of Fennville, Michigan
by Colleen Rae
Reprinted with permission from Michigan Magazine
Fennville became a settlement in 1853 when Elam A. Fenn moved from New York City, and with Levi Loomis, opened a sawmill called, Fenn Mill. The settlement first became known as Fenn Mill, or sometimes Fenn’s Mill.
In 1865 the saw mill burned down and Mr. Loomis sold his part of the mill. A new mill was built and when Mr. Emerson of Rockford, Illinois and later, Henry Fisher came on board as partners, the mill prospered. In approximately 1871, the town became known as Fennville.
According to John Pahl, a local historian, what is now downtown Fennville was a swamp. Pahl says, “The original town was settled on the hills north and south of the swamp. Main Street of Fennville was originally laid out with logs. There were sixteen different groups of immigrants that settled here, the Dutch and Germans being the largest group, but also included the Scots and Irish settlers.”
In 1871 W.W. Hutchins, was owner of the blacksmith shop. This was the year the village was platted. During that same year, the Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore railroad was completed to Fennville. Rail transportation put Fennville on the map as a marketing center. This was the first step in establishing the success of this small community. In 1886 the first Post Office was established, with Elam Fenn as postmaster.
In 1882, Fennville became incorporated. Frank S. Raymond was the first Village President. He was in the hardware business with L.S. Dickinson and was partners with Jesse E. Hutchinson in both a store and the bank. Jesse Hutchinson started The Fennville Milling Company, The Old State Bank, now the Chemical Bank, and the Fennville Hardware Company. Today Dickinson Hardware is still in business, and Robert Hutchinson, grandson of Jesse Hutchinson, one of the first businessmen in Fennville, owns some of the buildings in the downtown area.
Marc Hutchinson, Jesse’s son, started Fennville Canning Company which became Michigan Fruit Canners, and later was bought and became Birds Eye Foods. Since Fennville was a fruit growing community with its many apple and peach orchards, the Michigan Fruit Canners was enormously important to the success of Fennville.
In 1890 Fennville’s population was 360. Today it is 1459.
T.E. Van Dussen became the first Mayor of Fennville. Today the Mayor is Dan Rastall.
The Goose Festival in Fennville has been an annual tradition since 1985. Charles Dickinson, Kym Zumbrink, his daughter, and Clifford Paine, brainstormed and started the first Festival that brings people from all over the state.
Today Fennville has many delightful places and restaurants to include in a visit. Crane’s Pantry and Orchards; the new Su Casa Restaurant which attracts customers from as far away as Detroit and Chicago; The Journeyman Café, a truly gourmet restaurant in the midst of a small town; Rye, A Pub, an extension of the Journeyman; Mama’s Pizzeria, with its new ‘train car’ dining room; the historic Stevens Hotel; The Goose Festival in October; Kingsley Bed and Breakfast, J. Paul Fenn Bed and Breakfast and Larry Fuerst B & B. Todd Farm, a game preserve, is just outside of Fennville where the geese take up residence in the winter. On any given day, the sky is alive with geese and the corn fields are covered with legions of birds.
Fennville has had an interesting and diverse history. The city is continuing to build its downtown and planning its future through the efforts of the DDA (Downtown Development Authority), the Planning Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, and the City Commission. Fennville’s website: www.greaterfennville.com.
(This article selected information from the articles of Kit Lane and an interview with the historian, John Pahl.)
Pictures taken at Todd Farm in
mid January 2008