Grant Farrand Diary Notes

     By Mrs. W. H. Judd


     March 7, 1949,Sturgis Journal: ”A peek into the personal diary of Grant

     Farrand of Colon reveals many interesting events that otherwise have

     been long forgotten – or perhaps never known.

This modest gentleman celebrated his 85th birthday anniversary last September, and ever since he could write has kept a daily diary, neatly indexed and filed; not by the years, but by events. There would be but few incidents during the past 80 years that Farrand could not find an account of in his memoranda.

Farrand’s father and grandfather must have had considerable faith in Colon, for in the year 1837, they left their native New York, came to Colon and cleared a section of forest land just northwest of the village limits. This was to become their home and in later years become know familiarly as “Farrand” land.

Ownership of Farrand property gradually expanded through generations and it now extends on both side of the St. Joseph River.


Built Bridge in 1840


One of the interesting events describe in the pages is construction of the “Farrand” bridge, which crosses the St. Joseph River a mile west and a mile north of this village.

But first it should be explained that the present bridge is not the original. After the father and grandfather became settled in their new home they forded the river in 1838 and 1840, and a crude wooden bridge was completed and named “Farrand” bridge.

Set up on piles, it was the first bridge to be built across this river in Colon Township, and was the third bridge to be built across the river. After giving the horse and buggy faithful service for more than 20 years, it collapsed, and it is interesting to know that some of its wood still rests at the bottom of the river. Wood kept under water lasts as long as wood kept entirely free from moisture.




Present Bridge in 1868


In 1868 work was begun on construction of the new Farrand bridge and during its process a ferry boat furnished transportation across the river. Farrand vividly recalls that at the age of five he was old enough to accompany his father Phineas Farrand, a highway commissioner, on his many trips around the county.

The bridge material was purchased from a company in Syracuse, N. Y., and construction was under the direction of Simon DeGraff, also of that place. He roomed and boarded with the Farrands, and employed local help.

First step was the building of a foundation – which consists of two abutments and two piers. The abutments were no problem – but that cannot be said for the piers and in case anyone wonders how the task was accomplished, here is the answer.


Sink Scows For Piers


Workmen first built the abutments on both sides of the river; then measuring 80 feet towards the center of the river, they sank a scow by filling it full of rock and stone. After placing  it in exactly the correct  position, they poured it full of water-lime and quck-lime (cement was unpopular in those days).

The base of the pier was an approximate 20 by 9 feet and was built to graduate to an approximate 16 by 6 foot top. Then another scow was taken another 80 feet into the river, and the same procedure was followed, making a second pier. On this foundation they erected three 80-foot spans of cast-iron bridge, which stands today.

The driveway across the bridge is only about 12 feet wide, since it accommodates only one-way traffic for horse and buggy.

Material Hauled By Team

Completion of the bridge took about eight months, and one of the handicaps was that every piece of material that was used in the bridge had to be shipped to Burr Oak via the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad and then hauled to Colon by team. There was no railroad here at that time.

One year later still under the supervision of DeGraff, the Leland Bridge was built across the river at a point about five miles east of the Farrand bridge. Both bridges were struck by automobiles and collapsed within the last seven years. While the Leland Bridge has never been replaced, the Bennett Bridge is now being rebuilt.

Bulk of traffic from here to M-60 now passes over Farrand bridge and although it has not been officially condemned by the highway department, the increased volume of traffic has forced the department to place a restricted load limit here.


Only One Left


Although another bridge of this type was built at Constantine by DeGraff, it has since collapsed and has been replaced, and as far as can be determined, the Farrand Bridge is the only cast-iron bridge of this kind remaining.

One off the unique chapters of this diary gives an account of a family whose members are buried on the banks of the St. Joe on the back lot of one of the Farrand farms.

One by one, the members of the McAuley family, who rented this farm died and today there are five tombstones bearing the names of John McAuley who died in 1835, Margaret McAuley who died in 1847, John McAuley who died in  1836, Ellen McAuley Wallace who died in 1868, and Eliza McAuley who died in 1878.

The little private cemetery is marked off by a arm fence which was built by a group of neighbors in 1889. the project was sponsored by John Bennett, who subscribed funds from those most interested. Incidentally, this John Bennet was the neighbor for whom the Bennett bridge was named.


Recalls 1894 Murder


There were murders in these days, too. Farrand relates the story of one Willard Johnson who resided somewhere between Factoryville and Athens. He was murdered and his body thrown in the river on Farrand property. The body was discovered by Ward E. Farrand on Saturday, October 13, 1894,who called for his brother, Joe Farrand. One of the brothers kept a vigil over the body while the other went to notify authorities.

In 1832 a single acre of ground was purchased from the Farrand family and thus was Lakeside Cemetery established.  In 1838, the cemetery was regularly laid out and an additional piece of land purchased.

In 1876 the cemetery again was enlarged to eight acres and additional purchases have brought to a present 13-acre area, which extends from the shores of Sturgeon Lake to the road. The first body to be buried in this cemetery was that of Mrs. Emily Noyes in 1833.





