Sumpter Township History
Soldiers, having finished the revolutionary war, were beginning to think of their futures, wishing for more land than was available on the eastern seaboard, and began to look to the west for settlements and farm land. The newly formed government, not having much of a treasury, offered to pay these soldiers for their services during the revolutionary war in land grants under the “bounty land act”. Michigan became a “bounty land act” area until 1816 when the government withdrew it, because the Territory General Inspector considered the lower peninsula mostly swamp land and, therefore, not fit for cultivation. Although travel to Michigan was very expensive back then and there were rumors of disease, such as malaria, because of the swamp land, when the Erie Canal opened in 1825, some immigrants from the Eastern Seaboard, did finally settle in the Sumpter area.
The earliest settlers were the Allens, Merrills, Coons, Aldridges, Morey, Anderson, St. Johns, and Brooks. Prior to 1840 Sumpter was part of Huron Township, which included all of Huron, Van Buren, Romulus and, of course, Sumpter Township. The Township of Sumpter was finally officially formed on April 6, 1840. The Township was named after revolutionary war General Thomas Sumter, and the misspelling for the Township name, with the added “p”, was put in by the first clerk and has remained to this day. When the Township was officially formed there were 228 residents. The Township began to grow and by 1900 there were 1495 residents. Back in those days elections were held annually, generally at someone’s home.
When Sumpter became a township set off from Huron, it had two settlements of note, Martinsville, and West Sumpter. West Sumpter became a busy town with the main business district in Sumpter, including the general store, owned by Walter Beebe and a Methodist Church across the street from his store. These were both on Wear Road. Also on Wear Road were the Dickersons store, a Cooper Shop (which was a business that made barrels and castes), Bohn School, a German Lutheran Church, and a Hotel, which may have actually been a boarding house. On Karr Road were the Charcoal Kilns, the Gleaners operation, the Post Office and the Creamery. Beebe’s store apparently lasted the longest, having burned and been rebuilt twice it didn’t close until well after 1951. Martinsville also had it’s businesses., including a Cider and Feed Mill, Wesleyan Methodist Church, a Post Office and Newspaper, Miller General Store, Randall General Store, a Wagon maker, a Shoe maker, a blacksmith, another shoemaker, a threshers, a carriage maker, a saw, sorghum, and cider mill and a meat market. By 1903 more businesses were added; An Insurance company, a painter and paper hanger, a mason, and a grocery store. James Randall manufactured carriages on Martinsville just south of Willis Rd. In 1916 he also began to sell cars, so I guess he’d be considered the first car dealership in Sumpter!
Gradually these “shopping” Districts, Martinsville and West Sumpter, began to disappear from Sumpter, as Belleville, having gotten the railroad made it less expensive to obtain goods for retail and manufacture outside of this Township.
In June, 1866, land was purchased to create the still present Township cemetery. As far as history goes, much can be gleaned from cemeteries and a study of ours would probably reveal much to the historian. We apparently have persons buried there that served in the Civil War, as well as, of course, World War II.
The first history this author can get of Sumpter having a town hall of it’s own comes in the late 1930's when the town hall was used on the weekends by the Zion Missionary Church and had the address of 23483 Sumpter Road. This Town Hall was eventually moved and is currently serving as a residence on Willis Rd. That Town Hall was apparently replaced by the building at the same address now known as the Post Office, although as of 2002 the Post Office was also closed. A new Town Hall was built across the road at 23480 Sumpter and is in operation today. It was built and dedicated in 1977.
There was a pool of oil (black gold) that traveled through Sumpter and was discovered in 1941. It was reported in the local newspaper, that 100 quarts of nitro was used to shoot the Sumpter oil well on Willow Road near Sumpter Rd., and that the well after that operation was 2600 ft. deep. Apparently the gas pressure became so great a control head had to be installed. However, it was deemed a good well, and was owned by Sumpter Oil and Gas Company, who continued, for awhile, to pump a good quality of oil, if not a huge quantity. In 1942, the company announced to the newspaper that it was pumping commercial quantities of oil which were of the highest grade yet discovered in Michigan, and was shipping 100 barrels per day at $2.50 per barrel. It was the first producing well in Wayne County. In April, 1943, the company ceased pumping and called in experts from Texas to do a comprehensive survey of their operation. In July of 1943, probably because of the war, labor to continue the operation was scarce, and eventually the operation was abandoned.
Sumpter Township eventually developed it’s own school district, starting with the Sumpter Elementary School in 1956. Students went on from that school to the Bessie Hoffman School for junior high. At some point the Township could no longer finance the school district and the Sumpter Elementary School closed in June, 1977. After that closing, the state stepped in and made four different school districts in Sumpter. Sumpter Elementary ended up in the Van Buren School District as did Elwell School. Bessie Hoffman School ended up, and is still currently, an elementary school in the Lincoln Consolidated School System. The children in the eastern part of the community attend the Huron Schools, and the children in the far south of the community attend the Airport School system. After laying vacant for a few years, the Township retrieved the old Sumpter Elementary School as a building for use from the Van Buren School District, and it became known as the Township Community Center. It is currently used as a senior center, head start school, and community center. The southern end of the building is used as the current police department, after the first police department in Sumpter, which was behind the current Township Hall, burned down.
There is some interesting trivia that affected this Township. The Township had a “Poor Director” who was responsible for the care of the needy, and they were placed under the responsibility of the Township which furnished food and clothes for them, until such a time as they may be able to do it themselves. Prices in Timothy Martin’s general store in 1869 were, 4 lbs of sugar - $.55, 1 bar of soap - $.15, one half # of tobacco - $.50, 1 coat - $7.50. This is a partial list of items furnished by the Township to one of it’s poor, and the entire bill to help this man for four months was $29.30. The first Town Hall was built in 1874 at a cost of $600.00. As early as 1885 there was an influx of Polish immigrants, so on election days the Township provided an interpreter so that these residents could vote.
Of course life has changed drastically between 1840 and 2006, but one thing remains constant, the need for an income, and the need for life sustaining goods to purchase.