From Virgin Forests
Reprinted from The South Haven Daily Tribune, August 6, 1931.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Frank J. CLark of Lacota, whose father established the first store in Geneva township and who, himself, a few-weeks ago was honored at a large public meeting in Casco for fifty years of service to his community, gate the principal address at the annual Lacota homecoming on Saturday, July 25th. His talk describes the early pioneer life of this section and is of interest not only to Lacota but to the whole community Mr. Clark draws sharp contrasts between the life ofthose who created a civilized community from the wilderness and we who call ourselves "moderns." Withal the talk is well flavored with humor and The Tribune takes considerable pleasure In complying with almost one hundred requests and printing it as a historical document.)
COMMUNITY CLUB PICNIC
July 25, 1931.
By FRANK J. CLARK
You have many times heard sermons preached from the text, "If a man die shall he live again," or, "I heard a voice from Heaven saying, write," etc, and therefore from so common a text have heard the same thing over and over. So if I say something to day you have heard before just consider I am no different than the preacher.
I was supposed to give a little talk at the soldiers picnic at Pullman and said to my daughter Wildarene, ‘you are just out of high school, should I start out by saying I am not a public speaker?" She said, "why, no, Pa, they will find that out the first sentence." So I am reading this.
The Lacota Community Club, sponsor of this picnic and entertainment was organized April 22, 1923, with Francis Reames as president, and is one of the worthwhile organizations of the cornmunity. It is an organization which does not invite but rather considers each individual citizen as belonging to it and a part of it — to take part, suggest, and do things for the betterment, entertainment, and good of the community as a whole.And in the past it has been very successful in giving diversified entertainment from the humorous and vaudeville, to the more valued things of life, such as farming, music, promotion of Church, school, and morality. It has a president and other officers, for the purpose of organization, but we as citizens are supposed to be it and it depends upon us to come forward and do the things necessary to make it a success. All are it’s members, and all should do their part; and as a community club we, today, wish to assure outside visiting friends that we are more than glad to welcome you and consider you one of us at this time.
Many pages could be written of the pioneer days and of the pleasures and hardships of the people who lived here back in the 60's However, how much of it might be of interest to the people hcre might be a question, so I will make this short. The first white man to settle in Geneva was Clark Pierce in 1837, whose son, Irving Pierce, was the first white child born in the township and after whom the platted part of the original village was named, being called Irvington. It was platted by Enoch M. Pease in 1871. Mr. Irving Pierce was born Oct. 6, 1844, and died June 27, 1930, in Bangor.
How Lacota Was Named
The Michigan Central railroad had a town on its lines by the name of Irving, and some confusion in shipping resulted; after a few years the railroad asked for a different name for the town. The citizens were asked to submit a name, which was done by many; the name selected was furnished by V. D. Dilley, father of Varn, who at the time was reading an Indian novel, the principal character being an Indian Maiden, by the name of Lacota, hence the name.
While the Post-office, depot, and village are called Lacota, the original plat, commencing at Jake Holton’s and north and east to the Simpson farm, is still recorded and the property described as being in the village of Irvington, the balance of the place being pretty well chopped up. The Dilley plat on the west is Lacota while the McLean, Simpson, Deming, Oxley properties, Postoffice, Church, Clark’s store, and the depot, the railroad property never having been plotted, are all situated in the township of Geneva, but not in either Irvington or Lacota.
The territory that now comprises Geneva was a wilderness after other townships east and north had become the homes of a few immigrants. The year that South Haven, then embracing several townships, was set off in 1837, Clark Pierce, a native of Vermont, bought 160 acres of land on the Monroe road, laid cut two years before. After locating this land he built a log cabin and lived alone about two years, his nearest neighbors being settlers at Breedsville and his brother Daniel, who was occasionally at South Haven where he had bought land and put up a cabin.
In the summer of ‘39, Daniel and Clark Pierce rented 90 acres of land at Schoolcraft, moved there, and sowed it to winter wheat In 1841, Clark Pierce married Miss Royce, and in 1843, moved back with his wife and one son to the Geneva cabin where they passed two years of hermit life as the only family in the township, until 1845.
