Reading History

Reading Village & Township:Main Street

Almost two centuries ago, the first pioneers blazed a trail through the unbroken forests and became the first settlers of the present township of Reading. To the late Judge John Mickle belongs the honor of being the first white settler in Reading. It was in the fall of 1835 that he came, accompanied by his wife and child and a hired man. They had lived in the vicinity of Maumee, Ohio, for four years, coming there from New York state, but the conditions were so unfavorable there that they took the advice of Indian traders and came on further west. They came over the old Chicago trail as far as the settlement of Jonesville, from which point they cut a road through the wilderness to a point three miles north of the present village of Reading, where they located on a tract of land bought from the government.

Mr. Mickle at once set to work and built a log cabin 19 X 23 feet and this small home provided shelter and hospitality to a dozen or more families who soon followed them, most of them coming from the settlement near Maumee. A year or two later the log cabin was replaced by what was then considered an imposing structure - a block house built of squared black walnut logs, and for many years it was the most substantial house in the township. Mickle was not only a pioneer of the rugged type, but he was a man of ability as well. In the early history of the township he was chosen to fill various offices. In 1842, he was elected to the state legislature, and for many years he was judge of the circuit court of the county. In the fall of 1836, and infant child of Mr. and Mrs. Mickle died, the first death of a white person in the township. In 1839, Mr. Mickle's wife died and he then married Mary Fitzsimmons, their wedding being the first one in the township. Mr. Mickle died in 1892 at the age of 88 years.

In the fall of 1835, Jefferson Kellogg and Lorenzo Abbott walked through from Toledo and found shelter under the hospitable roof of the Mickle cabin. During the first night they stayed there it snowed hard and they woke up to six inches of snow on their bed, it having drifted in between the unchinked logs. Mr. Kellogg cleared the first land in the township, having taken the job of clearing a tract for Mr. Mickle. Mr. Kellogg also took up some land near Mickle's, and the next spring he brought his family to their new forest home.

Reading township forms the "great divide" of Southern Michigan, it's elevation above sea level being the highest in this section of the state. It is a fact not generally known that two rivers have their source in Reading - the St. Joseph that winds its way to Lake Michigan and another St. Joseph that merges with the Maumee and flows into Lake Erie. In the west part of the town is a natural basin in which lies a chain of several pretty lakes, the largest of which is Long Lake. Others in the chain are Round, Hemlock, Carpenter, Mud, Loon, Berry, Popple, Sookey, Lime and Turner. The outlets of some of these lakes flow to the north and others to the south.

A New Era for Reading:

The coming of the railroad marked a new and important era in the history of the little village of Reading. There was a business boom that was good to behold. Buildings for business purposes were in great demand and homes were springing up on every side. The village had been platted on land owned by David Prouty and Thomas Fuller. This plat included practically all of the present village that is bounded on the north by Michigan Street and on the west by Main Street. But under the new order of things more room was needed and additions to the village plat were made by H.B. Chapman, Thomas Berry, George Young and A.M.R. Fitzsimmons. Fortunately the village had a few men of means who were unafraid to invest their money in buildings and improvements.

The same year that the railroad came through, a brick block of three stores was built on Main Street. It was built by H.B. Chapman, "Carp" Dodge and H.B. Parmelee, each occupying a store with a line of merchandise. With the increase in population, better school facilities were to be expected. Prior to 1860 the school was known as a common school and the classes were conducted in two frame buildings on what was later deemed the school grounds. In the above year the school was changed to a graded school and in 1873 a three story brick school building was erected at a cost of $10,000. This building served the needs of the school until the year 1908 when it was condemned due to being unsafe and a modern structure was built for a cost of $20,000.

It was in 1872 that the village secured its first really large manufacturing industry. The Colby Wringer Company of Waterbury Vermont was seeking a new location in the growing middle west and the wide awake citizens of Reading were seeking new factories. The result was that the Colby Company was induced to come to Reading, the principle inducement being the erection of a large brick factory building for their use. A subscription of nearly $20,000 was raised to build the factory and for other expenses pertaining thereto.

It was also in the 70`s that Dr.C.D. Warner began in a small way the manufacture of "Dr. Warner's White Wine and Tar Syrup" a cough and cold remedy. Later he put a tonic on the market called "Warner Hop Bitters" the business flourished for several years, but in the 80`s an eastern concern brought suit against Warner for infringement of a copyrighted label and the long fight in the courts crippled his business financially.

In 1877 Stillman Parker started a small tannery for the tanning and manufacturing of buffalo hides into robes which were rapidly coming into style of the time. Local capitalists were not blind to the fact that this could have real possibilities, a stock company was formed and large buildings erected and the business of making buffalo robes was begun in a large scale. In fact it became the largest buffalo tannery in the world. Employment was given to about 200 hands manufacturing many thousands of buffalo robes per year. In those days buffalo swarmed on the vast western prairies, but once the slaughter was fairly under way it was not long, only a few years that the buffalo were nearly extinct. That naturally put an end to the buffalo robe industry and also the tanning business to a large scale.

Village Incorporated:

In 1873 Reading was made an incorporated village by special act of the legislature. The first election was held at the old Howder house on April 14th of that year, the following officers were chosen: President Dr. A.B. Strong; Recorder Seymore J. Smith; Assessor J.C. Cunningham; and Trustees Sanford Stiles, Henry F. Doty, Thomas Berry, Lucas Terpening and Hasey F. Barker.

Municipal Improvements:

Until 1900 fire protection was provided by a portable hand operated pump supplied by fire wells situated in strategic spots around town. The need for a municipal water plant had been realized for more than a few years, but it remained for "The Great Baptism of Fire" in the summer of 1899 to hasten the movement and to bring results. On September 26, 1899 (just a month after the big fire) a special election was held and a proposition to bond the village for $20,000 for a municipal water system was carried by a majority of nearly five to one. The plant was put into operation the following July. The question of better lighting facilities was being agitated along with the waterworks question and when the power house was built provisions were made for further improvements. The question of bonding the village for $6,000 for purpose of installing an electric lighting plant was voted on in the spring of 1901 and the proposition carried. The plant was put into operation the following September.

The Reading Hustler:

"We have reason to be justly proud of the class of citizens in our village," declared the editors of the Reading Hustler in 1892. They urged the readers of their successful and fascinating little paper, " to be anxious to maintain the honor and advance the progress of Michigan's most progressive and aggressive, the banner village of the county, the prettiest village in the state, the wide-awake and progressive village of Reading," in another issue that year was this notice: "Wanted--a few donations to build a silent retreat for Reading crepe hangers" This is the kind of thing that many hundreds of Hustler readers wanted to find in their paper. After all, it was what they themselves believed and it was a real pleasure to find it confirmed in cold print of the weekly newspaper. They loved their village and were happy to support a newspaper that would bubble out this kind of conviction here and there in practically every issue.

Source: 150 Years in the Hills and Dales of Hillsdale County, vol.2