The Olive Township Historical Society (OTHS) was formed in 2004 by a group of five people interested in “Preserving History for the Next Generation”. Membership has grown to over 20 members from all over the United States. Learn more about membership here.
Meetings are held the fourth Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at the Olive Township Museum/Olive Center School located at 11768 Polk Street. Visitors are welcome. Click here for a map to the Olive Township Museum.
The Olive Township Historical Board:
President: Kit Karsten
Vice-President: Sandy Karsten
Secretary-Treasurer: Beverly Jaarsma
Assistant Secretary-Treasurer: Jim Poppema
– Kathryn Headley
– Sandra Poppema
– Wayne Vander Zwaag
The OTHS is always looking for volunteers. If interested in volunteering please contact a board member or call 616-875-8036.
The OTHS continues to seek old photographs of area schools, churches, businesses, buildings, ephemera, artifacts and antiques related to the past. Please contact a board member or call 616-875-8036 if you have something to donate.
Early History of Olive Township
Olive and Port Sheldon were originally organized as one township in 1857 in the home of William Baker under the order of the Ottawa County Board of Supervisors. Port Sheldon broke away to organize its own township in 1924. Grandville and Grand Rapids were reached by traveling the Grand River, so water transportation was important. Holland and Grand Haven could also be reached via the river. During this time, Dutch immigrants established farms at North Holland. Beeline Road was the only road to Holland, even though it was a quagmire most of the time. Records reveal from original minutes still in the possession of the Olive Township board that “Yankees” settled in the northeast corner. These families were from the eastern states, some possibly from Ohio.
Five school inspectors were responsible for establishing the first schools in two North Olive log buildings. The next school at Olive Center was built in 1859. Soon after, the North Holland area established a school just across the line in Holland Township. Early minutes reveal the beginning of a traveling library. One rule required fines for late return or greasing of book pages. Some books were in Dutch.
The Dutch in the southern part of Olive organized a Reformed Church. Sunday reading services and weekly catechism classes were conducted by elders in a log building on the corner, which is now New Holland Road and 124th Avenue. Although Nordeloos is a mile south of Olive, scattered families worshipped there, and cemeteries were established near the churches. The first ordained pastor to serve a church in Olive was Dominie Oggel, who was installed as pastor in 1862 at the North Holland Reformed Church. His salary was $400 a year plus hay for his horse and wood for fuel. In just a short time, he baptized seventy-five babies. In other parts of Olive Township, churches did not exist until twenty years later. At Borculo, worship services were held in the schoolhouse.
To the early settler of Olive Township, the work of clearing primeval forests was always present. At first, there was no market for wood, so much of it was cut and burned. Those who were fortunate to buy land with “Indian openings” had enough of a start to grow corn for a food supply.
Indians did not claim to be farmers; “they would not be slaves to pigs or any other domestic animals. Plenty of meat swam the streams.” As Metea, the Indian orator said in Chicago in 1821 when the Potawatomi and Ottawa Indians negotiated with Indian agents about land boundaries, “our land was given to us by the Great Spirit, now you want us to move.” Later they moved to the North.
1897 West Olive Railroad Depot
By 1871, two railroads served Olive Township. The Chicago Michigan Lake Shore Railroad ran through the middle to Nunica, where it crossed the Grand River and went to Pentwater. A railroad water well existed at Blair Street and 120th Avenue. There were stations at Olive Center and Ottawa Station, but this railroad’s life was short; rails were taken up in 1881. Another railroad was built about two miles west, the Michigan Lake Shore Railroad. It ran through Harlem and West Olive, which had a passenger depot, and then on to Grand Haven. Well over one hundred years old, this railroad served Olive well; it still supplies the huge Consumers Power Plant with coal.
Olive Center before the turn of the century was a hub of activity. At one time, there were two general stores, two blacksmiths, two sawmills, a post office, a railroad station, a doctor’s office, and Olive Center School Number II. Township elections were usually held in blacksmith shops or available stores. Finally in 1892, a fine townhall was built at 120th Avenue and Polk Street. Voters of Port Sheldon Township used one of their school houses for a precinct voting location.
The tempering effect caused by Lake Michigan made it possible to successfully grow various kinds of berries. Apples, peaches and pears were also grown, but the entry of foreign pests and diseases around the turn of the century was discouraging. Blueberries were found to be a good crop and still thrive. Farther east in Olive were diversified farms. Proprietors usually had a small herd of dairy cows. Produce was traded for food staples and necessities. In the early 1900s, H.J. Heinz contracted with farmers to buy pickles.
