Sebewa Recollector
Items of Genealogical Interest

Volume 33 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 Sebewa Association,
APRIL 1998, Volume 33, Number 5. Sebewa Township, Ionia County, MI.
Submitted with written permission of Grayden D. SLOWINS, Editor:


RECENT DEATH: Jack A. CASWELL, 71, husband of Hazel MARTZ CASWELL, father of Norma JOHNSON, Jacklyn TEDLOCK and the late Bob CASWELL, brother of Helen BRACEY, son of Genevieve MORIARTY and Chalmer CASWELL, son of Elizabeth LEAK & William CASWELL, son of Emaline BRIGGS & Henry CASWELL, Sebewa pioneers.

BIRTHDAY GREETINGS: Happy 103rd Birthday to Fern CONKRITE, as sharp a lady as ever came out of Sebewa!


COVER PHOTOS: The top photo shows some of the 700 sections of scaffolding and thousands of feet of planking used in restoring the courthouse dome in 1994, at a cost of $140,000. The bottom photo shows the finished product in all her glory!

On March 5, 1833, what few white men were here – Indian traders mostly – petitioned Territorial Governor George B. PORTER to appoint a commission to locate the county seat for Ionia County, with the idea of having it located where the village of Lyons now stands – then called GENEREAUXVILLE and formerly ARTHURSBURG. The petition was signed by William HUNT, Elisha BELCHER, Louis GENEREAUX, Samuel LASLEY, Mathew McGULPIN, Joseph PYATT, Isadore NANTAIS, Frances FRARO, Matar PARCE, Francis BAILEY and Louis GENEREAUX Jr.

On May 28, 1833, before the above petition had been acted upon, the DEXTER Colony of 63 permanent settlers arrived at Ionia, naming their settlement “IONIA County Seat”. A second petition, dated July 12, 1833, and signed by Erastus YEOMANS, Edward GUILD, Oliver ARNOLD, Sanford A. YEOMANS, Silas D. ARNOLD, Abraham DECKER, Warner DEXTER, John DEXTER, Zenas G. WINSOR, W. B. LINCOLN, Samuel DEXTER, Darius WINSOR, Alfred CORNELL, Thomas CORNELL and Lorenzo DEXTER was delivered by messenger to Governor PORTER. On September 5, 1833, Governor PORTER appointed James KINGSLEY, Stephen V. R. TROWBRIDGE, and Charles J. LANMAN as commissioners to locate the county seats of Kent, Ionia, and Clinton Counties. They took the oath of office from Justice of the Peace E. W. MORGAN in the village of Ann Arbor, October 8, 1833, and proceeded by horseback to perform their duties, first in Clinton, then Ionia, and lastly in Kent on November 8.

After due deliberation, the commissioners made choice of land owned by Samuel DEXTER, situated upon the north half of section 19, township 7 north, range 6 west, Ionia. Mr. DEXTER paid one hundred seventy-one dollars to the commissioners on December 12, 1833, compensating them for their time and expenses in locating the county seat of Ionia County, as prescribed by law.

Upon hearing the news of their proceedings and determination regarding the Ionia County Seat, a series of letters written by Charles D. FRIEND in behalf of the residents in the east part of the county were dispatched. They argued that the main population would be in the southeastern quarter of the county, between the Grand River, the mouth of the Maple River, the Territorial Road (Grand River Trail at Portland) and SHIMNECON. They also argued that the land on the north side of the river was mostly swamps and wet prairies interspersed with oak openings of poor quality, extending to the north county line, where Indian reservations began.

Governor PORTER died July 6, 1834, without confirming or rejecting the work of the county-seat commissioners. Stevens T. MASON, twenty-two year old Secretary of the Territory, succeeded as Acting Governor, then Ex-officio Governor, and finally as first Governor of the State of Michigan in 1835. The residents of Ionia County Seat sent a petition letter to Governor MASON in rebuttal to the letter by Charles FRIEND, and explaining how they were overcoming the marshy conditions on the north side of the river. But Gov. MASON was too busy with preparations for the “Toledo War” to reply at that time.

Again they wrote: “Petitions have been forwarded to you praying that measures may be taken to alter the site which was established by commissioners duly appointed for the seat of justice for the county of IONIA. We boldly and frankly declare that a petition above alluded to, which was drawn by Charles D. FRIEND and signed by himself and some others in the east part of this county, was filled with falsehoods and willful misrepresentations respecting the present location and the lands contiguous. We crave your indulgence whilst we shall refute these statements and exhibit some important facts in relation to the county seat and the quality of lands in different directions from the same.

“The spot selected for the court house by the Commissioners was not suddenly or inadvertently fixed upon. They carefully examined the county for six days, and determined the site upon the lands of Samuel DEXTER, a few rods east of the centre of the county seat and west, and about two miles north of the centre north and south. For beauty and healthiness it is believed that this location is not surpassed by any in Michigan. A large spring of excellent water issues near the county seat, which affords a sufficient quantity for one hundred thousand inhabitants, and, with trifling expense, might be conducted to every man’s door. Near this spot are mill-seats and excellent hydraulic privileges. A grist mill is already under contract to be built immediately, one-fourth of a mile from the county seat. South of the River, which has been grossly misrepresented as a swamp, not susceptible of being drained. A part of this prairie is wet, but there being a descent of at least twenty feet to the river, a chance is afforded for laying it dry by a drain or ditch, which for the most part is already accomplished by Mr. DEXTER, and can be finished in the ensuing season.

“Almost the whole of the southwest quarter of the county appears to be first-rate timbered land. A large portion of the timber is superior fencing timber, and an abundance of sugar-maple is found. We have commenced cutting a road from Ionia centre south upon the centre section-line of the county, to continue through EATON County to Marshall, the shire of CALHOUN County. We have progressed eight miles with the road without meeting with any obstacles that would require a deviation from the section-line. It passes through beautiful country, which is believed will be settled at no remote period by a dense population.

“In view of these facts, can it be reasonable, just, or proper that the county seat, after having been located near the centre of the county by three competent and judicious men, be removed five or six miles east, to the great inconvenience of all who will hereafter settle in the county west of the centre? Therefore we earnestly request that you exercise the authority vested in you by issuing your proclamation confirming the location of the county seat for this county according to the determination of the commissioners.

This last petition seems to have settled the matter, for the Governor issued his proclamation and the seat of justice of Ionia County remains where it was first located in 1833.

Ionia ultimately prevailed, but Lyons and their supporters in Portland avenged their supposed wrongs by steadfastly opposing and voting against all appropriations for the next fifty years for the construction of a proper courthouse on the beautiful grounds which were set apart for such purpose in 1833 by Judge Samuel DEXTER. Actually Judge DEXTER donated the west half of the public square at the time of making his original plat of the village of “Ionia County Seat”. On June 3, 1850, the east half of the square was granted to the county by James M. KIDD and Edwin C. HART in consideration of the sum of ten dollars. Thus the plat known as the “Public Square” embraces an area sixteen rods square.

A proposition to build the first structure for county offices was submitted to the people in April, 1842, and by a vote of one hundred and fifty-two for – to one hundred seventeen against, it was decided to erect the building. The returns from Lyons Township were thrown out however, by reason of not having been signed or certified by the township inspectors of election. This one-story, probably wooden, building was completed at the back of the square in 1843, and in 1874 eleven hundred dollars were expended for repairs and an addition.

Circuit Court was never held in this building, however. During the earliest years, sessions of court and of the Board of Supervisors were held in the schoolhouse, and soon after in a building occupied by Daniel BALL (John BALL’S brother) as a store. As early as 1845, Abel AVERY furnished rooms for the use of courts and supervisors, and continued to do so until 1850. Then Smith’s Hall was rented and occupied until 1868. Dr. BAYARD’S Hall then became the place for holding court, etc., and continued to be so used until May, 1879, when Armory Hall was leased on the site now occupied by the Post Office.

By October of 1882, the County Board of Supervisors agreed that new accommodations had to be provided for county business and court proceedings. A motion was passed to submit to county voters, at the April 2, 1883, election, a proposition to build a new courthouse at a cost not to exceed $45,000. Tax levies would be made over a three-year period to liquidate the debt. In the April election, Danby, Portland, Orleans and Keene voted NO; surprisingly Lyons did not. Even more surprising is the fact that only one NO vote was recorded in Ionia City!

Now-a-days it stands to reason that a county that votes to build a court house needs an architect. That was less true in 1883 than today; architects were not then required by regulation and statute. Ionia County Board of Supervisors had appointed a building committee, with Chauncey WATERBURY as chairman. WATERBURY was an Ionia builder and supervisor of the Third Ward. He could have asked his younger relative, Ora WATERBURY, who was to have a long and distinguished career as designer and builder, to plan the building. Ora had designed and built First Baptist Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church and many other Ionia buildings, as well as some in Belding and Greenville. But a courthouse to cost not more than $45,000 was a larger building than either WATERBURY had ever undertaken. Little did they know that a couple years hence they would have a pick up after a defunct contractor and complete the job.

News of the successful courthouse vote traveled rapidly. An architect presented himself within the month. He was David W. GIBBS of Toledo, Ohio. He wrote from Toledo on April 21, 1883, to WATERBURY: “We have just learned through a friend that you are Chairman of the building committee for your contemplated Court House and write to say that our GIBBS will be in Charlotte next Tuesday to stake out Court House for EATON County, and would be pleased to call on you day following – Wednesday. In event of your not being able to meet him in Ionia on that day, be kind enough to write D. W. GIBBS care SHERWOOD House, Charlotte, Michigan and oblige. Very Resp’y D. W. GIBBS”

GIBBS was engaged to provide the plans for the court house. On April 25, 1883, The IONIA SENTINEL reported: “D. W. GIBBS, an architect of Toledo, was in town this morning and in company with Chauncey WATERBURY, of the building committee, looked at the site for the court house, and obtained information as to the kind of building desired, with a view of submitting a plan. His firm makes a specialty of plans for buildings of this kind and are architects of the new EATON County Court House”. He had also done the CLINTON County Courthouse at St. Johns in 1869, so was known to the area.

After meeting with WATERBURY, GIBBS returned to Toledo and sent a copy of the EATON County Courthouse plans to WATERBURY. On June 9, 1883, he wrote to WATERBURY saying, in part: “The tower covering would have to be of galvanized iron – on account of economy – and would be really no detriment to the building”. Work proceeded on the plans in Toledo, with several exchanges of letters between GIBBS and WATERBURY. On August 23, 1883, GIBBS & Co. wrote to WATERBURY to say all drawings were complete: “We enclose to you this morning by express all scale drawings and copy for your proposed Court House as also specifications”.

In that same letter, on a separate sheet, GIBBS asked WATERBURY for his fee for the plans. GIBBS said, in part: “The Institute of Architects, of which I am a member, meets at Providence, R.I., (August) 29, 30 & 31. I have just concluded to go, provided I can accomplish certain results. And one of them is the $600 in question. You must not think we are always so hard up. The $12,000 house we are now building is what’s the matter, besides the money we have put into your drawings”. This is the only indication of how much the plans for the court house cost the county, and it appears WATERBURY sent GIBBS the $600, since no other letters touch on the matter.

On January 14, 1884, WATERBURY wrote GIBBS complaining about some drawings which stone cutters could not understand. The complaints, as GIBBS quickly made clear, arose from the fact he had been contracted to draw plans only, and not to act as supervising architect – and he did not feel responsible for what stone cutters could not understand.

After this, the correspondence dwindled – a letter February 7, 1885, asked about progress. The final letter is dated February 25, 1886, with GIBBS writing: “How are you getting on with your Court House and when do you expect to dedicate? I would like very much to see it when fully finished. Will you have it photographed? If so, will you send me one? I had expected great things from your Court Room & Rotunda, and if you make no mistake in fresco they certainly will be fine.”

Narrative description of the plans in part: “The style is Classical or Renaissance (Now properly called Classic Revival or Renaissance Revival, due to Mid-west American adaption). The court house will be 117 feet, 2 inches east and west; 83 feet, 8 inches north and south, exclusive of projections. Height of the building from grade line to eaves is 48 feet. The basement is 3 feet below grade (the foundation 3 feet below that) and 10 feet in the clear, bringing the basement 7 feet above grade.

“First and second floors above the basement are 14 feet each; third floor 10 feet in the clear; court room, 24 feet to the ceiling; tower 62 feet; from grade line to top of tower, 120 feet. Exterior finish: Basement, Ohio blue stone, beveled, rock-face finish, up to and including the window sills of the first story. First story, Ionia sandstone, rock-face finish. Above that, Ionia sandstone smooth finish. (Construction is double-row ivory brick, with the above-named stones as facing.)

All steps and piers, Ohio blue stone. Front portico 36 feet wide, projecting 7 feet, 8 inches, on which, supporting the balcony, are to be four piers, 3 feet square, of stone, with heavy carved capitals. The projecting roof above is to be supported by four iron columns. The approach to the portico will be ornamented with the Michigan Coat of Arms; on top of the gable, an eagle will be supported by a pedestal. The tower will be topped with a figure of Justice.”

The architect, David W. GIBBS, was born about 1834-1835, being age 82 when he died October 20, 1917, in Toledo, Ohio. He came to Toledo about 1869-1870, after serving in the Civil War, and built a home there in 1883 for $12,000, a palatial sum at that time. He designed the Wyoming Territorial Capitol in Cheyenne, and many other important buildings. Besides the CLINTON, EATON and IONIA Courthouses in Michigan, there were courthouses at Norwalk, Newark, Napoleon, Marion, Hamilton, and other places in Ohio; jails at Tiffin, Marion, Delaware, Urbana, and Sandusky in Ohio; churches at Columbus Grove and Urbana, Ohio, and at Auburn and Goshen, Indiana. Also infirmaries, children’s homes, schools, opera houses, and lodge halls. In Toledo there were the Masonic Temple, Soldiers’ Memorial Hall, First & Second German Methodist Churches. Also Hotel Marion in Marion, Ohio, and the High School in Eaton, Ohio.

On October 1, 1883, bids were opened for construction of the courthouse. Four contractors bid on the project, three from Ionia and one from Detroit. The Detroit bidder, COLLINS & JAMES, bid only on specifications using Ohio blue stone entirely – at $65,000. The three IONIA bidders all bid on the specifications required a mix of Ionia sandstone and Ohio blue stone: Chauncey WATERBURY - $44,500; G. W. BADGER - $44,350; Claire ALLEN - $42,380. ALLEN was awarded the contract. After the contract was let, Ohio stone and other materials were ordered. Stone began arriving by rail freight on October 25, 1883. Stone and other materials continued to arrive into February. At the same time, temporary quarters for some county offices were being constructed, and all county officers were moved to temporary quarters by the first week in April, 1884.

The cornerstone was laid in May, 1884, and thereafter work moved fairly rapidly, considering the absence of power tools or power equipment of any kind. On August 27, 1884, THE IONIA SENTINEL reported: “The first story of the court house is nearly completed, that is the walls are up.” All stone work was completed by November, 1884, and the frame of the tower was in place by December 17, when work was suspended for the winter. The SENTINEL did not describe the scaffolding or means of lifting loads. But scaffolding must have been extensive and raising of stone and timbers must have been slow and dangerous. Some block and tackle device must have been used – with teams of horses for power, since no mention of a steam hoist is made. It is likely a steam hoist would have been mentioned if it was used.

Sometime during the summer of 1884, Claire ALLEN, the builder, declared bankruptcy. Amazingly, he went on in succeeding years to declare himself an architect as well as a builder. He made a few “improvements” to David W. GIBBS’ courthouse plans and used them at ITHACA, GRATIOT County, in 1900; at Paw Paw, VAN BUREN County, 1901, and Corunna, SHIAWASSEE County, in 1903. The Hillsdale Courthouse, HILLSDALE, late 1880s, is almost identical to IONIA’S and the INGHAM County Courthouse build at Mason in 1904 is very similar, but no credit is given to either GIBBS or ALLEN for those two. He undoubtedly used the plans elsewhere around the Midwest from his offices in Jackson.

But construction at Ionia resumed in the spring of 1885, with Chauncey WATERBURY in charge. He lost his bid for re-election to the Board of Supervisors, but they hired him at $2 a day to supervise the construction. He let a contract for a steam heating system in late April. Decorative items began arriving, including the Michigan coat of arms which was installed in the gable of the front portico April 8. On April 25, 1885, exactly two years after David W. GIBBS first laid scales on the site, the stature of Justice, without blindfold, bearing scales in her left hand and a sword in the right, was placed on her pedestal atop the tower.

On May 20, The IONIA SENTINEL observed “The design of the court house contemplates a clock in the tower. Either the Supervisors or some public spirited individuals should provide the funds and place one there”. No clock was ever installed. The Supervisors, aware of exceeding the voted amount, probably didn’t dare. All seven of the other courthouses designed by these same two architects and built in the same time period have clocks, and most if not all are still working. IONIA County Courthouse never had a clock in its tower.

Interior finish work – stairs, banisters, shutters, bookcases, faux marble fireplaces for decorative gas burners, plastering, desks, doors and fresco – continued through the summer of 1885. D. W. GIBBS’ plans called for an eagle to perch on the front portico, over the Michigan coat of arms in the gable. The eagle arrived October 28, 1885. THE SENTINEL reported: “The new eagle for the court house has arrived, and is said to be a screamer. He measures 12 feet from tip to tip, and when safely anchored above the entrance, may well put to shame the loftiest flights of Fourth of July oratory that will, in the years to come, resound beneath the lofty dome”.

Shortly after the first of the year, county officials began to move into the building. The Supervisors held their January quarterly meeting in what is now the Probate Courtroom on the second floor, and announced themselves pleased with the steam heat. Circuit Court met in its new courtroom for the first time on February 24, 1886, with short special ceremonies. Workmen had been busy all night putting in the seats and getting the room ready. It was a very handsome and convenient courtroom and the judge, jury, attorneys and spectators were all in a smiling mood. Gas jets in a circle, 32 in number in each of the two burners, reflected down on the crowd.

Frescoing had to be completed. Dry fresco was used, a technique of painting walls with oil pigments in lieu of wallpaper or other decoration. The extent of frescoing is not recorded. Some offices appear simply to have been plain painted, with only stencil borders. Other areas were extensively decorated and one such scene remains on the landing between the rotunda and second floor. Carefully uncovered, it was restored several years ago. The rotunda walls, the courtroom walls, and other areas appear to have been extensively decorated.

On January 10, 1886, a resolution was introduced by Supervisor E. D. LAMBERTSON of Orleans to prohibit smoking and spitting within the Courthouse. After being tabled until later in the afternoon, it was amended to prohibit only smoking. Then the report of the Furnishings Committee was approved, which included 126 brass cuspidors to accommodate the chewing & spitting. At 71 cents each, they were a good investment, if only they had been preserved for today’s antique hunters!

All county officers were established in their new offices by the first of May, and the dedication was planned for July 3, 1886. The parade was lead by its Grand Marshall, General James H. KIDD, who had served under George Armstrong CUSTER in the Civil War and was now Inspector General of the Michigan State Troops as well as Editor of the IONIA SENTINEL, on his old warhorse, Billy.

Meeting in special session on June 21, 1886, the Board of Supervisors had read an itemized report of costs of the new courthouse to date at $63,018.42. Other bills straggled in later, some almost ten years later, bringing the total to somewhere between $66,000 and $70,000, depending on where you cut off “original” and begin counting “restoration”. To be fair tho, the original estimate of $45,000 had not given much thought to furnishings that were not part of the structure.

The first telephone came in 1888, the first electricity in 1920. During the 1970s the interior woodwork and walls were restored, as well as installation of heat-conserving windows. This was continued into the 1980s with restoration of the third floor offices for the Prosecutor and County Commissioners. The 1990s have brought exterior renovation from base to tip of Lady Justice on the dome. The eagle cannot be rebuilt and must be replaced. The former glory of the courtroom can be restored by uncovering the coved ceiling, installing fans, and buying chandeliers that approximate what once was.

The first rebuttal letter from the residents of Ionia County Seat to Governor Stevens T. MASON was signed by these pioneer residents:
Erastus YEOMANS William B. LINCOLN
Charles DOTY William DOTY
Sanford A. YEOMANS Lorenzo DEXTER
Gilbert CASWELL William DUMPER
Zenas G. WINSOR Charles THAYER
Daniel A. CORNELL Benjamin G. BARBER
George CASE Horace CASE

The second and convincing letter to Governor MASON was signed by:
Zenas G. WINSOR Alfred CORNELL Jr.
William B. LINCOLN Benjamin G. BARBER
William DUMPER George W. CASE
Lorenzo DEXTER William DOTY
Sanford A. YEOMANS Charles DOTY
Nathaniel J. BROWN Joseph HADSELL
Alfred ARNOLD Charles THAYER
Patrick M. FOX John E. MORRISON

Can you find an ancestor on one or both of these lists? A couple families who came with the DEXTER Colony family went on within a year to found a suburb of Ionia County Seat to be called Grand Rapids. More about that offshoot next issue. We are indebted to John S. SCHENCK and his History of IONIA and MONTCALM Counties – 1881 and to Russel C. GREGORY and his somewhat more recent research, for materials used in this story.

LOWE UPDATE: Dayton & Henrietta LOWE’S cow pasture was on the north side of Stoney Creek, across the creek from the John VISSER residence. They owned 22 acres there, and it is now part of the Sid BROWN – Gladys SPITZLEY farm.


Last update November 10, 2013