Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village of Chatham History

This web page explains the early days before the white man and about the formation of Rock River Township.
Long before the white man came to Rock River Township, Indians left their mark in the area.  Little or nothing is known of them except for a few articles that have been found.  Stone pipes were unearthed while Elmer Wanska (then 12 years old) and his brother George were plowing on their father's farm east of Chatham near the banks of the Slapneck, and Indian arrowheads have been found on the Nummela farm in Rumely, suggesting Indians once roamed the area.

The early settlers who began arriving around the turn of the century were motivated by the same hopes and dreams that have influenced immigrants throughout the course of American history to leave their lands to start a new life.

To fully appreciate the challenge these early pioneers faced we must visualize their struggle to shape our community.  Life was simple compared to present day standards but pride in being self-sufficient was much in evidence.  Assistance from government was neither expected nor asked for.  In time of real need, neighbor helped neighbor with no thought of financial reward.

They came with few worldly goods to a strange and alien land but with a fierce determination to win a piece of this land on which to build their future.
Only four townships made up Alger County when the county was organized over a century ago.  Onota township, at that time, included all of the Range 21 and 22.  Apparently, political considerations is 1887 influenced the dividing of a new township possible.  Rock River township was now a reality.  The east half of Onota, east half of Rock River, eastern part of Limestone, and the western part of Mathias townships as they are today, was roughly the area of Rock River township. 

The old town of Rock River, the first seat of government in Rock River Township, was also its population center.  It was here that Charles Johnson operated his sawmill as well as the Brownstone Quarry, a short distance east of the 
village.  A few settlers had arrived near Winters, in the southern part of the township.

To join the two ends of the township, a dirt road from Winters to Rock River was built in 1888.  The road was often impassible, making it difficult for the residents of Winters to attend elections and meetings which were always held in Rock River some 18 miles away.  People living farther west in Onota township had the same problem.  Organizing another township out of the southern 1/4th end of both Onota and Rock River townships seemed to be a practical solution to the problem.  Thus, Mathias township was organized in 1893 with Rock River township giving up all of T44.

This agreement lasted until 1897.  By then, more people settled in the Limestone area, and they, too, had the same problems in reaching Rock River, and a need for a township of their own became increasingly apparent.  That need was met when an agreement was reached whereby their new township would receive apart of Mathias and Onota townships and Rock River township gave up the southern half and three sections on the eastern side of the north half of T45.

It was not until 1905 that the present boundaries of Rock River township were determined, once again for reasons of convenience. Rock River township received the southern half of Onota township and gave up its northern half to Onota.  Each township received one railroad and one highway.

Rock River Township today is a territory of 52,000 acres, measuring 12 miles east to west and 7 miles north to south.  The original boundaries in 1887 contained 84,500 acres and measured 6 miles east to west and 22 miles north to south.

The eight long years spent in forming the boundaries, required many meetings, surveys, and perhaps involved considerable political intrigue and maneuvering.  It is to their credit that these early settlers, many with little education, gave of their time and effort to establish our township.

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