History Of Webster Township

THE FIRST 175 YEARS

Webster Township, in north central Washtenaw County, Michigan, has retained much of its pleasant and scenic rural character. For those who call Webster Township "home", the quiet rural byways among farms and beautiful homes are a source of collective community pride.

For 175 years, much of community life in Webster Township has centered near the intersection of Webster Church and Farrell Roads. Following is a quick tour of this picturesque and historic area known locally as "Webster Corners".

WEBSTER CORNERS – A PLACE IN TIME

Wintertime – 1827; Simpronius, New York. Among the hilly Finger Lakes region of mid-state New York weather could be brutal, and glacier deposited rock and stone near the surface of the ground made for some tough plowing. That all contributed to neighborhood discussion of the splendid opportunity "out west". Word had come back; it was flat, wide open and the winters were more "gentle" in the newly opened Michigan Territory. The federal government offered land warrants at the compelling price of $1.50 per acre (with a five year payoff). John Williams’ family, neighbors and friends soon talked of little else but the prospect of staking out a new and better future in the Michigan Territory. So, it was decided to make the move. In the spring of 1828, with horses and a wagon loaded down with such tools and equipment as thought useful, John Williams set out to lead seven relatives and friends to the "promise"’ land.

They traveled to Buffalo and boarded the William Penn for the four day trip across Lake Erie to Detroit. From there they made their muddy way to Ann Arbor - arriving on April 8, 1828.

With Williams were his three oldest sons (Spencer, Charles and Jeremiah), two of his New York neighbors (John Chandler and Jeremiah Fuller), and his nephew (Henry Scadin). After several days of looking over available land around Ann Arbor, John Williams purchased one square mile of land (640 acres) in what would soon be Webster Township. That 640 acres, now Section 27 of Webster Township, lies on the west side of Webster Church Road and is bisected by Farrell Road. Having found "the right ground" John sent for his wife Lydia Hughlitt, and with their 10 children settled at the place locally known as Webster Corners. The house, built by John Williams, a Modified Greek Revival still stands and is today on the National Register. It was in this house that the township was formally organized in 1833. Up-the-road neighbor Munnis Kenny, who had arrived in 1829 from Massachusetts, proposed the township be named Webster in honor of statesman, Daniel Webster (with whom Kenny was well acquainted). In a close vote (26 to 25) John Williams was elected the first Supervisor of Webster Township. The primary responsibility of early township government: locating and maintaining roads, fences and cemeteries.

The Williams family continued to own and operate the farm for several generations, losing ownership in the Great Depression of the 1930's. The Williams family cemetery is on the farm, west of the house and south of Farrell Road.

COTTONWOOD FARM

In 1937 the farm was purchased by Walter and May (Kleinschmidt) Mast from the Dexter Bank. Naming it Cottonwood Farm, it became a summer camp, providing young people from Detroit an opportunity to experience farm life. During camp season 60 people occupied the cabins and bunkhouses, and all sat up to May’s table for meals. There were 50 horses on the farm then, one for every kid. May Mast was active in the community until her death in 1999 at the age of 96. Her artistic works, (poetry and painting, including scenes on her farm buildings) contributed toward making Webster Corners a "Norman Rockwell" place.

SCADIN FARM

Henry Scadin, who had come west with John Williams, settled on land laying on the east side of Webster Church Road directly north of Farrell Road. Scadin family members are buried in the family plot on the northeast corner of the intersection. Henry's son William in 1967 willed his entire farm to Webster Church. In the 1980's the home was restored and is now the parsonage. The barn constructed and raised in 1898 (without the benefit of whisky), was given a major "structural adjustment" in 1993, pulling it square and replacing many of the underpinnings.

WEBSTER CHURCH

In 1826 itinerant preachers conducted services in area homes. By 1832 the first Congregational Society began plans to build a structure to house their meetings. Land on the south east corner of Webster Church and Farrell Roads was donated by Moses and Hannah (Williams) Kingsley. In the spring of 1834 whitewood logs were drawn from Plymouth, Michigan, brought to Foster’s Mill at Scio and sawed into building material. Daniel Webster’s $100 contribution (solicited by Munnis Kenny) permitted construction to be completed. The church has been in continuous use since and is the oldest continuously occupied church in Washtenaw County. Initially Presbyterian, in 1858 it became Congregational Christian, and in 1957 affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

CHURCH SCHOOL HOUSE

Sometime after 1839, but before 1909 (the school records of that period are lost) a one room school house was built on the south west corner of Webster Church and Farrell Roads. Known as Church School, May Mast and Mary Wheeler taught school there in the 1930’s. Closed after the Second World War, it was purchased in 1954 by the church and moved across the road. Attached to the south side of the church building, it now houses church offices.

THE COMMUNITY HOUSE

On the northwest corner of the intersection is The Community House, made over from an old apple storage and cider mill building. This structure was given to the church by the Williams family in 1925. It has since been used as a Grange Hall, theater (live and cinema), meeting facility, dance hall and for family reunions and wedding receptions.

