Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 27 Number 6
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 Association,
JUNE 1992, Volume 27, Number 6
Submitted with written permission of Editor Grayden D. Slowins:


MILDRED L. INGALL, 82, daughter of Leon Williams & Mable Cook, daughter of Emily & Charles P. Cook, son of Ursula & Pierce G. Cook. She was widow of Lyle Ingall, mother of Dan, David & Dawn, sister of Iva Reed, Edith Bippley, Bernice Bulling, Gerald Williams, and the late Myrtie Childs & Claude Williams. She taught rural schools and at Lakewood.

DALE B. SHETTERLY, 84, son of Lillie Rowe & Ozro Shetterly, son of Charles Shetterly. He was married to Winnie Bryans and father of Phillip, Shirley Chapman, Joy Wickham, and Linda Kenneson, brother of late Gladys Cook. A farmer & shepherd, he was a leader in statewide 4-H, later field-man for Lake Odessa Canning Co.

RALPH D. CROSS, 80, son of Della Aves & Leonard Cross, son of Emma & John H. Cross. Married first to Dorothy L. Flewellen, then Velma Sach, he was father of Loreta Burt, Geneva Strimback, Robert, Duane, Roselie Bartlett, Betty Kenyon, Raymond and Leonard, brother of Allen and late Raymond, Howard and Reva. Another grandson of a Civil War Veteran, he was retired from Diamond-REO Corporation.

WARREN A. HEYBOER, 70, son of Agnes Bierema & Mike Heyboer, husband of Evelyn, father of Arlene Lee, Richard, Howard and Carl, brother of Wilma Harrington and Alvin. He was a dairy farmer on the farm once owned by George Pierce, Erwin Wilson, Ted Wilson, and Francis Lawless, in SE ¼ Sec. 35 Orange & NE ¼ Sec. 2 Sebewa.

BELLE E. VanANTWERP, 99, widow of Elmer Van Antwerp, Sr., mother of Elmer and Fred, grandmother of Chris and others, sister of eleven. Member of Daughters-of-Union-Veterans, she and husband operated a General Grocery Store in Sunfield.

SEREPHINE M. SPITZLEY, 100, daughter of Chatherine Fedewa & Joseph Martin, widow of William M. Spitzley, mother of Alice L’Huillier, Carl, William, and late Thomas and James. Her husband was son of Mathias Spitzley and they operated Westphalia Hardware and Portland Hardware Co.

UPDATE ON SPITZLEY STORY: William N. Pohl, son of Anna Spitzley & Michael Pohl, has many ste-grandchildren of the Brown families in Portland & Sebewa, including Jan Livingston, Joan Guy, Anne Russman, and their children & grandchildren.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO: Orlando V. Showerman, the new Supervisor of Sebewa Township, was in Ionia today. He is a Veteran of the Sixth Michigan Cavalry in the Civil War (commanded by General Kidd, Editor of the Sentinel), has a good army record, and is highly esteemed by his neighbors. His political affiliations are a conundrum. Such a man belongs in the Republican party.

NOTICE: The Schnabel Family History is ready – after 37 years work! The book includes the Schnabel, Slowinski, Steinberg, Banagel, BIEHLER, MAJINSKA, KUBISH, ELDRIDGE, O’MARA, LEHMAN and related families. Over 350 pages with lots of photos, leather bound hard cover. Price is $30.00 including tax & mailing. $26.50 at my house or delivered locally. Send check to Grayden D. Slowins, 3226 E. Musgrove Hwy., Lake Odessa, MI 48849.

HAYES IONIA COMPANY by Grayden Slowins

The death in 1991 of Nevene Fineis, 86, of Ionia, and news articles about the move of the Capital Wagon Works from Lansing to Ionia thru-out the year back in 1891, converge to create a story of importance to the history of Ionia County.

