Leoni, Once Called the “Whiskey Town” of Jackson County
There are numerous towns and villages that have diminished and disappeared in Michigan; the ones you usually hear about are in mid-to-northern Michigan. The Jackson County village of Leoni may have shrunk down to be a shadow of what it once was, and some maps don't even list it any more, but it still hangs in there.
Leoni sits in the township of the same name, about halfway between Jackson & Grass Lake at the intersection of East Michigan Avenue and Portage Road.
According to geneologytrails.com, "in 1836 William Jackson came through Leoni looking for wild land.....Leoni appeared to him a second garden of Eden.....in October, 1838, he chose it for his home, and engaged in the sale of dry-goods, groceries, Sapington's ague-pills, and Peleg White's salve, and subsequently sold Pratt's pills and Lond's ointment."
The website also says Leoni Township boasted a cider mill, apple jelly factory and pump factory; the first school teacher was Allen Knight, who lived a half mile east of downtown Leoni village in a log house.
Leoni came to be called a "whiskey town" and was an important part of the 1850s railroad 'conspiracy' war between local farmers and the railroad. Seems the trains were smacking into cows that wandered onto the tracks and not compensating the farmers. This scuffle was the reason Leoni adopted the phrase, "Leoni against the world". You can read more about that HERE.
Did you know there actually was a COLLEGE in Leoni? It began in 1845 as the Leoni Theological Institute, changing to Michigan Union College in 1855. In the photos below, you'll see in the 1874 atlas where the college stood, in the northern part of town..
According to an mlive article, a minister from Adrian, Reverend Asa Mahan, acquired the college and moved it to his town and re-named Adrian College. Mahan was a strong anti-slavery supporter and became elected as the president of Adrian's "new" college.
There was also an area known as “Leoni Pit” along the railroad between Leoni and Grass Lake. Info on this is rare, but it was listed in a 1912 Michigan Central RR listing, as Station #253.
The village of Leoni retains some of the old buildings from well over 100 years ago, and one only has to travel to that intersection to see them.
Stores, hotel, saloon, mills, factories, railroad depot, some houses.....all dust in the Leoni wind.
Now that you know a little bit about it, pay a visit or just take a short stop next time you're driving through and think about what it once was.