DAYS GONE BY: The naming of Newkirk Township

By Jane Allison Lake County Historical Society member

Editors note: This article is part of Days Gone By, in which members of the Lake County Historical Society share stories of Lake County’s rich history. The articles will appear every other week in the Lake County Star. The Lake County Historical Society office and museum are located at 830 N. Michigan Ave. in Baldwin. Its mailing address is 830 N. Michigan Ave., P.O. Box 774, Baldwin, Mich. 49304.

In the late 1800s, traditional holidays such as Memorial Day were taken much more seriously than they are today.

With no radio or television to compete for their attention, small town residents were able to reflect on the deeper significance of special events. The visits of well-known speakers were of particular importance.

One such speaker in 1893 was Henry Wirt Newkirk, of Luther. Newkirk had the reputation of being an outstanding orator and a very popular man in Michigan. As a member of the state House of Representatives, he represented the district composed of the counties of Lake and Osceola. In 1893, he had just sponsored legislation which was credited with expanding the political status of women.

Newkirk was born in 1854 in Washtenaw County to the niece of President Millard Fillmore. He attended high school in Ann Arbor and graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1879. In 1880 he was appointed to the Bay City Circuit Court Commission and in 1883 moved to Kentucky to enter the newspaper business. In 1886, Newkirk and his wife moved to Luther to become the editor of a newspaper named the Luther Enterprise. In 1889, he was appointed Lake County Prosecuting Attorney and was elected to that office the following term. In 1893, he was elected to the state House of Representatives.

In 1871, the land now called Newkirk Township was named Killbuck. In 1875, it was renamed Glencoe, and in 1899 was eventually renamed Newkirk. The township measures six miles east to west, by 12 miles from north to south. The Village of Luther lies in both Newkirk and Ellsworth Townships as the “State Road,” as it was called in the late 1800s, divided the town in half. Careyville was another early settlement in the township.

Henry Wirt Newkirk was a popular guest speaker because of his great oratory skills, however he is largely forgotten today. He served his term in the state House, and faded from the pages of history, with the exception of his name on our Lake County map. He was unlike Elmer Ellsworth and Salmon Chase, who were greatly admired but had no connection whatsoever with Lake County. He also differed from William Webber, who was of great importance to the county, but only visited here.