History of:
 
 
 

Historically Speaking

Trains Come To Coldwater

Little River Railroad

 
 

 

Historically Speaking:

 

If These Walls Could Talk!

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

 

It has been a while since we last published “Historically Speaking” but the positive response to the numerous Victorian era house articles for the December Home Tour has prompted us to rekindle the series again. This time we will do the genealogy of a house. Yes a house, and one with a very interesting service history in our community. Do you recognize it from the 1923 artist drawing shown here? The building at 165 W. Chicago Street, Coldwater, currently serves as a training site for young dancers, but what an interesting pedigree its holds.

 

If we look at the 1856 village map for Coldwater, the core section of the building had already been built and serving as a home to Audrain Abbott’s family. Audrain’s father, Robert Abbott, came from Montreal and worked as a fur trader in this county and northern Indiana area. Later he was named as the first Auditor General for the new of Michigan.

 

The land that the home was built on was purchased by Audrain from the US Government in 1833 and the contract was signed by President Andrew Jackson. Several West Chicago and Pearl Street properties were created from his purchase. This particular property was then sold to local, Stephen Rose, who sold to A. R. Hamilton in 1863. Four years later it was sold to Daniel Boody who would then sell to Dr. James M. Long in 1868. That would take the house off the market for many years to come. In May, 1876 the doctor purchased the lot immediately south of the home on Walnut Street where he would build an additional home.

 

Dr. Long was a well-known and respected physician in Coldwater. He did add training from the University of Michigan in Homoeopathy to his skill set, though one would doubt its particular contribution to patients’ confidence in the good doctor. The doctor added a large one story south wing to the home and then converted the enlarged house to a clinic for his medical practice. 

 

After the home passed from daughter to grand-daughter, Gladys Bollman, it set empty until the young lady came of age and married Frank Herlan. In 1923 Frank and Gladys decided to open the house as the “Old Ladies Home” as shown in the picture. It was operated as a ladies home until 1936 under the direction of Burton D. French. The home was shut down for an unknown reason between 1936 and 1937 with Mr. French departing town. The building then remained empty until 1941.

 

In July 1940, Robert McKinley purchased the building from the Herlans, remodeled and open “Mac’s Furniture Home”. The McKinley’s continued with improvements which led to the 1950 addition of the 80’ showroom that still fronts to W. Chicago Street. The locally known furniture store then changed its name to “McKinley’s 1876 House”. In 1968 McKinley’s sold the building and business to the Norman Stanton family who continued to operate the site as a furniture store. By the early 1990s the building became an appliance store under the ownership of Bill Skutt. Bill later sold it to the current owner, Robert Granger.

 

Today it is the site of the Dance Factory studio and the earlier era clinic turned retired ladies rooms which are now converted to apartments.

 

So, from its beginning it has been: an original founder’s home; a medical clinic; a retired ladies home; a furniture store; an appliance store; a dance studio. It's quite a diverse genealogy/history for this very early Coldwater home.

 

Next time we will look into the history of the road that runs in front of this historic house, which existed long before the first settler built his log cabin along the trail.

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Historically Speaking:

INDIAN TRAIL~ MARKER TREE

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

 

Last time we looked at the history of a home built by Audrain Abbott in the mid-1850s.  He picked the location for the house on his tract of land so they could view the Sauk Trail out their parlor window.  Call it intuition on Audrain’s part, but the Sauk Trail would evolve into the 2nd most traveled roadway in the United States in the years that followed.  That trail is now referred to as Chicago Street or Road, and stretches across the entire Branch County.

To understand the true evolution of this county route, let’s step back to its beginnings, like 10 or 12 thousand years back.  The Sauk Trail, or Chicago Road, began to take shape over 12,000 years ago as the Wisconsin Ice Sheet was receding northward from what would become southern Michigan.  The glaciers and melt-water cut passages through the terrain, and the major ones were immediately adopted by migratory mastodons and caribou.  The Sauk Trail remains the longest found mastodon trail per U of M paleontologists.

