Early Years

The settlement of Hamilton was founded in 1839 by Freeman Bray as a farming community and trading depot with the Ojibwa Indians. The main trade were furs and pelts which Bray paid for in lead, cutlery, calico and high proof whisky. In 1842, the township of Meridian started to organize and was approved by state legislature to become a township on February 16, 1842.

In 1849, the first public school system was started in the Hamilton settlement. In its conception, there was only one schoolhouse.


Eli Morse, the first continuous merchant to the city, opened a general store in 1853. That same store was purchased a year later by Ebenezer Walker. Walker now controlled rights to the general store, the town dam, and three mills.

In 1859, a year after the death of Chief John Okemos, whom the treaty land were settled on by Bray, the Hamilton settlement changed it’s name to Okemos to honor the late chief.

In 1864, in the midst of a civil war, the township electors voted to grant $100 to any man in the township who enlisted in the Union Army. The same electors voted to reimburse the members of the township who put forth funds to the eleven men of the township who enlisted.

In 1871, Okemos Station was built on the rail line that connected Lansing to Detroit. The stop helped transport stock, grain and lumber throughout the state.