Township History

In 1824, Joseph Wampler surveyed the exterior lines of White Oak Township. The land had a dense forest of oak, ash, blackwalnut, and hickory, also tamarack that was found in the swamps. The bulk of this was white oak that grew in such a way that the settlers called it, “oak openings”, referring to the spaces or openings between the trees. Annually the Indians would improve their game preserve by burning the small brush between the trees. The settlers cleared the land in the same way.

Records stored in the White Oak Township Hall date back to before Michigan’s entry into the union. They show that in 1834 Herman Love settled on a farm on section 33, but most other records show and accredit Daniel Dutcher to be the earliest pioneer who built a home with- in the boundaries of White Oak Township. He was originally a resident of Montgomery Co., New York where he worked and saved for 10 years so he could move west. In May of 1835, leaving his family he ventured west and bought 335 acres in section 35 of White Oak Township from the government for ten shillings an acre. He returned home in June, and in September of 1935 with his family and all their belongings and a life savings of $1,500 dollars, they headed for Michigan. They came by canal to Buffalo and crossed the lake to Detroit, and there purchased a year’s supplies plus a yoke of oxen and wagon, into which he loaded his household goods and family. His purchase of a team proved rather unfortunate, as they were wild and unmanageable. He had to walk by their side the entire distance, quite an inconvenience, as at times the road vas only cleared sufficient to permit the passage of a wagon. Each day’s journey seemed the hardest, until the climax was reached the last day’s drive, about noon, when he landed his outfit into a marsh so deep that it could not be extricated without help. He remembered a man they passed about 3 miles back, and after securing his team, he went back for help. The man couldn’t spare the time to help until his day’s work was done. It was impossible to remain out all night. Upon returning, he and his wife each took a child in their arms, and leading the third one, journeyed on foot seven miles to her brothers home in Unadilla.

Mr. Dutcher went forward to build his log house, which was a 20′ X 20′, on section 35 of White Oak Township. He moved his family into their primitive abode in October of that year, before he had any windows or doors in it.

A daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Dutcher on Dec. 19, 1835, whom they christened Abigail, Better known as Abby. She was the first white child born in the township.

Abby Dutcher became the bride of George Wilson at the age of 19. In her memoirs she tells of learning how to spin on the spinning wheel which was a prime necessity in her frontier home. She tells with pride how she made her husband a full suit of clothes or “black satinette”. This was made from wool from their sheep. She also tells about hoop skirts coming into fashion at the beginning of the Civil War, of how she wanted one, but couldn’t afford such luxuries. Like many American women, she improvised by sewing wild grapevines inside her skirt. George Wilson died in the service of his country in the Civil War and Abby later married Will Clark.

The Dutcher family lived alone in the untamed wilderness with the Indians, bears, deer and wolves. The Indians were very hospitable and many a pioneer wouldn’t survived had it not been for their help. The Indians loved to play games. They never gave any trouble to mention, except a little thieving. The wolves on the other hand, would like to serenade you nightly and would have to be driven away with burning brands from the fireplace before the family could go to sleep.

In June of the following year a band of pioneers, thirty-six in number, arrived and enjoyed Mr. Dutcher’s hospitality while selecting their land and erecting houses upon them. They found the limited quarters of his shanty inadequate to their wants, and were obliged to improvise sleeping accommodations in their wagons or under such shelter as the forest afforded. There were no roads at this time, the Indian Trial being the only guide.

James Hynes entered land in October 1835 on sections 35 and 36, and the following year settled upon it. His farm embraced 160 acres, which he cleared, improved, and made productive.

Henry and John Clements were the next settlers in White Oak Township. Arriving in May of 1836 the former entered land on sections 28 and 29, upon which he built a log cabin and did some clearing. John Clements owned a farm on section 21. John was the first supervisor for White Oak Township. They both were very active in the local government. The father of the Clement brothers died in the township during the year 1836 or possibly a year later. This was the earliest death recorded in the township.

In May 1836, Enoch Smith bought a tract of land on section 24 in White Oak Township from the government. He returned east to Cortland Co. New York and in September of the same year came back to Michigan with his parents and their children. He built a log cabin 16’X 20′ in dimensions on eighty acres in heavy timber openings. This was his home for eighteen years, although he later erected a fine residence with accessory buildings, and increased his farm to 350 acres, upon which he kept graded sheep, blooded horses, and cows. Mr. Smith would take his stock to Dexter to market, which was a distance of 25 miles. Mr. Smith served as treasurer and justice of the peace in his township.

