By Ted S. Rozeboom
The first civilized men came to Egelston Township for the lumber that they could find there. In the mid 1800's, Egelston Township was a great lumbering region, which attracted not only the lumberjacks but also sawmill operators, shopkeepers, and a variety of other people, who had hopes finding work in or around the booming lumber camps. But under heavy exploitation, the forests of the Great White Pines vanished within one or two years, and the lumber camps moved farther north leaving behind shingles makers, millers, and others who decided to make Egelston Township their home.
With the land denuded of timber and the loggers gone, the residents of Egelston Township turned to agriculture as their means of livelihood. This was a natural transition to make. The lumberjacks had cleared sizable tracts of land, leaving large fields of stumps. The would be farmer removed the stumps and, before long, had a field that was ready for tilling and planting. One of the largest farms at this time was the farm of S.C. Hall. The farm spanned both Egelston and Moorland Townships for 2,000 acres bearing the name Dear Park Farm. The farm was managed by John Littell & Son and produced great crops of hay which found a ready market in the city of Muskegon.
But the growth of Egelston Township as an agricultural community was retarded for a number of reasons. First, large tracts of land were held by non-resident owners, who valued it chiefly for its timber. The Booming Company, Ferry and Brother, and others owned considerable land, and other sections were government and railroad lands. A second reason for the slow growth was the lack of schools. In 1882 there were only three schools, scantily spread, over the entire township.
The economy of Egelston Township remained mostly agricultural until the early part of the twentieth century. At this time the city of Muskegon was developing industrially, and men were finding out that working in a factory could produce just as much income as farm work but without the long tiring hours that farming required. So, at the turn of the century the economy of Egelston Township was divided into agricultural and industrial.
Egelston Township also benefited from the many lakes, creeks and the Muskegon River which are all located in and running through the township. Many of the early sawmills were located either on the Muskegon River or Black Creek for the simple reason of obtaining power from the rushing waters of both the river and creek. The availability of a cheap power source made Egelston Township an attractive site for sawmills and lumber related businesses in the mid to late 1800's. Wolf Lake, the largest lake in Egelston Township, also helped in the growth of Egelston Township. The Muskegon Daily Chronicle observed: One of the beautiful lakes in this township is Wolf Lake, which is three miles long and one mile wide, which has neither an outlet nor an inlet to the lake, but parts of the shore are springy. Wolf Lake is noted for its clear, pure water, and is much frequented during the warm season.
Through Wolf Lake, tourism was brought to Egelston Township. The Wolf Lake Hotel was erected (The hotel was located where the Derezinski home is located today) in order to cope with the increased tourism. Not only did the Wolf Lake Hotel attract tourists, but a string of summer cottages owned and operated by the Porter family also attracted many famous visitors from Pat Barrett of Uncle Ezra fame to artist Rudy Schumck.
Wolf Lake has had a history that is unique. From 1837, when it was named Pear Lake by government surveyors because of the lake's pear like shape, to the 1870's when the lake was renamed Wolf Lake, to the early 1900's when the lake was a recreational playground for the famous and unknown, to the present day, Wolf Lake has been a community within Egelston Township spurring on the growth of the community and adding greatly to the history of Egelston. Even today, as Egelston Township approaches its 120th anniversary, the natural pattern of continued growth. Partly because of the modern trend of moving out of the city and into the suburbs, and partly because of the location of new industries in the area, Egelston Township is growing. Egelston's suburban climate with ample land on which to expand makes this township an attractive spot for industries and families alike.
The history of any small community such as Egelston Township can often be characterized by the men who pioneered and founded the community. Egelston is no exception. One of the founding fathers was Adna Egelston, in whose honor the township is named. Adna Egelston was truly a great man. He was born in England on March 26, 1811, and died in 1874 at the age of 63. The story of Adna Egelston started when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean and became the youngest licensed sea captain in the world. He and his brothers journeyed from New York and settled in Casnovia Township in Michigan. Later Adna Egelston moved to the head of Black Creek and became the first landowner February 18, 1852, in what today is known as Egelston Township.
While he lived in this area, Egelston held a variety of jobs. He owned several sawmills, one of which was located on Black Creek. Other occupations which he held are: Justice of the Peace, undertaker, shingle maker, postmaster, and county surveyor. As a county surveyor, Egelston was responsible for much of the early exploration and plotting of Muskegon County, which included charting the Muskegon River. Egelston married Mystella (Martha) Buck, a daughter of early settlers from Buck's Town now known as Cloverville.
Although Adna Egelston was an accomplished person in his own right, he is best remembered for establishing Egelston Township. Together with William Sturdifant and James Anscomb, Adna Egelston presented the county board a petition for the creation of a new township. On July 18, 1859, the new township was approved and became the first township to be formed within the newly created Muskegon County. But the creation of a new township did not go unchallenged. A challenge arose in an early meeting of the county board to continued existence of Egelston Township. Supervisor Peter Dalton of Dalton Township said Dalton and Oceana Townships were not duly notified of the July 18, 1859 meeting at which the township was admitted. Supervisor Dalton contended that this would nullify the meeting, making the township not legally organized and its supervisor not entitled to his seat.
