Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 3 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 The Sebewa Center Association, Bulletin of The Sebewa Center Association, April 1968, Volume 3, Number 5:



     April 21 will be the first anniversary of the school house wrecking tornado of last year.  If we were to base our judgment of tornadoes on this one event (People often get their prejudices that way) our best advice for the season ahead would be to stay away from schoolhouses and especially barns located on the corner at the center of a township  during the month of April in early evening when radio static is high and the weather is balmy and threatening. 


     The early history of Portland and that of Sebewa were more closely related than are the two communities today.  Previous to the Legislative Act of 1845 that gave Sebewa the status of a township, the east half of Sebewa township and Danby township were a part of Portland township.  In the early period, Ionia was the next closest trading center to Portland for the people of the Sebewa area.  Newman’s mill was the place to go to get flour from the wheat the farmers grew.  The trip to Ionia was a long day’s adventure on the trails that passed for roads.

     When the railroad came to Ionia in 1857, passing through Muir, wagon loads of goods found their way to Portland from Muir.  A stage coach line ran from Lansing to Portland.  In 1869 the railroad from Lansing reached Portland, bringing easy access to goods and markets.  From that time until the railroad was built through Sunfield in 1883, Sebewa Corners merchants kept a steady flow of trading necessities between the Portland railhead and Sebewa Corners.  Dry goods, hardware, groceries and implements headed the list of supplies from town.  Butter, eggs, maple syrup and sugar, apples and animal products constituted the flow of goods in the other direction.

     It is the close interconnection between early Sebewa and Portland that maked it seem appropriate to include Portland’s early history as written by Mrs. Mary E. (Newman) Rice in Sebewa’s recollections.  Mrs. Rice’s father, James Newman, gave a history of Portland in an address July 4, 1876 celebrating the nation’s centennial.  Mrs. Rice drew heavily from her father’s piece.  Another time we may reprint the 1876 history here. 


     August 3, 1898.  SEBEWA MAN SHOT.  William Overly shot by Sheriff Jordan.  (headline from the PORTLAND OBSERVER.)

     William Overly, who formerly resided in Sebewa and who was well if not favorably known to many readers of the Observer in Sebewa and Portland is in a scrape but not the first one he has been in by any means.

     Some time ago, Overly removed with his parents from Sebewa to Marion, Indiana.  Here he got in with a tough gang, which was not a new sensation for him, for it is said he was tough before he left Sebewa and he was suspected of many criminal acts in that neighborhood whether he was guilty of them or not.  He was wanted at Marion for burglary and there was a reward of $25 for his capture.  He went by the name of Weaver except where he was known.

     A few days ago he was located on the farm of William Somers near DeWitt.  Last week Sheriff Jordan went there after him.  Overly was working in an oat field and when he saw Jordan, who was accompanied by Sheriff Dunn of Clinton County, he started to run.  Jordan fired three shots at him from a revolver, one of which winged him, the ball striking him near the left shoulder and coming out at the breast.

     Overly was given in charge of Lansing Physicians and the Indiana officers notified or the capture; by up to the last reports, no one had called for the prisoner nor had any word been received from them.  Reports vary as to the condition of the wounded man, some stating that he will soon recover while others say he can live but a short time.  The latest concerning the condition of Overly is that it is changing rapidly for the better.  The attending physician is Dr. Sanford, who has every hope of his recovery.  Overly is said to have informed the deputy sheriff who is in charge of him that he would not have submitted to a peaceable arrest and that by shooting him was the only way the officers could have accomplished their purpose.  He said that heretofore he had always gone armed but on this occasion he had been taken unawares.  He had no idea that the officers had tracked him to Clinton county, his friends at Sebewa failing to give him notice that they were on his trail.

     In view of the facts, Sheriff Jordan does not feel as badly about shooting Overly as he did, although he does not relish taking the life of a human being, though he be a criminal.

