Alpena and homesteading: Featuring Seth and Adeline Johnson

From These Roots

This article about homesteading in Alpena, Michigan features my great-grandparents Seth Raymond Johnson and Adeline Joyce “Werth” Johnson.

This article has been somewhat difficult since Johnson is such a common name. However, I have found two books available at our own George Fletcher Library, written by men who lived in Alpena before we were a city or county.

“The Centennial History of Alpena, Michigan,” by David D. Oliver was very enlightening. I studied this book, looking for homesteading facts since I was searching for how, when, where and what Seth and Adeline homesteaded in Alpena.

In 1838, David D. Oliver was a surveyor hired by the U.S. federal government and Michigan to survey Michigan in and around Alpena. He states in his book that homesteading was permitted in Alpena from 1859 and on.

Seth and Adeline must have taken advantage of the fact that they could live on the land for five years before buying the acreage because some of their children were born here.

David D. Oliver also tells of The Weekly Argus newspaper, the forerunner of The Alpena News, which was started and edited in 1871 by J.C. Vial.

The other book I got from the George Fletcher Library in Alpena was “The Complete History of Alpena County, Michigan,” written by William Boulton and published in 1895. Both books are in the archives in Washington. There is so much precious information in Boulton’s book. Boulton was born in England, educated at London Commercial College in Canada and came to Alpena where he was elected Alpena Township Clerk. He took many pictures in and around Alpena, some of which are saved. In his book he has printed some of The Weekly Argus news as of 1876 and writes extensively about homesteading in Alpena.

After studying and enjoying my research with David D. Olivers’ and William Boulton’s books, I visited the Register of Deeds and the County Clerk’s office at the Alpena County Courthouse. There, Mandy Smith graciously found a deed to Seth’s acreage and sent it to me, with this description:

“(In the Township of Wilson, County of Alpena, and State of Michigan: The Northwest quarter of the Southwest quarter [NW 1/4 SW 1/4] section twenty-three [23], Township thirty [30] North, Range Seven [7] East, containing forty acres according to Government survey thereof.)”

Nowhere on this deed that I have says anything about homesteading. I’ll need to look into that.

Bonnie Friedrichs at the clerk’s office found Seth’s death certificate for me. On this document is Seth’s date of birth (7/27/1851) and date of death (8/23/1921), where Seth was born in St. Clair, Michigan, and his mother’s name, Alicia Young Johnson, and his father’s name, Henry Johnson.

There is so much more to research about the Johnson family genealogy. I will continue to search. My next endeavor will be the Besser Museum, Port Huron Courthouse, George Fletcher Library, and anyone who has information and is willing to share.

I do not have a picture of Adeline Joyce Werth Johnson. If anyone has her picture, I would like to see it. Adeline was also known as a midwife.

Some Interesting Facts

Many cities were up and running before Alpena. Some were Detroit, Saginaw, Port Huron.

Our rivers and inland lakes were full of fish: whitefish, trout, sturgeon are some. They were caught by nets.

Our land was full of otter, beaver, martin, raccoon, bear, mink, and more. There were fur-bearing animals and were easily taken.

Alpena was just a village in 1864, with 674 inhabitants.

Some of the men serious about the making of Alpena were George Fletcher, John Oldfield, James K. Lockwood, John S. Minor, and S.E. Hitchcock.

Alpena was laid out in 1840.

In 1858-59, men’s wages were $14 to $16 a month.

In 1860 our library was started.

In 1864 the bridge over the river was voted to be constructed.

In 1870 there were 2,756 inhabitants in Alpena.

In 1874 the population was more than 4,000.

In 1859 schools were free and available, and Mary Carter was the first teacher in Alpena County.

I do hope to hear from others doing genealogy of Alpena’s beginnings and the Johnsons.

Willieoma “Bleau” Roznowski is a retired schoolteacher who taught for 25 years in the Alpena Public Schools. She loves calling Alpena her home. To reach her, call 989-464-0417 and leave a message.


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