expanded the plant three times and has added a caliper assembly building and a cast iron foundry to its complex. Adjacent to the Brembo operation, heat-treating company Woodworth Inc. has built a factory to serve the Italian company.

Still, the space allotted for heavy manufacturing in the township’s zoning ordinance pales next to the expanses dedicated to agriculture, and the master plan aims to ensure that the rural character enjoyed and appreciated since the early settlers will continue to be the township’s hallmark.
Tom Fetters

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