Westphalia, Michigan

Westphalia Township, Clinton County, Michigan

Some of my paternal ancestors lived in Westphalia Township, Clinton County, Michigan. Persons in bold lived in Westphalia Township:

Westphalia Residents (in bold)

Westphalia Township is in western Clinton County, Michigan, about 15 miles southwest of St. Johns and 20 miles northwest of Lansing, the state capitol. The area was settled in the autumn of 1836, two months before Michigan became the twenty-sixth state.

The settlement could be considered a German Catholic colony, as most of its settlers were from the same region of Germany and shared the same faith. A priest named Father Anton Kopp was instrumental in establishing the first German Catholic parish in central Michigan. From his diary:

"Year 1836--On August 26th, I journeyed with a large number of my countrymen from Bremen to America. We disembarked in New York on October 3rd. After a few days stay there, part of our group continued on to Detroit, where we arrived on October 25th. On October 28th, Eberhard Platte and I, even though we were unable to speak the English language, set out for the Land Office in Ionia and arrived there on November 4th. Because of the great number of people we had to wait six days before we were able to buy our land. This we did on the 10th day of November. On that same day, I started the difficult return trip to Detroit by myself, arriving there on the 18th of November. The following day, I visited Bishop Friedrich Rese, who welcomed me kindly and assigned me to the German Parish. ... In the meantime several other families journeyed from Detroit to Lyons, where wages were high and where they would be close to their purchased land, which they hoped to settle shortly."

Five other men are crediting with founding the settlement: Anton Cordes, John Hanses, Joseph Platte, John Salter, and William Tillmann. Cordes and Platte emigrated from Helden, Germany at least six months before Father Kopp's group. They worked with the land surveyors in the Grand River Valley. The area was known to be swampy and heavily forested, and therefore unappealing to the land speculators of the day. At least three of the men received title to their land directly from the Federal government:

Anton Kopp801141October 10, 1839
Anton Cordes240345August 1, 1837
Joseph Platte313.85344August 25, 1841

To reach the area from Detroit, the settlers traveled by way of the Old Chicago Road (US Highway 12) as far as Ypsilanti. They then took the Dexter Trail, which passed though Ann Arbor, Dexter, Chelsea, Stockbridge, Mason, Lansing, and Dewitt. From there it ran northwesterly through the Clinton County townships of Riley, Bengal and Dallas, and then in Ionia County to Lyons and Ionia.

Legislatively, Westphalia Township was created March 21, 1839 from part of Watertown Township. Father Kopp suggested the name Westphalia in honor of its settlers who came from the German province of Westphalia.

By 1864, the settlement supported about 236 families. According to an agricultural census in that year, the township generated 100,000 feet of lumber, 200 barrels of flour, 92 barrels of cider, and 54 barrels of beer. The estimated value of all merchandise imported for sale was $43,200.

The township included 16,324 acres of taxable land, of which 5,841 acres were improved. During 1863, residents harvested 1,625 acres of wheat (4,477 bushels); 490 acres of corn (7,242 bushels); 5,649 bushels of potatoes; 7,074 bushels of other grain; 1,181 tons of hay; 8,732 pounds of wool; 46,693 pounds of pork; 24,825 pounds of butter; and 7,755 pounds of sugar. As for farm animals, there were 165 horses; 720 meat cattle; 202 work oxen; 466 milk cows; 2,738 sheep; and 972 swine.

-- Mike Voisin


--Weiland, Evelyn A. (ed.) Of Pilgrimage, Prayer and Promise: A Story of St. Mary's, Westphalia 1836-1986 (Westphalia, Michigan: Westpahlia Historical Society, 1986).

--History of Shiawasse and Clinton Counties, Michigan: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of their Prominent Men and Pioneers (Philadelphia: Ensign, D.W. & Co., 1880; Press of J.B. Lippincott & Co.). Reprinted by Clinton County Historical Society, St. Johns, Michigan.

--United States Bureau of Land Management. <http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/> (June 4, 2003).

--Michigan State Archives, Census of Clinton County 1864 (LDS microfilm #915297).

Contact: Mike Voisin

Revised: November 03, 2012
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