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Coloma, Michigan History

COLOMA'S FIRST NAME - SHINGLE DIGGINGS

Job Davis of Cass County (MI) is the first white man in this area of whom there is any record. In 1832 he purchased 150 acres of land in section 21, intending to get out shingles, floating them down the Paw Paw River to the St. Joseph market. The first year his wife died and Davis sold out to Griffith, Hoyt and Hatch of St. Joseph (MI). Hoyt had come to St. Joseph in 1829 and established a business there. Davis had the mill pit dug and timber cut for the mill frame, so the new owners expected a speedy completion of the project. It included a canal connecting Paw Paw River and Paw Paw Lake near Douglas View Resort (just west of the present Paw Paw Lake Golf Club). They surveyed the land, laid out a town to be called Griffith near the mill, and sent out word that a lively business center would be built.

In October 1833, Levi Ballengee advertised for a shingle maker. Stephen R. Gilson of Chautauqua, NY, was enroute to Chicago and had stopped for a few days at the home of Stephen R. Purdy in Berrien Springs (MI), where he learned about the job. Being a shingle maker he traveled over to the Shingle Diggings and entered into a contract with Ballengee to assist him in getting out 125,000 shingles. The project was begun in November. Gilson identified himself with Coloma during the rest of his life.

By 1837 (the same year that Michigan became a State) Shingle Diggings was composed of several families, a log cabin school with Mary Young as the teacher, and a Presbyterian minister, Simson Woodruff. But the lumber for making shingles was soon exhausted and in 1838, Shingle Diggings was abandoned as quickly as it had been settled.

COLOMA'S SECOND NAME - DICKERVILLE

In 1836 Moses Osgood came from New York and bought land west of the present city limits of Coloma. He was the first settler to stay in this area to do farming. He planted the first fruit orchard. His brother, Gilson Osgood, came to this area in 1841. He bought land, and later built a tannery on a stream known today as Tannery Creek. Gilson Osgood also built a shanty-like building on South Paw Paw Street near St. Joseph Street and opened a store. Because the people had very little money, they would "dicker" for what they wanted to buy at the store. This means that they would offer something they had in exchange for something they wanted. There was so much of this dickering that the settlement along St. Joseph Street became known as Dickerville.

In spite of the fact that little money changed hands, and "dickering" continued to be the order of the day, business flourished and Osgood replaced the building with a new structure. The store goods were brought from St. Joseph by boat, and when settlers heard the whistle announcing the arrival of the boat they planned to be at the store in time to get their share of the merchandise. Some supplies were brought by stage from Chicago and farm produce returned in like manner. The village of Dickerville had become a stagecoach stop on the route from Detroit (MI) to St. Joseph.

FINALLY...COLOMA

In 1850, the California Gold Rush was under way, and Stephen R. Gilson, his son Warren, in company with several others from nearby communities, fitted out a team and wagon and, leaving the rest of the family in Dickerville, went off for the land of gold. During his search for gold, he stayed in the village of Coloma, California. Coloma is also the name of a fragrant and beautiful flower which grows on the Pacific slopes. Gilson returned to Dickerville to stay about 1855.

It was about this time that the United States Government was seeking to establish a mail service. The name "Dickerville" did not seem to be a good name for a settlement that was going to have a post office. Gilson suggested the name of Coloma and it was accepted.

Visit the Coloma Public Library for additional information on the history of Coloma.

  • Trails from Shingle Diggin's by Mabel Branch Stark
  • Souvenir History of Coloma, Michigan -and- ...Program... of the Centennial Celebration August 20 to 12, 1936 compiled by Mrs. Allen C. Stark
  • A Community Grows by Nancy L. Quigley
  • Town on Wheels by Linda Borden
  • Berrien Bicentennial by James T. Carney
  • Glimpses of the Past: Stories and Pictures of North Berrien Pioneer Families Compiled by the North Berrien Historical Society
  • History of Berrien and Van Buren Counties
  • Paw Paw Lake: a 100 Year Resort History 1890's - 1990's by R. L. Rasmussen
  • Paw Paw Lake, Michigan (Images of a Lake) by R. L. Rasmussen
  • and various other sources including Vertical File, photographs, family genealogies, obituaries, etc.