David and William A. Dryer bought eighty acres of land on section 21 in July 1836. They were former residents of the Empire State. William Dryer was very active in local government. He was the first township clerk and also served as supervisor and school inspector. David also served his township on the highway commission.

Alfred Howard settled on section 4 in July 1836, but stayed only a few years before selling and moving elsewhere. Mr. Howard did serve on the highway commission.

Lucius Wilson located upon land on section 30 in 1837. He cleared and improved a large portion of his purchase. Mr. Wilson served as supervisor, treasurer, and justice of the peace, but later removed to California. He returned again to the township where he died.

James Rathbun came to White Oak Township in 1837 and chose a farm on section 31, which was entirely uncleared on his arrival. He worked hard to clear make it into a productive land. Mr. Rathbun served as one of the first assessors for White Oak Township. He resided here for several years before leaving the township.

Edward R. Daggett, another of the pioneers became a resident in 1837 on section 32, which he had entered in November of the previous year. Mr. Daggett cultivated this destitute land into a profitable investment, and remained until he died at his farm home.

Abram VanBuren was a former resident of Onondaga Co New York. He came to White Oak Township in 1837 and bought 100 acres on section 34 from John Welsh. He sold a portion of this land, and in 1847 moved onto 80 acres on section 35. He son Lyman served as township clerk in 1880.

John Dubois, formerly of New York, settled upon 60 acres on section 35 in 1837. His wife at the same time was owner of an additional sixty acres adjacent. The land was entirely uncleared so they stayed at Conrad Dubois, in Stockbridge, until they could clear some land to erect a log cabin. Mr. Dubois remained upon his farm and continued its improvement until his death, 1880.

Hiel Phelps emigrated from Ontario Co. N.Y. to Dexter in 1834. In 1838 he purchased from William Turner 120 acres on section 29 in White oak Township where he settled. This was uncleared, except for 3 acres, which was chopped and had a simple log structure. Mr. Phelps labored hard and cleared and partially sown ten acres the first year. He served his township as treasurer for several years plus being assessor.

Richard Oakley, another New Yorker settled 160 acres in 1839 upon section 33. He converted dense forest into a very productive farm. His sons ran the farm after their father’s death in 1878. Oakley was the first treasurer for the township White Oak.

John McKernan entered land on section 14 in 1836. He moved to White Oak Township and settled there when this section was entirely wilderness in 1839. Mr. McKernan and family took an active part in local government. Mr. McKernan was one of the first assessors and also served as a justice of the peace. His son Phillip served as supervisor in 1851. His son Thomas served as treasurer in the years of 1873-74. In the fall of 1882, Thomas ran for county sheriff on the Democratic ticket and won, being the first successful candidate on that ticket for twenty years. 

J. B. and Robert Wilson came from St. Lawrence Co. New York and located on section 32, their father, John B. Wilson having entered eighty acres on the above section in 1836. The sons later moved to section 27. 

Abram Hayner, grandfather of Ralph Hayner, our only living past supervisor, traveled from Saratogo Co., N.Y. to White 0ak Township in June, 1846, with his wife and three children. He started with only $35 in his pocket to seek a new home and buy some land cheap. He secured 80 acres on section 34 where he erected a long one-story house of slabs of wood. This was on the Old Territorial Trail called by some the Dexter Trail, and now called Carter Road. The following’ winter he taught school in District No. 2, receiving in payment for his services the public money, and the balance of his hire in work performed by the residents of that district, upon his farm, logging and clearing. By 1880 Mr. Hayner had enlarged his land owning to 225 acres and had built another home across the road and used the slab house for a hotel or lodging house. It was called the Slab Tavern, and was a stopping place for stage passengers. The Slab Tavern was also an early meeting place for township government. Mr. Hayner was keenly alive to the interest of the township and county. He served his township as highway commissioner, town clerk, supervisor, and was instrumental in securing a mail route from Howell to Williamston, and was postmaster for nearly 20 years. He also was one of the board to secure appropriations for the erection of the courthouse in Mason, thus insuring the continuance of the county seat, which otherwise might have been removed to Lansing. In 1862 he was elected county treasurer and re-elected the following term. 