Even though Peter Dalton had lodged a formal complaint to the county board, the matter ended with the complaint, and no action was taken against Egelston Township.
After the creation of the new township, meetings were held to elect a supervisor. Most people believe that the first town meetings were held in the home of William Sturdifant, but this is not true. The first town meeting was held in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Muskegon on the first Monday in September of 1859. At this meeting, Adna Egelston was elected to be the first supervisor, a post which he held until his death in 1874, and the newly created township was given the name Egelston Township. Egelston was preceded as supervisor by David R. Jones, Edward R. Porter, William Carr and A. Durdy.
The descendants of Adna Egelston have since moved to places other than Egelston Township. Some live in the city of Muskegon, others live as far away as Louisiana. During the Bicentennial celebration, one such descendant, the late Mrs. Grace Lang, contacted the Bicentennial Committee of Egelston Township and offered not only her family pictures (Adna Egelston was her great-grandfather) but also her memories of the past. Mrs. Land was born in Egelston Township in 1890, and although she had moved elsewhere, she never lost her interest in or her love for the place that her great-grandfather had helped to settle.
Another family which has lived in Egelston Township for over 100 years is the descendants of George Dill. In 1855, George Dill and his brother John purchased eighty acres of land from Herman Terwilliger. In the following year, 1856, George Dill married Chloa A. Jones. Together they lived working on the farm until the outbreak of the Civil War, when hard times fell upon the Dill family. George Dill volunteered to fight against the South, leaving behind him his wife and three daughters. Chloa A. Dill sought financial help from the supervisor of Egelston Township, Adna Egelston. Adna Egelston wrote the following letter after his meeting with Mrs. Dill:
Chloa A. Dill
Being the duly sworn deposeth and says that she is the wife of George Dill, who was mustered into the services of the United States, enrolled into the fourteenth Reg. Michigan Infantry, and Chloa A. Dill prays for relief from the family volunteer relief fund, Says her oldest child Mary J. Dill is five years of age, Says her second child Mansy M. Dill is three years of age and that her third child Emma E. Dill is six months of age and such other means as is provided by law for herself and family. Further says that she has not received any support from her husband since he was mustered into service.
Sworn and subscribed to before me this 19th day of November 1864
Adna Egelston , Supervisor
I do consider it necessary to pay the applicant ten dollars for one month, and perhaps five there after.
After George Dill returned from the Civil War, he took over his brother's share of the farm. The farm produced general farm crops of hay, corn, wheat, and some livestock. The soil which supported the farm was sandy and had to be handle carefully so as to prevent unsightly sand blows. The descendants of George Dill have remained living on the original eighty acres that he purchased back in 1885. In 1957, the farm was designated a centennial farm by the Michigan Historical Commission. This centennial farm serves as a constant reminder of the heritage which is so deeply rooted in Egelston Township.
There were other early settlers apart from the Egelstons and the Dills. They included: The Joseph Pecks, the E.R. Porters, the C.W. Tibbitts, the William Sturdifants, and the David R. Jones.
The population of Egelston Township grew from 19 people in 1860, to 233 in 1879, to over 317 (179 males and 138 females) in 1880. The population continued to increase in Egelston Township until 1900, at which time the growth of the population leveled off.
The early pioneers found it hard to make their homes in what was considered wilderness. There were no cities. Muskegon was just a trading post at the time when most of the settlers arrived in Egelston Township. There were no cars or planes. Many supplies had to be obtained from Grand Rapids, which was a day's ride by stagecoach or horse-drawn wagon. The early pioneers of Egelston Township typified all early pioneers in that through their determination and dedication, they not only forged a haven in which to raise their families but a community in which others could raise their families in the future.
Anyone who has ever traveled throughout Muskegon County must have traveled through Maple Island but never stopped to think that Maple Island, too, is rich with historical lore. Maple Island was formed by the Muskegon and Maple Rivers, both of which served as routes for taking the freshly cut timbers to the lumber mills in Muskegon. The island is two miles long and one mile wide.
The soil of Maple Island is river muck and was considered to have been one of the richest agricultural spots in the State of Michigan during the early 1900's. During the Logging Era, the residents of Maple Island supported themselves by growing hay and timothy and selling these products to the nearby lumber camps and the city of Muskegon.
The earliest settlers to Maple Island were Augustus Bean, Joseph Bayne, and Louis Rameaux all of whom were French Canadians. Since Joseph Bayne and Augustus Bean were cousins, the Bean families controlled Maple Island for many years. In fact, the control of the Bean family was so rigid that Maple Island was nicknamed "Bean's Empire". Louis Remeaux was reported to have been a French Count who sought refuge in America from his political enemies in France. This story, invented by a newspaperman from Muskegon, was not true; rather, Louis Remeaux was the son of William Remeaux, who was a member of a pioneer family in Cedar Creek. Other residents of Maple Island in the 1860's included the colorful Henry Smith, a former riverman, and Buckskin McPhail, also a former riverman.
