08-25-2016 Tri-City Area History Page


Ellinee Beach postcard titled “after the swim”.  To share information, please call NBHS at 468-3330 or e-mail us at info@northberrienhistory.org.

Paw Paw River Journal

Willis Dunbar’s Hartford

 Green summer wind sighed through the big old trees of Maple Hill Cemetery just south of Hartford.  Marion and I had brought my Mom and Dad out there to check our family plot.  This was some years ago, and we were talking with young Don Cochrane.  His father owned and operated The Hartford Day Spring for many years. And I must confess I got some of my inspiration for writing from years of Editor Cochrane’s column on local happenings.  Young Don had gone into the repair and maintenance of printing presses.  What with the entire computer printing now, I am afraid in our modern world he would not find much work along that line.  I think any more printing presses exist only in museums.  Anyway, Young Don knew everyone in Hartford, and he had a delightfully cynical view of local society.  I enjoyed hugely talking with him. Young Don (who was in his 80s at the time) said, “I have just been reading Willis Dunbar’s book, How It Was in Hartford.  And, you know, he did not tell the whole tale!  I would like to write a history……..and I could tell some things Willis never thought of…..or else did not want to say!” After he left, my Dad said, “Well, we all have our own stories of this town……and I will bet I could tell some that Young Don would never put in his!”  And that made me think…….no one can ever tell the whole story.  Any written history is going to reflect the biases and viewpoint of the writer, no matter how objective he tries to be!  So there is Willis Dunbar’s……and it is an interesting one indeed! Willis was born and raised just a few houses south of where we live now.  Of course that was quite a bit before my time.  His parents owned and operated a meat market on the south side of Main Street, just a few doors west of where now stands Kellogg’s Hardware.  When I was but a wee nipper, it had been Dunbar’s Meat Market until they sold it to Salnave and McCotter.  This was one of two such stores in Hartford. The other meat market was Warren Clark’s, which was even farther west next to the drug store.  My Dad, being in business himself, believed in shopping around, because most of the merchants came to him when they needed floral pieces for a funeral.  So he divided his business evenly. Dunbar’s Meat Market was operated by Willis’ parents.  Nettie worked in there right along with her husband, wearing overalls and everything.  One old town philosopher said her sex was finally determined once and for all when Willis was born! As a lad, Willis was precocious, curious, and adventuresome.  He was fascinated by the railroad, which was Hartford’s connection to the outside world.  At that time, early 20th century, Main Street was not even paved.  Truck delivery was still in the future, and the new fangled automobiles were just toys to be enjoyed by wealthy people. Willis spent a lot of time at the meat market, where he did clean-up chores.  And he describes the business in detail.  When I was a kid years later, it looked much the same……sawdust floors, and a glass display case across the middle.  Behind that, two big butcher’s blocks for cutting and trimming meat. We now take refrigeration for granted.  But back in Willis’ day, there was no such thing.  Huge blocks of ice were cut from local lakes in the middle of winter, and then stored in a huge warehouse behind Main Street, with the blocks of ice securely packed in sawdust.  Then it was brought out as needed to keep the meat selections cold in ice boxes. In his book Willis describes the local election process in detail……more than the average reader would perhaps care to know.  Back then people seemed to have a vital interest in who was running the ship of state.  I am not so sure about now!  And the trains……they connected us to the outside.  We had not yet been involved in the First World War, and the rest of the world seemed far away.  Hartford had two railroads….the mainline running north and south and called the Pere Marquette.  We still have that rail service.  The other one was the KLS&C, which ran from Kalamazoo through Hartford and up to South Haven.  Those rails have since been pulled up, and the right-of-way is now a hiking trail.  Both lines ran passenger trains, and for a couple of summers Willis had a nice little business.  His Mom helped him make popcorn and pack it in small paper bags.   Both lines laid over in Hartford for switching.  So Willis hopped on the waiting passenger cars, walking up and down the aisles, selling his popcorn.  He said he made a tidy sum at it too.  Those days in Hartford were an adventure for a boy with ideas.  It was the early 1900s……and he evokes the feeling of the times very clearly.  Theirs was a simpler world, but if you, Dear Reader, would wish to be back there…..just remember there were no antibiotics, nor modern medicine.  So sickness was a really serious matter.  Willis Dunbar has certainly captured the flavor of small town life.  If you have never read his story, I would suggest you check a copy out at the library and do so.  If you read it in the past…..perhaps it is time to go back and take another look at what it was like in Hartford.  Small towns were then viable places, and the people therein were all busily engaged in weaving golden threads into the rich tapestry that depicts a way of life that is no more.

1916 – 100 years ago

 The Van Buren County Fair will again receive a generous slice of the state “melon” in the form of an appropriation of $588 from the state fair fund for payment of premiums at the county fair to be held in Hartford in October. This is the same appropriation given the local fair in 1915. In securing an appropriation of $588 the Van Buren County Fair will receive more than any other county fair in Michigan, which emphasizes the standing of the local fair among Michigan expositions.  The erection of a new barn on the Mrs. Charles Mortimer farm west of the village, to replace the structure destroyed by fire two weeks ago, was begun today. William Conolly is building a concrete basement, 32 x 44 feet with a 7-1/2 foot ceiling, upon which a modern barn will be erected.

