Perry History

We would like to thank the "Diamond Jubilee Book Committee" that wrote the script for this history of Perry.  It was created in 1968 for Perry's 75 Year Diamond Jubilee.  We have included the Naration verbatim, which accounts for some of the politically incorrect terminology.  We have separated the narrative into sections that we believe to be easier to read.

Please feel free to browse down memory lane.  Find out where Perry might be heading in the future by looking at its past.  The "Diamond Jubilee Book" can be viewed in its entirety at Perry City Hall.

History of Perry - Old Perry Centre

The first settlement in Perry Township was made by Josiah Purdy in the fall of 1836, upon land which had been entered for him by a Mr. Howe and described as the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 13, and the west half of the southwest quarter of Section 12. Upon the northern half of this land now stands the Village of Morrice. While Mr. Purdy was building his cabin, he left his family at the home of Alanson Alling in Antrim. The crude dwelling, which he soon completed, was the first built by a white man in the township of Perry. An Indian trail passed near the door and over it long lines of the red men often traveled in their peculiar single file. Evidently their moccasin-clad feet had trod a great many years.

The Indians were at first totally oblivious to the presence of their white neighbors, but in time Mr. Purdy gained their confidence, and before leaving the township the Indians became very friendly. They would sometimes stop during a storm or spend the night with at Mr. Purdy's residence. At such times, they would sleep on the floor of the little front room, which was often covered with them.

In the spring of 1837, Mr. Purdy plowed a small piece of ground for a garden which was probably the first ground plowed in this area.

During the months that followed, many new settlers made their appearance-some to buy land and remain, but some of them soon became discouraged and returned to older settlements. Among those who remained were Horace Green and Joseph Roberts. Mr. Roberts was a physician, the first in the township. They built a home where the Darling Hardware is now located. It was also the home of the first school. Miss Julia Stevens taught seven to ten students in one room of her father's house.

In 1850, William P. Laing came to Perry and the following year opened the first store in the township. It was a small building which he put up at what is now known as "Old Perry Centre." The first in this place, however, was a log cabin built by James Titus. Richard Elliot, who came from Lansing some time later, rented a room from Mr. Laing and opened a small stock of dry goods and groceries.

In 1852, Mr. Laing was appointed postmaster, a position that he filled for several years. Johnson Treadway succeeded him a few years later, but Mr. Laing was subsequently reappointed, but after a time resigned in favor of Robert Titus. He was followed by Dr. L. M. Marshall. Braden Spaulding was appointed by President Hayes in 1877.

Soon Perry Centre was a flourishing settlement with the Perry Hotel, Hinckley's sawmill, Dr. Marshall's Mercantile Store, a Harness Shop, Wagon Shed, Odd Fellow Hall, and Methodist Church. The settlement was plotted in 1875.

Prominent in early enterprises in the Village of Perry, were Dr. and Mrs. Marshall, who came from Cincinnati, Ohio, where they were married in 1862. In 1864, their home and the entire contents were destroyed by fire. The following year, November 30, 1865, these worthy people reached Perry Centre and immediately established a home and the doctor began the practice of his profession. One year later, he embarked in the mercantile business, providing home luxuries, as well as medical relief to this sparsely settled community.

When the Grand Trunk Railroad was put through, leaving their little burg one mile to the south, the Doctor conceived the idea of transferring his residence and business interests to this point and in 1879 Dr. Marshall began the exodus of Perry Centre to the railroad or new Perry.


History of Perry - Its New Location

The first building was transferred to Perry on rollers, occupied by O.B. Eggleston and the next one on the corner was occupied by D.A. Blanchard and was used as a drug store. Soon after these buildings--come others, including the Methodist Church.

Dr. Marshall was early identified with the business enterprises of Perry as well as the founding of our village government, having served as postmaster, trustee and president for several years. In the organization of The State Bank of Perry, he was the leading spirit and was long its president. To his generosity and willingness to aid those in need, the prosperity Perry has maintained is largely due.

During the time from 1875 and 1876, pioneers were busy with the building of the railroad from Durand to Lansing. It was a busy and exciting era. The first passenger train ran over the road-bed on the first day of February 1877. It was some time, however, before they got a sidetrack. The farmers furnished ties and raised money for a depot. Norman Green gave the company $1000 and five acres of land for the depot and yard purposes that started the work. William McKellops then, owning most of the land on the west side of Main Street, put up a grist mill where the J.H. Plowman Ford Sales now stands, (now Main Street Auto). The following year, O.N. Parshal built a frame grist mill where the Dairy Delite stand (currently the Post Office) is now located.

