Greenville’s Municipal History
It was in 1844 that John Green built a sawmill near a bend on the Flat River and a cabin for his family nearby. John Green’s Village soon became home to many sawmills, shingle mills, hotels, merchants, churches and families. As the Michigan white pine was logged off, fields were cleared of the pine stumps, and by the turn of the century Greenville was the center of a huge potato growing and marketing area. In addition, in the late 1800’s, it transformed from a logging town to an industrial city.
Many of the immigrants in those early days were from Denmark. They brought with them their ethics for hard work and hard play, and a respect for the land that continues to this day.
Greenville was platted in 1853 and became an official village with its own government in March 1867 when the Michigan State Legislature approved its charter. The area designated as the village included all of Sections 9 and 10 and Rutan’s holdings south of Washington Street, all in Eureka Township. That year fie more plates were laid out and seventy dwellings and places of business were erected. Village government consisted of a president, six trustees, clerk, treasurer, assessor, marshal and street commission. All officers were elected for one year terms except trustees who served for two years, three of whom were elected each year.
Greenville’s status as a chartered village ended on March 10, 1871, when it was incorporated as the City of Greenville with its borders extended to include all of Sections 9, 10, 15 and 16 of Eureka Township. The four square mile city was divided into two wards with the voters in each electing a supervisor for one year and three aldermen to represent them on the city council for alternating three year terms.
The mayor, clerk, treasurer, collector, two Justices of Peace, and three constables were elected at large, all of whom served for one year except the Justices who were elected for four. All candidates for these offices ran on partisan tickets. In 1875 the council divided the city into three wards with a supervisor and two council members being elected in each with the latter’s terms being reduced to two years. In 1914 an advisory vote was taken on whether to revise the charter so Greenville’s governmental status would be upgraded. Although the voters approved the formation of a charter commission they rejected the new charter when it was presented for adoption.
Greenville continued to operate as a Fourth Class City until 1956 when the voters adopted a City Managerial form of government. Until then, partisan politics had a great influence on the carrying out of public improvements. At times improvement projects were greatly altered or cancelled when there was a change in which political party was in power. This lack of continuity became a detriment to the welfare of Greenville residents. Other factors which may have influenced the desire to change the form of government was the lack of enough partisan candidates for each elective office and city council members were paid only $50.00 per year for running the city. Greenville became a Home Rule City in January, 1956, when the new charter was adopted by special election. Significant changes were the election of seven non-partisan council members at large with the council electing one of their members as mayor. The council would appoint a city manager who in turn would appoint administrative officials, subject to council approval. Alan G. Davis, then city engineer, was appointed Greenville’s first city manager, a post in which he served with distinction for 27 years. He was followed by Cal Teague (1983-1987), Gerald L. Felix (1987-1993), who was followed by the present city manager, George M. Bosanic.
The first newspaper, the Montcalm Reflector, was published in 1854 and later became the Greenville Independent. After many publishing changes it became the Daily News.
Greenville continued to grow and was an important center of the potato industry.
Over the years many businesses flourished including the Meijer’s store founded by Hendrik Meijer in 1934.
When the white man first came in 1844 about 150 Indians lived in the northwest portion of what now is the City of Greenville. The Indians were mostly Ojibways, Ottawas and Potawatomies. Many trails criss crossed the area. Most important of these were what the white man designated as the Saginaw-Pentwater Trail and the UP River Trail. As the name indicates, the Saginaw-Pentwater Trail ran in a fairly straight line across the State between these two points. The UP River Trail ran from Lyons and Ionia to Turk lake and Lakeview, and on into the north.
Many of the immigrants in those early days were from Denmark and brought with them their ethics for hard work and hard play, and a respect for the land that continues to this day. In recognition of those early pioneers, Greenville celebrates – on the third full weekend every August – the Danish Festival. There are more than 50,000 visitors who attend the festival every year to partake of Danish food, watch the Grand Dansk Parade, mingle among the hundreds of arts and crafts booths and become (by official Mayoral proclamation) a “Dane for a Day.”
Greenville Municipal Airport
Realizing the necessity of an airport for a growing municipality, a suitable location and the purchase of a site for an airport had been considered for several years by the City of Greenville.
In 1949, after careful study by the Council and Mayor Mumaw, upon recommendation of Michigan Aeronautics Board and with approval of Federal Civil Aeronautics Board, the present site was selected and purchased from Dr. N.M. Green. Additional land to the east of this site was purchased from Dr. H.B. Weaver.
The airport location is on a paved highway only two miles south of Greenville. Soil is good and drainage is excellent for building and maintenance of runways. No major obstructions such as power lines or buildings interfere with approaches to runways.
Development of the airport to a Class 2 field was approved by Michigan State Aeronautics Board and Federal Civil Aeronautics Board.
Other Greenville Facts
Within the city limits and the surrounding area lie some of Michigan’s most natural beauty spots. The citizens of Greenville, rich or poor have at his/her fingertips the wealth of God’s nature.
