Bertrand History


Joseph BertrandIn the early 1800’s Joseph Bertrand realized the potential of the land controlled by the Potawatomi Indians.  Around 1804 he married Madeline Bourassa who was part Potawatomi.  On an ideal piece of land south of where the Great Sauk Trail crossed the St. Joseph River and lying south of what is now Niles, Bertrand opened a trading post.  Officially, in 1808, he settled here, marking the birth of “Village of Bertrand”.  The village grew rapidly and is said to have numbered almost 1,000 people at one time and boasted three hotels, a warehouse, seven dry-goods stores, and a post office.
By 1833 Native American trade was dwindling and land speculation promised a golden future.  The Bertrand Association was formed to take advantage of this opportunity.  Gradually, the village began to decline.  A colorful tale in history attributes its decline to a Native American curse.  The story is told that  in the early 1830’s a Native American was refused liquor at a local Inn and, in his rage, swore that…”South Bend will grow, Niles will grow, but Bertrand will die.”  Although a colorful tale, the village’s downfall was because of economic, not mystic conditions.  In fact, Bertrand’s decline came about because the village’s proprietors raised the prices of the lots too high and the Michigan Central Railroad was routed through Niles thus bypassing Bertrand.
The village declined, but Bertrand Township flourished as settlers moved in to claim land after the Chicago Treaty of 1833.  In April of 1836, Bertrand Township held its first election at the new Union Hotel where Fredric Howe, originally form New York, was elected Supervisor.  Until 1910 the township experienced a steady increase in population and became a main agriculture area.  Over the past three decades, the population has stabilized because of the scarcity of available land.