Ferry On Sturgeon Lake


However, when citizens became dissatisfied with the location of the cemetery in Colon, several bodies were exhumed and transferred to Lakeside Cemetery. In this location now stands the Baptist Church, the Baptist parsonage and the Methodist Church. Farrand is a member of the present cemetery board.

For the convenience of those who wished to visit the cemetery in olden days, A boat furnished transportation from the east to the west shore of Sturgeon Lake, which joins the east section of the cemetery.

The first school in Colon Township was built on the Farrand property, and when the log structure became unusable a more suitable location was found for rebuilding the school which is now known as the Deno School, located about two miles west of Colon.


Records All Fires


Since fires at one time or another destroyed most of Colon’s business district, Farrand has witnessed the construction of every business establishment here with the exception of one – the business block where the Perry hardware store is located.

Farrand has an accurate account of each major fire in his diary, and also remembers the building of five village churches, as well as the Michigan Central Railroad, which was built through here in 1871.

While residents of this community are familiar with some of the homes belonging to the Farrand estate, there is one home that in its day attracted more than an unusual amount of attention.

The home, located just outside of the village limits, is now occupied by a son, Roy Farrand, and his family. The large cement home was built by a family by the name of Kinne in the late 1850’s and purchased later by the Farrand family.


House Said Haunted


Rumors claimed that the place was haunted and that a secret tunnel led from the cellar of the house across to the cemetery. According to other rumors, the cupola built on the second story of the house was to have been for the occupants to get in to shoot at Indians.

Farrand says that there is no passageway to his knowledge and the cupola was built purely for design and sightseeing. He does not know whether or not the place was haunted, leaving that phase entirely to one’s own judgment.

However, he added that a series of weird event there would explain some of the rumors. Colon was once inhabited by a group of spiritualists and on several occasions the group met at this home for their séance and on several occasions the group claimed to have received spiritual communications from the graves of their loved ones. On one occasion one of the members was sure that the arms of a relative were outstretched during one of the sessions.

“Witch” Appears At House

The house also had a freak door, which for no reason at all would open and close, and as it did so a mournful sound escaped from it. Farrand attributes such incidents as this to a draft or breeze that does the same to any swinging door.

But then, there is the true story of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Goodrich who later resided there. One morning while Mrs. Goodrich was preparing breakfast she was summoned to the back door by a rap, only to find standing in front of her a witch like, black-clothed woman.

Raising long bony fingers, the figure asked Mrs. Goodrich needed any help, explaining she had returned to earth good will and assistance where needed.

When the astonished mistress of the house said she needed nothing, the weird creature simply vanished in thin air, according to Mrs. Goodrich, who was horrified. Goodrich lives today to verify the story.


Didn’t Hurt Renting


Farrand says that the rumor about the house being haunted did not present much difficulty in renting it and recalls on one occasion when a prospective tenant was viewing the surroundings Farrand said, “I think I should tell you that this house has the reputation for being haunted,” to which the man replied, “Good, then it is just the place we want.” That’s the story of Colon’s haunted house.

Every personal diary contains weather reports, and so it is with Farrand’s diary. According to his records, we had the mildest winter in 1894, just 55 years ago.

There was no snow and neither was the any frost in the ground during the months of January and February.

He well remembers that winter too, for the family was preparing to build a new barn from timber that they cut in their own woodlot east of the road. After waiting most of the winter for some snow in order to sled the logs into Colon’s sawmill, they finally had to haul the logs by truck, as the snow did not come.






Potawatomi Powwow Peace

Potawatomi Powwow Peace

From the 1870 County Gazetteer: When “whites” first settled along the St. Joseph River in the Michigan Territory in the 1830’s, the Nottawa tribe of the Potawatomis was settled on the prairie a few miles west of today’s Centreville. Black Hawk and his Sauk and Fox tribes had recently crossed into Illinois into an area they had already sold to the United States. This resulted in the “Black Hawk War” of 1832. Black Hawk and his band had been reduced to a shadow of what it had been. They were now made up mostly of the elderly, women and children. That didn’t matter. The worry was that the two forces would combine. Those white settlers scattered in the area just north of what is now the Indian-Michigan border some 25 miles northwest of Elkhart became greatly alarmed. They had thoughts of being assaulted in their cabins by hordes of intoxicated savages. Some fled in haste, while others prepared to defend their homes. Despite their alarm, based on little but wild rumors, there were prominent individuals who did not believe that their settlements were in any immediate danger from Black Hawk’s ragged band. Soon, however, some were heard calling on the local militia to play a part in what was certain to be a deadly conflict. Truth was, the Potowatomi could muster only about 50 light-armed warriors. Fears of an invasion by Black Hawk’s forces from Illinois led to a meeting which initially called for a messenger to travel the 30 miles to Niles and plead for a detachment of the militia to come to the aid of the setters in the area. Benjamin Sherman, of Elkhart County agreed to take a message to Niles. Over the objection of Captain Thomas Powers, head of the militia, Cyrus Schellhous wanted to hold a meeting with the Nottawa chief to learn of their intentions. At the meeting, Schellhous, Powers, and Chief Cush-ee-wes and an interpreter talked for a while and the chief asked, “what does the white man want?” Powers asked why were the Indians planning to attack them and kill and scalp their women and children? He accused the chief of having agreed to join forces with Black Hawk to attack the settlers. Chief Cush-ee-wes’ reply silenced Powers and brought a shout of relief from his followers. “The Sauk is the enemy of the Potawatomi,” declared the chief. “There never was any friendship between our nations. The Potawatomi hates the Sauk as the eagle hates the filthy crow.” The once-militant crowd dispersed after learning of the deep division between the tribes. Not long afterward, Squire Sherman brought word from Niles that Black Hawk had been captured. And that, Virginia, is how war on the Nottawa Prairie was averted, just a simple powwow.

