Petersburg: A “Good Live Town” and a Tree City, USA



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Summerfield, Petersburg with an “H”, and Finally, Petersburg

Summerfield, then Petersburgh with an h, and finally Petersburg with a began as a dream in the mind and ambition of New York native, Richard Peters. His dream of a town with compatible residents grew into Petersburg, a thriving picturesque small Michigan city that map maker and historian George Lang called “a good, live town.”

The Michigan State Gazetteer recorded that people first came to Summerfield (later Petersburgh) in 1824 and established homes and farms with a post office in 1834. By 1860, Summerfield (Petersburg village) had become a post village of Monroe County located on the River Raisin, about 57 miles from Detroit. The Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroads had established branches in Summerfield and post office with W.H. Heath as postmaster served the community. Methodist and Presbyterian Churches addressed the religious needs of the citizens and a 518-volume library helped them improve their minds.

Commercial establishments included three general stores, a hotel, a saw, two flouring and one planning mill and a variety of mechanical trades and professions. The 1860 population was 1,000 people. The 1860 Township officers included Supervisor, George Peters. Clerk, M. B. Davis. (buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg) Treasurer, John J. Ellis. Justices of the Peace, W. Corbin, J. Frennain, W. E. Burton, A. C. Lefford. School Inspectors, Jonas Brown, N. D. Curtis. Constables, J. J.Ellis, James Reynolds.[1]

Petersburg was incorporated in 1869 and by 1877, the Michigan State Gazetteer noted a population of 1,500 people and the railroad connections had changed to the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad and the Toledo & Petersburgh Narrow Gauge Railroad. The Gazetteer reported that the country around Petersburg was suitable for raising a variety of farm produce and the River Raisin provided good water power. The commercial concerns included a flouring mill, a woolen factory, a handle factor, a planing mill, a saw mill, a shingle mill, and a cheese factory. There were Methodist and Presbyterian Churches and a school house.[2]

In 1917, George Earl Lang wrote about Petersburg  in his Pocket Road Map, Monroe County, Michigan, noting that Petersburg, named after Richard Peters, one of the early pioneers, was originally platted on August 1, 1836. According to Lang, the pioneer settlement began in 1824, when John N. Wadsworth, Richard Peters, and Elihu Ward first surveyed and settled in Summerfield Township. On March 17, 1826, Charles Peters became the first white child born in Summerfield Township.

According to George Lang, Petersburg was incorporated on March 19, 1869 and reincorporated on February 25, 1895, with a population of 490 people. Located on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad and the Toledo and Detroit Railroad, Petersburg had recently built stone roads that crossed the western end of the county. The city featured “fine residences, electric lights, four churches, a high school on the Normal list, good state bank, good hotel, restaurant, two garages, confectionary store, grocery stores, dry goods store, clothing store, drug store, shoe store, meat market, a furniture store. A good live town with a weekly newspaper.”[3]

Petersburg’s 2010 population numbered 1,146 according to the 2010 census and it is still in the words of George Lang, “a good live town.”

Richard Peters Transforms Summerfield to Petersburg


Richard Peters dreamed the same dream of countless pioneers eager to sink their axes into trees to clear their own land and built homes, families, and lives. Moving his dream into reality, Richard Peters bought land from the United States government in Michigan Territory and moved there to clear it and establish a home for his family.

He gradually cleared 500 of the 600 acres he bought and helped other pioneers wrest a town out of the trees.  In 1836,  Richard sold some of his land in Michigan Territory to buyers eager to establish a town. In 1836, the settlers called their new town Summerfield, and appointed Richard Peters the first postmaster. Later, town residents changed the name of Summerfield to Petersburgh, which eventually was shortened to Petersburg.

Born on March 13, 1797, in Stamford, New York, Richard Peters was one of the five children of Richard Peters and Susanna Halstead Peters. On February 10, 1820, Richard married Mary Polly Wilcox in Harpersfield, New York. Their daughter Frances was born in 1821 in Harpersfield, their son George in 1822 in New York, New York, and their son John born in 1823 in New York. Their son Charles was born on March 14, 1826 in Petersburg, their daughter Susan was born in 1828,  their son Richard was born in 1829 in Petersburg, and their daughter Mary was born in 1832 in Petersburg.  Richard’s wife Mary Polly died on January 26, 1834 in Summerfield. After Mary Polly’s death, Richard married Orissa Baker and they had a daughter Emeline who was born in 1838. The 1850 Census shows Richard Peters married to Orissa Baker Peters and their 12 year old daughter, Emeline.

