Vicksburg

The community of Vicksburg is located at the southern end of Kalamazoo County, approximately 13 miles from the city of Kalamazoo. It is surrounded by numerous lakes and streams that played an important part in the village's establishment and history. Vicksburg, now with about 2,320 residents, is still a small but vigorous community. The natural resources, nearby business opportunities, and friendly small town atmosphere have enticed a whole new generation to settle there and call it home.

Vickers’ Mill

More than 175 years ago, the first white settlers were beginning to appear in Kalamazoo County. One of the first to arrive was John Vickers, who came from Ohio in 1829 and moved into the Portage Creek area in 1830. Knowing that there was a large demand in the county for a convenient place to grind corn and wheat into flour, he quickly located a site on the banks of Rocky Creek and built a small temporary grist mill. Over the following two years, Vickers laid plans for a larger more permanent mill and employed another early pioneer, Joseph Frakes, to assist with the construction. During the winter of 1832, Vickers traveled to Ohio and bought a pair of 11 inch mill stones to install in the new mill on Portage Creek.

Vickers’ Mill

Vickers’ Mill, Vicksburg, MI; ca. 1890

Vickers' Mill was technically located on Indian land until 1835.  Nevertheless, pioneer squatters like Vickers continued to settle nearby. They came to claim squatter's rights to the abundant farmland, for the plentiful resources of the woods and water, and for the ease of living so close to the mill. Sometime during 1836 John Vickers hired William R. Watson to survey the area around his mill and to plat a village called Vicksburgh. That same year Clark Briggs and John Noyes opened a store in the small community. In 1837 a blacksmith shop and hotel moved into town. John Vickers also had a hand in improving the village during this period, as he helped to construct Vicksburgh's first school and expanded his milling operations to include a sawmill. He died on 1 July 1843, so he did not live long enough to see the little plat that he established grow into a bustling village.

Name Change

Between 1849 and 1871 Vicksburgh suffered an identity crisis when some technicalities of the land ownership system changed the name of the village to Brady. The new name never stuck, and finally in 1871, the County Board of Supervisors agreed with a petition by the residents to incorporate the village under the name of Vicksburg, by which it has been known ever since.

Ladies' Library Building, Vicksburg

Ladies' Library Building, Vicksburg, Michigan, undated

Railroad Junction

This period also highlights the important theme of transportation in Vicksburg's history. The problem of transporting people and goods in 19th century Michigan was well known to pioneers, farmers, merchants, and travelers alike. Vicksburg was first connected to the expanding railroad network in 1870 with the arrival of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. A year later the Northwestern Grand Trunk laid track through Vicksburg, connecting the city to both Port Huron and Chicago. While the junction of these two tracks certainly made Vicksburg more accessible, it remained a small community.

In the early days of the railroad, travelers often found themselves far from home after their business for the day had been conducted. As a result, they needed a place to stay the night. If we keep this in mind, it is less surprising that, by 1880, the small village of Vicksburg boasted three hotels. In that year the McElvain House, the Occidental House, and the Junction House all were in operation to serve the needs of the traveler.

In the years around the turn of the century, the citizens of Vicksburg busied themselves with the ever increasing demands of their growing village. The village government dealt with requests for street lights, fire protection, a night watch, public sanitation, and the dangerous state of disrepair of the village's plank sidewalks. An invaluable source for this type of information is the Vicksburg Commercial, which has been published continuously since 1879.

Spiritualist Meeting, Vicksburg

Spiritualist Meeting, Vicksburg, ca. 1895

The Spiritualist Movement

This same period was the heyday of the spiritualist movement, an eccentric but fascinating chapter in the history of this small Midwestern town. Beginning in 1884, the “Capital of Spiritualism” hosted a camp meeting every summer at Fraser’s Grove where thousands would gather to observe healing rituals, flame readings, and listen to various mediums answer questions on behalf of those long departed. The evenings were filled with more traditional community activities like group suppers, musicals, and dances. The camp meetings continued well into the 20th century and remain a unique piece of Vicksburg’s history.

Teachers; Vicksburg

Teachers; Vicksburg, MI; ca. 1885

Growth and Change

The past hundred years have been a period of growth and change in Vicksburg during which many of the village's current families, businesses, and institutions came into being. The school district was consolidated in 1947 to form one of the state's largest, covering more then one hundred square miles. As early as 1900, a small district library was kept at the home of one of the citizens. In 1905 the Lee Paper Company opened its doors in Vicksburg, bringing with it all the advantages and tribulations common to the paper industry throughout Kalamazoo County. In 1921 another Vicksburg institution, the Franklin Memorial Hospital, was established in the home of the late Mrs. Peter Franklin.  Frequently hard up for money, over the years the hospital was supported and expanded in large part by donations from the citizens it served. The "Frontier Days" celebrations of the 1950's and 60's often drew crowds in excess of 10,000 and raised funds to support the hospital.

Vicksburg is a community conscious of its past, as is demonstrated by the active Vicksburg Historical Society and the newly opened Vicksburg Historic Village. Perhaps a significant part of Vicksburg's appeal is that even in the technologically advanced and busy society of the twenty-first century, it manages to preserve the small town atmosphere that has made it feel like home to generations of its citizens.

Sources

Books

Glimpses of a 19th Century Village

  • Hawkins, Mabel Hudson
  • Vicksburg Publications, 1990
  • H 977.417 H394

Water Over the Dam: Vicksburg Then and Now

  • Molineaux, Grace
  • Vicksburg Historical Society, 1972
  • H 977.417 M722

A Tale of One Village: Vicksburg, Michigan, 1831-2000

  • Schneider, Arle
  • Vicksburg, MI: Vicksburg Historical Society, 2004
  • H 977.417 S3584

History of the Early Flour Mills in Kalamazoo County

  • Stewart, Robert P.
  • History Seminar of Kalamazoo College, typescript, 1957
  • H 338.8 S851

Newspapers and Magazines

Vicksburg Commercial, 12 April 1879 - 25 April 1974

"Callin' Up the Spirits -- In Vicksburg!"

  • Thinnes, Tom
  • Encore, December 2000, page 48

Local History Room Files

Subject File: Vicksburg 

Websites

Vicksburg: http://www.vicksburgmi.org