Portrait and Biographical Record of Muskegon and Ottawa Counties Michigan, Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens, and of the Presidents of the United States, Biographical Publishing Co, Chicago, 1893
Copyright June 2000 by Clark Hugh Stiles
Justus Stiles Jr and Harley Erastus Stiles
Justus Stiles, the oldest living settler in Polkton Township, who voted at the organization of the township, and was in fact the first settler in town 8, range 14 west, with the exception of the trappers and hunters along the river bank, has been a resident of the State of Michigan almost three-score years, and has been a dweller within the county of Ottawa since 1844.
Our subject, a native of St. Lawrence County, N.Y., was the second of ten children born unto Justus and Aurilla (Clark) Stiles, both natives of New England.The father was born in 1778 in Vermont; the mother's birthplace was Massachusetts.The paternal ancestors were of English birth.The responsibility of the care and training of the younger sons and daughters of the parents devolved mainly upon the son Justus, who, with enterprising and self-reliant effort, assumed the burdens of the day in his early boyhood.
Nancy L. the eldest of the family, became the wife of George Cane and made her home in Battle Creek; Justus came next; Amos lives in Calhoun; Chauncey S. died in Ottawa County; Richard C. also passed away in Ottawa County; Mary A. is the wife of H. Hall of Battle Creek; Cynthia, deceased, was the wife of John Dickenson; Alma J. is the wife of Edwin Van Winkle, of Battle Creek; Julia A. married Henry Hall, of Battle Creek; and Harvey C. died young.
Our subject accompanied his parents to Battle Creek in 1835, and they found but one frame house where the city now stands.The father not long after died, leaving to the care of the widow a large family of little ones.In 1844 Mr. Stiles was united in marriage with Miss Ann Streater, and with his wife soon after made his home in Ottawa County.They located upon the identical spot where their first house stood nearly a half-century ago, and there our subject, toiling industriously, cleared the eighty acres of land of heavy timber, and erected a log cabin beside the very stumps of the trees felled for that purpose.
At the organization of the township sixteen voted in the first election held at Scranton, now Eastmanville.Mr. Stiles declined to accept many offices of the township which were tendered him, but when he did occasionally permit the use of his name he was invariably elected.He and his excellent wife, sharing in the toils and privations of pioneer life, buried five little ones in infancy and reared to adult age five sons and daughters.The eldest surviving child is E.H., now Postmaster at Coopersville; Josephine is the wife of R. Orson Dodge, of Newaygo; Jane, deceased, was the wife of Edwin Hamilton, of Coopersville; Henry J. lives upon the old home farm; and Hezza is the wife of Harrison Averill, of Ottawa County.Mr. and Mrs. Stiles are both remarkably well preserved, being hale and hearty and enjoying their many daily blessings.Our subject, who is in his seventy-fourth year, has witnessed the many remarkable changes incidental to the life of the frontiersman.Politically, he and his son are strong Democrats and deeply interested in both local and national issues.
Mr. Stiles has until recently taken an active interest in the schools of the county, and is a well-known friend to educational advancement.He gave his children a good common-school education, and his eldest son taught school many years.Our subject, although a man of sterling integrity of character, has never been connected with any church organization or fraternal society.
E.H. Stiles, the eldest living son of our subject, was born in Polkton Township in 1849, and, growing up to manhood on his father's farm, assisted in the summer and in the winter attended the district school.When about twenty-two years of age he engaged in teaching school and, continuing for five years a successful instructor, in the mean time attended the Grand Rapids Business College.Until the winter of 1892-1893 he taught continuously, and during the summer months, as in youth, engaged industriously in the pursuit of agriculture.He was married in 1876 to Miss Mary A. Coburn, of Zeeland, and a daughter of Milan Coburn.This excellent and accomplished lady was always delicate, and upon July 2, passed away mourned by all who know her.
Mr. Stiles has been active in the local politics of Ottawa County and ably served as Clerk of Polkton Township.In June, 1893, he was commissioned under President Cleveland Postmaster of Coopersville, an office whose duties he is well adapted to discharge to the great satisfaction of his fellow-townsmen.Fraternally, Mr. Stiles is a Knight of Honor, and socially is a popular man, enjoying the high regard of many friends.
