The earliest travelers to the region had to deal with tough travel conditions taking rarely traveled paths, Indian trails or even blazing trails of their own through the dense forests and swamps. One of the most famous obstacle in Eaton County was that of Old Maid Swamp, which stretched for miles across Benton, Windsor, Oneida and Delta Townships. Described by the Lansing State Journal as “a dense swamp of small growth timber, underbrush, water and blacksnakes, mosquitoes and malaria covering thousands of acres and man miles in extent. At that time [1860’s] the swamp was looked upon as not only entirely worthless, but as a menace for the future of all the surrounding country.
The early settlers only had a handful of possible routes to reach Delta Township, so most early travelers would have to combat this “desolate locality”. Some, like the second family of settlers to Delta Township, Mr. Elihu Lewis and his family, became lost for several days. Before finding their way from the swamp, Lewis’ son-in-law, Mr. Billings, had to leave their party to make two separate trips to find assistance before finally happening upon the Ingersolls. Others described their trip through the swamp as a “very lonely affair and the horrors of the place were about equally divided in his imagination in fear between blacksnakes, wolves and his companion (3).”
The Old Maid Swamp “received its name from the fact that an eastern woman, who had saved some money, sent it west for investment in Eaton county land and the location made by her agent was in the density of a large tamarack swamp (4).” Another report claimed the land was purchased when “two unmarried women in the East were persuaded by sharks to invest “unsight unseen” in some of this desolateness. Then everyone laughed at their investment now the property is among the most valuable between West Windsor and Potterville (2).”
The process of draining the swamp may have begun as early as the 1860’s with the main drainage occurring through the Thornapple and Old Maid Drain. Progress was slow and a major portion of the swamp still remained well into the 1950’s, but once drained and cleared the swamp which proved so formidable to early travelers was transformed into some of the richest farm land in the county. According to a U.S. Soil Survey conducted in 1923 the swamp was made up of large patches of Carlisle Muck. This particular soil “is the most important type of organic soil in Eaton County both in extent an in agricultural worth. It is estimated that about 70 per cent of the organic soils of the county are included in this type (5).” By 1923 portions of the swamp had been cleared and about 50-60% of the swamp was being used for farm land with “the principal crops are mint onions and cabbage with some carrots turnips celery cauliflower sugar beets and potatoes (5).”
While travel through the swamp was always difficult small improvements began to be implemented in the 1860’s when a two mile road was built through the swamp. Although, it was only “made of logs and was called a “corduroy” road. It was not covered with dirt for several years, but served, after a fashion, as a very slow going highway. (3)” By 1912, a proper macadamized road had been laid running down what is now Lansing Road from Lansing to Charlotte and made for much easier travel, especially for the relatively new automobiles that were adventuring through the countryside (2).
- History of Ingham and Eaton Counties by Samuel w. Durant (p.538), https://books.google.com/books?id=vks6AQAAMAAJ&dq=old%20maid%20swamp%20eaton%20county&pg=PA538#v=onepage&q=old%20maid%20swamp%20eaton%20county&f=false
- Horeless Age, Volume 30 (p. 270), https://books.google.com/books?id=UzMfAQAAMAAJ&dq=old%20maid%20swamp%20eaton%20county&pg=PA270#v=onepage&q=old%20maid%20swamp%20eaton%20county&f=false
- Lansing State Journal, 16 Dec 1913, Tue, Page 2
- Lansing State Journal, 17 Feb 1948, Tue, Page 6
- Soil survey By United States. Bureau of Soils, United States. Bureau of Plant Industry, United States. Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering, United States. Soil Conservation Service, United States. Natural Resources Conservation Service (p. 34, 36-37), https://books.google.com/books?id=9NzwAAAAMAAJ&dq=old%20maid%20swamp%20eaton%20county&pg=PA36#v=onepage&q=old%20maid%20swamp%20eaton%20county&f=false