It's easy to get the towns of Plainwell and Plainfield confused...I do it all the time. Plainwell sits in Allegan County, ten miles north of Kalamazoo. A village called Plainfield was originally trying to grow in that area in 1837, but a failed sawmill was removed in the 1840s and the would-be village dissolved. The 'Plain' part was kept and given to Plainwell when it received a post office and was platted as such in 1863. There is a Plainfield in Livingston County and other Plainfields were in Kent County and St. Clair County. So anyone could be excused from calling Plainwell 'Plainfield'.....just don't if you visit.

In the mid-1800s, Plainwell was also called “The Junction” - a place along a washboard dirt trail between Grand Rapids an Kalamazoo. According to Mlive, in the 1850s a plank road was built between The Junction and Allegan and another between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. When the plank road at The Junction was completed, settlers began to arrive; one such settler was Henry Wellover (becoming the first), who set up a homestead and built a saloon. With more and more settlers arriving, it was inevitable that the village would be platted; it became so in 1863 and the name was now officially 'Plainwell' (partially after Henry Wellover).

When author Mark Twain traveled these plank roads during one of his lecture tours, he was not a happy man. He was quoted as saying "It was all right until I got on that road from Otsego to Allegan and some fool had thrown a bunch of planks on it".

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Plainwell is called “The Island City” as it is surrounded by water.
It's on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town has many of the original old buildings of yesteryear still standing downtown.

One last thing: the townsfolk seem to enjoy telling visitors about the 'elephant in the basement'. In 1916, a circus was coming through town via railroad. When the train stopped, animal handlers attempted to get the animals over the bridge to the fairgrounds. Most of the animals did fine until it came down to the elephants...they ain't crossin' no bridge, no way.

Okay, so we'll let them swim or wade their way over the river. Nope, they wouldn't do that either. They went ballistic. One elephant ran away and calmed down in a farmer's field. Another one went into town and into a building that was still under construction. Needless to say, with the elephant's weight, he broke through the floor and ended up in the basement. A make-shift ramp got the pachyderm out.....and the other one was safely led back to town from the farmer's field.

If you visit Plainwell, go to the drug store at the corner of S. Main and W. Bridge Street.....that's the building in question.

Vintage Photos of Plainwell: 1800s-1940s


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