Much later early Native Americans adopted the well-worn trails of the large grazing animals and used them for their nomadic traveling.  So, the name Sauk Trail came from the Sauk Tribe who traveled this region from Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Great Lakes chain in Detroit.  Sometime later the Pottawatomi Indians took up use of the trail. They remained prevalent in southern Michigan up to the arrival of early settlers in the first half of the nineteenth century.  Pottawattamies, a division of the Algonquin Nation, followed the Sauk Trail from the west into the Saint Joseph Valley, which included the future Branch County, between 1678 and 1721.

The Indian marker tree next to the Oak Grove Cemetery in Coldwater would be approximately 250-300 years old.  Potawatomi Indian used this tree as a road sign for following the old Sauk Trail across the pre-Branch County terrain.

So, when did the first European travel the trail through this area?  It was Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle, a French explorer.  He found himself stranded at the base of Lake Michigan in 1680.  His ship, Griffin, sunk in the Great Lakes while returning to retrieve him and his explorers.  Stranded, they were forced to walk the Sauk Trail through Branch County on their way back eastward to the Detroit trading post.  From there they found ship passage back to Quebec.  The Griffin was never found.  Leur Malheur!

Following the Pottawattamie sale of the Saint Joseph Valley area to the U.S. Government in 1821, a reservation was created In Coldwater and Quincy Townships that included a six mile square with the Sauk Trail running through the middle.  Even with the growing flow of settlers coming through Branch County, settlement remained light in this area due to the large Mich-ke- saw-be reservation.  Increased Branch County settlement did not occur until after the Treaty of Niles, which relocated the reservation off the Sauk Trail to the Nottawa, MI area.

Shortly after, Joseph Godfrey and Patrick Marantette built their Indian trading posts on the trail edge at the Coldwater River and what is now the Oak Grove Cemetery.  President Andrew Jackson commissioned a party to survey the Sauk Trail on March 3 1825.  The survey team laid out a military road between Detroit and Chicago.  The trail through Branch County was actually referred to as a land extension of the Erie Cannel. 

In 1827 Congress approved $20,000 for a forty foot wide improvement of the road which would support stage coach travel and movement of U.S. Mail.  Many parts of the trail had to be converted to corduroy or planked roads.  A corduroy road, used in low wet spots was small diameter logs cut and laid side by side for the wagon wheels to pass over.  Imagine riding in a wooden wheeled wagon over logs!  Planked roads were much better because of the flatter surface, but they rotted faster and needed continuous maintenance.  The Branch County section was completed in 1833 and renamed Chicago Road.

Michigan was formed in 1805, though reclaimed by Great Britain in the War of 1812.  It was returned to the U.S. Government at the end of the war and in 1829 the Territorial Legislature formed the southern counties, among them Branch.  Between 1828 and 1831 many of our prominent early settlers such as Hanchett, Tibbits, Campbell, Bronson and Wilson were laying claim to tracts of land along the Sauk Trail, or Chicago Road, which would become key formation blocks of Coldwater, Bronson and Quincy.

By 1837 Western Star Stage Line was advertising five lines of stages that only took 4 to 7 days to go from Detroit to Chicago, depending on the weather and trail conditions.

Paving of Chicago Road began in 1924 in Detroit and Chicago and met in Jonesville, MI.  First named M-23, it was renamed US-112 in 1927.  Recommissioned as US-12 in 1961, it is amongst the oldest road corridors east of the Mississippi River.  In 2004 Michigan designated it as a Heritage Trail, covering a distance of 209 miles through our state and Branch County.

So, when you turn onto Chicago Street and find yourself driving behind one of those slow left lane drivers.  Remember, they are still probably faster than the lumbering mastodon that once walked this trail, maybe.

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Historically Speaking:

A GHOST TOWN AND BURIED TREASURE TOO!

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

  

Yes, Branch County claims two ghost towns in its history. In both cases even the buildings have become no more than ghosts themselves. Even their cemeteries are nearly beyond locating. The two villages were named Masonville and Branch.

