06-15-2017 Tri-City Area History

Hotel Commodore

 North Berrien Historical Museum is always interested in photos, stories or information sharing.  The museum can be contacted at 269-468-3330 or by email to info@northberrienhistory.org.

From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum

300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

The Paw Paw River Journal

Tales of the Old West

 I know this will make me sound older than dirt, but I must say it! People my age are just one generation from the pioneers and the old American West! My Dad was born in a little frontier town in Wisconsin in 1886, where his father owned a general store. That was just 10 years after General Custer got his at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was just five years after Wyatt Earp shot it out with the bad guys at the OK Corral!

My mom was born just a few years after that. When she was a girl her family went homesteading in the Snake River Canyon area in Idaho. They lived in a tent with a wood floor. There was a local young man, a cowboy, who would have loved to come courting, but my mom’s father put his foot down on that. He had to leave the area for some reason, and my mom wound up with a guitar that he gave her.

There are at least two tales of how my mom got the guitar, both slightly different. First I’ll tell you the one my sister and I grew up with. When we were small my mom used to tell us stories and play music for us on her guitar, mandolin, and the piano. Our friends gathered and she entertained us all. And we had to join in on the songs we had learned, “Red River Valley,” “Springtime in the Rockies,” and songs like that. The watershed experience of her life was when they lived out west in two different states and she loved to tell stories of her childhood when she had those adventures.

My mom, Edith Merrill, was the 6th of seven children. They lived in Joliet, IL, and her father had an adventurous spirit… not the best thing for a man with a family that size. The oldest son, Charles, had gone to Texas and married a Palestine girl, whose family was (I think) in oil. He painted such glowing pictures that my grandpa and some of his friends decided to move their families down there.

They rented a train passenger car and a couple of freight cars for their stock and furniture and were off for Texas. There must have been three or four families in all. They settled in Mexia… this is about 60 miles east of Waco.

When I was stationed there in flight training I flew over one day to look at the town. Just out cloud chasing and decided to look it over. Not a very big town and on one side a no fly zone… probably an army ammunition depot or something, so I didn’t linger.

My mom said they lived in an old church that had been converted into a rental unit. Only reason it was available was because of the cemetery in back… people were too superstitious to live there! Across the street lived the retired minister and his wife, nice old people.

That never worked out, and they moved back to Joliet. Meanwhile son Charlie and his wife, May, had moved to Idaho. They painted such glowing pictures that Grandpa Merrill packed up the family again and moved out to the Snake River Valley area in Idaho. They leased a farm with apple orchards, and were expecting a huge crop… but freezing weather ruined that. My mom said she was the only person around who had gone through the 8th grade, and they wanted to hire her to teach school.

She turned that down because she was just a girl, and small at that. She said she never could have controlled the big kids. While there, my mom knew a cowboy. This is where our stories diverge. I remember her saying that the cowboy wanted to come courting her, but her dad said she was too young for him. He gave her his guitar and taught her to play it before he left the area.

Our youngest daughter Laurie says Grandma was telling the kids tales of the Old West, and she said that the cowboy was in love with her, but got in some trouble and had to leave town. He wanted to sell his guitar, so her dad bought it for her with the stipulation that he had to teach her at least one song… “The Spanish Fandango,” which she could play beautifully all the rest of her life. So that guitar is over 100 years old. I would guess that she got it around 1903-07. She was born in 1891, so the time seems about right.

As I said, they lived in the Snake River Valley in the Buhl-Twin Falls area. She and her younger brother Ward each had a horse and a 22 cal. rifle and had all kinds of adventures. When I was very small we had in our living room a coyote skin rug, which I think she shot. There it was, grinning at me, and as I remember it a little scary when I was small.

My mom always loved music and entertaining, and when we were small, we put on shows in our back yard. And the clothesline held the curtain that could be opened when the show started. We had all kinds of entertainment with my mom providing the musical background on that guitar. I remember one of my friends, Bill Galbreath, and I sang, “Home on the Range.” One line we couldn’t agree was it supposed to be “…and seldom (or never) is heard a discouraging word… and the skies are not cloudy all day.” So when we sang, it came out “…and neldom is heard a discouraging word.”

To the end of her life she was still giving lessons on that guitar to the small kids in her neighborhood. And so there is the story on that to the best of my recollection. I do have a few pages of a journal that I encouraged her to write in her last days. I wish we had more of her memories here in this storybook town on the Paw Paw River.

Coloma Library News

Critchlow Alligator Program… LIVE animals!