Then the town began to grow fast as the farmers began to bring in loads of wheat. Sometimes there would be a string of horses and wagons for one block waiting to be unloaded. This wheat was all ground into flour and packed into sacks and barrels. This mill ran day and night as well as two cooper shops that ran day and night making barrels in which to pack the flour.

There were now two general stores, a hotel, a livery barn, two hardware stores, two drug stores, two harness shops, three blacksmith shops, one wagon shop, and one planning mill.

In 1877, Dr. Henry P. Halsted was graduated from the University of Michigan with the title of M.D., giving him the right to practice medicine in Michigan. So he started out to look for a suitable location to practice. Parties in the Williamston and Lansing spoke highly of Morrice and its future since the railroad had been built. Dr. Halsted decided to set his stakes and grow up with the town.

In April 1877, he arrived in Morrice and moved into the Wilson House Hotel. At his arrival, he overheard some remarks about "too young" and "somewhat green." Dr. Halsted realized when he arrived, he would have to compete with an older man of many years experience, Dr. Marshall at Old Perry Center. Many calls were made on horseback and sometimes he went by cart. He sometimes wondered why he located in such a mud hole.

He practiced in Morrice for 15 years and then went to Guthrie, Oklahoma, where he was medical examiner for the territory. He returned to Michigan in 1894 and resumed practice in Perry. Politically a Republican. He married Jennie Northrup in Michigan in 1878. He had two sons, Paul who attended Olivet and U. of M. to be a physician, but later decided to enter the newspaper profession. Thaddeus was born July 5, 1884 at Morrice, Mich.


History of Perry - The Growth Years

Dr. H.W. Cobb was a resident of the village from its beginning. He came here from New York State in February 1879. When he arrived, there was no house or room vacant that he could secure, so he boarded at the hotel until the following year, using a bedroom as an office.

He erected his house in 1880, and at that time there was no street opened past his house. This home is now occupied by his grandson's widow, Mrs. Eva Cobb. (This home is on the corner of Main and Willow Street). Dr. Cobb was born at Barre, New York, on January 19, 1832. He was married to Miss Sarah Fishell on July 27, 1959. One son was born to them. Early years were spent in Missouri but at the outbreak of the war, Dr. Cobb returned to New York State.

Also prominent in the development of the village were Mr. And Mrs. Charles Calkins. The section of town on the east side of Main Street is known as the Charles Calkins addition to the Village of Perry. The original Calkins home was located where Dr. Richard T. Monroe's home presently stands. They later built the large frame home just east of the water tower and now occupied by Mrs. Betty Thatcher.

The first village officers were: President C.H. Calkins; Trustees for fifteen months: George E. Boardman, Isaac Osborn and Milan Green. Trustees for three months were: Brayton Spalding, Frank Bennett, and Thomas Storms. Clerk: H.H. Hawley. Treasurer: A.O. McEven. Assessor: Romaine S. Olcott. Marshall: A.D. Smith. Fire Warden: Myron S. Walker. Proud Master: Milton Shaft.

In the early 90's, the Perry Glove and Mitten factory was built. Rev. F. Lamb had designed and built the new knitting machines. It became the leading industry in town, giving employment to around 100 people and part time employment to many women who did the finishing work outside the factory. The president of the factory was B.H. Marling and his son L.H. Marling was secretary. The factory did much business and paid the highest wages, the scale running from $8 to $15 a week.

Perry's elevators were another source of employment giving work about eight months of the year to about 100 ladies picking beans. Perry had a pickling station and paid the farmers well for raising cucumbers.

The Perry Livestock yard was one of the best in this section of the state. Hall and Green and Daniel Boutell, the leading shippers, have always done business from this point.

After the turn of the century, Perry as all other places became interested in the horseless carriage. Arthur Hough, the owner of a blacksmith shop, became the first man in the community interested in automobiles.

Mr. Hough had come from Canada a few years earlier and had opened the blacksmith shop. He also built carriages and wagons. With the advent of the horseless carriage Mr. Hough lost interest in the horse and buggy. It was late 1901 when he built, tested, tore down, and rebuilt vehicles, a pattern he followed through his long career. He later became a part of Buick experimental department.

