In November of 1833*, Ionia pioneer family, the Cornells: Alfred Cornell, Cornell family patriarch, his wife Nancy and their son Thomas Cornell, his wife and two sons, Alfred, Jr., and Daniel packed up their belongings and left their home. They headed west to Michigan to see the opportunities they could experience. Upon arrival, they stayed with Samuel Dexter, who had already founded Easton Township near what is now the city of Ionia.
The Cornell family hailed from Madison County in New York. Why did the Cornell family leave? Perhaps they viewed posters advertising land for sale that commonly caught the attention of folks eager to relocate and Michigan, a territory at the time, needed thousands of more residents to obtain statehood. Another reason might be that they knew Samuel Dexter, who had settled the area some time prior. An experienced settler, he knew what best plots of land that were available, even though Antoine Campau, brother of Grand Rapids founder, Louis Campau, had already identified the area. A bonus was that there were good relations with natives at the time. It was a great time to make the journey west (1).
Once settled in, Alfred Cornell, Sr. met Erastus Yeomans. Erastus was the town surveyor and set up the first roads. He sold some land to Alfred, Jr., who in turn surveyed the area further for his family. The rest of the colonists worked together and built a log home for the Cornell family. While the men traveled to Detroit to get the rest of their needed supplies, the women hung blankets over window sills and doorways to keep the home warm. Winter transportation was not reliable, but luckily friendly natives assisted with food for the hungry settlers and heavy blankets for warmth until they could establish routine deliveries of supplies (2).
In 1835, Alfred Jr became active in assisting the formation of the local government. He won two appointments for himself as commissioner and inspector of public schools. This dual leadership role tells us that the community viewed this man as being intelligent, organized and capable and of his commitment to the success of the county(3).
In that same year, Alfred, Jr., married Amanda Yeomans, daughter of Erastus and Phoebe and they began their new life. They would go on to have five children together, four boys and one girl. Amanda taught in the first public school and summer school thereafter. In 1859, Alfred preached once a month at First Baptist Society of Portland and continued this for three years. This shows how active they were in their community as a family (3).
I will blog more about Alfred and his family as I explore Branch’s book in the future. I will connect this family with more important events to show how they might have lived their lives and how their contributions impacted the residents of Ionia County.
*Branch writes that they landed in 1893. This date seems to be a typo because it does not fit the timeline of events.
1. Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 103-104.
2. Ibid., 474.
3. Ibid., 351.
3. Ibid., .403.
The Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library will be celebrating its centennial anniversary on May 19th this year. It will be a small event, hosted by current staff and supporters, not unlike the celebration that took place 100 years ago. You can read all about the history of the library here.
The official dedication of the current library happened on May 14, 1918, and it was a grand affair. The committee that organized the event were a group of dedicated folks, who worked hard to see that all who attended enjoyed the celebration. Workmen installed the “big Chautauqua tent” along with a stage and chairs for audience attendees to enjoy the ceremony in comfort. Organizers expressed to one another that, “this day will be a day to remember!” and it was.
Many important people attended. Some of them would travel to Belding from as far away as California, Montreal, and Connecticut. Alvah Belding, of the Belding family, for which the town is named, planned to travel to Belding in his car with his son, Fred and some close friends. Milo M. Belding, Alvah’s brother, would come from his home in New York and as the saying went, “All roads lead to Belding.” It was not unusual for important folks to travel to Belding on those familiar roads. When they did come to town for business, they could stay in the Belding Hotel in luxury and comfort. And finally, U.S. Senator, William Alden Smith, also known as the Titanic Senator, because of his involvement in the investigation of the Titanic disaster, attended and spoke at the dedication ceremony.
To allow everyone an equal opportunity in the Belding community to attend the ceremony, organizers placed all schools on a half-day schedule. All mill workers ended their workday at noon and stores closed early.
For the program itself, organizers selected the Belding Cornet Band, a favorite band in town for many years, to play an introduction. Rev. W.A. Bliss offered an opening prayer. The Star Spangled Banner was played to alert attendees of ceremonies about to begin. A dedication speech made by Mayor E. F. Fales formally accepted the Belding family gift of the new physical building of the new library. Alden W. Smith addressed the audience, and Rev. P. Ray Norton closed the ceremony with a benediction. The Cornet Band played the conclusion. After the ceremony, attendees enjoyed a tour of the new building and refreshments to the pleasant sounds of a male quartet courtesy of the Fountain Street Baptist Church out of Grand Rapids.
Alvah never saw the dedication. He fell ill shortly before his planned trip. Instead, his son Fred stepped in to preside over the ceremony. The dedication of this library and its centennial encapsulates 100 years of a community center for the city of Belding. You could say it is even the heart of the city. Even though a close neighbor, the Belrockton is also considered a center and perhaps closer in the minds of folks who live in Belding. It is the library, however, that preserves the history of Belding and its people. Today the library is not just a depository of books and artifacts, but it is a peaceful and serene place to spend time reflecting on the past or the future.
These organizers met at Antoine Campau & Co (brother of Grand Rapids founder Louis Campau) home on April 6, 1835.
At the meeting:
Mr. Alfred Cornell: Moderator
W.B. Lincoln: Clerk
Samuel Dexter, Esq: swore in electors
Previously chosen by ballot as electors, these men were:
Erastus Yeomans: Supervisor
W.B. Lincoln: Township Clerk
Henry V. Libabrt
Commissioners of Highways:
John E. Morrison
Directors of the Poor:
Constable and Collector:
These electors agreed to have another meeting in 1836 at Antoine Campau & Co again in the township of Ionia. Township is now officially formed.
Ionia Timeline (March 1831-April 1837)
March 2, 1831– Legislature Act first to mention the creation of Ionia County.
March 7, 1834–Second Act states Ionia County also to be called Ionia Township. The first meeting to be scheduled is at Louis Genereaux’s home.
March 26, 1835–An amendment to the Act is passed that states citizens of Ionia will pay tax and meet at home of Samuel Dexter to elect officials and do business transactions ( township government).
April 6, 1835–First township meeting of elected officials at Antoine Campau & Co home. They set next meeting for 1836.
May 12, 1835–Special election held to elect commissioners and inspectors of schools.
March 24, 1836–Organization of Kent County completed. Ionia population nears 1000.
March 11, 1837–Ionia County and Ionia Township separate for voting purposes.
April 13, 1837–Elections held for county official seats.
Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 48-52.
In the book, History of Ionia County Michigan by Rev. E. Branch, the townships listed are in alphabetical order. I put them in chronological order to show progression over time. I used a map, free, from the Belding library and drew the order on it to show the progress of the townships. This information will be referenced later when connections are made getting to know the founders of these areas.
Ionia: March 1837
Boston: December 1837
Otisco: March 1838
Portland: March 1838
Orleans: March 1840
Keene: February: 1842
Easton: March 1843
North Plains: February 1844
Orange: March 1845
Danby: May 1845
Berlin: March 1848
Lyons: March 1848
Campbell: March 1849
Odessa: January 1859
Sebwa: April 1867
Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 16-20.
10 Blog Posts Posted
Top 5 Posts of 2017
Here is to many more posts to 2018. It seems every time I get going a technical issue happens. All is good now. Look forward to more Benjamin F. Butler, Belding and Ionia County history, History on Saturday spotlights and random history stuff.
The California gold rush is an integral part of American history. In the 1850s, gold fever drove men and women by the hundreds of thousands to the land known now as California. Wealth distribution was not good at this time. Simply put, most Americans were poor, barely making it or just making it while the top percentage of people were well off or wealthy. Gold provided an opportunity for those seeking fortune and fame, a chance for a better life: a comfortable living, and a legacy to pass on to future generations.
It was, however, an illusion. Once folks arrived after packing up and taking the small amount of what they owned and traveling over treacherous and dangerous routes found little gold they sought. Even so, the migration help to secure land from foreign leaders and built a nation we know today.
Empire Mine State Park is a place where you can visit a real live gold mine set up to accommodate the thousands throng. Bring the family and spend a Saturday learning the history of the mine. The park offers, trails, areas for picnics, and a gift shop. There is something for everyone at this park. Check out their informative website here:
The Empire Mine State Park
The gathering storm: A look back on middle-class Europe’s last carefree Christmas before the onset of World War One
From the following summer, Britain, mainland Europe and a large part of the rest of the world changed for ever
Benjamin F. Butler became obsessively interested in politics as soon as he was old enough to vote. His calling wasn’t the big political picture which to him was merely the recognition of the founding principles of how government should operate, but how much investment by the government into affairs of every state or legal proceeding by the Supreme Court affect every individual. His interest and political passion rested solely with the “condition and welfare of the citizen.” (1)
Butler was inspired by the political history of his day and used some of it to analyze, ponder and question. From the forming of government by the founding fathers through presidents that continued to lead the country through Western expansion, foreign relations, and war. Butler, in his memoir, describes his enthusiasm for democracy and the judiciary system that Alexander Hamilton created and nurtured. Butler admired Hamilton’s ideas and beliefs about equality for the citizenry and almost no interference by the Federal Government into personal affairs. Butler took Hamilton’s ideas further to proclaim just what was the Federal Government’s responsibility to protect the rights of citizens. All of Butler’s ideas revolved around equality. How much equality existed at the time? What were the issues of the day that influenced Butler to take a stand for the men, women, and children of the United States? As we examine Butler’s ideas and thoughts from his memoirs, I believe we can find some answers to these questions.
Lowell, Massachusetts, the Mills, and an Idea for Change
Lowell, Massachusetts in 1836 was the second city built in New England and the second largest one in the country where the whole town revolved around manufacturing. Men, women, and children labored every day in the mills. The most improved single water power source in the country at the time drove the machinery. Non-resident stockholders owned all capital from manufacturing in town.
Capital came from several large corporations. All manufacturing businesses operated precisely alike. Bells rang laborers in and out of the mills. Bells tolled to awaken laborers in town for work. They ate breakfast by candlelight. In the summer the evening dinner bell rang at 7 pm. They all got 30 minutes for dinner. Managers set the bells at the same time. I’m assuming this was to combat conflicts for people and wanting to know where they were supposed to be and what time they were supposed to be there. There was no electricity at this time. One manufacturing company could only employ men and women at a time. Meaning if they lost ours and wanted to work at another mill, they had to get a pass.
To get laborers for the mills, managers hired folks from out of state. They only hired the best class of citizens. Mill owners established regulations that made provisions for education to be provided for children and religious instruction as well. They created moral rules of behavior too. Homes were built to provide comfort to laborers at the cheapest rate possible. Each house had a matron in charge, and each person had to report in if they arrived home in the evening past 10 o’clock. Curfew bells wrung at nine. At the 10 o’clock the doors to homes were locked. Mill owners felt if laborers were paid and boarded well they would be content with their wages. All men, women, and children got paid once a month, on a Saturday for the previous month’s work. The workers were required to give up $.30 a month fee to support worship services. No one complained about this.
Three years earlier in 1833, President Jackson visited Lowell. All men and women working in the mills came out to see him. Every woman wore a parasol and was dressed in white muslin with a blue sash except for some wore a black sash: morning a former manager who had died. What else happened during the visit? Butler does not mention anything further. Why was it significant enough to get an entry into his memoir? What did President Jackson observe or not observe on that day?
Mill Work is not Ideal
Butler grew up with mill children. He liked everyone no matter what clothes they wore or what things they owned and he listened to their dreams and complaints. He saw their health deteriorate as the long hours of labor in the mills took its toll.
Mill life averaged about five years. Most quit after they could afford to. Young girls came from the country to work and help pay the mortgage. Men did too for the for the same reason or to save money and start a new business. No one came to Lowell to spend their whole work life at the mills.
An Outside Observer Creates an Opportunity for Change
Butler got to know a town physician very well. The physician told him that he believed a 13 1/2 hour work day, six days a week in the mill was too much for anyone working in the mills. Each worker got 30 minutes to eat their meals in such a rush the doctor explained was not enough for proper food digestion and counterproductive to the physical requirements in labor productivity of factory work. There wasn’t any heavy lifting involved, but running machines required constant attention. The doctor emphasized it was not hazardous but you needed to be out there and in good shape to work in the mills.
Butler Decides to Act
The situation with mill workers influenced Butler’s decision to seek his first political action and propose a law that would reduce daily work hours to 10 hours for anyone working in manufacturing. He gathered support for his idea and prepared for a fight. Mill managers disliked the idea. Arguments became so intense that close friends feared to talk about the concept with Butler at all. Mill managers threatened their mill workers if they were caught discussing it or attending meetings about it they would lose their job and would not find work in Lowell again.
Butler listened to all sides of the argument: managers carried out the will of stockholders, stockholders reinvested some of their money and state programs but how could they compete with neighboring and other states when their mills ran on a 14-hour workday?
Questions to Ponder
Butler does not mention how working conditions affected women and child workers. Perhaps this will come up later in his memoir. He had to have thought about it. He grew up around mill children. He saw how tired folks were from the labor and disliked treatment of the managers and mill supervisors. He detested greedy corporations whom he felt lacked compassion from the working class. Butler thought he had to act. He had a calling to help people, and he knew he has the skill and talent to do just that.
1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benjamin F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892), 85-92.