Ever Been to Puddleburg?

Ever Been to Puddleburg?


Joe Ganger


As a resident of Colon, I am used to hearing wisecracks about our town name. I suppose our neighbors in Climax get the same ribbing. Ironically, there are three towns in the United States named Colon. Besides ours, there is one in North Carolina and one in Nebraska. The one in Nebraska came about because Mr. Leander Taylor moved to this new railroad town from Colon, Michigan, and the name “Colon” was adopted. There are a lot of unusual names we could investigate, but how about a town name of Puddleburg? Supposedly that was the hometown of Popeye, the cartoon character. Popeye the Sailor is a fictional hero notable for appearing in comic strips and animated films as well as numerous television shows. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar, and first appeared in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929. Popeye has now become the strip’s title as well. Cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar (1894 – 1938) tells the story of how Popeye got started: “I began drawing Thimble Theatre the day I arrived in the big town. The characters were: Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl, and Ham Gravy. They were the leads for about ten years. Then one day, Castor Oyl needed a sailor to navigate his ship to Dice Island. The result was Castor picked up a funny-looking old salt down by the docks, and his name was Popeye. Popeye immediately stole the show.” One historian believes Popeye was inspired from Frank “Rocky” Fiegel, a man who was handy with his fists during Segar’s youth in Chester, Illinois. Fiegel was born on January 27, 1868. He lived as a bachelor his entire life. It was said that later Segar sent checks to Fiegel in the 1930s. Fiegel died on March 24, 1947 at the age of 79. The popularity of Popeye helped boost sales of the leafy vegetable. Spinach consumption increased 33 percent in the United States between 1931 and 1936 as Popeye gained popularity, saving the spinach industry in the 1930s. What has all this to do with us? Well, I bet you have been to Puddleburg in the last few months. Well, that was its name at one time. During the time when they were trying to decide where to locate Notre Dame College, this town was in consideration. The town fathers decided there chances would be better with a dignified name. They therefore changed the town’s name to Mendon.




Popeye, about to eat his spinach in Fleischer’s Little Swee Pea (1938).


If you happen to run across a book entitled “Popeye in Puddleburg” it is worth some pretty good money. Just for the heck of it, I ran the name on the web and found a few for sale in the $75 to $80 range. Now I am sure you were actually in the town of Puddleburg just awhile back. Strangely enough, Puddleburg was located right here in our own Saint Joseph County, Michigan. Well, that is before they changed the name. Somewhere along the line the town fathers (why aren’t there ever any town mothers?) decided the name “Puddleburg” was not very dignified and changed the name to Mendon. That was long before Popeye was even thought about. A Moses Taft moved there in 1835 from Mendon, Massachusetts. In 1837, a Benjamin House moved there from Mendon, New York. House named the city Mendon in 1844, and it was officially platted a year later. Perhaps the name change came about when the village was not successful in being considered as a site for the University Of Notre Dame. That great university was founded in 1842 in South Bend, Indiana, but Mendon (or Puddleburg) was considered as a site at one time.  The Mendon Country Inn named their dining room “Puddleburg Room”. There are towns named Mendon in Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Vermont, Illinois, Utah, and New York. However, I could not find any towns currently named Puddleburg. Probably wouldn’t be a very dignified name for a town. Don’t tell Popeye I said that!

Mendon’s Darkest Day

Mendon’s Darkest Day



Kalamazoo Gazette, October 1, 1961 (45 –Years Ago article): “Mendon, Michigan – The sun was bright in the cloudless sky but the sharp edge of autumn was on the wind that bristled out of the southwest.

Mothers poked a couple extra sticks of wood into their kitchen ranges to take the chill off and remarked that it was about time to get the long wool underwear on the children as she sent them away to school.

Merchants along the Main Street stirred life into their stoves when they opened up for the day. They didn’t expect much business be cause it seemed that nearly half of the village’s 900 or so residents were planning a trip to the Kalamazoo Fair.

It was a perfect day for an excursion. The top attraction in the city was scheduled to be Jack Williams, “The Human Fly.’ He was brought to Kalamazoo by the Gazette-Telegraph.

It was October 4, 1916.

Before it ended, the day was destined to become the darkest in Mendon’s history.

By auto, for those who had them, the trip to Kalamazoo was a long ride over dusty back roads. The easiest way to travel was on the train and by mid-morning most of the fair-goers had started out.

At noon the usual quiet had settled over the village. Some merchants had gone home for lunch. Others, such as the young barber, was eating his mid-day meal at his place of business.

Down the street from the barbershop, Billy Williams, a clerk in Royers Butcher Shop was rendering lard in a big kettle at the rear of the shop. He was alone and had to keep his eye out for customers at the same time.

Without warning the lard boiled over and caught fire.

Williams shouted an alarm. In the excitement the kettle overturned and flaming grease spewed over and through the wooden floor.

One fiery tongue licked at the pile of firewood stacked behind Sampson’s Bakery nest door and the flames crackled higher

Mendon’s business district, as it had grown from the time the town was platted in 1843, was doomed.

