Jesse and Sarah Towns, pioneers of Amber Township. 

January 20, 2021

Jesse and Sarah Towns

Jesse and Sarah Towns, pioneers of Amber Township. 

Around the County is a presentation of Preferred Credit Union, www.preferredcu.org, located locally at 266 N. Jebavy Dr., Ludington.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Jesse L. Towns was an early pioneer of Amber Township. During the half century he lived in Amber Township, he helped establish a school in the township and created a family that is still active in the community to this day. 

Jesse was born on Aug. 20, 1833 to Robert (1799-1883) and Sarah Hopfengärtner (1800-1854) Towns. Some historical records list him as being born in Washington Township, Stark County, Ohio, while others list him as being born in Columbiana County, Ohio. Washington Township, Stark County, borders Columbiana County, so the conflicting information is understandable. 

Washington Township has a present day population of 4,791. It is located immediately south of the city of Alliance, which was founded in 1854 by a merger of three smaller communities: Williamsport (established 1827), Freedom (1838) and Liberty (1850). Today, the city has a population of 22,322. It is located 16 miles northeast of Canton, 27 miles southwest of Youngstown and 51 miles southeast of Cleveland. 

1904 plat map showing the Towns farmstead.

Jesse married Sarah B. Borton (1834 to 1920) on Dec. 11, 1856 in Stark County. Sarah is listed as being born on May 4, 1834 in Columbiana County. At some point Jesse’s family moved to Prairie Township in Kosciusko County, Indiana. His mother is listed as dying on Aug. 27, 1854 there (at the age of 54) and his 25-year-old brother, Lewis, died on Sept. 6, 1854, also in Indiana. 

Jesse and Sarah had two children before moving to Michigan. Son Lewis Clarkson Towns (1858-1936) was born on April 14, 1858 in Ohio and son Daniel J. Towns (1859-1936) was born in Bourbon Township, Marshall County, Indiana. The rest of their children are listed as being born in Amber Township, Mason County: Cyrus B. Towns (1862-1864), Jesse Melvin Towns (1864-1947), Arthur W. Towns (1866-?), Robert O. Towns (1869-1913), Laura B. Towns (1871-?), Mary E. Towns (1874-?), and Blanche Towns (1877-1962).

Jesse and Sarah moved to Mason County in 1858, with an ox team, likely after the birth of Lewis. According to an article about the history of Amber Township’s Towns Cemetery, written by Percy E. Morse and published in the Ludington Daily News on Sept. 17, 1953, the Townses moved here from Knox County, Ohio, which is southwest of their hometown. This information conflicts with the above statement that states that Percy was born in Indiana, unless he was born while they were en-route to Michigan. 

Jesse and Sarah settled on 80 acres of land, which was deeded to them from the U.S. Land Office. The land’s legal description of the south 1/2 of the southwest 1/4 of section 10 of Amber Township. Today, that land is part of the my family’s farm, located on Johnson Road between Stiles and Amber roads. The barn that Towns built still stands on the farmstead. The house was replaced in the early 1930s by my grandparents, Helen and Tom Alway, but parts of the cellar of the modern home date back to the original house. 

According to Morse’s article, Towns returned to Ohio in 1860 and when brought back several bushes of black walnuts, which he planted and raised along the road in front of his house, along with other places on his farm. To this day, those trees and their descendants still exist.  

Why the Townses moved to Mason County is unknown. By the late 1850s there was a movement for the federal government to enact homestead legislation giving land to westward settlers (remember at that point much of Michigan was part of “the West). In 1846 Congress was presented with the first homestead bill, which Ohio Sen. Benjamin Wade called “a great question of land to the landless,” according to Britannica. In 1860, Congress passed a Homestead Act, but Democratic President James Buchanan vetoed it. Southerners opposed the act on the grounds that it would result in antislavery people settling the territories. Employers argued that it would deplete the labour market, thereby increasing wages. The Republican Party platform for the 1860 election promised a new homestead bill, and Abraham Lincoln’s victory, along with the secession of the Southern states, ensured its passage.

The Homestead Act of 1862 took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, and granted 160 acres of unappropriated public lands to anyone who paid a small filing fee and agreed to work on the land and improve it, including by building a residence, over a five-year period. However, most homesteaders took a smaller portion of land due to the limitations of implements. Before mechanization of equipment, a farmer could spend up to a day plowing one acre of land. 

John and Blanch (Towns) Griffin

Mason County began being settled by non-Native Americans in the mid-1840s. By 1855 it was formed as a county, splitting off of the larger Ottawa County. Amber Township was formed by resolution of the Mason County Board of Supervisors in October, 1867. The township’s first meeting was held in April, 1868, at Burnette school, which was located about a 1/4 mile south of railroad tracks near the corner of Amber Road and First Street.

