The History of Chesterfield
The Earliest Time
Welcome to Chesterfield Township. Michigan State Legislature officially created Chesterfield Township in 1842 by signing Public Act 57. Long before this legislative act created our Township, North American Indian people habited the land and waters. This is evidenced by the artifacts of arrow heads, clay pots, and burial plots found in our area.
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 market.
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 commuting."
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 enjoyment.
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 boomed again.
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 storage.
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 President Liz Furton at (586) 747-1790, Duane Vosburg at (586) 949-3810, or the Historical Society at (586) 949-0400 x6499. Help the future by preserving the past!
Written by Karl Mark Pall, Amazing Macomb County History for The Chesterfield Township Historical Society, October, 2002.