At the same time the burning oil was spreading on its destructive course, many of the Mendon town folk were in Kalamazoo watching the “Fly” climb the six-story Edwards and Chamberlain Building, now occupied by the Super Bargain Center.

With the volunteer fire department short-handed, it remained to those who had stayed behind tending the stores to do their best to save the town.

In those days Mendon’s fire equipment consisted of a horse-drawn team-operated pumper and a hand-drawn hose cart.

When the fire bell clanged draymen jerked the pins out of their whipple trees and raced for the fire hall, anxious for the privilege of pulling the fire engine and the $2 the village paid for the first team on the spot.

From the start, the volunteer firemen ran into bad luck.

What they needed to extinguish the burning lard was sand. They didn’t have it, or didn’t think of it, or didn’t have time to get it.

Then the bright brass and red pumper was dunked into the St. Joseph River and put out of commission. Stationing the pumper on a concrete pier in the river, lines   were set and nearly ready to go when Doc James Barnaby’s barn caught fire nearby. It was decided to move the pumper for fear its wheels would burn off.

The men tried to back the fire engine down the bank to the river. The unwieldy vehicle broke loose from the straining men and plunged into three or four feet of water.

The fire got its foothold at the baker’s woodpile and chances for stopping it were slim. The bakery burst into an inferno and flames spread to Dailey’s General Store and then down the entire block on the south side of the street.

As the general store raged the southwest wind hurled a bridge of flames across the street and the buildings on the north side became tinder for the fire.

Telephone operators, with the inferno bearing down on them, sent out hurried calls for help and then fled

Kalamazoo and Sturgis loaded their equipment on railcars and the trains highballed to Mendon in record time. It took two hours for Kalamazoo to get one of its horse-drawn pumpers loaded and down to the conflagration.

Sturgis firemen stationed their pumper on the Nottawa Street Bridge and Kalamazoo hooked their up to a huge cistern. It was a valiant try, but too late to save the heart of the village.

By evening 41 businesses and three residences lay crumbled into ashes.

Losses were estimated at $250,000. Insurance covered about $75,000 worth according to old accounts of the blaze.

One of the most amazing aspects of the day was the fact that no one was injured. Old-timers today chuckle and relate how one resident was hurt when he was looting the burned out stores later that night. Charred flooring gave way and he plunged into the basement, either breaking or spraining an ankle.

Some of the visiting firemen were the worse for wear when they got home. Mendon at the time was dry, however druggists carried stocks of liquor for prescription.

At the pharmacy Estes started lugging out his most valuable drugs. His father, he says, told him the fire would never reach the drugstore.

“The hell it won’t”, “I told him”

Estes carried his stocks to the southeast corner of Main and Nottawa and added them to growing piles of groceries, clothing and other merchandise and equipment.

Estes tells of seeing one man, Vern Taylor, carefully remove his coat and put his gold watch and money in its pockets. He hung it on a peg in Auton’s Tin shop on the north side of the street. The shop was the first to go when the flames leaped across.

The 24-year-old barber who was eating his lunch in his Main Street shop also remembers the fire. He is Don Olds, now retired from his hair-cutting business.

“I had a two-chair shop. In the back I had a couple of pool tables,” he relates.

“As soon as I saw the fire I knew it was going to get my place. The butcher shop was six or seven doors down the street.”

“A couple of fellows and myself knocked the windows and wooden front out of the shop and we carried the barber chairs and pool tables out,” he says.

The men even carried the stove out of the barbershop.

After it was over, Mendon was without food supplies, without communications and without the other necessities of life.

Wagonloads of merchandise were brought in and merchants started back into business, making the best of makeshift shops in their homes.

Despite the tremendous losses, not a single merchant gave Mendon up as a lost cause.

Like the Phoenix of mythology, it rose out of the ashes.

Note: The estimated $250,000 loss in 1916 equates to $4,867,489.71 in 2009 dollars.



Mendon by Raymond Meyer




By Raymond  C. Meyer Sr., April 18, 1990: ”The first white visitors to the Michigan aborigines of Nottawa-seepe were missionaries. There were followed by the fur traders. Most of the early traders were French. The French had a much better track record with the Indians than that of the English.

The fort traders were Peter and J. J. Godfrol, located near the Marantette residence. The first settler was Francois Moutan. The next was Patrick Marantette; he took charge of the trading post and then married a daughter of Moutan.

Mr. Marantette had a very good relationship with the Indians. He built a beautiful home, called The Queen of the Prairie, next to the river off Simpson Road. I will never forget my visit there for Prairie Farmer WLS. I was awestruck when I beheld this beautiful historic dwelling. Mr. John Marantette was standing on the veranda as though he was expecting me. (Many times I was told that it was known that I was in the neighborhood). My visit here was one of the highlights of the day.

The Marantette raised and trained blooded horses, and about the turn of the century Madam Marantette was famous for her horsemanship and her trained ostrich that she raced and showed.

The next comers were Peter Neddeaux, Leander Metha, Moses Taft, William Harrington, Abraham Voorhees, Wesly Maring, James Barnabee, Fordyee and Samuel Johnson and the Wakeman brothers. Wakeman house has been restored and still offers accommodations.

