So many of the streets in Eaton Rapids are named after early residents of the community. One very prominent street that is included in this kind of recognition is Knight Street, which was named after an early settler, Benjamin F. Knight (1807-1856), the son of Joseph and Martha Knight.
Knight arrived here in the fall of 1834, traveling with his family and other settlers, including Amos and Pierpont Spicer, Samuel Hamlin, and Christopher Darling, who all traveled from Ohio via Jackson. The land here was completely undeveloped and being Michigan, this would have been quite an arduous adventure.
Knight married Alathea Spicer in April 1834. They had five children, Amos, Edwin, Lucretia, Martha, and William. Knight has always been associated with the development of Eaton County and especially Eaton Rapids.
The women and children were left in Jackson while the men traveled on and built homes and a sawmill, which would be the first sawmill in Eaton County. The first homes were built at Spicerville, which was named in honor of Alathea Knight’s father, Amos Spicer.
To build the sawmill, 20 men were recruited to help from up to 20 miles away. These men needed to be boarded while they were here and fed from the only “kitchen” available, which was two kettles over an open fire. The men arrived the night before, helped raise the mill the next day, had a dance that evening, and went home on the third day.
The first lumber from the sawmill was brought into Eaton Rapids and was used to build a grist mill and three homes. The grist mill was the first in the county; previously they had to travel to Ann Arbor for their flour.
The pioneers formed a company in order to purchase a large tract of land which then became the village of Eaton Rapids.
The first store in Eaton Rapids, which was owned jointly by Amos Spicer and his son-in-law Benjamin Knight, was a shed where the Congregational Church stands today along the river. Later that year they built a better store at the corner of Knight and South Main (PNC Bank today). They sold their stock of goods to the early settlers and the numerous Native Americans in the area. Mrs. Knight ran the store while Benjamin operated the mill.
Knight and Pierpont Spice continued to produce lumber. There was a great demand for any lumber they could spare but most was used to build the gristmill and three framed houses in Eaton Rapids. In 1836 the village was surveyed, and a rough plat drawn up.
In 1837 or 1838, a post office was created in Eaton Rapids. Benjamin Knight was appointed Postmaster, which back then was a political appointment and a position of trust. He also was the Justice of the Peace, who was responsible for arresting and arraigning citizens who violated moral or legal standards in this period.
Knight served as a member of the Michigan Legislature in 1847, during the time when the state capital was in Detroit. It was said that he used every effort available to get the capital moved to Eaton Rapids. But some have disputed that over the years.
W. Scott Munn wrote about Benjamin Knight in his book “The Only Eaton Rapids on Earth.” It was rumored, Munn wrote, that Knight sold his vote that would have made Eaton Rapids the state capital for some land. Voting records, however, discount this rumor as Eaton Rapids had several votes less than some of the top contenders and the one vote wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome.
In 1852 Knight traveled to California, returning in January 1854, and died a year later, only 48 years old. He left an estate valued at $1,658 for his wife and children, a large part of which would be used up by his family during the settlement of his estate, it was indicated in his will. He did still own several properties at his death which were auctioned off to pay off his debts. His wife remarried John Waldron.
Knight is buried next to Alathea at Rosehill Cemetery, Block C, Lot 10. His grave is marked with a tall obelisk—or was. The obelisk was toppled by a storm in 2015 and has not been righted since.