Emily and I feel a responsibility to take good care of our house and land and have a reverence for its history and the lives that unfolded here before us. A trip to the county records office revealed a long paper trail of ownership of our property dating to 1856. In that year, the first private owner, Rufus W. Landon*, received a land patent from the United States General Land Office for having made full payment on the tract. (Settlers had first ventured into this corner of Michigan in the 1830s after the conclusion of a series of treaties between the United States and the Chippewa (Ojibwe), Ottawa (Odawa), and Potawatomi tribes.) The original patent reads:
The United States of America, To all to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting: Whereas Rufus W. Landon, of Berrien County, Michigan has deposited in the General Land Office of the United States, a Certificate of the Register of the Land Office at Kalamazoo, whereby it appears that full payment has been made by the said Rufus W. Landon, according to the provisions of the Act of Congress of the 24th of April, 1820, entitled “An act making further provision for the sale of the Public Lands,” for
the South half of the South East quarter of Section Thirty-six, in Township Five, South of Range Nineteen West, in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Kalamazoo Michigan containing Eighty acres,
according to the official plat of the Survey of the said Lands, returned to the General Land Office by the Surveyor General, which said tract has been purchased by the said Rufus W. Landon:
Now Know Ye, That the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, and in conformity with the several acts of Congress in such case made and provided, Have Given and Granted, and by these presents Do Give and Grant, unto the said Rufus W. Landon, and to his heirs, the said tract above described: To have and to hold the same, together with all the rights, privileges, immunities, and appurtenances of whatsoever nature, thereunto belonging, unto the said Rufus W. Landon, and to his heirs and assigns forever.
In Testimony Whereof, I, Franklin Pierce, President of the United States of America, have caused these Letters to be made Patent, and the Seal of the General Land Office to be hereunto affixed. Given under my hand, at the City of Washington, the tenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty six and of the Independence of the United States the Eightieth.
At the time of Landon’s patent in 1856, the parcel was 80 acres in size; in 1879 it was divided and reduced to 40 then down to 20 in 1895 and finally, in 1979, to its current size of 5.11 acres. In the 1880s, a wave of German immigrants established themselves here and the names of some previous owners of our property confirm this: Mischke (1906-1917), Borgwalt (1917-1922), Schultz (1922-1925), Kelm (1925-1938), Weich (1938-1942), and Kniebes (1942-1945).
I’ve yet to find records about the house or other buildings on the property. We were told the house dates from 1920 but this is certainly only an estimate and the hand-hewn white oak beams in the basement seem to be much older. No structures are depicted on the property in W. W. Graves’ 1887 atlas of Berrien County** but a 1906 deed describes a “dwelling house and grape vineyard of about one acre” in the northeast corner of the parcel which probably refers to the current house. I believe several additions were built onto the house between about 1955 (I found a penny with this date in a wall) and the late 1970s.
Now responsibility for this beautiful piece of Michigan falls to us and we intend to follow the admonition “leave the land better than you found it.”
* Rufus Wharton Landon (1815-1886), a Connecticut native, settled in Niles, Michigan, in 1832. He was a farmer and real estate agent, postmaster of Niles (1837-1841), treasurer of Berrien County (1843-1852), and served as a state senator (1863-1864). Landon’s third wife, Linda Vought (1856-1942) was the librarian of Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) from 1891 to 1932.
** W. W. Graves, Atlas of Berrien County, Michigan (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co., 1887).