At the age of 31, Jesse joined the U.S. Army on Feb. 26, 1865 and served in Company B of the 7th Regiment Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, which was part of the Michigan Brigade, which at one point had been led by Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

Jesse served 9 months, 20 days and was discharged on Dec. 15, 1865, the same day the regiment was mustered out of service. 

The regiment was organized in Grand Rapids in October 1862 by William d’Alton Mann, a future prominent Michigan newspaper and magazine publisher. Mann was later named colonel of the regiment. Allyne Litchfield also served as colonel. 

Company B was led by Capt. Lynus Warner of Royalton. When Jesse joined the regiment, it had been assigned to the Army of Potomac and Middle Military Division until June 1865. It was then sent to serve in the District of the Plains, Department of Missouri until September 1865 and  then the District of Dakota until December 1865. 

Jesse Towns’ grave in Towns Cemetery.

During the regiment’s history, it saw much action including fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863. Jesse may have seen battle during Maj. General Phillip Sheridan’s raid into the Shenandoah Valley known as Sheridan’s Raid in Feb. 1865. During the remainder of his service, the regiment participated in the occupation of Staunton, Va., action at Waynesboro, Va. on March 2 (the final battle of Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early), along with several other various battles. His regiment was also present in Appomattox Court House when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. From there, the regiment marched to Washington, D.C. and participated in a grand review on May 23, 1865. It then was sent to Leavenworth Kansas on June 1 and then participated in the Powder River Expedition and operations against Indians in the District of the Plains and Dakota until December 1865. 

During its service, four officers and 81 enlisted men were killed and mortally wounded while two officers and 256 enlisted men died of disease, a total of 343. 

On Nov. 1, 1871, Jesse and Sarah became owners of their 80 acres of land, which was deeded to them from the U.S. Land Office. 

A year before Jessie joined the Army, in 1864, his son, Cyrus, passed away at just under 2-years-old. He was buried initially in an Amber Township cemetery known as Evans Cemetery, located near the Burnett school about 1/4 mile south of Amber Station, which is near the modern corner of First Street and Amber Road. On Dec. 29, 1871, Jesse and Sarah sold one acre of their property to Amber Township. The decision was made in October of that year when the Amber Board of Health met at the Rickey Schoolhouse (located east of modern Rickey Cemetery on Conrad Road west of Stiles Road) and voted to purchase the land from the Towns. During that meeting, the board also formed Rickey Cemetery, which consisted of 1 1/4 acres of land that was purchased by Charles Martin. 

Valentine Parker, who lived on the “River Road” (now Conrad Road), was authorized to visit Jesse and buy the land, according 

On Oct. 6, 1872, Jesse, along with John L. Arnold, C.W. Jones, and Daniel Prindle met at the cemetery and laid it out in lots, the four northwest corner lots being reserved for transient burials. That year the 25 bodies buried in the Evans Cemetery were then moved to the Rickey Cemetery and the Towns Cemetery, including the body of Cyrus Towns. 

Daniel Prindle had homesteaded 80 acres east of the Towns farm (which is also now part of the modern Alway farm). His deed is dated March 22, 1875 (more about Prindle in a future article).

Jesse Towns died on March 24, 1910 and was buried in the cemetery that was named after him. Sarah died in 1920 and is also buried in the cemetery. 

The 80 acre estate of Jesse and Sarah Towns was deeded to their daughter and son-in-law Blanch and John C. Griffin in 1923. The Griffins owned a farm in Riverton Township. 

In 1928, The Griffins sold the eastern 40 acres to Myron Vanderhoff. In 1930, Griffin sold the western 40 acres (northeast corner of Stiles and Johnson roads) to my great-grandparents, Walter Glenn (an attorney based in Scottville) and Evalyn Alway. Later that year, Vanderhoff sold the other 40 acres to my great-grandparents. 

A May 15, 1930 Ludington Daily News article states “Myron Vanderhoff left Saturday morning for Lowell, Mich., where he intends to make his future home after having disposed of his property here.” Vanderhoff (1862-1949) was born Dec. 28, 1862 in Paris Township, Kent County and married Myrtie McIntyre (1872-1926) on March 19, 1889 and then Jessie Dickerson (1886-1956) on Sept. 3, 1930. Census records from 1920 show him living in Lowell and in 1930 living in Amber Township, Mason County. The 1920 census records him as working in the hotel industry employed as a kuper (or cooper). The 1900 and 1910 census reports shows him as a farmer in Paris Township, Kent County. 

The legacy of Jesse and Sarah Towns continues to this day in Mason County. His descendants continue to live here and have been prominent members of the county’s business community over the years. In addition, the barn still stands, the walnut trees continue to grow and a cemetery pays homage to one of Amber’s first settlers. 

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