Items of Genealogical Interest
Volume 17 Number 2
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
Volume 17, October 1981, Number 2. Submitted with written permission of current
editor, Grayden D. Slowins
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRIAL LIFE IN WOODBURY IN THE MIDDLE TWENTIES By ViVerne
Pierce - According to stories told me as a youngster by my parents and
grandparents, Woodbury at about the time of 1900 to 1910 must have been a
bustling thriving community, due mostly to the fact that two railroads met
there. The business places consisted of an elevator, one or two sawmills, two
cider mills, stockyards, barbershop and poolroom, two or three saloons, one of
which usually burned down every two to three months for "insurance purposes",
Grandpa Wells used to say. As I was born in 1919, I don't remember a lot of
these places but I will endeavor to tell what was there in the twenties---places
actually in business and buildings that were vacant.
First, there was the elevator owned by Smith Bros. & Velte. A lumber yard and
coal yard in conjunction made this a very busy place. But the part I remember
best was the “bean room”. This was where the ladies in town picked up their pin
money or better known then as ‘bean money”. They sat at a long canvas belt on
which white navy beans were run. They had to pick out cull beans, stones and
other trash and were paid by the pound for what they removed. This room was
located on the second floor of the elevator with a potbellied stove in it. Each
lady had her own chair with her own cushion for comfort. The most uncomfortable
part of the job was the restroom accommodation located downstairs, about 50
yards from the door. It was the traditional three-holer and always was well
supplied with Sears Roebuck catalogs. It wasn’t heated, so in winter when most
of the beans were being picked, Mr. Smith did not have to worry about the ladies
not putting in a good day’s work. The bean room was the noisiest place in the
elevator, what with 15 or 20 women all talking at once. This was the place where
dresses were made and remade, hats decorated and redecorated, family problems
aired and re-aired and, yes, babies born and reborn---but they got the beans
The stockyards were a most interesting place for a boy. Allen Behler used to
ship cattle from Woodbury, cattle he had purchased from farmers in the
surrounding area. I remember Andy Dirr used to ship from there also and Ralph,
“Rube”, Jordan shipped a few loads in later years. Most of the hogs around the
area were taken to Jake Miller’s slaughterhouse where he did custom butchering
or would buy the animals from the farmer and then feed and fatten them for
butchering later. When a person took a hog to Jake Miller he got everything back
but the squeal. His wife, Lillie, would render the lard, make headcheese, clean
and wash the intestines to be stuffed with sausage, smoke hams and do anything
else that could be done to utilize every pound of the animal.
John Gerlinger had a woodworking shop located in an old schoolhouse (Gerlinger
School) that he had moved to town. He powered the big wood lathe with an old
stationary gasoline engine. He would make whippletrees, eveners, wagon tongues
and ladders for people in and around Woodbury. He made me my first fall bat and
it was my treasured possession for many years even though it was not used very
much. It was so long and so heavy that even Pete Rose would have had trouble
Across the street, I can just remember a vacant building that had housed
Miller’s livery stable. This was run by Jake and Eli Miller and my Grandma Katie
Pierce’s folks. They lived overhead and kept the horses and buggies down below.
This building was torn down and Forrest DeCamp built his garage there. The
garage was built of cement blocks and Forrest made every block by hand. He
purchased a form to make the blocks and every night after he had already put in
a day’s work at his old garage, he would hand mix gravel and cement and press
out cement blocks. It took him quite a while to complete it, but the building
stands where Tom Livermore now has his machine shop.
The other old livery barn was owned by my father and grandfather and from here
they operated a poultry and egg business. It was reported at one time to have
been the largest poultry business in Western Michigan. I remember many times in
the spring when they could not buy enough chickens here in Michigan to supply
their dressed poultry orders in the cities, they were forced to send trucks into
southern Ohio and even Kentucky to bring back poultry. Oftentimes it was
necessary to hire between 50 and 60 men and women at holiday time and work
around the clock to process their orders.
Then there was the old blacksmith shop, which was run by a man named John
Easley. (This was later purchased by my father and he built a gas station and
grocery store on the site in 1938). The shop was located behind our home and,
naturally, I spent a lot of time there. I marveled at how such a small man could
manhandle those big draft horses when sizing and nailing shoes to their hooves.
Another thrill for me was to see red hot steel pulled from the forge and with a
few well placed blows from his hammer with a shower of red hot sparks, form a
wagon wheel or countless other things the farmers of the area needed.
Over on the northeast corner of Kalamazoo and Walnut Streets stood an old two
storied wood frame building that housed Forrest DeCamp’s first garage. Earlier
it had been a grocery store owned by the Van Houten family. On the northwest
corner was Orley Middaugh’s pool room and barbershop. Needless to say, my folks
didn’t let me hang around there as a child---except to have my hair cut---but I
do remember the magnificent back bar and mirrors, made of fine grained oak and
varnished with glasslike finish, and of Orley spinning me around in the barber
chair a few times when he had finished my haircut.