NEVENE FINEIS was born in Muir, August 7, 1904, died in Ionia, August 1, 1991, six days short of her 87th birthday. She was the daughter of Fanchon Rowe & Austin C. Hayes, son of Nathan B. Hayes, son of Hector Hayes. She was graduated from Ionia High School in 1922 and Mount Ida School for Girls in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1925. She worked at Hayes Auto-Body as a secretary, as secretary to the Commissioner of Agriculture in Lansing (probably Herbert E. Powell of Ionia), and as a stenographer in the Michigan House of Representatives. She was married April 3, 1937, to Erwin (Pete) Fineis, and together owned & operated Fineis Oil Company and later Pete’s Tavern. They also owned the old horse-racing track in Saranac and extensive pine re-forestation lands. After his death in 1959, she operated the tavern for another 25 years by herself. She is survived by a daughter, Nancy (Mrs. John) McNamara of Ionia, sons Hayes of Lyons, John of Georgia, & Steve of Ionia, ten grandchildren, and her sister Maxine Zemer of Ionia. She was taken for burial from St. John’s Lutheran Church to North Plains Cemetery.

Hector Hayes, born in Prattsburg, New York, 1804, died in North Plains Township, Ionia County, Michigan, son of Pliny Hayes, was married to Lucinda Warren, born in Connecticut in 1806, and settled for a time in Bristol Township, Ontario County, New York, where their sons were born. In 1836 they came to Michigan with their two small sons and settled in North Plains Township. He was a carriage-maker by trade (an interest which would come in handy later) and a farmer.
1. George Hayes.
2. Nathan Bradford Hayes, 1835-.

2) NATHAN BRADFORD (N.B. OR BRAD) HAYES, born in Bristol, Ontario County, New York, December 13, 1835, was married in 1864 to Mary Olmsted, daughter of Anstus Case & Jay Olmsted. He was educated in a log schoolhouse and Olivet College. He taught school five winters and helped his father on the farm summers. Then he took up farming full time. He became the largest farmer in Ionia County, owning twenty one hundred acres in North Plains and Lyons Townships, plus about fifteen hundred acres timberland in Montcalm County. The main homestead was at the intersections of Sections 29, 30, 31, 32 in North Plains. There he had the largest barn in Ionia County, it being one hundred sixty two feet long, with a wing one hundred feet long. He fed 100 cattle at a time and up to 5000 lambs.

He owned a sawmill in Muir and another in Bushnell Township, Montcalm County. He had an agricultural implement dealership in Ionia and one in Muir. He was president of the First National Bank in Muir and a director of State Savings Bank in Ionia. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1876 on the Republican ticket.
1. George B. Hayes.
2. Hector Jay Hayes, 1869-1957.
3. Jerry C. Hayes.
4. Austin C. Hayes.

One hundred years ago the Capital Wagon Works was in financial trouble in Lansing and sought local investors to re-organize and move the plant to Ionia. Investors were found and Benhagel Brothers built the buildings. Photos & stories show the land at the triangle, or “flat-iron” ad it was called then, at the junction of Steele & Dexter streets, was covered with buildings. There were sheds for lumber that came in by railroad car, a dry-kiln building, a spoke factory, etc., and a huge boiler-room and smoke stack. There was a paint shop, display rooms, and storage rooms.

By 1909 automobiles & trucks began to seriously cut into the demand for wagons. Three of the Hayes brothers of Muir began to organize a company to meet the needs of changing times. It was a natural out-growth of the family sawmill and lumber processing mills at Muir. George B., Hector Jay, and Jerry C. undertook this venture, with Hector Jay as president. Austin C. stayed home on the huge family farm. Thus was born the Hayes Ionia Company, later Hayes Auto-Body Corporation when they expanded to Grand Rapids. Gradually they grew until they occupied all of the Wagon Works buildings and built more.

H. Jay Hayes, who died in 1957 at age 88, was a farm boy from Muir who was a genuine auto pioneer. He drove one of the first electric cars, and he liked to tell how, when he took the car to Detroit, he had the battery charged by a young Detroit Edison Employee named Henry Ford. Hayes developed and championed the all-steel, closed-body style for automobiles, although wooden station-wagon bodies were still built by United Furniture Workers in Ionia factories for many years thereafter. Hayes made steel bodies for many auto manufacturers. Before General Motors bought Fisher Body, Hayes made all the bodies for Chevrolets and was the largest employer in Grand Rapids, with a payroll of 5,000 people.

In 1933-1934 they even launched a joint venture with Continental Motors to produce their own car, the Beacon. Their respective companies had been producing the bodies & engines for another car line, the DeVaux, and when that company went broke in 1932, they tried to salvage the 600 DeVaux dealerships and themselves. The idea for the car was simple – make it cheap. The Beacon was advertised as the cheapest full-size car on earth at $355 for the basic model. It had four cylinders and allegedly got 25-30 miles to a gallon of gas.

