Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 18 Number 5
Transcribed by LaVonne I. Bennett

     LaVonne has received permission from Grayden Slowins to edit and submit Sebewa Recollector items of genealogical interest, from the beginning year of 1965 through current editions.

THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR; Bulletin of the Sebewa Center Association;
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 Shaytown.”
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.


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 in Lansing.

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 student training.

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 season.

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


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 out.

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



Last update November 16, 2013