Manistee Township was one of three townships originally established by the State Legislature on February 13, 1855, when it “organized” Manistee County. Although the smallest township geographically at the time it did originally include the land in the present City of Manistee north of Twelfth Street. In fact the only local government residents of the population center had until 1869 when the municipality was created was the township government. The first election was held in April of 1855 at the home of Samuel Potter. On the tax rolls of 1855 the township included over half of the valuation of the county.
Manistee Township has been influenced throughout its existence by the large population in its southwest corner. Nowhere is this more evident than in census figures. Although exact numbers are not available it can be estimated a census in 1855 would have shown about 400 residents in the township. In 1860, the census showed 594 residents. Four years later the population had increased to 1,127 and five years later a census, if one had been taken, would have shown over 3,000 township residents. Instead, before the census was taken in 1870, the City was set apart and the census found only 271 residents in the township. At the end of the lumbering era, the census of 1900 again showed over 3,000 residents. There followed a steady decline until the Great Depression and then a steady increase until the 2000 census found over 3,700 residents in Manistee Township.
We can only speculate as to what happens to a township government when over 90 percent of its people (and probably an equal portion of its tax base) are set into another jurisdiction. There would be no problem with the one room county schools for their districts would not be changed. However, it could be assumed that the majority of community and political leaders had become part of the new municipal government.
Records for the election of 1869 could not be found. In 1870, Hugh McGuineas, a prominent farmer and lumberman living near the present airport, was elected supervisor. Two sawmills with groups of dwellings around them existed at this time on Manistee Lake. These eventually developed into the communities of Eastlake and Parkdale. Not to be forgotten is that a large portion of the land of the township was under cultivation by 1870, and since the farmers had a ready market in the nearby city, their farms were among the most successful in the county.
Later censuses indicate the township was an extensive producer of “truck crops.”
No references have been found of a Manistee Township Hall in the 1870´s. In the early 1880´s, residents built their first hall, a large public building on the State Road (present US. 31) in Parkdale. A glowing report in one of the local papers, calls the building “the finest township hall in Michigan.”
In 1883 Manistee City and County Directory provides a history of all the townships in the county. Unfortunately, many of the “histories” appear to have been written by advertisers and in the case of Manistee Township, over half of the history describes the large industrial plant of R.G. Peters. In that decade and the one that followed, Peters constructed what was probably the largest industrial complex on Manistee Lake including several saw and shingle mills, many salt wells, and what was sometimes called “the largest salt block in the world.” Other industrial plants in the township included Wheeler, Magill & Company (later owned by Canfield Salt & Lumber), Dempsey, Simpson & Company, another Canfield mill, and the brickyard of Hall & Magill.
By the turn-of-the-century, Manistee Township was a thriving place with a good tax base and many prosperous citizens.
This article was written by Steve Harold, (Director of the Manistee County Historical Museum) and published in the Manistee News Advocate. Used with Permission.