08-09-2018 Tri-City Area History Page

The Paw Paw River Journal

Small town life Where’s your favorite place to spend most of your life? Most of us have thought about this, and if we have been lucky we could do it. I have talked it over with the Chief Accountant, and we both agree where we would like to be. I have also run this by our kids. We like small town life. It’s not that we never tried other places. We lived at times in the palm tree country of Florida. It was nice to get out of the cold, but not much fun in the heat of summer. We have lived in the city, and on the ocean shore. But we knew that we would go back to Hartford and small-town life. One time our son said to me, “You know, Dad, I liked being a kid in a small town. I felt we were very lucky to live there.” My memory has burnished the past with a golden glow… life seemed not quite so hurried then. I can remember as a child knowing every nook and cranny of that town. We knew where all the mean dogs were tied up in back yards. On our bicycles we could get from one end of the community to the other in just a few minutes. We were all over the place; and if we got in trouble, our folks would probably know it before we got home! Summertime on Main Street, radios in the stores and barbershops would be tuned to a baseball game. It was just an announcer in a studio reading the play-by-play from a ticker tape machine… and adding his own local color. “That fly ball was caught by a man from Dubuque, Iowa!” How did he know where the guy was from? He didn’t… just making it up as he went along. Main Street would be practically deserted, with perhaps a dog lying asleep in the shade of one of the stores. Old timers sitting in Toppy Walling’s bicycle shop, swapping lies about bygone days. In winter, evenings were quiet, with snow sifting silently down and piling up on spirea bushes around many of the houses. The jingle of sleigh bells from the few teams that were still driven by old timers. I can remember one guy who hauled things on a sleigh with a nice pair of horses. We would belly flop our sleds and grab onto one of the rear runners… hoping he would not notice us and tell us to get lost. Maple Hill Cemetery was smaller then. My dad, being the only florist in Hartford, would often have spring plantings out there… ordered by people who wanted to decorate the resting place of their pioneer forbears. My sister, Wilma, and I often went with him. We climbed the top of the hill in the center and sat on the Warren monument. It had a huge stone seat. And we looked at the town of Hartford, spread out before and to the north of us. Just recently I sat on that stone seat again… now the town is almost obscured by trees that have grown tall over the years. The seat is also smaller… and the cemetery has grown immensely. I know more people out there than I do in the living town. We planted trees and shrubs around our house back in the day. Just recently we cut down two evergreens next to the house. I planted them… they were seedlings given to us by friends out in Pennsylvania… several in a paper milk carton. Now they had grown way up past the peak of our house… old and suffering from some tree problem that made them lose their needles. There’s nothing so very special about Hartford… just a small town cut off from the mainstream of life by our system of interstate highways. We could not possibly do without those roads now. They have been a fact of life since the 1960s. They are now crumbling and in need of repairs. Hartford, like most small towns, started out as a crossroads… a general store run by a man who discovered there was more money in selling whiskey. He sold so much it gave the little community a name… Bloody Corners. And they could almost guarantee a fight every night. Farms were being settled all around and gradually the town grew. A new hotel called the Rassette House on the corner right where the bank now stands. That hostelry served weary travelers who came through on the stagecoach. A man named Joseph Crager drove his team and coach from Kalamazoo to St. Joe. There was a tap room where thirsty citizens could get a drink. For a period of time, that bar was run by a man who was a teetotaler… he didn’t believe imbibing was a good thing, so as the evening wore on he watered their drinks. One old-timer remarked that they didn’t go home drunk, but they were in some danger of drowning. In 1910 the Rassette House was torn down and Burrell Olney’s bank built on that very corner. Son Horace was to buy property on the west side of town and turn it into a park. He named it Ely Park to honor his mother who was one of the Ely girls from Bangor. When my mom’s family moved to Hartford around 1910, they were just planting the big maples, a few of which still spread their branches over summer concerts and special events held there. The bank still stands on that corner, serving people’s financial needs. It has gone through many transformations. As children Marion and I both had small savings accounts there. We still use their services. And I guess that is about the only business place in continuous use for such a long time. It is a landmark in this storybook town, and I hope it’s there forever as we weave more golden threads into the tapestry of our lives. EDITOR’S NOTE: It was announced in the Hartford City Commission meeting held on July 23 that the PNC Bank mentioned above will be ceasing operations at this location mid-October.

Coloma Library News Book Club The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting on Thursday, August 23 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “The Life She Was Given” by Ellen Marie Wiseman. 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. Summer Reading Picnic The Summer Reading Picnic will be Wednesday, August 15 at 12 noon at Randall Park. Hot dogs and juice will be provided. Bring a dish to pass if you are able. If your child participated in the Summer Reading Program come to the park for a fun time – prizes for everyone! There will be no Story Hour on Wednesday, August 15. Call 468-3431 with questions on any Coloma library activity.

Watervliet District Library News Teen Table Projects: August Vote for the best book of the year! Cast your online ballot at their polling booth and take home a Snickers for democracy. In Stitches Knitting Group Friday, Aug. 10, 2:30–4:00 p.m. It’s never too hot to knit! Limited supplies are available for beginners, too! Library Garden Park Tour Monday, Aug. 13, 6:30 p.m. Join us as we walk through the garden and learn about different species of plants. Our landscaper, Artie, will be around to answer questions. Third Monday Book Club Aug. 20, 7-8 p.m. Great Books, fabulous conversations! The Milk Lady of Bangalore by Shoba Narayan; ask for a copy at the desk. Volunteer Nothing looks better on a resume! Best times to help out: Mondays & Thursdays, program times. Stop by to pick up a form. 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.