In May, 1835 Rev. Jonathan N. Hinckley and Barnard M. Howard, both from Monroe Co., NY, visited the region now known as Columbia Township, then unorganized territory attached to Cass county, and purchased several tracts of land in the immediate vicinity of the present village of Breedsville.
Upon the south side of the creek, and east of the present mill yard, they erected the walls of a log house, and after covering them with a bark roof they returned to their homes in the State of New York.
Early in the fall of the same year a party of about 25 persons, all from Monroe Co., NY started out for the purpose of making a settlement on the new purchase. They journeyed via the Erie Canal to Buffalo, thence by Lake Erie to Detroit. In the latter city they bought an ox-team and wagon. Upon their wagon they loaded their household goods and the small children, and then, with the major portion of their number on foot, set out via the Territorial road for Paw Paw. It occupied two days to cut out roads and make their way from the last-mentioned settlement to the cabin awaiting them on the banks of the outlet. Here all arrived safely, however, Oct. 1, 1835, and here began the first settlement of any importance in the northern half of Van Buren county.
This party of emigrants was composed of the following named persons: Rev. Jonathan N. Hinckley, William N. Taylor, Silas Breed, his wife and children, —Stillman, Phoebe Ann, Hinckley, Joshua, and an adopted daughter named Sarah Taylor, Samuel Watson, his wife and children — Leonard, Lyman, Sarah, and a grandson, whose name is unknown, all from the town of Parma, Jonathan N. Howard and his wife, Elizabeth from the town of Sweden; Amos S. Brown, his wife, and children—Elizabeth, Amos S. Jr., Wells G., Minerva, and Jesse R., from the town of Ogden.
The unfinished cabin was soon made in a habitable condition. The next house built was for Mr. Brown’s family, which was followed soon after by the one erected for Mr. Watson’s occupancy. These three houses sheltered the colonists during the first winter. Prior to that time, however, William A. Babbitt joined them. Elder Hinckley returned to New York in January, 1836, and did not again make this locality his residence until several years later.
The first death occurred during the winter of 1835-36, in the person of Sarah Taylor.
During the year 1836, Jonathan N. Howard and others erected houses for themselves, and Silas Breed built his saw-mill, which was then valued at $700.
The events of the year 1837 were the organization of South Haven Township, of which the residents were nearly all members of the Breedsville settlement; the arrival and settlement of Elijah Knowles, William Bridges, and George Cochrane, from Livingston Co., NY; Dr. Hervey Manley, from Ashtabula Co., Ohio; and Myron Hoskins, from Paw Paw. Mr. Hoskins settled in Paw Paw in 1835, and it is believed erected the first framed house in the township.
The first child –Nancy– was born to Jonathan N. Howard and wife in 1837, and during the fall of the same year the second death took place. Samuel Watson, then about sixty years of age, had gone on foot to Paw Paw in quest of medicine for some member of this family. Upon his return he died alone in the woods, where his body was found upon a search being instituted. The parties named in the first marriage contract were George Cochrane and Miss Sarah Watson. By whom they were married, or the precise date of the wedding is unknown.
In 1838 the first tannery was commenced by Elijah Knowles and John Barrows, the first school-house – in which Lorenzo D. Cate taught the first school — was built, and the settlement was still further increased in numbers by the arrival of Jephtha Waterman, Horace Humphrey, John Barrows and probably a few others.
For several years the early residents procured their mail-matter at Paw Paw. Upon the establishment of the Breedsville office, Amos S. Brown became the first postmaster, and Jesse R. Brown carried the first mail between Breedsville and Paw Paw.
Thomas P. Page settled in the village of Breedsville in 1841. He, with many others, kept an open house for the accommodation of travelers. About 1848, when the stages began running between Paw Paw and South Haven, he opened a regularly licensed hostelry.
Charles W. Luce, a present prominent resident of the township, settled on section 23 of the same year.
Alexander Lytle, township treasurer for a long period of years, early purchased lands situated upon sections 28 and 34, and settled here in 1842.
Other early settlers, who were here prior to 1845, were Peter Smith, Lyman Loomis (the first supervisor of Columbia), Jethro Barber (one of the earliest pioneers in the county), Amos E. Barber, Edmond Sawtell, David Barker, Hiram Chappell, James Richards, S.N. Pike, A. Bugsbee, and James Moore.
Jonathan N. Hinckley, a grandson of Elder J.N. Hinckley, came from Barry, Orleans Co., NY, in the fall of 1845, and settled where he now resides, having purchased an improvement made by Jephtha Waterman. Mr. Hinckley drove out his team of horses, coming by the route south of the lakes. In the spring of 1846 his family, accompanied by his brother Marenus, joined him here. Henry Mower was his nearest neighbor on the east, and Paw Paw the nearest post-office station.
Among other quite early settlers in this township were E.L. Bushnell, who first came to Van Buren County in 1833; John King and his brother, 1845; Eli Bell, 1849; A.H.L. Teal, 1851; the Lacells, 1852; E.T. Pepper, 1854; Dr. H. Anderson, 1855; R. Jones, 1856; and James Thompson, 1857.
In 1858 the first grist-mill was erected by Heath, on the outlet of Great Bear Lake.
No improvements of any importance, except in the vicinity of "Pecktown," were made in the northern part of the township until 1868 to 1870, when they were hastened by the contemplated building of the railroads.