Midlakes Owner Dorothy Cook Obituary


Dorothy A. Cook


Obituary for Dorothy A. Cook, (from the February issue of TOPS Magazine). “Mrs. Dorothy A. Cook, 74, of Colon, died January 17, 1991, in Borgess Medical Center, Kalamazoo, MI. She was born November 30, 1916 in Webster City, IA., the daughter of Walter E. and Alice (Burton) Ambrose. She graduated from the Dayton, OH. school system in 1936.

On May 19, 1946 she married James W. Cook, in Montgomery, AL. He died January 23, 1978. Mrs. Cook and her husband owned and operated Midlakes Tavern in Colon for several years. She was a member of the Colon United Methodist Church; Order of the Eastern Star; and the Colon American Legion Auxiliary. She also worked for many years in the accounting department of the Abbott Magic Company.

Survivors: a sister, Mrs. Gladys C. Williams of Delton, MI. Mrs. Cook was preceded in death by her brother Walter E. Ambrose.

Services were held at Schipper Funeral Home, with Rev. Larry Hubley officiating. The Eastern Star memorial services followed. Internment was made in Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, OH.

The Magic Carpet Bar 1963

      Memories of Colon!


In an interesting note I found in the Abbott Magic TOPS magazine; Karrell Fox made this comment in August of 1963: “When lunch time came Neil (Foster) and Recil (Bordner) took me to Colon’s newest establishment, the MAGIC CARPET BAR. Visitors to next year’s Get-Together will be happy to learn that this new place is a scant half-mile from Colon and is very nice. It’s large, well-decorated (including a little Hindu boy riding on a magic carpet, which was devised and made by Recil, and the food is excellent. Colon regulars will be happy to hear that the entire magicians picture collection which used to cover the walls of the restaurant in downtown Colon, has been moved to the new Magic Carpet Bar, and will be on display for the ’64 Get-Together.”




Recil Bordner on Magic Capital of the World

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961, by Recil Bordner: “I am assuming that everyone knows how Lester Lake came to give Colon the title of THE MAGIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD, and how I came to buy half interest in this business from Percy Abbott back in 1934.

What has not been told about this Magic Co. is the identity and story of the many people who have and still work here.

Among those who have worked for us were: Jesse Thornton, who was in vaudeville and built magical apparatus in Chicago. “Bill” Brema from Philadelphia – the master machinist – with all the Precision Brass Tricks of the old Brema Line; Lyman Hug who had been on the Harry Thurston Show with Percy as electrician and technician. Also Ted Banks, Frank Luckner and Neil Sweet were from the Blackstone Show. Gen. Grant, Winston Freer and Nardini of “Nardini and Nadine” each spent a couple of years with us. And Eddie Joseph, who came over from India to perform at one of our Get Togethers, stayed several months, writing and developing tricks before going on to London. All the above and many more helped us here, right down to the latest celebrities, Neal and Jeanne Foster, who are now members of the ‘Magic Family’ here in Colon.

The first day I come to Colon to stay, Percy introduced me to all the places in town where he had been doing any business: The first place he took me was to the home of Charles Elliot a man interested in magic in an amateur way. “Chuck” always produced all the minstrel shows and any other dramatic productions that were attempted locally. So it was only natural that he was the “contact” man with the local people on all our magical Get Togethers until his death in 1942. Chuck’s wife Irene was doing some sewing for the Magic Co; Spring Sausages, Carrots etc. She is the same lady who is working today in our sewing department making the same things plus, of course, many more products. She continued to do the sewing in her home until her three children were grown before she came to the shop to work.

During that first year after we had moved into our own building, another man came to see us from the Blackstone Show. This time it was from the advance personnel in the person of a juggler named Fred Merrill or just “Freddie” as everyone called him. He came to help in our paint department, and started on what was to be a part time basis, but today he is still our painter and has finished and painted, I would say, more Magical Apparatus than any other man in the world today.

Before the First World War, Fred was with the Merrill Brothers, a juggling team, and “Morris Cronnin and his Merry Men”, a comedy European Juggler Act. He is the immediate Past President of the International Jugglers Association and those of you who read the OLD TOPS, will remember that he had a series of articles, on the art of juggling, published several years ago. He has promised to write some articles for the NEW TOPS as the months roll along, so if any of you juggling fans have any news, questions or suggestions that you would like to see in print, send them along to Fred Merrill, Colon, Michigan.

