Unknown Author / Unknown Date
Submitted by Anita Pugh and Bill Moore
Maple Island is formed by the Muskegon and Maple Rivers, the latter a stream that branches out from the main river in Bridgeton Township in Newaygo County and re-enters the main stream in Cedar Creek Township, Muskegon County. Much of the river once flowed through the Maple, but the Booming company improved the main stream and sought to confine the flow so that the Maple has filled in and is a small stream today.
The island is about two miles long, and at its widest point about a mile wide.
The soil is deep river muck formed from the alluvial deposits and the island as a whole is probably one of the richest spots in the state as far as its soil is concerned.
Crops of hay have been grown on some of this island almost continuously for seventy years. Thousands of tons of Maple Island timothy and clover was sold during the lumbering days to the camp in Muskegon and in Newaygo County at a good price.
The early settlers were mostly French Canadians. Louis Bayne, Bean or LeFevre, as the French have the name (LeFevre means Bean in French) was one of the first settlers. His sons and nephews owned most of the island at one time. Rameau also was an early French Canadian settler. The story that he was a refuge French Count was invented by an impecunious Muskegon newspaper man, who sold the yarn profitably. (see “Romance of an Island Empire”) William Rameau and his wife, a member of the pioneer Cedar Creek family of Sweeter, were long well known residents.
Most of the older generation is now dead and the Bayne family is represented by sons of the late Joseph Bayne, they being grandsons of the original settler of that race. Other members of this family live near Holton. John Bayne is probably the only one of the second generation now living. He is now residing with a nephew near Holton. Big John Bean was a sort of chief in the settlement until his death a few years ago. He lived in the Newaygo County end of the island.
On the west end of the island and on the mainland was the farm of Henry N. Smith, a noted pioneer. Mrs. Samuel Chidester and Mrs. Robert T. Lane are daughters. Mr. Lane made his home with Mr. Smith from his boyhood. Because the waters of Muskegon river were held back by log jams, flooding Maple Island farms, Mr. Smith figured in a good many interesting lawsuits with the old Muskegon Booming Company. One story regarding the testimony he gave in a trial still survives. As evidence of the normal fertility of the island, he showed the court and jury a bundle of timothy at least five feet in length. Then his attorney asked him what kind of crops were produced since the land was flooded. Slowly and impressively Mr. Smith, who was a large man, pulled a tiny young mud turtle from his pocket and without a smile held it up before the court and jury for a few moments, amid the laughter of the assemblage.
Early travelers remarked on the fertility of this spot, which is only about nine miles east of the North Muskegon road in a straight line and about twelve miles by road from Fremont.
However, Maple Island was long an isolated spot. It was an island not only because it was surrounded by water, but because it was surrounded by a wilderness of oak and pine, and of unusually poor land, and until the surrounding country was developed within the past three or four decades it was like turning a light on in a dark room and viewing a beautiful picture to suddenly emerge in a spring day from the oak “grubs” at the top of the hill leading down to the flats. The contrast between the scraggy country one had been traveling and fertile valley with the distant hills of Newaygo county was striking indeed.
Now good roads are making Maple Island accessible to the world. The rich flats in the vicinity are being brought under cultivation and a new era is succeeding the old. The Beans, those frugal, industrious pioneers with their hospitality, their quaint old time French Canadian ways, their tendency to be convivial when a load of hay was sold in Muskegon, were a neighborly people, kind-hearted, ready to help in the hour of need, and with the Rameaus and other pioneers played a part in redeeming the wilderness. To the pioneer the passing of the old Maple Island race seems like a loss which can not be replaced. Others may build better than they, but there was an indescribable something about these people which is lacking in the cosmopolitan American of today.
(Cornelius Garber of Fremont is familiar with the Maple Island of thirty and forty years ago.)