     Later—from Sebewa:  Will Overly, who was recently shot by Sheriff Jordan at DeWitt while endeavoring to escape arrest for attempted burglary and safe blowing at Marion, Indiana, has been hiding in this community for some time.  His quarters were at different places.  One place was near Sebewa Creek in George Seaman’s woods in a hut built of branches and poles, chicken bones and feathers being plentiful.  At another time he was in James Brown’s sugar house and in George Erdman’s sugar house.  He burned the pan in trying to keep warm in the cold rainy weather in May.  He sometimes hid in the loft of the Simmon’s house, venturing out at night to get something to eat.  At DeWitt he went by the name of Weaver or Watson.  He is wounded more seriously than the Sheriff thought, the ball passing through the upper portion of the right lung.

     August 17, 1898.  William Overly was removed to Lansing jail last week from which place officers took him to Marion, Indiana.  He is wanted for bank robbery and attempted murder, he having fired at an officer when escaping.  His partner, Phillips, got 14 years on his trial for the bank job, which took place a short time ago.  As Overly is said to be worse than he, there is every reason to expect he will get a bigger does.  Overly is a cool one and told Sheriff Jordan last week when the later went to DeWitt to help remove him to Lansing that he would have got him only by shooting him.

     January 4, 1899.   William Overly has been sentenced to the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City for attempted robbery about a year ago.  Our readers will remember that Overly when sufficiently recovered, was taken to Lansing where the Indiana officers then took him to the scene of his crime.  After leaving Michigan he rapidly recovered and upon being arraigned, pleaded guilty of the crime of which he was charged.  He was sentenced to 14 years and is now serving the sentence.  It was thought the sentence was unusually severe for the crime. 


     Fifty-seven years ago, come the first of June, my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Sayer, Mother’s two sisters—Ella Gunn and Mrs. Sarah Oatley—and I left Sebewa on an automobile tour to visit Mother’s aunt, Mrs. Josiah Smith in Arborville, Nebraska.  At that time in 1911 I had already owned and discovered the weaknesses of a Winton auto and a Reo.  With a fairly new Velie car and the enthusiasm of being 21, I had few worries about the hazards of driving my auto 900 miles over little mapped roads to our Nebraska destination.

     Picture us starting out, the ladies sitting high in the rear seat in their riding costumes, my father in front on the left while I was at the wheel working the gear shift lever on the right and gave a toot toot on the air horn as we left our friends and home.  There were no front doors on the car and we rode with the windshield folded and the top down.  When I think of it now, my passengers—all in or near their fifties—must have had adventurous spirits to start on such a trip as few had ever undertaken at that early stage of automobile travel.

     We had gone only a little past Hastings when we ran into a big thunderstorm.  Then it was everybody out, raise the top, get the side curtains from storage and put them in place against the rain as fast as we could sort one piece from another.  The storm over, it was time for our basket lunch.  For years to come we could point to this spot near Hastings to show our children and grandchildren this “historic” first stopping place on our trip.

     In the wake of the rain the little clouds of dust our tires had raised in puffs from the dirt roads all the way from Sebewa were left behind.  For a while we drove the wet sand roads of Barry County.  Soon we were in unfamiliar territory, rolling along steadily to the tune of the singsong whine of the transmission gears in the Velie.  Without a mishap we reached La Porte, Indiana for the first overnight stop where the ladies could treat their sun and wind burned faces.  There had been an occasional stop at a gas pump in front of the one-mechanic garages.  I was not much concerned about the mechanics, for the Velie had a large metal tool box mounted on the left running board.  I knew my tools and motor well and a few minor adjustments would usually restore the car to good running order.

     One highlight of our trip was finding Moline, Illinois and stopping at the factory where the Velie was built.  Like so many other auto plants of that time, the Velie factory was largely an assembly plant.  The car used a Continental motor that was made in Muskegon, a Timken axle and a transmission that was made elsewhere.  In the early days of auto manufacture, almost any auto plant was open for inspection by the public.

     The third night out we found accommodations with some of Mother’s relatives at Mechanicsville, Iowa.  In those days, relatives were always welcomed for a stay of a day or a week—no matter.  You came, accepted what was offered and enjoyed the company.  You would do the same when these relatives or others might show up at your home.