In August 1943 Fred’s wife, Caroline, came to help us in the sewing department for a few hours each day. It was not long before she was working full time. When we took over the feather flower making from the DeWitt sisters, she mastered the art of converting the grimy white imported swan and goose feathers to the soft brilliant petals seen on the finished white flowers. Later she become skillful at dyeing them to the bright, even iridescent colors that makes our feather flowers so outstanding. She is especially proud of her fresh carnations, and rightfully so for they are the most realistic in appearance.

If I wrote about all the things concerning all the people who have worked here, this column would be as long as a novel, so I will have to continue it in another issue.”

Colon Businesses, 1932

Historical Society Notes on 1932


Among the contents of the Colon Express building was a list of businesses in 1932. Determining the locations has not been so easy. “Ethan J. Adams, Lakeview Creamery, Phone 212 (located at the corner of Swan and Canal Sts). Adams Brothers, I. G. A. Grocery, Phone 127 (between Post Office and Trayling’s Ins.). A & P Store, Roy B., Bell, Mgr. (SE corner of East State and Swan Sts). Roy J.Bartholomew, clothier (now Dawn & Phil’s Restaurant). Brown’s Dry Goods Store, Mrs. Gertie Brown, Phone 115 (located above the east half of Five Star Pizza). J. Orla Burke, Live Stock, Phone 165 (north end of Swan St.). John Brast, Variety Store (now part of Magic City Hardware bldg.). Colon Elevator, J. E. Olney, Phone 211 (exact location unknown). Colon Service Garage, Ralph R. Roderick, Phone 220 (now Fisher’s Automotive). Colon Flour Mills, Joe Stull, Phone 52 (now east end of old Hemel Chevrolet building). DeBack, James, Grocery, Phone 229 (exact location unknown but on north side of State St. downtown). DeVault, Earl, Plumber, (located behind Dawn & Phil’s). East Side Garage, Ray Vreeland, Prop. (unknown). Frisbie Repair Shop and Blacksmith, Floyd J. Frisbie (located on north side of South St., just west of St Joseph St.). Farrand, Virgil C., Hardware, Phone 23 (unknown). Godfrey, Dr. E. L. M. D., Phone 7 (now Schipper Funeral Home). Godfrey, Dr. Glen E., Dentist, Phone 80 (office was above Citizens Bank in old Opera House building). Goodell & King, Barber Shop (South side of State St., near the hardware). This barber shop was later moved to Barry St., now Steve Tomlinson’s home. Goodell, A. C. Coal, Implements and Seeds, Phone 120 (Now community park on West Colon Rd.). Gorton, Jay, Barber Shop (located just north of Trayling Insurance). Hartman, Dr. P. L. Veterinary, Phone 14 (some disagreement as to whether he was a veterinary. Location unknown. Guess I could just call him on the phone). Hartman, Oscar, Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor, Phone 16 (just east of Barber shop). Hill, Stuart G., Hardware, Phone 72 (now Real Estate Office). When Stuart died (at the hardware), his wife Eva hired John Perry. Upon her death, her son, Deo Leland Stuart sold the hardware to John Perry for $8,000. Hobday, Howard, Garage, Auto Sales and Repairing, Phone 72 (located east of current Hemel Chevrolet). Jailer’s Garage (John), Chevrolet and Buick, Phone 230 (located on east side of South Swan St. just behind empty store on the corner of Swan and State St.).” “Ken’s Café (Ken Miller), Phone 60 (second store east of SE corner of State and Swan St. Lloyds Bakery, Lloyd J. Burkholder, Phone 44, (location unknown). Lamb Knit Goods Co. Mfgrs., Charles G. Correll, Mgr. Phone 42J (now Woodcrafters building). George S. Mitchell, Jeweler. (located in the area of the current police station). Marilyn Farrell remembers that her father bought her mother’s silverware there. John Perry (Marilyn’s father) recalls that Mr. Mitchell drove his car all over town in low gear in order to chcarge the battery! Charles Maurer, Dry Goods, Phone 49 (located west side of current Citizen’s Bank). Mid Lakes Cafe, Dine and Dance Casino, Mannie Emmands Sulton, Phone 40 (located in the parking lot next to the police station). There was apparently some conflict over the use of the restaurant name. Modern Shop, Harness and Shoes Rebuilt, Leo Thrams, (south side of East State Street, exact location unknown). J. Elliot Mosher, General Store, Phone 5 (one side of Five Star Pizza). R. R. Munday Cleaners (location unknown). Wallace F. Markham, Funeral Director, Phone 104-J (now Davis & Davis). Charles Niendorf, Drug Store, Phone 28-1, now Magic City Hardware. Later sold to Bob Gamble (became Gamble’s Drug Store with Ellis Lake as druggist). Later sold to Duane Latham (Latham’s Drugs) and then to Al King who built the new building. Became King Pharmacy until bought out by Village Market. Oliver Osborn, Barber Shop (location unknown). Palmer Hotel, Olive Hall, Proprietor (hotel located at what is now Hemel Chevrolet). J. G. Ryan, Cigar Store (now Curley’s). Donavan Royer, Funeral Director, Phone 29 (location unknown). E. Hill an Sons State Bank, Phone 66 (now Citizen’s Bank). J. C. Cossairt, Shady Nook Hatchery (location unknown). Paul Stewart, blacksmith, East of bridge on State St. (I am told he made a wonderful spear! I was told that the property was sold to Paul Lampe in 1945). The Modern Shop, Leo Thrams, Prop., Harness and Shoes (under what is now Dawn & Phil’s). W. B. Tomlinson & Son, Lumber, Phone 67. Al Ward’s Garage, Phone 176 (located on the alley on Canal Street, across from library). Sol B. Wiles, Furniture Store (it was directly across Blackstone from Trayling’s Insurance).” We solicit your help in identifying locations!

