Wayland City

Allegan County, Michigan

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Wayland City Hall is located at 103 South Main St., Wayland, MI 49348.

Wayland Downtown Historic District


Beginnings [†]

First settled in 1837 and organized as a village in 1868, Wayland's location half-way between the larger population centers of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo elevated it into prominence from the mid-nineteenth into the mid-twentieth century. Agricultural production further enhanced its identity, giving the city its "Cowtown" nickname and continuing to be an important economic factor in the region. The "Four Corners," at the intersection of Superior and Main streets in downtown Wayland, has been the center of the community since its founding. It is also its historic center of commerce, beginning in 1854 and running to into the 1960s, with the buildings present today illustrating this development from the 1880s. The southeast "corner" was the site of the first homestead in the area in 1837. The north-south route through the corners was originally the main road south for lumber and agricultural products from Wayland and the surrounding area to Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Marshall and Jackson. Later, it became the main route between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo linking Wayland to those markets. By 1854 this route was improved as the Plank Road, a private toll road. The railroad came through a little west of this road in 1869, followed by an electric interurban line in 1915. Through this latter period, as the automobile grew in significance, the road evolved into State Highway 13 (M-13), then United States Highway 131 (US-131). The city continued to evolve economically with dairy production as the core and, later, the site of one of the largest dahlia producers in the country. Main Street was the center of the community throughout this time until traffic grew beyond its physical limitations, and US-131 bypassed the downtown as a four-lane, limited access highway in 1959. The full impact of this routing on the downtown began to take effect within a year, as business began to migrate out of the downtown in 1960 and the former core business district ebbed, resulting in little construction or further development there.

The earliest inhabitants of the Wayland area were probably small groups of peoples belonging to the Hopewell Culture from the Woodland Period about three thousand years ago. At contact with Euroamericans, the Pottawatomie resided in the area (and some still do), as well as the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and the Odawa (Ottawa). When the first Euroamerican settlers arrived in the area, while these peoples lived in the vicinity, none occupied the current site of Wayland.

American settlement did not happen until after Allegan County was first surveyed and the township lines established in 1826, followed by the section lines in 1831. Allegan County was officially organized in 1835, and the first land purchases began in that same year. The first settler of current Wayland, Nelson Chambers, arrived in 1837. In 1843, Wayland Township was formed from the northern two-thirds of Martin Township, and was officially recognized March 9, 1844. It achieved its current size in 1848 when its northern sections were split off to form Leighton Township in 1848.

George Barnes was named the first postmaster in Wayland Township sometime in 1839, for what was then called the "Wayland" office, but was actually located in Lumberton, about three miles to the east. The Wayland post office was recognized with the organization of Wayland Township in 1844, and Barnes also became the first elected supervisor of the Township. Originally located at Barnes' Mill, the Wayland Post Office was moved to the tollhouse on the Plank Road, then to Chambers' Corners, in 1855. Norton Briggs served as both postmaster and toll keeper.

Adapted from: Jessica Flores and Wiliiam Rutter, Preservation Forward, LLC, nomination document, Wayland Downtown Historic District, 2020, www.miplace.org, accessed September, 2021.

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