The first explorers of Michigan explored the territory by paddling canoes up rivers and streams. After contacting local Native Americas, the explorers used the Indian trails to explore the interior. The trails were simple pathways through the forest that were only wide enough for one or two people walking side by side.

When settlers started to come to Michigan, they initially used these same pathways. The settlers then widened the trails so they could be used for sleds, carts, and wagons. Oakland County was organized in 1816 because the settlers used the trails to travel throughout the county and establish homesteads. Macomb County was organized in 1818. At first the settlers traveled up the rivers and streams.

After Oakland and Macomb created their original settlements, the settlers began cutting pathways through the forest. The pathways were created by removing the underbrush and cutting a few trees and then smoothing the ground. These weren’t roads because the path was going over the existing ground. Roads are made by removing the top soil and some of the subsoil. A base layer was laid down covered with a gravel layer, which was crowned to promote drainage. Along the sides of the road were drainage ditches.

Lapeer County didn’t have navigable rivers and streams and no known Indian trails. Even the Indians didn’t spend much time in Lapeer County because much of the county was too swampy. In 1822, the territorial government hired a crew to survey the land north of Oakland and Macomb Counties. They couldn’t sell the land until it had been surveyed. The initial crew quit after their first season. They stated that they weren’t going back to that “mosquito infested swamp” where they sank to their knees with each step. Another crew was hired and solved the bug and swamp problems by doing their work in the winter. The survey wasn’t completed until 1834.

In 1827, James Thorington Jr., William Allen, his son, George Washington Allen, and Levi Washburn cut a pathway from 30 Mile Road (near their homesteads) to downtown Almont–roughly to the curve in Van Dyke. They were working to create a path to the large stand of pines around Almont.

It was along this path that Almont’s earliest settlers traveled. The territorial government mandated that the pathways to early settlers homesteads should be along the boundaries between township section numbers.

The Hough families bought property on the north side of Hough Road in 1831. In 1833, they bought the property on the south side of Hough Road. Walter and Ebenezer Hough came in 1833 and cut the path to their homestead along the boundary between sections 28 and 33. That path is now Hough Road.

The other early settlers cut similar paths to their homesteads. At the township organizational meeting on March 7, 1834, James Deneen was elected “Highway Commissioner”. It was his job to insure that the pathways be cut along the section boundaries.

When it rained or snowed, the initial paths would become muddy, rutted messes. As the population of Almont Township expanded, the original path to Almont (essentially current day Van Dyke) was continually in need of repair and leveling. In numerous places the roads passed through swamps and the locals constructed “corduroy roads” made by laying logs side-by-side.

In 1844, Robert Davison of Detroit created the Plank Road Company. He began at New Baltimore and constructed the roadway to Disco (no longer exists– about 21 Mile Road and Van Dyke), Washington Corners (now Washington), Rome (now Romeo), Almont, and terminated at the old Imlay Mill located three and a half miles northwest of the location of Imlay City. Farmers along the Plank Road’s path provided logs from their property to construct the road. The farmers were compensated for their logs by reduced or free use of the road for a period of time.

The Plank Road was a toll road. In 1853 there was a school and tollgate at Hough and Van Dyke. Another tollgate was located a mile north of downtown. The toll from Almont to Detroit was about 50 cents, which was a large amount of money in those days.

The nearest market for many of the farmer’s crops was Detroit. The farmers were paid in cash for their crops, which created the opportunity for foul play on the way home. Many holdups did occur as the farmers returned through the woods.

The Plank Road created Almont’s first boom. Lumber and farm goods could easily reach Detroit where there was a heavy demand for these goods. The Plank Road continued in use until 1869 when free gravel roads were constructed by the townships and county.

After the Civil War, statewide an effort was made to convert the pathways to roads. At that time, the townships and counties were responsible for the construction of the roads. The state did not have the authority to construct roads.

Most existing pathways were dug out, a base material laid down, and gravel put on top of the base. The gravel was crowned so the water would runoff to the ditches dug along the sides of the road.

It was also at this time that a drainage system was created for the county. Small streams and creeks were widened and deepened. The Farnum Drain runs behind my house on Dryden Road and runs through the west side of the village before joining the Clinton River at Ed Murphy Memorial Park. The local Native Americans called this stream, Shus-hu-ga Creek. Also, in many areas, drainage ditches were constructed.

Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.