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Mt. Pleasant History

The history and spirit of the Mt. Pleasant community are embodied in the four emblems comprising the city seal: Native American heritage and culture; agriculture; education; and the discovery and production of oil. Their profound effect in shaping our community is evident yet today.

The following are excerpts from This Place Mount Pleasant by Dr. John Cumming. This historical account was published in 1989, commemorating the 100th Anniversary of Mount Pleasant's incorporation as a city.

Throughout 1856 the Indians began to arrive in Isabella County. Some came on foot singly or in groups, some came with ponies packed with all of their possessions, and some poled their way up the Chippewa River in dug-out canoes.

They were coming to claim lands that were to be granted them by the United States government under a treaty signed on August 2, 1855, at Detroit by representatives of the Indians and the government.

For a number of years Indians residing in northern Oakland County, Genesee, Lapeer and Saginaw Counties, with the help of the Methodist Church, had been petitioning the United States to set aside lands which they could use for farming. A number of them already owned farms and appeared to be doing well. The treaty of 1855 was, in part, a response to those appeals.

The land which was to become Mount Pleasant had been purchased from the government in 1855 by David Ward, land-looker and timber scout. He logged off the site along the Chippewa River in the winter of 1860-61 where Mount Pleasant now stands. Upon completing his logging operations, he concluded that the land would make a good town site, so he surveyed it into lots and named his new village Mount Pleasant.

The Indian treaty which brought the Indians to Isabella County attracted merchants, artisans and entrepreneurs. The new settlement would require services and supplies which meant employment and financial gain for many non-Indians.

Farmers 1,099, All Others 567 Occupations, Isabella County, 1874 State CensusThe passage of a new land reform act (the Homestead Act in 1862) was to bring a larger number of settlers to the county. Now the settlers could acquire land free simply by claiming it, making improvements on it, and occupying it for a specified time. This was a real opportunity for the young man who was not in a position to purchase an improved farm.

Mount Pleasant was destined to have a college. From the earliest days of the village's history, there was a strong interest in education. School programs attracted capacity audiences, drawing not only the parents of pupils but other adults as well. Some even talked of a college for the community.

Each summer Mount Pleasant, as the county seat, was host to the teachers of the county at a County Teachers Institute which lasted for a week in August. Designed to improve the quality of teaching in the schools in the county, leading educators from throughout the state were brought to the institute to lecture on teaching techniques.

A college degree was not necessary for a teacher at that time. Upon graduation from high school a person could take the teachers' examination administered each year by the county superintendent. The percentage of failures in these examinations was large. One year only 10 out of 58 were able to pass.

The poor showing by students on these examinations indicated that the students were not receiving adequate preparation. Summer Normal Schools were held to prepare the students for the examination.

In the fall of 1890 W.A. Jordan started the Mt. Pleasant Business College. M.C. Skinner, who had been a teacher in the area for several years, became the new owner of the college in 1891. The name of the institution became Mount Pleasant Business College and Normal. During this period, Samuel W. Hopkins, a Mount Pleasant attorney and real estate investor, conceived the idea for the establishment of a college for the community. Hopkins' plan was to purchase the remaining acreage of the old Hursh farm, which at the time amounted to fifty-two acres. They would then subdivide the land, sell the lots, and use the receipts for erecting a building. The grand sale took place on July 4, 1892, and resulted in the sale of 151 lots. The first term of the Central Michigan Normal School and Business Institute opened on September 13, 1892.

Samuel W. Hopkins was elected state senator for the 1892 session. One of the first proposals that he made was to request that the state take over the Central Michigan Normal and Business Institute. The measure failed. In the next session of the legislature the measure was introduced again but faced a great deal of opposition. Many other communities in the state were seeking the same support, but in Mount Pleasant a building was already available. Strident opposition came from Ypsilanti, where the supporters of Michigan State Normal School felt threatened. They argued that there was no need for another normal school in the state. The proponents of Mount Pleasant's cause insisted that there was a serious need for a school for training rural school teachers. Ypsilanti countered with the claim that they fulfilled this function. Central's side countered with overwhelming evidence which refuted this. They showed that most of Ypsilanti's graduates went into cities, union schools or administration; few went into teaching in rural schools. The legislature finally passed the law accepting Central as a state institution in 1895, not, however, without some concession to Ypsilanti. Students would have to complete their education there in order to qualify for a degree.

Just before the end of 1928 the Joslin No. 1, the first oil well in Isabella County and the first owned by local capital, struck oil. On January 2, 1929, the Times reported that this well was running 360 barrels a day. On January 24th Isabella County's second well on the Walter Russell and E.M. Stilgenbauer lease came in. Five days later it was reported that the Joslin No. 1 was flowing 1,000 barrels a day.

The Times wrote, "Excitement was at a fever pitch on the streets of Mount Pleasant and scores of cars braved the icy trunkline to pay a visit to the well."

Mount Pleasant had become a boom town. The two major hotels, the Bennett and the Park, were usually filled to capacity. Rooming houses and restaurants were also full. Old-time residents no longer recognized everyone in town. There were new faces from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, and other points where oil had been discovered earlier.

Oil drilling continued, new wells were discovered, and a refinery was built at Mount Pleasant. Many of the oil companies established their headquarters here. Drilling contractors also based their operations here, maintaining shops and storage facilities even after the oil production centers had moved elsewhere in the state. Mount Pleasant became the oil capital of Michigan.

The oil discoveries changed Mount Pleasant. In the few years following the height of the oil boom a great deal of the industry in the locality left. Gorham's factory, the sugar plant, the Dow Chemical plant, the chickory plant, and the American Enamel Company all departed. If the oil industry had not been here to fill the void, Mount Pleasant would probably have been a depressed area. Perhaps the greatest asset to the community which the oil industry contributed was the leadership of men who remained here after the boom had subsided. Many of them made this city their home, becoming civic leaders and investors in the community.

For more information about the history of Mt. Pleasant, contact the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society at 523 N. Fancher, Mt. Pleasant, MI  48858, (517) 773-3306, or visit the Clarke Historical Library on the Central Michigan University campus or at www.lib.cmich.edu/clarke.

Information above obtained from City Of Mt. Pleasant's Web Site.

 



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