The land at South Haven had passed into the hands of a New York company. Clark Pierce was hired to move there, erect a mill and boarding house. and take charge of the property. His family moved there in 1845, having at that time two sons. June, 1846, they returned to the farm and from 1837 to February, 1846, no one had settled in the town. At that time Eri Eaton and Andrew Miner, came in and settled near the center of town. Eri Eaton and Leander J. Eastman came about this time and stopped a few days with Hiram Chappel in Columbia, until they could build cabins.
First Pioneer Home
Philip Hoag built a log house in 1848, directly back of where Gail Dilley’s house now stands. He was instrumental in getting the town set off from Columbia. Nathan Tubbs came in 1849, Charles N. Hoag in 1851, Moses Welch, father of George Welch, in 1852. Mr. Welch was Instrumental in getting the first road through to South Haven and in 1853 had the contract for building the east end of the long causeway.
Benjamin Knowles, father of Frank Knowles, came to Breedsville in 1837, went through to the mouth of Black River with Clark Sheffer, when nothing was there except a few houses, the first one having been built in 1833.
Geneva township, in which Lacota is situated, was set off from South Haven and Columbia, about 1850 and Jan. 5, 1854, it became a separate township by action of the Board of Supervisors.
The first election was held April 3, 1854. Twenty-two votes were cast,
and the following officers elected:
Nathan Tubbs, supervisor;
PhillipM. Brooks, treasurer; Charles N. Hoag, clerk, Justices of
the peace, Eri Bennett, Leander J. Eastman, Jesse L. Lane,
Philip Hoag; Highway Commissioner, Clark Pierce, Leander J. Eastman, Jesse
Directors of the Poor, Eri Eaton, Clark Pierce.
The first general election held In the township after its organization was on the 7th day of November, 1854, at which fourteen votes were cast, twelve Democratic and two Republican, which would indicate that the intelligence of those old pioneers was, oh, well! never mind that—
(Editor’s Note: Mr. Clark Is a staunch Democrat).
I have a tax receipt on the farm of my birth, now owned by Bert Hinz, for the year 1859, and the tax paid was one dollar and fifty-nine cents with no road tax considered. And now the township has a million and a quarter valuation, pays taxes of $35,000 and has 835 qualified voters. Instead of blazed trails we have sixteen miles of county and state roads, as well as twenty miles of electric power lines and telephones in nearly every home. These figures are from the paper of Franklin Tolles read at the town hall.
The first school was taught by Caroline Miner in 1848 in her own
home. The children from three families only attending. School district
No. 1 was organized June, 1854, and no school had been taught. S. W. Lull
was director. In 1854 a school was taught in a cabin on Moses Welch’s place,
now the Vydareny farm. A school house was erected about 1855, and built
of logs, in what was called the Lull district. Mrs. Charles Hoag and Mrs.
Ben Knowles, were among the first teachers. First Township Schools
Mrs. John Tripp taught the Webb school, Kibbie, in 1871, at a salary of two dollars per week and boarded around the district. Later she received six dollars per week for the same school. Her salary for the year would not pay her 1930 school tax.
At this time mail was brought from Breedsville by carrier over a blazed trail semi-occassionaily, mostly by Andrew Miner, who received contributions for the work, from the few inhabitants which usually amounted to about seventy cents for the trip. Next came the stage with a Post-office at the Jerome Watson home where Ralph now lives.
The following is a partial list of teachers receiving certificates from the inspectors. There are many more but I am naming only those I remember personally: 1856—William M. Welch; 1857 — Mary E. Welch; 1859 — Evangeline Fellows; 1869Francis Jones; 1861 — Aldena Hoag; 1862 — Eliza Clark; 1863 — Rebecca Burlingame; 1864 — Aristena Metcalf; 1865 — Gideon Hail, Carrie Longwell; 1867 — Elisa A. Crowell. Superintendent of School at this time was John Tripp, now of Kibbie.
