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History of Mattawan
Van Buren County was formed by an act of the Legislative Council of Michigan and approved on October 29, 1829, by General Lewis Cass, Territorial Governor. The county was named after Martin Van Buren of New York who was then serving as President Jackson’s Secretary of State. At that time the county was divided into seven townships, in 1854 it was reorganized into the townships as they are now known.

The first people in the region, more than 400 years ago, were the Mound Builders. Their name derives from the earthworks of various sizes that they constructed. They were a highly skilled people who produced the copper cookware, arrowheads and stone implements occasionally found in this region today. Many believe that the civilization migrated to Mexico.

The Potawatomi Indians dominated the area for many years. They had migrated to southwest Michigan from southern Wisconsin around 1740. They did not believe in land ownership but protected the land on which they camped. Their shelters were wigwams constructed of bent saplings, bark and grass matting. Chief Pokagon, their spokesperson, was a well-educated, highly articulate man. His writings are well recorded in Michigan history. Although he and his followers were exempted from the Chicago treaty of 1821 and the later treaties of 1828 and 1833, a majority of the Potawatomi Indians left Van Buren County prior to statehood in 1836.
 The Village Of Mattawan traces its beginnings to a federal land grant given to Nathaniel Cheesboro, an attorney for the Michigan Central Railroad, in 1839. With the completion of the railroad, Mr.Cheesboro named the station “Mattawan” after a town on the Hudson River in New York. Lyman Lawrence filed the first town plat in 1850 and called it Mattawan, after the name given the railroad station which is an Indian word meaning “Good Pelts.”

There would have been no Mattawan, Lawton or Decatur in Van Buren County if the railroad had followed the state surveyed route.

In 1839 the President set aside several thousand acres of land in his namesake county of Van Buren to pioneer settlers. Several families bought acreage and right-of-way land was purchased for the railroad. These families received mail at the Antwerp post office and sent their children to the Fitch School, both located on Red Arrow Highway. Church services were held by ” Circuit Riders ” in private homes.
 Between 1840 and 1850 a school was established, a grocery store was built, and the first track of the New York Central Railroad was laid. The Michigan Central Railroad, in the course of construction, built a depot and railway shops. The depot housed a telegraph system and trained operators. Several hotels were constructed and a post office was established. From 1850 to 1880 the town prospered as a shipping point for northern lumber until the completion of the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad diverted the shipments.

In 1869-1970, Mattawan’s so-called “peak years”, there consisted a grain elevator, dealer in farm produce, two doctors, stockyards, four well-stocked general stores, grocery and clothing. Six passenger trains also served the town.

Fruit growing prospered in the area, especially grapevines brought from New York State in the late 1860’s. By the 1880’s Mattawan was shipping carloads of peaches and grapes to all parts of the Midwestern United States. The first juice plant, a logical extension of fruit farming, was built around 1900. The period between 1865 and 1980 was a golden age of agriculture for the area. The soils were fertile and labor was abundant. However, the early part of the 1890’s saw severe droughts; later, a series of insects and diseases descended on crops. Prices fell to very low levels. Gradually, as better agricultural methods were found and mechanization increased, fruit farming prospered.

Mattawan is the oldest consolidated school district in Michigan. The first brick public school was constructed in 1890 but was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1905, while the former Junior High Building (now the Center Building) was built largely with W.P.A. funds in 1936. Since that time a new grade school, middle school and high school have been completed. A library was built in 1917 under the sponsorship of the Sunshine Club.

Several churches have served the community since its inception. A Methodist Church was built in 1865 and a Congregational Church incorporated in 1867. The first Catholic Mass was celebrated in 1963.

Many residents served at home and abroad during World War I and II. The Victor and Kenneth Hall VFW Post honors Victor Hall, a World War I Veteran, and his son Kenneth, who gave his life for his country during World War II. Other Mattawan residents served in Korea and Vietnam. A monument on Main Street honors them.
 On January 18, 1960, Mattawan was incorporated as a Village and a five-member Charter Commission was elected. The Charter was approved on November 28,1960 with Horace Stone serving as the President. The first Planning Commission and first Board of Tax Review were appointed in 1961. Since 1960, the population of Mattawan has increased from 776 inhabitants to 2,461 as estimated by the Census Bureau in 1990