When the lumbering started in the mid 1800's, the Muskegon River was used to transport freshly cut timbers from the lumber camps to the sawmills in Muskegon. Often times log jams would occur that would raise the height of the Muskegon River six or seven feet, causing most of Maple Island to retreat under the waters of the Muskegon River. The settlers of Maple Island found it necessary to go from place to place in canoes, where they had once used footpaths. With their fields and homes under water, the pioneers sought legal recourse against the logging companies, and in particular, the Booming Company of Muskegon.
With the convincing testimony of Mr. Smith and other residents of Maple Island, the logging companies made full restitution, usually in out-of-court settlements, for the lost crops. In fact, the lumbering companies became so careful with the logs coming down the Muskegon River that once the logs reached Maple Island a double force of rivermen was posted to move the logs around the island so that no log jams could occur.
The river, which at times could be the enemy of the residents of Maple Island, could also be their greatest ally. Around the turn of the century, there was no bridge spanning the Muskegon River at Maple Island. Thus, to move supplies from one side of the river to the other, some residents operated the Maple Island Ferry. The ferry was constructed of logs lashed together to make a raft. But the ferry was destined to be relegated to the owner's woodpile in 1908. A new bridge was built over the Muskegon River, making the ferry obsolete. The original Maple Island Bridge collapsed a few years later and was replaced by a new bridge in 1914.
The river had also been useful to the residents of Maple Island by keeping this tiny community secluded from the rest of the spreading civilization. But the newly constructed bridge and improved roads made Maple Island more accessible to the public. New people moved in and made the tiny island their home. Maple Island once isolated from the rest of Muskegon County, is so accessible that as one passes through here it is easy to forget that once loggers, trappers, and the colorful Mr. Henry Smith roamed and ruled Maple Island, "the island Empire of the West".
Have you ever heard of Almer? It would not be surprising if the answer is no, for there is nothing left of this tiny village except for a few, scant memories.
Almer was a small hamlet that was located within the boundaries of Egelston Township from the late 1850's to the late 1880's. Adna Egelston, William Sturdifant, and James Anscomb platted the village-to-be and named it Almer in honor of Elmer Egelston, the son of Adna Egelston.
These founding fathers had great hopes and high expectations that this small hamlet would some day become a bustling town. The early prospects for the success of Almer looked good. Almer was located at the intersection of Black Creek and Old Grand Rapids Road, now called Evanston Avenue. Located on the stagecoach route between Muskegon and Grand Rapids, Almer became a resting stop for the stagecoach passengers, who were either going to or coming from Grand Rapids. Almer had many of the comforts of the bigger cities. The Chatterson family owned and operated a hotel at which the passengers could eat and sleep. Other services offered by the little town included a store for shopping, a post office, and a saloon, where one could wash down the dust from the morning's ride. Grand Rapids was not the only coach line destination. In fact Almer was a cross road for stagecoach routes to Traverse City, Ravenna, and Cedar Creek. All things considered Almer seemed destined to prosper.
Almer also doubled as a Lumbering town with two sawmills located on and powered by the running waters of Black Creek. One of the two mills was owned by Adna Egelston and the other mill was owned by John Ineraham. The profits from both mills were used to support the town. The town relied on the financial support that the two mills created.
In the late 1870's both of the town's benefactors, Adna Egelston and John Ineraham, died. With neither of these two men around to operate the sawmills to generate the income to support Almer, the small town started a gradual decay. The sawmills were the first to close their doors, then the shops, hotel, and post office. With most of the town boarded up the residents of Almer left and let the buildings decay with the passing of time.
Over the years the buildings that were once vibrant with human life slowly disappeared. Today, there is nothing left of this hamlet--no stories, no people, nothing.
As in any community, education in Egelston Township has taken many forms and shapes, from the one-room schoolhouses to the modern facilities offered by the Oakridge High School. For the first years 1858-1870's, Egelston Township was devoid of any schools. In 1882 the first school was built on the corner of Apple Avenue and Maple Island Road. The school was named Jones School in the honor of David R. Jones, an early township supervisor who is believed to be one of the first white men to settle Muskegon County. Along with the creating of Jones School, two other schools were formed.
Another early school in Egelston Township was Bates School. The school, which was located at the corner of Hall and Maple Island Roads, was built on property that was donated by Otis Bates, for whom the school is named. Mitch Lappo and Anna Lappo Japenga were among some of the early students to attend Bates school in 1924. Anna Japenga recalls that when she first started attending Bates School, she could speak only Polish and no English. With the help of Mrs. Rosengren, the first teacher at Bates School, and Lucilla Bates, the granddaughter of Otis Bates, Anna soon learned the English Language. Mitch Lappo tells of riding a white mare to school when he was a student at Bates School. He would leave the white mare tied in a wood lot next to the school and would save half of a sandwich from his lunch to give his horse after school.
Carr School is yet another of the early schools in Egelston Township. Although there is some disagreement as to where the first Carr School was located, it can be said that the first building, a log building, was located on the northwest corner of Apple Avenue and Carr Road. The school was named for William Carr, an early pioneer and township supervisor.