Every season of the year brings a new and exciting sport to the out of door family, and the advantages offered by this area are used by thousands of people every year.
Woodbeck chain of lakes which lie 7 miles northwest of Greenville offers swimming, fishing and boating. These lakes are also navigable from one to another.
A popular summer recreation spot is the swimming beach at Baldwin Lake, owned and operated by the City. Bathhouse facilities are provided.
Like all great communities, Greenville continues to be a work in progress. When you visit us, you will find our new award-winning river path (the Fred Meijer Flat River Trail), the grueling Edwards Creek Mountain Bike Trail, a new district library, new residential and commercial development, additions to our thriving industrial park, new and newly renovated churches, and a new multi-million dollar downtown streetscape, making the corner of M-57 and M-91 the intersection of the heart of this community.
Millions of motorists throughout the world carry a part of Greenville under the hood- or bonnet – as the case may be – of the family automobile, for residents of this community have produced nearly one-half billion automotive engine bearings at the Federal Mogul plant.
Federal-Mogul occupies a strip of land at the eastern end of the city, bordered on one side by a sweeping bend of the Flat River, and on the other by the trunk line railway that used to serve the city.
The interior of the plan bustles with industrial activity. Waves of bearings surge through the shop throughout the working day, driven by banks of throbbing machinery and the energies of more than 700 people employed there. The pace demands that every inch of the plant’s more than 200,000 square feet of floor space be used with maximum efficiency.
Thousands of semi-cylindrical metal shells known as sleeve bearings are produced daily as a result of this activity. Their outer surfaces are made of steel, and the inner faces are lined with combinations of softer metals such as copper, lead, tin, zinc, antimony, and a number of others. Two of these shells fitted together form a perfect ring of highly precise dimensions. The diameter may be less than an inch, or as high as six or seven inches, depending upon requirements.
Like all bearings, these parts serve to reduce friction and minimize wear on other moving parts. In automobiles, their most common application is cradling the rapidly revolving crankshaft, serving as a buffer between its precise, highly polished surfaces and the engine block connecting rod arms. The average motorist seldom sees these bearings and is rarely aware of their existence, but they perform a most vital function.
Federal Mogul’s Greenville plant is widely known in automotive circles as the home of copper-lead bearings made from sintered powder. The process was originated and developed to high degrees of perfection here, and it is the mainstay of the plants operations today.
While the copper-lead bearings are the plant’s most distinctive product, the Greenville people also produce large quantities of high quality Babbitt lined bearings. Manufacturing operations are almost identical for both products, but with the Babbitt lined bearings, a mixture of lead, tin, zinc, and antimony is applied to the steel strip in a molten state as the first step.
The plant was established in Greenville in 1939 to produce bearings by the strip method, a technique not suited to the tubular manufacturing facilities at the Company’s older plants in Detroit, San Francisco, and Mooresville, Indiana.
Flat River Historical Museum
The Flat River Historical Museum has artifacts and exhibits including household, family, military, lumbering items and industrial products. The main floor underwent a renovation in 1999 and enhanced their visitor’s experience. The center room displays include a historically significant exhibit relating to Greenville’s founder John Green. Original family photos, a Bible and his business ledger bring you in touch with our heritage. In the west hall you will see a rosewood piano, antique violins, flutes, organ, phonograph, sheet music and a historical Civil War drum. Also on display is a remarkable Indian exhibit, which includes a large arrowhead display is a remarkable Indian exhibit, which includes a large arrowhead display and artifacts relating to the culture of Indians living in the Great Lakes region. There is a replica of the Old Silver Theatre, which has a 30-seat capacity and has full multi-media capabilities.
The second floor has 12 period rooms. They were constructed to portray lifestyles of early settlers. Included in these recreations are John Green’s log cabin, a farmhouse, kitchen, bedroom, one room schoolhouse, a barbershop, a country store, telegraph office, a 1920 living room, and Matie’s Millinery & Dress Shop.
The basement focuses on home and farm items that were so essential to our early residents in their every day lives.
The trees that once grew in Michigan bore fruit in the shape of modern Gibson kitchen appliances. It was the plentiful stand of ash trees that made it natural to establish a refrigerator making company in this area.
In charge of that operation, which opened in a wooden building 40×100 feet, was a man by the name of John L. Lewis.
When Frank S. Gibson, A Greenville merchant, purchased a factory known as the Skinner & Steinway furniture factory in Greenville, he engaged Mr. Lewis to head the manufacturing of ice refrigerators in his factory. Mr. Lewis was given the job of making refrigerators as refrigerators should be made.
In the beginning Frank S. Gibson and John L. Lewis worked hard and long to guide the destinies of the Gibson Company. A closely knit team with vision and foresight set the stage in those early days for the sound and steady progress that was to follow.
