FROM THE ARCHIVES: Reminiscences by longtime resident

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Today begins a three-part series based on “Reminiscences of Greenville and Indian Trails in Southwest Montcalm County in 1862,” written by Edward H. Jones, usually referred to in print as E.H. Jones.

The article by Jones appeared in the Greenville Independent in 1911. Jones by that time had moved to Denver after living in Greenville for more than 40 years. He was described by Independent Editor E.F. Grabill as “a man of prominence here and held in high esteem in early years.”

Mr. and Mrs. Jones had spent the winter of 1904-1905 with their daughter in Denver, which they much enjoyed, finding the weather less severe than in Michigan, and so decided to move there. They returned to Greenville in the spring of 1905 where, the Independent said, “Mr. Jones offers for sale his residence and his part of the Eureka block” (the building where his business was located). It was duly noted in later editions that Jones sold his residence on West Washington Street to Charles H. Gibson, “consideration $1,650,” and his interest in the Eureka block to C.J. Drummond.

Among those calling to say good-bye to the Joneses was Capt. T.N. Stevens. He and Jones “were associated in earlier days as real estate agents and owners of the Montcalm County abstract office under the firm name of Jones & Stevens. Later Mr. Stevens bought the abstract books and removed them to Stanton,” the Independent said.

“Mr. Jones came to Greenville in 1862 and Mr. Stevens in the spring of 1866. They say that, as well as they can recollect, there is now but one man in business in Greenville who was in business when they came to Greenville, and he is James W. Belknap. E.F. Grabill (owner of the Independent) came in February 1866. Mr. Belknap and he are the only ones now in business who were business men in Greenville early in 1866.”

The Independent further described Jones’ career in Greenville: “Mr. Jones in former years was prominent in local affairs. For many years he was a member of the board of education and much of the time the executive of the board as director of the schools, and was prominent in literary affairs. He was justice of the peace for a long time. For a long time he was county surveyor and was judge of probate for a term.”

As county surveyor and a real estate agent, Jones often had occasion to travel the roads of southwest Montcalm County, although the term “road” may be giving some of the tracks too much credit. Here are some of his memories of those early days:

“In the year 1862, when I took up my residence in Greenville, there were only nine residences between the north end of Washington street bridge and the Russell mill, now the village of Langston. Two of these were on the farm of Henry Hale and one, then occupied by Jimmie Rhineboldt, was situated on the north side of Turk lake. The track leading from Greenville to the Russell mill wound through the pine woods, sometimes circling huge pines, but oftener passing over gnarled roots lying far enough above the ground to give the vehicle in which you were riding a most energetic jolt. Some portion of this track was so deeply shaded and the moisture in the forest so great that, were it not for winter, the mud in these places would have been perennial. North of Langston, where the road had been improved (?) the mud was far deeper while the logs which lay beneath the mud gave your carriage a motion which was a reminder of ‘Jordan’ which has been long conceded to be a rough road to travel. What has been written of the Langston road applies to the character of most of the woods roads in Montcalm county at the time I first began to travel in the vicinity of Greenville, and it was several years before these roads began to show any marked improvement.

“A logging road, leaving the line of the present state road at the point where now stands the ‘Monroe school house,’ led west to what was then known as the Gregory Mills, now Gowen. On this road there was neither house, shack or shanty; the pine woods, untouched by the lumberman’s ax, bordered this road on either side. Besides the mills there were a few weather-beaten houses and shanties at Gowen, but aside from a blacksmith shop and the mills, there was nothing which bore any semblance to business, nearly all the wants of the people of the village being supplied from Greenville.

“From the Gregory Mills there were several logging roads leading in a northerly direction, one of which led to the Dane Settlement. But you were not always sure which road to take to reach ‘the settlement’ and not a few who wished to find ‘the Settlement’ found themselves at the end of several of these woods roads before they struck the right one. From the Dane Settlement another woods road led to a settlement on the Tamarack. This road was traveled also by the early settlers of Maple Valley, who found this route the most feasible one to their base of supplies at Greenville.

“From the Bellamy corners, five miles north of Greenville, another road branched off from the line of the state road toward the east. This road was mostly traveled by those having business at the county seat, which had, on the first of January, 1862, been removed from Greenville. When we take into account the small amount of business done in the county at that time, it will be unnecessary to say that travel on this road was ‘very light.’

“But there were other roads in the vicinity of Greenville, which were often traveled, roads which had never been worked, but became better as the amount of travel upon them increased. No man knows when they were laid out. It is certain, however, that they were traveled long before the office of highway commissioner was established anywhere in the United States. I refer to the Indian trails.”

Next time: Part 2, Indian trails

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