These able men were active in Nottawa Township and then in 1843 organized their own township. Peter House came from Mendon, New York, and Moses Taft from Mendon, Massachusetts, so it was suggested that the new township be called Mendon; the suggestion was soon carried unanimously.

Mush of Mendon is prairie and there is little or no stone in the township. It is very productive soil. The St. Joseph river and the Big and Small Portage rivers and bear creek drain the township, and there is also Portage Lake.

In an early article I used The Trail of Broken Treaties by Chief Goodwin, who went to great lengths proving that EVERY one of the treaties we had with the Indians was broken by the whites. Before the Indians were forced off their reservations and ancestral land, the whites cast jaundiced eyes on that land; the white trespassed, cut the trees and allowed their livestock to destroy the Indians’ gardens; and if that wasn’t enough, the whites furnished whisky to them, which was forbidden by law. The proud Indian people were soon reduced to poverty.

Mendon suffered great loss by fire years ago, as so many villages had. I recall stores called the Hickmott Co., and Thoms Store in Nottawa Township. Ely & Meyer grocery & Market purchased the Thoms safe and when it was sold again it became the property of the Colon Creamery Co. One night, safe-crackers blew this old safe to rubble; they got nothing for their efforts; it was empty.

The G. R & I railroad served Mendon until recent years. It, like so many, could no longer compete. Cousin Paul Etheridge did chores for the Sturgis family that lived on Brandt Road. He would drive their daughters, who taught in Grand Rapids, to meet their train in Mendon.

There are several churches in Mendon and one at the crossroads of M-60 and Silver Street. The first services were held at the trading post by Roman Catholic missionaries in 1831-32 .  The first mass was celebrated in 1839.

The first frame school in the district was built in 1837. A school was taught in one of the log buildings of the trading post.

There are several cemeteries in the township, one on M-60. My great-grandfather Hatch and his son William are buried hear the highway in the latter.

There is a large corn-buying operation in the old elevator in the village next to where the railroad crossed. When I was with Prairie Farmer, the manager of the elevator lived at the corner of M-60 and Silver Street.

The first post office was established in 1859. The postmaster, William Pellet, was commissioned in 1858. The mail had been served through the Nottawa office prior to this. A former classmate, Lloyd Miller, once served Mendon as postmaster and Arden Mahoney was the postmaster when I was at Sherwood.

As a field representative for Prairie Farmer WLS, I was following the Centreville route at the time of the Grange Fair week in 1957. I decided to move to Mendon’s route one during this week, so I would meet more farmers at home. North of Mendon, I first met Mason Meyer. He had returned from the state police to operate the family farm after the death of his father. Later, Mason served as St. Joseph County Sheriff and also with the county historical society. Over the years we have met numerous times.

I also met the widow of Joe Olney; she was a school teacher and had just returned home when I called. Joe was the manager of the Colon Elevator company in the late 1920s and early ‘30s. Gay Dingman lived across from what is now Judd athletic field in Colon. A daughter, Dorothy, was living in Mendon at that time. I met Elwood Wills, and Carl and Lee Huff. Edna Huff went to school with my mother; she was a daughter off the late Louis Thrams. And I met George Copenhafer; he was head of PCA and he and the Huffs were raising and showing hogs.

Late one afternoon I called on Harold and Guila Eldridge. She was our teacher in the fifth grade. She was the mother of Paticia Wattles and a cousin of my good friends, Vere and Robert Mowry. Their land was level as a floor. They told me that they grain farmed and after the fall harvest traveled south for the winters. I enjoyed our visit.

Mendon high school has enjoyed the honors of championship athletic titile. I purchased a beautiful paint stallion of Jane Cupp. The stallion was named Champ after he school captured a championship.

Our Bicentennial Wagon Train in 1976 received a tumultuous welcome on the Mendon streets, which were lined with patriots waving flags as we paraded down M-60 and through the town to the school ground. Here their school band played some beautiful numbers as we circled the wagons. I was so glad that I could take part in this once-in-a-lifetime event. I pulled out then, to join again west of Bronson on the 17th of May, then joined it at Coldwater and separated on the 19th.”


Mendon Burns

From the newspaper: “On October 4, 1916, while many of its citizens 
were attending the Kalamazoo County Fair to see the “Human Fly”, the 
Mendon business district burned down. A fire started in Roger’s Butcher
Shop, where a clerk was rendering lard in a large kettle. 
The big red fire “pumper” was lost for the battle as excited firemen 
backed it up to the riverbank to run hoses and watched helplessly as 
it broke loose and plunged into the St. Joseph River. The call went 
out for help from other fire departments. Kalamazoo and Sturgis fire 
departments sent equipment on railcars, and the trains sped to Mendon 
in record time. It took Kalamazoo only two hours to get its equipment 
loaded on trains and down to the catastrophe. By evening forty-one 
businesses and three dwellings were burned.” The Kalamazoo Gazette 
story states that, “the greatest human casualties were the firemen 
who drank liberally from the drug stores’ supplies of liquor and 
were in such bad shape that many were not able to get home until 
the next day.”