Colon Train Wreck 1930





From the Colon Express, May 8, 1930; Frank Damon, Publisher, Editor:” What is said to be the worst freight train wreck in the history of the Michigan Central Railroad Company occurred here at 11:30 Saturday forenoon, when 40 cars of a fast freight, westbound from New York to Chicago over the Air Line, piled up in a tangled mass about a mile east of the village. The exact location was at the old gravel pit owned by the railroad just west of DeWitt’s crossing.

The train was composed of 73 cars and the cars from the sixth to the 45th left the rails. While the cause of the wreck is not definitely determined, it is believed to have resulted from a broken part of one of the cars.

No one was injured as neither engine nor caboose left the rails. However, there was much rumor that three “hoboes” were riding the train but as yet no trace of them has been found. The wreck was witnessed by the bus driver who was driving in the same direction the freight was going and in plain view. Of course the crash was heard a half mile distant, and he said it seemed the rear cars would never stop piling up in that jam. In fact the topmost car was probably forty feet in the air.

Wrecker and large crews were hurriedly called to the scene from Jackson and Niles and together with all available section hands along the line worked continuously until Sunday afternoon to get a hole through the tangled mess and open the track. In fact they have been busy night and day since the wreck and are still at it, expecting to finish clearing the right of way today.

The damage from the wreck will mount into thousands of dollars. The 40 cars which left the rails included several cars of automobiles, coal, steel, food stuff, and a great variety of merchandise which was all transferred to other cars, excepting much of it which was crushed or strewn along the track and valueless. The coal was sold yesterday to the Colon Elevator.

Nelson Snyder, section foreman, and his men had a very narrow escape. They were working on the right of way at the point where the accident happened, and while standing at the side of the track while the train passed saw the first car leave the rails. They made a dash up the bank and over the fence just in time to escape being crushed by the crashing cars, which piled up right in front of them.

The wreck brought to Colon one of the greatest traffic jams ever experienced. Thousands of cars coming in from all directions Sunday, and continued to come Monday and Tuesday, and last evening several cars inquired the way to the wreck. Local stores were taxed to the limit to get foodstuff to the large working force, the restaurant did a thriving business all night and filling stations were kept busy. Hundreds of people remained at the wreck until after midnight to watch the wreckers.

Some enterprising stranger took advantage of the opportunity and opened a stand, selling candy, etc., to the crowd at the wreck.

Before the officials and detectives arrived on the job a man from Jackson, who was viewing the crash, could not resist the temptation to take a half-dozen fine shirts, which were among the many things scattered about. The local authorities “collared” him and took the shirts, and before he could be placed under arrest (he) broke away and scrambled over the fence, ran across the fields, waded a creek, and has not been seen since.


Wattles Find Bones to Pick

They Found some bones to pick


Discovery of mastodon remains prompts research by farm family



COLON – If there is one thing that can draw a family together with a single purpose, it’s a bunch of old bones.

Old bones have sent the Ansel Wattles family to museums, prompted talks with paleontologists and caused a search for information about prehistoric creatures ever since the skeletal remains of a mastodon were discovered on the family farm.

“We’ve been studying up on mastodons,” said Wattles, looking at the rows of weary brown bones arranged on boards in a building behind the family’s home on Jackson Road. “When Spring comes, we’re going back to the field and look for more bones.”

Digs to date have turned up 10,000 year old teeth, leg bones, ribs, vertebrae and pieces of skull and tusk that once belonged to the elephant-like vegetarian.

It was a seven-inch-long tooth that started it all. Wattles found it last fall while combining in a field of soybeans.

“I saw some white showing against the green soybeans, it was sticking up among the plants,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it belong to something that hadn’t been around for quite a while.”

Wattles brought the relic to the house and his son, Evan, 12, took it to school. The ball started rolling, when Evan’s teacher, Paul Blake, took the tooth to Kingman Museum of Natural History in Battle Creek, where it was verified as having belonged to a mastodon.

Carbon-14 test of other mastodon remains found in Michigan date them as being at least 10,000 years old.

Mastodons were a sturdy lot. They roamed in herds more that a million years ago, but by the time of the Ice Age rolled around only a few herds remained.