In 1900 approximately 70 students were enrolled in Carr School. Among the students were Walter and Minnie Drent, both of whom where born on the farm that their parents settled in 1865. The teacher in 1900 was Frank Hindes, who worked for a monthly salary of eighteen dollars.
In 1912 the Carr School District was bonded for $350.00 to erect a 16x24x10 building on the very edge of the southwest corner of Apple Avenue and Carr Road. The building remained here until the 1940's when it burned down.
Because of overcrowding, the school board decided to construct the present two-room building. In 1937 a basement was added to this two-room school. And in the late 1940's the Carr School PTA voted to renovate the basement, making part of it into a kitchen.
But the growth of Carr School could not keep up with the growth in the number of students attending the school. In 1941 plans were made to attach a four-room, brick addition to the present Carr School. In 1952 kindergarten classes were held in the basement church, the Light of Hope Chapel. Once again Carr School was enlarged by adding the front and back rooms of the present school. The new renovations included an all-purpose room instead of a gym. In the late 1950's Carr School, the residents thought that although a gym would not be practical, a multipurpose room would be.
For many years the Carr School District was overcrowded and lacked both a junior high school and a senior high school. Subsequently, students of grades seven through twelve were bussed in Muskegon or Jolman School Districts. Because of the hardships connected with the long bus trips to school the residents thought that it was time to build a new junior high school to accommodate the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades.
In the early 1950's a citizen's group was formed to investigate the possibility of building a junior high school. In the many meetings that were held, the residents were told repeatedly that they could not build or even finance such a tremendous undertaking as a junior high school. The reason for this was that the Carr school District was considered a "bedroom district", which meant that the township did not have an adequate tax base to support such a project. But the people were left no choice but to build a new school. Both Jolman and Muskegon School Districts were complaining of overcrowding in their classrooms because of the extra people created by the lack of schools in Egelston Township. The citizen's group finally decided to build a new junior high school on a forty-acre tract of land, located on Wolf Lake Road.
The proposed new school would cost $350,000 to build and was to contain twelve classrooms, an arts an crafts room, a science room, and a combination gymnasium-auditorium. Work was started in February of 1957 and was completed in January of 1958. When the new school opened its doors, 870 pupils walked through them on the first day. While the new school was built in hopes of accommodating children in grades as high as the ninth grade, ninth graders and above still had to be bussed into Jolman and Muskegon.
A problem arose as to what to name the school. The residents of the Carr School District wanted to call the new school a junior high school, but the state of Michigan protested, saying that legally the building could not be called a junior high school. The residents did not care what the state said; so they named the new school Carr Junior High School. One year after Carr Junior High School opened its doors, ninth graders were allowed to attend the junior high school.
Along with Bates and Carr Schools, Jibson School is another early school in Egelston Township. From the stories told about Jibson School, one would think that the first Jibson School was a portable building. The stories surrounding Jibson relate that in the first year after its creation there was a lot of disagreement as to where the school building should be placed. Because of this disagreement, residents would move the building from one location to the next during the night. Finally, the dispute as to where the building should be located was settled, and the first permanently located Jibson School was built. This building was erected in the mid 1920's on property donated by the Jibson family. This school was used until 1948 when the present school was erected on Barnes Road because this location was more centrally located. In 1957 additional rooms and a gymnasium were added to the school.
Jibson School has played an active role in the community. Through Jibson School many social groups found a vehicle through which they could sponsor their activities. For years the Jibson School District supported an active 4H program and a Farm to Prosper Organization. Jibson School also supports an active PTA, which remained as active as ever when it was absorbed into the Carr School PTA in the 1960's.
Another of the elementary schools located in Egelston Township is Wolf Lake School. The first Wolf Lake School was located on White Road just west of Park Street. In 1928, Carl Pierce circulated a petition to bond the Wolf Lake School District for a new school. The Bond was accepted, and plans to build a new school were soon in the making. The school was to be located on the corner of Bryn Mawr and Vista Terrace. The school was soon completed and staffed with a new teacher, Miss Henrietta Smith, who later became Mrs. Robert Lane. In 1951 the office was added to the school, and in 1955, extra classrooms and gymnasium were added. Students advancing beyond the grades offered by the school were bussed into Muskegon by the White Line and Wolf Lake Bus Companies.
The last of the elementary schools in Egelston Township is the Maple Island School. This school, unlike the others, is no longer operational. The building consisted of a one-room, frame building. In 1908, the tiny school, which accepted students from Newaygo County as well as Muskegon County, had the unique distinction of being the only school in Michigan not to have a girl enrolled. Mrs. Celias Perry, who taught at the school in 1907, said there were only ten pupils then, and none of them were girls. According to Mrs. Perry this deficiency did not impede the boys' scholastic abilities, and she had nothing but the highest praise for her ten pupils. Students wishing to pursue a higher form of education than offered at Maple Island were bussed to Holton High School.
Despite all of the Elementary schools, Egelston Township lacked a high school. In 1960 all school districts were informed that they must be part of a K-12 school program. Meetings were held in Egelston Township to discuss a consolidation of the many township schools. Tensions arose over the proposed consolidation. Carr and Wolf Lake Schools expressed discontent in consolidating with the "the hicks from Bates and Jibson". Bates and Jibson Schools wanted to consolidate with the Ravenna School System. Residents of each respective school district rejected one plan that called for the consolidation of the Ravenna and Orchard View School systems. Residents in Orchard View expressed dismay about going to school with the "hicks from Wolf Lake and Carr". Because of the distance between the two school districts, the merger never got off the ground.
Finally in 1961 the schools were consolidated, and the name of Carr Junior High School was changed to Oakridge Junior High School. The name of Oakridge was selected by a contest. Other names that were proposed for the junior high school included Wolf Lake, Lake View, Oak View and Egelston. For various reasons each of the names were rejected and Oakridge was selected as the name of the new school district. The name Oakridge was chosen because the nearest place that had the same name was in Tennessee. Since Oakridge, Tennessee, was the birthplace of the Atomic Age and the consolidation of the school system and the building of a new high school were products of the same Atomic Age, the name seemed appropriate enough.
In 1964, Egelston cleared the way for a new million-dollar high school, the first such school in the history of Egelston Township. The new building was slated for completion in 1965. Previously, students in grades ten through twelve were scattered through out Muskegon in various high schools. Finally, in 1965, the high school was completed, and the first students entered the new school. As we enter 1978 the first class to completely go through the entire consolidated school system, kindergarten through twelfth grade, will graduate. After many years of growing, hoping, an anticipating, the Egelston Township School System is finally complete.
Wolf Lake is the largest lake in Egelston Township. Formed by a glacier millions of years ago into a pear-like shape, government surveyors were the first to call the lake Pear Lake in 1837. The name was changed to Wolf Lake in the 1870's. The cool waters of Wolf Lake are spring fed, which accounts for the fact that Wolf Lake has neither an inlet nor an outlet. In the early days of Egelston Township, the property surrounding the lake was owned by three families--Powell, Bradley, and Porter. In the late 1890's Wolf Lake was a favorite spot for family outings and get-togethers. But as Wolf Lake entered into the twentieth century, the face of the community began to change. In the early 1900's Wolf Lake became a summer resort, which played host to a great number of vaudeville performers. More than a hundred vaudevillians stayed in the cottages on the lake or at the Wolf Lake Hotel, which was located on the site of the Derezinski home. To attract such visitors the Porter family owned and operated a small amusement park, along with several cottages, and a store, which had been operated by some member of the Porter family from its first opening before the turn of the century to its closing in 1936.
The Porter family also rented boats for the price of five cents. The money was placed in a box by the person who wished to rent a boat, an action of good faith in the customer's honesty. For those who enjoyed going for a boat ride but did not like to row, the Porter family operated the first motorized boat on Wolf Lake so that for the price of one nickel one could be driven around the lake.
Boats and boat rides were not the only services that one could rent from the Porter General Store. For those who wanted to go swimming but just did not happen to have brought along a bathing suit, one could rent a bathing suit from the store. For those summer guests that arrived in Muskegon and required some assistance in getting to the resort, the Porters maintained a chain-drive vehicle for just such occasions, and if it happened that the vehicle was not running, a horse and buggy could always be found to get the job done. The ride from Muskegon was festive, and the mood became even lighter once the travelers reached Oakley Beach, whose name was later changed to Porter Beach. Many of these visitors were vaudevillians.
One vaudeville actress still lives in the area, Mrs. Billie Clark. She and her late husband did dance routines, comedy skits, and all sorts of entertainment. It was a nice place then, she (Mrs. Billie Clark) said, there were lots of fish and the lily pads were beautiful. There used to be a small bridge where sunset Road is now and we used to be able to take our boat from the bay, row through the bridge, and were out into the lake.
Among the famed actors who visited the tiny resort of Wolf Lake were Uncle Ezry of WLS Barn Dance fame, the dancing Kennedys, Harry Brosious, Mr. Oatman of the team Cook and Oatman, Dorthy Barnett, Mad Miller, Loyd Bridges, and even Buster Keaton. Mrs. Clark Recalls: Mad Miller was a magician. He was always doing some sort of trick. He ran a general store on the corner of Vista Terrace and Stewart. He's the one who said the lake ran in seven-year cycles. The water would raise and then go down every seven years. There was an escape artist who used to lock himself in a safe and be thrown in Wolf Lake. It might have been Mad Miller, I'm not sure.
One of the other performers that Mrs. Clark remembers quite distinctly was Harry Brosious, whose act consisted of various tricks and stunts on a bicycle. He (Harry Brosious) lived in a two-story house. He used to get on a table and practice with his bikes. He lived upstairs and ran a chicken shack downstairs. People used and come and buy chicken dinners from him. The place where he lived is now the Yarn Shop.
