FROM THE ARCHIVES: John Green’s granddaughter recalls earlier days

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Della Roosa Manktelow, granddaughter of John Green, first settler and founder of Greenville, told her memories of the early days of Montcalm County in an article in the Greenville Independent written when she was 77 years old.

The first part of the article concerned Green’s arrival and early times in Greenville. It was featured in this column in October.

Della’s mother was Green’s oldest daughter and she married Abram Roosa, the first blacksmith in Greenville. Della said his shop was located at about 400 W. Washington St.

She continues, “In 1850 I was born. The first school I attended stood on the old cemetery lot between West Cass and West Washington streets. That land later was given to the city by my father to be used as a city cemetery.”

A change came to young Della’s life when she was 10 years old.

Until then, Greenville had been the county seat. In 1860, after quite a battle, the county seat was moved from Greenville to a location at the geographical center of the “old county,” what is now the east 16 townships. The property was purchased from Fred Hall of Ionia for $50, and in appreciation of his generosity, the new town was named Fred. The name was changed to Stanton in 1863 at Hall’s request to honor Edwin Stanton, secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln.

The new county seat was established in a pine forest, four miles from the nearest neighbor. Clearing was begun at once and a courthouse constructed.

Della’s story picks up again:

“When the county seat was moved from Greenville to Stanton, my father, Abram Roosa, was given four lots if he would move there and build a hotel. This he decided to do, but had to cut the logs and haul them out so he could get through with his ox team. We settled in a log hut which was 12 feet square. The logs were hewn so smooth on all four sides that not a bit of cold could get through between them, and there was no chinking between them.

“Before the hotel was completed the first meeting of the county board was called. The men brought their own blankets, and sleeping quarters were arranged in the court house. The members arranged themselves in rows on the floor. But they were not allowed to rest, for as soon as they fell to sleep, Westbrook Devine, who was a very large, heavy man, began to roll — and rolled over the entire line of half-sleeping men. This he called ‘equalizing the roll.’ In the morning when the members came to our log hut for breakfast there was much laughing over the event.”

The hotel was described in the Stanton Weekly Clipper in 1884: “About the year 1862 Abram Roosa came into this neck of the woods, soon after the board of supervisors had decided to locate the county seat here, and early in the season put up a one-and-a-half-story, twenty-six by thirty log house on a considerable hill well back from where the corner of Main and Camburn streets was supposed to be — quite a supposition in those days from the fact that neither street had then been chopped or logged off — for the purpose of accommodating the ‘traveling public,’ which, by the way, was at that time largely Indian and the public highways were winding Indian trails through unbroken forests of towering pine. This log building was the first hotel in Stanton and only two buildings preceded it in point of time, and probably none in importance, as it was around its old-fashioned open fireplace that the future city was discussed.”

Getting back to Della’s article: “Levi Camburn was register of deeds and lived with his family in one room in the court house. Mr. Camburn’s two sons, my brother and myself were the only pupils in the school, except my baby brother who was then three years old, who would cry to go and the teacher would carry him in her arms to school every morning. The school was held in an upper room of the court house and was taught by Nancy Green, daughter of Thomas Green, Greenville’s first doctor.

“When the first real schoolhouse was built I helped to raise the money to buy the bell. My mother, for her share, made a large cake, baked it in a large milk pan. It was cut in pieces and auctioneered off at 25 cents a piece, bringing $5.00.

“The first minister was Elder Monross, who preached from a room in the court house. Those were the days of the old-time religion when a hearty hand shake meant so much.

“And the dances, why you know nothing about them. We would hitch up the old ox team, all the family pile in and away we would go. If a ‘feller’ had on new shoes, off they would come and he would dance in his bare feet.

“And now, as old age (77 years) has approached, and I sit in the twilight of life, my memory goes back to the good old times, and I am so thankful that I have been spared to see the growth and development of this county and to pass along these few incidents, which I hope that you may read and enjoy.”

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