The first preacher in the township, one of the Methodist denominations, was Rev. J. H. Robinson, who formed a class at the log house of Nathan Tubbs, March 1854 now the Watson farm. The members were Nathan Tubbs and wife, Moses Welch and wife, Mrs. Harriet Hoag, Mrs. Catherine Miner, Mrs. Charles Davey, and Philip Hoag. A church was built at Irvington in the summer of 1876 at a cost of $800, and now has a membership of around fifty, with Rev. G. D. Yinger as pastor. A few of the ministers who followed Robinson may be remembered by some: Clark, Hendrickson, Kellogg, Skinner, Paddock, Odin, Harper, Van Fosserm-Jaynes, Lawrence.
The circuit which included this territory consisted of Breedsville, Bangor, Watervliet, Coloma, and St. Joseph. A Methodist class was started at Chambers school house in 1875 at the close of a revival under the charge of Rev. E. H. Mackinney, and was under the charge of South Haven, by the Rev. Messrs. Parker, Housberger and Carroll.
A Free Will Baptist society was organized in 1856 at what was known as Eatonberg. Rev. Mr. Burrows became the pastor who was succeeded by Rev. Mr. Myers, who was grandfather of Roll Myers, for years our railroad mail clerk and Ed Myers, who at one time had a store in Lacota.
We sometimes think of those early days, when everybody was your friend and you could leave your meat in the smoke house for days knowing no one would molest it, and when a man would awake at 12 o’clock at night, and, thinking over the previous day’s business, would figure out where he had short changed a neighbor one cent, would get up, dress, and walk a mile to make good, fearing the neighbors would think him dishonest. And a person would butcher and always take a piece of fresh meat to the neighbors. Those were the lucky days for the grocer, who never had a butchering day.
Harvest time was looked forward to as a community benefit, same as the canning factory, piano factory, and resort business for the employment of those who wanted employment, and many of the men would go to Schoolcraft, Prairie Ronde, and Flowerfield, Kalamazoo county, for employment during harvest time when all grain was secured with cradle and hand rake nothing like a reaper, self-binder, or mowing machine, such as we have now, were known. Even threshing machines were unknown and the grain was threshed by throwing the bundles on the barn floor and the grain pounded out by hand with a tool known as the flail, consisting of a long heavy handle and a short one tied on the end. And all our clothing was spun and woven in the home and mothers knit the hosiery for the whole family —sitting up half the night to keep the family clothed. From this, the old adage, "Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done."
There was no market for more than one or two dozen eggs and eggs were gathered in market baskets and fed to the hogs; the prevailing price for the one or two dozen which you might be able to sell was about six cents per dozen.
Lights consisted of a saucer containing lard in which a rag was placed which, lighted, would make a light for mother to put in the weary hours of night in knitting. Then came the tallow candle, homemade run in a mould which some great inventor in his exceptional wisdom had invented. And when the old "Michigan test" Kerosene oil first came it was the greatest boon to mankind ever dreamed of, and the men who could afford it at all, the price being fifty cents per gallon, dared buy only one or two quarts at a time, and go home, fill the lamp and take the balance out in the woods and bury it for tear it would explode and blow up the family.
Life in the Forest.
In those days there was no pressing the button for lights and water,
but you had to go to a spring or some old fashioned dug well, if you were
fortunate enough to have one, for water.And the water in the wells was
secured by a long pole sweep on which was fastened a chain as long as the
depth of the well and on the end of the chain was (Editor’s note:
At this point in Mr. Clark’s address, his younger daughter, Wildarene,
and Miss Bonnie Gould sang "The Old Oaken Bucket")
Phillip Hoag, Chancy Eaton and others, had a beech or maple stump hollowed out on the top in which they would put a quantity of corn, which was pulverized or ground with a stone to make meal for the family, when they were unable for any reason to put a bag of wheat on their shoulder and walk to Decatur to have it ground. There was no, "Johnny, run to the store and get a loaf of bread or package of flakes for breakfast", a wonderful comparison with the fact that 300 loaves of bread are sold daily from the local stores, at the present time. Wild deer and turkey were plenty in those days and some bear, panther, and wolves. Not necessary to drive miles to State Parks and Deer Parks to see deer. In those days some people’s hogs, and everybody’s cows were allowed to run at large in the highway, and you had to fence the garden and put bells on the cows to locate them, and they were all marked or branded by the individual name of the owner and registered with the town clerk In order to prove ownership if they happened to stray too far away. And everybody had a dog. There were no cisterns in those days, but everybody had a rain barrel or a rain trough, dug out of a white wood log, and great for breeding mosquitoes. These barrels had to be cleaned out freqently, and an easy way was to throw a cup of grease in the barrel, and old Drive and some other dogs would do the rest.