As Mrs. Clark reminisced about the early days of Wolf Lake, she recalled this story about a clown whose name was simply "Brownie". He (Brownie) was a clown and always teasing everyone, so when he was in town on a theater date one time, we whitewashed his red cabin. He was surprised when he came back looking for his red cabin!
Mrs. Clark was not the only vaudeville performer to make Egelston Township and Wolf Lake her home. In 1937 Fitz (Billy) Fitzsommons gave up his career in show business and bought the Wolf Lake Tavern. Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mowatt, also well-known vaudevillians, returned to Wolf Lake after their retirement from show business in the late 1950's.
As the times and attitudes changed, Wolf Lake's appeal as a resort community gradually diminished. Piece by piece the cottages and hotel that once provided Egelston Township with a unique flavor of history were dismantled or destroyed. Large tracts of land, mostly the property owned by the Porter family, were subdivided and sold. The amusement park, which had once supported a pony ride, a train ride, and a merry-go-round, was sold in 1955. The amusement park was sold to Clayton Maycroft and was later resold to Muskegon County becoming a County Park.
But the passing of one era only signals the beginning of another era, one that in its own right is just as fascinating as the vanishing era. Wolf Lake has turned into a modern suburb. Plans are in the making to connect Wolf Lake to a sewer system. Streetlights penetrated the stillness in 1963. The progress, which first evaded Wolf Lake and through its evasion made Wolf Lake a place to relax and get away from the push and shove of the cities, has finally made its way to Wolf Lake.
Although some of the progress has contributed much to the development of Wolf Lake, some progress has been detrimental. The lake has suffered immensely by making the beaches of Wolf Lake public beaches. In 1949, steps were taken to curb the pollution of the water by improving the beach facilities. Today these facilities, locate on "Sunset Beach", can be found under one foot of water every spring no doubt taking its toll on the very waters it was designed to protect.
In 1956 the west bay, which had once been accessible from Wolf Lake, was in danger of drying up. The reason for this was that men wanted a road to cross the lake where there once had been a bridge. The west bay was cut off from the rest of the lake, and since no precautions were taken to safeguard this valuable natural resource, the bay started to dry up. The problem was corrected, and the west bay still remains a vital living body of water. Ironically the recovery of the bay has been so successful that every spring as the snow and ice melts, the waters of the west bay swell to such an extent as to threaten the very road, which had at one time threatened it.
The creation of the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment Facility has also brought a lot of concern for the lake. The nearness of such a facility to the lake prompts residents to keep a close watch on the lake. In 1976, residents noticed pink spots forming under the ice. Ready to expect the worst, the residents waited for the sample reports to be returned from the lab. To their relief the pink spots turned out to b a form of algae, and not a form of pollution caused by the wastewater treatment facility.
The final enemy to the lake is the homes that surround it. For many years owners of these houses were permitted to dump sewage directly into the lake. Although this practice has been stopped, every once in a while one hears of someone who was caught dumping sewage into the lake. But the dumping of sewage is not the only problem, which faces Wolf Lake. The fertilizers used by the homeowners around the lake for their lawns sink into the soil and are absorbed into the underground springs, which feed into the lake. The result is some of the best cared for, overgrown seaweed that mankind will ever see.
The future for Wolf Lake is uncertain. In a recent study it was predicted that Wolf Lake would not meet the water safety code as proposed by the federal government in the 1980's. The waters, which were once described by the Muskegon Daily Chronicle as the purest in the State of Michigan, are slowly becoming dirty and filled with oversized and overfed weeds.
In any area the success of any community action can only be achieved through the voluntary participation of the residents. Such is the case too for Egelston Township. Since its creation in 1859, Egelston Township has relied heavily on volunteer help. Usually, this cry for help was adequately met. One example of such voluntary participation and eventual success is the Egelston Township Fire Department.
As the men were coming home from World War II plans were being made to establish a volunteer fire department in Egelston Township. A small group of men (John Flickema, Dr. Clement Derezinski, John Oudsema, George Wilder, and Bernard “Barney” Williams) were responsible for much of the early planning and organizing of the volunteer fire department.
This organizing group presented its plans to the township board which, in turn, appointed a committee, headed by John Flickema, to investigate the possibility of setting up such a facility in Egelston Township. A few months later Flickema reported back to the township board. In a statement before the board Flickema said: We the committee appointed by the board of Egelston Township, Muskegon, Michigan; for ascertaining the initial expense of fire fighting apparatus for Egelston Township, have come to the following conclusions:
That the initial expense should not be over $15, 000
This committee is unanimous in recommending the “Bean Hi Pressure fog truck”
That the location of the fire station should be at the intersection of Hall Rd and the Wolf Lake Rd. While this location is not the geographical center of Egelston Township, it is very close to the center of the population.
The Township board accepted most of the recommendations that were presented by Mr. Flickema. The only disagreement between the final decision of the township board and the recommendations of Mr. Flickema was the location of the new fire station. The township board had elected to build a small, two-stall fire station on Apple Avenue, the present site of the fire station.
