"Reminiscences of Colon In the Old Days
In the late and lonely afternoon of life when the lengthening shadows mark the swift approach of night eternal, the working mind of man becomes a transformation. No longer are the paths ahead bordered with the bright hued flowers of enticement and enchantment. Instead, from out the shadows comes the grim phantom of departed days and leads remembrance backward through a vista of long years to the carefree days of pleasure and of youth. So tonight there comes a vision and on the screen of memory is flashed forth, almost forgotten pictures of the long ago.
"It was a miserable, dismal day in October in the year 1862. Dark, forbidding clouds floated low in the heavens and from them descended a chilling, penetrating mist, while in the air foul with the dark odor of decaying vegetation. On this most unpropitious day a youth received his first introduction to the little village of Colon. He was not much of a youth in years and experience, neither was it much of a place which his gaze rested upon, yet it was ordained that the destinies of the two were to be closely intermingled on through the years for nearly three-quarters of a century.
Scientist have divided the years of civilization into different periods of time, such as the stone age, the bronze age and others. Applying a similar standard of measurement it might be most truthfully said that Colon, in that distant day, was in the tallow candle period of its existence.
Kerosene oil had lately been placed on the market but fear of its explosive nature restricted its use to a very few of the braver souls. Almost universal dependence for illumination was placed on the old tallow candle of which the good housewife had prepared a liberal supply against the coming of the long winter evenings. The old brass candlestick, polished until it shone like burnished gold, with a pair of snuffers neatly placed across its base, is but a memory, it having many years ago disappeared from the list of household utilities.
The mercantile interests of Colon in that early day were naturally somewhat limited. Up on the west bank of the mill race was the general store of Tobias Born. Mr. Born was a stockily built little German whose quaint humor and good nature brought him a profitable trade. In the late sixties that stock of goods was sold to Captain W.H. Godfrey and Hiram Howe, which firm conducted the business for a time. Later the building was occupied by a stock of hardware owned by Charles Lampman.
On the second floor of the Born building was the lodge room of the Masonic order. Can any present members of this order remember the old meeting hall?
On the corner now occupied by the Curtis grocery was the general store of E. Hill & Son, one of the most pretentious establishments of the kind in the country. The firm consisted of Elisha Hill and Edwin, the son. Later the younger son, T. J. Hill, was taken into the partnership. About the close of the war this stock of goods was sold to Edwin F. Doty, a farmer who lived over northeast of the Farrand bridge, who with his two sons, Charles and Fred, conducted the business for a time. But it was a far cry from the plow to the yardstick and with steadily falling prices the business was not long continued. In this old building was established the banking house of E. Hill & Sons. The firm name is still in active existence but the original members long ago departed for that land where there are neither loans nor interest to occupy the mind.
Just about midway between the Hill store and the Born store was a little one-story building in which Dr. Reynolds conducted a drug store. Where is now the drug store of Charles Niendorf was an old-fashioned building containing a stock of hardware owned by Mr. Watson. In the late sixties this stock passed into the hands of Hiram Howe. In the building long used by J. Elliott Mosher was the grocery store of L.H. Beebe. This store changed hands frequently being owned in turn by J. W. Pike, Rodebaugh Brothers, and others. At the time of its demolishment this was the oldest business building in Colon. Directly across the street from this building was an old red building used as a tin shop. Directly east of this was the tailor shop of E.C. Wellesley. This building also contained the postoffice, Mr. Wellesley being the postmaster for many years.
At the north end of the lot on which stands the library building was a little one-story building owned and used by Leander Taylor as a sort of variety store in the front and a room in the rear where one could procure pre-Volstead beverages of various kinds. This back room was a sort of semi-secret affair as Michigan was a prohibition state in those days and it required a man of nerve and popularity to avoid molestation, if he essayed to sell spirituous liquors.
In those years Colon was a very busy little town. In the south part of the village was the foundry of Daniel Richards where were manufactured plows, cultivators and other farm implements. The farmers for miles around procured their supplies from this establishment.
Where is now Ward's garage was the wagon shop of Chauncey Baxter, where wagons, trucks and various kinds of farm implements were manufactured. About the close of the Civil war this business was taken over by Anderson brothers who soon built up one of the best and largest carriage shops in the county.
Henry Hulbert conducted a harness shop, employing two and three men the year around, supplying the demand for harness for many miles around. The tannery in the north part of the village was owned by a man by the name of Brownfield. Here the farmers would take their calf-skins in the spring to be later converted into serviceable footwear by Mr. Taggart who employed a couple of men constantly supplying the demand. The artistic shoemaker of the village was Joseph Caton, and proud indeed was the young lady who possessed a pair of the Caton made calf skin shoes.