On the southwest corner of the same two streets stood the old hotel, a very
impressive 2 ½ story cement block building with slate shingles. It was never
used for a hotel in my lifetime but one section was used once a month when the
Ladies Aid Society put on their family style dinners. Boy! What a meal they
served! Then after dinner they had a quilting bee. Harlan Sweitzer (father of
Mrs. Lester Lake) used to rent some of the building to itinerant Mexican
families that came up from Texas and Mexico to work in the beet fields. The
Mexican children couldn’t speak much English and I couldn’t speak any Spanish,
but somehow, we made our thoughts known and spent many happy hours playing
together. It was in this hotel building that Cobby and I perfected our
basketball prowess. We nailed a peach hamper to the wall in the dining room and
though the ceiling wasn’t too high, we would shoot baskets hour on end. In its
heyday it was a very busy place, what with all the drummers (salesmen) using it
as a central location and branching out to other small towns to sell their wares
and then getting on the Pere Marquette or the C. K. & S. and move to another
Mr. Sweitzer also owned the old implement store, a two story wood frame building
just south of the hotel. It was vacant when I was a young boy and naturally I
thoroughly explored it. Irol Wells and Kenneth Geisel would hide in the upstairs
part of the building. When I began looking for them, they would lean out the
upstairs windows and shoot their BB guns onto the sidewalk so that the BB’s
would ricochet up onto my legs. It stung worse than a bee sting. They were quick
to hide from me again because my temper made up for my lack of size.
On the corner was Horn’s store, which had formerly been occupied by Dr. Loughlin
(Gaylord Loughlin’s father). It was the usual small town general store with
groceries, drygoods, hardware, etc. But the think I remember best was the
horseshoe pitching courts at the side of the store. Cobby and I had the
opportunity to practice days on end and when the men in town could congregate at
the store for an evening of competition, Cobby and I would invariably beat them
all, until my father told me that it was enough that I pitch in the daytime,
since most of the men did not care to be beaten by a couple of kids all the
The last place of business I will describe was the W. R. Wells General Store and
as he was my grandfather, it naturally was the most impressive. Even in these
modern days it would have been considered a large business place. It was
actually the same as four stores with a common roof, with living quarters
upstairs over the two end buildings. The section to the east housed the hardware
store, the two middle sections the Post Office, groceries and drygoods and the
west section the farm implements and supplies. I remember the crackers that came
by the barrel and the coffee that was ground in the big two-wheel coffee grinder
and a huge round potbellied stove right in the middle of the store. The two
middle sections were so large we kids would ride our bicycles and tricycles
around in it on winter days. My cousin, Kenneth Geisel, would ride around behind
the candy counter, slide open the door, then my uncle, Irol Wells, would come
next and grab a handful of candy and then I would follow and slide the door
shut. We would meet over behind the drygoods counter to share the spoils. We
thought we were getting away with something but I now think that Grandpa knew
what was going on.
He also operated a grocery wagon out of the store. It was loaded every morning
before making its rounds through the country, calling on people door-to-door.
Many people yet today remember my uncle, George Geisel giving them, as kids, a
stick of gum or a piece of licorice candy after filling an order for their
parents. This grocery wagon was stored in another old wood barn-type building
next to the store. My Grandpa never had to paint this building, since it was so
covered by circus posters, tobacco advertisements and the like that there was no
wood showing. How we kids used to look at those circus posters of lions, tigers,
elephants, trapeze artists and daredevils and could hardly wait until Grandpa
would pack us off to see the show.
His store was opened every morning at 7 and Grandpa seldom went home before 10
or 11 in the evening, depending on when the last of the town men had finished
their nightly ritual talks that encompassed politics, taxes, farming, girls and
I have wondered over the years whether I had an advantage over children raised
in the city, being raised in a small town where all daily actions were
concentrated in a smaller area and lives went at a slower pace, giving me a
chance to really see my small part of the world. I think so, and I’m glad and
proud to have been born and raised in Woodbury. It’s my hometown.”
SEBEWA CENTER SCHOOL RECORD - 1847-1855; SOME NEW LIGHT SHED ON LOCAL SCHOOL
HISTORY - Recently Ron Currigan, who owns and lives in the house built for Elem
and Sadie Tran on Shilton Road, made a discovery of the first record book of
School District No. 4, Sebewa Center. Ron was relocating some windows in the
house when he found the book in the wall where he was working. We can only
speculate that the Trans brought the book with them when they moved into the
house about 1917, tucked it away and forgot about it. Perhaps that
treatment of the book was what saved it from the trash pile. Other early school
records of pupil lists, grades and attendance were known to have met the bonfire
when Lydia Watkins decided the "boys dinner pail cupboard" had to be cleaned.
