by Ron and Arlene Kaiser
More than 180 years ago, numerous Indian trails intersected about eight miles north-northeast of today’s village of Stockbridge. Here, a popular Native American campground existed, and John Dunn of New Jersey settled in 1835. Over the next two years, other settlers followed, and the settlement of Plainfield took root.
Among the mostly peaceful natives, Chief Loag was best known with the settlers, but interactions between the two groups wasn’t always without bumps. Loag’s followers could not be kept in hand and were generally difficult to manage. For instance, they would enter settlers’ houses while the men were away and scare the women into giving them food and clothing.
Regardless, Plainfield sprouted to a prosperous community, and by 1837, a post office was established. Settlers’ names will sound familiar because many roads in the area are named after them: Van Sickel, Dutton, and Wasson, to name a few.
In 1839 Albert Topping settled, and the community’s first physician, Dr. Morgan, migrated north from Ohio. During the spring of 1853, Topping and son Morris built a retail store. A stove factory and coopering establishment soon followed, manufacturing 20,000 barrels a year. A sawmill and gristmill came later. Morris Topping also built the first frame building as a hotel and stage stop in 1873.
Records describe these early settlers as “educated, intelligent, moral and honest.” From family letters and other historical documents, we can deduce they were religious. They often expressed their faith through the use of biblical phraseology that especially reflected the “Epistles of Paul.”
Most of the area’s trades were carried on in homes with wives serving as the workmen. In Plainfield, as in most settlements, two or three weavers wove woolen yarns into stout cloth for the working clothes of both men and women.
Today, dedicated volunteers work hard to preserve pioneer crafts that otherwise would become lost arts. Thankfully, area residents may witness firsthand demonstrations in local special events at the Waterloo Farm Museum’s Pioneer Day. At this year’s event, to be held October 13, talented artisans will demonstrate long-ago skills like weaving, spinning, soap making, piecing bed quilts, quilting parties and black-smithing.
A book to read about the Plainfield area is “A Table in the Wilderness” by L. D. Dickinson. Miss Dickinson grew up listening to early Michigan history recounted by the men and women whose families had carved it out of the old Michigan territory of the early 1800s. Of all the books these reporters have read, this one best describes the hardships and lives of early pioneer families of Michigan. It contains information gathered from various articles and letters about the settling of Plainfield, Michigan, USA.
When driving along Dexter Trail or a winding Unadilla Township road, take a moment to consider that the road was probably once an Indian trail, trodden under the soft footsteps of deer-hide moccasins.