 

The photo shown gives you a view of the very last standing building of the county seat village of Branch. It was taken in 1905 and is now in the possession of the Heritage Room of the Branch District Library in Coldwater.

 

The village of Branch was created by chance. Three state commissioners were sent by Governor Cass to select a county seat for Branch County. They selected Masonville, a small village immediately east of the current Oak Grove Cemetery. But, having failed to officially be sworn in to their positions before their visit, the decision was voided. So the state acted again in 1831, sending three new commissioners to Branch County. They selected a location just north of the only manufacturing site in the county, Black Hawk Mills. Their pick was nothing more than an open field, so the village of Branch was created by their action.

 

Locals like Elisha Warren and others, seeing an opportunity, purchased all the land around the new county seat and laid out village lots. The community started growing with a new County Treasurer & Register of Deeds, and a new Postmaster. Over the next 4 years they saw the addition of a general store, a distillery, a schoolhouse, a hotel, a new jail & courthouse and Branch County’s first newspaper, the “Michigan Star”. 

 

But greed by the landowners to get top dollar for land kept businesses out of the village. A fatal mistake on their part. Branch was also off the main road, the Sauk Trail, making it inconvenient to visit. But the new village of Coldwater was directly on the trail, making it a logical stopping point. And Coldwater, determined to be the county seat, was giving land to new businesses. 

 

By 1842 the continued growth in the eastern portion of Branch County gave them enough votes to win moving the county seat from Branch to Coldwater, and the one-time county center started down the slippery slope of no return to becoming a ghost town.

 

The final blow came when an offer to build a new grist mill at Branch for a price of only $75 was decline. The men then located the new mill on the river in Coldwater. The center for commerce in Branch County had found a new home.

 

By 1905 only a single building remained of the once active community of Branch. Today, only some buried building foundations and the cemetery remain as reminders of a lost community, a ghost town. 

 

So, what about the buried treasure? Well, one of the landowners and residence of Branch was a fellow by the name of Isaac Middaugh.

 

The time was 1838 and Michigan was a true frontier state, including horse thieves, robbers and some unique opportunists of very questionable character. In the village was the Barlingame’s Hotel, known across the area as a wild roadhouse for Saturday night partying.

 

It seems that Isaac planned to attend the tavern’s frontier dance, but was fearful of leaving his money at home, alone. There was no bank in Branch, and he certainly had no intention of taking his loot to the roadhouse with him and inviting a robbery.

 

So, he waited until early nightfall, after the moon had risen, then took a spade and went to the west bank of the Branch creek. Going to the north side of the roadway along the creek he tied his gold coins in a canvas bag and proceeded to bury them for safe keeping.

 

The next morning, still suffering from the effects of the prior night’s folly, he discovered that he could not relocate the point at which he had buried the gold. Try has he might, and $200 in gold coin in 1838 was worth the effort, he simply could not uncover the canvas bag.

 

So, Isaac’s loss became another piece in the fatal story of a village that grew from an open field as the county seat, prospered, failed and never relinquished its buried gold treasure.

 

I wonder…on a full moon night can you still find Isaac digging in the mud along the shore of the Branch Creek?

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Historically Speaking:

2011 Sesquicentennial of Coldwater

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

There's lots of buzzing and planning of activities in the air for the City of Coldwater.  The county seat of Branch is officially 150 years old in 2011.  The sesquicentennial events are expected to be plentiful and entertaining during the months ahead.

Like our many historic buildings and Victorian homes, Coldwater has seen much renewal and change over those 150 years.  So, what a better time to take a look back at the beginnings of the largest community in Branch County.

The city of Coldwater now occupies a portion of what was a prairie that ran 3 miles long from east to west and 2 miles wide.  The very old Sauk Trail ran through the prairie as a matter of ease of passage.

An Indian trading post was established by Joseph Godfrey in 1822 on the river near the current day Oak Grove Cemetery.  Months later he welcomed another trader and neighbor, Patrick Marantette. 

