Items of Genealogical Interest
Volume 23 Number 6
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, June 1988, Volume 23, Number 6. Editor Robert W. Gierman. Submitted
with written permission of current Editor Grayden D. Slowins:
SURNAMES: Peacock, Wilson, Patterson, Leak, Aves, Kaufman, Archer, Goodenough,
VanHouten, Cross, Shaffer, Gunn, Sayer, Torp-Smith
SUBJECTS: SESSIONS SCHOOL; GINSENG GROWING IN PORTLAND
FOR A LIST OF DEATHS FOR THE PERIOD we have the names of Ella Peacock Wilson,
Letha Patterson, Mildred Leak Aves, Alice Kaufman Archer, Reva Goodenough
VanHouten, Howard Cross. Reva was stricken at the morning service at the Baptist
Church but with artificial resuscitation her heart beat lasted until the
ambulance had moved her to Pennock Hospital where she expired. That reminds us
that there have been two such deaths at the Sebewa Center United Methodist
Church over the 97 year history. First came that of Rachel Rider Gunn and almost
a generation later was that of Belle Gunn Sayer.
Another late death is that of Elmer Shaffer, 94. He was the husband of the late
Gladys Tran Shaffer.
Here is a reminder that on July 5, 1988, Mrs. Myrtie Welch of Sunfield 48890 and
Mrs. Edna Sayer, Masonic Home, 1200 Wright Ave., Alma, MI 48801 will be
celebrating their 98th birthdays.
Our Board of Directors at their meeting made a $100 contribution for the
restoration of the Sessions Schoolhouse at the Ionia Recreational State
Park……John Adgate, 92, of Saranac born at the house across the road, made a
substantial contribution and added to the funds of the Ionia Association of
Retired School Personnel left the $1500 goal a breeze for the rest of us. If you
are doing some local touring, make a trip on West Riverside Drive at the Jordan
Lake Road intersection to view the 1847 construction of our early settlers.
NOTE: In a notation written by Mrs. Bertha Brock, attached to the following
article regarding Sessions School and John Adgate, is an additional notation:
“Edgar Fleetham’s mother, Mrs. Lauretta Shaw Fleetham Gragg, born in 1891 in
Ontario, moved with her parents and family to Berlin Township and entered the
Sessions School. Shortly the school was closed with the new schoolhouse across
the road taking its place. Again, shortly, the Shaws moved to Henderson Road in
Odessa Township. In her reminiscences Mrs. Gragg wrote “We had valentines boxes
when Feb. 14 came around and one year this boy, JOHN ADGATE, gave me a very
pretty lace trimmed valentine. I treasured it very much but it came up missing.
Years later it was discovered back of a drawer in one of our dressers. I don’t
remember of seeing this boy again. I have heard he went into business in the
village of Saranac.”
PIONEER SCHOOL DAYS IN WESTERN MICHIGAN by Edith Ver Sluis
NOTE: This article by Edith Ver Sluis was clipped by Bertha Brock from the
COMMONWEALTH magazine, dated November, 1926.
In her scribbled note at the head of the article, Mrs. Brock wrote: “Mrs. Ver
Sluis was Edith Wilcox, a daughter of Eben Wilcox, whose wife was Aunt Libbie to
the whole neighborhood when I knew them---1870…”
Mrs. Brock’s mother attended school here.
Edgar Feetham’s mother, Mrs. Lauretta Shaw Fleetham Gragg, born in 1891 in
Ontario, moved with her parents and family to Berlin Township and entered the
Shortly the school was closed with the new schoolhouse across the road taking
its place. Again, shortly, the Shaws moved to Henderson Road in Odessa
From Mrs. Ver Sluis’s article, PIONEER SCHOOL DAYS IN WESTERN MICHIGAN: “A
DESERTED stone school house by the side of the river road between Ionia and
Saranac, where it has stood for almost a hundred years, is the oldest
cobblestone school house in Michigan and one of the state’s historically
colorful land marks. It is not entirely deserted, for an ancient oak that has
been its staunch and constant companion through the changing seasons for a
century, still spreads somewhat decrepit branches protectingly above it. Across
the road, its contemporaneous neighbor, a stone fence, fulfills its function as
successfully as if it were built yesterday.
The school house was built I the days when the remnants of the Pottawatomie and
Ottawa tribes still roamed the adjacent forests, when the wigwams of the Indian
village of Chief Commoosa and his people were pitched along the banks of the
Grand river less than a mile away. Building material, taken from nearby fields,
was transported on ox-drawn stone boats by the settlers of the district. The
school site was donated by Alonzo Sessions, an enterprising pioneer, who later
became lieutenant governor of the state.
Probably those early builders were apprehensive of having to fight off hostile
Indians for the structure is as strong and forbidding in appearance as a
fortress—its walls two feet in thickness, its windows deeply embrasured, its
door of solid oak. The interior was roughly plastered, floor, desks and benches
being originally of natural unfinished oak.
There were long benches on two sides of the room, with smaller benches for the
younger pupils at the foot and parallel with the larger ones. The heating plant,
an iron box stove of huge capacity, occupied the center of the floor. There was
nothing remotely suggestive of decoration; nothing more unlovely could possibly
have been conceived. Plainly it was built for service, and so invaluable was
that service to a crude, growing country, so faithfully was it rendered and so
dear the homely, intimate associations clustering about those grim old walls,
that its ugliness becomes transfigured in the mellow glow of retrospect.
But if the old school house has withstood the ravages of time it has not escaped
those of progress. It is no longer the center of learning it was in the days of
when the three R’s comprised the highest cultural standard of a pioneer
community. It has long been supplanted by a modern structure that stands less
than a modern structure that stands less than a hundred yards from it in actual
distance, but which is a hundred years removed from it in educational methods.
The old building not only served as a day school, but it was a gathering place
for holiday festivities, spelling matches, town meetings, and occasional
religious revivals; it had no gymnasium facilities, but it stood on the edge of
a ten acre lot of level meadow had land that was reserved for a playground. Here
the youngsters played pompom pullaway, anteeny-over, one old cat, leap-frog, the
needle’s-eye and many other games that have become obsolete.
Along the road fence, stretching some distance from the school house, may yet be
seen a row of partially over-grown stone piles, which to the casual passer-by
mean merely so many piles, but, to the few who still remember, they represent
the ruins of a once pretentious and populous street of play-houses which they,
with their erst-while school fellows, tugged and sweated over; the remembrance
of those strenuous by-gone noon hours spent among the bustling activities of
that little make believe village, with its stores, postoffice and blacksmith
shop, remain among the most cherished recollections of pioneer school days.
Across the clearing, back of the school house, there stood in those early days a
large tract of timber, a portion of which was utilized every spring as a sugar
bush. During the season’s run of sap the children were allowed to visit the
sugar camp and learn from observation how the sweet-tasting water that ran from
the maple trees into buckets was converted into maple syrup. It was a thrilling
experience for them when the teacher led them deep into the dusky wood, where
fires blazed under great pans of boiling sap.
- - - ways during the season, usually on a Friday afternoon, there was a jolly
sugaring-off party at the school house, when the teacher assisted by older
pupils poured the thick hot syrup over pans filled with snow, when presto, the
syrup changed into a sort of glorified taffy, called jack-wax, which was cut
into strips and distributed among an inpatient crowd of greedy consumers. It is
doubtful if school children anywhere ever had a sweeter, more gloriously sticky
time than these.
Sheep washing provided a spectacle of absorbing interest, the children being
afforded the opportunity of watching this exciting procedure on their way to and
from school. In former years the creek that runs along the roadside east of the
school house was much larger than it is now. A dam was built across it with
sluice-ways, through which the water rushed and roared. Each year just before
sheep shearing time the farmers of the surrounding country drove their flocks
into large pens near the dam, where the luckless sheep were seized upon,
dragged, kicking and struggling, to the water that gushed through the
sluice-ways and doused and soused in the torrent until they were thoroughly
scrubbed and scared, when they were turned loose into an open field to shake and
sun themselves dry. One can imagine with what painful reluctance the children
would tear themselves away from this fascinating performance.
The creek was a source of unending delight. Two or three of the “big boys” built
a raft which they launched at a point above the dam, where the creek had swollen
to the dimensions of a small river. Naturally the other youngsters were wildly
clamorous to ride upon it, whereupon these canny young navigators promptly
turned their pleasure craft into a ferry for revenue, charging their patrons a
marble, a piece of slate pencil, an apple, or whatever the traffic will bear,
for propelling them from bank to bank. Usually passengers and crew landed safely
in port, occasionally they landed in mid-stream, when there would be a mad
scramble for shore, but a soaking now and then failed to dampen their ardor and
the unblushing young profiteers continued their thriving business.