With the constructing of the fire station under way, organizational meetings where held to form a volunteer fire department. Men were recruited for services and trained for duty. Training sessions were held for the volunteer firemen in the new fire station before the cement floor was poured. These sessions were led by J. Mulready of Muskegon; in 1949 the Egelston Township Fire Department was chartered. Among the charter members were John Flickema, who was elected to be Fire Chief, George Wilder, Frances Sommers, Ralph Hardenburg, John Oudsema, Steve Pontius, James McCann, Fred Lange, Bernard Williams, Edward Barron, Clarence Goetchius, Melvin Griswold, Bernard Kann, Nathan Griswold, Claude McDonald, and Phillip Pierce. Dr. Clement Derenzinski, who had played an active role in the planning of the fire department, was designated an honorary member of the fire department.
In 1949 the small fire department received its first new fire engine. Previously, the small fire department had used a 1937 GMC which Supervisor Lee Hubbard had purchased from Muskegon Township. The new fire truck had cost $7985.00 and was the pride and joy of the tiny fire department. 1949 was also a tragic year for the fire department and Egelston Township. In 1949 Dr. Clement Derezinski died from polio. Dr. Derezinski had been one of the original member-organizers of the Egelston Township Volunteer Fire Department. Even within the community, Dr. Derezinski had pursued his life and medical practice with the same zeal and dedication. With the passing of Dr. Derezinski, the community had lost not only a physician but a friend to the people and the community alike.
At the fire Prevention Week ceremonies in October of 1949, Mrs. Leone Derezinski, the widow of Dr. Clement Derezinski, dedicated the new fire station in the name of her late husband while cutting the official ribbon.
Shortly after the formation of the fire department, the charter members realized that they could not handle and process all of the calls to the fire station. A recruiting drive was held and many new members were enlisted.
Even with all of the community support, the small fire department had an uphill battle. In 1949 the fire department was operating on a ten-party line telephone. In a letter to the Muskegon Chronicle Fire Chief John Flickema stated:
The members of the volunteer group believe that the Michigan Associated Telephone Company could with a little extra effort provide this department with better telephone facilities than the ten-party line which is now being used as our fire phone. Every one is aware of the potential hazard of delayed alarms relative to fire fighting. It will be small comfort to the parents of a child, for example, who has lost his life during a fire, when a member of our department has to explain the absence of proper telephone facilities as the reason help could not reach the scene in time.
With in a few days after Fire Chief Flickema’s letter appeared in the Muskegon Chronicle, the Egelston Township Fire Department received a new phone, the long hoped for private line. The phone system was upgraded once more in 1963.
A special phone has been installed in the township fire station. When an alarm is received on the regular fire phone, the man on duty picks up the receiver of the special phone. His act starts phones ringing with a continual buzz in the homes of all volunteer firemen. When they answer, the location of the alarm is given, and the time of arrival is trimmed considerably.
Since its creation, the Egelston Township Fire Department has continually expanded and updated. In 1977 and addition was build onto the fire station so more equipment could be stored. Today, Egelston Township supports a modern, efficient fire department.
Egelston Township has played a unique role in politics over its 120 years. What may best typify the Egelston Township political scenario is one word, struggle. Since its creation in 1859, Egelston Township has had an uphill battle. In 1859, Peter Dalton of Dalton Township questioned the right of Egelston Township to exist. Dalton’s challenge, however, was not taken seriously. After the death of Adna Egelston in 1874, the post of township supervisor, which Egelston had held for more than thirteen
Years, could not be held by one man for more than one or two terms.
In the 1920’s, Egelston Township experienced another type of political struggle, the fight for women’s suffrage. For many years the woman in all of the United States had been denied the right to vote. Finally, in 1919 the first women voters were registered in Egelston Township.
Who Are Entitled To Registration
All women possessing the qualifications of the law make electors who make Personal application for such registrations, provided that all such applicants must own property assessed for taxes some where within the County of which the precinct forms a part, except that any other women otherwise qualified who owns property within the said County jointly with her husband or other person, or who owns property within the said County on contract and pays the taxes thereon, shall be entitle to register.
Under these conditions the first female voters in Egelston Township were:
Annie E. Chidester
Lily Mae Jibson
Amina Smith Linter
Elsie G. Schoot
As the years passed and the men became more used to the women’s participation in politics, the politics in Egelston Township seemed to be more stable. But then in the late 1940’s the political climate in Egelston Township floundered once more.
In 1947 Egelston Township board was being sued by William Fitzommons who was fighting to keep his liquor license and maintain the Wolf Lake Tavern.
In his bill of complaint Mr. Fitzommons alleges that board members, prior and subsequent to the special meeting of the township board, stated in the presence of numerous witnesses that the vote disapproving the application was not for improper operation of the tavern nor because it was a menace to public health, welfare, or morals, but said their reason was because he had not supported nor voted for certain candidates and that they were going to teach him “to keep his nose out of politics” and stay in his tavern.
Eventually, Mr. Fitzommons got to keep his liquor license and gave Egelston Township the distinction of being the first township in the history of Muskegon County to have the township board named as a defendant in a legal case.