Their establishments commenced the building of a small community that evolved into the village of Masonville.  As an established community, with a hotel, it became the first county seat of the newly formed Branch County.  The title was short-lived as politics led to the naming of the new village of Branch as the county seat in 1831.  That community held the title until 1842.

During this time one Hugh Campbell settled in what would become the village of Lyons.  His log cabin, built in 1829, was located approximately where the present day Masonic Temple sits. 

In 1830 Joseph Hanchett purchased a tract of land and built a log cabin approximately in the site of the parking lot behind the present day Executive Suites near the corner of Chicago and Monroe Streets.  Prior to building his family cabin he shared the former Campbell cabin with new arrival, Allen Tibbits.

Allen Tibbits had come to this area by accident.  He made a wrong turn on the trails and arrived in the new settlement.  He purchased the Campbell land, shared the cabin with the Hanchett family and the bond that would create Coldwater was formed.

Tibbits and Hanchett platted a new village in 1831.  It covered an area from Jefferson to Monroe Streets and Church to Washington Streets.  They choose the name "Lyons" for the community.

Both men saw the need to procure the mantle of county seat for their planned village, and went about offering small parcels of land to business and trades people to establish a functional community.  By 1832 they had a small school started with nine pupils, a store established by Silas Holbrook, a church with five members and a new sawmill.  The sawmill was crucial as it meant the beginning of cut lumber for building businesses and homes.

In 1833 the village of Lyons changed their name to Cold Water based on a Potawatomi name for the area.  Appreciate that the following word is an Anglo interpretation of what was heard.  The Potawatomi called it "Chuck-sey-ya-bish", referring to the cold spring waters that fed the area creeks.  The first post office stamp also separated the name as two words.

With it's continued growth, by 1841 there was sufficient votes in the county to move the county seat designation from the village of Branch to Coldwater, which occurred in 1842.

Finally, the small village came to the point of becoming incorporated as a city.  In February, 1861, Michigan's Governor, Austin Blair, signed the charter that incorporated the village to a city.

On April 12-13 Fort Sumter was attacked and America entered into the American Civil War.  Many Coldwater and Branch County men would be engaged in a war that would go on until Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.  Both events now bringing us to the 2011 Sesquicentennial of both Coldwater and the Civil War.    

 

 

 

1834 Coldwater Plat Map

 

 

 

Drawing of 1830

Campbell Cabin

Historically Speaking:

Hawley Harvey Crippen

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

 

In a very recent article appearing on the front page of our local newspaper we read of the ongoing Crippen family struggle to vindicate Hawley Harvey Crippen of the murder and mutilation of his 2nd wife, Belle Elmore.  A notorious murder mystery in the UK approaching the caliber of “Jack the Ripper”.

 

Born in Branch County to Coldwater residences, Myron A Crippen and wife, Andresse Skinner in 1862, Hawley was an only child.  He was raised in the Crippen home at the corner of Monroe and Grand Streets (insert), now the site of Century Bank & Trust’s auto bank and the Coldwater City Offices.

 

If you were to envision a character as a murderer capable of poisoning, filleting and burying their spouse, it would not include the likes of the quiet 5’3” Hawley Crippen.  But that made for the fascination of the story.  A cruel brutal crime coming from such a small demure person.

 

Completing his studies at the University of Michigan, he gained his medical degree at the Homoeopathic Hospital of Cleveland, Ohio before practicing his trade in New York.  Marrying an Irish immigrant, Hawley was widowed in his early twenties.  Then he met the gregarious Bell Elmore (Cora Turner).

 

Hawley courted and married the attractive and extraverted 19 year old want-to-be stage performer.  Times were comfortable for a while, but Homoeopathic medicine came to an unceremonious ending and Crippen found himself in the patented medicine business.  In 1897 Hawley was sent to London, England to open a new office.  After several months of single life freedom, Belle finally followed Hawley to England.  The stage was now set for one of the UK’s most infamous murder mysteries. 

