Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, November 11, 2001
We go “on the road” this week and with our seatbelts on, begin our drive by asking three questions: 1) What was the name of Napoleon Boneparte’s horse at the Battle of Waterloo? 2) What was the name of the first town Napoleon came to when he arrived in Switzerland? 3) What is the name of a small unincorporated village five miles west of Albion that was named after the answers to the first two questions? The answer to all three questions: Marengo.
The village of Marengo is located in Marengo Township just south of Michigan Ave. along 23 Mile Road (State St.). The Township was settled early, beginning in 1831. The opportunity of utilizing water-power along the Kalamazoo River attracted settlers to the area. In 1839 Sidney S. Alcott erected a water-powered flour/grist mill which was operated by John Evans (1792-1881), a newcomer from Rochester, N.Y. A village soon sprang up there which took the same name as the township. The Marengo Village Cemetery was organized and the first interment was Betsey (Allen) Grant. Her tombstone states 1837.
The original mill burned in 1844 but was rebuilt in 1847 by miller Evans who owned and operated the Marengo Mills for the next three decades. It was one of the leading flour mills in Southern Michigan and flour was shipped as far as New York City. The mill was serviced by a side railroad track. A log building served as the mill warehouse. Evans also operated a sawmill south of the flour mill on the river dam. It had been erected in 1847 by S. G. Pattison. There was an abundance of white oak trees in the area which supplied the wood for the sawmill, from which many buildings in Marengo were constructed. Remnants of the millpond can still be seen today on either side of 23 Mile Rd. at the river bridge and parts of the dam ruins still show. Further downstream was the Marengo distillery off of B Drive North.
The “Michigan Gazetteer” lists the following operators of the flour and saw mills in these edition years: 1850s through 1883: John Evans; 1885: W. J. Price; 1887-88: Brown & Lawrence; 1889-90: F. C. Brown; 1893-94 (saw mill last mentioned) through 1895-96: J. G. Dugo; 1897 through 1899: George Carter and W. W. Cleveland; 1901 through 1904: George Carter; 1909 through 1920: W. W. Cleveland. The mill was apparently closed at that point. The dam was then removed and the mill demolished.
Marengo is one of those places where grand plans were made but which fell far short of its intentions. 19th century plat maps show large village boundaries stretching from Alcott St. on the north, to a proposed Washington St. on the south, two lots south of the Marengo “South Brick” Schoolhouse south of B Drive North! Over 80 blocks were proposed containing 10 lots each, with over 29 named streets. It didn’t make it.
College St. was once the “business section” of town. A Union Church was erected there in 1854, which today is known as the Marengo Methodist Church. The village once had its own hotel on the southeast corner of Elizabeth and College Sts. It was built in 1855 by Winn Gardiner and contained a bar room, a store, a dining room, and a dance hall where monthly dances and parties were held. The hotel was extremely popular and attracted scores of people from throughout Calhoun County. The counter of its basement bar room was 30 feet long, and during the Civil War the hotel employed four bartenders to keep up with the demand. This structure unfortunately burned in March, 1889. There was a cooper shop on Winter St. where barrels were made. Marengo also had a buggy shop, a shoe and boot store, a butcher shop, a distillery, two general stores, two blacksmiths, two physicians, and an insurance agent.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present an early 20th century photograph of the Marengo Mills, courtesy of Phyllis Gill, whose home now sits on the site, and Bernadine Sears, who owns several historical Marengo photographs. The view is taken from the sawmill remains looking north. It shows the Marengo dam on the right with the water flowing westwardly towards Marshall, and the mill in the distance. Next week: the Marengo Post Office.
Let your relatives know this Thanksgiving season that over 150 of my historical articles are on the www.albionmich.com internet site, and that they can obtain my history books and materials at the Albion Chamber of Commerce. Take them there and see what is available.
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic