Vintage Photos of Napoleon, Michigan, Jackson County
Not long ago someone was trying to stump me with a trivia question:
“What Michigan town was named after an ice cream?”
Naturally, nothing came to mind so I said “I give up”.
His answer was “Napoleon”.
“Whaddaya mean, ‘Napoleon’? That’s not an ice cream!”
"Yeah it is. It’s a combination of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla”.
“Oh. Then what town was named after an ice cream?”
So I made one up…”Rocky Road, in the western part of the U.P.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about that one”.
Sheesh (there actually is a dessert called a Napoleon, but it’s a pastry).
Anyway, back to the village of Napoleon. Ice cream notwithstanding, the town was indeed named after the famed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. It was named by early settler Abram Bolton, who admired the ruler.
More pioneers began coming to the area during the 1830's, and in 1833 Napoleon Township was approved as a four-square-mile hunk of land.
Upon arriving from New York, Baptist minister Calvin Swain organized Napoleon’s Baptist Church and also founded the village of Swainsville (name changed permanently to Brooklyn).
NAPOLEON FAST FACTS:
1835: First schoolhouse was built
1840: The township had six schools
1857: Railroad was laid through Napoleon and neighboring Norvell
1857: Beanery, depot, grain elevator, and hotel were built
1870: Population, 820
1880: Population, 1,177
1900: Population down to 948
1910: Population down further to 867
1920: Population reduced to 849
1926: Electricity arrives
1928: M-50 gets paved from Brooklyn to Jackson.
1930: Population zoomed back up to 1,204
1946: Napoleon Airport opens
1950: Population, 2,549
1970: Population, 5,500
1980: Population, 6,141
1990: Population, 6,273
2000: Population, 6,962
Driving through Napoleon in the 2000s, it’s difficult to imagine all the businesses that used to be there during the 1800s: two barber shops, bean manufacturer, blacksmith, cider mill, coal dealer, cradle factory, drug store, feed mill, three general stores, grist mill, grocery store, hardware stores, two hotels, livery stable, meat market, millinery, pool hall, public hall, saw mill, shoe shop, telephone office, United States Express, Western Union Telegraph, and woodworker. Many of these had popped up by the end of the Civil War.
Speaking of which, in Napoleon’s Maple Grove Cemetery south of town, the names of 23 town residents who perished in that war are etched into a memorial.
Although there aren’t many original structures (except some homes) left, Napoleon still has enough smalltown charm that’s worth your time to pay a visit or do a drive-thru. Now take a look at the photo gallery below, featuring some old vintage photos of Napoleon!