Yorkville was once a bustling pioneer town located in Ross Township, near the outlet of Gull Lake. Few identifying features have survived the bygone hamlet’s salad days as the township’s hub, but by 1900, Yorkville featured many of the types of community institutions that made for a modest, but lively community, including a church, general store (Townsend’s & Hamilton’s), cemetery, post office, blacksmith, tavern, school house, saw mill, grist mill, and a railway station.
The first settler to call Yorkville home was Tillotson Barnes, who came from Oneida County, New York in the fall of 1832. The town’s name likely derives from Barnes’ birthplace, where another nearby Yorkville existed. The close proximity to water worked in Barnes’ favor over the coming months as he built a saw mill along the southern portion of the lake. The mill was a success and in constant use as settlers and land speculators descended upon Kalamazoo County in increasingly large numbers during the early 1830s. With the success of the saw mill, Barnes built a nearby grist mill about 150 feet south of the old stone bridge (East D Avenue and 37th Street) and tannery. The tannery was never utilized for its original purpose after the business deal between Barnes and his partner fell through. In 1835, Barnes built a framed house for his family, dying there a year later. The home was situated just west of the Yorkville Cemetery. Barnes’ daughter Celestia married Amasa S. Parker in 1834, making their union the first to be registered in the township. The mills built by Barnes changed hands overtime, were remodeled and upgraded over the course of the next half century. Other early settlers committed to cultivating a life out of the unforgiving wilderness included Thompson T. Lake, Samuel Griffin, Willard Caryl, and Hiram Blashfield. F. D. Pierce was the proprietor of Yorkville’s tavern. Dr. Uriah Upjohn was a primary physician for much of the early residents of the township.
“The year 1835 witnessed the building of the first school house in the township. As Yorkville was the earliest settled portion of Ross, it was natural that within its precincts should be manifested an early interest in the matter were Messrs. Lake, Barnes, and Griffin, of Yorkville. In 1865 the building was removed from its original site and remodeled.” (p.490)
–History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan (Durant)
Outside of the grist mill, Yorkville also was home to a mitten factory. Opened in 1849 by Thomas B. Kenyon, factory workers produced buckskin gloves and mittens. “In 1850, the factory turned out about 120,000 pairs of mittens and gloves.”
By 1873, just south of Yorkville, a railroad station was built along the Mansfield Coldwater and Lake Michigan railroad line, increasing access to the lake’s commercial, recreational and entertainment features. The island that lies at the south end of Gull Lake was formed when a dam connected with a newer version of the grist mill was built sometime in the 1880s, an alteration that increased the level of water into the lake. The formed island featured a home, built many years before the land became separated from the coastline, that was occupied by the Marsh family in the 1840s, and later converted into a cottage. Today, a group called the Gull Lake Dam Association oversees the care and maintenance of the historic structure, that at one time was utilized by the Price Cereal Food Company in the late 1800s.
The Yorkville Community Church
Built in 1851, the Yorkville Community Church stands at 11523 East D Avenue in Richland, Michigan. Originally constructed for a Baptist congregation by a carpenter named W. Daniels, the church switched to a nondenominational house of worship in 1947. Prior to the switch, the church had also been administered by Wesleyans, Methodists and Universalists.
Tragedy at Yorkville
In the summer of 1849, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported the tale of a grizzly murder involving a father (Ashbel Kellogg) and son (William Kellogg). The account was reprinted from the Syracuse Star.
“We have been allowed the use of a private letter to a gentleman of this city, and the sad murder of young Kellogg is fully confirmed. It appears that the elder son has for some time suspected the mental aberration of his father and though he might commit suicide. Mr. Kellogg seems to have entertained the idea that there would be a famine and that he would not live long. He said he did not think his sons capable of supporting themselves without his assistance and counsel, and he was determined to take both with him.
In order to kill William he detained him at the store, until all the rest had left. He then wrote two or three letters, and requested William to copy them. While he was copying, he went to the Tavern, procured an axe, returned and put it down behind his son, who observed him, but had no idea a father’s hand would be raised against him. But while engaged on the second letter, the insane man raised the axe, struck him with the blunt end on the back of the head breaking his skull most horribly. William fell from the chair, and was repeatedly struck the blows terribly mangling his head. Mr. Kellogg then shut the door and locked it, and with the axe, went to the house of his elder son, with the full intent to kill him. He had gone to bed leaving the candle burning.
The Father came to the bedroom door, waited a few moments wand then went out and came to the window, watching until the light was extinguished. But his son hearing a noise arose and re-lit the candle, which served to turn him off. He went down to the bridge, and was making preparations for a plunge and strike against the timbers, the sooner to end his life, but some one saw him and asked if he was ill. He replied, “yes, I feel bad.” He then started for the house. One of the girls waked young Mr. Kellogg and said his father acted very strangely. He at once arose and went in pursuit of him. He saw no light in the store; called William, but he made no reply. He then wok a man by the name of Ide, and while in the act, he saw his Father walking along the bank of the Mill-pond. The son ran around and headed him off, and he then ran into the bushes.
Several men were now at hand, but he evaded them and finally plunged in against a beam, for the purpose of making himself senseless. A Mr. Eldred jumped in after him, and found him twenty feet from the shore, in 15 feet water, striving to keep his head under. It was with great difficulty he was rescued, as he was bent on drowning himself. He was constantly repeating, “I have killed William, I have killed William,” and that he was a murderer. They went back to the store, broke it open, and found the poor boy lying in his gore, a most horrific spectacle. He did not die as soon as was expected, but lived on in the most excruciating pain until the 9th, when he departed. The father felt dreadfully, and though he should be hung. A jury of physicians have pronounced him insane. An inquest and legal investigation have taken place and a verdict returned in accordance with the above facts. Young Mr. Kellogg will place his suffering parent in some Insane Asylum. Thus has this very dreadful affair been fully confirmed by the surviving son. We has strongly hoped it was untrue, but alas, we have no more room for doubt. William is dead, and the father a mad man.–Syracuse Star
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, July 2023