The cars were okay, but Chevrolet, Ford & Plymouth were almost as cheap and customers were afraid to chance an untried car in those shaky financial times. They also had the Beacon Flyer at $450 & the Ace Big Six at $725. But production ceased in less than two years. Hayes revived somewhat on war contracts during World War II, then went out of business and sold its buildings in Grand Rapids in 1957 to American Seating Co. for warehouse space.

The Ionia buildings, where many of our fathers learned the auto-body trades, never re-opened after the Great Depression and eventually were occupied by Grand Valley Chair Compnay and other ventures. The three-story main building, the old Wagon Works woodworking shop, has now been historically restored by Dick & Gerry Brown for office, engineering, and display space for Brown Corporation, which makes auto components. The south end of this building also houses an auto-parts retail store – how fitting! The dry-kiln and the last other remaining building were recently torn down. The blacksmith shop had been gone for some time.

All of these buildings stood on the Steele Street landfill. This was once bottomland farmed by WILLIAM & NANCY JANE STEELE. They acquired it from Webber Brothers, and after farming it a bit, ran in a railroad spur and began to fill. The family had purchased the A. J. Webber farm on N. Jefferson, where Dr. Sterner and William Reisbig are now, for $55,000 in 1886. The French-Italianate house built of Ionia sandstone & brick was said to be the finest farm-house in Michigan in 1881. After it burned in 1896, they sold the farm for $27,000 and moved to another large house 475 E. Washington Street, the A. F. Bell homestead, which their daughters later sold to the city to make way for the hospital. George W. Webber had owned the bottomland. Steeles used a temporary train track at first and, we suspect, a Shay Locomotive, which was specifically designed for rough trackage. They hauled fill dirt from the back of the farm where Reisbigs later got gravel for their readi-mix, or from Webber land south of the river, or both.

Steeles gave the land for south Steele Street and built the grade. They gave the land for the railroad spur and built that grade. They gave the land for the Wagon Works – later the Auto-body Works, for the Gas-light plant, the Hale Flour Mill, the Sorosis Garment Factory, and filled them all to grade. They also founded the William Steele Meat Packing Company. Their initial fortune had come from lumbering on the Flat River. The problem was, they loved to build but didn’t invest wisely in that growth. When a “panic” came, in 1890, they lost almost everything. But they persisted and began to grow sugar beets on their rich bottomland.
It may have sounded like a big undertaking, to lay a track for filling. But it was nothing compared to the great Boston Massachusetts Backbay landfill of the same period. There they laid tracks and dumped a trainload of dirt into the shallow shoreline of the Charles River every 45 minutes, 364 days a year, for 30 years. Talk about your loss of wetlands! That is considered the largest project of its kind the world has ever known & became the most fashionable and valuable building sites of its day. Today it is undergoing downtown revitalization, as is Ionia.

WILLIAM N. STEELE, born at North Berwick, Haddingtonshire, Scotland, November 8, 1845, died in Ionia, May 21, 1927, was married in 1867, to Nancy Jane STOREY, born in Gray County, Ontario. To this union seven children were born: Janet L., Margaret L., John L., William N., Mary Agnes, Jessie D., and Martha E. Steele. John lived in Detroit. Margaret, Mary Agnes (Mayme), and Martha lived in Evanston, IL. Miss Jessie Steele lives in Ionia. They are buried at Highland Park Cemetery.

THE PIERCE G. COOK FARM by Grayden Slowins

Henry G. Smith brings us the Abstract of Title for his farm, plus some notes written by Charles M. Cook Jr., as told to him by his father, Charles P. Cook Sr. This farm, being the W1/2 SE1/2 Sec. 19 Sebewa Township T5N R6W, was taken up from the United States Government on February 3, 1837, by James Pierce & wife. They sold it almost immediately on February 3, 1837, to Jason Smith. He sold it on May 21, 1853, to Benjamin D. Weld & wife. They sold it almost immediately on June 9, 1853, to Pierce G. Cook & wife. In both 1837 & 1853, the first purchaser was probably financing the next owner.

Pierce G. Cook & wife Ursula had numerous mortgages on the farm over the years as they acquired other land, a store in Sebewa Corners, a home in Portland. They mortgaged to Frederick Hall & wife Ann, to Thomas McGonigle, to Richard Dye, to Zachariah Chandler & Edward Orr, to Nathan Brockway & Chauncey S. Wolcott, to Jerome Brokaw, to Henry C. Wright, to John C. Hubbard, to Larmon J. Townsend, all of whom had to be quieted when transfer was made to Charles P. Cook & wife Emily on August 17, 1874.

