By Diane Rockall
The first land purchases in this area occurred as the 1830’s began. During the period shortly thereafter the nation experienced what was then called a “panic” Today we would call it a depression. Settlers from the east who had lost everything they had decided to move west where they could start over. Those who arrived earlier lost all they had left behind in the east. Property value sank to almost nothing especially in the vast west of which Michigan was then a part. Basic supplies for existence were disappearing.
Silas Beebe, according to his diary, “bartered with Mr. Smith for his townsite.” As a result Elijah Smith’s townsite named Pekin became the Village of Stockbridge on deeds registered September 14, 1843.
The village incorporated in 1889. At that time it had two newspapers, The Sentinel and the Munith-Stockbridge Tidings. Also in 1889 a hotel was built on the North side of Main at Clinton in downtown Stockbridge to replace one that had burned in 1860. That property has had many owners, the earlier ones are listed in A Corner of Ingham County – Stockbridge on page 28.
The first map of the early village was published in 1859, It included listings for stores and businesses in the downtown area as well as their owners.
As Easter nears a short history of some of the area churches seems appropriate. The areas first church services were held in homes by circuit riders. Sometimes school houses were used for meetings as well. Circuit riders were of various protestant denominations, but usually everyone in the area attended. Catholic families had Father Kelly to administer to their needs and provide them with services.
Unadilla seems to have been the source of most of the areas evangelical work. One Presbyterian and two Methodist Churches were offshoots of Unadilla churches. Stockbridges’ Baptist Church was begun as a cooperative with a Unadilla congregation as well. Unadilla, right on North Territorial Road, was settled earlier as most settlers from the east used that road to travel west. At that time when it was the only road it passed very near the route it follows today.
The first church society recorded in Stockbridge was First Presbyterian in 1853, a branch of Unadilla Presbyterian. The society had a brick building constructed in 1855 at 315 S.Center. That building became a community social center as well as a place of worship. Other groups also used the building for their services until their structures were completed. The building was abandoned in 1890 and torn down about ten years later. The Presbyterian Society reorganized in 1901. Services then were held in the Episcopal Church building.
Methodist Episcopal was the second group to organize in the township. They began construction on their building in 1857 in section 2 of the township on the North township line adjacent to the burial ground. The Unadilla pastors served congregations in Stockbridge and Unadilla . That congregation was discontinued in the 1890s and the building was torn down in 1906.
Methodist Episcopal in Stockbridge(the village) formed October 4, 1877. Again the minister served both communities. The Episcopal Church although formed early had a building constructed in 1886 on the west side of Wood between Mechanic and Elizabeth. The society discontinued 14 years later. For a time the building was used by the Presbyterian Society and then became Reeves Machine Shop and the site of the Township Library.
This is just a small segment of the variety of religions and Churches within our region. Information and history on other congregations and churches is welcomed by the author.