 

Enter the next key character, Hawley’s London office secretary, Ethel Le Neve.  The exact opposite of Cora Turner, Ethel was a quiet young lady who asked no favors, and listened to his life events without judgment.  Hawley had found his soul mate.  Cora, in the meantime, was now secretary of the Ladies’ Music Hall Guild and a close friend to many of the male performers passing through the theaters.

 

On February 1, 1910 Cora held her last dinner with friends at their Hilldrop Crescent home.  Never to be seen again, her lady friends went on a campaign to involve Scotland Yards in the search for their missing friend.

 

Scotland Yards Chief Inspector, William Dew, was assigned the case and contacted Cora's friends.  This led to an interview with her husband, Hawley Crippen.  Hawley explained that he had not contacted anyone of her absence because of embarrassment over Cora running away with a boyfriend to the U.S.  The Inspector was so taken with Hawley’s sad tale that they followed the interview with dinner.

 

When Chief Inspector Dew returned a few days later with more questions, he found that Hawley and Ethel had run.  Immediate inspection of the house revealed human remains under the cellar floor, and the manhunt was on for Hawley Crippen.

 

For a getaway disguise Ethel cut her hair short and dressed as a boy.  They boarded a ship leaving England for Canada.  Unfortunately the ship’s captain recognized the couple and used a new tool, the Marconi wireless radio, to notify Scotland Yard.  They were arrested before the ship docked.  The first wireless radio crime-stopper!

 

Hawley denied the murder to his last moment.  He created an alibi for Ethel as best he could.  He lived to see her acquitted; going to the gallows knowing that she would not suffer the same fate.

 

Today, the forensic evidence that condemned Crippen to the gallows has provided the DNA material that is challenging the court's conviction.  MSU forensic expert, David Foram, has completed DNA studies and found the original Scotland Yard evidence to be that of a man.  Led by John Trestrail, the team also tracked down females from Cora Turner’s family.  This has provided further challenge to the court's historic conclusions.

 

While the new technology may support his innocence, it is of little consequence to Hawley Crippen.  His story and wax likeness are now merely entertainment in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors.  He remains a very unique character in the archives of Branch County history.

 

For an interesting read, see Tom Cullen’s The Mild Murderer on the shelf at the Branch County District Library.

 

 

Crippen Home~Coldwater

Historically Speaking:

Memorial (Decoration) Day Rememberence

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

May is already upon us and thanks to the moderate April weather the flowers are well into bloom, trees are filling out with foliage and you have probably already had to mow the lawn more than once.

Our topic is the recognition of the May national holiday, Memorial Day.  Many Americans make the mistake of believing that Veterans Day is the day set aside to honor American military personnel who have died in battles.  That would not be true.  Memorial Day is the national day established to honor America’s war dead.  Veteran’s Day was created to honor ALL American soldiers, both dead and living, with emphasis on the living for their dedication and loyal service to the country.

Memorial (Decoration) Day was officially proclaimed in May, 1868 by General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.  It started on May 30th of that year at Arlington National Cemetery with flowers placed on both the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.  It had only been 3 years since the ending of the Civil War and the great loss of thousands of America’s men and women.

New York was the first state to officially recognize Decoration Day in 1873.  By 1890 it had been recognized by all northern states.  Southern states refused to give acknowledgement to the day while continuing to honor their Civil War dead on separate days.

At the conclusion of World War I the holiday was changed from honoring those who died in the Civil War to including Americans who died fighting in any war.   Several southern states still maintain a separate Civil War remembrance day for Confederate soldiers.  It is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May.

Unfortunately the transition from a specific date of remembrance to a national 3 day weekend holiday has diminished people’s focus on the intent of the day over the years.  Sadly many Americans now-days have forgotten the meaning and traditions associated with Memorial Day.  Many towns have ceased having Memorial Day parades and remembrance ceremonies.

