March 20 • 06:10 PM

New museum to show off amazing history of Attica

1870s town boomed with grocers, hotels, mills, blacksmiths & shops

April 01, 2009
ATTICA TWP. — Today, Attica is characterized by rolling farmland and cottages on the lakes. More than 100 years ago, the countryside was undoubtedly far more noisy. Accounts of rumbling lumber mills, a busy railroad track, a bustling business district and five country schools fill the Attica Historical Book, published in 1992 on the occasion of Attica's sesquicentennial.

The township board, wishing to preserve and build on the work of the 140 page volume, has decided Attica history needs a permanent home.

Earlier this year, they decided to invest more than $19,000 into creating a historical museum in the former township park's maintenance building.

"We want to make this a first-class operation," Supervisor Al Ochadleus said.

He said the township is already in possession of some things that are just too valuable to leave boxed up, including old photographs and grocery store records. They're hoping that residents will have items of interest to share and donate too.

"Attica was a very big, thriving community," Ochadleus said.

"Today, people move into this community and have no idea of the way things used to be."

Plans call for the museum to open in June, he said.

In the meantime the maintenance building is undergoing a total modification with both exterior and interior upgrades.

"It's really coming together nicely," Ochadleus said.

Hill Heating of Lapeer sold the township a heating and cooling unit at cost and Attica Fire Chief Chris Warford and his son donated their labor to install it.

Eventually, they'll add shelves to the walls and move in display cases.

Township Supervisor Al Ochadleus flips through an account book from a onetime grocery store, one of many items slated for Attica’s museum. photo by Maria Brown.

Artifacts from previous Attica generations will most likely harken to days when the Chippewa Indians lived on the land, when logging of pine and other woods grew tremendously and families flocked to the parks and beaches on the township's four lakes—Grass, Elk, Long and Lake Pleasant.

According to the 1992 historical book, Attica was founded and officially separated from Dryden Township in 1842. The first known settler, Benjamin Huntley, came to the area between 1836 and 1840.

The first township meeting was held on April 13, 1842 with C.A. Hebard named the first supervisor. Township officers were paid one dollar a day. Some of the board's first business was allocating money for development, including $250 for roads.

In 1853, residents voted down a law that would have prohibited the manufacture and sale of "intoxicating beverage."

Built by entrepreneurs like William Imlay, Isaac Newton Jenness, William William and Joshua Manwaring, lumber mills were up and running on Grass and Elk lakes.

At one time, various sections of the township bore their names, specifically Williamston and Jennessville.

By 1870, the population of Attica had grown to 1,620.

In1871, the railroad came to Attica. History tells that thanks to money pledges from the mill owners and with help from engineer Charles Palmer, the railroad was convinced to change their plans and have the track run through Attica instead of Blacks Corners. Coincidentally, that was the same year of the massive fires in Chicago. Jenness and Company sent carload after carload to the city as part of the rebuilding efforts.

As of 1878, the business district included two general stores, three grocery stores, two boot and shoe shops, a meat and provisions store, a livery stable, three hotels, two blacksmith shops, a saw mill, two grist mills and a tannery.

By the 1890s, records show that farmers were shipping produce, including potatoes, to the Eastern Market in Detroit.

Numerous country schools dotted the landscape as well. As of 1882, there were 485 students attending the one-room schools of Buckingham, Sand Hill, White, Mattoon and Youngs Schools. In 1878, a graded school was built in the village.

The Attica Historical Book contains information about centennial farms, founding families, former businesses and much more. Copies of the book can be purchased from the township hall for $10.

For more information about becoming a volunteer or donating items to the museum, call the township hall at 724-8128.

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