On Sunday’s ride I couldn’t pass up a chance for a few more photos of the first courthouse site in Centreville. (It was where the brick building across the street now stands. I don’t know what the bright orange-yellow building on the near side of the street is or was.)
The old building was still standing when the 1877 history of St. Joseph County was written, so I suppose it’s possible that the brick building is its immediate successor. The history writer says the earlier building was a two story frame building, the first frame building in Coldwater. Court was held on the second floor.
The building also served at times as a school house. In 1877 the first floor served as a harness shop, and the upper floor was the grange hall. (I don’t happen to know if the Grange is still active in St. Joseph County like it is in my home county of Calhoun.)
The builder and owner of the original building, as well as of many of the other first buildings in Centreville, was Thomas W. Langley. There is a Black Hawk connection of sorts. He was not in the militia, but came out to Michigan during the Black Hawk war. In fact, it appears he may have come with the militia from the eastern part of the state, or at least with some of the commanding officers:
…hearing Thomas Sheldon, the receiver of the land-office at White Pigeon, discourse in glowing terms of the St. Joseph country, Mr. Langley, on receipt of further news from home, concluded to take a look at the beautiful prairies and oak-openings of St. Joseph; and so, buying an Indian pony, saddle and outfit, the whole costing fifty dollars, he went, in company with Sheldon, General Brown, Colonel Anderson, and other officers who were going to the Black Hawk war, to White Pigeon, where he arrived in June, and proceeded to explore the county and buy the site of the county seat… [page 112]
General Brown was Joseph R. Brown, identified in LeRoy Barnett’s roster as having the rank of Major. In the letters of acting Territorial Governor Stephen T. Mason he is identified as a Brigadier General. (That’s nothing compared to the confusion as to his rank and status back in 1832, which led to much rancor and hostility between the two top commanding officers.)
The 1877 history explains that Langley was the owner of a considerable amount of manufacturing business near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He had gone away in spring 1832 for his health, but was recovered and ready to return home to business when he heard that the cholera was raging. So he came west, instead, to look at Michigan, and ended up buying the land that is now Centreville.
On his return… his friends said he had left the city a sick man, and had returned a crazy one, so enthusiastic was he in his praises and description of his new purchase in St. Joseph county.
(The cholera of course came to Michigan, too, along with the soldiers of the U.S. Army who were sent west to subdue Black Hawk. But it isn’t known to have come to St. Joseph County.)
Langley didn’t live out his days in Centreville, but he buried his wife here. She is said to have come from a wealthy family. Her upbringing didn’t provide good preparation for life in frontier Michigan. She died here in 1850, at age 46. (Next time I’m here I’ll look in the cemetery a few blocks away for a gravestone for Margaret Stigman Langley.) William T. Langley went back east not too long after, but at least two of the Langley children remained here in St. Joseph County. One of them owned a farm north of town, and gave his name to the Langley Covered Bridge. This bridge still carries traffic across the St. Joseph River, or at least did the last time I was there. This attraction in turn gave a name to the Covered Bridge Diner which is located exactly one block east of the old courthouse site.