They were formidable-looking creatures with great curved tusks and long hair covering their six-ton frames. From the mastodons developed the mammoth and, much later, the elephant.

Their remains have been found in postglacial swamps, peat bogs and muck.

After the Wattles’ initial find, they returned to the field to search for more. Six more teeth and other bones were uncovered only two feet below the surface in an area bout eight feet in diameter.

Many of the bones had been broken into fragments by plows that had worked the field for more that a half century. “The bones were close to the surface and that’s why the tillage over the years wrecked much of the find,” he said.

He believes the4 animal drowned while walking in a swamp, which is now muck land that covers much of the Wattles 520-acre farm.

The teeth of the Wattles’ mastodon have heavy grinding surfaces. They are badly wore from chewing the vast amounts of prehistoric shrubs and grasses needed to satisfy the tummy of the ancient creature, whose heritage goes back some 40 million years to the first mastodons, who were the size of pigs.

Wattles learned to identify the bones during a visit to the museum at the University of Michigan, where a complete skeleton is mounted  “That’s how I got to know what we had,” he said.

Wattles said museum officials told him there have been about 160 mastodons found in Michigan, but none was a whole skeleton.

At first, a section of a tusk measuring about six feet long was found by a youth in Assyria. Two years later, mastodon bones were found at Fort Custer’s Eagle Lake by workers digging a ditch.  In 1954, several bones were found in a marl pit near Spring port, and in 1960 a 13-year-old boy hunting turtles at Sherman Lake came across a jawbone where a channel had been dug two years earlier.

The largest bones in the Wattles’ collection are those of a front leg, and the longest bones are a pair of ribs. There is a bone the size of a large platter that Wattles said is a vertebra.

In a candy box are fragments of the mastodon’s great tusks, reduced over the centuries to nothing more than layers of curved bark.

There are several pieces of skull, surprisingly thin, which are smooth on one side and riddled with channels on the underside. Parts of the skull still are at the site, Wattles said.

Elsewhere in the storage building is a washtub filled with smaller bones about the size of tennis balls.

When weather permits it will be back in the mastodon digs for the Wattles, “We’ve got to go back and fool around there again,” Wattles said.







Opera House Remembered, Alberta Hacker-Frost

Memorable Moments




From the Sturgis Journal, 2006, by Terry Katz: “COLON – Alberta Hacker-Frost was 16 when she stepped inside Hill’s Opera House in Colon for the first time.

That was in the spring of 1934.

Now, it’s still difficult for her to picture what’s left of the Opera House that was destroyed by fire October 12, 2006.

She lives in Sturgis and hasn’t returned to Colon since the firs. She does plan to make a trip when she’s feeling better.

Thoughts of the fire stirred many memories. Hacker-Frost was a member of the Colon class of 1934 that held its commencement, baccalaureate service and senior class play on stage at the opera house.




As Hacker-Frost began to reminisce, she found the original high school programs and newspaper clippings from her class of 42 years ago.

She was the class salutatorian and on June 7, 1934, her class of 24 members was graduated.

The class valedictorian was Margaret Loudenslager, who maintained a four year average of 94.5 percent.

Commencement activities began on May 24 with the annual junior-senior banquet. The Reverend L. A. Townsend delivered the baccalaureate service on “The Highway of Life” Dean David Trout of Hillsdale College gave the commencement address. She recalled that part of the class night program June 6 was a review of the 1934 class history as narrated by Max Groth and Jack Damon. They were only two students who attended grades K-12 with the class. Many students started their education in Colon, but either moved or dropped out before graduation.

She joined the class from Foote School east of Leonidas. Other students came from Coldwater, Burr Oak, Matteson, Riverside, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Indiana.

The senior class play presented at Hill’s Opera House on May 11 was a four-act comedy drama of small town life called “Windy Willows.”

Members of the class of 1934 at Colon High School were: Dale Adams, Max Whitmore, Lewis Brandt, Rose Mary Cooper, Lyman Decker, John Eberhard, Max Goth, Donald Hobday, Majorie Loudenslager, Irene Rosenberry,
Richard Sager, LeRoy Whitford, John Ware, Spencer Bower, Gerald Brooks, Jack Damon, Hilda Decker, Mary Elezroth, Alberta Hacker, Herman Kessler, Margaret Loudenslager, Phil Rudd, Kathryn Sprowl and Helen Wood.

LeRoy Whitford and Marjorie Loudenslader were seen in the leading roles.

An old program shows that Max Auten carried the chief comedy role in the portrayal of the rustic constable and storekeeper.

The comedy featured Mrs. DePuyster, a city visitor whose love affair with the village constable furnished much merriment. Margaret Loudenslager played the role. Hilda Decker had the part of Carrie Tibbs, whose love for her brother brought out in this story of small town life.

Donald Hobday and Jack Damon played the village banker and his son. Herman Kessler portrayed Billy Fortuen, who does much to upset their plans.

Tickets were sold at several locations in Colon. General admission was 15 cents.

For Alberta Hacker-Frost, the loss of the Opera House felt like a death in the family.

