Focus: Michigan Pioneer Collections

In both the Local History and the circulating collections there appears a 40 volume set of books in old, dark bindings. No pretty pictures. But that uninspired looking row of books quickly belies its dull exterior if you trouble to open a volume. That set is the endlessly interesting Michigan Pioneer Collections (H 977.4 M62 for Local History and 977.4 M625 for circulating).

Pioneer Society

In 1876 the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan appointed a committee “whose duty it should be to prepare for publication the materials on hand, and solicit from each county in the State, papers relating to the early history of the counties; that a complete record, as far as possible, may be had of the early history of the State, given by the pioneers themselves.” The resulting publications are of continuing interest both to historians and genealogists.

The first volume alone contains reports of the activities of the Society, lists of its members, information about the organization and naming of Michigan counties, essays on the early history of many Michigan communities, one called “An exciting Bear Hunt” in Clinton County, a poem called “The Young Pioneer” by Schoolcraft pioneer E. Lakin Brown, several church histories, and a list of “Inhabitants of Detroit in the Year 1806,” which is, in effect, an early census. Later volumes also include information about Indians, early forts, the development of many state institutions and industries, more than 500 letters of Lucius Lyon, who surveyed much of southwest Michigan, and biographical sketches of many hundreds of pioneer settlers.


There are several indexes to this useful series. Each volume is indexed separately, and those for the first thirty volumes are compiled in two volumes housed at the end of the set. In 1939 a comprehensive finding list was begun as a WPA project and was eventually published by Wayne State University Press as Classified Finding List of the Collections of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society. A copy of this is shelved after the two volume index. In addition, Richard C. Haw developed an index specific to Kalamazoo County, called Some of the Pioneers, Events and Institutions of Kalamazoo County, which also follows the remainder of the set (in the Local History Room only). The latter highlights , for instance, a paper about the Utopian Alphadelphia Association, which was located on the current site of River Oaks Park, and whose main building later became the Kalamazoo County Poor Farm.


Eventually, of course, the pioneers all died and so the Pioneer Collections came to a close. In 1917 the Michigan Historical Commission began to publish instead Michigan History Magazine, which is still being published, and of which the Local History Collection owns a full run.

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