     At Cedar Rapids, Iowa we found the only stretch of pavement on the whole trip.  The Iowans had laid a 5-mile strip of brick pavement.  We followed the Lincoln Highway for a long distance—not by watching the non-existant road signs, however.  We took our directions from the Blue Book that told you to “turn left at the first street beyond the Main Street railroad crossing, go two miles and then turn right”.  Most of the roads on this route were still dirt roads.  In Illinois some of the roads were of crushed limestone.  When these were worn down by wagon traffic, they were good roads.  But when we came to the newly crushed rock, our tires suffered rapidly.

     I had bought new 34” x 4” tires for the trip at $40 per tire.  They were guaranteed for 3,500 miles—not the 35,000 guarantee we look for today.  On the trip home in particular half day we traveled only 15 miles—the rest of the time we spent in patching tires, mounting and blowing them up with that old callous maker, the hand tire pump.

     When we reached the end of the flat lands at a town in Iowa, a garage man warned me of the sand hills west of town.  “Pretty hard going and you might not make it.  If you get stuck, call me.  If you let the farmers out there haul you out, they’ll rob you”.  The Velie took the hills in stride.

     On Saturday morning we were sure we should reach Arborville by evening.  We had not counted on the weather.  A rainstorm came along and changed the road dust to a gumbo such as we had never seen in Barry sands or Sebewa mud.  We might as well have tried to drive through a shallow lake of grease.  We left the car at a little town and took the train for the last leg of the trip.  Poor connections stretched the arrival time to early Sunday.  A few days later I returned by train and was able to drive the car after the roads had dried.

     Of course we had a good visit with the Smiths.  Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Smith had been old time Sebewa residents and once lived near Sebewa Center in the 1870’s on what became the Charles Gierman farm.  They were caught up in the movement to the rich farm lands of Kansas and Nebraska.

     Somehow our return trip became more routine and left fewer memories.  We stayed overnight at a hotel in Hammond, Indiana.  It did not take long for my aunts, Ella and Sarah to discover that their room had steady boarders in the form of bed bugs.  Armed with shoes in hand, they whacked the bugs wherever they could see them.  They caused such a racket that the manager came to inquire what was all the commotion.  Next morning Ella left him the answer by impaling the night’s kill on pins and using the pillow for a pin cushion display of the slaughter.

     Next day was back in Michigan for us.  But at Dowagiac there was a break down of the timing gears and we again had to resort to the train.  I sent my order for the parts to the factory at Moline.

     About a week later, with new parts, Asa Cassel, Earl Pettingill and I borrowed Henry Whorley’s model T Ford (Henry was sick and could not go) and drove to Dowagiac where we had left the Velie.  By the time I had replaced the gears, it was dark.  That did not keep us from starting home.  The carbide lights were lit by a match, the headlight doors were snapped shut and we were ready to travel.  The roads were unfamiliar in the darkness and part of the time we were not certain we were traveling in the right direction.  By dawn we were able to ask an early rising and somewhat astonished farmer the way into Hastings.  At last we finished the trip. 


     “Born to”, “It’s a Boy” and It’s a Girl” have become the standard treatment for newspaper announcements of the newly born of the present generation.  It was not always so.  Culled from the news items of the PORTLAND OBSERVER from 1873 to 1885 are the following birth announcements of Sebewa babies born during that period, reflecting the hopes and joys of parents and correspondents alike.  None of the announcements of that time are omitted and nothing is added.  Obviously there were many births during that time that were not mentioned in the local items.

     Born in Sebewa September 26, 1873, to the wife of Mr. Bowers Peabody, a son and a daughter.

     April 13, 1875.  A few mornings since, we are informed, Mr. D. W. Goddard of Sebewa for many years a supervisor of that town, arose, and going to the door, found a basket containing a girl baby about three days old.  Not wishing to adopt the young hopeful, he took it to the poorhouse at Ionia, but as infants are not admitted to that institution while so young, the little stranger was taken back and will probably find a home with Mr. Goddard’s family for the present.  It is not known who is the mother of the child.