You should take great pride in Branch County for all the efforts by so many of its citizens to organize and carry out the parades, city park presentations, reenactment festivities, decorating of soldiers graves with flags and flowers and traditional cemetery dedications.  Many local people spend weeks organizing and preparing the resources for our Memorial Day weekend events.

Check out the scheduled events near you for all the activities and become involved in your community.      

  COLDWATER:

  • Reenactment – 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
    • Heritage Park, Friday/Sunday
  • Four-Corners Ceremonies – Memorial Day 8:30 AM
  • Parade (downtown) – 9:15 AM
  • Bridge (Navy) Ceremony – 9:45 AM
  • Oak Grove Bandstand – 10:00 AM
  • “Gathering of Flags” Ceremony – 10:30 AM                 

QUINCY:

  • Parade (downtown) – Memorial Day 11:00 AM

BRONSON:

  • Memorial Park Ceremony – Memorial Day 9:30 AM
  • Parade (downtown) – Memorial Day 10:00 AM

UNION CITY:

  • Parade (downtown) – Memorial Day 10:00 AM

 

There are 59 identified cemeteries in the county of Branch.  Many include veterans, starting with the Civil War.  You can pick up a “Branch County Cemeteries” pamphlet at the Heritage Room of the Branch District Library in Coldwater if you are seeking historic locations.

Support your local events, but if traveling over the long weekend have a safe time while remembers those who were lost serving our nation. 

 

 

 

This and 4 companion Parrott guns were lost and recovered within the same day at the Battle of Chickamauga, September 19, 1863.  14 Branch County Loomis Battery soldiers were killed or wounded that day.

Historically Speaking:

Trains Come To Coldwater ~

Little River Railroad

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

 

Early villages such as Coldwater and Quincy were established along an old Indian passageway referred to as the Sauk Trail, and later by settlers as the Chicago Road.  Transportation in early Branch County came in the form of stage coaches.  In 1837 the new state of Michigan launched improvement programs that included the building of railroads.  By 1843 the Michigan Southern Railroad had advanced only from Monroe to Hillsdale.  Branch residents still had to take a coach to Hillsdale in order to reach the swift (30 miles per hour) new transit system. 

In March, 1850 Coldwater residents were aggressively demanding the presence of a rail system into the village.  With additional supportive legislation by the state, the rail was laid into Jonesville by October of that year and on December 10, 1850 the first freight train pulled into the village of Coldwater at noon.  Following four hours later at 4:15 PM was the first passenger train.  That was followed by several local parties to celebrate the long awaited arrival of the steam engine and a new era of transportation.

 The first wood frame station built in Coldwater served the town from 1850 until 1883 when it was moved to Batavia to make room for a new brick structure done in an Italianate design.  It was completed on Dec. 20, 1883 by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad.  The new station building became a favored gathering place for city residents for many years. 

Branch County now has a rare treat with the presence of the Little River Railroad.  The brick building still has the original doors, ticket windows, slate roof and enameled wainscoting.  Today you can be treated to a small train museum and a gift shop run by the owners, Terry and Geri Bloom.  The platform area is still paved in the original Canton Paver bricks.  Restoration actually began on the building in 1973 when former owners purchased the building from Penn Central.   During the week of Sept. 29 the Blooms completed purchased of the 1883 building and celebrated with a Grand Opening.  As for the classy 110 Steam Engine.  Well, it’s just a southern belle with a brass bell from Tennessee.

In December the Blooms will have the train decorated early for Christmas and are offering a round trip ride between Coldwater and Quincy.  Further inquiries on times and prices, plus required pre-trip registration for the ride should be handled directly with the Little River Railroad at 517-279-7687 or 574-215-0751 or by visiting them at 29 West Park Avenue during their posted normal operating hours. 

www.LittleRiverRailroad.com

 

1883 Original Train Depot

 

 

The 110 Little River Steam Locomotive turned 100 years old in 2011!

Historically Speaking:

CIRCUS FAT LADY

By: Dave McDonald, BCHS - President

 

The Branch District Library’s Heritage Room houses many archive folders with many more interesting, and true stories of people and times long past, but not forgotten.

