MASON, Mich. — According to Dansville historians, Dansville was almost the capital of Michigan. Other historians aren't quite so sure.
"Dansville, at one time, its name was Ingham Center, and it's in Ingham Township in Ingham County, and it was looked at to be the capital for the state of Michigan, because the railroad bypassed in Mason, Williamston, Leslie, surrounding areas," said Kelen Gailey, president and founding member of the Dansville Historical Society.
The society started as Facebook page in 2010 and has been digital ever since. But it's now raising money to renovate a room in the Dansville Village Hall for its first physical location, hoping to bring wider attention to questions like whether Dansville had a shot at being Michigan's seat of government.
According to Gailey, it was a series of fires downtown starting in 1885 and the the fact that some of what burned wasn't rebuilt that changed how Dansville was perceived by the rest of the state.
Vice president of the society Carole Robinson offered slightly different reasoning.
"It actually would've been the capital because it was really thriving. There were so many businesses, hotels, a dry-goods store, a blacksmith - just tons of businesses - skating rinks... Had the railroad been positioned where it was originally supposed to, Dansville would've been the capital but they didn't put the railroad where the originally planned, so, Dansville wasn't," said Robinson, whose maternal side of her family has lived in Dansville for six generations.
Robinson said she isn't actually sure where the railroad was supposed to be, but that it was supposed to be a lot closer to the village, and if it would have been, Dansville would have remained a thriving community. She also recognizes the impact that the multiple fires had on the village as well.
"It's been rebuilt over time, several times, but of course now its much, much smaller than what it originally was," Robinson added.
Director of Education for the Historical Society of Michigan Robert Myers said he hasn't heard of Dansville ever having been considered the capital or to be the capital of Michigan, nor has he heard of Ingham Center.
"In 1847, the state legislators wanted to move the capital to a location further into the center of the lower peninsula, and of course every town wanted to have the capital. In fact, Marshall, Michigan, built a governor's residence, which is still there. But, nobody could quite decide on what town would get the state capital, the prestigious designation. So finally almost as a joke, somebody said, 'Well, what about Lansing Township?" Myers said. "And, the vote carried."
The Michigan History Center has also said it does "not have any knowledge of Dansville having been considered for the capital of Michigan."
"It is more myth, rumor I guess," Gailey said. "The idea was, it was named Ingham Center of Ingham County because it made it sound like it was the center or the place to put the capital. But, we didn’t have the same power in the legislature that places like Lansing did to beat out Detroit."
Gailey said the paternal side of his family have been in Dansville since about 1870, and have lived in the same home for 52 years, him being the current resident. One day when Gailey was in middle school, his grandma was showing him a picture of his great-grandfather.
"I asked her who the other people were, and she wasn't sure who they were, and that kind of sparked me then like, 'Well if that's my great-grandfather, whose great-grandfather is this?'" Gailey said. That was when he first became interested in the history of Dansville.
The soceity's goal is to raise $1,867 because 1867 was the year that Dansville was incorporated as a village. They have raised $350 so far.
"There's some cosmetic things we'd like to try to update, along with display cases," Gailey said. "We have a lot of really neat items. There's a miniature kind of like village itself that we'd like to have a custom display case made for. We have a full outfit from 1890 of like, the women's outfit from the hat down to the, almost like straw cuffs that they had to protect their shirts. And, we're working with a local family to get material from local houses or barns, reclaimed lumber, working with them to build these custom display cases."
The Dansville Historical Society is searching for additional documents and artifacts from the village. Perhaps when more is uncovered, the mystery of whether Dansville was almost the state capital will be solved.
More information on donating money to the society can be found here.
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