Centers of Michigan

On December 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

For once I wasn’t looking for the geographic center of something, as problematic as that could be given various definitions. Not in Michigan. And for the record, the town of St. Louis claimed to be the "middle of the mitten." It moved to a spot a few miles north-northwest of Cadillac taking the Upper Peninsula into account. However, that was beside the point. Instead I came across two Michigan place names while searching for completely different things. Their similarities deserved closer scrutiny.

Center Line

Center Line, Michigan

Actually I started by investigating Warren, Michigan and I noticed a hole. A big one. A nice rectangle right in the middle of it (map). Naturally I drilled down and discovered the town of Center Line. The much larger city of Warren completely surrounded it. Center Line described itself as "a small close-knit community of 8,257 residents… nestled inside the state’s 3rd largest city"

Warren and Center Line both began as villages in a rural corner of Macomb County. However, Center Line incorporated first, becoming a city in 1936. Warren also started growing rapidly around that same time. Warren Township minus Center Line incorporated as a city in 1957. It simply exploded in population to the point that it completely overshadowed Center Line over the next couple of decades.

I also wondered about the name. There didn’t seem to be any line and it certainly didn’t seem to be the center of anything other than the city of Warren itself, which it predated anyway. The town’s website mentioned "several theories" which also meant nobody really knew the answer. The most plausible explanation seemed to be,

There were three Indian trails leading from the fort at Detroit to other trading posts in the northern wilderness. The first was the river trail which followed the river and ended at Port Huron; the second was the Saginaw trail and ended at Mackinaw at the Straits of Mackinaw. Through the center of the two trails, the Indians had beaten a trail which followed the "center line" [as observed] by the French.

The trail became Sherwood Avenue (map).

Michigan Center

Michigan Center, Michigan

Later I also discovered Michigan Center. Center Line and Michigan Center fell nowhere near each other. A good 85 miles (140 kilometres) separated them. Nonetheless finding a second Center in Michigan excited me. It doesn’t take much to get me going.

The name derived from the Michigan Meridian. Benjamin Hough surveyed the meridian in 1815, marking 84° 21′ 53″ west longitude. Settlers then moved into the area and platted Michigan Center a few years later in 1837. However, the meridian didn’t pass directly through Michigan Center. I measured it. The meridian ran between Michigan Center and the neighboring town of Jackson. I guess they figured it was close enough. Who would really know? Seriously.

Fort Defiance

Fort Defiance,  Defiance Ohio
Fort Defiance, Defiance Ohio. Photo by Tim Tonjes on Flickr (cc)

Then I went down a little tangent. I wondered why Hough followed such an odd longitude when he surveyed the Michigan Meridian. The line actually pointed farther south into a neighboring state. There stood Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (map). A town called Defiance, Ohio later grew up there.

General "Mad" Anthony Wayne built Fort Defiance in 1794.

Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne utilized Fort Defiance as his base of operations. He ordered the destruction of all American Indian villages and crops within a fifty-mile radius of the fort… Until the War of 1812, Fort Defiance served as one of America’s western-most outposts in the Ohio Country and helped protect local citizens from American Indian attacks…

Fort Defiance also figured in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. The United States negotiated the treaty with several Native American tribes, namely the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandot. Land to the east of a line drawn due north of Fort Defiance came under American control. That’s why Hough needed to survey that line. It served briefly as an international boundary.

The State of Wayne

On March 31, 2011 · 6 Comments

I first uncovered a reference to the State of Wayne in a hundred year-old book as I researched the various Van Buren erasures in 19th century Missouri. I noted this fascinating term of art in my records. One never knows when such things might come in handy. It gained a prominent place on my ever-growing shelf of tchotchkes that I’d hoped to examine someday when given the chance.

The name itself captivated me more than anything. It sounded like a joke. State of Wayne? At least the State of Franklin and the Free State of Winston sounded vaguely state-like. They seemed like what someone would name a state given the opportunity. The State of Wayne had more of an appearance of some random guy pulled off the street. It might as well be the State of Dude, for all of the consideration put into it. I supose it sounded a bit too much like Wayne’s World. Party on. Excellent. That was also its saving grace. I would have forgotten about it or dismissed it if it hadn’t been so pedestrian.

There never was an attempt to create a State of Wayne, seriously or otherwise. It referenced a particularly large county on the frontier that existed for a time, as parcels quickly formed and organized into more manageable sizes. Only a remnant, a mere artifact, a tiny sliver of the once grand State of Wayne carries the name forward to the present.

The current Wayne County, Missouri has neither notable size nor population. It’s acreage is proportional to other Missouri counties and fewer than 13,000 people live there today. Greenville, its county seat has only about 450 residents. The so-called State of Wayne, however, once formed a sizable portion of southern Missouri. Campbell’s Gazetteer of Missouri published in 1874 described its dimensions:

Wayne County was organized from Cape Girardeau, Dec. 11th, 1818, and in 1820 its boundaries were thus defined: north by Gasconade, Washington and Madison Counties, east by Cape Girardeau and New Madrid, south by the territory of Arkansas, and west by the western boundary of Missouri. From her vast extent she was familiarly known as the "State of Wayne," and since county after county has been taken from her territory, she has been called "the Mother of Counties."

Most histories tend to note two aspects in particular.

  1. The original Wayne County was larger than the eastern states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Delaware and;
  2. All or part of 32 separate Missouri counties were once part of Wayne County. There are 115 counties in Missouri today so that’s about a quarter of Missouri counties.

We can surmise from the written description that Wayne occupied a large part of the southern tier of Missouri, and maps from that era tell a similar story.

State of Wayne in Missouri
David Rumsey Map Collection; Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This is a detail from the 1826 Anthony Finley Map of the State of Missouri And Territory of Arkansas. You may have to look closely but you’ll see W-A-Y-N-E spelled in widely spaced lettering along the bottom of Missouri. I’ve attempted to produce an eyeball approximating using Google Maps. "Eyeball" means that I’m motivated enough to try to throw-together a map but I’m too lazy to make it completely accurate. It’s the usual story of my brain: my compulsive attention to detail battling my desire to pursue the path of least resistance. Least resistance won today. Others are welcome to improve upon this product in which case I’ll link to your image instead of mine.

Present Day

View State of Wayne in a larger map

My first reaction, after plotting this out, was it’s a decent sized area but it’s hardly all that remarkable. There are plenty of counties out west today that are considerably larger, not to mention many of Alaska’s boroughs. Then I stood back and put it into its larger historical context. This was the first quarter of the 19th Century. It wasn’t long after the Louisiana Purchase. There wasn’t a Texas annexation, a Mexican cession, or an Oregon Country yet. This was indeed part of the western frontier of the United States for its time. Wayne Co. would have seemed monumentally huge when compared to the settlers’ frame of reference; the small eastern states of their ancestors with their diminutive counties and townships.

Why choose a pedestrian name like Wayne, though? It was named for Anthony Wayne, an American general in the Revolutionary War. He was a bold and tenacious leader with a fiery temper, leading to a popular nickname: "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Now that’s more like it.

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An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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