Glimpsing the past


By Joyce Ervin

The Milan Area Historical Society hosted a Cemetery Tour recently through the efforts of historian, Martha Churchill and board member, Sallie Bancroft.
The ladies donned their 1800s-era dresses and welcomed attendees to the Marble Park Cemetery, as they brought a snap shot of Milan history, with participants enacting some of the town’s first families and prominent citizens.
Enactor Jill Tewsley portrayed Martha Squires and told the group about her husband, Arleigh, who was born in Milan Township in 1897. He was a businessman beginning his career in Detroit. Over the years, he worked for or operated several businesses to include nine years at the Milan State Saving Bank, acquired interest in the Auten Camburn Grain Co located on First Street.
 He also owned a wood products company.  During WW II  he supplied boxes used at the Ypsilanti Bomber Plant.  In 1972 he retired to enjoy farming, operating an orchard and writing a book before his passing in 1994.
Charles Steidle, enacted by Roger Olds born 1869 established a shoe store in 1900 with his father, John. in the building that now houses Hungry Howie’s Pizza. The family business also employed his brother George until 1925.  Steidle then was a businessman and served on the Village Council and as a special assessor and served as a bank director for the Milan State Bank.  He resided at 226 County Street until his death in 1960.
Idabelle Robb was enacted by Jenny Ware who came to Milan with her husband, Alex Robb.  Robb was a blacksmith and they purchased the blacksmithing shop at 205 E. Main St. in 1910.   Idabelle was a founding member of the Woman’s Club. They raised funds to renovate what is now the Community House on Neckel Court.  She lived until 1948.
Frank Robinson, told of Michael Hawarny who was born 1896 coming to Milan in 1920 from Lebanon. He had a fruit stand at 36 E. Main Street and later becoming a confectionery, ice cream soda grill.  He was famous for his tin-roof sundae.  His son, Bobby, ran the soda grille before he died in 1959.
Cora Gump, portrayed by Martha Churchill, told of her husband Joseph, who was in business in Milan as early as 1892.  In 1915 he and his son-in-law, Joseph, dug Gump Lake with a horse-drawn scoop.  He sold coal in winter and cut ice from the lake in summers.  After electric came to town, ice use diminished.  The city bought the lake and turned it into a landfill.  In 1982, it was developed into a softball facility on Gump Lake Road.  
Larry Biederman portrayed Nathan Putnam, who was the first Village president in 1885. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Unable to farm after a war injury, he moved to First Street. He died in 1887 and was buried in Spaulding Cemetery.  His wife, Hannah, had him moved to Marble Cemetery because it was so pretty.
Dave Snyder told us of Dr. Alpheus G. Mesic who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1878.  He enjoyed an ocean voyage, lived in Florida, New York state and New Mexico before passing in 1925.  You can see his son Charles’ name engraved on the rock with the graduating class of 1900 at the Friend Hack House Museum on County Street.
John Farmer enlightened us on Harrison J. Zimmerman.  Born NY 1840.  In 1882, he partnered with Orin Kelley in a Hardware store.  He became a jeweler and undertaker in 1888 and a watchmaker and jeweler in 1904 operating Zimmerman’s Jewelers located 20 E. Main Street before passing in 1901. The store now houses Textile Fabric Shop.
Dave Baldwin told us of Orin Kelley born 1850.  He served as Village President in 1893, a businessman and hardware store owner. The hardware was located 9 W. Main Street where The Owl, Morning ‘til Night store is situated.
Every town has to have a bit of a scandal to keep things interesting.  Sallie Bancroft told us of Mary Belle Zimmerman known as ‘Belle’ who married her brother-in-law, Orin Kelley in 1919.  Here in part is the scoop in the local paper:
“Mr. O.A. Kelly and Mrs. Mary “Belle” Zimmerman, were quietly married at the parsonage in Marine City last week.  Both are very well-known in Milan.  Mr. Kelley is vice-president of the Farmer’s & Merchants Bank and a heavy property owner. Mrs. Zimmerman has been a resident for a number of years.
Many people will be surprised at this unexpected news.  Mr. Kelley left town late last week was accompanied by Mrs. Zimmerman, but their destination was kept a secret and their whereabouts was unknown until a letter from Mr.
Kelley reached here this morning.”  Note, no
chaperone!
For those who missed the event, the Milan Area Historical Society plans a repeat performance in the spring with more interesting subjects.

Joyce Ervin is a freelance writer reporting on Milan.  She can be contacted at:  jlervin42 [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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