     In Sebewa to the wife of Daniel Dorance, a daughter, May 9, 1876.

     On the 26th inst. To the wife of Tracy Ostrander, of Sebewa, a son.

     One more Democrat in Sebewa.  On Thanksgiving morning a fine young Democrat arrived at the home of Mr. Anson Rebedue.  December 5, 1876.

     Born in Sebewa April 4 to the wife of Luman Smith, a daughter.  April 10, 1877.

     Born to the wife of A. C. Kellogg on Christmas morning, a fine young Democrat girl.

     Born to the wife of E. B. Buckman on Tuesday, March 19, a girl.  April 2, 1878.

     Born in Sebewa, on the 7th inst. To the wife of C. P. Cook, a daughter, weight 8 ˝ pounds.  April 9, 1878.

     Arrived at the home of Frank Congleton (a few days since) a young Democrat.  4-30-78.

     Among the late arrivals we note a Greenbacker at the residence of Dennis Gunn and a daughter at the S. B. VanNockers.  March 11, 1879.  Walker Downing had a large fortune fall on him Sunday last, March 8.  It was a boy that flips the beam at 9#.

     John Smock also wears the care of a parent, for it is his first boy.  December 10, ’79.

     Born to the wife of Albert Meyers, a daughter.  November 19, 1879.

     Josiah Smith steps around as if walking on air.  It’s a fine daughter this time.

     December 10, 1879.  Henry Reeder’s wife lately presented her husband with a span of twins.  2-4-1880.

     A young mail carrier and prospective president of the U. S. has made his appearance at Marshall L. Nichols’ house on the 27th inst.  He is going to board with Marshall for a while.  February 4, 1880.

     Lon Lapo probably thinks there is material enough in that 10-pound boy of his to bloom into a future president or supervisor, and no one blames him for it.  2-11-1880.

     Born in Sebewa on the 29th inst. To the wife of Allen Olmstead, a daughter. 3-31-80.

     Born to the wife of Samuel Shilton of Sebewa, a girl, weight 10 pounds.  Samuel is happy.  July 7, 1880.

     Born in Sebewa on the 17th inst. To the wife of John Olry, a 9 ˝ pound boy.  5-18-81.

     Paul Wood wears an extremely benedictive look lately, and why not?  It’s an eight-pound daughter.  August 24, 1881.

     Born to the wife of Salem Ostrander, Sebewa on the 10th inst., a daughter.

     Born to the wife of Ira Fuller, Sebewa a daughter on the 22nd inst.  January 25, 1882.

     Mr. E. Kenyon is the happy recipient of a bouncing baby boy.  March 28, 1883.

     Mr. William Heintzelman is the recipient of a bouncing baby boy.  May 9, 1883.

     Many of our citizens failed to see Jumbo.  We don’t know how to help them out unless they come over to Thomas Little’s and see little Jumbo, a boy, weight nine pounds.  July 3, 1883.

     Born to Rush Baldwin and wife October 13, 1883, a boy.

     Bert Sexton is papa.  It is a girl.  April 30, 1884.

     Matt Knolles is happy.  It’s a girl.  June j18, 1884.

     Hello!  Anson Rebedue says he is $500 better off this morning.  It’s a fine daughter.  June 18, 1884.

     Born in Sebewa, July 4th, 1884 to Mr. and Mrs. John Simons, twins, both girls.

     Born July 3rd to the wife of Robert Barry, a daughter, weight three pounds.  7-9-84.

     Dr. Waring and wife have welcome company.  It’s a fine girl.  July 1, 1884.

     Ira Knolls has a fine son.  July 30, 1884.

     A brand new baby at Ben Shilton’s.  It’s a boy.  January 21, 1885.

     Born in Sebewa March 31 to Mr. and Mrs. James Crowell a six pound girl.  4-15-85.

