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The seat of Van Buren County, Paw Paw, Michigan is situated at the confluence of the east and south branches of the Paw Paw River in northeast Paw Paw Township, in the southwestern Lower Peninsula.

The northern portion of the city wraps around a portion of Maple Lake, and includes Maple Island and Brigg Pond. Ackley Lake is just outside the northeast village limits.

I-94/runs east-west through the southern portion of the village, and Red Arrow Highway roughly parallels the Interstate to the north, and both intersect M-40 and County Road 665 within the village.

Cities and villages within twenty miles of Paw Paw include Lawton, Mattawan, Lawrence, Gobles, Decatur, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Marcellus, Breedsville, Bangor, Portage, and Kalamazoo.

Maple Lake was created by the village government through the erection of a hydropower dam in 1907. The 172-acre lake has a maximum depth of about fifteen feet, with the deepest areas associated with the old river channel. The lake is popular for fishing. Just off the shores of the lake, in the northeast, Maple Island is owned and maintained by the village as a park, and is accessible by a footbridge or by canoe or kayak.

European-American settlement of the area began in 1828, and the community was named for the pawpaw trees that grew along the river, although they are far less common today.

Rodney Hinkley established a farm in the northern part of the current village in 1832. That same year, Pierce Barber built a sawmill along the river in what is now the western part of the village. The following year, he sold out to Peter Gremps and Lyman I. Daniels, who also acquired a large tract of the adjoining land.

Gremps opened the first store in the community and became its first postmaster on May 7, 1834. In the spring of 1838, Gremps and Daniels arranged to have a townsite surveyed and platted, and Paw Paw was designated the county seat that year.

Gremps returned to the East to bring his family to settle in Paw Paw and, while he was way, Daniels offered Daniel O. Dodge an entire block of the new community if he would operate a tavern there. Dodge's Tavern was located on the south side of Main Street, which is now Michigan Avenue. At that time, the town was so heavily wooded that travelers sometimes passed through without realizing there was a town there.

By 1840, Paw Paw had a doctor's office, store, and tavern, as well as carpenters, coopers, cabinet makers, blacksmiths, tanners, carriage makers, lawyers, and teachers, but the town was still largely agricultural.

In 1846, Judge Evert B. Dyckman and the Rev. Joseph Woodman platted a 16-block addition to the east of the original plat. A couple of years later, other sections were added, including land belonging to Isaac Willard on the west side of the river. A partner of Gremps, Willard opened a store on Main Street, and was largely responsible for the development of Prospect Hill Cemetery.

Between 1857 and 1887, the Paw Paw Railroad connected Paw Paw with Lawton, where it joined the Michigan Central Railroad. Operating from 1987 and 1995, the Kalamazoo, Lake Shore and Chicago Railway later through the village.

Paw Paw was incorporated as a village in 1859, and was reincorporated in 1867.

After four large fires that destroyed homes and downtown businesses, a fire department was established, and this promoted the need for a public water system, on which construction began in 1898. The village acquired a site from the Paw Paw Mineral Water Company, which had been bottling water from a local mineral spring.

In 1890, a municipal electric system was built on the east branch of the Paw Paw River. However, it soon became apparent that this site lacked a sufficient water supply to provide 24-hour electric service. In 1893, the village discontinued operations at that site, and built another electric plant at the west end of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, using water from the south branch of the Paw Paw River. By 1906, this was overloaded, after which a dam was built on the river, creating Maple Lake.

On December 8, 1937, a large snowstorm caused the waters of Maple Lake to rise, washing away the electric plant and the bridge connecting Maple and Ackley lakes. The plant was rebuilt two years later, but power has been provided by Michigan Gas and Electric Company on a contract basis since the 1950s.

Paw Paw Public Schools provides public PK-12 education to the village through Paw Paw Early Elementary School, Paw Paw Later Elementary School, Paw Paw Middle School, Paw Paw High School, and the Cedar Street Community & Family Center.

The focus of this portion of our guide is on the village of Paw Paw, Michigan. Topics related to the municipal, county, or any other governmental bodies within the village, and local businesses, industries, schools, churches, organizations, attractions, and events, are appropriate here.


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