Farther up the creek, in a secluded nook, was the old swimming hole, where the
boys, clad in coats of tan, disported during the summer vacation, and where the
girls rarely and only when properly attended, ventured. On these rare occasions
the girls would don old dresses in lieu of bathing suits and gingerly, half
shamefacedly, try to swim. Naturally their half-hearted efforts met with little
success and less encouragement, swimming by girls or women not being considered
ia necessary or lady-like accomplishment according to early Victorian standards.
Fishing, on the contrary, was a pastime boys and girls might enjoy together.
“The boys and girls would often go a’fishing in the brooks, With spools of
thread for fishing lines and bended pins for hooks.”
Those who were the proud possessors of honest-to-goodness fish-hooks and lines
were the envy and admiration of their less lucky associates.
Winter froze the water above the dam into an ideal skating park. Skating and
hopping passing bob-sleighs were favorite winter sports of the old days.
Then there were the unforgettable Friday night “spelling-bees”, when the crack
spellers from other districts would meet with those of the stone school and try
to spell them down. During these epochal events the atmosphere of that dimly lit
school room fairly seethed with suppressed excitement. The contestants would
range themselves in front of the long desks on opposite sides of the room,
punctiliously toe the black cracks in the floor, face each other with outward
bravado and inward quaking and brace themselves to meet the terrific onslaught
of words the teacher would hurl at them, words of three, five, six and more
syllables, tricky words with elusive letters, outlandish ones, words spelled
with a final “e” and without any, fair seeming words with designing letters
artfully camouflaged with a smooth, deceptive pronunciation. How could merely
human perspicacity cope with such a disconcerting and eccentric antagonist? Yet
these doughy young spellers stood their ground amazingly well. There was no
ignominious rout. With their backs to the wall they battled against heavy odds,
going down gamely one by one before that relentless bombardment.
Finally, of all those valiant contestants only two were left standing. Followed
a tense, ominous silent, broken by the rustling leaves of the old Sanders
Spelling Book, as the teacher turned them backward farther and faster, back to
the uttermost bounds of the book, where there were words with letters that went
marching menacingly, clear across the page, in regiments and battalions. Why
dwell upon the harrowing details? Sometimes mercifully the resuld was a tie,
again, both contestants would be felled by the same projectile, and once in a
blue moon the teacher would run out of ammunition wherewith to vanquish some
heroic superspeller; there were those even in that remote time and place with an
uncanny sense that could pierce the mystic veil-shrouding from ordinary mortals
the mysterious and diabolic machinations or orthography.
There were other red letter Friday nights when the older pupils were permitted
to attend an occasional dance at a neighboring farm house. There, floor space
would be cleared and after the preliminary throes of tuning up, were over the
fiddler and caller would square themselves for action. From then until midnight
the dancing waxed fast and furious. The Virginia reel, the money-musk, the
lanciers and various square dances were enjoyed with the eager zest of
unsophisticated youth. Round dances were anathematized by the older generation,
the majority of whom were of puritanical ancestry. It took courage to brave
their withering disapproval, yet sometimes when the fiddler, with a wicked gleam
in his eye, struck up the seductive strains of the waltz, schottische or polka,
the more adventurous young couples would try out the new steps.
At these rural marry-making there was always a generous supply of apples,
doughnuts and cider. The girls wore simple frocks of bright colored,
full-skirted homespun or print, striped woolen stocking and stout calfskin
shoes. Their hair was worn in long and looped braids, sometimes naturally or
artificially curled and confined with a circle comb or band of ribbon. The boys
were clad in cut down home-tailored jackets and trousers and high topped
cow-hide boots, their hair being chopped squarely off on a line with their ears.
The long white winter evenings afforded opportunity for jolly sleigh-ride
parties, when the young folks would pile gleefully and go riding and singing
over the gleaning bills and along the valley road to the tuneful jingle of
Santa Claus found his way to the little old stone school house and loaded its
popcorn trimmed tree with a whole menagerie of cookie and doughnut animals,
quaint looking home-made dolls with their flat penciled features and pudgy arms
and legs, woolly dogs and cats with beady eyes, checker-boards and sleds of home
manufacture, numerous pairs of knitted mittens, wristlets and ear-laps, knitted
clouds or nubias, soft and fleecy with huge tassels finishing the ends, for the
women and girls, long brightly colored neck mufflers knitted and fringed, for
the men and boys. Nearly all the gifts betokened painstaking effort and careful
consideration for individual needs. Ready cash was unbelievably scarce,
nevertheless at Christmas time some of it was spent with magnificent
recklessness on gaily striped sticks of store candy, tin horns and whistles,
jews’-harps, candy hearts, with their saccharine sentiments, and sundry pairs of
wonderful red-topped and copper-toed boots. For all its humble setting and
homely, inexpensive gifts, when the candles were lighted and the festive
gathering assembled, as much genuine Christmas spirit to the square inch was
crowded within that rude interior as could be found in far more pretentious
places, with elaborate celebrations.
