Places

An Old Brick Soldier Still Stands Among Us

The Edward Petit House

By Vicki Priest (c) 2018

Some might say it’s fortuitous that an early home built by the first settled family of Port Huron is still standing. Some might also say that it’s quite amazing! While a few very old homes still grace our streets, many of course are gone.  Some homes of very significant figures in the city’s history are no longer with us, notably Captain Moffat’s interesting home that stood near the library, Senator Conger’s house (and later, William Jenks’ second home) which used to grace the east side of Military Street where a vacant lot now languishes, the McMorran-Murphy mansion near the south end of town (also an empty lot), and Henry Howard’s house that stood where the Women’s Life building is.  Akin to a soldier still standing amongst his fallen comrades, then, the Petit home at 1426 Griswold Street is made even more important by its rarity of survival.

The home is a two story brick Italianate built in 1859 or so by Edward Petit.  Edward, born 1812 or 1813, was a son of Anselm Petit, who in historical accounts is afforded the distinction of being Port Huron’s “first white settler.” Edward made the first plat of the city, the “Peru” plat of 1835, and generally helped build up Port Huron until his death in 1875. Anselm, Edward, and Edward’s wife H. Victoria died in the home, and Marshal, one of Edward’s children who was also a city assessor for 23 years, lived in it as an adult for a time.  So besides the house being one of the older residences in the city, it is made much more significant by those who built it and lived in it. Let’s get to know something of this early settlement family.

Anselm.  Anselm (1776 to about 1862), a native of the Quebec area, came here as a very young man via Detroit in the early 1790s.  Various historical accounts relate that he was the first nonnative to build a permanent type of house, of log, within the future city limits.  The land the natives allowed him to farm and build on was south of the Black River’s mouth and down along the St. Clair River. He was eventually awarded the patent for the 19+ acre tract in 1825, when Michigan was still only a territory.   We don’t know exactly what motivated Anselm to move to this particular wilderness area, but in a Times Herald article from June 17, 1872, he is said to have come with others for purposeful settlement, and it is often repeated that he was a fur trader.  We don’t know much about him with certainty, but he did indeed farm.

In 1804 he married a young parish school teacher of Detroit, Angelique (or Angelica) Campau, and brought her to his humble home near the confluence of the Black and St. Clair rivers.  For the first three births of their eight (known) children, they traveled to Detroit, but Edward, their fourth child, was born at their house here in 1812 or 1813. Not long after Edward’s birth the family was off to Detroit again, but for the less-optimistic purpose of fleeing native unrest before and during the War of 1812.  After the war, Anselm is said to have built Port Huron’s first frame house, in 1819.

Edward.  The builder of the Griswold Street home, Edward, made a name for himself in not only St. Clair County, but the upper thumb region.  He had very little formal education, but became fluent in all three of the area’s languages: English, French, and the dialect of the local Native Americans.  At some point the natives gave him the name Chief Maguatagenau (meaning unknown). He was an energetic and precocious youth, becoming a trader with Indians on both sides of the St. Clair at the age of 15. He had a trading post on the Cass River and in a feat of daring-do, he took a one-armed Indian guide with him to find a group of missing Indian families that other traders had unsuccessfully searched for.  

He and his Indian guide went up to Sebewaing and then followed the lake all the way to White Rock, at which time their remaining food was a loaf of bread.  Nevertheless, they kept the trek up and after five miles came upon the searched-for native families. The story goes that the Indians too had run out of food, and by both parties sharing what little they had left, the natives were happy to make trades that were quite advantageous to Edward.  His employers, Gurdon and Ephraim Williams, were so delighted that they gave young Mr. Petit a huge raise. Edward’s adventures in the counties north of St. Clair included having a trading post on the Shebeon Creek, which he later moved to White Rock.  How long he maintained that post is not known, but we do know that he operated a trading post in Port Huron in the 1830s (The Times Herald, May 16, 1891, page 6), and very probably longer.

In 1835, Edward platted his father’s homestead, which he called “Peru;” it was the first plat within the future City of Port Huron.  No one knows why Edward called it “Peru.” There’s no known reason why he would name it after the South American country. Maybe it was a  portmanteau of “Petit” and the word “Rue,” which in French means “thoroughfare.”  Similarly, petit russeau means “small river.”  So “Peru” could be both a play on words and “shorthand” for something like “Petit’s thoroughfare at the small river.”  This is speculation, but it’s hard not to speculate about such an unusual first name for our city!

Even though Edward made the first plat, he was not averse to change and working with others for the common good.  In 1838 he was one of the signers of the petition to the circuit court requesting that the then existing plats be recognized as the Village of Port Huron (the name Port Huron was apparently already the name of the established post office).   This came after two big events of 1837: Michigan had been granted statehood and a severe financial panic gripped the nation, causing economic hardship until 1843.