There was an old windmill owned by Hezikiah Wenban, and Joseph Clark, that had an upright saw which at noontime could be started and the sawyer go to dinner, while the carriage made the trip to saw the board, and return in time to reverse for another trip and another board. And still the production was great enough so that lumber could be secured for houses, barns and fences, and other purposes.
There are many here who can remember when Lacota was the terminal of the railroad with a turn table opposite where the Flora cider mill now stands. This was 1870, and some of you can remember the names of the steam engines used, as they were all named then; the old Bloomingdale, and the Peerless, and not a kid in town but could tell you the name of the engine when he heard the whistle blow.
When Trains Were Trains
Wood was used as fuel for steam engines then, and they had to stop once or twice on the trip to Kalamazoo to load the tender with wood. And passengers used to leave the coach and go forward to the engine and help load the wood in order to shorten the time required to reach their destination.
In those days one of the depot agent’s duties was to open the switch for the train when required. The train would approach about as near as Brott Crossing. give three shrill whistles as a signal and the agent had to hurry down the track to the switch while passengers waited. And sometimes the agent’s wife, weighing about 225 pounds, was on duty, which did not lessen the time you had to wait. This occurred often in the days of passenger trains.
I remember a little circumstance on the train; the first train service was as slow as other modes of travel in those days and there were no air brakes, and for a quick stop the brakeman had to rush for the brakes. Coming out of Kalamazoo and nearing Kendall a number of shrill whistles from the engine indicated that there were cattle on the track and the train had to be slowed down, which was done and the cattle driven off the track. As we left Grand Junction the same thing occurred and a jovial passenger said to the conductor as he rushed for the brakes, "Well, I declare, Odekirk, you have overtook them devilish cattle again haven’t you?"
There came a time however, when ‘we had better service. There were at one time six passenger trains daily through Lacota, three each way, one being a fast train stopping only three times from Kalamazoo to South Haven, securing the mail by catcher, and dropping the mail pouch of local mail to the ground from the fast moving train.
I remember a little circumstance which happened at this time. Mr. Maynard, father of our George Maynard, was helping in the work of clearing the leaves and brush for the backfire but did not realize what it was all about. When all was ready Mr. Maynard, being a smoker, was asked for a match, to set the backfire. Turning on his heels and saying he allowed there was about fire enough now, he went home; they had to look elsewhere for a match.
In 1863 my father and I went into the grocery business, at what was then called Clark corners, the first store in the township. I was three years old. At that time there was a sawmill on the corner owned by D. C. Bennet. Shortly after the fire a large sawmill was erected at Lacota by Windows, Wilkins, and Bixby of Kalamazoo, and when this mill was doing its greatest business, there would be logs piled up on the street, four or five deep for a block, each way from the depot, with barely room for teams to pass, and the depot grounds as far east as Mont Allgire’s barn, the same. And later the same ground was covered six feet high with stove wood purchased by dealers for the Kalamazoo market, the prevailing price being eighty cents per cord for Beech and ninety cents for maple, and all this, together with White’s coal kilns, cleared up the land which was changed from a lumber, bark, and wood country to a fruit, stock, grain business. Those were the days when people thought as soon as the timber was gone the railroad would be taken up as there would be nothing to haul. However, they are still bringing the same material back that they removed in those days in other commodities which it was made possible to manufacture by the products they received from us. And the railroads in spite o~ trucks and other ways of transportation are no doubt handling as many full car loads as in the old days.