 

While doing some local history research recently I came across an interesting, and unusual story.  It was about a lady who lived in Branch County in the late 1800s.  Her real name was Elizabeth Charlotte Stice.  And she was a circus fat lady.

 

She lived, died and was buried in Batavia Township between Coldwater and Bronson.  Little did I know that along with some interesting facts, I would also discover far more questions and mystery than answers.

 

During her life Elizabeth also used circus names, Lottie Grant, and later, Lizzie Whitlock.  She has been reported as being born in 1853, 1854 and May 12, 1849.  Some report her place of birth as Iowa, Missouri or British Columbia.  One self-claimed great-granddaughter says Monroe County, Missouri.

 

Lizzie tipped the scales at over 500 lbs. at 14 years old, the age at which it is said that she ran away from home.  It is also noted that she grew to as much as 722 lbs. at some point.  But it is known that she weighed over 650 lbs. at the time of her death in Batavia.

 

She was married at least 3 times during her life, and there is suspicion of a fourth marriage.  There were 4 children born to Lizzie.  Her 3rd child was actually named P. T. Barnum Whitlock, reflecting her association with the P. T. Barnum Circus.

 

Lizzie was recorded on the S. H. Barrett & Company Circus routing report in 1883 and 1884 as a member of their circus.  Lizzie married Frank Whitlock, a Carney Caller with the same circus, at Seward, NE on August 9, 1883.  They reported her as being 27 years old, creating an additional possible birth date of 1855.  She was a mere 593 lbs. at the time. 

 

Elizabeth (Stice) Whitlock died of heart problems on August 16, 1899, at her home located in Batavia.  But, no, the story does not end yet.  Lizzie’s story still has more twists before ending.

 

One story of her funeral tells that the casket company thought undertakers had made a mistake on the casket dimensions and didn’t build the coffin, forcing them to bury her in a piano case.

 

But research of 1899 newspapers reveals another story.  The casket company did build the oversize coffin, but it did not arrive at the railroad station in    Coldwater until 8:29 pm in the evening of the funeral.

 

Picking up the casket, they drove the wagon straight to Batavia where they placed Lizzie in the coffin.  A window facing the front porch provided an opening large enough for exit.  They removed her from the house and held a mid-night burial at the Batavia Cemetery.

 

Lizzie was placed in an unmarked grave, but in 1996 the Branch County Historical Society led an effort to place a marker.  As they could not  locate any record of her grave location at the time, they used a local body-witcher who claimed to have located her burial site.  On that basis the headstone was set in place.

 

However, the records of former Township Supervisor, Nathan Shumway, state that Lizzie’s grave was at the end of the row containing Bassett family markers.  That would be two rows closer to the road than the headstone’s current location.  So where is Lizzie, really!?

 

Has Lizzie Whitlock been forgotten? No! Several figurines decorate her headstone, left by fascinated visitors.  Many people record their initials and the date of their visit on the always present spiral note pad.  Thus leaving behind proof that the P. T. Barnum Circus fat lady can still draw fans and the curious.

 

Elizabeth (Stice) Whitlock portrait,

located at the Wing House Museum 

 

________________

"Lizzie's size 24 Shoes.  The small shoe in the center is actually a woman's size 8 tennis shoe.  Shoes are on display at the Wing House Museum, Coldwater"

 

 

Bronson

Located along the U.S. 12 Heritage Route


Bronson located on the old Chicago Trail (US-12 a.k.a. the Sauk Trail), was founded in 1828 by Jabez B. Bronson, the first settler in Branch County. The village was incorporated in 1866 under the name Bronson Prairie, the name was later shortened in 1871 when the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad came through. The Chicago Trail was a main thoroughfare between Chicago and Detroit during prohibition. Many locals have stories passed down through generations about boot-legging and lawless characters that have passed through the area.

