In-Depth History of Coldwater


The City derives its name from the Indian word "Chuck-sey-ya-bish", meaning cold water. When the first settlers came to this vicinity, they found this area inhabited by the fierce and warlike Potawatomi Indians. Although the old Indian trail between Detroit and Chicago, (now US 12), saw great numbers of pioneers passing this way, bound for Illinois and other parts of what was then "the far west!" the presence of the roving bands of Pottawatomi Indians deterred many who might otherwise have settled here. The defeat of the British in the War of 1812 and the death of the great Indian leader, Tecumseh, in 1813 caused the Pottawatomi to lose heart and in 1821 Chief Topinabee and his people sold to the settlers what is now Branch County and a vast area besides, although they continued to occupy it as before, supposedly on reservations. One of these reservations, six miles square, was in Coldwater and Quincy Townships.

The present City of Coldwater occupies part of what was then a beautiful prairie some three miles long from east to west and two miles wide. It was dotted with oaks, with an occasional elm, but bordering this prairie were magnificent forests of beech, maple, walnut, whitewood and elm interspersed with many streams and over a hundred lakes, large and small in what is now Branch County.

It was natural that our first white settlers came to trade with the Indians. In 1822 Joseph Godfrey established a trading post near downtown Coldwater and a little later that year one Marantette established another post where Oak Grove Cemetery is now located.

In the year 1829 Branch County was laid out and so named by the Territorial Legislature. It was first attached to Lenawee County and later to St. Joseph. It was named in honor of John Branch of North Carolina who was President Jackson's Secretary of the Navy.

The first log cabin was erected in 1830 by Hugh Campbell on the present site of the Masonic Temple. In 1831 Allen Tibbits and Joseph Hanchett platted a village here calling it Lyons. It ran from Jefferson Street to Monroe Street and from Church to Washington Street. In July 1831, Mr. Tibbits preached the first sermon. There were 50 whites in Branch County at that time. This same year A.F. Bolton erected the first frame building, a hotel at Masonville. Masonville was a settlement on the east banks of the Coldwater River in the west part of the present city and covered the territory from the river and east to the intersection of West Pearl Street and West Chicago St. On the strength of this hotel, Masonville was made the County Seat. Masonville did not hold the honor long as the ambitious village of Branch, which was located south of our present airport near the present Black Hawk Mill, won the coveted plum and held the county seat from 1831 to 1842. At the time it became the county seat, it had only one log house but it had ambitious politicians. The Coldwater Post Office was at Masonville.

In 1832 the first school was started with nine pupils and with Cynthia Gloyd as the teacher. The first store was established by Silas Holbrook; the M.E. Church was founded with five members; and the first sawmill was erected at the junction of Division and Clay Streets.

In 1833 the name of Lyons was changed to Coldwater. Branch County as such began its separate existence, being previously attached to St. Joseph County and a sheriff, clerk treasurer, register of deeds (one office), and probate judge were elected by the people.

In 1834 the "old red schoolhouse" was erected at the corner of Pearl and Hudson Streets.

In 1835 Masonville was platted on the east bank of the Coldwater River and again struggled to become the county seat. That year the Baptist Church was organized with sixteen members.

In 1836 the first church was built in Coldwater by the Methodists. The village had twelve houses and continued to grow. The next year Coldwater was incorporated as a village having a population of 140 people. Dr. Alger, traveling the Chicago Road from Detroit to Chicago, found at this time 32 taverns between Quincy and Sturgis, indicating the tremendous westward immigration through here at this time.

1837 was a terrible year for malaria fever. 32 out of 140 people died that fall. The cause was said to be the Clay Street Milldam and the angry citizens, taking the law into their own hands, destroyed it. Also this year the first newspaper, The Observer, was issued and the Presbyterian Church organized with sixteen members.

In 1840 the Pottawatomi Indians, except for a few stragglers, were removed to the far west. This opened for settlement much of the land of Branch County, which had been designated as Indian Reservations. It also helped bring in many new settlers who had been deterred by the presence of such a large Indian population in the County. To this date progress has been steady.

In 1841 Albert Chandler founded the Coldwater Sentinel and in 1842 Coldwater became the permanent County Seat, supplanting the village of Branch and blasting Masonville's hopes.

In 1844 two churches were built; the Baptist Church was built on the northwest corner of Monroe and Pearl Streets, and the Presbyterian Church was built on the present site of the new building today, but was sold in 1868 to the Lutherans who moved it to its present location on S. Jefferson Street.

In 1846 the first jail was erected. Also, the voters voted against the sale of liquor.

In 1847 the county voted to build a brick courthouse by a majority vote of 27. A majority of 27 was the same when the proposition to build the second one carried 40 years later. This one burned down on December 5, 1972, and another new courthouse started construction in the fall of 1974 on the same spot. Also this year, the Masonic Lodge was established.