Charles P. Cook went out to work as a reaper with a cradle scythe at age 15. He had helped his father dig the shallow cellar for the log house with Jim & Sam, their horses. Jacob (Jack) Lapo helped lay the logs. The log house set north & south on the west side of the present upright. When the frame upright was built, the two parts were connected by a covered hall which they called “the tunnel”.

In 1914, the log portion was replaced by the present kitchen-dining wing. Pierce G. Cook had used an ox team to clear the land. His first corn crop between the stumps was stored in his work-bench turned upside down with slats nailed on. Eighty years later his grandson, Charles M., sold a 90-bushel wheat crop for 36 cents per bushel in 1932.

Water for the family & livestock came from a spring below the hill on the VanHouten line fence. Charles P. Cook also worked on the railroad grade from Woodbury thru Sebewa Corners to Portland. The track was never laid. Pierce ran a General Store in Sebewa Corners during the Civil War and his son Edward H. Cook was a Union soldier imprisoned at Andersonville, escaped on the dead wagon, and died in battle.

Charles P. Cook built the first gambrel-roof barn in the neighborhood in 1891. He let the job for $111.00 and the contractor cut the lumber in the Cook woods. It was a nice barn. The six-pointed stars on the ends may be Jewish or Pennsylvania Dutch. They had an ice-cream social barn-warming when it was done. The first mail delivery was by Mrs. VanHouten. Charles P. & Emily Cook’s children were: Clifton J. (who married Gladys Shetterly), Ethel (who married Tillison Daniels), Mable (who married Leon Williams), Carlton R. (who married Etta), Charles M. (who married Reva), Charles P. & Emily mortgaged the farm to Manley Conkrite. Grover H. & Reva Mae acquired it from the estate in 1936 and mortgaged to Charles Kimmel. They deeded the farm to Henry G. & Betty L. Smith on March 31, 1958. Henry is our conscientious substitute shepherd when we travel.

REUNIONS: Kent City Historical Society Newsletter reports the High School Class of 1942 is having a reunion, their first ever. All but three of the 29 class-mates are alive and all are located. Five teachers are still living. One is Miss Jane Wilson (Mrs. Elwood Brake Jr.). Two members drove to Ionia one day in February to inquire about Miss Wilson’s whereabouts. They stopped at the Sheriff’s office, where they were told to go to the Sentinel Standard and ask for Rus Gregory, Editor.
They went to the newspaper office and located Mr. Gregory, who knew exactly who Miss Wilson was and informed them that she was now living in Arizona. Their hearts sank, but he told them he thought he could find her. He made two phone calls and had her phone number in Mesa, Arizona. A few minutes later, Mr. Gregory had Miss Wilson (Mrs. Brake) on the phone. That was one phone call none of them will forget. Kent City was her first school. She was there during the years 1939-40 and 1940-41. In March two class-members visited her in Arizona. Then she sent a letter and photo to Kent City, discussing travel arrangements. It’s a definite maybe that she will come.

JANE WILSON BRAKE is the daughter of D. LEE WILSON, son of Riley N. Wilson, legendary farmer, merchant, constable and deputy sheriff of Sebewa. Later he went to Ionia to become Sheriff. The late Wilson Dalzell of Ypsilanti-Reed was another grandson. Riley Wilson lived on Lot #1, Block #6, John Friend’s Addition to the Plat of Sebewa in 1891. I believe that is the last house to the north, on the west side of Main Street (Keefer Hwy.), long occupied by Burton & Helen Gilbert. His biggest shoot-out in Sebewa was with a Mr. Dann, who threshed out and sold some wheat which he had previously mortgaged.

