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Albion Township's Beginning

Farming has been a way of life for generations

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 of the township’s residents today are from families who have lived here for generations.

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 what became 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 1855). 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. One of Holmes’ sons, Charles, became a prominent local figure whose positions included township supervisor and county register of deeds.

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.

Schoolhouses, churches and a township hall

Soon after the settlers arrived, public schools were established, as required by the federal government in the Land Ordinance of 1785. “Several of the early schools were taught in lean-tos attached to log homes or in free standing log huts,” Kinney writes. “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.” Schoolhouses erected in Albion Township included Babcock, Benham, Holmes, Howell and King.

Religious freedom was guaranteed by the Northwest Ordinance, which the Confederation Congress had adopted in 1787. But few church buildings have been erected in the township. One of them, 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 elsewhere.

The Albion District’s presiding elder wrote in an 1885 report, “The old have died, the young gone west, and the prosperous have united at Concord, Homer and Albion. It has been supplied the last year by Brother J.A. Brady, who is a good preacher, but who has not been more successful than his predecessors. His salary has been small, and the benevolent collections have been very greatly smaller. There is no appointment to be added. The church thinks best to yield to circumstances.”

Eventually the church was moved to the first farmstead south on 29 Mile Road to be used as an outbuilding, Passic writes.

In 1971, a new church building at 29 Mile Road and Albion Road in the township began serving members of the First Baptist Church. The congregation had worshipped for 120 years in a North Superior Street structure in Albion.

The former South Albion Methodist Episcopal Church building was one of four sites considered in 1885 when township residents decided that a township hall was needed, according to Doris Borthwick and M. John Fox’s “A Self-Guided Tour of a Part of South Albion.” The other sites: Condit Road and F Drive South, 27 Mile Road and H Drive South, and the eventual choice, the northwest corner of 28 Mile Road and F Drive South.

The hall was soon built at a cost of $550, Borthwick and Fox write. It was in use for more than a century and was replaced by a new meeting hall and fire barn on the northeast corner of the intersection in 1996. The original hall was moved to Blair Historical Farm in Homer Township in 2006.

Oil boom and manufacturing

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 related facilities were placed and spurred a new wave of immigrants who came to work in the energy sector.

The township’s population more than doubled from the 1940s through the 1960s, according to U.S. Census figures. After holding between 700 and 760 from the start of the 20th century, Albion Township’s population soared from 727 in 1940 to 1,582 in 1970. The 2020 census lists the township with 1,094 residents.

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. 

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