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In the beginning the Sauk and Pottawatamie Indians carved a trail from the Detroit River across southern Michigan and down the Mississippi River. This trail was known as the “Great Sauk Trail”. Its origins go back 10,000 years to when the last glaciers retreated. Animals carved tracks along the high ground between the swamp and rubble created by the glacier. The Indian trail followed the animal route.

The Great Sauk Trail once brought the Sauk, Seneca, Shawnee and Pottawatamie Indians near the spot they called “Oak Opening” because of a natural opening among the oak trees found in this area.

Congress authorized money for the survey of a military road between Detroit and Chicago in 1825. They decided not to follow the Indian trail precisely, but came south about four miles bringing the road into Lenawee County before crossing the River Raisin. The intersection of the river and the road was the logical place for a settlement to develop. At the same time early settlers came from New York via the newly constructed Erie Canal. They named this community in honor of DeWitt Clinton, the governor of their native state.

During the 1820’s, a stagecoach ran semi-weekly between Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Tecumseh. By 1835, a daily stagecoach was running between Detroit and Chicago. In the early days Clinton was a stagecoach stop and wholesale center along the Chicago Pike.

The first white settler to visit this area was John Tyrell, an explorer from Vermont. Tyrell came in 1825 and purchased a land grant of 400 acres (now located in the south part of the Village) in what was then called the Michigan Territory. He returned to Vermont and did not return until 1831. Upon his return he built a log cabin on his property which was located on the southeast corner of Division and US 12, the present site of Comerica Bank.

The first permanent settler was Alpheus Kies. He was born in Woodstock, Connecticut and came here with his family in 1829. Kies built a log cabin at the northwest corner of Tecumseh Street and US 12 where the Clinton Inn now stands.

Alonzo Clark and his brother establish their first business, a grocery store.

Clinton incorporated in 1837 the same year Michigan became a state. It became an important center of trade because of its location on the Chicago Road and the River Raisin. Only a decade after its settlement, the Village had ten general stores, several blacksmith shops, and a hardware store. The Atlas Feed and Grain Company was established in 1836. The company is located at Franklin Street on the River Raisin.

The mill has the distinction of being the oldest business in Clinton and the second oldest business in the state.

Five religious denominations organized and built churches during these early years. Four are still in use today.

  • St. John’s Episcopal Church, 122 E. Church circa 1835
  • The United Methodist Church, 112 E. Church circa 1841-43
  • United Church of Christ, 300 Tecumseh Street circa 1843
  • St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, 220 Brown Street circa 1853

Clinton’s first school was established in 1832. It was a one-room schoolhouse. In 1858-59 Union School was built and used until 1905.

Transportation was crucial to Clinton’s growth. Many of the original settlers were from New England and New York. Goods and settlers traveled on the Chicago turnpike and the Indian trail running from Monroe. Often, goods were sent across Lake Erie in sailboats, unloaded at Monroe and brought by oxcart to their destination.

The first railroad was built with hickory rails in 1839. The wooden rail cars were horse drawn. These first trains transported cargo. The first passenger train came to Clinton in 1853. The railroad station attracted commerce. Thousands of heads of sheep, cattle, and hogs were driven through the Village to the railroad stockyards.

In 1840, Mr. Jira Payne, who operated the Atlas Feed Company, built a palatial home. This distinctive mansion with a large portico had pillars of hand hewn oak cut from trees found on the property. The bricks utilized in construction of the home were made on the town common. In 1862, John Smith, a Clinton merchant and community leader, purchased the home from Jira Paynes. Smith’s son Edwin and daughter-in-law Euphania resided there with their daughter Blanche and her husband, Leander W. Kimball. In 1891-92 they extensively remodeled by adding second stories to the wings and stained-glass windows. It remained in the Smith family until 1956 when it was donated to the Village and dedicated as The Smith-Kimball Community Center.

By 1866 the following businesses were found in Clinton:

4 dry goods stores, 4 groceries, 4 shops, 1 hardware store, 1 cabinet shop, 2 millinery shops, 1 barber shop, 1 paint shop, 2 meat markets, 2 saloons, 4 wagon shops, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 grist mill, 1 plaster mill, 1 shingle factory, 1 depot, 1 tannery, 1 refreshment room.

The Clinton Woolen Mill was organized by 100 local stock holders in 1866. A four story brick structure was built. In 1886 the original structure was destroyed by fire. However, it was quickly rebuilt and continued to operate until 1957. The mill served as the principal employer of Village residents. The entire production process was done at this site from the scouring of fleece to the finishing of cloth. In 1957 the Mill closed because the automotive companies, chief users of the mill’s wool, had begun to use synthetics as upholstery fabric.

The area where the major hotels were located was known as the “Four Corners”, at the junction of US-12 and Tecumseh Road. This was the center of much activity in the Village. A horse trough stood in the center of the main thoroughfare and, in the summer a portable bandstand, resembling a gazebo was placed over the watering trough. Summer concerts were a major attraction in the center of town.

In 1869 the first Clinton Township officials were elected to office. Clinton Township formed out of Tecumseh Township.

In 1872 Alonzo Clark organized a bank. It later became the VanTuyle-Silvers Bank.

In 1876 the Town Hall was erected and was the first building in Clinton to hold public gatherings except the churches and school building. It is known as the Masonic Building. It has served Clinton in numerous ways through the years, as Town Hall, state and local police headquarters, the Township Public Library, and currently houses the offices of the Clinton Township government.

The Clinton News issued its first paper in 1879.

The Lancaster Hotel was built on the southeast corner of US-12 and Tecumseh. The Lancaster family operated the hotel from 1885 to 1911. Later, restaurants, taverns, and a dry goods store were housed on this site. In 1965, the Lancaster family sold the property to make way for a Boron gas station.

The Clinton Inn located on the northwest corner of US-12 and Jackson Road is the only hotel still in operation in Clinton. The Inn was built by Alonzo Clark in 1900. The Clintonian was a popular resting place for travelers. In the summer, the Inn was filled with tourists who came to enjoy the activities in the Irish Hills.

The original Clinton Inn, currently relocated to Greenfield Village, was constructed in 1830, by Calvin Parkhurst. It was built of black walnut, seventy-six feet in length with square white columns in front. On the first floor, a wide piazza was found and on the second floor, partly supported by columns, was the verandah. The outstanding feature of the Inn was the ballroom because the floor had been built with a slight spring to it. Owners and the names of the Inn changed over the years. It was known as the Parks Tavern, Eagle Tavern, and later the Union Hotel. When W. Hubbell Smith purchased it before the close of the Civil War it was known as the Union Hotel. Thus it served many soldiers on their travels to and from the front. Miss Ella Smith owned the hotel until 1927. At that time, Ms. Smith sold the Union Hotel to Henry Ford. The Union Hotel, now renamed the Clinton Inn, stands in Greenfield Village.