The Chapel and the former Vermontville Academy

Vermontville Historical Society


The Vermontville Historical Society was founded in February of 1966, to preserve the history of this area. The Chapel and the former Vermontville Academy is now being used as an Historical Museum and was opened to the public for the first time at the Maple Syrup Festival in 1967. The public is cordially invited to visit this museum. No fee.






The building of the Erie Canal began the flow of settlers to the Northwest Territory, as this land was called at that time.


There were few settlers in 1831, though the first step to open Michigan to settlers was the Treaty of Saginaw in 1819 with the Chippewa's. A large tract of land which included all of Eaton County was ceded to the government.


In 1835 Rev. Sylvester Cochrane, a Congregational minister came to Michigan and found the settlers so scattered that it was difficult to organize schools or churches.


Back home, in East Poultney, Vermont, the Reverend Mr. Cochrane took his idea to families interested in moving to Michigan. Finally, on March 27, 1836, at Castleton, Vermont, rules and regulations were drawn up for what was to be called the Union Colony. (This document is unique, and on file in the office of the Register of Deeds of Eaton County.)


A committee of two was set up to pass on the worthiness of the applicants for membership. To be accepted, one had to be definitely and thoroughly opposed to the use of liquor in any form.


A committee of three was named to journey to Michigan to explore and purchase land for the colony. they were to buy three square miles of land, and as much more as the collective funds would permit.


On April 2, 1836, S. S. Church and William G. Henry left Vermont with the Colony's money in a cowhide valise. In Western New York they were joined by Wait J. Squire. Upon reaching Detroit they waited 24 hours for the stage - and open wagon. Because the roads were bad, in addition to paying their fare, they had to help pry the wagon out of the mud where the holes were the deepest. Their objective was the United States Land Office at Kalamazoo.


They found the land through Colonel Barnes, a surveyor. Only one other parcel had been purchased in the Township. By this time Colonel J. B. Scovill, the other member of the scouting party, with others of the colonists had arrived. After purchasing the land they returned to the site and laid out the village according to plans drawn up in Vermont; One mile, 40 rods long East and West, and one-half mile north and south.


There were 36 lots, each 20 rods in width, extending 80 rods, containing 10 acres each. From the four center lots, one acre was taken for the Village Square. The farm lots of 160 acres were located around the Village as agreed in Vermont for the sum of $212.50. Bellevue was the nearest place to get green tea, also the Post Office and the grist mill were located there. Most of the trading, however, was done in Marshall and at the saw mill at Kalamo. It was from the saw mill at Kalamo that Wait J. Squier drew his lumber for the first frame house in 1837 - 1838.


Michigan made early provision for canals. One, the Clinton and Kalamazoo from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan, was surveyed along the Thornapple River and the work of construction on the eastern end commenced, but it was never carried through.


The first school was taught in a private home in 1838. That fall a log schoolhouse was built on the northwest corner of the square. (A boulder marks the spot).


The Congregational Church was organized in 1838. During the first few years they spent more money on religion and education than any other town. Of the 22 heads of the families all but two were members of the Congregational Church.


By 1837 the village stretched out a mile long from east to west with two rows of log houses fronting the street ten to forty rods apart. There was one frame house. The log houses featured floors split out of white ash, roofed with peeled basswood, a ladder through a hole in one corner to go upstairs, a trap door in the floor for the cellar, a huge fireplace made of stone and clay, and a chimney of sticks, plastered with mud on the inside.


Before candles could be made, a strip of cotton flannel placed in an open dish of lard, and resting on the edge was used to furnish the light. Dr. Kedzie bought his first gallon of kerosene for $1.50 and a lamp with chimney for $3, in the fifties.


Dr. Robert Kedzie came to Vermontville in 1852 to practice medicine. He enlisted in December 1861 as assistant surgeon of the 12th Regiment of Michigan Infantry, leaving his wife and 3 boys. His first encounter was at the battle of Shiloh, where he was captured with all his hospital.


Dr. Kedzie was Professor of Chemistry at Michigan Agricultural College, a position he held for 39-1/2 years. He was an Abolitionist along with Armstrong, Hopkins, and Willard Davis. Davis was only one of the colonists, though one of the best read men in town and a political outcast until the other 3 moved in. He was elected as a representative in the State Legislature in 1857.


For about the first ten years of the village's life, until he moved away, Morton's blacksmith shop was the place for general discussion. A store was opened in 1853.


Sawy, or Saaba, the Chief of the local Indians, the Pottawatomies, was a frequent visitor in the area. He became enamored with a bright young lady of the village and made proposals of marriage to her father. He proposed to buy her and offered to give 4 ponies and $25 or 5 ponies and no money.


In 1843 the congregational Chapel was built on the northwest corner of the Square to be used for a school and church. this building is still standing, and together with the Congregational Church are registered Historic Landmark Buildings, also National Registered Landmark Buildings.