Ron has shared the book with us and the contents of the early proceedings are
presented in the following pages. Sebewa's earliest settlers located in the
south-east part of the township. The Terrills, Ingalls, Browns and Showermans
started teaching their children in their homes soon after getting established in
their Sebewa locations about 1839. In 1843 they built the first schoolhouse in
the township on the banks of the Sebewa Creek on Keefer Hwy. in section 25.
That, as other buildings of the time, was of logs and was destined for a short
In 1847 the boundaries of District No. 4 were drawn and a schoolhouse was built
on a quarter acre of land just south of the half mile mark on Sunfield Road
between Musgrove and Bippley in section 22. Number four would indicate that
three other school districts had been formed previously. Those became known as
the High, Goddard and West Sebewa respectively.
Many years ago Heman Brown, who attended the first District No. 4 school, gave
this description of the building in a "'Member When" in the PORTLAND REVIEW:
"This schoolhouse, built on the Hugh Showerman farm, deserves more than a
passing glance, as it was there the first ideas of knowledge began to shoot, in
the new Center School in Sebewa. The house was 16' x 24', was built of logs and
had a large fireplace in the west end and a door on the north near the west end.
"In 1857, Luryette Brown, sixteen years old, taught her first school in the
Benjamin Probasco Coopershop. (the senior Ben then lived at the Center where
LaVern Carr now lives.) The old log house became dilapidated and soon a good
(frame) house was built on the Probasco corners. (NE corner of section 22)." The
contract for building that schoolhouse was published in the December 1968 volume
4, #3 Sebewa Recollector. Miss Luryette Brown later became Mr. Probasco's second
Here following are the first records of the long lost book.
At the 1847 meeting Walter Harmon, Jacob Showerman and Eleazer Brown were chosen
as School District No. 4 officers.
Sebewa--Sept. 25, 1848
At the annual School meeting of School District No. 4 in the Township of Sebewa,
County of Ionia and State of Michigan.
Voted that Eleazer Brown be Moderator for the ensuing year.
Voted that Walter Harmon should be Director for the ensuing year.
Voted that John Waddell should be Assessor for the ensuing year.
Voted to raise five dollars by tax for repairs on the School House.
Voted that one cord of wood be delivered for each scholar that attends school.
Voted that the wood be delivered by the first day of December.
Voted that we have four months School. School to commence the first day of
Voted that the resident tax be retained in the District.
Voted that the meeting be adjourned one year from this day, Sebewa Sept. 25,
Sebewa, Sept. 30, 1848. I do hereby accept the office of moderator in School
District. - Eleazer Brown
Sebewa, Sept. 30, 1848. I do hereby accept the office of Assessor in School
District. - John Wadell
Sebewa, October 5, 1848. I do hereby accept the office of Director in School
District. - Walter Harmon
It is agreed between Walter Harmon, Director of School District No. 4 in the
township of Sebewa and Willard L. Barr, a School Teacher of the township of
Danby That the said Willard Barr is to teach the primary school of Said District
for the term of two months and a half, commencing on the 12 Day of December,
1849 for the sum of Ten Dollars per month and for such services properly
performed, the said Walter Harmon is to pay the said Willard Barr the Amount of
his wages as ascertained by this memorandum on or before the first of June next,
in witness whereof the said parties have hereto set their names this 12 day of
December A. D., 1849. ~ Walter Harmon, Director (and) Willard L. Barr, Teacher.
Sebawa, Sept., 30, 1850
At the annual School meeting of School District No. 4 in Said Township it was
agreed on notion John F. Olry was chosen clerk of this meeting in place of
Walter Harmon, absent.
On motion it was voted that John Estep is Moderator for the ensuing year.
On motion it was voted that Eleazer Brown is Director for the ensuing year.
On motion it was voted that John F. Olry is Assessor for the ensuing year.
On motion it was voted that one dollar is to be raised by tax in this district
on each scholar between the ages of four and eighteen years.
On motion it was voted that a tax of Ten Dollars is to be raised for buying one
stove for the School House.
To Walter Harmon, a taxable inhabitant of School District No. 4 of the Township
of Sebewa, Sir:
You will hereby notice that we, Benj. D. Weld and Wm. Packard, School Inspectors
of Said Township of Sebewa have formed a School District in said Township,
numbered it and bounded it as follows to wit:
Commencing eighty rods east of the North West corner of section 13, thence west
to the North quarter stake of Section 16, thence South to the south quarter
stake of section 28, thence east to the south quarter stake of section 26,
thence north to the south quarter stake of section 14, thence east three fourths
of a mile, thence north to the place of beginning.