On Tuesday, June 20 at 10:30 a.m. at the Coloma Library, explore the biology and history of many different reptiles and amphibians in a fun presentation. Presentations include LIVE interactions with several species that might include American Alligator, Sulcata Tortoise, Cane Toad, Bearded Dragon, Corn Snake, Ball Python, Tree Frog, and Red Tail Boa Constrictor. This is a free program and no sign-up is required. All children must be supervised and accompanied by an adult.

Summer Reading Club

“Build a Better World… READ!!”

Readers of all ages are invited to explore how books can be used to “Build a Better World” during the Summer Reading Program. The 2017 Summer Reading Program is open to young people, babies through young adult, with programs, prize drawings, storytimes, a reading club and more. Sign-up today, program begins on Monday, June 19. For more information, call the library at 468-3431 or visit www.colomapubliclibrary.net.

Book Club

The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, June 22 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “The Rent Collector” by Camron Wright.  Generally, depending on demand there are titles available for check-out at the front desk. The book club regularly meets every other Thursday and is always looking for new members.

Story Hour

Story Hour meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. Join Miss Amy for a story, craft and song time. Story Hour is a free weekly program for toddlers and preschool-aged children, it does not require sign-up.

Hartford Library News

 The Hartford Public Library is starting their summer programs. On Monday, June 19 at 2 p.m. they are having a “Bad Kitty Party.” On Wednesday, June 21 at 11 a.m. is a “Dr. Seuss Party” followed by a “Star Wars Party” at 2 p.m. No registration is necessary and everyone is welcome.

Their first “LEGO Extreme Day” is Tuesday, June 27. Children ages 2-6 are invited at 11 a.m. and juniors 7 and up at 1 p.m. This LEGO schedule will be every Tuesday with children at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. For more information call the library at 269-621-3408 or visit their website at www.hartfordpl.michlibrary.org.

Watervliet District Library News

 This month in our display case – North Berrien Historical Museum Paper Mill Artifacts. Share your own paper mill stories in our Community Memories book, to be donated to the museum at the end of the month.

LEGO donations needed – any and all LEGOS you don’t use anymore, bring them to the library.

Summer Reading Program: Build a Better World, June 12 thru July 30, 2017 – Thursdays for all ages and Make it Mondays for K-6 graders and their families.

The events for Summer Reading Program:

June 15 – Shake, Rattle & Roll with Dynamic Assem

June 22 – Cup Stacking with Jim Merrills

June 29 – Wildlife Safari

July 6 – Dr. Tom’s Silent Theatre

July 13 – Upcycle, recycle & bicycle: Earth fest

July 20 – Build a Better World with Music Lady

July 27 – Pizza Party

The events for Make-it Mondays:

June 12 – build it with building squares

June 19 – Build it with Lego

June 26 – Paper Mache Sculptures

July 3 – Build it with TP rolls and straws

July 10 – Paper Towel Marble Runs

July 17 – Build it with Cups & Plates

July 24 – Inventor’s Box

This year, the library is pleased to partner with Watervliet Public Schools to provide free lunches for kids & teens following each Thursday program.

Michigan Notable Book Tour will grace our library on June 26, 2017 with Dustin M. Hoffman, author of “One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist: Stories” winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He brings to life the narratives of Midwestern blue-collar workers. Readers are invited to peek behind the curtain of the invisible, but ever-present, “working stiff” as Hoffman reveals their lives in full complexity, offering their gruff voices without censorship. Yet many will identify with the characters at the heart of these stories that work with their hands and strive to escape invisibility while never losing sight of their own human value.

Yoga – Monday morning from 9 – 10 a.m. and Wednesday evening 7 – 8 p.m.; Wednesday evening at 6:15 to 6:45 p.m. – Chair Yoga for people with limited mobility.


100 years ago – 1917

Plans for the Coloma Chautauqua are assuming form. The music this year will ring in the spirit of patriotism.

C.A. Wilkinson resigned his position with the Coloma Courier and will devote his full time to farming.

A “Safe and Sane Fourth of July” movement is gaining momentum. Observe the day in the spirit of its origin with patriotic gatherings. We owe a debt to those who handed down the heritage of liberty.

60 years ago – 1957

The city commission met with engineer Ralph Petrie to discuss the cost for Coloma’s new sewage disposal system.  Mayor Hocker was given permission to negotiate with the Univeral Construction company.

Five Coloma students will graduate from Western Michigan University. They are: Arlene Arndt, Marcia M. Steele, Lee K. Vaught, Salvatore Viscuso and Joanne Noack.

A corner stone laying service will be held at the new site of the Salem Lutheran Church. Rev. R.E. Schaller and congregational officials will be in charge of this ceremony.

