Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village of Chatham History

This page details some of early happenings within the new township, and talks about some of the early settlers that moved in the area.
While the roots of the people who came to Rock River township varied, it was the virgin forests of a century ago that lured the railroad and logging companies to the area. 

Even before the sometimes complicated and arduous work of forming the township years began, logging companies had started operating in the region.  The building of the Munising Railway Company line, which reached Chatham in 1896 and later ran on to Little Lake, proved to be the one most significant development in the township's history.  The railroad later became the Lake Superior and Ishpeming (LS&I).  That same year, 1896, the Munising Railway 
Company and Sutherland Innis, the lumber company that had camps in the area, joined in platting a village at the point where the railroad intersects the Rock River township road.  Jim Finn of Sutherland Innis Company is credited with naming the village Chatham, after Chatham, Ontario, the headquarters of Sutherland Innis.  

Chatham was becoming an important point.  The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company, the Northwestern Cooperage and Lumber Company (Buckeye Company) and T.G. Sullivan had established lumber camps in the area. Initially only cedar for telegraph and telephone poles was in great demand.  It was not until a bit later that hardwood was required in huge amounts at charcoal plants and hemlock for its bark at the tannery in Munising.
As cut-over land became available, land agents became active, selling land to future farmers.  Land could be bought for as little as $5.00 an acre.  Chan Brown and John Gatiss were agents for Northwest Cooperage and Lumber Company; Henry Hillman and Mike Skytta sold for CCI.

Settlers of various ethnic origins tended to settle in compact groups - the Swedes near Chatham, a few French east of Cold Springs, and the Belgians in Rumely.  The largest group, the Finns, settled throughout the township.  Settlers came from many lands and after brief stop-overs elsewhere, chose Rock River for their future homes. 

Food, clothing, and shelter are basic needs taken for granted, but obtaining them was not easy for this township's pioneers.  To begin a new life with the barest of means in a land that that had been virtually untouched presented problems merely to survive.  Land had to be cleared and homes appeared gradually.  Men sought work in lumber camps and many cut and sold cordwood off their own property.  Spurred by ambition to become self-sufficent, more land had to be cleared so farming could begin.  A family's first priorities came to obtain a cow and perhaps a horse.  In time, the first small crop was planted and with it, new hope.

The first settler in Chatham, G.A. Lindquist, arrived in 1896 from Rock Kilns, eight miles to the north.  Others who came around the turn of the century were Andrew Anderson, Andrew Johnson, Oscar Sandstrom, Charles Carlson, John H. Gatiss, Gust Lintula, Sr., John Kamppinen, Sr., Abel and Isaac Maki, Claus Schevenius, Ivar Samuelson, Gust Zeno, Chan Brown, August Swanberg, Joseph Hill, Sr., Joachim Hill, Andrew Mattson, August Anderson, Charles Johnson, Eric Hyde, John Nykanen, Isaac Tunteri, Gottfried Johnson, and Charles Johnson (better known as Kamara).

Probably the oldest house still in use in the Chatham area is the one built by an Italian, Garbalino, several years before 1900.  It later became the home of the John Lintula and later Swen Lindfors family.

Many of the earliest arrivals began farming in the Eben area, among them Frank Rosendahl (Ross), Jacob Ruuspakka, Jacob Lehtimaki, Thomas Hallstrom, Oscar Nyman, John Jacobson, Sr., John Akkila, and Edward Luoma.

The early 1900's saw saw several Belgian families from Wisconsin settle in Rumely, including Heyrman, Van Der Zande, Ver Der Vorde, Stuer, and Dhondt.

While names of only some of the earliest people involved in the development of the township are mentioned here, government census figures reveal that from a total township population of 365 in 1900, the number rose to 1450 in 1920.  Certainly equal recognition for the township's progress must be given to those who came after the first settlers.  Countless others are deserving of mention - women who, while not active in affairs outside their daily lives, nevertheless, by quieted raising families (often large), paying their taxes and educating their children earned their own niche in the township's first one hundred years history.

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