According to the book "Michigan Place Names," China was first settled when Samuel Ward and William Gallagher built a dam in a grist mill here in 1825. On March 17, 1834 China became an organized township, named China by Capt. John Clarke, one of the area's first settlers. He was born in Bath, Maine in 1797 and died in East China in 1876.
Capt. Clarke's nostalgia for a town in Maine called "China" was apparently the reason for his choice of a name, according to a copy of an 1850 letter held by Agnes Griffor of East China. Griffor obtained a copy of the letter from a private collection from the Clarke family.
In the letter, Helen Clark, daughter of Capt. John Clarke, describes life in China, Michigan in 1850:
"China is a small town on the St. Clair River, almost 16 miles from Lake St. Clair. It was called China after a town in Maine. There are some very good gardens and houses there, one hotel, two school houses, two steam sawmills, and a number of groceries. There is no church, but the meetings are usually held in the schoolhouse. The inhabitants are generally very industrious. They are a tall and large-footed race. The soil is good and the principal productions are wheat, oats, and corn. They do not raise tea there, although you can always procure plenty of it in the groceries or stores. Steamboats stop almost every day on their way to and from Buffalo...There are three Chinese attending school at Newport (Marine City). China is my home and, of course, I think it is the best place in the world."
So, if, as the letter correctly states, China Township, Michigan was named after China, Maine...what's the story behind the naming of China, Maine? A commonly held belief is that it was related to the Orient, or perhaps the old vessels known as "China Clippers", which early on sailed America's coast.
However, a recent history of China, Maine tells a different story. A letter from Debra Fischer, Administrative Asst. of China, Maine noted that "the name of the town was chosen by Japeth C. Washburn, then representative to the Massachusetts legislature. The name originally selected was Bloomville, but the representative from Bloomfield, farther up the river, objected fearing that the similarity in names would create problems with mail delivery. So, Mr. Washburn chose instead the name China, which was the title of one of his favorite church hymns and not duplicated anywhere else in the U.S."
(Above taken from news article from the Voice Newspaper; written by Pat Heck, Sept. 2, 1992)
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Updated: 20th April, 2019 2:58 PM.