Twenty years before Gibson began manufacturing electric refrigerators, the second generation of the Gibson family began to work into the Gibson Company’s plans.
It was Charles J. Gibson, President and Chairman of the Board, who started back in 1911 to follow in his father’s footsteps. Soon after the older son, Charles, started, Frank S. Gibson Jr., the founder’s younger son, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer, also began his service to Gibson and to the home of Gibson, Greenville, Michigan.
Nothing good in this world comes easy, and while Gibson enjoyed the prosperity of better days; it always faced the cycles of depression with serious-minded reality while still embracing the gifted vision of its leaders.
By 1931, Gibson had become the largest manufacturer of ‘ice boxes’, but with the advent of electrical refrigeration, company officials realized this would soon become an empty distinction.
So in that year, the Gibson Company began manufacture of electric refrigeration. In the years that followed, Gibson gave the world much important advancement in refrigerator design. Gibson engineers and research experts became renowned in the industry for the many developments they made during those first years in the electrical refrigerator business. The ‘firsts’ ranged from the development of the automatic interior light to the full-width Freez’r Locker, both of which are universally used today.
Eight years later, Gibson entered the field of electric domestic range manufacturing in addition to refrigerators. Gibson ranges, from the first models, offered new and different features never before seen by the American public. Other ‘firsts’ include a concealed oven vent, 7-speed push button cooking and the new concealed oven unit. In that same year – 1939- forces were set in motion throughout the world that was to result in 100% conversion of Gibson facilities to war production in 1942.
During the war years, 1943 to 1945, Gibson was second largest producer of CG-4 gliders for U.S. Army Air Corps (only Ford Motor Co. produced more); Gibson was the largest producer of B-24 Bomber sing flaps, supplying all requirements for Ford Willow Run plant and many wing flaps for Consolidated Vultee of Texas; Gibson also produced thousands of bombs, bomb shackles, jettison fuel tanks, gun tools, parachute aircraft flares, gear blanks, aircraft fittings, and even lens polishing machines.
Then came re-conversion and return to manufacture of Gibson electric refrigerators and ranges and the addition in 1946 of a new electric home freezer.
Gibson went on to be the largest independent manufacturer of appliances in the in entire industry. Gibson operations required over a million square feet of space in their Greenville and Belding areas. Total capacity of the Greenville and Belding plants was in excess of a half-million complete electric refrigerators and rangers per year.
The R.J. Tower Iron Works (Tower Automotive) is the oldest manufacturing establishment now operating in the City of Greenville. It was founded as a machine shop in 1874 by Samuel Tower, grandfather of F.E. Tower and Samuel L. Tower of Greenville.
First business in the record of this small factory was sale to the City of Greenville of gas light posts, sale date being October 13, 1875.
Various members of the Tower family have taken part in operation of this now historic manufacturing establishment. Starting in 1877, the company was operated by R.J. Tower and his half-brother, I.L. Tower. They went along until about 1886 when R.J. Tower took over.
In 1889, S.L. Tower, son of I.L. Tower, came into the business, soon was general manager and continued in that position until 1913, when he took over management of the R.J. Tower Electric Company.
Meantime the R.J. Tower Iron Works had expanded considerably and boasted a new foundry and machine shop, necessary to take care of increasing business. Also, about 1893, the company began the manufacture of various items of small sawmill machinery, mainly the Tower Edger and the Tower Trimmer, which machines sold throughout the United States and in numerous foreign countries, and continue in widespread demand to the present time.
When S.L. Tower left the family business to go into the electric concern, F.E. Tower became the manager of R.J. Tower Iron Works. That was in 1915. It was during his long regime that the company really branched out and became a manufacturing concern whose products are diversified, of great variety and in widespread demand in a number of industries.
Among the various items manufactured under the aegis of F.E. Tower are machines, household furnaces, card tables, motor trucks, metal stampings, etc. However, the principal products were sawmilling machinery and sheet metal stampings, which are manufactured chiefly for refrigerator and stove concerns throughout the country.
The Stamping Department of the business was started in 1930 and gradually developed until it made up about 60% of the Tower Iron Works’ total volume of business, and has been the cause for adding to the plant equipment such machinery as punch presses, large and small, power shears, welding equipment, etc.
In 1918, at the close of World War I, H.A. Amidon became an operating partner in the company, and continues in his activities.
Shortly after end of World War II, Ray J. Tower, son of F.E. Tower, and great-grandson of the founder of the business, started with the company taking over sale activities, particularly for the machinery end of the business as well as the stamping production.
He was the genius of the company and known throughout the United States, especially in the lumber industry, which for so many years has used the Tower Edger and the Tower Trimmer, famous for their simplicity, strength and durability. The line was handled by more than 250 dealers.
Mr. Tower himself took an active part in Greenville public affairs ever since he finished his early education. Among his many business associations were his connection with the First State Bank of Greenville as a member of its board of directors.
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