Early days saw the publication of three local papers. The Perry Sun was the first, at Morrice there was the Moon, and at Shaftsburg it was the Star. The first publication was October 1, 1886. The World was the name of the paper following the Sun, making the editors of that day astronomically as well as universally inclined. At another time it was the Union Journal published by Thomas Heddle.

After his graduation from high school in 1902, Thad H. Halsted became a "printers devil" under the tutorship of William Hullinger. In March 1903, he had his first experience with type-setting. Also well did he remember pumping the old foot pedal job press making thousands of labels for the Glove and Mitten factory. The presses and equipment were moved to the present location following the fire in 1913. Thad was associated with the business over forty years. The business is now carried on by his nephew, Raymond Watkins and associate Dale Lewis.


The Old Interurban

The old interurban which used travel through Perry is now nearly forgotten. Older residents will remember the electric car which used to pass down Polly Street daily. Begun in 1911, the line ran until early in the summer of 1929. The line which passed through Perry ran from Owosso to Jackson. Cars passed through four times each way daily. Many local residents worked for the line at one time or another, some on the section gang which laid and maintained the tracks. Sam Bragg was local station agent from 1922 until 1929. Usually a single car ran the route but occasionally specials were run of two or more cars.


The Greate Perry Fire - July 6, 1913

Sunday, July 6, 1913, was the most disastrous day for Perry. It was a hot summer day. At 2:30 a train on the Grand Trunk Railroad passed through Perry, and it was thought that sparks from the engine lit on the Starks and Company Elevator, as a small fire was discovered on that building a short time after the train passed. After the fire was first seen, an alarm was immediately given and Dr. Beardsley, President of the village, happened to be on Main Street and rang the fire bell. A few citizens hurried what fire fighting apparatus they had, and at the time the blaze was a small one. The hand pump failed to work, and ladders to reach the top of the building could not be found. It would have taken only a small amount of water to put out the blaze had they been able to reach the burning spot. But the fire fighters were helpless and with a thirty-mile an hour wind raging, the burning embers soon spread over the entire building.

As soon as it was seen that the elevator was doomed the men started in to try to save the nearby buildings, but their efforts were practically useless. The fierce velocity of the wind carried burning embers all over town dropping them on top and around different residences, church buildings and stores. Fires started all over the town. Those fighting the fire in the vicinity of the elevator soon saw that their homes and businesses were in danger and many left the scene to take care of respective places of business and homes.

The fire at this point could be likened to a roaring furnace and the wind seemed to blowing stronger and stronger. Before long the hotel barn and Walter Hough's blacksmith shop were ablaze. From there it spread to the homes of Walter Hough and H. Sparks. Next was the Barnes Hotel and on down the blocks of businesses.

The Lansing Fire Department was called about 3:00 and their fire engines cam on the M.U.T. Co. line. Soon Perry's big cisterns were all drained by the large pump. The Lansing firemen and pump were credited with saving what was left of the town.

The fire was finally brought under control about 6:45. Many buildings, homes, and businesses were destroyed, many had a close call and were saved for which everyone was thankful. People from Shaftsburg rural areas and many other places had done what they could to help. Some had insurance and others did not, something one must consider to protect one's property.


The History Perry - After the Greate Fire "Will this happen to us again?"

Another issue that needed to be considered at this time was proper fire protection when the town was rebuilt. Everyone concerned decided that it was time to plan an adequate waterworks system. With a complete system there would be adequate protection at a moderate cost. This would lessen insurance rates and be a possible drawing card for industry to locate here.

August 7, 1913, the paper published an article about "Should Perry have water works?" On August 14, an article appeared suggesting $15,000 be raised for a water works system. The election was held on September 4, 1913. There were 288 votes cast, 254 yes and 34 no. There was a celebration including parade. A huge bonfire at the four corners on Main Street concluded the events.

Drilling for the well was started that fall and by February 1914, they had found a good well of water. The second well which has been put down the past week, is east of the Perry Glove and Mitten Co. Work on the tower would be started as soon as weather permitted. There ought to be work in Perry then with the digging of about three miles of trenches, laying mains, building cement piers for the water tower.