In 1836, Edward purchased the land that was to become known as The Petit Farm, bounded by Griswold, 13th, 16th, and Petit streets.  It may have been in the same year that Henriette Victoria Stephens (or Stevens) married Edward, as another Edward, who was born in 1837 but died in 1838, is buried in the family’s Lakeside Cemetery lot (39 of block G).  Their second child Henry, named after his mother, was born in 1838 but kidnapped by Indians in 1842 and taken to Ohio. Henry later learned of his family in Port Huron, with the amazing story told in The Times Herald May 16th, 1891.  Their third child, historically referred to as the oldest, was Victoria Louise (Smith); her dad called her Louisa.  After Louisa’s birth Henriette Victoria had at least 4 more children (if the five additional burials in the family lot are her children, then she had 9 more!), including Marshal.

We don’t know all of Edward’s activities, or all his business ventures, but that’s not to say we don’t know anything.  As mentioned, he grew crops on his property off of Griswold. Historically the property must have been quite nice, considering that Indian Creek still existed and ran through it.  Edward appears to have sold the crops wholesale, and since he made trips to the Upper Peninsula to trade with the Indians there, he probably sold those items as well. For a short time—before he built the house at 1426 Grisowold—the family lived in Disco, Macomb County (Mrs. Petit’s relatives lived in that county).  The couples’ last child, John B. (or Jean Baptiste), was born there in 1857. Not long after John’s birth, or at least within a few years, the Petits moved back to Port Huron and built their 2-story brick house (this is according to Edward’s son Marshal). The home is not shown on an 1859 map of Port Huron, but since Anselm died in the home around 1862, we can surmise that the house was built some time between 1859 and 1862 (or, circa 1860).   

Edward also built a brick business building (or a “block,” as referred to in those days) which is still standing at 914 Military Street.  He had maintained his office in the upper floor. In 1874 he was involved with the “citizens’ movement,” a bipartisan effort that called for a nonpartisan ticket in the local elections.  He died the next year, leaving a will that called for using some of his estate funds for the purpose of building an orphanage, but this was never done. The estate was divided among his living children (except Henry, who seems to have re-met his father shortly before his death): Louisa, Marshal, John, and Frank.

Marshal.  Marshal (born 1849) was a spirited youth just like his father and grandfather.  Anselm had struck out on his own early, coming to Port Huron as a teen. In turn, Anselm’s son Edward traded and trekked around the Thumb region and Canada when a teen.  Continuing the tradition, Marshal at about the age of 15 ran off with his older cousin Edwin in an attempt to enlist for Civil War service. However, Edward caught Marshal in Detroit and promptly sent his son off to school in Toronto.  Upon finishing at St. Michael’s there, Marshal continued his education at Eastman School of Business in Poughkeepsie, New York. But sitting around doing bookkeeping just wasn’t yet Marshal’s thing. While he helped his father sell produce for a time, he was soon traipsing about the wilds as a timber cruiser for various lumber companies.   

In 1873 Marshal was wed to Kate M. Young and their first child was born in 1874 or 1875.  They lived in another house in Port Huron for a while, but by 1881 Marshal is farming and living at the Griswold Street property.  Later, he was bookkeeping for F. J. Haynes & Co. He seems to have found his stride in public-minded work, however, becoming Port Huron’s Chief of Police in 1896. He held this position until January 1903, leaving for apparently political reasons after having been recently reelected. Before becoming a County Undersheriff in 1909, Marshal kept himself busy in the lumbering business as well as having fun ventures into Box Alley Bowling.  He not only sold the alleys but set them up in different locales, and even had a team: Petit’s Angels. Marshal was appointed to the position of city assessor in 1913 (which made him a member of the Board of Supervisors), a position he held for 23 years. Even after his long service he desired to stay active, so took on the role of Chief Probation Officer for both the county and city.  He was doing this until shortly before his death in 1939.

By all accounts, Marshal was a very social and even entertaining person, and this may help to account for his list of well-known friends.  To name a few, he was friends with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Stata Attorney General and later Governor, Alex Groesbeck, and Governor Frank Fitzgerald.

The Edward Petit House in Perspective.  Marshal and his family moved out of the family’s Griswold Street house in the fall of 1902, ending the Petit connection there.   Since Louisa and her husband continued to live at the house for some time after Edward’s death, and then Marshal moved back in, the house was continuously occupied by 4 generations of the founding Petit family for about 43 years.  As far as Petit houses go, it appears to be the oldest one remaining within the city limits which is connected to both Anselm and Edward. In itself, the house is one of the older homes around. It would be a shame to forget this old soldier or to let him fall.  It would seem better to recognize him, to honor the local history that he represents, in some way.

Map Source: Port Huron, Michigan (map) by C. J. Pauli (Milwaukee), 1894 (held at the Library of Congress).

