In the summer of 1831, brothers Alvin N. and Oliver B. Hart left New York state and headed west in a quest for land. They camped along the fast-moving Flint River, at a place their guide called LePierre. The men returned to New York, but in November of that year, Alvin returned with his family to settle a town better known as Lapeer. They brought with them a few household tools and oxen, rather than horses. (Oxen could forge for food better in the wilderness and, if necessary, could provide the pioneers with fresh meat.) Shortly after Hart’s group arrived, attorney Jonathan White of New York also settled his family in Lapeer.
As more settlers arrived (more than 3,000 by 1834), plans were made to make Lapeer the governmental center of Lapeer County. The Harts and the Whites, two of Lapeer’s most prominent families, each had their own ideas of how the new city and county should prosper. Unable to reach any kind of agreement, the city was divided into Whitesville and Lapeer.
In 1846, newly elected State Representative Alvin Hart built a two-story courthouse. At the same time, Jonathan White also built a courthouse, sparking even more rivalry between the two families. In 1853 the Lapeer board of supervisors selected Hart’s building to serve as the county courthouse.
However, White’s “courthouse,” an imposing three-story brick building, became the business and cultural hub of the city. In 1879, one year after White’s death, the White building was dismantled and moved to the corner of Nepessing and Court Streets, adjacent to Hart’s courthouse. The third floor of the White building became the Opera House and its social activities continued into the mid-1920s; in the 1930s it became a ballroom. Today, it still stands in Lapeer.
In 1880s, Hart’s courthouse was in a state of disrepair and suggestions were made to tear it down. Instead, the structure was saved and today remains one of Michigan’s oldest courthouses and a distinct Lapeer landmark.
To read the history of Lapeer, see the May/June 2007 issue of issue of Michigan History magazine. For more great stories on Michigan’s past, look to Michigan History and Michigan History for Kids magazines. For information or a free trial issue, call (800) 366-3703 or visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com.