     If you please, Oscar Sholtus will be called daddy in the future.  It’s a girl of usual weight.  April 22, 1885.

     Christian Sindlinger is happy.  It’s a fine boy.  April 29, 1885. 

THE HISTORY OF EARLY DAYS IN PORTLAND, giving some interesting data of early days, of pioneer days and struggles.  The following historical sketch of early pioneer days in Portland was compiled and published in a booklet by Mary E. Rice in 1908.  It contains many interesting facts concerning the founding of Portland, recalling vividly to mind the desperate struggles and hardships of those men and women who first settled here and with a courage that knows no defeat, fought and overcame a wilderness that at that time was almost impregnable.

     The first land taken up from the Government in what is now Portland was secured by Elisha Newman in June 1833.  It was at the mouth of the Looking Glass River.  About that time he was visiting some friends in Ann Arbor where the subject of unlocated lands lying west of Ann Arbor became the subject of conversation.  One of the company told of having been with the engineers when they surveyed Ionia County and of having encamped for several days at the mouth of the Looking Glass.  He remembered one of the engineers having remarked “Here is a good water power and there will be a village here sometime.”  Elisha Newman proposed that they get up a company and go out and see the point.  The same night, Elisha Newman, my grandfather, Joseph Wood and James Newman, my father, agreed upon a plan and started without delay on the enterprise with pony, blankets and provisions.  The route lay past Whitmore Lake through an unbroken wilderness except as cut by Indian trails to the place of their destination.

     Finding the place met their expectations, the party went to Portage Lake, 12 miles north of Jackson where they hired an Indian to pilot Elisha Newman to Jackson.   From there he went to White Pigeon by stage, located his land and returned to Ann Arbor.

     Philo Bogue with his family located here in November of 1833.  He commenced trading with the Indians on a small scale and following his occupation until his death, which was on July 25, 1839.

     John Milne came on December 1833 directly from England.  Thomas Shepard, also an Englishman and a bachelor, located here at the same time but did not tarry long.

     Ezra I. Perrin came in July 1834.  A man named John Friend located at Friend Brook and commenced getting out timber for a sawmill.  He lived in a tent and was so badly frightened by bears and wolves that he pulled out for Lyons and eventually left the county, but the brook still bears his name.

     John Knox, wife and two sons, Alanson and Harvey, came in 1834.  The first settlement in the north part of the township was by Robert Toan, Sr. and family in 1837, and Gardner Maynard and family in the same year.

     On the 24th of May, 1836 the Newmans arrived to take  possession of the lands purchased in 1833.  In the party were Elisha Newman, Samuel B. Smith, Lyman Bennett, Almeron and James Newman, the latter two were accompanied by their families as was also Mr. Bennett.  Mr. Bennett brought two yoke of oxen and a wagon and James Newman brought a span of horses and a wagon.  A few supplies had been brought in at the same time but most of their household goods were sent by way of the lakes to Grand Haven, thence up the river to Lyons on a pole boat called the Napoleon.

     When the Newmanss arrived, they found the coast clear.  The Indians, a small tribe in charge of Squagen, their chief, had their home at the point where the Looking Glass enters the Grand but the tribe had gone down the river to Bogue’s flats and a little wigwam at the point afforded a very comfortable shelter for the women until a house could be built.  This was of logs with a bark roof.  Split logs furnished the floor in one half of the house while the bare ground served as a floor in the other half until timber could be brought from Libhart Mill on Libhart Creek near Lyons.  A hole in the roof let out the smoke until a mud and stick chimney could be built, while blankets served for a time as doors and windows.  It was in this house that Mary E. Newman, the writer of this sketch, was born October 23, 1837, the first white child born on the east side of Grand River in Portland.  Time passed and provisions grew less.  Nothing had been heard from the goods which had been shipped via lake and river, so a square toed white-man’s build of canoe was secured and Almeron Newman and Lyman Bennett started downstream with a Chicago merchant, who had been to New York after goods.

