Sumpter Township, MIchigan
Settlement of the Sumpter area was slow at first because the area was very difficult to reach. Even if one did make it and setup a farm, it was equally difficult to transport goods by wagon considering the condition of the early roads, if they could even be called that. The earliest settlers to the Sumpter area began to arrive after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825.
Sumpter Township History
By Craig Hutchison, Staff Writer Discover Downriver
Settlement of the Sumpter area was slow at first because the area was very difficult to reach. Even if one did make it and setup a farm, it was equally difficult to transport goods by wagon considering the condition of the early roads, if they could even be called that. The earliest settlers to the Sumpter area began to arrive after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The canal reduced a 5 to 10 day arduous land journey to a 44 hour water route.
Those first pioneers were from hearty stock and had names like Allen, Merrill, Coon, Aldridge and Brooks. The issues they had to contend with were considerable. There were trees that needed to be cut and cleared for farmland. Mosquitoes could make life miserable during the day and at night. Food was provided by hunting or farming which was very labor intensive on the frontier especially. But these early settlers were not to be deterred from cutting out a life in this new country.
The Township of Sumpter was formed on April 6, 1840. Named after General Thomas Sumter who served in the American Revolution, the first township clerk misspelled his name by adding a “p” giving the area the label it has to this day. During the 19th century, the township was divided into two villages: West Sumpter and Martinsville. West Sumpter was where the main business district developed which included two stores, two churches, cooper, school, hotel, a Post Office and a creamery. But Martinsville had a number of businesses that aided citizens as well including a wagon maker, blacksmith, cider mill, and a shoemaker. By the early 20th century, additional businesses had come to the area: an insurance company, mason, and a grocery store. The wagon manufacturing business, owned by James Randall, transitioned into selling automobiles by 1916.
The Township established its own school district in 1956. Student who attended Sumpter Elementary would continue on to Bessie Hoffman Junior High. Facing financial difficulties, the district had to be discontinued in 1967. The State of Michigan proceeded to divide Sumpter Township into four school districts. The original Sumpter Elementary School is now used for a police station, senior center, head start school, and a community center.
Because of its more remote location in reference to the Metro Detroit area, the township’s population has grown slowly. Oil was discovered in the area in 1941. A pump mechanism was installed by the Sumpter Oil and Gas Company and at one point, the company was shipping 100 barrels a day. It was reported to be a very high grade oil and the first producing well in Wayne County.
Today, Sumpter Township is made up of a diverse population. The residents and visitors alike have much to enjoy in terms of natural beauty including woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. A major source of pride for the community is the Crosswinds Marsh Preserve, one of the largest man-made wetlands in the country. The preserve covers 900 acres and is managed by the Wayne County Parks Department. There is so much to enjoy at Crosswinds Marsh: hiking, canoeing, bird watching, fishing, horseback riding or just a leisurely stroll to enjoy the beautiful natural setting.
In many ways, Sumpter Township has held onto its rural roots throughout its history. It has grown to be a community of just over 9,500 residents in an area of 37.5 square miles. There is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy a more laid back style of living. And the residents enjoy every minute of it.
If you want to know more about Sumpter Township’s history, visit the Belleville Area Museum at 405 Main Street Belleville, MI 48111 or call734-697-1944
- Sumpter Township shares its zip code of 48111 with Van Buren Township and the City of Belleville.
- In the late 1800s, there was an influx of Polish immigrants to the area and the Township provided interpreters on election days to help these residents vote.
- In the 1800s, the Township had what was referred to as a “Poor Director.” This person was responsible to furnish necessities to those that needed it until they could sustain themselves once again.
- Ironically before Crosswinds Marsh was farmland it was a wetlands and a debate still simmers as to whether a man-made marsh can ever be as healthy as a natural one. But it’s hard to argue that wildlife, particularly birds, have found a home here. At last count the marsh was supporting 147 species of birds, including two bald eagles, blue herons, egrets, Virginia rail and a wide variety of waterfowl, and 40 species of mammals, ranging from muskrats and fox to coyotes and whitetail deer.
Craig Hutchison is a published author with a passion for local history. He has served in various capacities with several history institutions including The Henry Ford, the Henry Ford Estate, and the Dearborn Historical Museum. Craig believes in bringing history alive by helping people make connections between the past, present, and future. His favorite medium for doing this is through the written word. Read more of Craig’s writing on various and sundry topics at Wandering Wolverine Writings.