With the clearing of the land, mosquitos and other insects lost their environment, and malaria was no longer a threat to health. The ditty “Don’t go to Michigan, land of ills; the word means ague, fever and chills,” was no longer true. Swamps had been drained, and roads were better than before. Farm houses, barns, schools and churches dotted the landscape.
About Olive Township
Olive is a very large township; comprising over a regular township and a half. The soil is varied; the west part near Lake Michigan is sandy, and, particularly in the southwest part of the township, it is being utilized in the way of fruit raising. Some of the best peaches in the State are grown here. The sandy lands, which a few years ago were considered nearly valueless, are furnishing homes and occupation to very many families. It was about 1860 that the fruit interest began to be developed. In the southeast part of the township we find splendid soil and fine farms. Over the entire center we find large tracts of low, marshy land, where cranberries and whortleberries grow wild. Much of this land is being reclaimed by thorough drainage, and eventually will become good farming land. The township contains several small hamlets, the better of which are Olive Center and Ottawa. There are several mills cutting pine and hemlock, the latter being the more prevalent.
The southern part of Olive and the north of Holland, known as Ventura, has a post office of that name, and is mainly devoted to fruit raising, in which great success has been met. The land, much of it, was bought for twelve and one-half cents an acre. Quite extensive orchards are already planted, and the product yields a handsome income. The township is not very thickly settled as yet, but has, perhaps, something over 3,000 acres under improvement, and is found by judicious cultivation to produce good crops. Greenleaf C. Jones, Charles Post, and Porter P. Piner are among the early settlers, and each have fine orchards and excellent fruit. It probably contains 1,500 inhabitants. The Grand Haven Railroad, now under the control of the Chicago & West Michigan R. R. Co., has a station at West Olive, and it has a post office of that name, although the place is inconsiderable. It was platted by R. M. Paget, in 1870, while Ottawa Station was platted by James Sawyer, in 1872.
There were a few settlers at quite an early date, for a portion of the town was surveyed in 1831, but, with the exception of the fiasco of the Port Sheldon Company, in 1836-8, there was little done in the way of settlement until after the Holland Colony came in 1847. The history of the stupendous undertaking at Port Sheldon is in the general history of Ottawa, and will be found very interesting reading.
Organization of Olive Township
Olive was organized in 1857 with fifty-seven voters, when the following named persons were chosen to fill the offices:
G. C. Jones, Supervisor
J. M. Fellows, Clerk
K. Warner, Treasurer
Stephen Baxter, Highway Commissioner
Arend Smith, Highway Commissioner
J. B. Eastway, Highway Commissioner
Hendrick Van Balgoojen, Justice of the Peace
James B. Eastway, Justice of the Peace
Timothy Tainter, Justice of the Peace
Warner Semple, Justice of the Peace
K. Warner, School Inspector
John Vantongern, Overseer of Poor
Stephen Coleman, Constable
Jan Hoffman, Constable
Wm. Timers, Constable
At the same meeting one hundred dollars was voted to be raised to defray town expenses. Since which time the following named persons have acted as Supervisors:
G. C. Jones — 1858 — 1865-6-8-9
Charles H. Coleman — 1859-60-61
R. M. Andrews — 1862
Otto Breyman — 1863-4
Chas. F. Post — 1867
Silas S. Kular — 1870
Joel M. Fellows — 1871-2-3
Wm. Willis — 1874-5
A.P. Stegenga — 1876-7-8-9-80-81
J. M. Fellows — 1857-8
Reuben Daniel — 1859-60
Walter Weener — 1861
Isaac A. Allyn — 1862-3
Chas. Porter — 1864
A. P. Stegenga — 1865-6-7-8-9
Wm. A. Willis — 1870-1-2
John D. Wood — 1873-4
Chas. L. Waffle — 1875
H. D. Jones — 1876-7-8-9
James H. Carey — 1880-1.O
Officers for 1881:
A. P. Stegenga, Supervisor
J. H. Carey, Clerk
Joel M. Fellows, Treasurer
J. Ovens, Commissioner of Highways
C. Ovens, Justice of the Peace
O. Trunmble, Superindent of Schools
C. Nivison, School Inspector.
GEORGE W. YATES was born in Clermont County, Ohio, April 19, 1837. He settled with his father in Iroquois County, Ill., in 1844, and remained until 1861, when he enrolled in Company D, 10th Illinois Infantry, serving three years and five months as rank sergeant. Mr. Yates now resides on Section 27, Olive Township, and is engaged in lumbering.
