Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, January 14, 2001, pg. 15
Occasionally in this column we feature the origin of Albion street names. Fitch St. in the northeast part of Albion was named after Methodist minister Rev. Andrew Mason Fitch (1815-1887). A native of Cherry Valley in Otsego County, N.Y., he was the son of Gurdon and Hannah (Peck) Fitch. His grandfather Andrew was Captain of the 4th Connecticut Infantry in the Revolutionary War. Rev. Fitch was a Methodist "circuit-riding preacher" in the wilderness of Southern Michigan. It was a rugged profession: riding horseback from community to community through forests, swamps and streams in all types of weather, holding religious meetings, and living off of the donations of pioneers of our area. A typical saddle bag would contain a bible, a hymn book, and a Methodist discipline book. The 1877 History of Calhoun County states, (pgs. 26-27) "As late as 1838, Rev. A. M. Fitch’s circuit was bounded only by the Indiana line on the south, Augusta on the west, Lansing on the north, and Grass Lake on the east."
Fitch served as pastor of numerous Methodist churches in Michigan and held various Conference positions, including chairman. He was also quite active in public life. Fitch served on the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan from 1842 to 1845. From 1857 to 1861 he served as U.S. Indian Agent for the State of Michigan. If that were not enough, he also served on the board of trustees of Albion College for many years.
Fitch was one of the original organizers of the Albion Union (Public) Schools when it was formed in 1867. He was on the first and several subsequent school boards, serving as board president from the 1867-68 through 1872-73 school years.
Politically however, Fitch was a Democrat and part of a band of local "Copperheads," that included people such as William V. Morrison, Augustus Porter Gardner, Lawrence Cole, Rev. William Farley, and Albion Village President George N. Cady. Their political "states rights" beliefs supported the South and the supposed right of succession from the Union. Albion was a Copperhead "hotbed" in the days leading up to the Civil War, and the local newspaper The Albion Mirror echoed those sentiments.
Fitch’s other passion was horticulture. He first owned a farm in Albion Township where he spent much time and energy mastering the subject. He later purchased an 80-acre farm in northeast Albion village. It was bounded on the south by Michigan Avenue, Fitch St. (once the family driveway) on the west, North St. on the north, and Clark St. on the east. Andrew used this farm to study soils, fertilizers, and ways to increase yields on his land. He hired a specialist from the East nicknamed "Old Terriculture" to help him accomplish this purpose. In his second wife Susan’s (Searles) 1898 obituary, the property was referred to as the "famous Fitch farm."
Fitch erected and lived in a large elegant home there at 1101 E. Michigan Avenue (between the College Courts) which was decorated with Victorian embellishments. Following Fitch’s death the property was sold off in parcels, and was subsequently platted and developed. The house was purchased by Albion College chemistry professor Delos D. Fall, who lived there and rented rooms. One renter in 1912-13 was Rev. George Bennard, who wrote the hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" in a back room. The house subsequently became the frat house of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity in 1922. It suffered a major fire in 1923 and was remodeled. The Delts moved to their new quarters in 1966, and the house was demolished.
Regarding Fitch’s religious career, he experienced an embarrassing exit. The Methodist board sent the elderly Rev. Fitch to Mason at age 68. Not wanting an old minister, but wanting a young one, "The official board of the Mason Church refused to receive him. By some means [they] found a preacher whom the congregation would accept, and paid Mr. Fitch $50 for his moving expenses. Mr. Fitch certainly was seriously embarrassed by it all and was eventually forced to accept retirement and died in 1887." (The Methodist Church in Michigan: The Nineteenth Century, p. 353). Fitch died in Albion on January 8, 1887, but was buried in the family plot in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit. This week in our Historical Notebook we present a rare photograph of Rev. Andrew Mason Fitch, courtesy of historian Pat Hiler of the First United Methodist Church of Grand Rapids (Rev. Fitch was pastor there in 1844). In this internet version of this article we also present an 1894 photograph of the Fitch farm house at 1101 E. Michigan Avenue.
Reverend A. M. Fitch
Next: DR. ISAAC GRANT
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic