City of Hillsdale turns 150. Photo Credit|Mitchell Research Center/Hillsdale His­torical Society

While log cabin school­houses and railroad round­houses may be a thing of the past, they con­tributed greatly to making Hillsdale — 150 years after becoming a city — what it is today.

Hillsdale received its charter in April of 1869, but before that, it was frontier country. According to pioneer William Kirby in “150 Years in the Hills and Dales,” a two-volume cat­a­logue of Hillsdale County’s history, Michigan only had about 60,000 inhab­i­tants in 1834, most of whom lived in Detroit or along the state’s eastern and northern borders.

“The set­tling of southern Michigan was gradual and the iso­lation and depri­vation of the early set­tlers cor­re­sponded,” he writes. “There was more to be endured by the first pio­neers before there were any sawmills, or grist­mills, or places of business, than for those who came after. At first it was all natural wildness, the Indian, the wild animals, and the apparent endless, roadless, and eternal woods.”

In the early pioneer days before Hillsdale’s charter, every denom­i­nation in the area would hold its meetings in the same school house, which was located near Bacon Street. The first sermon there was delivered by a cler­gyman, “Page,” from Litch­field, Kirby writes:

“His text was in Isaiah, and read some­thing like this: ‘The wilderness and the solitary plain shall be glad for them and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.’”

After Hillsdale College, orig­i­nally founded as Michigan Central College, moved to Hillsdale in 1855, it also insti­tuted College Baptist Church. The ser­vices were at first held in the college chapel on Hillsdale’s campus, which accom­mo­dated about 800 people. It wasn’t until a decade later when the church decided to build a per­manent meeting house. According to the “Hills and Dales,” this was “a heroic under­taking” for a group of approx­i­mately 200 members, as the nation had recently passed through the Panic of 1857 as well as eco­nomic strain due to the Civil War.

Edu­cation in Hillsdale began in 1838 in a log school­house on the north side of State Street near Wolcott Street, where a local res­ident, Car­oline Ford, taught a few children pri­vately. A few years later, early set­tlers gathered to con­struct a one-story frame building on the north side of what is now East Bacon Street, com­plete with a wood stove in the center of the room. This building was also used for church and other com­munity activ­ities. Several other local schools were con­structed within the fol­lowing century, including Joseph Mauck Ele­mentary School on Fayette Street, which opened in 1939.

Perhaps one of the most important events in the city’s early devel­opment was the cre­ation of the fire department, the begin­nings of which occured in 1847, the year Hillsdale was orga­nized as a village. According to the “Hills and Dales,” fire depart­ments were a “luxury” that com­mu­nities could only acquire after reaching a certain level of pros­perity and age.

“The most serious menace which early frontier towns had to face and fight was fire,” Hillsdale’s Fire Marshal, Larry Eichler, wrote in his account. “Inflam­mable wooden struc­tures, pro­tected inad­e­quately by prim­itive water systems, were easy prey for the devouring element. Open fire­places and flick­ering candles aug­mented the danger. Every inhab­itant held himself in readiness to answer every alarm and, at any hour of the day or night, ran with his bucket to join the water-passing brigade.”

As the pop­u­lation increased over the next several decades, Hillsdale saw the influence of several national trends, including the 1870s tem­perance movement. Hillsdale County saw the for­mation of the Sons of Tem­perance, a group that artic­u­lated prin­ciples of strict alcohol absti­nence, as well as a Hillsdale County Women’s Christian Tem­perance Union chapter, which was one of the state’s oldest chapters.

The beginning of the 18th century brought both the con­struction of Hillsdale’s city hall, as well as the advent of Michigan’s first radio broad­casts. A few decades later in 1955, Hillsdale County insti­tuted its own broad­casting station, WBSE, or “Baw Beese Broad­casters, Incor­po­rated,” on the corner of Howell and North Streets. Even­tually brothers Fahey and Tony Flynn in 1961 took over the station, which became WCSR, and moved in 1963 to its current location on West Street.

Another mile­stone devel­opment for Hillsdale in its early years was the railroad. In 1843, the first set of track was laid between Adrian and Hillsdale, at a time when the nation as a whole only had con­structed a few total miles of track. Hillsdale, in fact, operated as the “western ter­minus,” or last stop on the railroad line between 1843 and 1853, until it was later extended to Cold­water and even­tually west toward Chicago, according to a Feb­ruary 1988 edition of Com­munity Plus Mag­azine.

The railway round­house, or semi­cir­cular building for storing loco­mo­tives, was located on “Railroad Street,” now known as Car­leton Road. Up to 40 trains a day would come through Hillsdale, according to Carol Lackey, who per­forms research with both the Mitchell Research Center and the Hillsdale County His­torical Society .

“The railroad was what made Hillsdale what it was,” Lackey said. “Because the service orig­i­nally came here and stopped here, the place boomed.”

Local res­ident Gloria Triechman recalls spending time during the 1940s at the railroad station where her grand­father, Fred­erick Triechman, served as super­in­tendent of the tracks.

“We used to go every place on the train,” Triechman said. “We would go to Fort Wayne to shop.”

Lackey, who grew up in Hillsdale, said she remembers the downtown area being “so much more busy,” to which Triechman agreed.

“People used to go downtown to park and watch people go by,” Triechman said. “Things would be open at 9 at night.”

Hillsdale’s last pas­senger train came through Hillsdale in Nov. 1956, met by a cer­emony of around 250 Hillsdale local res­i­dents. One of the pas­sengers on that last train, Ben Deuel, lamented to the Hillsdale Daily News that the country “would be better off if there were fewer auto­mo­biles and more pas­senger trains.”

Today, the city of Hillsdale is focused a great deal on issues per­taining to eco­nomic devel­opment. Mayor Adam Stockford said his biggest goal right now is to expand Hillsdale’s indus­trial park. The park is cur­rently oper­ating at full capacity with regard to physical building space, which Stockford said hasn’t been the case in a long time.

“It’s a sign of a good economy, but it’s also a sign of a good area when com­panies want to move to Hillsdale,” he said. “It’s def­i­nitely not Michigan taxes that make them want to move here. And we’ve got more than just the state of Michigan to compete with. We also have two border states, one of which keeps taxes lower than we do.”

Stockford, who grew up in Hillsdale, said the biggest change he has seen in recent years is the city’s strong focus on edu­cation. Yet despite a handful of devel­op­ments over the years, a lot in Hillsdale has stayed the same.

“I don’t think Hillsdale has changed all that much,” Stockford said, “which is exactly what people like about it.”