The ABCs of Lowell History: A is for Alton

Alton General Store

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABC’s of Lowell’s History begins with Alton, located just north of Lowell in Vergennes Township. To learn more about the area’s history, visit the Lowell Area Historical Museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records. 

 

Alton was settled in 1839 when the Keeney and Godfrey families moved in. Other Godfrey relatives soon followed so that the first known name was “The Godfrey Settlement.”

A small log school was built that same year and Elder Newcomb Godfrey preached Sunday sermons beginning in a barn. The church building was erected in 1868, when the Alton Community Church was built and used by Vergennes Christian Church and Wesleyan Methodists on alternate Sundays. Later, the Swiss settlers also used the church during the week for Revivals and meetings.

In 1865, a grist mill, with dam and millpond, was built by Chester Church and Harry Porter which although it changed hands many times was operated until 1932. A general store was built and operated by Solomon Unger at the same time. In 1870, Edmund Ring began his “Ringville” businesses with a sawmill, a carriage shop (1878), a blacksmith shop (1884), a rake factory (1889), and a picket mill (1890). There were various other blacksmiths over the years, and at one time there were 3 operating blacksmiths.

Alton Grist Mill and Cheese Factory

During the late 1880s and early 90s, a large population of Swiss immigrants with family names such as Blaser, Wittenbach, Wingeier, Farhni, Bieri, Reusser, and Kropf settled near Alton greatly influencing the culture, language, and lifestyle of the village. Some Swiss contributions included a Swiss band and several cheese making operations.

The demise of Alton as a commercial center began in 1900 when the railroad from Lowell to Belding was built, and the depot was located one mile from Alton on the John O. Wingeier farm instead of ½ mile north of Alton. Most businesses closed and moved to Moseley, the exceptions being the church, cemetery, and the mill. The post office closed in 1909.

Discovering that land was more fertile south of the Grand River, farmers such as the Wingeiers moved to Bowne Township in 1905. They held cattle drives driving their cattle 14 miles through Lowell every spring and fall because they used their Vergennes Township farm for pasture for their young stock. In those days there were fences along the roads so cattle could be easily controlled.

All images courtesy of the Lowell Area Historical Museum.

3 Comments

  1. It took a lot of hunting and pecking but I finally found what state your Lowell is in! I’m guessing Missouri. Your website is like some modern day advertisements that are top notch but fail to state where they are or what they sell. Get with it! Sincerely yours, a citizen of Lowell, Ma.

    • Hi Joe,

      We are a news source for Lowell, Michigan, and our address is on our contact page. We don’t specify Michigan in our articles because we don’t promote the site outside of our local community. However, it does seem that Google sometimes gets confused and sends people from Massachusetts our way. Sorry for any inconvenience and thanks for your feedback!

      Maryalene

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