In 1849 the telegraph lines reached Coldwater and St. Charles Catholic Church was formed.

1850 was a banner year for the growing village. The first train arrived and Coldwater was connected directly to the populous East.   For many years Coldwater and Branch County were noted for their horses.

The start was made in 1851 when A.C. Fiske purchased Green Mountain Black Hawk for the enormous price of $1,500. Many people now living can remember the various racetracks in and around Coldwater. Raising and training racehorses was a big industry for many years. In 1851 Coldwater boasted 370 houses, but the first of many disastrous fires destroyed eight stores in the business section during the winter.

In 1854 another disastrous fire along Main Street caused the village board to prohibit the erection of any frame buildings from Clay Street to the parks. This was the first zoning acted upon in the community. The Main Street because of this action was built of brick. Also this year, Oak Grove Cemetery was established, which continued to expand. There had been two earlier cemeteries, one at Masonville, which today is a cultivated field; the other on Morse Street which contains tombstones recording burials from 1835-1857. The present cemetery board maintains this burial ground even though there have been no burials since 1857.

In 1856, because of the many fires, the first fire company was organized with Clinton B. Flask as foreman. Everyone was proud of the "Excelsior" the hand-pump that was purchased.

In 1857 the corner stone of the Episcopal Church was laid. This building was completed in 1862.

In 1861 Coldwater became an incorporated city. That year The Coldwater Light Artillery (later called Loomis Battery) left for the war with six brass cannons and 120 men, only 49 of whom returned home three years later. Coldwater, even as her men have done in the years since, paid for her existence with the blood of her youth. Many other Coldwater men enlisted in the 1st Michigan Infantry and the list of casualties was large for such a small town. It is said that over 500 men from Coldwater fought in the Civil War. To show how the raising of horses had grown in the county during the war years of 1861-65, over 3,000 horses were brought here for use in the Federal Service.

In 1865 the war ended and the soldiers returned home. That year Coldwater had its first millionaire. S.M. Siely made $1,500,000 in oil speculations. In July the Coldwater National Bank opened and Coldwater became a money order post office.

The town continued to grow steadily after the war. In 1866 the first hospital was established where the Elks Temple is now located. One hundred new buildings were erected and new industries located here. The industries, at this time, consisted of flourmills, an oil mill, breweries, a wheel barrow factory and many small factories making cigars. By 1870 there were so many cigar makers that a Cigar Makers Union was organized and functioned for many years.

In 1870 the Lewis Art Gallery opened. For 25 years until its removal to Ann Arbor this gallery attracted visitors from all parts of the country. Recently the Lewis Collection was returned to Coldwater.

The "Seventies" was a period of railroad building and Coldwater was caught up in the spell. Two roads were chartered, the Mansfield, and Coldwater and Lake Michigan Railroad, and the Coldwater Railroad. Neither railroad was ever completed. The collapse of the Mansfield Railroad cost the investors of this vicinity $200,000.

In 1876 an interesting item was noted, the English sparrow was introduced by Captain Mansfield and George Firth. Today it is difficult to believe that this "pest" hasn't been here always. In 1800 the first bicycle was brought to Coldwater.

1881 was an exciting year for Coldwater. A series of fires caused suspicion of incendiarism. After an investigation, several firemen who confessed were sentenced to serve prison terms. Chief Drake, after a lengthy and expensive trial, was acquitted. The cause for the fires was to show that they needed new equipment.

In 1882 the Bell Telephone began business. In 1886 the Public Library building was dedicated - a gift from the Hon. E.R. Clarke. In 1887 an idea began that has since grown to large proportions and has meant much to Coldwater and Branch County. This was "the-cottage-at-the-lake" idea begun by 10 members of Jacob Commandery at Templar Beach Morrison Lake. Today the spread of this idea has seen the shores of most of the over 100 lakes in Branch County covered with homes, both year around and summer. Today, the money brought into the county and city each year by the summer visitors makes it one of our best industries.

In 1888 a small private company started electric street lighting. Three years later in 1891 they sold their property to the city, which has maintained the electric service since that date. In 1890 the first city water system was installed by vote of the people. This system was joined the next year by the light plant and Coldwater was in public utility business to stay.

In 1905 the present city charter became law. It has been revised, added to, etc... by charter amendments many times since that date, but the charter of 1905 is still the basis for the government of Coldwater.

By 1912 Coldwater, a growing city, felt the need of parks and recreational facilities. A park and recreation board was established which today has given Coldwater the splendid parks, which are enjoyed so thoroughly.

And so through the years Coldwater has grown - steadily at times - by spurts at other times. Slowly, but ever forward toward making it a better place to "live, worship and play." Many men and women have made their contributions-some large, some small, but each his bit-and thus Coldwater today.