It can be seen from the foregoing that there was no dearth of wholesome
recreation among the children of the pioneers. They had their play spells, but
one should not infer that life for them was one long holiday, far from it. They
played, but their play was incidental, never permitted to encroach upon the time
and energy required for serious activities. Lessons must be mastered. If the
curriculum of the district school was limited, it made up in thoroughness for
what it lacked in scope. School masters were chosen with an eye to their
muscular development and disciplinary powers as well as for their teaching
ability. The educational stimulus of the hickory stick had much to do with
impressing the rudiments of education and good behavior upon the seat of
After school hours there were the chores to be done—chickens to feed, eggs to
gather, wood boxes to fill, kindling to make ready for morning fires, water to
be drawn from the well, and in winter, snow to be shoveled. Girls were taught
knitting, darning, mending, how to sew a fine seam, piece bed quilts, sew carpet
rags and to assist with the regular household duties.
The superabundant energies of those husky youngsters was turned to practical
account in helping their hard-working parents develop and improve their
primitive surroundings, a good rule that worked both ways, for these duties and
responsibilities in turn helped to develop and improve the children. Study,
work, play and sleep, with whatever discipline was deemed essential to the
proper functioning of this balanced system, was the daily routine of those who
attended the old stone school. Oddly enough, this regime of “licking, learning
and working” seemed to agree with them. Their spirits remained unbroken, their
intellects unimpaired, their bodies grew straight and strong, while they may
have had their shortcomings and imperfections, there was comparatively little
moral degeneracy among them. On the contrary, year after year these robust sons
and daughters fared forth from that humble portal into the new world of
increasing activity, grounded in the fundamentals that enabled them to do their
part in developing the glorious possibilities of the middle west. There were few
who did not become useful members of society, several achieved eminence, the
vast majority of the graduates who have passed from this life into the next
school of experience left behind a record of worth-while accomplishment.
Broadly speaking, no more sturdy, dependable or public-spirited men and women
ever walked the earth than those who were blessed with only a common school
education obtained in the old-fashioned district schools. Plain, practical,
courageous, they became trail blazers, empire hewers, statesmen and builders, of
whom their country and Alma Mater may justly be proud.
The old stone school house fronting the road in its four square rugged
simplicity, is strikingly symbolic of the type of character produced by its
simple educational system and uncompromising discipline. It is to the credit of
the present generation that it has preserved this ancient and honorable relic of
a by-gone age and placed upon its weather beaten front a modest inscription
attesting its venerable antiquity.”
OLD TIMES ON EAST GRAND RIVER, PORTLAND by Gerry Pierce Torp-Smith
My grandfather built the house that I call home at 1105 East James Street,
Portland in 1883. The barn on the back lots was on a bank above Grand River Ave.
and Charlotte Hwy. That corner was the barnyard for a horse and a cow. They were
stabled in the lean-to of the barn where the laundramat is now. The corner has
been cut down for a parking lot and an office building. There were three houses
on the north side of Grand River and none on the south side inside the town
limits. Dad kept a sleigh and a model T Ford in the ban under the hay mow.
In the summer the cow was taken to pasture on the north side of the railroad
tracks at the end of Grant Street and I and my brothers, Charles and Leland,
used to ride in the Ford with Dad when he went to milk the cow. If the cow
wasn’t at the gate, Dad would call “Come boss, come boss”. Then she would appear
from some mysterious place down the river. While Dad milked, we kids poked
around the river and sometimes fished for bullheads and shiners. After milking,
Dad poured the milk into a covered milk can to take it back to the house where
Mother dipped it into wide, round granite pans and shelved it until morning.
Then she skimmed off the cream and saved it to make butter in the barrel churn.
The skim milk was made into cottage cheese. Part of the duties of my older
brother Charles was to deliver the cheese to customers. The extra butter was
sold to grocers.
