THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR; Bulletin of the Sebewa Center
April 1983, Volume 18, Number 5: (Submitted with written permission of editor,
Grayden D. Slowins)
GETTING AROUND By Grayden Slowins - In January the Sebewa Township officers
attended the Michigan Townships Association convention at the Dearborn Hyatt
Regency Hotel. The last morning of the session I went down to the coffee shop
alone for breakfast and sat next to a fellow about my age with similar graying
hair and beard. As usual the greeting was, “Where are you from and what office
do you hold?”
He replied, “Theron Parker, Supervisor from Cadillac”.
“And from what township?”
“Haring” was his reply.
I asked, “are you familiar with the story of the man who founded Haring and
owned the sawmill, general store and post office and invented a steam locomotive
adapted to logging there?”
“Well, I know about Ephraim Shay and his steam locomotive, although I hadn’t
realized he started the town, too. The building he used as a general store and
post office was only recently torn down. (It was still there across from the
cemetery when I visited Haring in 1976). The upstairs had always been the Town
Hall. Many people in the community were married and buried from that hall. No
one seemed interested in following my suggestion to form an historical society
and make the building into a museum. So they just tore it down, after all those
years. Sad”. “How do you know about Ephraim Shay and Haring Township?” he asked.
I replied, “He lived in our township and learned about steam engines at the Gunn
sawmill. He founded a town just south of us, similar to Haring, and called it
What is your township?”
“Sebewa? I know Sebewa! I went to school there two years. Back in the Great
Depression. Times were extra tough in the poor, sandy farmland around Haring.
Dad made a few extra bucks as a horse trader. Mother was a school teacher, but
couldn’t find a school to teach. She wrote to the State School Superintendent
and he put her in touch with the Halladay school. There were ten of us kids. The
seven oldest stayed on the farm with Dad. The three youngest came to Sebewa with
Mother and lived in a rented farmhouse. She taught the Halladay school for two
years. We got home once in a while on weekends or Dad came down. I can’t
remember what house we lived in nor who owned it.”
“I was the oldest of the three younger kids and I started school there. The only
other kids I can remember were from a big family, very poor, named Jarvis.”
“Jarman?” I suggested.
“That’s it! Jarman. Years later, after WWII, we seven brothers had a spray
painting rig and painted barns in Ionia County and all over Michigan. Big white
stars on the barn doors was our trademark. One Saturday night I was driving up M
66 and picked up a hitchhiker. It was Bob Jarman, who had been in my class in
first and second grades.”
Time and mobility gives Sebewa connections all around the state, the country and
the world. One of Ephraim Shay’s locomotives is on display in the Cadillac park.
It is in need of restoration work.
POOR HOUSE CEMETERY UPDATE by Robert W. Gierman
Learning about the country poor house system from what have been obscure records
has been an interesting experience. You might think that to find out about the
County Poor House, inquiry at the Court House from county officials would open
the records. But what records? Nobody had ever heard of any!
One clue did develop. Somebody remembered that Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Gibson of
Ionia had been the last custodians at the poor farm. I made a call at the
Gibsons, now in their 80’s. From them I learned that under administrations
previous to theirs, the poor house had been far from an ideal place for homeless
and often near helpless people. With the advent of the convalescent home care in
the 1930’s, minimal though many times it was, the burden for admission to the
poor farm lessened Better standards for poor house care had brought State Fire
Marshall condemnation of upper floor use of Ionia’s poor house. The poor farm
idea was on the decline.
After more visits with the Gibsons I learned that there was a poor house
book---a ledger of entries, deaths and discharges. Mrs. Gibson had tried to give
the book to Ionia County officials and/or the library. She found nobody
interested in such records. The book was left at the building at the time the
property transferred to the Department of Natural Resources. D. N. R. had no
notion of maintaining a poor house or anything like it. To get on with their
plans for a new state park, the building was razed and when the bulldozers left,
no trace of the poor house remained.
So, back to D. N. R. where I had gotten the copper box with its corner stone
contents on a previous visit. “Yes, there had been a poor house record book.” If
I would be patient they would try to locate it. Next day the phone call came
saying that the book had been sent to the State Archives on North Logan Street
At the Archives I found the book in its permanent home---nobody could remove
it---with a wealth of information in its many pages. The record began in 1884,
some 28 years after the establishment of the first poor farm in Ronald Township
in 1856. Here were entered the names of the “inmates”, their ages and dates of
birth, nationalities and reasons for commitment and what township or political
unit was responsible. If there was a death, date was given with a notation of
“burial on farm”, or “friends or family took the body” or “sent to Ann Arbor”.
Apparently the medical school at the University did not lack for cadavers for
Thumbing through the pages was enough for one afternoon. In a day or two, Marge
Smith went with me to make a record of burials. We found the names of 44 people
who had been “buried on farm” in the almost forgotten quarter acre cemetery in
Ronald Township. No doubt the graves had been marked with simple wooden crosses
as those on the Riverside Drive location had been later. None of those crosses
survive. That little cemetery has been left to itself enough so that little rows
of depressions clearly show where there were graves. This is the cemetery that
is now in County ownership and is scheduled for fencing in the coming summer
After the 1907 fire that destroyed the poor house at the Ronald Township
location, the records move to the Berlin Township site on Riverside Drive.
Somebody saved the record book from the fire. There we find the first burial in
the “new cemetery” was that of John Grinels, who died July 4, 1908. Records of
55 other burials follow to the last notation being that of William Peplar, who
died February 15, 1934. Perhaps there was the last burial there, but considering
that those were depression years, it seems more likely that careless record
keeping might be the better explanation. From 1934 on, there was a change in the
way the records were entered.
Another visit to the Gibson home disclosed that some of the later records had
been kept at their home. Mrs. Gibson made a search and found several entry pads
and index cards from which I got a list of 500 names of entrants from 1928 to
1967. There was some duplication of names but allowing for that, the number for
the period was well over 400. This covered the time when the people of our big
wave of immigration of the 1890’s were nearing the end of their lives. There
were many entries of foreign born people. These records, too, I took to the
State Archives for sasfe-keeping.
We have a sort of promise that these records of the Ionia County Commissioners
of the Poor will one day be microfilmed so that they can again become available
locally. Perhaps in these days of tight state budgets it is too much to hope
that the microfilming will be soon. My impression is that there at least 200
pages in the book.
As a result of all this stir, another development has shed some light on the
history of that quarter and burial plot in Ronald. The first settler in Ronald
Township was Joshua Shepard. This is noted in the Schenck History of Ionia and
Montcalm Counties. Shepard took up land from the U. S. Government. Perhaps
pioneering in that forested wilderness was too much for him. From a descendant
of his we now learn that he died and was buried on his farm in 1837. Court House
records show that title to the farm went from Shepard to David Baldie. In 1856,
Baldie sold the farm to the County of Ionia for its first poor farm. Baldie,
however, made a reservation that the little quarter acre for cemetery purposes
and that is the last entry in the Register of Deeds office for the cemetery. In
1907 the County sold the farm, the cemetery excepted, to Normington, Normington
to Welch and Welch to Wittenbach. With no other claimants, the three adjoining
property owners have now quit claimed it in favor of Ionia County.
Somehow we have to raise some money to set up a marker on each of those
cemeteries---perhaps even list the names of the known burials---to protect them
from other use by unknowing persons in the future. Wish us luck and a financial
boost if you feel inclined.
~ Robert W. Gierman
A FEARFUL FALL from THE PORTLAND OBSERVER of April 1, 1873:
Last Tuesday evening, just after dark, William Conkrite, a boy about 12 years
old, son of William Conkrite of this village, was crossing the Centerline Bridge
in Danby in a buggy when his horse became frightened of some object ahead and
commenced backing. There was no railing on the bridge at that spot, and instead
of going straight back, the buggy cramped and ran off at the side of the bridge.
As the two wheels dropped down, they fell to the water below, a distance of
about twelve feet. As he came to the surface, he looked up and saw the horse and
buggy coming down directly upon him. Being a good swimmer, he brought all his
muscle to bear in that direction, and, with a couple of swoops toward shore he
barely got from under as the horse and buggy struck the water, the horse going
under, just brushing his clothes. He soon made shore but being dripping wet and
a blinding snowstorm raging, he was unable to do anything toward rescuing the
horse alone, and as he started for the nearest house to get help he could hear
the horse struggling in the water, which was at least ten feet deep and full of
anchor ice, with the bank too abrupt for any possibility of the animal getting
Upon arriving at the house of Mr. Saxton, that gentleman, with three or four
neighbors went to search for the horse and buggy. After searching for over half
an hour without finding any trace of him, they concluded that the horse must
have drowned and all returned home except Mr. Saxton, who determined to make one
more effort, and, going upstream about 40 rods from the bridge, found the horse
standing on some ice near the shore with the buggy right side up and everything
all right; the only articles missing being the buffalo robe and whip.
Mr. Saxton took the horse to his barn and cared for it properly and then started
for the village to see if the boy, who, after putting on a pair of dry pants,
which Mrs. Saxton had furnished him, left the house while that lady was in
another room getting more dry garments for him, had arrived safely. Before
getting far on his journey he was met by the boy’s father on his way to look for
the horse, his boy having gotten home and related his adventures.
Although badly chilled, having walked over six miles, facing a driving storm
with all his wet clothes on except the pants, Willie was all right and the next
morning, having taken not so much as a slight cold.
The escape of all three, the boy, horse and buggy; going through what they did
and coming out without a scratch, is almost a miracle. That horse and boy, if
they should see fit to continue in their line of exploits, could doubtless soon
excel the renowned Sam Patch. END