How Vicksburg got its name

Provided by Vicksburg Historical Society and dedicated during the 1980 Sesquicentennial celebration, this marker is located high on the exterior wall directly to the left of the front entrance to the Vicksburg Schools Administration Building on Kalamazoo Avenue.

By Maggie Snyder, for the Vicksburg Historical Society

While the history of Vicksburg has been well recorded, some things need to be repeated every so often. And what better time to tell the story of how Vicksburg got its name than during the celebration of its 150th birthday?

One of the first settlers to come to the area was John Vickers. Vickers journeyed in 1829 from Ohio to Prairie Ronde, where he built a grist mill. Around 1830, Vickers moved to a location within the Nottawaseppi reservation on Portage Creek. He asked a friend, Joseph Frakes, who was on friendly terms with the reservation’s Potawatomi Indians, to help him obtain their permission to build a grist mill. Permission was granted, and Vickers built his mill on the southwest corner of present-day West Prairie Street and Michigan Avenue.

By 1834 Vickers had enlarged his mill and established a distillery, and a little community was forming around these two enterprises. The community needed a name and, he thought, why not Vicksburgh?

In 1836, Clark Briggs and John Noyes built a store on the present-day intersection of Main and Prairie Streets, and settlers for miles around started coming to Vicksburgh for groceries and supplies. Charles Kimble opened a blacksmith shop in 1837, Samuel Hawkins built a tavern and boarding house, and soon a log school was constructed on a parcel of land near today’s school administration building on Kalamazoo Avenue.

When the former reservation lands were offered for sale in 1841, John Vickers filed a property claim with the government. The land was surveyed by William Watson, who laid out 30 lots in what was commonly known as Vicksburgh. John Vickers received his abstract of title for 160 acres in Section 13 in February of 1843, but in July of that same year Vickers died. He was laid to rest in a grass-lined grave in a cemetery near the log school.
Then suddenly, Vicksburgh wasn’t Vicksburgh anymore.

At the time, the U. S. Post Office was using “Brady” as a designation for the little village – it was the largest settlement in the township of the same name – even though ‘Vicksburgh’ was in common usage. Unfortunately, it turned out Vickers had neglected to record the platting of his town, so the name Vicksburgh was not official.

Enter Hugh Finley, who located here around 1846 and built a two-story building on the southeast corner of Main and Prairie where he operated a store for a short time. Mr. Finley was determined the village should be called Brady, and the first legally recorded plat was acknowledged in 1849 with Hugh Finley listed as proprietor and the name of the village listed as “Brady.” It is believed Mr. Finley wanted to honor General Hugh Brady, the man given the responsibility for the western relocation of the Potawatomi after their reservation land was sold to the Federal government.

Between 1849 and 1871 the village grew considerably, with the establishment of more mills, a post office, additional stores, an expanded school program, the introduction of mint as a local agricultural specialty, the beginning of regular stagecoach service, and, eventually, the coming of the railroad.

A petition was presented to the Kalamazoo County Board of Supervisors in October of 1871 asking for, the Kalamazoo Gazette reported, “…the incorporation and organization of a village….to be known as Brady.” But the next day an amendment was adopted to change the name of the village from Brady back to Vicksburgh, and the Board of Supervisors approved the change.

And what happened to the ‘h’ in Vicksburgh? It was in common usage as late as 1880, then just seemed to fade away.

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