The 1827 Michigan census recorded Richard living in Monroe County and the 1830 Census listed Richard Peters as postmaster of Petersburgh. Richard and his wife and children settled in the Michigan woods and Richard cleared land to build a hut and then a log cabin for his family. They enjoyed the company and comfort of their neighbors Morris and Lewis Wells and their families, two miles away. Richard continued to clear his land and hack a road through the dense woods.

A good farmer and a good neighbor, Richard didn’t actively seek office, but the offices constantly sought him, and he accepted some township offices.. He served for ten years as supervisor of Raisinville which in his time included Summerfield, Dundee,Whiteford, Bedford, Ida, London, and Milan. He died on inflammation of the lungs at age 64 on March 5, 1862.  He and Mary Polly and other family members are buried in Wing Cemetery(Petersburg Village) Cemetery.[4]


Petersburg Pioneers

Fred Bork

The Petersburg Sun-December 28, 1951

Fred Bork, born on March 14, 1861, in Germany married Minnie Middlestead on January 7, 1883, and they immigrated to the United States shortly after their marriage.  He and Minnie raised a family of two sons and two daughters, and they operated a farm near Petersburg for 57 years. When she died on January 26, 1944, he lived with his daughter until his death on December 21, 1951 at age 90. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

Mrs. Esther Bragg

The Petersburg Sun-Petersburg, Monroe County Michigan-August 1, 1919

Mrs. Esther Bragg

Esther S. Elder was born in Wood County, Ohio, August 29, 1842, and she died at Battle Creek, Michigan, July 24, 1919 at age 76.

In August 1862, she married William Sawyer who was killed in the Civil War. In the fall of 1864, she came to Michigan to live with her sisters. On January 6, 1870,, she married Ezra Franklin Bragg, who had also fought in the Civil War , first in Company I of the 14th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and then in the 1st Michigan cavalry.  They had three children: Viola C.; Irving W.; and Ezra. Esther’s husband Ezra died on October 26, 1889 and he is buried in Leib Cemetery, Monroe County. She is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.

Calvin Burnham

Talcott Wing wrote a brief biography of Calvin Burnham in his History of Monroe County, Michigan.  Calvin Burnham was born on November 13, 1793 in Montague, Massachusetts.  In 1817, Israel Bliss and his friend Calvin Burnham came to Michigan from Massachusetts. Israel settled in Macon, Michigan and lived there with his family until he died on October 23, 1819. Calvin returned to Massachusetts and married Israel’s sister Lucinda K. on September 26, 1820 at Royalston, Massachusetts. They had three children together before Lucinda died at Montague, Massachusetts on April 7, 1825. Calvin married his second wife Mary Ann Bruce in October 1826 and they had at least nine children together. Calvin brought his family to Blissfield, Michigan in 1839, and the next year they moved to Summerfield where he lived for the rest of his life.  He died in 1874 and he is buried in Burnham Cemetery in Petersburg.[5]

A paragraph in The Monroe Commercial summarized the life of Calvin Burnham of Summerfield in western Monroe County. Calvin Burnham, one of the early pioneers of Monroe County, had recently died at age 81 years. He taught the first English school in Monroe County in 1816. He traveled to Monroe County from Massachusetts on foot, and several years later when he returned to Massachusetts to obtain a wife, he again made the trip on foot. In 1837, he returned with his wife, “and we believe, has lived in the county ever since.”[6]

John J. Ellis- Petersburg Blacksmith and Monroe County Sheriff

Born in Essex County, New York on June 24, 1829, John J. Ellis arrived in Summerfield Township from New York in 1842 with his mother and two younger brothers. At an early age, he had to work to help support his family, so he learned the blacksmithing trade and operated a blacksmith shop in the village of Petersburg. He married Jane Green and they had four children.  In 1876, John Ellis won the election for Monroe County Sheriff and he moved to Monroe. He proved himself to be such a capable sheriff, popular and painstaking, that he won re-election for a second term. People liked him and his work so much that any time a vacancy occurred in a county office, they nominated John Ellis. For years at various times he served as deputy sheriff, constable, and township treasurer. Monroe and Monroe County citizens appreciated John’s care and compassion for others and his willingness to help people in need.

On December 19, 1894, John fell from a load of cornstalks, injuring his spine.  He died on April 4, 1895 and the Blanchard Lodge of Petersburg where he had been a member for 37 years,  helped bury him with Masonic honors. His wife and four children survived him and his two brothers and scores of friends deeply mourned him. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe.

