FROM THE ARCHIVES: More about early Greenville

From the Archives | Sandy Main

Henry Watson gave the annual address when the Greenville Pioneer Society met for a picnic in the summer of 1885. He said he would “try and bring to your minds some of the things we had here thirty-five years ago (1850), and trace along down time’s pathway and notice some of the changes made in this country during the last thirty-five years.”

In the previous column, Watson talked about the changes seen in industry such as grist mills, saw mills and blacksmirh shops, in travel by stagecoach and train and in mercantile business. Today he continues:

“There is another branch of business that flashes across my memory, and that is the little drug store of the ever smiling Dr. Chamberlin. This was a very necessary business at that time, as most of us would have what we called then the ‘shakes’. That was the pioneer word for chills and fever. And I well remember our family suffered from this plague, our step-father, Joseph Denman, had the chills and fever, and was unable to do any work for eleven months; in fact we all had the shakes except one of our sisters. We all thought it strange that she should escape, but now that I have arrived at manhood and studied human nature some, I have come to the conclusion that sister was so contrary she would not shake!

“I tell you, my friends, Dr, Chamberlin would deal out quinine and whisky by the wholesale.

“But see; the little drug store has had to give way to four large drug houses. The one doctor is replaced by—Oh! I can’t count them.

“The exchange hotel was the pride of Greenville 35 years ago, built by our friend Mortimer Shearer, almost forty years ago. Its fine ball room of then some of us still remember, and smile as we go back thirty years and think of the times we used to have at the balls in Greenville. The little hotel has grown so large now that no one would recognize the hotel of thirty-five years ago.

“To-day we have four hotels and a number of boarding houses to accommodate visitors in our growing city.

“Tho pioneer paper of Greenville, called the Montcalm Reflector, was started in 1854, edited by Milo Blair, who was also quite a lawyer. The Montcalm Reflector is changed to the Greenville Independent; and to-day we have one daily, one tri-weekly, and two weekly papers edited and published by our enterprising townsmen, Grabill and Wells.

“I well remember the little red school house that stood not far from where the City National Bank now stands. That, too, was the pride of Greenville in its day. It answered two purposes. The children were taught during the week in the common branches of learning, and on Sunday it was used by our good brother Crane and others, who told us to ‘love God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.’ And I remember our mothers and sisters could ride six miles, after the old ox team, dressed in their calico dresses and gingham sunbonnets, making the woods ring with their merry song, all as happy as pigs in clover.

“But come down with the thirty-five years and see. The little red school house has gone, and in its place we find three large school houses where hundreds of children are taught. Instead of the little red school house to worship in, we can see the spires of fine churches towering toward Heaven, pointing us to the better land, and where we can receive the same instructions as in former years in the little school house, given by Rev. Crane, Westlake and Spooner; and here let me say that our churches and schools are and ought to be the pride of our city.

“Truly, my friends, there has been great changes in our beautiful city. But greater changes have taken place in the country all around us. But I shall not take up your time in telling you of the hardships and privations of the heroic men and women who were the first settlers here.— But will say I am thankful we had such men as Russell, Green, Shearer, Harroun, Bradish, Wilcox, Allen, Churchill, Spencer, Osgood, Horton, Dennis, Potter, Jones, Thomas, Woodbeck, Merrell, Mack, Denman, Wise, Stokes, Cook and others I might mention, men and women who dared to start out in pioneer life.

“But let us look at the country around us for a moment. Some of you will remember when our grist mill was built. The pine timber was growing up close to the bank of Flat river, and it was an unbroken wilderness all the way to the Straits of Mackinac, except here and there a little patch cleared, with the log cabin or shanty of the pioneer. The little patches have grown into large, rich and beautiful farms. The log cabin and shanty have been replaced by large and commodious farm houses, and no longer have the cattle to shelter under the trees in winter, but large barns and sheds protect them from the winter blasts.

“The two or three small shanty school houses in all this vast country have yielded to some eight or ten large school houses in every township, the pride of our civilization.

“The country has also improved in religious life. I well remember when our old and true friend, Father Allen, would walk from his little home in Montcalm to the Wolverton plains and West plains, a distance of six or eight miles and preach for two hours in the shanty school house without compensation, and to-day I want to say God bless Father Allen and reward him for his faithfulness. I well remember when Messrs. Westlake and Crane, the first Methodist ministers in this country came, and used to preach for us once in four weeks in our shanty school house and hold prayer meetings at the houses of the settlers. But how changed.

“Now what do we see on these then missionary fields? Not the shanty school house but in almost every township of this association there are from three to five fine churches, the pride of our land. Truly there has been great changes in our city and country.

“We too have changed, A great many that saw this country in its wild state, have passed away, and during the past year brothers Coon, Merritt, Backus and others have left us and joined their kindred dead. During the year to come undoubtedly some of us will pass away to the silent land.

“But I am getting too solemn, and I am intruding upon your time. I will close with one word more and say: It is good for us to meet each other in these gatherings, talk over the past that is dear to our memories, and cheer each other in life’s pathway. Then let me again entreat you to lay aside your cares, duties and responsibilities of life for a few hours, and spend them in such a way that they will be pleasant to think of in the years to come.

“And I trust and pray that these gatherings will unite us close in bonds of brotherly love; and as the years come and go we shall be better prepared for life’s work and at its close be reunited with those we have learned to love in the better land.”

Next time: Remembering another pioneer.

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