“I felt sad about it,” she said, “I’m still here but today there’s not too many of us class members left.”

Hacker-Frost also remembers the dentist office located upstairs of the bank.

“That’s where I had my first tooth pulled!” she exclaimed.

The Opera House That Colon Forgot


The Opera House That Colon Forgot



From The Colon Express newspaper, July 13, 1950: “Surely this is a building of which all citizens of Colon may well be proud.”

These words were penned 52 years ago by a forgotten writer in preparing the souvenir program for the grand opening of Hill’s Opera House. The Opera House in Colon, center of social life in southern Michigan; where the Shuberts played their big New York shows as a bread between Detroit and Chicago. Memories. The Drews, the Barrymores, Fanny Brice; a host of others who were riding fame when the century was young.

“Once through the grand entrance, the auditorium impresses you with its great beauty. The front of the balcony, as well as the four private boxes, are treated in white and gold, draped in tapestries which harmonize with the beautifully frescoed walls and ceiling. These, laced by six hundred mahogany opera chairs, upholstered in pale green plush, join in producing a harmonious whole.

“Great care has been taken in heating and ventilating. The lighting is from a private gas plant on the premises, two hundred jets being used to illuminate the theatre. The wants of the players have been carefully looked after, with commodious dressing rooms, wardrobes and lavatories being located under the stage.”

It’s a ghost Opera House now, in 1950. The white and gold paint and the draperies are gone. The two hundred gas jets were later replaced with electric socket from which the bulbs are now missing. One finds on inspection that the writer of the souvenir program was overly enthusiastic about the upholstered chairs. There are actually 525 of them. The pale green plush seats are found in only the first eight rows; the telltale marks on the floor show that the eighth row was backed with a brass rail, inclosing a parquet for seating the most refined customers. The remaining seats are bare, unless you include the dust of three decades.

The stage, as roomy and deep as those in many of today’s city theaters, is but an apparition and but few pieces of the one elaborate scenery remain. The original front curtain, which was operated on a roller, now gathers dust in a corner. It is replete with advertising signs of the late nineties. Says one, “Eat Harman’s Bread – Don’t be Misled.” C. H. McKinster, drugs and groceries, told Opera House audiences about his buckthorn bark remedy: “Less Bowel Trouble In Colon!” Overhead in a corner of the fly loft are stored old rain and wind-making machines; and the remains of the old gas chandelier with its reflectors and a multitude of jets which originally hung proudly from the auditorium ceiling.

The play “On The Swaunee” opened the Opera House on February 18, 1898. The review in the weekly Colon Express went extensively into who was present and what each wore. It was a social event of top significance for it described the clothing worn by five-year-olds as well as that of their parents. Once each week or two there followed productions ordinarily seen only in large cities. Some of them are still remembered like Tess of the Storm Country; The Sqaw Man, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; To Have and To Hold. Colon audiences were thrilled with The Drunkard, The Light Eternal, Quo Vadis; and a large musical production. The Merry Widow (“every little movement has a meaning all its own”).

“The Story Of a Woman’s Bitter Victory”, advertises a 1950 motion picture, “Paid In Full”, starring Robert Cummings and Lizabeth Scott. Beautiful Miss Scott, did you know that the same play trod the boards at Hill’s Opera House on August 5, 1912? Read the 1912 advertising: “It is said to be virile, appealing and distinctly original, and to be unfolded by a set of characters that are types of real life, familiar to everyone and full of human interest.”

Marian Hill Michaelson, now teaching in a Detroit public school, recalls that she had her first date at the Opera House. “I was all of the tender age of two, Arthur Kane, who was four or five, used to come over to our house and play. He saved his pennies and one day strode up to the house and asked my pop if he could take me to a play at the Opera House.

With the same profound dignity, my father told him he would ask me, but was sure I would be happy to accept. On the appointed night, Arthur showed up in his new suit and walked down town with Mother while Dad pushed me in the baby cutter. Half of the town was out en masse to see Art and I toddle (at least I did) down the Opera House aisle.”

Some of the earliest recollections of present day Colon citizens are bound up in the Opera House. Mrs. Michaelson remembers “the excitement when we knew a famed Chicago or New York show was coming to town, and the inevitable naps we must take on those afternoons so we would stay awake to see the entire performance. Then the baths and clean underwear and the best clothes laid out on the bed. Hair curling, and spit-shine on our shoes when Mama didn’t see us. Then Dad hurrying Mother; ‘Come on, Mother, fifteen minutes to curtain time’, with frequent checking of the big gold watch. The hast dash to the Opera House, the marquee lighted with gas lamps, our outer wraps hung in the ticket office, a look in the powder room to see who was there.

“We always had the same seats so we took them, without benefit of usher. But not for long. As soon as we were allowed, we children hurried up front and around to the Boxes. And how well named! On each side of the gas footlights were cubicle that looked onto the stage, where one could get a fair idea of the play as long as the actors remained on the other half. It was a usual thing, in case the show got a little slow or the actors were bored, for them to come over and tickle our legs or pull our toes through the railing. It was usually good for a laugh from the audience.

