04-26-2018 Tri-City Area History Page

The Paw Paw River Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: This entry in the Paw Paw River Journal was previously published in the Tri-City Record and repeated in recognition of Arbor Day, April 27, 2018.

The trees of Hartford I don’t know how others feel, but here in this small town our shade trees have always been of great importance. When I was a kid, Linden Street (where we lived) was lined with stately maples. They were huge… and very climbable. We were all tree climbers and had tried most of them. Next door to us lived the Henry Websters. They were an old couple so we kids did not have much in common with them, but they were nice people. Henny, as he was called, was a wisp of a man with white hair. And I believe his family originally settled Webster’s Hills, which was named for them. That is a range of probably glacial deposits out north of Hartford. One of the maples in front of their house was most climbable. Henny’s wife had passed away, and he lived there alone. One day we went nearly to the top of that one. Later, my mom said, “Henny had a stroke and fell in the bathroom. He was calling for help… didn’t any of you kids hear him?” No, we had not heard him, and though we felt sorry for him, I sort of resented it in a kid way… how could I have heard him when I was way up in his tree!

One street in Hartford is named “Maple Street.” It runs north and south at the west end of our main business block. Back in the day it was lined with huge maple trees on both sides. Then in 1958 we had a big storm come through Hartford and, after it passed, Maple Street was closed by twisted and torn maples that had completely blocked it! Ely Park next to it was named by Horace Olney who built our first bank in 1910. His father, Burrell Olney, was one of the first who came to the area in the middle 1800s. Burrell was in a party of pioneers that included Tom Conklin, who is given credit for being our first settler. They came from New York State, looking for new land to clear and make their fortune thereon. Burrell’s son, Horace, built the bank in 1910 and also bought the property, which he named “Ely Park.” The name was for his mother who was an Ely girl. And they planted that park with maple trees, many of which are still growing there. My Mom said when she came to Hartford as a girl with her family, they were asking townspeople to sponsor and plant one of the many maple trees there. Since that time we have enjoyed a reputation as having some of the most beautiful shade trees around. That changed some, as I said, during the storm of 1958. And since then, as those towering giants have grown old and been taken down, that has changed. Linden Street is not nearly as shady as it used to be. And I think there may be just one left that we might have climbed.

I was reminded of this by friend Bob Hall. He and his family live in rural splendor on Hartford’s south side, out near where Joe Van Lierop planted all of those beautiful daffodils that nod their golden heads in springtime. Coming into town one day, he could see that a huge tree was being taken down to be hauled away. Bill Ross from the Sisters Lakes area was doing the job. Reason… a limb had fallen on a neighbor’s house, and they wished to forestall any more damage. Bob checked the trunk as it rested on a huge trailer. He said they counted 128 rings on the stump. It was a giant whitewood, commonly called a “tulip tree.” Now the first 2-3 years there would not be any rings, so that tree was planted around 1883. Just think of that! That was just two years after Wyatt Earp and his brothers shot it out with the Clantons at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. It was also just seven years after General George Custer and his men were lost in the Battle of the Little Big Horn! Hartford was still a frontier town then! Sometimes when I think about it, I realize that our town is full of history… and we are but one generation or so from those times. If you wish to get the flavor of that, sometime just wander through the old cemetery on the west side of town. We have pioneers sleeping the Big Sleep there from clear back to the Revolutionary War.

When Hartford was started, it was just a crossroads with a country store. And it was sometimes called “Bloody Corners” because some of those first people were a quarrelsome lot, quick to fire up their tempers, especially if they had been drinking. They had to have someplace to bury the people who died, so they started that early cemetery. And they planted lots of trees! Most of them are gone now. And in recent years some people have complained when crews have come in to take out trees that are interfering with the electric lines. But that is a necessary evil. And I have noticed we do not have too many electrical interruptions anymore. So some good has come of that. But it is worth noting when a giant tulip tree… one that has survived storms for many years… is lost. And people like Bob Hall take notice. We all should, because our trees are part of our history. They are woven into the golden tapestry of our lives in these storybook towns along the Paw Paw River!

Coloma Library News Story Hour Story Hour meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Toddlers and preschoolers are invited to hear a story, make a craft and sing a song with Miss Amy. There is no sign-up or fee required. It is asked that all children be supervised by an adult during Story Hour. Book Club The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, May 3 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “Stella Bain” by Anita Shreve. Generally, depending on demand there are titles available for checkout at the front desk. The book club regularly meets every other Thursday and is always looking for new members. Call 468-3431 with questions on any Coloma Library activities.

Watervliet District Library News Adult Crafting, “Pinteresting”, Monday, Apr 30, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. – Paper bead jewelry – have fun trying out a Pinterest inspired craft on the library. Money Smart Art – April – Special stuff for kids – Pick up some library “bucks” at the desk and spend them on art supplies; create something just for fun. Teen Table Projects: April – Celebrate Poetry Month by writing in some books. Take a page from one of the recycle-bound books and cross off everything but your very own poem! Story Hour: Wed. at 10:30 a.m. & Thu. at 1:30 p.m. – December to April – Show-and-tell, stories and crafts for children ages 3 – 5 and their families. Sign up to share this structured literacy program with your preschooler. Library Garden Park – Purchase a Legacy Walk brick and celebrate a memory. Bricks are $75; 13 characters, 2 lines. Pick up a form at the library. Yoga: Monday 9 – 10 a.m.; Wednesday 7 – 8 p.m.; Chair Yoga, Wednesday 6:00 – 6:45 p.m. Call 463-6382 with questions on any Watervliet Library activities.