Ezra L. Lockwood 

Born in Watertown, Connecticut on June 16, 1831 to Jacob and Maria Scovill Lockwood, Ezra had to rely on himself from the age of 13 when he mother died.  He came to Michigan in the fall of 1850 and worked for Dundee Township and from 1853-1855 he worked in the state of Illinois. On December 29, 1859, Ezra married Jennie Hall and they raised a family of three boys and two girls.

After returning to Michigan in 1855, Ezra formed a partnership with Morgan Parker and purchased the water power and mills in Petersburgh. The two partners operated these mills until 1861 when they ended the partnership. With no capital but their resolve and willingness to work, Ezra and Jennie Lockwood made their first forty-dollar payment on 80 acres of land in Summerfield Township. Ezra and his family were isolated with no neighbors for two miles and trees, brush, and water covering their land. Ezra had to clear the land by hand, cutting the timber from a small parcel to build a house. Water covered many parts of his land and saturated the soil enough so that Ezra had to drain thousands of acres and cut many ditches and drains for the water to find its way to Lake Erie and leave the soil suitable for planting. The largest drain that Ezra created is his namesake Lockwood Drain extending from Western Monroe County to Lake Erie and in some places thirteen feet deep and forty feet wide. His system of drains transformed acres of land that had been covered by water most of the year into productive farms providing good land and a good living for many people.

As he created his vital system of drains, Ezra purchased land from time to time until by 1875 he owned 3,020 acres of land that his hard work transformed from wilderness to a profitable farm. He was the largest cattle breeder in Monroe County, keeping about 200 head on the farm with a butter dairy of 80 cows and he also kept and bred horses and hogs.

Besides maintaining their family and their farm, Ezra and Jenny Lockwood were active in many farmer’s clubs, institutes and conventions at the county and state level and farmers from the county and state congregated to hear their informative talks about farming.

Ezra died in 1909 and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.[7]

 John Otto Zabel

John Otto Zabel, attorney and counselor at law from Petersburgh, was born on October 29, 1856 in Poestenkill, New York to John and Sophia Zabel. His parents moved from Poestenkill to Dundee in 1860 and after that to Summerfield. John worked on the farm during the summer and attended the union school at Petersburgh for two winters. He enrolled in the law program at Michigan University in October 1877 and graduated on March 26, 1879. He was admitted to the Bar in 1879 and opened up his law practice in Petersburgh.

He married Mate Swick Zabel on October 20, 1880 and they had two sons, John Golden and Allen. His son Allen died of tuberculosis at age 21 while he was a law student. The 1900 Census shows his other son,  John Golden Zabel, 18, who listed his occupation as a teacher. John Golden lived to be 87 years old and he is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe.

John Zabel served as president of Petersburgh Village for the years 1883,1887, and 1888 and attorney of the village of Petersburgh for 1884 and 1889. He served on the school board and was chairman of the county committee of the Greenback Party for six years. According to the Adrian Times and Attorney Fred Wood of Tecumseh, John O. Zabel promoted the electric road from Toledo raised $4,500,000 for the new road which would run from Petersburg to Jackson, and from Petersburg to Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor. The contract for building the two roads was let to a New York firm.[8]

John died on April 13, 1935 in Petersburg and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg with his wife Mary and son Allen.[9]

Pioneer Petersburg Journalists

As Petersburg grew in population and became more prosperous, its citizens felt the need for a newspaper to spread the village news and publish business and personal transactions. Henry F. Gage & Company established Petersburg’s first newspaper, the Avalanche, in 1871. A year and a half later, fire destroyed the paper. In 1876, J.W. Seeley started the River Raisin Clarion which lasted only six months.  Editor I.D. Boardman introduced The Petersburgh Bulletin on May 1, 1880 and  in 1881 it folded. In 1883 the Weekly Journal debuted but lasted for only four months before it burned. In 1884, O.C. Bacon & Brother reestablished the Weekly Journal, published it for two years, and then sold it to E.A. Gilbert. A.P. Faling began publishing the Petersburgh Sun on October 9, 1891, but around 1898 it merged with the Dundee Reporter to form the Reporter-Sun published in Dundee. Courier Printing Company began publishing the Farmers & Merchants Courier around 1948[10]

Marlin Oscar Hydal

Born on August 31, 1920 in St. Paul Minnesota, Marlin attended Concordia College and married Sylvia Triplett in October 1939 in Hastings, Minnesota. He worked as a printer for the Toledo Blade for 28 years as well as for the Petersburg Sun. He died in 2006 and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.