An Academical Association was formed in 1846, with the Rev. W. Benedict, the new Congregational minister as the first Superintendent. This school attracted scholars from various parts of Eaton and Battle Creek.


The present Congregational Church was built in 1862. The Methodist (United) Church was moved to the Public Square in 1877. Both churches have been in continuous operation from that time.


A letter written in 1907 to Hervey Church: This is about the school which was held in the Chapel (Museum) in about the year 1858 or 1859.


Dr. Green was teaching upstairs in the academy and Josiah Barber and George Davis gave my brother George a fire cracker if he would fire it off in school. After George had lit the fire cracker and got it ready to go off, he threw it forward under the seat where George Davis and Josiah sat, and the moment it exploded George Field jumped clear on top of his seat, apparently scared to death. Dr. Green called Josiah and George D. up on the floor and asked them if they had fired the fire cracker. They said they had not.


Dr. Green determined to prove that the boys had told a story, and called up every boy in school, one by one, and asked them if they had fired it. All said "No". My brother George was the last one called up because he had jumped so and apparently very much scared that he was the last one Dr. Green thought could have fired it. When he asked George if he had done it, George said, "Yes, sir." Dr. Green was so taken back that he simply said, "You will all take your seats. I don't want any more of this in school."


Both of these boys gave up their lives in the south during the Civil War. Josiah Barber was a great uncle of Vance Barber and Dr. Green was related to the Green's here in town, also Leta Nagle, Mabelle and Celia Sprague.


Plats were drawn off with a stick showing just where all the melon patches were for miles around Vermontville, especially those that belonged to Mr. Squire and Jay Hawkins.


Josiah Scovell climbed up the flag-staff one Fourth of July until he got about 40 feet then fell on his heel and made a hole in the ground about a foot deep.


Note-- I wonder if Dr. Scovell remembered this when he ascended Mount Orizaba, Mexico in 1892 for the U. S. coast Survey and measured the elevation. Josiah's father died in 1850 and his mother married Argalus Sprague, great grandfather of Mrs. Bruce Priddy.


Those that attended the Chapel: Edward P. Church, Frank Davis (helped survey the Northern Pacific over the Rockies, and a route over the Aukes in South America), Dr. Griswold entered the Civil War study of medicine and became a prominent physician.


The names of the actual residents of the Union Colony

Vermontville, Eaton County, Michigan

Resident Journey From Occupation
Atheam, Belcher Bellevue, Michigan Farmer
Avery, E. M. Hudson, New York Farmer
Barber, Daniel Benson, Vermont Merchant
Barber, Edward H. Benson, Vermont Farmer
Bascomb, William S. Sudbury, Vermont Merchant
Bond, Elial M. Castleton, Vermont Chair-Maker
Browning, George S. Griswold, New London Co. Conn  
Church, Simon S. Sudbury, Vermont Farmer
Clark, Ezra Granville, New York Tailor
Colver, Isaac C. Poultney, Vermont Farmer
Cochrane, Rev. Sylvester Poultney, Vermont Clergyman
Davis, Willard Princeton, Mass - Bellevue, MI  
Dickinson, Oren West Haven, Vermont Farmer
Fairfield, Walter S. Castleton, Vermont Printer
Fonda, William C. Bellevue, Michigan Farmer
Freeman, Frederick Clarendon, Vermont Farmer
Fuller, Jacob Bennington, Vermont Cooper
Gates, Sidney B. Brandon, Vermont Farmer
Griswold, Roger W. Benson, Vermont Farmer
Haskell, Reuben S. Bellevue, Michigan Student
Hawkins, Jay Benson, Vermont Farmer
Hawkins, Joseph Castleton, Vermont Farmer
Hoyt, Albert M. Castleton, Vermont Farmer
Imus, Charles Dorset, Vermont  
Martin, Wells R. Bennington, Vermont Surveyor
McOtter, Simeon Orwell, Vermont Farmer
Mead, Elijah S. West Rutland, Vermont Farmer
Mears, Hiram J. Poultney, Vermont Wheelwright
Merrill, Levi Jr. Poultney, Vermont Farmer
Norton, Martin S. Bennington, Vermont Blacksmith
Parker, Ferron Castleton, Vermont Merchant
Robinson, Dewey H. Bennington, Vermont Physician
Root, Leonard Granville, New York Physician
Scovill, Josiah B. Orwell, Vermont Farmer
Scovill, Stephen D. Orwell, Vermont Farmer
Smith, Silas C. Bellevue, Michigan Farmer
Squier, Wait J. New Haven, Vermont Farmer
Stiles, Oliver J. New York - Bellevue, Michigan Physician
Taft, Bazaleel Bennington, Vermont Machinist
Tengle, Thaddeus Castleton, Vermont Farmer
Towslee, Royal B. Castleton, Vermont Merchant



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