     In due course of time they arrived at Grand Haven.  There they found a man who was running a boat on Lake Michigan and he told them that goods answering the description of Mr. Newman’s were in Chicago and were likely to stay there for some time unless sent for.  They instructed this man to get the goods and forward them by boat to Lyons and then hired their passage and their canoe on the Napoleon as far as Grand Rapids where they purchased a barrel of flour, a barrel of port, a small piece of iron, a cow bell and other necessities.  Then they bought a piece of bed cord, fastened it to the canoe, canal boat fashion, Bennett pulling the boat while Newman poled it.  By the time they reached Ionia they were so exhausted that they tied it there, flitted home and sent a new recruit for it.

     The next task was the damming of the Looking Glass and digging a race.  It was an expensive job but it was put through without a halt as was also the building of the sawmill.  The latter was started in December 1836 and in January 1837 a small run of stone and a bolt attached was put in.  The first flour made in that mill was supposed to have been the first bolted flour made west of Pontiac.  The mill did all the grinding for this section of the country until 1842 when James Newman and Peter M. Kent built the mill which was burned February 9, 1893.  Peter M. Kent was a millwright and came to the settlement in June 1846 for the purpose of building Newman’s sawmill.

      The first glorious Fourth of July Celebration was held in Portland in 1836 by a patriotic band of about one dozen pioneers.  Mrs. Bogue, seeing the display on the east bank of the Grand, caught the spirit, and not to be outdone, procured a pole and attached a white cloth to it, placing it in a hollow on the west bank in front of her house.

     This was before the day of matches and it was a common occurrence to see people going to neighbors after a shovel of coals for great care had to be taken lest the fire go out.  A flintstone, a jackknife and a bunch of tow were kept on hand by some for fear the fire would fail them entirely.

      This was also a day of crude cooking utensils.   The iron bake kettle, tin oven, iron kettle suitable for hanging on the crane in the great fireplace and then the brick oven, which would hold a week’s baking for a good sized family were all in evidence in those days.

     The manner of crossing the rivers before the advent of bridges was varied and sometimes dangerous.  In times of low water, fording the river was the usual method.  The ford on the Grand was where the lower bridge is now located.  Here a footbridge was built later.  It was on benches, covered with plank and was all right until the river got on a rampage.  Then there was a great hustling to save the plank and the benches.  The ferry was a flat boat capable of carrying four or five men and a span of horses, one man to hold the horses and two or three to do the ferrying.  The wagon had to go in the second load.  When that was taken over, the team was hitched to the wagon and proceeded on its way.  Canoes were abundant but not very safe except in the hands of an expert, especially in times of high water.   The first bridge was built in 1837-38 where the upper bridge now stands.

     When Mr. Shepard left the county, his land passed into the hands of A. S. Wadsworth, who in 1838 divided his land into village lots and commenced building a dam on Grand River as well as the erection of a grist mill where the factory now stands.  He also undertook to build a sawmill on the Grand.  His mills he never finished and his dam was twice carried away by floods.  Becoming discouraged, he sold his mill machinery to the Newmans and departed to other fields.  A. Newman put this machinery into a carding machine on the Looking Glass.  Newman had been by occupation a clothier and his little factory at Portland was the first establishment of the kind put into operation west of Pontiac.

     The Indians, when sober, were of great service in the early days of Portland.  They furnished the early settlers with venison, fish, berries sugar and baskets—all of the best quality—exchanging them for pork, flour or money.  Occasionally one would get drunk and become quarrelsome.   At one time some five or six came to father’s house when he was away and wanted something to eat.  Mother set a lunch on the table for them.  While they were eating, two of the party got to quarreling and drew knives.  Mother spoke sharply to them, commanding them to go out doors to do their fighting as they scared her papooses.  They went as directed and the door was bolted against them.  Their food was then passed out the window to them, which they took and departed.  One day an Indian got pretty drunk and wanted more whiskey and it was refused him.  Then he attempted to stab the trader, but the knife was knocked out of his hand.  The trader complained to the chief, who had the offending Indian severely whipped.  When he recovered from the whipping, he returned and demanded more whiskey, saying he had been whipped two quarts too much.