In 1960, Coldwater's Centennial Committee held its initial meeting to start plans for a municipal observance of the historical anniversary in 1961. General Chairman, C.J. Medendorp, presided with 20 members present. July 4, Independence Day was observed in an all day celebration at the 4-H Fairgrounds including fireworks at night, the first since 1933.

Mrs. Edna Wells, owner of the 75-year-old S.B. Kitchel Liniment business sold out to James A. Warnhoff and Dr. J.W. Brown of St. Louis, Missouri. Coldwater voters favored expansion of the municipal power plant in preference to purchase l00% power needs from Consumers Power Company. Climax Molybdenum announced a major expansion for Coldwater's first shell building in the Industrial Park. On November 8, new city charter proposal wins by 183 ballots to become effective January 1, 1961.

In 1961, Godfrey Collins took up his duties under the city charter as City Manager. The Mayor was Arthur Lyons. Restoration of Tibbits Theatre was started, and the Old Opera House will again be active. In February, Harold J. Smith was appointed to become Coldwater's first Municipal Judge effective in July. On February 20 the first non-partisan primary election was held. Governor Swainson, declared Tuesday, Feb. 28 as Coldwater Centennial Day in honor of the 100th anniversary of Coldwater as an incorporated city. Presentation made to State Senator John P. Smeekens and State Representative Frederic I. Marshall at Lansing.

In 1983, The Coldwater City Council made the entire Industrial Park an Industrial Development District to attract industry to Coldwater allowing companies a tax abatement.

A Downtown Development Authority was established to revitalize the downtown. Panel Processing had a $400,000 expansion in process. Many changes took place in the downtown area. The American Legion was remodeled, Benedict's opened the Meeting Place at the corner of Hanchett and West Chicago; Penney's moved next to Parkside Pharmacy in the Kerr Building; T-Shirt Alley moved from E. Chicago St. to W. Chicago; Michigan Bank Mid-South moved into the downtown; World wide Communications and N & M Leather were new to the community.  

A sled slide was added to the Heritage Park with the help of the Kiwanis Club. The Optimist Club added playground equipment to Heritage Park and another practice ball field was constructed as well as a tennis practice wall by the Tennis Club.

In 1965, Coldwater listed 195 retail establishments, 40 manufacturers, and 81 wholesalers. There were 9,461 residents and 3,848 housing units within the City limits. Foreign investment within the city was represented by companies from Germany, Italy and Japan.

The Florence Crane Women's Correctional Facility was established at the Coldwater Regional Center with a men's correctional facility to be completed in the next year. The mental health role of the Regional Center was redefined to include a larger resident population. The influx of activities at the Regional Center added approximately 8 million dollars in area payroll.

To support the area's increased tourist activities, a Quality Inn and Convention Center was completed offering a much-needed addition to the community.

A Rail Users Association was formed and in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Transportation, purchased the existing Conrail rail line from Quincy to Sturgis. HCRC is the "short line carrier" that operates trains of the track connecting with Conrail to the west and N&W to the east.

New industries in the area included: Gross-Stabil, Data Tech, Specialty Pyronics, Federal Cold Forge, Grahl International, Sintered Metal Products and Trail Master Products.

New commercial businesses in the area included: Burger King, Wendy's, the Chicken Coop, the Gallery, Jim's Shoes, Curtis Mathes, Crystal Health Fitness Center, Fradors Pizza, Parshall's Retail Wholesale, the Sound Room, Coldwater True Value & Charlie's II.

In 1987, Coldwater added 41 acres to the Industrial Park to allow more industrial access to rail transportation. Plans were being made to open a Business Park close to 1-69. Additional water treatment facilities were constructed to ensure continued pure water in the area.

The century old Shaw Shoe Co. building was renovated and a new company, Phoenix Concepts, occupied the facility. Johnson Controls, an automotive seating manufacturer, established a new plant in the Industrial Park. A new wholesale warehouse, Markets Unlimited, began operations in the former Gambles building.

Retail development continued both in the City and surrounding area. Major opportunities continued to exist in new commercial building programs. A Mainstreet Director was hired to implement a coordinated downtown expansion program featuring facade improvements and low cost, energy saving construction and renovation. A Visitors Information Center was opened in a newly renovated building.

A second prison facility opened for men. The new prison, Lakeland Men's facility is located next to the women's facility on the Coldwater State Regional Facility grounds.

Coldwater celebrated its 150th Anniversary with parades and other special events. Many religious, cultural and public buildings celebrated 100-year anniversaries.

Compiled by Charles N. Hill, Coldwater Chamber of Commerce, from materials of Brown-Facklam; Conover; Luedders Directory; "Mich. in 4 Centuries", Blad; etc.

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