This article delves into the foundational history of Richland Township, beginning with its precursor, Thomastown, and leading to Richland’s official organization in 1862. It highlights the pivotal role of the Tittabawassee River in the development of surrounding townships and outlines the process through which Richland emerged as its own entity, ready to elect officials and manage its affairs independently. Drawing from historical records, the narrative sheds light on the first township meeting, the election of officials, and the initial challenges faced by the pioneers. It also touches on the controversy surrounding the township’s naming by Lemuel Cone, offering a glimpse into the complexities of historical documentation and local lore. Through this exploration, the article pays homage to the early settlers’ determination to transform the wilderness into a thriving community, marking the humble beginnings of Richland Township.
Organization of Richland Township
by Lorenz H. Loesel
Before we concern ourselves with the organization of Richland as a township, we have to study the history of Thomastown to which Richland was attached. Thomastown was organized in 1855, making this township seven years older than Richland Township. Since Thomastown is on the Tittabawassee River, it developed much faster than others which were farther away from the rivers. We stated previously that these rivers were used to float logs to the sawmills at Saginaw and other mills along its banks. Consequently, Tittabawassee, Thomastown, Swan Creek, Saginaw Town, and others were established much sooner than Richland. Eventually, however, Richland had sufficient settlers so that they were ready to organize and elect their own officials.
To my knowledge, there are no original records available of this first township board meeting. We do have the records in the “History of Saginaw County, Michigan,” by James Cooke Mills, Vol. 2, pp. 414, 415, 416-417, Seeman and Peters Publishers, 1918, Saginaw, Michigan, and another older record in the History of Saginaw County, 1881. Both accounts are almost identical, so we may presume that these authors quoted from the original source. There are other accounts available that deal with the same topic, but I feel that these two documents are more accurate for our purpose.
From the records, we read: “The Township of Richland was organized under the authority given by the Board of Supervisors, January 8, 1862.” At that period, it embraced the following territory: Town 12 north, of range 1 east, and town 12 north, of range 2 east. The order was “that this territory is hereby erected into a township to be called and known by the name of the township of Richland; the first annual township meeting thereof shall be held at the schoolhouse in district number 5, in section 22, town 12 north, of range 2 east, on the first Monday in April, 1862; and at said meeting Thomas A. Porter, Lemuel Cone, and William McBratnie, three electors of said township, shall be the persons whose duty it is to preside at such meeting.”
“The first township election was held April 7, 1862, in the schoolhouse of district number 5, section 22. T. A. Porter, Lemuel Cone, and William McBratnie were Inspectors of Election. The last-named was Moderator; James A. Wilsie, Clerk, and Frederick Field, Constable. William McBratnie was elected Supervisor, T. A. Porter, Clerk; George Brown, Treasurer; D. L. Cole and Frederick Field, Justices of the Peace. The treasurer elected failed to file his county bond within the allotted time, so Andrew McBratnie was appointed to that position. The total amount of taxes for 1862 was $1,409.60, and of expenditures was $1,399.60. The list of township officers from organization to 1880 is as follows:
- Wm. McBratnie 1862-1863
- Thomas A. Porter 1864
- Bota Curtis 1864
- _____ Smith 1865
- Thomas A. Porter 1866-1869
- Joseph Porter 1870
- Joseph Lewis 1871
- Henry D. Smith 1872
- T. A. Porter 1873
- John McMullen 1874
- Joseph Porter 1875-1876
- Geo. W. Carson 1877-1878
- J. B. Johnson 1879
- Geo. W. Carson 1880
- T. A. Porter 1862
- John McMullen 1863-1869
- Jacob King 1870-1871
- James Henry 1872
- J. D. Brown 1873
- Jedd Bennett 1874-1876
- Wm. McBratnie 1877-1879
- L. Rinehart 1880
It is most interesting to study the above document and note the gradual development. It mentions that the Township of Richland was organized under the authority given by the Board of Supervisors. The jurisdiction of the Board of Supervisors is contained in the following statement: “January 28, 1835, an act was passed organizing this county provided that the township board of Saginaw sit and act as a county board until three townships should be organized, and conferred upon said board authority to transact all business as by law was conferred upon by the board of supervisors”…
Herein lies the power of the Board of Supervisors to grant authority to the various townships to organize.
In addition, you will have noticed that in the charter above, the territory of Jonesfield was still part of Richland Township, Town 12 north, of range 1 east. This accounts for the early school districts of that territory being attached to the districts of Richland Township. However, within a few years, Jonesfield was organized and thus detached itself from our township.
No doubt you will have noted that the first township meeting and election was held at the Cone School (District No. 5). Inadvertently, this building served this community as the first schoolhouse and a year later as the first township hall.
The name Richland offers some difficulty. James Cooke Mills states: “The name of Richland was given the township by Lemuel Cone.” As we compare this statement with other records, we find that he is the only one who makes this claim. We are not trying to discredit Mr. Cone. I think it is our chief aim to present a picture that is consonant with the known and accurate records. However, in this case, the burden of the proof rests with the article that we quoted in the third paragraph. No mention is made of Mr. Cone naming the township.
Finally, it is interesting to us to meet these early pioneers: Thomas A. Porter, William McBratnie, George Brown, D. L. Cole, Lemuel Cone, Frederick Field, and Andrew McBratnie. Most of these men lived in the neighborhood of the Cone School. Mr. Porter owned a sawmill at Porter Station; Lemuel Cone lived at the Fritz’s place; William McBratnie was one of the first merchants at Hemlock; and D. L. Cole’s name was mentioned in a previous article in connection with the examination of prospective teachers of this township.
The total amount of taxes is very indicative of the humble beginning of our township. We must realize that these were our forefathers who were confronted with obstacles and trials. There was no alternative for these pioneers other than to convert these forests into farmland.
It would be interesting if we would have the exact figure of Richland’s population in 1862. Again we must admit that there are no definite figures available. However, we have the population by townships as listed in the History of Saginaw County, 1881. Here we read: “Richland organized in 1862: Number of people, no number given; 1860, no number given; 1870, 470 people; 1880, 645 people. Even though there is no figure given for the year of 1860, we are fairly safe in estimating a figure of at least 200 or more. This figure is merely an estimate but at the same time this number is reasonable and compares with ‘the school census and other data of the early 1860’s.
- History of Saginaw County, 1881.
- The County of Saginaw, Michigan, 1896, Imperial Publishing Co., Saginaw, Michigan.
- History of Saginaw County, Michigan, James Cooke Mills, 1918.