Excelsior Township, a township in Kalkaska County was established in 1875, but the first settlement in the town was made in 1874. As of the 2020 census the population was 991.
Kalkaska County, formerly named Wabassee, was an unorganized county in 1840. It was separated from Michilimackinac County and in 1843 it was renamed Kalkaska County. At that time, it was attached to Grand Traverse County and then Antrim County before it was organized on January 27, 1871.
In 1874 Nathaniel Woodfield built a home in what is now Excelsior Township. Followed by James Elliot, W.W. Crippen, D.E. Wherry, and the Hughes. All who built here had families with the exception of Woodfield.
Organization of the Township
In October of 1874, these men presented a petition to the County Board of Supervisors requesting Organization of the Township. The town of Excelsior was organized by an act of legislature approved March 12, 1875. On the first Monday of April 1875 the first annual meeting was held at the home of David E. Wherry.
From the 1884 edition of the History of Kalkaska by H.R. Page & Co the township grew rapidly and when this history book was written the population was more than 800 with about 90 voters (remember women could not vote then). This number seems high considering that in the 1880 census Excelsior had a population of only 168. The articles suggest that the town grew quickly, and I could not find anything that disputed what H.R. Page said.
There was only a one saw-mill in operation, an Odd Fellows hall and a post office. Page said it was a good post office with tri-weekly mail. He said that the first post office was a large tree that was hollowed out. Folks coming back from Kalkaska would put the mail for residents in this hollow tree. The residents would then go the “post office” to pick up their mail.
In 1884 there were 6 schoolhouses in the town, one church society and 3 Sunday schools with occasional preaching.
The Odd Fellows
The Odd Fellows Hall was a recent addition. Meetings for The Odd Fellows were held at the schoolhouse in District No. 2 and in these meetings, they agreed to build a hall and organize a lodge. Forest Lodge, No. 379 I.O.O.F. was built on an ½ acres of land and on December 29 the lodge was formally instituted.
In 1901 the Township Hall was built and also served as the high school from 1907 to 1926. The township has been registered as a historical landmark in 1974.
One Room Schoolhouse
Today, portions of the township are served by the Excelsior Township School District 1. The school is for K-8 and is one of the last one room schoolhouses in the state. The Crawford School is located between Grayling and Kalkaska and has an enrollment of about 50 students. There are 3 teachers and a principal.
The district is only 17 square miles and approximately half the students are from outside the district and enrolled as part of Michigan’s School of Choice Program. Although the school does not offer athletics, students may participate in activities through either Kalkaska Public Schools or Mancelona Public Schools. Crawford School is in the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.
Industry and Invention (1875-1915) – Registered in 1974 and erected in 1974- ID #L288
Located at the Corner of County Rd 571/Highway 72 & Wagenschutz Rd., Excelsior Township – Lat: 44.72768000 / Long: -85.05336200
Twenty-five years after the township´s organization in 1875, Excelsior´s citizens decided to build a town hall. In 1901 they purchased this site from Edwin Wagenschutz for one hundred dollars and, with plans costing only seven dollars, erected this structure for $1,085. The simple frame building continues to serve as the town hall. From 1907 to 1926 the hall also housed Excelsior High School, the first rural high school in Michigan established under the law of 1901.