Time has changed everything, though not so many years ago, we had a special fruit train for Chicago at eight o’clock at night made up of iced cars and teams would be lined up waiting them to turn to unload, as far south as Bates’ house and as far north as the church. As high as sixteen cars of fruit daily were loaded at our station.
Now the crop is principally marketed by sale to trucks which go direct to the orchards and load, and people get less idea of its enormity.
And this only reminds us of how time is working out our destiny and how soon we in apparent health will be remembered only as we remember these.
In 1860 the Grove we are now occupying was the center of a vast wilderness, with no straight roads. From the M. C. depot, the road led through here to the north east corner of what is now Mr. Erny’s farm, where the little old log school house stood, thence to South Haven. And some road it was, built only for ox teams. Horses were unknown in the community at that time. The mile from Pioch’s to Chambers’ corners was called the long causeway. It was built of logs and when the oxen would step forward the logs would settle from four to six inches in the mud and rise ready to receive the next step.
The easiest conveyance was the old lumber wagon with a six-inch tence
board across the box on which was laid a bed quilt to make it possible
for a person to stand the jolts. Then came the spring seat which was considered
a luxury and only obtainable by a few. Then,
few secured horses and one horse wagon and finally buggies and top carriages, two seats with canopy tops and the top buggy and surrey ‘which was for years the real thing, and owned by only a few. Compared with our present autos and luxurious machines we wonder how the people at that time got anywhere. However, it was not unusual for many to attend quarterly meeting at Whiskey Run or Brandywine, taking two days with oxen for a 25 mile drive and one day session.
Streams had to be forded, for lack of bridges, and I guess the only
ones really enjoying it
were the children.
Contrasts of Years
The improvements of Geneva have been of the most substantial character. To the few who were familiar with it when it was covered with hemlock and other timber the change has been wonderful — and the labor to effect it incomprehensible. There are now orchards and cultivated fields, instead of forests - modern farm homes instead of log cabins — the roar of the automobile instead of panthers and wolves — a thriving, prosperous people instead of the roaming Indians — enjoying the modern necessities never dreamed of when the first settlements were made.
And the pioneer days and conditions and the pioneers of an early
day have paved the way for us and made it possible for us to have all our
modern conveniences and luxuries.
Every community has its pleasant events, its pleasures and sports, as well as its reverses. Providence has smiled upon us, and as individuals we have been made to feel that our lives are in His hands and that He has allowed us as a community to prosper and has preserved us in a way that we should feel grateful for our well-being — for a community to pass along with so little to mar the peace, happiness, and prosperity , as we have, is far above the average and is an impetus to people to visit or locate where health and quiet prevail. Our village Is known as the community of shade, cleanliness, and morality — where nothing that has a tendency to cast gloom or shadow on anything tending to elevate the good reputation of a community exists.
The history of this piece of ground which we are now occupying here was given a few years ago at its dedication when it was known as Barnes Woods, and at that time was spoken ox as almost a miracle that this ideal wooded spot should have been permitted to remain when there was, for many years, within a stone’s throw a wood consuming industry which consumed the timber for miles around.
Mr. Barnes, the owner, sold ten acres on the north and ten acres on the west which was converted into charcoal, but for some reason this plat was allowed to remain for the Community, and, everything coming our way, it fell into the hands of a liberal minded and patriotic citizen who presented it to the township as a park for the benefit of the public. A natural forest like this should be and is an asset to our beautiful shaded village. -
This park was donated to the Township of Geneva by Varnum Dilley for public purposes, and should be more appreciated by the public than it really. is.
A more substantial platform and more durable and easy seats could be arranged at little cost, I believe, by cooperation with the township board and interested citizens.
Although our forefathers did, we cannot get along without good roads, and modern methods, nor can we do without the principles taught for the better things of life, the Church, cannot take care of itself, the school cannot take care of itself, Morality will not take care of itself. They must have the approval and support of every true and loyal citizen, and we believe this condition exists in Lacota today.
I Thank You !
Submitted by Jerry Clark