A Few Petersburg Businesses and Professions, Then and Now

garst lp gaspetersburrg2017

A 21st Century Petersburg Business

Michigan State Gazetteer – 1856-1857

Petersburg. A station in Monroe county, situated on the line of the Michigan Southern Rail Road and on the south side of the Raisin river. It is 20 miles west from Monroe.

Petersburgh Business-1856-1857

Thomas S. Dingman, general dealer. Herkimer & Dingman – general merchandise

Dr. Nelson Dunham, physician.

Dr. Nelson Dunham obituary: (1803-1866), (Deacon John, Joseph, Eleazer, Israel, Ebenezer, Sylvanus), Obituary appeared in the Monroe, MI Monitor on May 2, 1866: Death of Dr. Nelson Dunham. We regret to Announce the death of Dr. Dunham, which occurred at Petersburgh on the 30th ___, in the 63rd year of his age. He came to Monroe county about 30 years ago and settled in Dundee, where he obtained a successful practice as a physician. For several years past he has resided at Petersburgh, but has been much impaired in health. Dr. Dunham has been a prominent and leading democrat, has represented the county in both branches of the legislature and occupied other positions of honor and trust, discharging all his duties as became a faithful and public officer. He has been for many years a consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and died in the Christian’s faith, leaving a wife and one son and many relatives and friends to mourn his death.

Christian Gradolf, hardware and groceries.

Arthur C. Gradolph, one of Petersburgh’s most prominent businessmen passed away at his home here at 11:00 A.m. Wednesday, April 10, 1935, after an illness of five days. Death was due to heart failure. Mr. Gradolph, although in poor health for the past two years had been feeling fairly well lately and was down town several times the first of last week. His death came as a shock, not only to the family, but to the entire community as well.

He was born in Petersburg on May 3, 1871, and aside from seven years spent in the jewelry business in Chicago, had resided here his entire lifetime Mr. Gradolph started in the hardware business in Petersburg in partnership with the late O.H. Russell in 1898. This partnership was dissolved in 1919, the business being conducted under the name of A.C. Gradolph until 1922, at which time Mr. Gradolph’s son assumed partnership.

From that time on the firm name has been A.C. Gradolph & Son.

Mr. Gradolph was united in marriage on June 15, 1895, to Miss Julia Plumadore, and all but four years of their married life has been spent in Petersburg. He is survived by his wife and one son, C.C. Gradolph; one brother, Fred W. Gradolph, of West Palm Beach, Florida; a half-brother, Elmore Zibbell, of Petersburg; one grandson, Robert Gradoph, and one granddaughter, Vivian Gradolph. His only sister, Arvilla E. Ellis, passed away in 1928.

Mr. Gradoph was a member of Blanchard Lodge, F &A.M., No. 102, Russell chapter No 208, O.E.S., the Maccabees and the Michigan Retail Hardware Association. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

Henry Herkimer of Herkimer and Dingman- He is buried in McIntyre Cemetery, Monroe

Lockwood, saw mill

Morris Parks, saw mill

Oliver T. Rose, general dealer- He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg

This PDF features more Petersburg businesses and professions:  Petersburg Businesses Then and Now

Some Petersburg Veterans

war memorial

War memorial Perry Park, Saline and East Walnut Streets, Petersburg.  Dwight Burdette

GAR Comrades

Horace Breningstall, broom handle manufacturer of Petersburgh, was born in Dundee on July 18, 1843 to Seth and Lucy Hobart Breningstall. Horace lived in Dundee until 1852, when he moved to Raisinville Township.

When the Civil War broke out, Horace enlisted on May 20, 1861 in Company A of the 4th Michigan Infantry as a corporal. After he was mustered out in June 30, 1864, he reenlisted on March 212, 1865 in Co. I, 5th U.S. Veteran Volunteers as a private and served until March 1866. He participated in the battles of New Bridge, Hanover Court House, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Savage’s Station, Antulaus, White Oak Swamp, Gainesville, Second Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and several others. He developed rheumatism during his Civil War Service because of the hardships of soldiering in the field.

When he returned from the Civil War, he joined the Morgan Parker Post, No. 281 of the Grand Army of the Republic and later became commander. [11]

On July 11, 1868, Horace married Elizabeth Main and they had three children:  Reuben, Susan A., and Phila Addie.