      Another incident which Mrs. Maynard used to tell was that one day she saw some squaws dipping some Indians in the river and then hauling them out again.  She went home and told her mother that the squaws were drowning the Indians.  Mrs. Churchill went to see what they were doing and chided them for their treatment of their spouses.  But when one of the squaws told her “White man make my man drunk, me make him sober” she left them to complete the work so well begun.

     The Indian cemetery was located on the point of the confluence of the Looking Glass and Grand Rivers.  Elisha Newman had the point fenced in so that the cattle and hogs would not injure the graves.  When the Indians discovered what had been done, they went up to Mr. Newman and kissed his hand in token of their appreciation and of the kindness shone.

     The early roads wandered here and there according to the makeup of the ground.  For example, the road from Bogue’s and Milne’s flats used to wind around the hill passing between the barn and house on the farm now owned by Charles Culver.  When the road on the hill was established, some of the buildings on the flats were left in the midst of the fields.

     Wild game abounded.  Wild pigeons were so thick that the wheat fields suffered from their depredations and it was customary to catch them with nets.  Elisha Newman was an expert at that game and I witnessed the springing of many a net in my girlhood days.

     Fish were abundant and of first quality.  Sturgeon of immense size were often caught to the delight of the small boy who wanted a piece of sturgeon’s nose for the center of his ball to make it bound.  At such times, the village shoemaker, William Dinsmore, who always delighted to please the boys, was kept busy cutting ball covers from old boot tops and mothers were instructed how to stitch them on.

     In the fall of 1836, my maternal grandfather, Abner Hixon, came to the settlement, bringing his wife and eight of his twelve children.  They occupied a part of the double log house with father’s family.  Shortly after their arrival the settlers were called together for the purpose of naming the village so that letters might reach them more readily.  My father asked my uncle, Abram Hixon, to go along with him to the meeting.  When it came to handing in the names, there were so many that it staggered the assembly.  The names suggested were Johnstown, Jamestown, Boguetown, Boyerville, Newmanville.  During the silence that followed, Abram Hixon said to father “Why not call it Portland?  I think that is a nice name”.  “Suggest it”, said father but he declined.  Father then said the name of Portland had been suggested to him and he thought it very appropriate as there was certainly a very fine landing where all the passing boats stopped.  All present were pleased with the name and so Portland it was named.  My uncle always felt proud that he had suggested the name and kept a warm place in his heart for our village.

     In the spring of 1837, W. R. Churchill came to the village.  He bought the land where Mr. Crane’s drug store now stands and put up a building to be used as a tavern or store as circumstances should direct.  At this juncture came one, David Sturgis, a Canadian, looking for an opening.  He bought a half interest with Mr. Churchill in the building then being erected with the agreement that when it was finished, they should as partners, open it as a store.  When it was completed, they were being sought by Joshua Boyer to rent it to him for a tavern.  Agreeing to let him have it, Churchill and Sturgis opened their store near where A. F. Morehouse’s old office building stands and for some time they carried on a flourishing business.  Boyer opened the tavern and called it MANSION HOUSE.

     Portland became a post office in 1837 with Joshua Boyer as postmaster.  The office was on the route between Detroit and Grand Rapids and mail was received once a week by horseback mail carriers.  About 1846, stage coaches took the place of the horseback riders and then there was daily mail.

     In the early days of the post office when the mail receipts were little more than nothing, the opening of the mail bag was a ceremony upon which all of the villagers felt morally obliged to attend.  At such times, Mr. Churchill, who was Mr. Bogue’s deputy after he succeeded to the office, would call out the addresses on the letters and as fast as he would run over them the eager expectants would step forward and take what was for them, provided 25 cents was handy, which was not always the case.  At one time, William H. Turner, living three miles from the village was informed that there was a letter for him at the post office.  Turner cast about for the necessary two shillings, but neither having it himself or being able to borrow it from others, he threw a bushel of wheat over his shoulder and trudged away to town for his letter.  Much to his surprise the  postmaster could not think of taking anything but two shillings in coin, “For”, he said “as much as I would like to accommodate you, I couldn’t get anybody to give me money for the wheat, and it is money I must have when I settle with the Post Office Department”.  Nor could Mr. Turner find anybody willing to give him anything but store pay for his wheat, so he left his letter at the post office and carried his wheat home again, there to bide the time when he might be able to raise the two shillings in cash.