SOURCES USED

Books: Andreas, A. T. A History of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago: A. T. Andreas & Co., 1883); Black, William W. A Souvenir in Half-tone: Port Huron in 1900 (Port Huron: self, 1900); Doyle, William. An American Pioneer: The Story of Early Port Huron and its First Settler (Port Huron: self, 1986); and Jenks, William Lee. St. Clair County, Michigan; Its History and Its People (2 vol.s) (Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912).

Directories: All available between 1871 and 1910.

Newspaper articles: Port Huron Daily Times, 1872, June 17, 1872, “A historical paper prepared by Mrs. B. C. Farrand, of this city, for the Pioneer Society of Detroit;” June 19, “The Times and Mr. Petit;” 1873, April 24, untitled entry regarding Mrs. Petit’s health; 1873, May 5, untitled entry on the death of Mrs. Petit; 1874. March 28, “The City Elections;” 1874, March 30, “A Card from Mr. Boynton;” 1875, March 20, “Edward Petit;” 1875, April 20, ad RE Petit Block; 1888, June 6, page 1, ad RE Petit Block; 1889, September 16, untitled public probate notice; 1891, May 16, page 6, “Romance of an Abduction;” 1892, December 21, page 6, untitled entry regarding Petit estate division; 1896, June 1, “Chief of Police;” 1902, June 3, “The Police Force;” 1902, October 3, untitled entry on the Petit family moving to Pine St. home; 1903, January 2, page 3, untitled entry on Petit and the Haynes company; 1904, December 19, 1904, “Expert Bowler;” 1905, January 10, “Petit’s Angels;” 1905, March 3, “Consolation Meeting;” 1905, October 6, 1905, “Box Ball Alley.” The Times Herald, Port Huron, 1920, July 20, house sale ad; 1939, May 15, “Death Ends Community Service of M. N. Petit;” 1939, May 16, “Marshall N. Petit” and “Marsh Petit;” 1946, August 11, “St. Clair County From Pioneer Days;” 1957, April 22, “To Raze Symbol of Bygone Era” [Moffat House]; 1966, June 19, “Early Thumb Settlers Recalled.”

Other: Estate of Edward Petit, Deceased. St. Clair County Probate Court, Calendar 3, No. 308, 1875; General Land Office Records via the Bureau of Land Management: Certificate No. 801, land grant (patent) to Anselm Petit, April 1st, 1825, and Certificate No. 14,614, land grant (patent) to Edward Petit, April 19th, 1837; Lakeside Cemetery Records, online search and personal communication with Lakeside Cemetery office (besides Doyle 1986, other genealogical sources were also checked, such as ancestry.com, familysearch.org, geni.com, and usgwarchives.net); Petit, Edward. Will. St. Clair County Property Records, Libre 102, page 94, October 4, 1889; and Maps: 1859 Map of Macomb & St. Clair Counties (Philadelphia: Geil, Harley & Siverd) and 1894 Port Huron, Michigan (map) (Chicago: C. J. Pauli). The 1897 and 1916 Standard Atlases of St. Clair County were also checked, as well as Sanborn Fire Insurance maps in reference to the first paragraph.

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Vicki is founder and president of the Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association, a newer nonprofit dedicated to researching and sharing the regional history of Port Huron, Port Huron Township, Fort Gratiot Township, and Marysville, and assisting with the preservation of properties and neighborhoods for the good of all area residents.  She holds the degrees of Master of History and Bachelor of Anthropology, and worked in the related fields of archaeological and historical resources management while in California. She also found gratification working as a Victim Specialist, assisting persons who suffered domestic violence, for some years. Having a son, she became acquainted with video games and plays certain story- and action-driven franchises when she wants to forget about daily concerns; Vicki is known to fall into giggle fits, or wield a crossbow or gauss rifle equally deftly, in the immersive stories.  She has published poetry and pieces on history, Christianity, and video games.

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About the author

Vicki Priest

Vicki is founder and president of the Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association, a newer nonprofit dedicated to researching and sharing the regional history of Port Huron, Port Huron Township, Fort Gratiot Township, and Marysville, and assisting with the preservation of properties and neighborhoods for the good of all area residents. She holds the degrees of Master of History and Bachelor of Anthropology, and worked in the related fields of archaeological and historical resources management while in California. She also found gratification working as a Victim Specialist, assisting persons who suffered domestic violence, for some years. Having a son, she became acquainted with video games and plays certain story- and action-driven franchises when she wants to forget about daily concerns; Vicki is known to fall into giggle fits, or wield a crossbow or gauss rifle equally deftly, in the immersive stories. She has published poetry and pieces on history, Christianity, and video games.

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  • Thank you for writing and researching this! I grew up across the street from this interesting place and it has always intrigued me. My family has lived within a block or two of it since 1917 and it has often been a subject of conversation and lore. I’m thrilled to know its real history and the story of its people. As an aside, Indian Creek still “lives”. It was covered up eons ago, but makes itself known throughout the neighborhood nearly every Spring.

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