Reed City's beginnings
By Richard Karns
Special to the Herald Review
Several weeks ago, I presented the history of Reed City to the Reed City Middle School seventh and eighth grade students. They did have questions for me, and it was interesting to look up those things I didn't know.
Having grown up in Reed City, I knew about some things, but needed to research the rest. The references I used for that presentation and for this article are what I know from my own experiences, "One Hundred going on Two Hundred" by Marjorie Brown White, and the Ordinance of 1977 and Old Northwest Territory (1937), pages 70 and 71.
The students wanted to know how this area was settled and what influence the Native American culture had on it. The Northwest Territory of 1787 was considered Indian territory and included the area which is now the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Michigan became the 26th state in 1837. When settlers first came here, the Native Americans they encountered were the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. In the Washington treaty of 1836, the Indian Chief named Un Wa Tin was mentioned and was the first name given to the area now known as Osceola County.
When the James A. Reed Firm came in 1870, it was called Tunshla by the Native Americans of this area. The J.A. Reed Firm consisted of James Reed, Charles Higbee, F.H. Todd, Ozias Slosson and their surveyor, Mr. Upton. You can recognize those names and others named for early settlers as you travel down some of the streets in Reed City. Davenport Street was named for the Davenport brothers, who opened the first general store in 1870; Bittner Street was named for Peter Bittner, who was the first medical doctor to come to the area in 1871. What also is interesting about Peter Bittner, is he also was the minister of the evangelical church.
Mr. Todd was part of the J.A. Reed Firm, but died in New York before the business came to the area. Mr. Todd left his part of the partnership to the firm, which could be the reason the area was named Todd's Slashings. The name held until 1875 when it was named Reed City after James Reed.
Traveling to Reed City in the 1870s was made a lot easier when the train came to the area. With the railroads coming to the city from all directions, it was necessary to relay on covered wagons. The first mention of a depot in Reed City was in 1872. This was necessary to have a place for people to wait for the next train or for family to pick them up when they arrived. There was a restaurant in the depot and six hotels in Reed City where passengers could find lodging.
The students were very interested in what it was like growing up in Reed City and I brought a map of the city showing the stores as they look in the 1950s. It was interesting for them — and me too — although just a little sad, to remember how many things we had that our children don't have to entertain themselves. I showed them on the map where the bowling alley, the theater, the roller skating rink (in the community building) and where all of the stores and gas stations were back then.
The students were surprised to know Reed City had five hospitals over the years. The sanatorium and private hospital, owned by A.B. Spinney in 1882, was destroyed by fire in 1902. It stood where Rite Aid is now. The A.G. Taylor home on Lincoln Avenue was the second hospital in 1917. The third hospital was on Upton Avenue and the fourth is what today is The Annex building. The fifth is the present hospital on Patterson Road.
The children were fascinated to see the picture of the millpond. The photo was in the wintertime showing ice on the pond. I told them that in the day, a business called Sperlings would keep the ice from the pond in their storehouse for people who needed the ice for their iceboxes.
Do you remember when Reed City had stores that would stay open until 9 p.m. on Friday nights? People would do shopping or just sit in their cars and watch as people went by, and many times would see someone they knew. It was a great time for socialization as well as shopping.
Telling people about this and that the parking spaces would be full — they don't always see the attraction. It really was a different time and I guess you would have needed to be there to appreciate the way it used to be.