A short distance north of Mr. Hayner’s, a man started a sawmill. Quite a cluster of houses sprang up around this mill, and thus was born the village of Millville. A church, general store, postoffice, and blacksmith shop were soon located there. 

Among other pioneers who assisted in breaking the forests of White Oak were David Howell, who owned on section 28; Hezekiah Riggs and Asahel Monson, who settled on section 29; R. Ramsdell and Thomas Anderson, on section 15; Truman McArthur, on section 20; David Newsom, on section 33; H. W. Ackley, on section 15; William D. Stevenson and Alfred Ramdell, on section 9; A. N. Riggs and C. F. Chadwick, on section 4; Thomas F. Patrick, on section 30; William Ballentine and James Graham, on section 31; Philip Salisbury and James Alchin, on section 10; Samuel and Henry Wolcott, on section 18; Asel Stow and Benjamin Bullock, on section 35; George Gillam, on section 24; Ebenezer Sherman, on section 34; William S. Hall, on section 36; Stephen Havens, on section 1; James Reeves, on section 21; Christopher Patrick, on section 29; G. L. Carter, on sections 28 and 29: John Haywood, on section 9; and Jonathan Thomas. 

As far back as 1880 the township had to solicit Dr. Morgan of Unadilla in cases of severe illness. Later, Dr. Craft ministered to the needs of the settlers. Elder Sayers conducted the earliest religious services, and George W. Breckenridge made his advent soon after in the capacity of local preacher. 

The original government in the area was comprised of four townships, White Oak, Ingham, Wheatfield, and Leroy, on March 11, 1837 by the Legislature. The first town meeting was held at the home of Caleb Carr, ancestor of our present supervisor, Delmar Carr, on April 2, 1838. Twenty-five voters were present. They met to organize, and elect township officers. These voters were originally from Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey. They had some learning and were used to different forms of government, which vary from state to state. Each rugged pioneer had his own preference as to how a township should be run and political argument nearly broke up the meeting. As a last resort William Dryer made a motion that they adopt the same form of government that Stockbridge had adopted a short time before. This was a compromise measure and was agreed upon. The same form of government is used today with slight modification.

Selecting candidates brought on another discussion almost as long as the first. There were no law books for guidance and many did not know the duties of the different offices. However, just as darkness fell, candidates were chosen, an election held, and an important step in local history had been taken.

The following spring the four-township government was dissolved and White Oak Township formed its own government on March 21, 1839. The first meeting with qualified voters was held at the home of Daniel Dutcher on April 2, 1839. Cyrus Post was chosen moderator, and William Ballentine, Henry Clements, and James Rathbun inspectors of election; William A. Dryer was installed as clerk. The following individuals were elected for 1839: Supervisor, John Clements; Township Clerk, William Dryer; Treasurer, Richard Oakley; Justice of the Peace, Cyrus Post, William Ballentine, Daniel Dutcher, Henry Clements; Highway Commissioners, David P. Dryer, William S. Ball, Alfred Howard; Assessors, John McKernan, Hiel Phelps, James Rathbun; Primary School Inspectors, Cyrus Post, John Clements, William A. Dryer; Collector, William Post; Overseers of Poor, Jonathan Thomas, John Gillam; Constables, William Post, William VanBuren. 

Records in the township show that on April 7, 1873 at their annual meeting the people of White Oak voted to raise five hundred dollars to build a township hall. On April 5, 1875 they voted to establish a site for a town hall on the northeast corner of the “Hamilton lot” (evidently the present site on section 15). The building committee was appointed as follows: Charles S. Young, David Osborn, Robert Wilson. After Mr. Young resigned in October, Thomas McKernan replaced him on the committee. These men also voted in the 1875 meeting to have their next annual meeting at the new hall, however there is no record of its use until Dec. 17, 1877 and the date 1877 is inscribed on the outside of the present structure. This presumably designated the year of completion. 