The old flour mill, which has stood the vicissitudes of nearly a century, was a busy place in those days. From midnight Sunday to midnight Saturday, week in and week out, the old mill was turning out flour which was packed in barrels for shipment. Two and three teams were kept busy hauling this flour to Burr Oak, the nearest shipping point.
Just across the street from the mill where now stands the house of Frank Lamberson, was a sawmill which was busy several months in the year converting logs into lumber for use in the building of homes and farm buildings. Crossing the creek on an old wooded bridge, one came to the stave factory, run by Josiah Richards and George Sharer. For several months in the year this was busy place, employing a considerable of men in the manufacture of staves and heading. The output of this factory was largely consumed by the several cooper shops which supplied the barrels for the local mill and also for the mills in Three Rivers.
In the rear of where is now the Godfrey block was the wagon shop of Daniel Avery. Just across the street to the west was the blacksmith shop of Jacob Worts. There were stonemason, carpenters, painters, and other trades which were kept busy most of the time.
Yes, Colon, with its 400 inhabitants, was one of the hives of industry in those days. Mail was received in Colon three times a week. Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a stage left Leonidas for Burr Oak by the way of Colon depending largely on the conditions of the roads, so you received you mail any time from 4 to 7 o'clock in the evening.
Probably few remember that Colon had a curfew bell in those days, though it might more properly be called a bedtime bell. Every evening at 9 M o'clock the bell in the old Baptist church would ring out the warning that it was time to retire.
Then again at 5 o'clock in the morning the old bell I would ring out "arise thou Sluggards". Then, as if in atonement for the harshness of the early morning, at 12 o'clock noon the bell would ring out the glad tidings that it was time for the suspension of labor and the enjoyment of the noonday meal. When death occurred in the village the old bell would ring out in wild alarm for a few minutes as if in an effort to frighten away the imps of Satan if any chanced to be hovering around. Then in slow measured strokes often it would toll off the age of the deceased. In so small a community it was generally well known concerning those who were dangerously ill and by ascertaining the age of the deceased from the old bell it was comparatively easy to tell just who had passed away. The village undertaker in those days was as gentleman by the name of Whitney. When a death occurred, Mr. Whitney would hasten to the home of the deceased armed with lead pencil, book and tape measure. Having ascertained the greatest width and length of the departed, he would return to his shop which was in the garage building just north of the hotel, where he preceded with the manufacture of a coffin. Coffin, mind you, there were no caskets in those days. These coffins were always made from black walnut lumber and finished on the outside with from one to four or more coats of varnish, depending on the pride and financial standing of the bereaved family. It was claimed that the undertaker was occasionally scant in his measurement to such extent that it required considerable "coaxing" to get the deceased properly settled in his future home. There is no record of complaints from the occupant, that pleasant duty being reserved for the surviving members of the family.
There was but one church in Colon in those days, that being the old Baptist church which stood on the spot now occupied by the present edifice. The Methodists, however, maintained a small organization, though it was too restricted in number and finance to undertake the building of a church. The spiritual welfare of this little flock was looked after by Reverend Elias Cooley. Mr. Cooley was also principal of the Seminary school, teaching five days in the week and preaching two and three times on the Sabbath day. He was a man of striking appearance, having fiery red hair and whiskers, though contrary to the general accepted belief relative to red hair, his nature was as gentle as a midsummer breeze. If he possessed a temper at all it was of the nonexplosive variety.
Mr. Cooley was probably the best loved man that ever lived in the village of Colon. When the young people for miles around felt the urge to travel life's highway together they believed their chances of future happiness was greatly increased if the Reverend Cooley tied the knot that bound them together. When a death occurred the relatives of the departed felt that the departed stood a far better chance of making a successful ascent of the golden stairs if the final sendoff was administered by the beloved preacher. Mr. Cooley died a number of years ago in a home for superannuated preachers in Battle Creek. To the one who measures life's success by the dollar standard, Mr. Cooley's life was a failure. To any one who measures life's success by noble example, love, goodness and I helpfulness, his life was eminently successful. If any of Mr. Cooley's pupils are still living and chance to read this tribute to his memory they will not only sanction every word but will add greatly thereto."
Footnote: The following sketch of life, in Colon in the early sixties was found among the possessions of the late C.H. Elliot, who passed away at Cincinnati, Ohio. It is not known when he wrote it, but most likely in the 1940's. Mr. Elliott had headed this article "Reminiscences of Colon In the Old Days, from 1862 to 1870, by an Old Timer" and it is believed that he intended it for publication in the Colon Express newspaper in connection with the Go-Getters reunion.
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Many thanks to Joe Ganger, President
of the Colon Community Historical Society, for providing this material for
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