By: Dave McDonald, BCHS – President
There’s lots of buzzing and planning of activities in the air for the City of Coldwater. The county seat of Branch is officially 150 years old in 2011. The sesquicentennial events are expected to be plentiful and entertaining during the months ahead.
Like our many historic buildings and Victorian homes, Coldwater has seen much renewal and change over those 150 years. So, what a better time to take a look back at the beginnings of the largest community in Branch County.
The city of Coldwater now occupies a portion of what was a prairie that ran 3 miles long from east to west and 2 miles wide. The very old Sauk Trail ran through the prairie as a matter of ease of passage.
An Indian trading post was established by Joseph Godfrey in 1822 on the river near the current day Oak Grove Cemetery. Months later he welcomed another trader and neighbor, Patrick Marantette.
Their establishments commenced the building of a small community that evolved into the village of Masonville. As an established community, with a hotel, it became the first county seat of the newly formed Branch County. The title was short-lived as politics led to the naming of the new village of Branch as the county seat in 1831. That community held the title until 1842.
During this time one Hugh Campbell settled in what would become the village of Lyons. His log cabin, built in 1829, was located approximately where the present day Masonic Temple sits.
In 1830 Joseph Hanchett purchased a tract of land and built a log cabin approximately in the site of the parking lot behind the present day Executive Suites near the corner of Chicago and Monroe Streets. Prior to building his family cabin he shared the former Campbell cabin with new arrival, Allen Tibbits.
Allen Tibbits had come to this area by accident. He made a wrong turn on the trails and arrived in the new settlement. He purchased the Campbell land, shared the cabin with the Hanchett family and the bond that would create Coldwater was formed.
Tibbits and Hanchett platted a new village in 1831. It covered an area from Jefferson to Monroe Streets and Church to Washington Streets. They choose the name “Lyons” for the community.
Both men saw the need to procure the mantle of county seat for their planned village, and went about offering small parcels of land to business and trades people to establish a functional community. By 1832 they had a small school started with nine pupils, a store established by Silas Holbrook, a church with five members and a new sawmill. The sawmill was crucial as it meant the beginning of cut lumber for building businesses and homes.
In 1833 the village of Lyons changed their name to Cold Water based on a Potawatomi name for the area. Appreciate that the following word is an Anglo interpretation of what was heard. The Potawatomi called it “Chuck-sey-ya-bish”, referring to the cold spring waters that fed the area creeks. The first post office stamp also separated the name as two words.
With it’s continued growth, by 1841 there was sufficient votes in the county to move the county seat designation from the village of Branch to Coldwater, which occurred in 1842.
Finally, the small village came to the point of becoming incorporated as a city. In February, 1861, Michigan’s Governor, Austin Blair, signed the charter that incorporated the village to a city.
On April 12-13 Fort Sumter was attacked and America entered into the American Civil War. Many Coldwater and Branch County men would be engaged in a war that would go on until Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Both events now bringing us to the 2011 Sesquicentennial of both Coldwater and the Civil War.