The first meeting of said District will be held at the school house in said
District on the 27th of Sept., 1847 at four o'clock P.M. and you will in
pursuance of the laws notify every qualified voter of said district, either
personally or by leaving a written notice at his place of residence of the time
and place of said meeting, then and there to transact such business as the Law
Given under our hands this 18th Day of Sept., A.D. 1847. ~ Wm. Packard and Benj.
D. Weld, School Inspectors
All notified personally and by writing on the 20 and 21 days of Sept. 1847.
- Walter Harmon, Taxable inhabitant
The School Lease of School Dist. No. 4 in the Township of Sebewa, County of
Ionia, State of Michigan:
Know all men by these presents that Jacob Showerman of the Town, County and
State aforesaid of the first part for the consideration of Twenty-Five Cents do
hereby lease unto Walter Harmon, Eleazer Brown and Jacob Showerman, the school
district board of School District No. 4 in the Town, County and State aforesaid,
party of the second part and their successors and assignees the following parcel
Namely commencing at the east quarter stake of the South East quarter of Section
22 Thence west 5 rods, thence south eight rods, thence east five rods, thence
North to the place of beginning, with all the priviliges and appurtenances to
have and hold the same for and during the term of twenty years from this 12 day
of March, A.D. 1846 and the said party of the second part for themselves and
agree to pay the said party of the first part for the said premises the annual
rent of twenty-five cents.
In testimony whereof we the said parties have hereunto set their hands and seals
this 25 day of March A. D., 1846.
District board of School Dist. No 4, Sebewa. Signed and sealed in the presence
of Luciius E. Showerman, Jerome L. Harmon, Jacob Showerman, Walter Harmon,
Received of Walter Harmon, Eleazer Brown and John Waddell the School District
Board of District No. 4, Ten Dollars in orders on the Treasurer, being in full
for building schoolhouse and lease of one quarter of an acre of land for said
School House - Sebewa, December 23, 1848. - Jacob Showerman
On motion it was voted that one third of the public money is to be kept for the
On motion it was voted that a Female teacher shall be hired for the year.
On motion it was voted that it shall be four months school in this winter.
On motion it was voted one half of cord of wood should be furnished by each
On motion it was voted that school shall begin on the first Monday of November
On motion it was voted that this meeting is adjourned for one year to this place
Sebewa, Sept. 30, 1850 - John F. Olry, Clerk and Eleazer Brown, Director.
Sebewa Sept. 29, 1851
The taxable inhabitants of School District No. 4 have met to elect officers and
transact other business.
Voted that John Estep be Moderator for the ensuing year.
Voted that Eleazer Brown be Director for the ensuing year.
Voted that John Waddell Jr. be Assessor for the ensuing year.
Voted to raise one Dollar by tax on each scholar between the ages of four and
eighteen years of age for school purposes.
Voted to raise five dollars by tax for repairs on the school house and other
Voted to have three months school taught by a man teacher.
Voted that five dollars be applied to the summer school.
Voted to furnish 3/4 of cord of wood for each scholar, corded at the school
Voted to raise one dollar for book, pail, cup and broom.
Voted to adjourn this meeting to one year from this day at this place. - Eleazer
Brown, Director; John Estep, Moderator.
I do hereby accept the office of Moderator to fill vacancy occasioned by John
Eastep removal from the District.
Sebewa, February 7th A. D. 1852 - J. F. Olry
The undersigned members of the district board, District No. 4 in the township of
Sebewa do hereby appoint Lucius Showerman director of said district to fill the
vacancy created by the death of Eleazer Brown, the late incumbent.
- J. F. Olry, Moderator (and) John Wadell, Assessor
At a meeting on Sept. 27, 1852 Major Brown was chosen as Director.
At a meeting on Sept. 26, 1853 Charles W. Ingalls was chosen as Director.
At a meeting on Sept. 25, 1854 Ephraim Probasco was chosen as Director.
July 11, 1855. At a special meeting of the qualified voters of School District
No. 4 of the township of Sebewa held at the schoolhouse of said district No. 4
on the 11th day of July, 1855 pursuant to public notice, the Moderator presiding
and Ephraim Probasco as Clerk.
Resolved that the School house site be changed and located near the south east
corner of section sixteen, leaving it with the school board to choose and
purchase land site above named being a two thirds vote of ten ayes to four noes.
Resolved that this meeting be adjourned unti the 5th, fifth day, of August next
at 2 o'clock P.M. - Ephraim Probasco, Director; John Waddell, Jr.
The August 5 meeting was adjourned to August 11, 1855 and at that meeting the
specifications for the new building were put into the minutes.
It was not until June 1856 that a meeting was held changing the site of the new
building to the northeast corner of section 22. Some years later the building
was moved across the road to the southeast corner of Section 16."
November 16, 2013