In the 1950’s Egelston Township was becoming a politically safe seat for the Democratic Party. During this time the township experienced a unique association with former Governor G. Mennen Williams. To this day Egelston Township boasts of being a virtually all-democratic community.
In the early 1970’s the political life in Egelston Township became unbalanced and upset once more. At this time Muskegon County was planning the building of the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment Facility. Supervisor John Flickema was an early supporter of the proposed facility, which was to be located in Egelston Township. Because he favored the sewage facility, John Flickema soon faced a recall election. Recall petitions were filed by the late Mrs. Arlene Bolt, who was the head of the Environmental Protection Organization, a group that opposed the building of the sewage facility in Egelston Township. The petitions charged Mr. Flickema with “improperly exercising his authority in leading the township into participating in the wastewater management system”. The thrust of the argument against Mr. Flickema was that as supervisor he had “failed to determine the cost of the project, did not take responsible precautions in the interests of the township, and failed to investigate the legality of the township’s participation”.
In response to the recall petition John Flickema wrote a letter, which was distributed to the residents of Egelston Township. In the letter Mr. Flickema listed a series of accomplishments that were made during his years in office. He did not ignore the issue that had reportedly led to his recall. He wrote:
Encouraged by the township board and planning commission to participate in Muskegon County Wastewater Management System is an effort to correct a bad condition caused by septic tanks and dry wells and to encourage potential development of our industrial and commercial areas.
But all of the efforts on the part of Mr. Flickema to retain his office were in vain. On November 23, 1971, Mr. Flickema became the first supervisor in the history of Egelston Township to be recalled by the voters. While a special election was being held to fill the vacant spot, William Hart, the township Clerk, was made temporary supervisor.
For any community such as Egelston Township to continue, growth of the community is an imperative. Egelston Township has experienced growth in spasmodic steps. In the 1870’s, Egelston Township was a “boom” area with people rushing here for jobs at the lumber camps. When the lumber camps moved, some of the people stayed, but many others accompanied the lumber camps to their new locations. After the retreat of the lumber camps from Egelston Township, the growth of the community slowed down because of the lack of schools and an abundance of non-resident landowners. Then in the early 1900’s Egelston Township experienced growth once more, but this period of growth was to taper off in the 1930’s. But what does the future hold for the modern Egelston Township.
There is no way, at least with any certainty, to predict what the future will be for Egelston Township, but if one looks at the modern community within the township, a clue can be found as to what the future might be.
Modern Egelston Township is a growing, vibrant, and promising community. One reason for such a bright outlook is the educational system found here. In the late 1880’s, there were only three schools, which were spread over the entire township. School by school was built until finally, in 1964, the educational system was completed by the addition of a high school. Such a complete and modern educational facilities make Egelston Township an attractive place to settle and raise a family.
In addition to having a complete educational system, Egelston Township also supports a library. In a cooperative agreement between Egelston Township and the Muskegon County Libraries, a branch library was established in the township. This facility has grown remarkably throughout the years. The first library for the residents of this township was the Muskegon County Bookmobile, which made periodic stops at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. From here the library services were expanded to a small room in the basement of the township hall. In 1972, the small library was moved into the old township governmental offices. With the help of the librarian, Mrs. Maxine Huber, the library is still growing. A variety of programs and books are offered through the library, which boasts one of the highest circulation rates among the various branches of the Muskegon Library System. The demand on the library is so great that once again it must be expanded to accommodate all the people who use it.
Another attribute of modern Egelston Township is the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment Facility. Although a lot of commotion was raised over the building of such a facility in Egelston Township, this facility remains one of the greatest resources that will help the township realize its growth potential. Egelston will become even more attractive to new industries with the addition of a sewer line. For many years industrial growth here has been hampered by the lack of adequate sewage treatment facilities. With the proximity of the Wastewater system, new industries should locate in the township. Evidence of this is already taking place, new industries are coming to Egelston Township, and the older industries are expanding.
Modern Egelston Township has another advantage in that it is part of modern suburbia. Although the land in Egelston Township is not all bare, a large share of it remains undeveloped. Having such large amounts of undeveloped land makes Egelston Township attractive not only to industry but also to young families. This trend can be shown in the growth of the modern suburbs, which have cropped in Egelston Township. For years Oakley Park has been a subdivision in the township, and in recent years there was talk of a new subdivision located on the north bay of Wolf Lake. These modern suburbs should attract young families who want the advantages of suburban life without being to far from a large city.
The growth of Egelston Township will depend not only on these factors, but also on the residents of Egelston Township. The residents must learn that growth is not a horrible prospect, but they must pay careful attention to the quality of growth.
Egelston Township has survived for 120 years, and hopefully, it will continue to survive for many more years growing and showing the same spirit that made it what it is today.
Ted S. Rozeboom graduated from Western Michigan Christian High School in June of 1975. After his graduation, he was selected as a member of Who’s Who Among American High School Students. He writes for the Calvin College School newspaper Chimes and is active in the student government. In December and January of 1977 and 1978, respectively, he began work on his book, East Of Muskegon. Presently he is a junior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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