From 1877 until the present time there have been few changes in the original building. Wooden voting booths were added at some time in the rear of the hall and are mounted on a small stage. Two gates in the picket type fence on the stage allow voters to enter the booths. Up until 1967 a wood and coal stove was used for heating, but at that time electric heat was installed. Several original kerosene wall lamps with mercury reflectors are still in the building, but have now been converted to electricity. Three lovely old wall lamps with hand blown etched glass shades were salvaged from the Millville church hall and given an honored place, a momento of White Oak past. Its last owner, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Baker, to display items of general interest about local government and history donated a display case from the Millville General Store. The store was demolished on August 19, 1968 to make way for the new highway, M-52, after serving the local community since 1873. Also given an honored place is an old oak showcase from the Dansville Postoffice donated by Roy Glover. Several old urns, used in the townhall in earlier days as cuspidors are still in evidence. As time goes on the township hopes to accumulate other momentoes of pioneer times in the hope of preserving for future generations an interest in the history of the area.

In 1967 the township board hired the architectural firm of Mayotte & Webb to draw up plans for an addition to the old building which would include modern bathrooms and a small kitchen plus a meeting room. This, of course, also necessitated digging a well, as water had never been available at the original hall. The new addition was designed in colonial styling to blend in with the old structure using a small porch with pillars on the front and shutters on the windows. During the summer of 1968 the building was completed. Jack Schaible, Stockbridge, was the general contractor. The new addition to the township hall was built without raising township tax. It was paid over a two-year period at an estimated cost of $15,000 dollars. Open house was held on October 29, 1968 with Joseph A. Parisi, Jr., Director of Michigan Township Association, dedicating it to all those in our community and to the local government.

Many times those who work the hardest receive the least recognition, that is why I would like to list those who have been janitors in years past. Edith Hudson, was janitor for 18 years averaging $12.00 a year, Ed Bowen, John Clements, Grace Marsh, Raymond Wilcox, John Carr and Beulah Hudson. These faithful ones built fires, washed windows, shoveled snow and did many things to numerous to mention. For thirty years, Beulah Hudson served the township as janitor of the hall. From my own brief experience as janitor, I truly appreciate their labor of love. At present time Gail Williamson is our janitor. I salute them.

Reading through the old minutes I found several things of interest such as: on December 18, 1902 the following claim was allowed and Dr. J. F. Lemon was directed to attend John Harris at $4.00 per week until the lymph treatment was all used. Amount claimed $42.00 Amount allowed $40.00. 

At a board meeting on June 17,1903 it was decided to give Will Roache $35.00 for damages to his horse that went through a bridge, July 20, 1903–the board instructed O. L. Lathrop to provide a suitable stove for the town hall. Mr. Goodwin was instructed to fix platform covered with zinc and to buy stovepipe for said stove.

In 1905 the board moved to raise $100.00 or enough to repair town the hall and build an outhouse, set hitching posts, and to paint the hall. Since then, the hall bas been painted several times. This year Irving R. (Dick) Carter painted it. 

Nov. 26, 1957 the township adopted the first zoning ordinance and building code. Orlo Sheathelm, Arthur Lange, John Graf and Carrol Glynn served on the first zoning board. A new zoning ordinance was adopted in March 1971. Merle Plourde was our first building inspector, followed by Delmar Carr and Ed Willis. Mr. Willis resigned due to ill health on October 5, 1978. The township board appointed Virgil C. Kehres, Jr. Last year the state required separate inspectors for plumbing and electrical. The board appointed Tim Basore as plumbing inspector and Carl Oesterle as electrical inspector. 

The township made a big investment in May 1978, by buying 17 acres from Earl and Ula Parson for $23,000 dollars. The land surrounds the present hall and because of the growth of White Oak Township the board was looking into the future use of the property for the children and residents of White Oak. The board hopes to pay for this in four years without raising township tax.

White Oak Township is the only all rural township in Ingham County. The 1960 census gives us a population of exactly 1,000 people. With the loss of the general store there is no business or manufacturing in the township. The sawmill, blacksmith shop and post office have been gone for many years. One or two small home factories that had been started in earlier days closed when their owners died. So our township is strictly rural and our people find it a very desirable place in which to live. The rattlesnakes that infested the tamarack swamps are seldom seen anymore and modern machinery has taken over much of the backbreaking labor on our farms.

Those of us who work in local government feel proud of the improvements made over the years by the many people who have given of their time and effort in behalf of White Oak Township.


*This article was authored by Carole Oesterle in 1978 in the interest of preserving the township history from 1824 to 1979.