Awhile back, Issa learned that there might be a ghost town much closer to home than she realized. Otsego, MI was predated by another town called New Rochester, which set up on the banks of Pine Creek (a tributary of the Kalamazoo River) in the 1830s. The town’s founders included Hull Sherwood, Giles Scott, Turner Aldrich, and Samuel Foster, and of course their families. It’s also sometimes called Pine Creek, and was also recorded as the village of Dent after they got their own post office. They felt that there would be sufficient water power from the creek, so they established a mill and other staples of a community. However, as the nearby towns of Otsego and Plainwell found, the Kalamazoo River actually provided much better power, and those towns grew while Pine Creek waned. Eventually, the creek was dammed, and the town abandoned under the water in 1913.
A very detailed write-up on the town’s history can be found here. However, it is a little dated, and some information is no longer accurate. For example, there aren’t any more buildings remaining from New Rochester that we could find. The write-up does indicate that you might be able to see the foundations of the mill when the water is low, but we didn’t see anything.
All that’s left now is a small cemetery on the east bank of the creek, indicated on the map below:
Pine Creek cemetery is difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. We knew the general location thanks to a website dedicated to it, but when you drive south on 19th Street, all you can see from the road are private residences. We didn’t want to trespass, but we knew that the cemetery had to be behind the homes on the bluff. We pulled into one long driveway that we couldn’t see the end of (hoping it was maybe a drive to the cemetery), but ended up next to someone’s pole barn! The cemetery was visible from there, though. The man came out and kindly explained how to get to the cemetery directly–on the opposite side of his pole barn is a “driveway” that isn’t even paved or gravel–just grass, so it was easy to mistake it as just more private property. He also quite generously told us to just drive over his yard to get to the cemetery, so we did!
There’s no entrance sign or anything else that indicates to the outside world that there is, in fact, a cemetery here–just headstones. This website we found has a list of the interments on record, and we found pretty much all of them–although the stones were quite weathered and damaged in some cases. Most of the interments date from the New Rochester era, although a few are as recent as the 1960s and 70s. There are a couple of the town’s founders here, including Hull Sherwood and Giles and Olive Scott. One of the name, Morter, is the same as one of the reporters who once wrote for the Otsego newspaper, the Union Enterprise (back then called the Otsego Union) and there is a Morter Street nearby.
There really couldn’t be a more beautiful spot for a cemetery, though; visiting in late July on a nice, temperate day, the trees made for a lovely, shady spot. Unfortunately, reports say that erosion has affected the cemetery, and some of the graves closest to the bank of the creek have been exposed over the last fifty or sixty years (we admit we did examine the bank trepidaciously, looking for anything out of a Stephen King novel). Many of the older stones are beautifully decorated–particularly the Scotts’.
We aren’t sure who cares for the cemetery, although clearly someone does–the grass is well-kept and everything’s clean. We hope that someone at least looks into restoring some of the broken and damaged headstones.
It was wonderful to find such an interesting piece of history, right in Issa’s backyard! In talking to some local friends, it seems very few people know that there was a town that predated Otsego. Issa plans to raise the topic to the local historical society and perhaps have an exhibit there to honor those who came and worked hard to start a settlement there!
UPDATE: Issa posted some of our pictures to the Vanished Otsego Facebook group, which devotes itself to historical information about the town of Otsego (many towns have these, so we may have to make a habit of sharing our findings with whatever nearby communities we visit). Some people knew it existed, while others were surprised to hear about it. One person commented below on this blog that there is still one structure from New Rochester–the blacksmith shop, which was moved to higher ground prior to the damming of the creek. Issa went out and snapped a photo of it for everyone to see! It can now be found on Jefferson Road across from 19th Street, on the right if you’re facing towards the creek. According to our research, the blacksmith shop was originally established by Herman Jungnitch, whose grave can be found in the cemetery.
The Vanished Otsego group also shared that Otsego Township is currently in charge of maintaining the cemetery, but the local historical society does take time to go in and clean, polish and (when possible) repair the headstones. They’d always appreciate more help with this, so if you’re in the area, contact them to volunteer!