Area residents have dubbed Bronson the Gladiola Capital, as you drive the country side you will see acres and acres of brilliant blankets of flowers. The gladiola bulbs are harvested for commercial use, but the vibrant bouquets can be purchased from the local farmers. They also are host to the huge monthly White Star Snowmobile and ATV Auctions that bring in potential buyers from all over the United States and Canada.

This quaint community has pride in their unique architecture such as the City Hall, built in 1970 made out of 100% plastic, erected in only 14 hours is still standing the test of time. A Carnegie Library built in 1924 was commemorated with a historical marker last year. The gazebo at the main 4-corners, the murals of days gone-by on the barber shop wall, as well as, the Victorian architecture makes this notable community a memorable stop on your journey across southern Michigan.


Coldwater

Located along the U.S. 12 Heritage Route.

This city reflects a unique balance of past and present, featuring many fine old turn of the twentieth century homes coupled with a booming economy and rapid retail development. Coldwater was first settled in 1830 by Allen Tibbits and Joseph Hanchett. In 1833 it was named Coldwater ( from the Potawatomie, chuck-saw-ya-bish or cold running water ) after the river that runs through it. Coldwater was incorporated as a city in 1861 and continues to thrive as a significant contributor to Southern Michigan.

During the Civil War, a Light Artillery Battery, led by Commander Cyrus Loomis went to fight for the Union, going on to become one of the most renowned regiments in the country. Several of their ten-pounder Parrott cannons can be seen downtown across from the Branch District Library. A State School for dependent and neglected children was built here in 1874 and in later years became a center for the developmentally disabled.
Coldwater attractions include the famous Tibbits Opera House, the Wing House Museum, the Capri Drive-In Theater as well as an abundance of lakes, parks and charming downtown shops.


Quincy
Located along the U.S. 12 Heritage Route.

The village of Quincy was originally settled in 1830 by Horace Wilson, who built the first log cabin there. There were few businesses in the early days, and Quincy did not see much development until after the Civil War. A Town Hall was built in 1880 on the site of the first jail and firemen’s shed. The fire bell currently resides in the village library which was built in 1910. Community hosts the annual Tip-Up Festival each February and is now home to an annual Kite Festival and Competition as well.


Sherwood


The village of Sherwood was founded in the early 1830’s by Alexander Tomilson who moved here from Sherwood Forest, England. In 1878, the village was incorporated as the town of Hazenville. It boasted a hotel and several retail stores, including a grocery and a pharmacy.

The first brick schoolhouse was built in 1876 and still stands, serving as the local Masonic Lodge. One notable fact is that Sherwood contains the Oldest Free Methodist Church in Michigan.


Union City


Union City was founded in 1833 by Justus Goodwin and renamed in 1866 to reflect the union of the St. Joseph and Coldwater rivers. Home to well known children’s book author and illustrator, Patricia Palocco who has restored two fine old homes and turned the firehouse into an arts center, as well as to the acclaimed Victorian Villa Bed and Breakfast Inn.
The local Rotarians collect and process maple syrup every Spring as a community-wide fund raiser. The Carp Rodeo and Holiday Festival bring in guests from all over.

Union City is also home to renowned children's author and illustrator Patricia Polacco.  Annually hosting the Meteor Festival


Branch County, Michigan
Located along the U.S. 12 Heritage Route


Branch County was a primeval wilderness a little more than one hundred and fifty years ago, inhabited only by the Potawatommie Indians. While it is true that there were trading posts within the limits of what is now, Branch County as early as 1825. The first actual white settler appears to have been Jabe Bronson, who made his home in 1828 in the city now bearing his name, Bronson.

The old Sauk Trail between Detroit and Chicago (now known as Chicago Rd. Or US 12) saw great numbers of pioneers passing this way, bound Illinois and other parts of what was then the “far west”. The presence of the Indians deterred many that would otherwise have settled here.
It was in 1921 that Chief Topinabee and his people sold to the white man what is now the County of Branch, though they continued to occupy it as before, on reservations. Branch County is now home to many manufacturers that supply parts to the automotive industry.

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