My Dad put a furnace in the house with a large register between the dining room
and living room. There was a wood range in the kitchen. The upstairs was heated
by opening registers in the ceilings. The front bedroom over the parlor did not
have a register as the parlor was closed off in the winter. Persons sleeping in
the front bedroom took a hot soapstone wrapped in a towel with them when going
We kids had to wear long johns I the winter. What a chore it was to get the legs
smoothed down under cotton stockings.
GINSENG GROWING IN PORTLAND.
My father, Dale Pierce, and my grandfather, Charles Pierce, got started in
ginseng growing around 1900. They made trips to Montcalm and Roscommon counties
to search for wild ginseng roots. Later on seeds and roots were purchased from
other growers in Michigan and Wisconsin.
There was a state ginseng growers association that published bulletins and
meetings to discuss methods of ginseng and golden seal culture, plant diseases
and kinds of sprays. My father was president of the Michigan Ginseng Growers
Association in 1920. Some of the correspondence he had at that time was with
Michigan State and Cornell Universities’ plant pathologists. He often spoke of
Dr. Bessey at Michigan State.
On the back lots facing Grand River Ave. west of our barn, there was an eight
foot high board fence that surrounded ginseng and golden seal beds. I used to
get on a ladder to look over that fence to the north. The view of the fields and
the river valley was lovely. A little pump house between the barn and fence was
the source for the overhead sprinkling system. In the summer, the whole garden
was shaded with sno fencing supported on the overhead water pipes.
The raised four-foot ginseng beds were heavily mulched with sawdust. The plants
looked somewhat like may apples and each bed was in a different stage of the
five-year development. The shaded garden was the coolest place to be on a hot
summer day. The whole family worked in weeding the beds.
As there was the possibility of the rare ginseng roots being stolen, Dad had
electric wires strung on the inside of the fence. The wires were connected to a
bell in the attic. I do not remember the alarm ever going off.
Most of the ginseng was sold to exporting companies in New York that had markets
in China where the roots were in great demand as a medicine.
Dad and John Thoomy were partners in another ginseng plot and sugar bush south
of Portland at the corner of Market Street and Kent. There was a forest of big
maple trees on both sides of Market that produced many gallons of sap in the
spring. The whole family helped empty the sap buckets.
One end of the building that John Thoomy lived in was the sugar shanty where the
sap was boiled in long shallow pans supported on a rectangular stone and block
structure that contained the wood fire. There was often snow in the woods at
sugaring-off time. One of our favorite treats was the soft maple candy that
formed when the hot syrup was poured onto a pan of snow.
In 1927 my father went into a partnership with a Ludington group to grow ginseng
and to raise muskrats on a large parcel of muck and swamp land in Branch county.
The 1929 stock market crash and later the Silver Purchasing Act affected the
Chinese and American monetary balance so much that the sale of ginseng was not
profitable. The fur-ginseng venture was given up a few years later.
Sales list: August 20th, 1917. WILD GINSENG –
Dear Sir: We will pay for prompt shipment as follows:
Strictly wild, dry, good average quality.
Canada, New England & New York..$12.50 to $13.00
Pennsylvania, New Jersey & Michigan…11.50 to 12.50
Wisconsin, Minnesota & Iowa, rough skin…11.50 to 12.50
Wisconsin, Minnesota & Iowa, with smooth bony…8.00 to 9.00
Northern Ohio, Indiana & Illinois…11.00 to 11.50
Central Ohio, Ind., Illinois, Nor. W. Va., Del. & Md…10.50 to 11.00
Southern Ohio, Ind., Cen. W. Va. & No. Virginia…10.00 to 10.50
Southern W. Va., Virginia, North Carolina & Kentucky…9.50 to 10.00
Tennesee, Missouri & Arkansas…9.00 to 9.50
Southern & South Western…9.00 to 9.50
Best Grades…$7.50 to 8.00
Good “ …5.50 to 6.00
Medium “ …4.00 to 4.50
Poor “ …2.50 to 3.00
Wild, clean and dry, F. O. B., New York…$4.75 to 5.00
Cultivated “ “ …$4.50 to 4.75
Yours very truly,
147 West 24th Street, New York ~ BENJAMIN DORMAN
HERE IS A REMINDER that on July 5, 1988, Mrs. Myrtie Welch of Sunfield 48890
and Mrs. Edna Sayer, Masonic Home, 1200 Wright Ave., Alma, MI 48801 will be
celebrating their 98th birthdays.
November 15, 2013