A. P. STEGENGA, born in the Netherlands, June 28, 1842, and settled in connection with his father’s family in Holland, Mich., Aug. 4, 1847. He engaged in farming which still continues on Section 33, Olive township. Mr. Stegenga has been largely identified in the government of his township, for he has held the several offices of Justice of the Peace, Notary Public, School Commissioner, Town Clerk for five years and is now serving his seventh term as Supervisor. He married Dec. 12, 1868 Martha Diekema, who was born Nov. 1, 1846. They have five children. Mr. Stegenga’s father, Popke M. Stegenga, was born Sep. 6, 1801, and married April 28, 1828 Johantje Bysta, who was born Jan. 27, 1801. Both are still living (1882) having passed fifty-four years of married life, and very hale, bidding fair to live for at least a few more years. The portraits of Mr. Stegenga and his wife and his father and mother occupy a page in this work.
JAMES H. CAREY, born in Hillsdale County, Mich., July 22, 1851, and settled in Olive township in 1861. His first occupation was than of a lumberman, owning a saw mill in 1876, and now is the sole owner of the large saw mill at Olive Centre, also is the present township Clerk. He married May 26, 1875 Cora Lyon, who was born in Medina County, Ohio, Aug. 11, 1857. They have one child, Herbert W., born March 6, 1877.
JOHN D. WOOD, son of William Wood and grandson of Robert, is the only male descendant, and was born in Detroit, Mich., April 14, 1836. He early learned the wagon makers’ trade which he worked at for some years. Subsequently he acted as foreman for three years in a large lumber firm at Saginaw. He served in the Quarter Master’s department during a part of the war of the Rebellion. He then settled in Illinois where he married Mrs. A. Sherman, whose maiden name was Elizabeth M. Beard, who was born in Seneca County, N. Y., November, 1837, and died June 14, 1878. Mr. Wood settled in Olive township in 1870 and has been township Clerk, Drain Commissioner, and is at present Justice of the Peace.
M. R. MERRITT was born in Monroe County, N. Y., May 7, 1830, and settled in Olive township in 1862, and engaged in farming and blacksmithing, which occupation, in connection with a wagon shop and meat market, he still follows at Olive Centre. In 1862 he enlisted in Company H, 19th Michigan Infantry, and served three years; was wounded at Ft. Donaldson and Spring Hill and taken prisoner at Brentwood, Tenn., also incarcerated at Libby Prison for three months; he gets a pension. He has been Justice of the Peace, Constable and Deputy Sheriff. He married April 5, 1854 Elizabeth H. Harvey, who was born Oct. 20, 1835.
E. L. RHODES was born in Dutchess County, N. Y., on Sept. 10, 1842, and at the age of two years his father moved to Montcalm County, Mich. In 1863 he enlisted in Company K, 4th Michigan Cavalry, and served till the close of the war. He was with the party who captured Jeff Davis in his lady’s attire. He married Feb. 7, 1870, Jennie S. Conner, who was born in Ionia County, Mich., Jan. 16, 1848. He has one child, Carrie M., born March 13, 1872. Mr. Rhodes now resides at Ottawa Station, Olive township, and carries on blacksmithing.
J. M. FELLOWS, born in Onondaga County, N. Y., Dec. 29, 1827, and settled in Hillsdale County, Mich., in 1853 and in Olive township, Ottawa County, in 1855, working at farming and shoemaking. He was the first township Clerk of Olive, and has been Supervisor, Justice of the Peace for many years, and the present township Treasurer and Post-master at Ottawa Station. He married Aug. 15, 1847 Maria C. Eastway, who was born in London, Eng., March 30, 1826.
ELIJAH ANGEL was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, May 13, 1849, and came to Ottawa County, Mich., in 1865. He has always been engaged in lumbering, and at present acts as head sawyer and filer at Olive Centre mills. He married Sept. 27, 1876 Minnie Pocox, who was born in Fulton County, Ohio, March 18, 1856. Mr. Angel’s present home is Whitehall, Muskegon County. He enlisted in 1863 in Company I, 128th Ohio Veteran Infantry and served till the close of the war.
H. J. DAVIS, born in Delaware County, N. Y., Dec. 7, 1840, and settled in Olive township, Section 34, in 1859, where he still lives. He married July 3, 1864, Margaret E. Adams, who was born in Jefferson County, N. Y., July 1, 1847. He has three children, George W., born June 4, 1865; Maria J., Dec. 7, 1866; Frank, Dec. 7, 1870.
J. G. BOYES, born in New York City, June 5, 1837, early learned the trade of blacksmithing. He settled in Ottawa County, Olive township, Section 44, in 1863. He owns 165 acres and is engaged in farming and fruit growing. He has been twice married, first in Aug. 2, 1863 to Josephine L. Joscelyn, who died May 12, 1877; second marriage to Laura L. Calkin, who was born in Pennsylvania Jan. 13, 1849.