THE OLD TOWNSHIP HALL

In 1984 Webster Celebrated its Sesquicentennial with an outdoor ceremony at the "Old" Webster Township Hall built in 1871 on Gregory Road at Scully Road. At the Annual Meeting of Webster Township on April 3, 1871, forty-seven Webster voters cast ballots on the question of building a new township hall. The outcome was Yes, 43. No , 3. At the same meeting a committee of five was appointed to oversee construction. Those named: Robert McColl, Alfred Valentine, Morgan O=Brien, Issac Terry and Austin A. Buckelew. Specifications called for a new Town Hall, with dimensions of twenty-four feet by thirty-four feet, of Adepot fashion@, boarded up and down and batted and painted with three coats of paint. The project cost was to be kept under $1,500. The construction team for the 1871 Township Hall was Issac Terry, architect and carpenter; A.J. Sawyer, carpenter; Charles Bleicher, mason; and, C.M. Starks, painter. Terry was to select the site, which turned out to be a one acre parcel on Gregory Road, at the south end of Scully Road, purchased on May 11, 1871 from George Phelps at a cost of $80.00. Constructed during the summer of 1871, December 1871 saw the first official meeting in the new Township Hall, with Richard Walsh, as Supervisor; George W. Merrill, Clerk; and, James. B. Arms, Treasurer. The total cost for land, building, fence and hitching posts was $1,758.17. To help off-set the cost, the prior town hall, at the corner of North Territorial and Scully Roads, was sold for $21.25 to Albert Houghton. In 1983 the building and site, among the two or three oldest town halls in the state, was listed as a Michigan Historical Site. By 1996, the building had served as the center of government in Webster for one hundred twenty-five years. During that time, Carl Mast having been Township Supervisor for a period of fifty years, set a record for years of service to the township. With the building of Webster’s present township hall in 1996, the Township Board voted to sell the old Township Hall to the Webster Township Historical Society for preservation and safe keeping. In May of 1997 the old Township Hall was moved from its original site and transported approximately 3/4 mile across open fields. The old Hall now sits on property of the Historical Society, just south of the new township Hall.

WHEELER WHEELWRIGHT & BLACKSMITH SHOP

The historic Wheeler Blacksmith & Wheelwright Shop, was originally located on Webster Church Road, north of North Territorial Road. Built in the mid-1870's, it sat idle after 1914, gradually deteriorating as weeds and wild growth enveloped it., doors and windows fell off and out, and the roof no longer offered much protection against rain and snow. This resulted in detachment of the siding; the wind toppled the cupola and the beams were all askew. But tenon and mortise construction held the building upright, making restoration feasible.

In 1982 Mr. & Mrs. Robert Beaugrand, owners of the farm on which it sat, donated the building to the Webster Township Historical Society. It was disassembled and sections were transported south on Webster Church Road. In 1985 a crew of Amish barn builders reconstructed the building at its current location on Historical Society property south of the new Town Hall.

PODUNK SCHOOL HOUSE

Podunk School, built around 1850, was located on Walsh Road at Merkle Road, in Webster Township. At the time it had an enrollment of 83 students and an allocation from the county of $21.42. As tuition, each student was required to furnish a half cord of wood prepared to fit the school stove.

After the rural school system was consolidated, the one-room building was sold at public auction, and used for some 30 years as a wagon shed for storage. The "teacher’s end" of the building had been cut away to provide a large doorway. Over the ensuing years, all the sill-understructure had rotted away.

The Historical Society purchased the building in 1992 from Pat Farrell. After trimming trees for clearance along Walsh, Mast, North Territorial and Webster Church Roads, the building was loaded onto wheel dollies and on September 9, 1992 moved 8 miles to its present site.

All the under-structure was replaced; windows repaired and restored; the wagon shed doors were removed and the blackboard wall was re-constructed; a stone foundation was built; damage to the roof and eaves caused during the move was repaired; the framing, interior walls and ceiling were squared, leveled and evened and the building was insulated and the interior dry-walled; it has been completely rewired; a heating system installed; the floor sanded and refinished; the teacher's platform has been reconstructed; the front porch has been poured; the wainscoting has been repaired and the double doorway vestibule wall and shelving restored.

The interior has been painted to match the original colors. As in 1901, a bell tower has now been added and an original Webster Township school house bell summons students to class.

To date, completely restored, furnished with period artifacts and ready for use, the Historical Society has invested $26,827.63 in Podunk School. Other organizations that have taken on similar projects report investments in excess of $125,000 for a like accomplishment.

THE EAGLE’S NEST

Built in 1993 by Boy Scout Troop 477, the log cabin at Webster Corners is the home of this scout troop, which has guided more than fifty young men to the rank of Eagle Scout. Boy Scout Troop 477 is sponsored by Webster Church.

WEBSTER TOWNSHIP HALL

With foresight, the Township Board began saving money for the building of Webster’s new Township Hall. The selected site was a 12 acre parcel, purchased from May Mast. Built without incurring any debt, in 1996 the government of Webster Township moved into its new building, returning to the farm where it all started in 1833.