•The excerpt above is taken from pages 322 and 323 of the aforementioned title.
•Richard Clair Stiles was my great-grandfather, the other lines are collateral for me.
•Polkton Township in Ottawa County, Michigan is approximately six miles square, with the small city of Coopersville along its eastern boundary.
•The Knights of Honor was one of those poor-man's-freemason organizations.In another old book, an 1882 history of Ottawa and Muskegon counties, the Knights of Honor are mentioned and the Dictator's name is given.Using the term Dictator for the chapter leader indicates the tongue-in-cheek nature of this group.Others of this kind include the International Order of Oddfellows (IOOF) and the Grange, both of which were active in Coopersville and many other small communities during the 19th and early 20th centuries.Coopersville's Masonic chapter was 122.I don't think this chapter or the related Eastern Star chapter 132 is in operation any longer.The regalia of the IOOF is similar to the old masonic get-ups, and I was alarmed at first when one day I found an old photo of my grandfather with a couple of associates dressed in what appeared to be KKK uniforms.A closer look revealed the IOOF logo, which was a huge relief (F, L, T, in interlocking rings; it stood for "Friendship, Love, and Trust" I believe; grandfather's IOOF ring is still around).So don't throw out those seemingly incriminating pictures! [oral history, personal experience]
•The village of Scranton (Eastmanville) lies on the Grand River south and west of Coopersville.
•Not mentioned is Steele's Landing, a microvillage that lay on the Grand River just east and down the hill from Lamont, south and east of Coopersville.Steele's Landing is the place where the Stiles families first set foot in Ottawa County according to the late Gene Stiles, one of Justus Jr's descendants.The railroad didn't arrive in Coopersville until the 1850s. [short family history, Gene Stiles]
•Justus Stiles Jr (3-20-1819 to 1-3-1906) married Ann Streater (10-17-1823 to 1-16-1898), and Justus Stiles Sr married Aurilla Clark. [per Leon Stiles; this is meant as a clarification]
•Justus Jr and Ann had children [Harley Erastus (went by E.H., buried under that name in Coopersville Cemetery next to Mary A. Coburn), Josephine (m Orson Dodge), Ellen Estella, Alma, Henry Justus Stiles (his descendants live on the ancestral place to this day), Hezza (m Harrison Averill), Lucy, and Louis Charles. [oral history from father; personal exploration]
•Mary A. Coburn had a sister Minnie who lived in Coopersville, but that is outside the scope of this post. [oral history from various family members; may have seen her grave]
•Chauncey S. Stiles had children and was pretty prosperous.His son William P. Stiles served at various times as village president and president of the school board, and owned one of the first autos in Ottawa county.He always wore a bowler hat.One of his daughters, Myrtle, owned a hat shop in Coopersville.Myrtle employed a single woman and [in a move that today would result in a huge lawsuit, popping flashbulbs, and government involvement [played matchmaker, setting up her employee Mabel with Myrtle's first cousin Fred.They married and eventually became my grandparents. [oral history from father]
•It has been reported to me by Sue Mehne that her ancestor Alma J, sister of Justus Jr et al, married William P. Boswell on 8 Apr 1852, was widowed in Battle Creek 14 Apr 1866, and married Edwin Van Winkle sometime thereafter.Alma J and William P had two children, Mary Ella and William Frank Boswell.Children of Alma and Edwin are not (yet) known. [personal correspondence]
•Mary A. Stiles must have been the wife of "Henry Hall of Battle Creek", although it can't be excluded that Julia A. Stiles was his second wife.As far as I know, based on great-grandmother's photo album, this Julia was married to Orange Firster; no children are pictured.Great-grandmother was an Averill and had no sister Julia among her 16 siblings and half-siblings.Her parents and a number of siblings eventually arrived in Coopersville via Battle Creek and Flint.All the children were born in Ontario.Paul Averill Jr was born in Massachusetts, was widowed twice, and had 17 children by two of his three wives. [Nancy H.A. Stiles' photo album; The Averill Genealogy, Alyce Cooke et al]
•Justus Jr, Ann, Chauncey, his wife, and some of their respective children are buried in the Seventh Day Adventist Cemetery on 40th Avenue, Wright Township, a mile east of the Coopersville-Polkton boundary. [personal exploration]