At Sebewa Center School, June 14, 1858, marking the 75th Anniversary of the building of the Sebewa Center Schoolhouse. Here is the chronology of the building project as reported in the PORTLAND OBSERVER in 1882-1883:

September 20, 1882. Our annual school meeting came off the other evening and resulted in the election of D. Brown, M. Severance, and Joshua Gunn as school board members and $1,500 was voted to build a new schoolhouse in the center of the township. (School was previously held in a wood structure one mile east.)
October 11, 1882. We will have a new schoolhouse at Sebewa Center in time for the winter term. It will be a brick structure 28 x 38 feet. The ground already has been broken for a wall and a portion of the material is on the ground.
November 1, 1882. The building committee of our new schoolhouse has decided to finish the foundation and then adjourn until next spring.
May 9, 1893. The new schoolhouse of Sebewa Center is progressing finely.
July 3, 1883. Our schoolhouse at Sebewa Center is progressing finely, being up and the roof on. We hope it will have a bell the pupils can’t ring, but one what will ring some of the pupils.
September 5, 1883. We hear of dissatisfaction about the new brick schoolhouse at Sebewa Center. It is not being built in a workmanlike manner.

Here are quotes from people who remembered being transferred from the old schoolhouse, a mile east, to the new building:
WALTER RALSTON: I was eleven years old when this schoolhouse at the Center was built. I remember my father hauling the brick for the school with a wagon, and I think he hauled them from Muir. I used to go over every day and help unload brick.
PETER BRITTEN: As for this new schoolhouse, the mason who did the work, his name was Frost and he was tended by Tim Barrel – that would be Robert Barrel’s father – and he was all summer at it. Tim used to lay down and go to sleep sometimes. He had plenty of time to waste and he knew how to do it. This schoolhouse was built in 1882-1883. It was a modern school at that time – very modern with the slate blackboards, which we certainly enjoyed. We were used to a wooden blackboard with big cracks in it. We would have to jump over those cracks when we were doing our problems on the board.
DELLA AVES CROSS: I well remember that when the water came in, in the old tin pail with the tin cup, then we’d all fight to see who was going to pass the water first. I remember too about the shutters on the windows there after we had our new schoolhouse. We had to keep them closed for a couple of years so that the window lights did not get broken. We played ball a lot out in the school yard. At first we all played together – the boys and the girls – and then they got so the girls wanted to play by themselves. They thought they could catch the ball in their aprons, but lots of times it went right through the apron onto the ground.

In 1883, the year the Sebewa Center Schoolhouse was finished, here is how things stood: Ionia had been settled for 50 years – Sebewa for 45 years. The Gunn sawmill that had furnished the lumber for the big square houses was being dismantled and moved north. Some of the first plank-frame barns were being erected in the community. A train of 19 cars loaded with emigrants, livestock, and tools left Ionia for Dakota Territory, as did several Sebewa residents.

Telephones were first being used in Portland, with a line running from the Depot to Maynard Allen Bank to Newman & Rice’s Mill. Windmills were beginning to replace hand power for pumping water on farms. The Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) Veteran’s Post was organized at Sebewa Corners. Red Ribbon Clubs were popular – as a part of the Temperance Movement, everyone signing the “Pledge” wore a red ribbon in his hat. Board fences were the think to have along the roadside. Ionia County had 1, 075 working oxen and 11,545 horses. Parlor organs were making their way into the “best” homes. Three strawberry farmers of Sebewa Center marketed many bushels of berries during the season.

Sebewa Corners had a Baseball Club and a bowling alley. Potato bugs were a problem for every farmer. Staples Brothers installed their cane mill and evaporator for making syrup from sorgum. Don Gallop of Odessa with his partner shot 640 buffalo in Dakota and brought back 500 hides to be tanned. A single bear seen in Sebewa Township created a furor. Because of a wet spring, wheat yielded only 10-15 bushels per acre. END

In this 110th year since the start of construction, The Annual Meeting of the Sebewa Center Association will be held on Memorial Day, May 25, 1992, beginning with a Potluck Super at 6:30 PM. In case you are a stranger, we are located at the intersection of Shilton & Bippley Roads, at the center of Sebewa Township. The three-year terms of Ilene Carr – Treasurer, and Wallace Sears – Trustee, expire.

At the May 27, 1991, Annual Meeting, a motion was made by Eleanor Allen, supported by Elaine Nash, to raise dues to $5.00 per year for all subscribers. Motion carried and the new rates begin with the new fiscal year after this issue – that is Volume 28. If you paid for 1991-1992, your dues run out at that time, except for a few who paid ahead.
We plan to have a slide program on early trains of Ionia & Montcalm Counties, presented by a man from Greenville, after the supper and business meeting. So bring your table service & a dish to pass and join us. Visitors welcome.



Last update November 15, 2013