Kinsley S. Bingham, Governor of Michigan from 1855 to 1859, and United States Senator, was born in Camillus, Onondaga County, N. Y., Dec. 16, 1808. His father was a farmer, an his own early life was consequently devoted to agricultural pursuits, but notwithstanding the disadvantages related to the acquisition of knowledge in the life of a farmer he managed to secure a good academic education in his native State and studied law in the office of Gen. James R. Lawrence, now of Syracuse, N.Y. In the spring of 1833, he married an estimable lady who had recently arrived from Scotland, and obeying the impulse of a naturally enterprising disposition, he emigrated to Michigan and purchased as new farm in company of his brother-in-law, Mr. Robert Worden, in Green Oak, Livingston County. Here, on the border of civilization, buried in the primeval forest, our late student commenced the arduous task of preparing a future home, clearing and fencing, putting up buildings, etc, at such a rate that the land chosen was soon reduced to a high state of cultivation.
Becoming deservedly prominent, Mr. Bingham was elected to the office of Justice of the Peace and Postmaster under the Territorial government, and was the first Probate Judge in the county. In the year 1836, when Michigan became a State, he was elected to the first Legislature. He was four times re-elected, and Speaker of the House of Representatives three years. In 1846, he was elected on the Democratic ticket, Representative to Congress, and was the only practical farmer in that body. He was never forgetful of the interest in agriculture, and was in particular opposed to the introduction of “Wood’s Patent Cast Iron Plow” which he completely prevented. He was reelected to Congress in 1848, during which time he strongly opposed the extension of slavery in the territory of the United States and was committed to and voted for the Wilmot Proviso.
In 1854, at the first organization of the Republican party, in consequence of his record in Congress as a Free Soil Democrat, Mr. Bingham was nominated and elected Governor of the State, and re-elected in 1856. Still faithful to the memory of his own former occupation, he did not forget the farmers during his administration, and among other profits of his zeal in their behalf, he became mainly instrumental in the establishment of the Agricultural College in Lansing.
In 1859, Governor Bingham was elected Senator in Congress and took an active part in the stormy campaign in the election of Abraham Lincoln. He witnessed the commencement of the civil war while a member of the United States Senate. After a comparatively short life of remarkable promise and public activity he was attacked with apoplexy and died suddenly at his residence, in Green Oak, Oct. 5, 1861.
The most noticeable event in Governor Bingham’s first term was the completion of the ship canal, at the Falls of St. Mary’s. In 1852, August 26, an act of Congress was approved, granting to the State of Michigan seven hundred and fifty thousand acres of land for the purpose of constructing a ship canal between Lakes Huron and Superior. In 1835, the Legislature accepted the grant, and provided for the appointment of commissioners to select the donated lands, and to arrange for the building of the canal. A company of enterprising men was formed, and a contract was entered into by which it was arranged that the canal should be finished within two years, and the work was pushed rapidly forward. Every article of consumption, machinery, working implements and materials, timber for the gates, stones for the locks, as well as men and supplies, had to be transported to the site of the canal from Detroit, Cleveland, and other lake ports. The rapids which had to be surmounted have a fall of seventeen feet and are about one mile long. The length of the canal is less than one mile, its width one hundred feet, depth twelve feet and it has two locks of solid masonry. In May 1855, the work was completed, accepted by the commissioners, and formally delivered to the State authorities.
The disbursements on account of the construction of the canal and selecting the lands amounted to one million dollars; while the lands which were assigned to the company, and selected through the agency at the Sault, as well as certain lands in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, filled to an acre the Government grant. The opening of the canal was an important event in the history of the improvement of the State. It was a valuable link in the chain of lake commerce, and particularly important to the interests of the Upper Peninsula.
There were several educational, charitable and reformatory institutions inaugurated and opened during Gov. Bingham’s administrations. The Michigan Agricultural College owes its establishment to a provision of the State Constitution of 1850. Article 13 says, “The Legislature shall, as soon as practical, provide for the establishment of an agricultural school.” For the purpose of carrying into practice this provision, legislation was commenced in 1855, and the act required the school should be within ten miles of Lansing, and that not more than $15 an acre should be paid for the farm and college grounds. The college was opened to students May 1857, the first of existing agricultural colleges in the United States. Until the spring of 1861, it was under the control of the State Board of Education; since that time it has been under the management of the State Board of Agriculture, which was created for that purpose.
In its essential features, of combining study and labor, and of uniting general and professional studies in its course, the college has remained virtually unchanged from the first. It has a study growth in number of students, in means of illustration and efficiency of instruction.
The Agricultural College is three miles east of Lansing, comprising several fine buildings; and their are also very beautiful, substantial residences for the professors. their are also an extensive, well-filled green-house, a very large and well-equipped chemical laboratory, one of the most scientific apiaries in the United States, a general museum, a museum of mechanical inventions another of vegetable products, extensive barns, piggeries, etc,., etc., in fine trim for the purposes designed. The farm consists of 676 acres, of which about 300 are under cultivation in a systemic rotation of crops.
Adrian College was established by the Wesleyan Methodist in 1859, now under the control of the Methodist Church. The grounds contain about 20 acres. There are four buildings, capable of accommodating about 225 students. Attendance in 1875 was 179; total number of graduates for previous year, 121; ten professors, and teachers are employed. Exclusive of the endowment fund ($80,000), the assets of the institution, including grounds, buildings, furniture, apparatus, musical instruments, outlying lands, etc., amount to more than $137,000.
Hillsdale College was established in 1855, by the Free Baptist. The Michigan Central College, at Spring Arbor, was incorporated in 1845. It was kept in operation until it was merged into the present Hillsdale College. The site comprises 25 acres, beautifully situated on an eminence in the western part of the City of Hillsdale. The large and imposing building first erected was nearly destroyed by fire in 1874, and in its place five buildings of a more modern style have been erected. They are of brick, three stories with basement, arranged on three sides of a quadrangle. The size is, respectively, 80 by 80, 48 by 72, 48 by 72, 80 by 60, 52 by 72, and they contain one-half more room than the original building.
The State Reform School. This was established at Lansing in 1755, in the northeastern portion of the city, as the House of Correction for Juvenile Offenders, having about it many of the features of a prison. In 1859 the name was changed to the State Reform School. The government and discipline, have undergone many and radical changes, until all the prison features have been removed except those that remain in the walls of the original structure, and which remain only as monuments of instructive history. No bolts, bars, or guards are employed. The inmates are necessarily kept under surveillance of officers, but the attempts to escape are much fewer than under the more rigid regime of former days.
Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.