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Historical Data of Mecosta County












The Surveryor General approved the United States survey of Mecosta County on February 22, 1839, and the State Legislature established the county boundaries on April 1, 1840.

In 1852 John Davis purchased 160 acres in Mecosta Township and John Parish purchased 57 acres in Big Rapids. They were the first two permanent county residents. On July 20, 1852, the first family to reside in the county, William and Margaret Brockway and their two children moved into a logging shanty on Mitchell Creek. On February 12, 1853 Alice Victoria Brockway was born to the couple. Alice was the first white child born in the county. In the spring of 1853 the Brockwayís moved to a 200-acre farm in Aetna Township.

In March 1854 Zerah and George French and nine members of their family moved to a shanty close to Mitchell Creek and the Muskegon River. Zerah and George French are considered the cofounders of Big Rapids. In the spring of 1855 James and Laura Montague and their children became the third family to settle in the county. Their 160-acre farm in Green Township was located where 19 Mile Road intersects the west bank of the Muskegon River.

The organization of Leonard (Big Rapids) Township and Green Township was authorized in February 1858. On April 5, 1858 the first township elections were held and Jesse Shaw was elected supervisor of Leonard Township and Jesse A. Barker was elected supervisor of Green Township. On February 11, 1859 the State Legislature authorized the organization of Mecosta County and established the Village of Leonard as the county seat. The first county elections were held on April 4th and the following county officials were elected: Orrin Stevens, Clerk and Register of Deeds; Alfred L. Clark, Sheriff; Charles Shafer, Treasurer; Jesse A. Barker, Judge of Probate; and Augustine N. Williams Surveyor. Mr. William T. Howell of Newaygo was appointed Prosecuting Attorney. On May 2nd Luther Cobb and Jesse A. Barker convened the first meeting of the Board of Supervisors and Jesse A. Barker was chosen chairman. The population of Mecosta County was 671 inhabitants in 1860.

The first issue of the Big Rapids Pioneer, a five-column folio, was printed on April 17, 1862. Charlie Gay was the proprietor, owner, and coeditor with Ceylon C. Fuller. The paper was under the same management for nearly 22 years and 140 years later the paper is still being published.

The plat for the Village of Big Rapids was recorded on November 3, 1859 and the plat for Frenchís addition (Glen Elm) was recorded on May 9, 1860. The State Legislature authorized the incorporation of the City of Big Rapids in April 1869. The first city elections were held on April 19, 1869 at which the following officials were elected: George F. Stearns, Mayor; Charlie Gay, Recorder; W. Irving Latimer, Treasurer; and William Van Loo, Supervisor. Mecosta County had 5,642 residents in 1870.

The Grand Rapids and Indiana was the first railroad to enter Mecosta County. In June 1869 the GR&I railroad crossed the Little Muskegon River and the Village of Morley was created. Construction of the next section of track to the Village of Paris started in late July 1869 and the Village of Stanwood came into existence. The GR&I reached the city limits of Big Rapids on June 20, 1870 and the Village of Paris on July 1, 1870. Construction of the GR&I continued for several years until the line reached Petosky in December 1873.

Early county prisoners were housed in the County Sheriffís private house or a local hotel or the Kent County jail or the Newaygo County jail. In 1862 county residents decided not to erect a county jail. The first county jail was erected in the summer of 1868. This jail was situated in the same place where the Old Historic Jail built in 1893 is presently located on Stewart Street. Construction for the present county jail was completed in 1965. This jail was renovated in 1986. The Mecosta county Board of Commissioners approved another jail renovation & expansion in 2000 with scheduled completion in 2001.

The 1880 census revealed that Mecosta County had a population of 13,973. In the early 1880s, rented county offices were located in two downtown buildings near the corner of Elm and Michigan. In 1883 the Board of Supervisors submitted to the voters the proposition to authorize a two-year tax for the purpose of erecting a county courthouse. County voters passed the courthouse tax issue in April 1884. Construction on the first courthouse began in 1885 and was completed in 1886. A ground breaking ceremony for the present Mecosta County Building (second courthouse) occurred on April 8, 1969. Construction of the Mecosta County Building was completed in late August 1970 and a dedication ceremony was held on November 7, 1970.

Information Compiled by Jim Wood

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