“Between the acts we hurried backstage to stand and stare in awe at the strangers who were such fascinating characters. The villain with the handlebar mustache wasn’t half as frightening in the wings.  I remember the ladies of the show holding us on their laps and talking to us as our mothers did. And then the curtain call and we would hustle back to the Box and once more Lena Rivers or The Girl of The Golden West wasn’t the lady who held us, but a glamorous figure from the story book.”

Mystery shadows the past of the upper right box. All four boxes were designed for six occupants. Each had six chairs – excepting the upper right, which contained but one. Shortly before curtain time would listen expectantly; then the thump, thump sound, up the stairs to the balcony, and slowly forward to the lone chair in upper-right. A man, sorely crippled, supporting his body with two canes that he had himself fashioned from broom handles. Tall, black stovepipe  hat which he seldom removed. Shaggy brows over piercing black eyes; dignified beard and waxed mustache. His name was Ambrose Crane. He had a lifetime ticked to the box in upper right.

This much was known about Ambrose Crane. He lived in a tiny one-room place scarcely a block from the rear of the Opera House. In the basement of his home he raised rhubarb and experimented with a method of dehydrating the plant so that it could be preserved. He extended his rhubarb operations to one of the dark basements of the Opera House. Nothing came of this. He had a marvelous vocabulary. He was an expert penman and penned his own calling cards, which he never used. He owned a horse and cart, with which he drove to the World’s Fair in Chicago, a distance of 150 miles. Constantly around his neck was a heavy string, from the ends of which dangled two tin cans at his sides, containing food, which he ate when and where he pleased. And, he had a lifetime, exclusive lease on the Opera House Box, of upper right. How, and why? Who was Ambrose Crane?
Colon is widely known as the Magic Capital of the World. Is this the end result of interest in magic aroused on February 11, 1907, when the Opera House presented Joseffy, “the necromancer”? Joseffy’s “talking skull” is well remembered in Colon; also his “fatal hand, as astonishing experiment which exploits the theosophic theory of the fourth dimension”, as quoted from the handbills of the time. “A conception so startling in effect and so nearly approaching the supernatural as to seem miraculous. Affinity with an unseen power is such a degree that scientific minds marvel at the production.” One of the minds that marveled belonged to Monk Watson, a Colon youngster who grew up to become a leading magician and entertainer.

“Colon was quite a town in those days,” recollects Ross Lewis, who was chief usher at the Opera House. “The population was then about the same as it is now, around a thousand, but the Opera House made out town famous for a hundred miles around. We had good train service then – five or six trains a day – which made it easy for the shows to come and go. We had a good hotel, too; $1 a day or $5 a week paid for room and board at the old St. Joe House.”

Lewis remembers that the opera house maintained 6 full sets of scenery, which was in addition to the special scenery, sometimes a carload, carried by most of the big shows. Advertising was different then, with more competition for the local newspaper. Phil Wait, a Colon young man, made perilous ascension in a hot-air balloon from the muddy main street in front of the Opera House before each show. Wait made the balloon himself from muslin and local merchants contributed to the cost of maintaining this feature attraction. It drew a crowd.

Lewis recalls the old gaslights with amusement. “The acetylene plant was buried in the ground back of the Opera House. One night while a show was in progress the caretaker made his usual inspection of the plant, and he brought his kerosene lantern a little too close. There was a “boom” that could be heard for miles around as the plant exploded. And, of course, the lights immediately went out. The performance was finally completed with the aid of candles.

“The bare gas jets were of course the latest thing when the Opera House opened, but they were annoying. The house smelled of carbide gas part of the time. The jets were lighted individually – 200 of them – with tapers. After they had been burning for a time, the tips would carbon up and shoot off streams of black smoke, which eventually settled on the audience as soot.”

As a special service to the customers, the management employed Cliff Frohriep as water boy. Coca Cola was then unknown and it was Cliff’s duty to pass up and down the aisles with his tray of paper cups and water. “When I first started”, Cliff remembers, “The audience was suspicious and would have none of it. Then when they learned the water was a free service and would not cost them a cent, they really kept me busy.” It was from this suspicious beginning that Cliff graduated to his present position as leading gasoline distributor in Colon.

“Hill’s Opera House was responsible for much of the present theatrical population of Colon. Skippy and Jean Lamore, the vaudeville team, liked the town and made it their home instead of New York. Lew Dockstader of minstrel fame did likewise; also George and Mattie Kempton, of the Kempton Komedy Kompany. Harry Blackstone, the famous magician, liked

Colon so well that he purchased an entire island adjoining the town. Percy Abbott, the Australian magician, settled in Colon and started the famous magic factory.
The Opera House ticket office and cloakroom are now rooms of an apartment occupied by Ken and Marie Miller. Ken and Marie have the largest television set in Colon. From this the empty Opera House auditorium echoes often with the clatter of hoof beats and bark of the six-gun as Hopalong Cassidy performs for his 1950 audience. The old and the new. Sing no sad songs however – the Opera House really had its day!”