1941 – 75 years ago

 A $4,500 modern kitchen and dining room to be installed in Hartford’s school building, the cost of which will be borne in the proportion of $4,200 by the Kelloff Foundation and $300 by the school district, was approved this week by the board of education.  Hartford’s new tennis court at the high school athletic field, a long time in building, was completed yesterday and George Chamberlin and Paul F. Richter Jr., played the first game last night. A group of Commercial-Farmer club members under the direction of Milton Weed put the finishing touches on the court Monday evening and late yesterday afternoon. The court was sponsored by the Hartford Mother’s Club, with the co-operation of the Commercial-Farmer Club and the Hartford Board of Education.  Colored pictures taken during their tours of Florida, Michigan and elsewhere will be exhibited by Mr. and Mrs. Marion J. Anderson as the program feature of the Commercial-Farmer Club luncheon on Thursday evening, Sept. 4. Mrs. Anderson will accompany the pictures with a descriptive talk, illustrating the distinction between the scenic attractions of Michigan and other sections of the country through which the Andersons have traveled.

1966 – 50 years ago

 Remodeling and improvement of Hartford’s sewage disposal plant has reached the point where it looks more like a whole new plant dwarfing the original one. There are two large concrete digester tanks and in front of them, walls are going up on a brick building which will house controls for the plant and a laboratory. There are also new concrete settling tanks.


1916 – 100 years ago

  Xurry Eugene Woodward passed away at the home of his son, Pearl. He was a member of the Christian Church of North Coloma. Interment is in the Coloma cemetery.  Mesdames W. H. Ball, H. G. Krake, and S. V. Barnum were hostesses at the Cottagers’ Country Club. The program consisted of excellent piano playing followed by readings by Mrs. Krake that were responded to with encores.  Earl Miller of East Coloma and Miss Myrtle Enders of West Coloma were united in marriage at the Methodist parsonage.

1956 – 60 years ago

 Coloma paid its last respects to Dr. Theodore Tiedebohl, 69, at the Davidson funeral home. Serving as casket bearers were Arthur Clark Sr., Harvey Kibler, Oscar Kilmark, Fred Radtke, Edward Sorgeal and Vern Warman.  Mr. and Mrs. Fred Munchow are the parents of a son. The baby is the second son in the family. They have named him James Anton.  Quite crowded building conditions will prevail the first few weeks of the school year. The new elementary is expected to be ready for occupancy around Thanksgiving. High school enrollment will exceed 300 students.  Farmers: Plan on attending Field Days, held near Constantine.

1986 – 30 years ago

 Mayor Randall announced that Coloma has received the deed to property purchased from the C&O Railroad for $10,000. Also, a suggestion to restore a portion of the old Interurban Line for the purpose of attracting tourists was received.  Sweet Cherry Resort & Lounge – NFL Monday Night Football shown on a giant 10 foot projection TV and stereo Hi- Fi sound.  We remember those that have passed: Judith Whitfield, Kenneth Spaulding, Archie Blackwell, Florence Paulsen and former Coloma Pastor Rev. Noah Combs.  Football Coach Bob Irvin looks forward to another winning season for the Comets. He, again, plans to use the “Power I” offense.


1926 – 90 Years Ago

 George Krietner, janitor at the Watervliet School, fell off a box at the school building on Sept. 6, 1926, and sustained a fracture of two ribs. It is expected that the injury will lay him up for two weeks.  Merton Babcock, Lathan Price and Leonard Barney will attend Michigan State College at East Lansing.  The 21st annual Klett Reunion was held on Aug. 27, 1926 at Keeler Lake. Many family and friends attended.

1956 – 60 Years Ago

 Fireman Martin Callendar, U.S. Navy, son of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Callendar, left on Aug. 26, 1956 for Quonset Point, Rhode Island after enjoying a fifteen day leave at his home in Watervliet. He will be stationed on the U.S.S. Tarawa.  Charles D. Thompson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Earl Thompson, is among those who graduated from recruit training Aug. 25, 1956 at the Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, IL.  Miss Doris Ann Docktor, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn M. Docktor, graduated from the Bronson Methodist Hospital School of Nursing on Aug. 27, 1956.

1986 – 30 Years Ago

Priscilla Young has taken over duties as director of Community Relations at Community Hospital, a position vacated by Joan Stewart. One of her duties will be taking charge of the Community Leadership Award dinner in 1987.  Six, 6-foot benches were placed near Watervliet’s businesses as a part of the City’s Downtown Development Association beautification project at the end of the summer of 1986. The benches were built by Grant Harper and Dave Sonnenberg of Woodsigns.  Mr. Richard Hake, a Watervliet High School teacher, retired on Aug. 28, 1986. For seventeen years he taught drafting, math and physics and also served as Assistant Superintendent for 4 years.

Coloma Library News

Book Club

 The Coloma Library Book Club is meeting for a book discussion on Thursday, September 1 at 5:30 p.m. The title to read before the discussion is “1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina” by Chris Rose.  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. For interest in more information please stop in the library or call 468-3431.  Story Hour Break  Story Hour is currently on summer break until Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 10:30 a.m. We look forward to seeing everyone then!

Watervliet Library News

 Join us on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to celebrate the retirement of our director, Lois Hartman. She has been with us for 22 years and has always served this community with a great level of care.

2016 Reading Challenge

There are 12 reading challenges, one for each month throughout the year. Completed challenges are entered to win a prize. Slips are due back on Dec. 30, 2016. Come in to the library for more information.

Looking ahead-

Yoga every Wednesday evening at 7:00 p.m.

Adult Coloring Night is cancelled for Monday, Aug. 29.

If you are interested in having another class on handling your smart phones, lap tops or other mobile devices – let us know. Call (269) 463-6382 or come in.


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CALL: 269-463-6397
FAX: 269-463-8329

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