•Aurilla died in 1853 in Coopersville, but as we've been unable to locate her grave, we guess she was buried on Justus Jr's farm.No year of birth is given for Aurilla (b 2 Sep 1771, d 4 Jan 1853), possibly because it was ladylike, but probably because she was a few years older than Justus Sr (Leon has b 27 Nov 1789 [this must be 1778/9? [in Benson VT, d 4 Jan 1836).Although she may have been born in Massachusetts, Justus Sr and Aurilla surely must have met in Vermont.Another woman with a maiden name of Clark married a Vermont Stiles from another collateral line, and may have been a sister, aunt, niece, or cousin of Aurilla. [Leon Stiles; saw the Vermont info on the web, may have found it with an FTM search engine]
•In the 1870 census a large number of Coopersville residents indicated a Vermont birthplace.As one of my mother's lines also originated in Rutland County Vermont, I have to wonder what caused the exodus to Michigan.1846 was in the depths of the financial bust in Michigan, following years of wild land speculation, paper towns, a currency and capital shortage, inflated land values, and other problems of the era. [census on microfilm; the Graves Family by Kenneth Vance Graves; various historical works]
•During the 19th century, alleged settlers would take over former habitations by paying the back taxes, move in, harvest timber from the acreage, let the taxes lapse for the three years, and then move on.Only those who immigrated to farm the land seemed to stay around.To farm required clearing a field large enough to put in a crop sufficient to feed, house, and heat the family, planting, then spending every other waking minute clearing more and more.
•The technique used to fell trees was efficient of labor, and there's not a stick of old stand forest left anywhere for miles around Coopersville.Using an axe, adze, or hatchet, the trees were girdled and the bark left to dry around the base of each tree.This killed the trees.As the piles dried they were burned, which reduced the girth of each trunk and therefore the amount of cutting involved.Stumps were split in situ, and various means of pulling out the pieces (block and tackle, oxen, horses, etc) were employed.Sometimes fire was used, but it was better to remove by pulling in order to get rid of the roots. [oral history from father]
•Still, one has to admit the difficulty of transporting the timber once felled.The above technique worked best on smaller trees.Luckily the hard clay soils of the area must have mitigated against the presence of very large trees.Still, in the early 20th century the last hemlock was harvested about a mile west of Coopersville, and it was nearly six feet in diameter.I've seen a nice picture of the felled tree and the cutting crew, but I don't know where.I mistakenly thought it was in "Chronicles of Coopersville", James and Lillian Budzynski, Box 77, Coopersville Michigan, 1996, Library of Congress number 96-96774.This is quite a worthwhile book regardless, 140 pp 8 1/2 x 11 acid free paper, I believe it's $15 plus shipping.
•Great-grandfather Richard's tools [his millstone, hatchet, adze, and two-man saw among other things are still around.The axe doesn't count, see the old saying ;^)
•The timber trade built Michigan, but it was a matter of a single human lifetime to cut down and consume most of the original forests.Even the trains burned wood, and frequent fires meant the rebuilding of houses, barns, even entire towns (including Chicago).After his birthplace burned March 22, 1910 (or thereabouts), my grandfather ended up getting a mailorder house kit, which was delivered by the conveniently located railroad line (of course, it was the train throwing sparks that burned down the house and the neighbor's barn in the first place).There was essentially no adequate local timber. [oral and written history]
•The old book from which this account was taken represents an old door-to-door enterprise.The customers would contribute a biography of themselves and pay for a copy of the book, and the presidential bios were included in the same volume.Edited for style, the bios while sometimes a bit hyperbolic are not grandiose but give a lot of details that may seem comical; the reality is these folks were proud of what they'd done with their lives, perhaps because they'd helped to transform their surroundings and their situation through sheer effort and hardship.These books may seem like a scam, but it's lucky for us that someone did this.