A Republican in politics, he held several Summerfield Township offices and served as postmaster of Petersburg. [12]

Another Petersburg Civil War veteran, Josiah Elder also commanded the Morgan Parker GAR Post for many years. Born in Portage, Ohio in Wood County on January 1, 1848, he enlisted at age 16  in the 179th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Sandusky. He fought at Franklin, Chattanooga, and several other battles and didn’t receive any wounds in battle.  He did develop erysipelas which affected him the rest of his life and finally destroyed his eyesight by 1926.

In 1867, Josiah moved to Petersburg in 1867 and made his living as a clothier and farmer. On July 4, 1868, he married Miss Emily A. Trombley of Deerfield  and after she died he married Miss Mary A. Lister of Petersburg on September 25, 1890. He had seven children:  four sons and three daughters.

Josiah Elder was one of the charter members of the Morgan Parker GAR Post in Petersburg, a post which once had 45-50 members, and he commanded the post for its last 15 years of active organization. Two GAR members, Cerenus Dewey and John Spaulding survived him.

He died at age 83 on December 23, 1931. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.[13]

Fighting in France – World War II

Harold E. Brockway, was born on August 22, 1925, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Forest Brockway of Petersburg, Michigan. On November 20, 1943, at age 19, he enlisted in the United States Army, 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th Division and joined the fighting in France with his regiment.

On June 22,1944, Harold wrote a poem and sent it to his parents. They trimmed and burnt the edges of the paper, placed it on blue paper on an oak board, sealed it with varnish and hung it on the dining room wall of their house.

Harold’s poem:

Sunset In The Army

Just A dream for the weary and tired,
To see those lights go out at night,
After A day of toil in the field,
With dusty sweat dripping from our brow,

With never A care for the wiler,
We crawl back to bed at night,
With only one thought in mind,
To sleep off the weariness of the day,

And As I look out Over the sleeping,
No greater story has artist ever told,
Than this picture of quiet rest,
For men who know best what it means,

How It stirs my heart inside me,
Until tears well up and nearly would fall,
And a lump rises up in my throat,
To suffocate all of my every thoughts,

There’s A beautiful sunset in the Army,
When All those lights flicker and die away,
And then you hear those forlorn notes of the bugler,
As he signs off for the night.

The Petersburg Sun, Petersburg, Monroe County, Michigan published this story on Sunday December 29, 1944.


Harold E. Brockway

Pvt. Harold E. Brockway, 19 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Forest Brockway, was killed in action in France, November 21, according to a telegram received by his parents from the War Department.

Harold attended Hogel school and Petersburg High School.

Pvt. Brockway leaves besides his parents, two brothers, Sgt. Wayne Brockway of Fort Lewis, Washington, and Lewis at home, three sisters, Lillian, Ruby and Betty, all at home. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

Harold Brockway’s poem hung on the wall of his parent’s dining room  from 1944 until 1996, and it now hangs in his nephew’s house on the family farm.

This PDF features more Petersburg veterans.

Petersburg Veterans

Petersburg Is A Tree City USA

tree city USA

Petersburg is a farming community whose earliest pioneers appreciated and nurtured trees and forests even as they chopped many of them down to coax a living from the soil. The Tree City USA program began in 1976 as a nationwide movement to provide the necessary framework for communities to manage and grow their public trees.

More than 3,400 communities are committed to becoming a Tree City, USA and meet the criteria of the four core standards necessary to maintain sound urban forestry management. These standards are:  maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry, and celebrating Arbor Day.

Petersburg with a 2015 population of 1,157 has been a Tree City USA for eight years and one of Michigan’s green farming communities for nearly two centuries.


[1] Michigan State Gazetteer – 1860,

[2] Michigan Gazetteer – 1877

[3] George E. Lang. Pocket Road Map, Monroe County, Mich. Monroe County Briefly. Monroe, Michigan:  McMillan Printing Co., Geo. E Lang Publications, 1917. p. 32.

[4] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 484.

[5] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 127.

[6] Monroe Commercial, Thursday, August 20, 1874

[7] [7] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 484-485.

[8] Adrian Times, May 2, 1904.

[9] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 465. Talcott Wing mentions two sons, age 7 and 3 in his biography of John Zabel..

[10] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p 495.

[11] Morgan Parker is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Dundee, Michigan.

[12] Talcott E. Wind, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York:  Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1890, p. 45.

[13] Monroe Evening News, December 23, 1931, Page One, Column Two

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