Echoes of Yesterday
Clinton County was once part of a larger area called Michillimackinac, an Indian name meaning "big water." Discovered by the French in the 1600's, it was governed by them until 1763 before it ceded to Great Britain. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 transferred it to the United States in 1787 and it was established as an area in the Northwest Territory. The name Clinton County became official in 1831 by an act of territorial legislature.
The first permanent settlement of Clinton County was Dewitt, the origin named for a prominent American statesman, Dewitt Clinton. In order to make travel easier, he conceived the idea of an artificial waterway, which would become the Erie Canal in 1825. Many of the county's first residents took advantage of the canal, making new lives in the area.
Several decades later in 1853, a party of four state officials examined the proposed line of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad for purposes of speculation. One of them, John Swegles, exercised his authority to make the purchase and clear the land, and the village of St. Johns was laid out. The new village was named after Swegles, with a Baptist minister adding the Saint. St. Johns was made the county seat when the railroad came through in 1857, and it was incorporated as a city in 1904.
The community of Fowler owes its existence to swamp land. After the chief engineer of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad realized that the site for his planned village was doomed due to the swamps, he moved his town to stable land owned by IN. Fowler of Detroit. The village was originally named Isabella, but at the villagers' request, changed the name to Fowler in 1869.
Ovid was not named after its first settler, Samuel Barker, who had arrived to the area in 1836. Instead it was named by one of its pioneers, William Swarthout, who arrived from Ovid, New York.
As for Elsie, it was named after the village's first born. She was the daughter of Frank Tilotson, who was the area's first postmaster in 1857.
When George Campau came here from Grand Rapids, he bought land and built his home near the rapids on the Maple River in 1835. He decided to name the area Maple Rapids. In 1852 William A. Hewett bought the land and built a dam, sawmill and store.
In 1836 a large number of farmers from Westphalia, Germany arrived in New York. They pressed on to lonia, Michigan where they purchased units of land on which their descendants live today. Shoemaker Anton Dunnebacker built the first home in Westphalia in 1849 and Joseph Platte built the first store in 1852.
Eagle's first two settlers named the village, but due to a donation of land, a depot and a Methodist Church by George W. McCrumb, the village was moved a half mile east.
It is believed that Bath was named after Bath, England though its first settler, Ira Cushman, came from Canada. The village began to thrive when the Michigan Central Railroad came through.
Clinton County is rich in historic lore and much of its history can be discovered at the Paine-Gillam-Scott Museum , which is the headquarters for the Clinton County Historical Society.