Okemos: Once a Farm Community, Now a Big City Suburb
I've written about Okemos before, so this is just a refresher course, with some extra old photos in the gallery below.
Michigan Place Names says the first white settler was Sanford Marsh, arriving in 1839. He turned this little area into a post where he (and others) could trade with the local members of the Ojibwe tribe. In fact, this little area was first called 'Sanford' when it got its first post office the following year. Through the years 1840 & 1841, the town was platted by Freeman Bray, who named the community as 'Hamilton' after one of his heroes, Alexander Hamilton. In most cases, a town is usually named after its post office, but in this case, the postal station remained as 'Sanford' while the village was called 'Hamilton'.
Those two names didn't seem to matter to the local residents, who had admiration for Chief John Okemos, who often set up camp in the village. In 1859 they began calling their town 'Okemos' in the chief's honor, who had passed away in 1858. In 1862 both post office and village officially became 'Okemos'.
As for Chief John Okemos’ true tribal name, it has been listed as "Ottawatamie Okemos Kinne-boo", "Pottawatamie Okemos Kinne-boo", and "Ogimaans Kinne-boo" among others. "Ogimaans" - Ojibwe for "little chief" - was anglicized to "Okemos" and the chief himself added the name "John".
Okemos was a successful farming community, but as Lansing kept expanding and growing, little Okemos got absorbed in Lansing's wake and became one of its suburbs. Even though Okemos is a census-designated area, it remains an unincorporated community.
The Hamilton Building originally called the Odd Fellows Hall, is Okemos’ oldest commercial building. It held its first ice cream social on June 11, 1904 and it still stands today, all alone on the west end at 2160 Hamilton Road. Just about all of the other original downtown buildings on the west end of Hamilton Road are gone, except for the old Traveler's Club/Tuba Museum on the corner that intersects with Okemos Road.
Take a look at the gallery below, which includes a few “then-and-now” photos!
MORE LANSING-AREA TOWNS!