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.
On June 19, 1879, E. Mudge & L.E. Kendall published volume one, issue one of the Belding Home News newspaper. The proprietors/editors of the paper stated on the front page that the paper aimed to provide a one-stop source of information for Belding and the surrounding towns and counties. This information was meant to enrich the lives of all of these residents. They also explained that they created the paper without affiliation with any political party or religion. Newspapers up until this time were commonly owned and published by political party or their affiliates. With just 600 early subscribers as an investment, the editors dreamed that even though the paper started out small with any luck, it would grow larger and more prosperous.
The first business printed in the press was the meeting “held at the school-house” to plan a 4th of July celebration. On the committee sat folks from Belding, Orleans, Otisco, Grattan, Eureka, and Smyrna. Ladies present at the meeting provided refreshments. They discussed a charity dinner also to be held during the celebration to benefit the Belding Cornet Band. The food was to be provided by folks attending (1).
The paper published various types of announcements in the local section of the newspaper. These included basic things such as the status of R. M. Wilson who had been, “suffering from fever,” a new church erected at Palmer station, as well as the return of DR. G. Conner from Pennsylvania. Another was the mention of Mrs. L. E. Knedall who had “been sick for several weeks with pleurisy” and Dr. C. of Greenville the attending physician. This information was useful to know if you needed a doctor who could treat lung illnesses in the late 19th century. Another mention was the concern Belding residents had over the recent competition in “wool-buying” that had been economically successful in the nearby town of Ionia. The city of Belding wanted in on the action (2).
Ashley Grove held a Strawberry Festival and the proceeds paid for a new church organ. A familiar name in the local section was that of Levi Broas who built a new addition to his farmhouse at the head of Broas street and that “those who know Mr. Broas’ way of doing things will anticipate a fine thing in style and finish.” News of a recent tragedy announced that a young man named Miller whose parents hailed from Fallasbourg, ” was accidentally shot a few days since” and that his internment had been “the Sunday past.” He had been working away from home when the accident occurred (3).
Some more positive news states that Belding had a Literary Club and well-known Elocutionist (a literary reader) Miss Georgia Gates performed some classical readings for a small party of guests who were impressed and well entertained. Also, an announcement mentioned was the successful Strawberry and Ice Cream Festival run by the Ladies Mite Society of The Christian Church that included such festivities as Croquet. Guests had been encouraged “to stay as long as they please.” They had invited everyone to attend (4).
Two gentlemen by the names of Professor J.H. Pixley and S. M. Grannis who were known all over the state to be excellent musicians entertained the “Beldingites.” On the farm of H.H. Belding and maintained by Mr. S. Case the paper announced, that the from the cattle raised there farmers produced cream in the “Cooley Creamer”, and then directly shipped the cream to Chicago at the price of twenty cents per pound. This was a good business exchange for the town and worth noting (5).
Advertisements in the paper show that the city provided transportation in town by way of a horse-car. This car connected folks with the D.L. & N.R.R. and brought mail to and from the town (6).
The first new newspaper in Belding shows the attitudes folks had about their town and how they felt about community. Sharing good and bad news surely brightened folks’ days when they read the information presented there. Even though there is no newspaper today for the city of Belding, the town still shares information through social networks online and by word of mouth. They continue to show support for their fellow citizens and ensuring everyone is included in the town activities which are created to enrich lives and bring prosperity.
1. E. Mudge and L.E.Kendall, eds. Belding Home News, (Belding, 1879), 1.
2. Ibid, 2.
4. Ibid.; The History of Jasper County, Missouri: Including a Condensed History of the State, a Complete History of Carthage and Joplin, Other Towns and Townships … (Mills & Company, Des Moines, Iowa, 1883), 287. https://books.google.com/books?id=TtEyAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA18&dq=miss+georgia+gates+carthage+missouri&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjZl7_62KPQAhXBwFQKHRrAABkQ6AEIIDAB#v=onepage&q=miss%20georgia%20gates%20carthage%20missouri&f=false. Accessed November 12, 2016). This page lists Georgia Gates living in Carthage Missouri that proves she did indeed exist.
5. Ibid, 3.
A fellow history enthusiast posted a link to a Depression Era digitized photo collection presented by Yale on the Google+ community History as Prologue. He encouraged us to look at the site and see what we could find in our community. What a great idea! History as a big picture is great, and that picture always leads back to the very spot we are at at any given time or place. Local history is ripe for exploration, and it connects us all and leads to an understanding of our origins and how the past has led us to where we are now. We can then take that information and compare it to our own current time and this helps us make decisions about where we want to go in our future.
I decided to explore and see what I could find. As I searched the interactive map I found Ionia County, which is the closest to my current location of Belding, Michigan, also in the same county. I found one photo. It is a small blip on a large radar, but it is a start. It shows a farm house and field. It is not much different to the way the county looks now. This photo is important because it gives insight into the people who lived here during the Depression Era and how they attempted to survive economic hard times in the aftermath of a world war. Perhaps, these folks just continued on as normal. Maybe they established the property or inherited it down from family. Many more curiosities can lead from this point. Hopefully, this collection will expand to bring a clearer focus of the people and their lives in Ionia County during the Depression.
For further reading and interest of Belding and Ionia County see:
City of Belding, Michigan http://www.ci.belding.mi.us/
Images of America: Belding (2014) by local author, Cindy M. Hughes
History of Ionia County Michigan: Her People, Industries and Institutions (1916) by Rev. E.E. Branch
The Pere Marquette Railway Belding Depot was part of a more extensive rail network that began in Northern Michigan in 1889. This rail system was constructed to connect commercial routes through the state of Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada with Michigan. The railway gets its name from early Michigan settler, Jacques Marquette (1637-1675). It operated until a merger re-established its operation under new ownership in 1947 (1).
The Belding Depot, served passengers faithfully from 1900 to 1941. It provided transportation for the citizenry to the neighboring town of Lowell and was an essential connection between Grand Rapids and Saginaw. The building was a simple structure that housed a centralized ticketing and telegraph office. After operations ceased, it remained vacant except for maintenance tools owned by the city. In 1994, the city of Belding took action to restore the building and it now serves as the city center for government meetings and a local transit hub. The Pere Marquette Railway Depot is a registered historic landmark and exists today to remind folks of the contributions it made to society and its aid to population growth and commerce for the state of Michigan. (2)
1. Wikipedia. 2013. “Pere Marquette Railway.” Last modified March 13. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pere_Marquette_Railway.;”Pere Marquette Depot Bay City Michigan.” http://www.peremarquettedepotbaycity.com/index.php/about-the-depot/history.html.
2. Michigan.gov. 2014.”Pere Marquette Railway Belding Depot.” http://www.mcgi.state.mi.us/hso/sites/43973.htm; Michigan Markers. 2104.; “Pere Marquette Railway Belding Depot.” http://www.michmarkers.com/startup.asp?startpage=L2050.htm