What’s In A Name

09 lansing jrLinda Burton posting from Lansing, Michigan – History has a way of surprising you. That is, the pursuit of getting to the bottom of things, like, for instance, how Lansing, Michigan got its name. This tale is full of twists and turns, beginning with a man named John Ten Eyck Lansing Jr (1754-1829), who lived in New York. He was a distinguished fellow; in his lifetime he was Mayor of Albany, New York; Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, a member of the New York State Assembly, and in 1785, the US Confederation Congress. During the Revolutionary War he was military secretary to General Philip Schuyler, which brings us to the Central New York Military Tract. In September of 1776 the Continental Congress required states to raise regiments for the Revolutionary War, so the New York legislature authorized a military tract as part of law, to raise its quota of regiments. Nearly two million acres of bounty land were set aside to compensate New York’s soldiers; each soldier was guaranteed 600 acres for their service. The land was surveyed and divided into 09 recruitment28 townships; the townships were given classical Greek and Roman names, and a few honoring English authors, one of which was Milton, near Cayuga Lake. The township of Milton was split over time; the part in Cayuga County was named Genoa. In 1817 when Tompkins County was created out of Cayuga County, the town of Lansing, New York was established; history tells us it was named for the well-known John Ten Eyck Lansing Jr. So what does any of this have to do with Lansing, Michigan? Think of dense forests, flowing rivers, and land. That’s what Michigan Territory offered; and land attracted land speculators, like brothers Jerry and William Ford, who came to Michigan in 1835.

Jerry and William Ford platted out a city on land that now is Lansing. It is believed they came from New York, because most of the street names they used for their “paper city” were already in use in New York localities. They cleverly called their new town “Biddle City,” in honor of Major John Biddle, who had served in the War of 1812, and who was connected with 09 biddle city platthe Territorial Government of Michigan at Detroit. The original plat of Biddle City was filed April 19, 1836 in Jackson County, Michigan. It was signed by Jerry and William Ford, and acknowledged before J C Bailey, Justice of the Peace. It was also attested by J T Durand, Surveyor.

The land covered by the plat comprised almost all of the south 1-2 of Section 21, all of which now lies within the city limits of Lansing. It was divided into 65 blocks and each block into 16 lots. The streets were laid out at right angles five rods wide, except the main avenue, which was seven rods. This street was called Broadway; the east and west streets were called Cedar, Chicago, Pearl, Main, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. The north and south streets were Washington, Mason, Albany, Buffalo, Ford, Dwight, and Baltimore. The Fords reserved ample space for public purposes; an Academy Square, the Public Square, and Church Square. All the south band of the Grand River lying within the city was reserved for Hydraulic Purposes.

The Fords were good salesmen. After filing the plat they went through central New York praising the beautiful country in which Biddle City was located and touting the profit to be gained by those fortunate enough to get in on the “ground floor.” Enthusiasm ran so high that in a certain locality in central New York sixteen young men invested and started west to make their fortunes. When they reached Detroit by the canal and lake route, they found that no one had ever heard of Biddle City. A few of them returned home, but some pushed on through the 09 water treeswilderness. No one had heard of Biddle City at Pontiac either, but someone directed them to the junction of the Grand and Cedar rivers. They continued on through the wilderness, finally reaching a house in the woods late at night where a settler knew about the new town; he promised to guide them to it.

The next morning they set out through the dense woods and after several hours reached what is now the intersection of Washington Avenue and Main Street in Lansing. It was springtime and the rivers had overflowed; instead of seeing the beautiful city they expected to see, there was only land that was underwater. The records do not show that a single purchaser ever took possession; the land was sold for taxes and the plat vacated. Every buyer lost the money they invested. But some stayed in the area, recognizing the advantages of the new country. They purchased land and afterwards were among Lansing’s most useful and progressive citizens. And yes, they christened their new home “Lansing” after the New York village they had left behind.

Michigan was admitted into the Union on January 26, 1837 as the 26th state; the first constitution made Detroit a temporary capital and decreed that a permanent site should be chosen by 1847. Many were concerned that the capital be moved to a more central and safer location in the interior of the state, partly because of Detroit’s proximity to British-controlled 09 lansing mapCanada; partly because of Detroit’s strong influence over Michigan politics as the largest city in the state. As the deadline approached, nearly every town in Michigan was proposed, including Ann Arbor, Marshall and Jackson. Landowner James Seymour campaigned for Lansing Township, pointing out its location equidistant from Detroit, Monroe, Mt Clemens, and the mouths of the Grand and Kalamazoo rivers. The Michigan House of Representatives voted on thirteen sites before selecting Lansing; and the Senate voted fifty-one times before it accepted the House’s recommendation that the wilderness township with less than 100 people become the new state capital. At first they gave the settlement the temporary name “Town of Michigan,” but in April 1848, the legislature officially named the new capital Lansing, and so it has remained.

Lansing, New York, on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes district of New York north of Ithaca, had a population of 11,033 as of the 2010 US Census. That’s the town that was named for well-known New Yorker John Ten Eyck Lansing Jr.

Lansing, Michigan, capital city on the banks of the Grand and Cedar rivers, had a population of 114,297 as of the 2010 US Census. That’s the city that was officially named Lansing by the state legislature in 1848, but originally named Lansing by settlers from Lansing, New York, who were scammed into coming to Michigan by the promises of the Ford brothers.

09 lansing postcardThe Ford brothers never came back to Michigan. And John Ten Eyck Lansing Jr left his hotel room in New York City on December 12, 1829 to mail a letter, and was never seen again. The mystery of his disappearance has never been solved. That, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with Michigan’s capital city, but is one interesting part of the mystique of the “Lansing” name.