The Origins of Columbus Township as a Government Unit in Michigan

Columbus Township was established by an act of the Michigan Legislature on March 11, 1837. It was split off from Clyde Township and named after Christopher Columbus. Theodore Bathey was the first Supervisor.

When first organized in 1849, the population of Columbus was recorded at 85 people.[ii]

Important Early Influences

The early settlers of Columbus Township and the surrounding area were influenced by many factors, but two were particularly influential: 1) government policy and laws and 2) geography and transportation.

Government Policy and Laws

The mile grid network in Michigan and in many other states was based on a land survey system established by Thomas Jefferson, who was a surveyor before becoming President of the United States.   He understood the value of having land purchased in large chunks for more orderly development. 

As part of the Ordinance of 1785, a system was established to divide land into congressional townships of six square miles each.  The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory, which included Michigan, and included the framework by which the Federal government would be sovereign and expand westward across North America. It also established the framework for the creation of new states, where previously existing states had attempted to expand westward. 

With the grid survey system, land was made available to purchase in one square mile portions (640 acres).  This system solved the problem of choppy private land holdings, where land owners would only purchase the good farm land and leave the rest in public ownership.   This system encouraged the orderly sale and division of property in the Northwest Territory, including Michigan.

The graphic below illustrates how 36-square-mile townships were created and subdivided into numbered sections. The section lines became the location of mile roads, also known as section line roads, throughout southeast Michigan.

"1785 Land Ordinance Diagram" by Isomorphism3000 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
1785 Land Ordinance Diagram” by Isomorphism3000Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1805, the Michigan Territory was created by Congress, consisting of today’s Lower Peninsula and a small portion of the Upper Peninsula.  It extended south to the Maumee River in Ohio.

On March 28, 1820, St. Clair County was split from Wayne County by a proclamation by Governor Lewis Cass.  St. Clair County was originally a large area that extended into what is now Huron, Sanilac, and Macomb Counties. The present-day boundaries of St. Clair County were set in 1836.

On January 26, 1837, Michigan ceased being a territory and officially became a state.

Geography and Transportation

As with many new settlement areas, a key to growth and development was and continues to be access.   The proximity of Columbus Township to the St. Clair River, the Fort Gratiot Turnpike, and the Grand Trunk Railroad had a significant influence on the Township’s development and settlement.

With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Michigan and its waterways gained important connections to the Northeast U.S., and residents of New York and New England gained access to wide open territory in Michigan and beyond. The Grand Trunk Railroad completed its 800-mile route from Portland, Maine to Sarnia, Ontario in 1859.  In 1879, the Grand Trunk reached Chicago. In 1891, the Grand Trunk opened the world’s first international submarine railway tunnel under the St. Clair River, connecting Sarnia to Port Huron.

The combination of the Ordinance of 1785, the Northwest Ordinance, and enhanced access by water via the Erie Canal and by rail – primarily through the Grand Trunk system – provided opportunities to settle land in Michigan, and Columbus Township benefited from these advancements.

Before American Settlement

The area that is now St. Clair County, including Columbus Township, was inhabited by the Meskwaki people (also known as the Fox) when the French first visited. By the early 19th Century, migrations had forced the Meskwaki westward, and the Wyandot were the predominant people in the area.

Early Land Settlers and Officials of Columbus Township[iii]

SUPERVISORS: Theodore Bathey (1937); County Commissioners (1838-41); Daniel Weeks (1842), John S. Parker (1843); Daniel Weeks (1844); John S. Parker (1845-46); Morton Shearer (1847-48); Charles Baker (1849); Lester Cross (1850); David Weeks (1851-52); George S. Granger (1853-54); John S. Parker (1855); James S. Durfee (1856); George S. Granger (1857); John S. Parker (1858-9); Chauncey R. Canfield (1860); George S. Granger (1861-67) ; John S. Parker Jr. (1868-89); James Quick (1870); George S. Granger (1871-3); Henry U. Smith (1874-5); John S. Parker (1877); George S. Granger (1878-82); Henry P. Hunt (1883-87); Ephraim Pearce (1888); Henry P. Hunt (1889); George S. Granger (1890-91); Fred H. Bathey (1892-23); Cornelius J. O’Donnell (1894-97); Chris C. McCall (1898-89);  Thomas Dawson (1900-01); James M. Haviland (1902-03); George M. Hall (1904-07); Robert Pearce (1908-11)

The resident owners upon the tax roll of 1837 were:[iv]

Section 4:  Peter Kilroy

Section 5:  James Malloy, Barney Curley, Charles Malloy

Section 6:  W.B. Stewart, James Stewart, A. Moore, Alfred Bailey

Section 8:  Jedediah W. Granger

Section 11:  Theodore Bathey

Section 13:  George Waterloot

Section 14:  George Bathey

Section 17:  John Stevenson, Aaron Bemis

Section 18:  Pierce G. Wright

Section 21:  Andrew Watrous, Brown Holcomb

Section 20-21:  Robert Ramsey, Elias Palmer

Section 22:  Thomas McKiel

Section 24:  William H. and John Savage, Edward Fay

Section 28:  John S. Parker

Section 29-30:  Lyman Granger

Section 30-31:  Morton Shearer

Section 31:  Benjamin Weeks

Section 32:  Erastus S. Cross, David Carlisle, Nathan Cook

Section 33-34:  Edward H. Rose

Section 35:  Robert Wilson


Atlas of Columbus Township 1876

Pages from StClairCountyplatatlas1876

Atlas of Columbus Township 1897

Pages from StClairCountyplatatlas1897

[i] History of St. Clair County, Chicago: A. T. Andreas & Co. 1883

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid