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19th Century

History of Belding Banks


History of Belding Banks series #1

“‘Tis the Belding Building & Loan that to people great or small,
Offers far the best inducements to its patrons one and all.Belding Building & Loan in Belding in Verse: A Souvenir of the Silk City. Devoted to its Enterprising Business House, Frederick Andrews Bush.

February 2, 1899
The annual meeting of the Belding Building & Loan in loan Association.

This meeting was held to discuss the progress of stocks owned by stockholders. The news was good. All of the stock’s value increased from the previous year. The board re-elected its officers, and the Board of Directors continued their service from the past three years.

The officers:
President: FA Washburn( Fred A. managed the Belding Hotel and treasurer for the Belding-Hall Company)
Vice President: R.M. Wilson ((Robert M) owned R.M. Wilson & Co, a lumber company, located at the junction of Main st and Pere Marquette Railroad. He died in 1919, and A.S. Dimmick took over the business. Robert was a mason.)
Treasurer: O.F. Webster(owned Pleasant Street Food store, sold coal and wood)
Attorney: H.L. Van Benschotenn(worked inside Belding Savings Bank office)

The Board of Directors:
H.L. Leonard
R.M. Wilson
W.P. Hetherington(host of Belding Hotel)

This organization operated a loan and a savings department. It helped to grow the city of Belding by offering affordable loans to working men, which allowed them to invest in and own property instead of paying rent. Population of Belding at this time was around 500.

References:
History of Ionia County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions, with Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens, and Genealogical Records of Many of the Old Families – Elam E. Branch, Earl W. De La Vergne

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Ionia County Founders: The Cornells


Ionia County Courthouse and Jail
Ionia County Courthouse and Jail

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.

All Roads Lead to Belding


Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library, Belding, Michigan. Photo by Wiki Commons.

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.

Photo of Chautauqua tent. Photo by Wikimedia.

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.

A photo of an operating Silk Mill in Belding, Michigan. Photo by Detroit Library.

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.

William Alden Smith. Photo by Wikimedia.

 

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 N. Belding. Photo by Alvah N. Belding Memorial Library.

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.

Research Notes: Ionia Township Organizers


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

Accessors:
Franklin Chubb
Gilbert Caswell
Henry V. Libabrt

Commissioners of Highways:
Phillip Bogue
John E. Morrison
Nathan Benjamin

Directors of the Poor:
Samuel Dexter
John McKelvey

Constable and Collector:
Asa Spencer

Constable:
Daniel McKelvey

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.

Notes:

Branch, Rev. E., History of Ionia County. University of Michigan, 1916, pp 48-52.

 

History on Saturday: Empire Mine State Park


Image result for gold mine

 

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

http://www.empiremine.org/

Enjoy!

Benjamin F Butler and the Mills


 

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.

The Issue

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.

 

George Eastman: Creator of Kodak Film


George Eastman is the man behind the creation of the Kodak film business. Kodak is a household name but not any name for familiar to George as he made the name up. Why didn’t George name it after himself? Maybe he thought his invention would not go far and he wanted to save himself some embarrassment. Not only did the business do well but George made more money than he could have imagined. To celebrate his success, he donated money to some of his favorite organizations where he felt the extra finances would be a welcomed blessing.

George was born in Waterville, New York on July 12, 1854. At the time, the western half of the United States was still primarily frontier. So, living on the East Coast and in New York was not too bad. Life was busy there, and the newspaper brought the political gossip of the day. George’s parents were well off. His father was in charge of a business college in Rochester. His mother stayed home caring for George who was the baby of the family. No doubt the two sisters older than him helped out nurturing and caring for George.

When George reached age 7, his father died. His mother rented rooms in the home to earn income and keep her family going. George loved going to school in Rochester but felt his mother needed him at home more. In 1877, at the age of 23, George found work as a bookkeeper. He earned good money and saved what he could to invest in his hobby as an amateur photographer. During a trip to Mackinac Island in Michigan, George spilled photographic chemicals and ruined his clothes. He needed a better way to travel with his photography supplies and thought about what he could do.

The first thing George did was try photography using dry plates instead of wet ones. This new technique took the messy spill able chemical away during photo processing. He then created a coating machine to apply gelatin to a dry plate and the device he used for this he patented in England in 1879 and the United States in 1880. After selling his English patent, he opened a shop in his hometown to manufacture his plate. He eventually replaced the glass with paper. When someone developed film, they could pull the paper away, and the remaining product was a negative copy.

George, along with another man named William Walker, took the product one step further by creating a roll, forming a more extended portion of the film and a holder for storage. The holder could fit any camera at the time. Sometime later others came along to create a similar product using the technology used by workers in Eastman’s manufacturing plant. A lawsuit ensued with George having to pay the suing party a large sum of money. It did not deter him, however. He continued to work to improve his product. In 1888, George created a Camera he named Kodak. This camera allowed ordinary folks to take photos and send them to the manufacturing plant for processing. It was easy to use and affordable. George marketed his product on simplicity and convenience. By 1892 George founded Eastman Kodak Company where his film products could be mass produced.

George continued to improve his product and to reinvent his business. He was a driven man not only for money and prestige but also he looked for ways to give back to society. George was a job creator. He treated employees well and assisted other inventors. George provided products used in Hollywood and world war. George never married. Perhaps he never found the time to find a suitor. Maybe his world gave him joy nothing else could. George ended his own life after pondering his accomplishments. He did this because he felt he had completed his work on earth and there wasn’t anything else for him to do. His rest was to be his final rest.

What would George think of his product now where so many have depended on his technology? Even today with all of the digital technology available there are those out there was still love to process film and enjoy the products that George created over 100 years ago.

The George Eastman Museum 

Family Life of Benjamin F. Bulter


Young Benjamin F. Butler

Image result for benjamin f butlerIn 1839, Benjamin F. Butler met a man named Fisher Aimes Hildreth. Fisher lived in the next town over from Lowell where Ben lived in Massachusetts. Ben and Fisher connected immediately and developed a life-long relationship. That same year Fisher invited Ben to his family Thanksgiving meal. It was there, Ben, met Fisher’s daughter, Sarah. According to Ben, Sarah was attractive, educated, and intelligent and, she had a passion for acting. In fact, she appeared in plays in New York and Boston. Ben showed a curiosity for a romantic relationship with Sarah but she was not interested in giving up her career to accompany a small town lawyer just starting out (1).

Sarah Butler

Image result for benjamin f butler

As time went on Sarah acquired popularity and stardom for her work. Ben, worked his way into a successful law office, and the two continued to stay in contact with one another. In May of 1844, after a long courtship, they married. Ben brought Sarah to his home in Lowell, and there they lived until she passed away from “an untimely death” in 1877 (2).

Ben and Sarah’s Children

Together Ben and Sarah created a good sized family: a girl named Blanche, and three sons: Paul, who died at age four, Paul II, and Ben-Israel. Ben-Israel decided to follow his father’s footsteps and enter into public service. He was appointed to West Point, graduated with honors and commissioned Lieutenant. Ben, proud of his son’s accomplishments encouraged Ben-Israel to take command and lead a “regiment of colored troops stationed on the Plains [so that] he might have, in addition to his instructions at the academy, the knowledge of the movement and care of the troops in actual service.” The significance of his decision by Ben Butler was that he wanted his son to acquire some military experience working as a volunteer and not someone who earned rank from being nobility (3).

Tragedy

After completing his military service, Ben-Israel planned to join in partnership with his father Benjamin’s law practice. But as Benjamin writes in his memoir, “I had hoped to lean upon him in my declining years, to take my place in that profession which I love and honor. ‘Man proposes. God disposes.'” Ben-Israel’s unexpected sudden death ended any chance of a father- son career dream for both of them. Ben’s daughter married a Civil War General, Adelbert Ames and raised a family while Paul sought a business career upon his graduation from Harvard. Ben, impressed with Paul’s accomplishment at a prestigious university, felt his choice of school would impact Paul favorably later in life if he desired to enter into politics (4).

A Valued Relationship

Throughout Ben Butler’s military and political career, Sarah, his wife, proved to be one of his staunchest supporters. She advised him from time to time. Her intelligence and education were a great asset to Ben. It allowed him to view his world not only from a humanitarian perspective but also that of a woman. Sarah related to Ben on a different level, but she never interfered and trusted Ben’s final judgment. When Ben experienced political strife and controversy, she remained by his side with poise and dignity (5).

Value of Family

Benjamin F. Butler’s credited his success as a lawyer, veteran, and political figure to the strong family support system he created with his wife, Sarah. He also credits his family upbringing as inspiration and passion for a lifetime of civil service to others. We can interpret his decisions and actions in his life through his experiences and thoughts about them.

 

1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892),78-79.

2. 79.

3. 80-89.

4. 80-81.

5. 85.

 

Merry Christmas 2016


I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas holiday in whatever way shape or form is possible. I like this time of year because I can spend quality time with family and friends. I enjoy the old traditions and look forward to making new ones.

This year I came across an American Civil War Christmas poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ( 1807-1882 ). I thought it would be fun to share. I can relate to it because of the many Christmas holidays I spent away from my family and only doom and gloom surrounded me. Those were difficult times to get through. Still, through it all, I managed to enjoy some of those holidays. Here is the poem. Enjoy!

 

 

longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Photo credit Wikipedia

 

Christmas Bells

    I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.” (1)

 

  1. Reference for poem and additional information can be found at http://www.potw.org/archive/potw118.html.

 

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