The History of Chesterfield
The Earliest Time
Welcome to Chesterfield Township...
The Michigan State Legislature officially created
Chesterfield Township in 1842 by Public Act 57. Long
before North American Indian people habited the land
and waters as evidence by the artifacts of arrow
heads, clay pots and burial plots.
The Indian people lived on the shores of Lake St.
Clair and on the banks of the many rivers and
streams. The marshes provided reeds for weaving into
baskets and flat mats and when stretched over
sapling frames they made comfortable summer homes.
The land provided food like wild berries, gourds,
roots and leaves for teas and poultices. The lakes
and rivers gave fish, water fowl and turtles. High
ground contained deer, beaver, rabbits, lynx,
bobcat, and even bear. Migratory birds of all kinds
abounded as food and a source for colorful feathers
used for trade and dress.
The most important harvest for the Indians was
salt. Chesterfield contained salt springs whose
brine when evaporated provided a trade good worth
its weight in gold.
The last two Indian reserves in Southeastern
Michigan were located in Chesterfield Township. The
"Swan Creek" Indian people were the last to leave
the idyllic land and water.
The French were the first Europeans to come to
Chesterfield. As early as 1611, explorers and
missionary priests came up the lake. They named it
Lac du Ste Claire on August 12, 1687.
Water was the mode of travel for all people
living and passing through. The French adapted the
Indian canoes and bateaus. The voyagers also used
sail boats for moving their collected furs.
Some of the French settled on the land, built
crude huts, gardened on plots, trapped valuable furs
and "made salt." They called their settlement "La
Saline" known today as Salt River. They name other
rivers Aux Vases and Crapeau.
Early land claims show the strip farms, familiar
in France and Canada.
The French legacy also includes an early dialect
of language called "Sugarbush" named after the road
traversing through the once sugar maple forests.
The British Empire gained control of the land.
Many of the French pioneers stayed on their vested
interests. Some had grants from the Indians and from
the French court. These were honored by both the
British and American Governments.
The British changed little. They took over the
"salt business." New merchants traded for furs and
farm goods. The government was more constrained.
The first military road was laid out. It was
later to be built and called the Fort Gratiot
Turnpike. Teams of oxen pulled new settlers through
the marshes, woods and across fords of old Indian
trails. The land was being permanently settled on
and cleared for the raising of corn, wheat and other
grains. Sheep, cattle and chickens were raised for
The American Revolution gave independence to the
colonies but the British kept control of the land.
They continued to protect their fur trade and
enforced British laws over all residents, leaving in
1815 after the War of 1812.
Change really came after Michigan became a
territory in 1805. Larger groups of immigrants made
their way to the frontiers of Southeastern Michigan.
Beside the Indian, French and English speaking
families the Scotch, Irish, German and Welsh
families came to the frontier.
Chesterfield was surveyed in 1818 by William
Wampler. The first land claims were re-recorded as
well as the land of new farmers.
The Fort Gratiot Turnpike became a toll road.
Those who used it paid for the upkeep and
improvements. Side roads were laid out and
constructed. Communities and settlements were
formed. A township government was created in 1842 at
the school house near Charles B. Matthews. Schools,
churches and homes were built out of boards instead
of logs. There were saw and grist mills. The land
was rich and the crops were good.
Alfred Ashley came to the waters edge and created
the town of Ashley or Ashleyville, later to become
New Baltimore. Other towns some with post offices
appeared near the new rail roads and turnpikes like
Milton, Milton Depot, Chesterfield, Heart and East
Union. This community development brought more
people to the land as well as merchants and mill
owners. The community became permanent with
additional schools, churches, stores and shops.
The Inter Urban Electric Railway came from
Detroit to Port Huron. Electricity was produced in a
New Baltimore Plant. The IUR had stops at
Chesterfield, Orra, bay Court, and New Baltimore.
People had rapid travel by land, called "hassle free
The beginning of large commercial freighter
traffic began on the water and resorts and pleasure
trips for families started. The waters were still
fished all year long and hunters came for the birds
on the shore. The hot summers brought Detroiters
here for the cool lake breezes. The same breezes
that drew the Indians long ago.
The fertile land provided boom times... the lakes
The Times... and Now!
People of all nations, settled on the land named
after the English Lord Chesterfield. What was the
land of the Indians, trappers, hunters and farmers
New subdivisions with fine homes have been built.
New churches, schools, shopping centers, and
factories for light industry have located in the
Township. Chesterfield is one of the fastest growing
areas in Michigan.
The Past... Now!
The Chesterfield Township Historical Society was
created in 1993. Its purpose is to preserve the
great history of our town. Meetings are held on the
first Tuesday of the month at the Township Hall.
The Historical Society with excellent community
help is responsible for building a Heritage Village
on the banks of the Au Vase River across from the
Township Hall. The "Weller Red School House" is the
first building. A memorial for the tornado victims
who lost their lives is next to the school.
Artifacts like a first tractor and canoe are in
Guests are welcome to attend the meetings and new
members are encouraged to join. Citizens are urged
to support the fund-raising events of the Society
like the annuals dinners and raffles.
What makes Chesterfield a great place to live is
its people... past and present. Community goals are
fostered by hardworking families.
Join the Chesterfield Township Historical Society
by calling Eileen Rivard, president at (586)
504-0887 or Duane Vosburg at (586) 949-3810. Help the future by preserving the
Written by Karl Mark Pall
Amazing Macomb County History for The Chesterfield
Township Historical Society