     This reminds me of a similar incident at the little mill.  One day Willard Brooks came to my father and said “Mr. Newman, we are out of flour and we have no money with which to buy more.  Can you loan me some until harvest?”  Father went to the mill and he found he had just two bushels of wheat that he had taken as a toll.  He ground the wheat, divided it into two equal portions, letting Mr. Brooks have half, while he took the other half home for his own family use.  These are but samples of the many deprivations of early pioneer life.

     Mr. Boyer was postmaster until 1842; C. W. Ingall until 1849; Hezekiah Smith until 1850; W. W. Bogue until 1852 and Dr. F. J. Lee until 1861.  Others have followed in the order printed up to the present day:  Dr. Root, F. M. McCutcheon, W. W. Bogue, Frank E. Doremus, Fred J. Mauren and Grant M. Morse.

    The first wedding in Portland was that of Susan Moore to Joshua Boyer, September 4, 1836, Squire Dexter of Ionia performing the ceremony.

     The legislature act organizing Portland into a township was approved March 6, 1838.  The first township meeting was held at the home of Joshua Boyer on Monday, April 2, 1838.  William R. Churchill and Almeron Newman were appointed clerks of the meeting.  The result of the meeting was as follows:  Supervisor, Ira Webster; Justices of the Peace Samuel Northam and Almeron Newman; Clerk Almeron Newman; Assessors Elijah Shoff, Almeron Newman and Charles Gott; Highway Commissioners W. D. Morse, Chancellor Barringer and James Newman.

     In an early day, the method of obtaining goods by the merchants was to have them brought in by wagon from Detroit, which took from 7 to 8 days at first, until the plank road was built from Lansing to Detroit.

     The first school taught in Portland was in the small log house near where the depot now stands.  This was burned in an early day and it was the first fire in Portland.  A vacant house near the Looking  Glass was then secured for the school.  The school district was organized June 6, 1837 with H. Bartow and Zina Lloyd as school inspectors.  It was known as District #3 in the town of Maple, taking in Maple at the north and extending through Danby on the south.  At a special meeting of the taxable inhabitants of said district of the township Maple September 20, 1837, Almeron Newman was elected Moderator, W. R. Churchill Director, and James Newman Assessor.  It was resolved that there be six month’s school during the year and that $90 be raised for the support of the school and that patrons should furnish fuel for the same.  The wood was furnished sled length and the larger boys were expected to chop it as fast as wanted.  The same year $10 was appropriated for a district library.  October 11, 1839 it was voted to raise $300 to build a schoolhouse.  The following March this vote was rescinded and voted down.

      At the annual meeting in 1840 it was voted unanimously to raise $300 to build a schoolhouse the following year.  The vote was never acted upon.  Again at the annual meeting of 1842 it was voted to raise $300 for a school building and its appendages.  It was subsequently proposed to locate the schoolhouse on the west side but the proposition was withdrawn.  The old red schoolhouse was then built on the hill where Mrs. Hattie Williams’ house now stands.  Lodiwiski Baker taught the first summer school for $2 per week and Charles C. Fullington the winter school at $18 per month.  There were 52 children of school age in the district but 70 attended school.  We had ample playgrounds and a steep hill down which we used to slide to the detriment of shoes and clothing, but a healthy exercise as all must admit. 


     Number forty-four is Chris Fandel of Section 2.

Bulletin of The Sebewa Center Association
Robert W. Gierman, Editor
R 1
Portland, Michigan 48875  U. S. A.


Last update March 11, 2013