Last rites were held at the Davidson Funeral Home for Edward F. Hazen. Pallbearers were Carl Saltzman, Edward Schreiber, Harold Noack, Richard Skelly, Walter Skelly and Sam Currie.

30 years ago – 1987

The Julienne Dance Academy will present their eighth annual recital “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Jerry McDonald was installed as president of the Lions Club. Bennet Leedy received the President’s Pin and Gavel. Jack Turner and Kraig Kinyon were named “Lion of the Year.” Gary Gilpin was master of ceremonies. Wives and family members were guests.

Christine Stibal, daughter of Milt and Linda Stibal, recently graduated from Clemson University.

Summer Cleanup at Your Cleaners – Coloma Fabricare, On the Hill.

We remember those that have passed: Mrs. Sarah L. Doyle, Mrs. Jennabell Costa, Ione C. Andresen, and Mrs. Roy (Ruth M.) Miller.


100 years ago – 1917

The bulk of the late potatoes are being planted in this vicinity this week, with the prospect that the acreage will be considerably increased over that of a year ago.

The Reliance Picture Frame Company, which recently installed its factory in the building of the Hartford Manufacturing Company in the southwest part of the town, has its plant in operation this week and has a force of 14 people at work.

75 years ago – 1942

When lightning struck the fruit packing shed of James Thar’s strawberry field, 10 men who took shelter in the building were knocked-out by the shock and two others were dazed, but the structure itself was undamaged. Mr. Friday and Mr. Cation were affected least by the concussion of the lightning bolt. The first aid training Mr. Friday had received in the recent civilian course given under the direction of the Red Cross, served him well when he saw the other men lying about the shed.

The Hartford Garden Club will meet at the home of Mrs. Betty Kehlman Friday, June 19. The subject for the day will be “Ground Covers for Different Places,” to be given by Mrs. Mabel Minshall.

The lobby of the Hartford Post Office will be closed at noon on Sundays and holidays in order to conform to government regulations, Postmaster Bernice Shoemaker has announced. War-time safety has prompted the curtailment of the use of the lobby in the afternoons.

50 years ago – 1967

Nineteen members of the graduating class have been given scholarships or grants to further their education on a college level, according to high school principal, Wendell Martin.

Pvt. 1-C Michael J. Moore, son of Mr. and Mrs. Vern D. Moore, is participating in a field training exercise conducted by the 3rd armored division near Grafenwoehr, Germany.

T-Sgt. George R. Bessler, son of George A. Bessler, was recently decorated in ceremonies at the 4410th combat crew training wing headquarters at Elgin AFB, Fort Walton, Florida. T-Sgt. Bessler was awarded the Air Force Commendation medal for meritorious service.


90 years ago – 1927

A new era – a new day – has come to lighten the burden of housework. Electricity, that perfect servant, now has a new duty in the kitchen, a mighty important duty – the cooking of meals. Electric cookery has been tried and proved and has come to stay. On July 7, 1927 the housewives of Watervliet and surrounding community will be given a demonstration and lecture on how to use the new electric stoves.

The milk sold by the Watervliet Co-Operative Creamery Company is given credit for having the lowest bacteria count of any creamery or milk concern in the county from an analysis of milk samples taken by the State Board of Health.

60 years ago – 1957

Miss Reba Jordan will arrive on June 24, 1957 from Grinnell, Iowa to spend the summer at the home of her sister and husband, Dr. and Mrs. Henry Tatter, where she will be on the staff at Camp Watervliet.

William “Bill” Jones, son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Jones, Watervliet was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army at Fort Sheridan, IL, on May 31, 1957 and returned home the same day. Bill served overseas for 16 months. He plans to attend the summer session of Western Michigan University and will resume his teaching duties in the fall.

Mr. and Mrs. Benedict Valenti are the proud parents of their baby boy, Mark Steven, born June 12, 1957 and weighed in at 7 pounds 5 ounces.

30 years ago – 1987

Wagon master Leland Habel brought the Michigan Wagon Train through Watervliet on June 22, 1987. Habel’s rig is drawn by the horses, Rick and Jim. The mahogany wagon was constructed by hand. Following Gabel to Lansing were nine wagons and a group on horseback.

Stacey Prince of Watervliet has successfully earned the trophy for Excellence by completing two Awana handbooks. This took a lot of hard work and dedication. Stacey earned her trophy while being a member in the Chum’s Club of the Awana clubs of First Missionary Baptist Church. Stacey will be entering the Guard’s Club when the Awana clubs resume in September.

Timothy P. Mundt of Watervliet was the only local student that qualified for the Dean’s List for Northern Michigan University’s 1987 winter semester.