Riley Township

Riley Township History

       The following information was condensed from “As-a Brief Reminder of Riley Center” by Anna Cawthorne. The remainder of the information came from either “Combination Atlas Map of St. Clair County, Michigan” by Everts & Stewart, Philadelphia 1876 or from the John Frederick Felker & Mary Bentley family history.

       Riley Township was originally settled by the Otchipwes of.t-he Riley band of Indians. In
1836 the American land buyers flocked to purchase the United States lands then brought under notice. In 1835, the Wells, Mansfields and others located on the southern limits of the town and must be considered the pioneers of Riley.1

       The older settlers were at a standstill to know what to call the little place,. and one of the older men, David Sanderson, spoke up and said, “Why not call it Riley after an Indian chief by the name of Chief Riley?” And he said it is in the center of the Township one way we will call it Riley Center. At that time there was a tribe of Indians who lived on the bank of Belle River and for many years it went by the name of the old-Indian farm.2

       Anna Cawthorne was born on the old homestead in a log house on Masters Road, one mile west of Riley Center. Her family had taken land up from the government. She recalled receiving mail once a week when she was a girl.3

       Benjamin Felker .chose the Riley Township17ortion of the Belle Rivet:, because the many curves gave him much more footage. for erecting sawmills. Benjamin’s eldest daughter Elnora (Nora) married Henry E. Dysinger, son of Daniel and Cordelia who had migrated to Riley Center from Royalton, Niagara County, N.Y. in Sept. 1854. The Dysinger homestead is now the Clubhouse for Belle River Golf Course. Daniel Dysinger was a Supervisor of Riley Township and platted the land known as the Dan Dysinger subdivision, the plat of Riley Center.4

  • 1Combination Atlas Map
  • 2Brief Reminder of Riley Center by Anna Cawthorne
  • 3Brief Reminder of Riley Center by Anna Cawthorne
  • 4John Frederick Felker & Mary Bently Fmaily History Compiled by Ida Florence

Wright-Crozier, U.E


Riley Township was originally settled by the Otchipwes of the Riley band of Indians.  It was named for John Riley (known to many as Chief Riley) the half breed Chippewa Indian who came regularly from his reservation in Port Huron to the woods in Riley Township for making maple syrup and hunting.  In one account of Chief Riley’s life it is said his father bought the southwest quarter of Section 27 along the Belle River from the government and leased it to John at the rental of 6 cents per acre per year.  It is said that Chief Riley opened a general store but extended too much credit to his white friends and was forced to sell his property and move to Canada, where he later died.  The area was organized into a township in 1838 by the Mansfield, Rix, and Well families who are considered to be the original pioneers of Riley Township. There are still descendants of original land purchasers living in the area.

The area of the township is 23,800 acres.  The population in 1840 was 144 people.  Riley Center, a community at the corners of Riley Center and Belle River Roads was at one time thriving with several businesses.  A sawmill, granary, furniture store, Maccabees Hall, church, blacksmith shop, and general store were known to be there.  The town was devastated by fire in 1925.  Former supervisor, Daniel Dysinger platted the land in Riley Center, known today as the Daniel Dysinger subdivision.  The Dysinger homestead is now the Clubhouse for the Belle River Golf Course.  The late Annie Cawthorne was the township’s longest living resident.  She died in 1986 at the age of 111.  Her homestead was taken up from the government.  She recalled receiving mail once a week when she was a girl.  Annie also remembered the Indians travelling along the banks of the Belle River, men riding horses and the women carrying the burdens, walking behind.  Another exciting day in the history of Riley Township was on August 14, 1981, when the celebrity Dwayne X. Riley, stopped by for a short visit.  The visit was filmed for a “Riley’s World” feature on WDIV-TV, Channel 4 in Detroit.

What was at one time a lumbering and farming community has now become a bedroom community for other commercial and industrial areas.  Farms are being split off at a rapid rate, new homes replacing wheat fields and countless new families are now enjoying the pristine beauty of the area and quality of life.