Question About Village's Name Leads to More Questions, on WMUK's "Why's That?"

Mar 10, 2016

Main and Prairie Streets in downtown Vicksburg
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

When Steven Lange passes the marker at the edge of Vicksburg's Clark Park that summarizes the village's beginnings, the end of the text gives him pause.

“It says on October 18th, 1871 the village was incorporated as Brady. But one day later a petition passed to rename it Vicksburg. And that’s the part that was so curious. Why would you name a village any name and then one day later switch its name officially?” he asks.

The path to answering how long Vicksburg was officially known as Brady - for this month's edition of WMUK's "Why's That?" - has taken some unexpected turns. It’s raised questions about the marker, and it’s even spawned a small mystery.

To find out why Vicksburg was once known as Brady, Lange and I visited the Vicksburg Historical Society. Its collection fills Vicksburg’s old train station on Richardson Street.

The marker facing Prairie Street at the edge of Vicksburg's Clark Park
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Trustee Sue Moore says the name Vicksburg goes back to one of the village’s first settlers, John Vickers, who arrived around 1830.

“He built a grist mill at that corner where the sign is that Steve recognized at Clark Park. And so he wanted to name the village after himself and he thought Vicksburg sounded like a good name,” she says.

Moore says Vickers spelled it “Vicksburgh,” with the H dropping off sometime later. Perhaps Vickers thought that settled the issue. But Moore says the name “Vicksburgh” soon had competition.

In 1829, just before Vickers’ arrival, the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan decided that Kalamazoo County, Barry County and part of St. Joseph County would form a township called Brady. Moore says it was named for General Hugh Brady, then one of Michigan’s most prominent military leaders.

“As townships were subdivided and subdivided, Brady Township – which is right next door to us today – actually became smaller and smaller,” Moore says.

It was already shrinking in 1830, when the northern half of Kalamazoo County was organized as Arcadia Township. But the southern part of the county was still known as Brady. Evan as other townships peeled away the name endured.

John Vickers died in 1843, according to two books on Vicksburg's history (the marker in Clark Park says he died in 1842). A few years after his death villagers filed a plat that called the town Brady.

The switch did not please everyone. In “A Tale of One Village,” Arle Schneider notes that someone founded the Vicksburg Democratic Union Club in 1852.

But Moore says the name Brady caught on with an important local authority.

“The post office dictated that it be Brady and your letters had to come to Brady. But when the village decided to become incorporated in 1871 they had to go to the Kalamazoo County Board of Supervisors,” she says.

That move to incorporate forced the name issue. And this is where the record gets confusing. The marker that Steven wondered about in Clark Park says the county supervisors voted for Brady’s incorporation on October 18, 1871 – but the name was changed to Vicksburg the next day by petition. But newspaper records tell a different story.

The Kalamazoo Gazette published a record of the County Board of Supervisors’ meeting in its November 3, 1871 edition. This was no evening session – the supervisors’ meeting went on for about two weeks. Board members took up Brady’s incorporation in the last few days of the meeting.

According to the Gazette, on October 18, 1871 the supervisors considered a motion to incorporate Brady but did not take a vote.

Here’s what happened on October 19: “The special order being the incorporation of the village of Brady, it was then taken up, and on motion an amendment was offered to change the name from Brady to Vicksburg. Adopted.”

That would mean that Vicksburg was not incorporated as Brady even for a day, as it says on the marker.

To find out which account was correct, I went to the Kalamazoo County building to check the original minutes. In the windowless room where the county keeps old records, County Clerk Tim Snow shows me two big old books with a gap between them. That’s where the 1871 volume should be. But it’s not there.

“I didn’t know it was even missing until we were looking for it,” he says.

Snow adds that it’s possible the book has been misplaced at the county or sent by mistake to another organization. But if so, it’s not clear which one. The Western Michigan University Archives says the minutes are not in its collection. The Village of Vicksburg says the same.

Sue Moore at the Vicksburg Historical Society says the book is not there either.

“If you have somebody that would be picking up on this that would be really great, as far as just, ‘let’s locate those missing minutes,’” she says.

Steven Lange, who asked about the marker, says it’s fortunate the Gazette printed a record of the meeting.

“Unless it does turn up in someone’s attic or some obscure library somewhere, this is the most – the closest you’ll get to a primary source anymore,” he says.

 

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