As is the usual occurrence, the $15,000 was not enough to pay for the new system and a special election was held May 7 to borrow the necessary funds, $3,500, to complete the water system. The vote carried at the election May 28. The tower was started early in June with the work completed in July. At last, Perry had an adequate water works system.


History of Perry - Rebuilding after The Greate Fire - 1913

So Perry was recovering well from the disastrous fire and after two years the town was well on the way to becoming a bigger and better place. They had indeed made the slogan "Watch Perry Grow" come true. The new elevator building was much larger and better equipped. The Brown block had been rebuilt with modern up-to-date store buildings. Dr. H.P. Halsted had erected a fine brick building, modern in every respect. J.W. Hough had erected a modern blacksmith shop. The State Bank of Perry was completely repaired after being burned out on the inside.

After the fire in 1913, many new businesses came to town. One of the most successful of these was the Perry Opera House, which operated until 1921 when the building was sold for an automobile repair shop. The Liberty Theater also opened up in 1920.

As early as 1916 it was noted that many Lansing merchants advertised in our local newspaper. Among these were: Heath's Jewelry, H.B. Morgan Jewelry, VanDerVoorts, Mills Dry Goods and The Great Four Clothing Store, the latter advertising free railroad and traction fares paid to any buyers within 50 miles of Lansing. In 1920, W.J. Conklin was making and selling three varieties of Conklin's Hand Made Cigars in Perry and A.D. Barnes was producing his famous ice cream. Also in the 1920's, the Perry Real Estate was doing a great business as many new people came to the area. Auction sales became frequent and popular. Prominent local auctioneers were Bennitt & Ruppert. The census in Perry Village in 1920 was 734.


History of Perry - Through 1968

Austin and Rann were in business in the 1920's selling the "Oakland" automobile.

Water pollution was a problem back in 1921 when the creamery wastes were dumped in a drain that led to North Lakes, killing many fish.

The body of Glenn M. Arnold was brought back from France in August 1921 for burial. He was the first Perry boy killed during World War I.

In June of 1927 the village purchased a fine, 5HP fire siren, which could be heard clearly as far away as the Village of Morrice. For years, the siren was blown daily at 12:00 noon.

In 1927, R.E. Southwell was the Hudson Essex dealer, selling a 4-door sedan for $835. Dunn and Arnold had the Pontiac Sales, selling their Pontiac 4-door sedan for $845, (and so the price wars began).

Perry had a fine baseball team for many years, and one of its most famous members was Andy Messenger. By 1932, he was the star pitcher for the Atlanta, Georgia Southern Association Baseball League.

From the early 1920's through the 30's the local merchants sponsored free public movies on Saturday nights in the summer months. These were greatly enjoyed by young and old.

In 1936 the Michigan Hybrid Seed Corn Company purchased the long vacant Perry Glove and Mitten Factory and opened their business here. They are still in business at this date in 1968. (This is the current location for the City Hall).

In January of 1942, World War II had engulfed us, and every male age 20 and from 36 to 45 was required to register at the Perry Township Hall for the U.S. Army Draft.

In 1946 the Thermogas Company located in Perry. They suffered a bad fire in 1960 but built a fine new plant and are still in operation. (Thermogas currently has only storage at the Perry location).

In 1956, the Village water system was up-dated and two new wells were drilled just south of the Village.

The 1960's found the town still growing with a number of new homes and business places being remodeled. The census by this time was 1370.

In 1964, the Village voted to become a City, known as "The City of Perry." The first city officers elected September 8, 1964 were: Mayor, Raymond L. Watkins; Councilmen, Jack H. Botsford, Weston Cline, Robert Daniher, Gerald Faught, Vern Henry, and Thurman Zehr; Justice of the Peace, Fred Stevens; Clerk, Lucille M. Griffith; Treasurer, John Jansen; and Assessor, William Osburn.

In 1966 nearly 1000 acres was annexed to the City, further enlarging the mile square town.

In 1967 the street lighting was modernized by installing Mercury Vapor lights throughout the City.

In 1968, the City Council still striving to secure a central sewer system for the City. (The City Council did prevail and a sewer system was installed and in working order 1971).

Perry today is continuing to progress in many ways, and we the citizens can be proud of our first 75 years.

The Historical Program Committee-Circa 1968



203 W. Polly St.
Perry, MI. 48872


Phone: (517) 625-6155
Fax: (517) 625-6157
Hearing Impaired:
Dial 711


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