James William Lowry
(You may contact Mr. Lowry at his
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org .)
Published by the Author
Portrait of Morgan Lyon *
Special Acknowledgement *
Chapter One *
Chapter Two *
Chapter Three *
Chapter Four *
Chapter Five *
Chapter Six *
Chapter Seven *
Morgan Lyon’s Grandchildren *
Portrait of Morgan Lyon
This portrait appeared in Albert Baxter’s 1891 book History of the City of Grand Rapids.
For the Bofas
Many thanks to my wife, research assistant, kid chaser, proofreader and the Love of my Life, Wendy Michelle Lowry.
Thanks to my mom, Margie Jean Lowry, for all the leads and for following me through the cemeteries she used to help maintain.
Thanks also to all those who assisted, wittingly or unwittingly, in making this work possible: the staff of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library; the staff of the Grand Rapids Public Library; the volunteers and staff of the Lowell Area Historical Museum (I especially want to thank Tina for showing me all of the obituaries and Don DeJong for finding them!); the staff of the Englehardt Library; the staff of the Library of Michigan; Mary Stone, the clerk of Vergennes Township; and Shirley Compton, Bernadette Pniewski, and Geraldine Vanderwerf, my first cousins (once removed).
A special thanks to Lynda K. McGinnis, a distant cousin who is descended from Morgan Lyon’s brother William B. Lyon. Lynda is a tireless and meticulous researcher of the Lyon line as well as a scholar whose scholarship is of the highest caliber.
She has provided me with so much information about the William B. Lyon family and the Lyons in Chenango County, New York, without which I would not have even considered attempting to write this book.
So meticulous is her scholarship that I have cited her many times throughout this work simply by her name, no further reference being necessary. I have learned that if she provides even the smallest datum, it is not necessary to seek further validity to its accuracy.
I am deeply in her debt.
I grew up in Lowell, Michigan, a small town that would today be considered a suburb of Grand Rapids. This was not so in the days in which I was raised there, and much less so at its founding in the 1830s and 1840s.
When I was little (in the 1970s and 80s), Lowell was the kind of place where everyone pretty much knew everyone else. If you looked in the telephone directory in those days, you would have seen many of the same last names that you would see in the first population directory published in 1870.
I was shocked, then, to learn just a few years ago that I was descended from one of the town’s pioneer founders and I had never heard of him while growing up. I quickly learned that not only was Morgan Lyon a town father, but that he had been quite a prominent individual who had a significant impact on the community during his prominent life in the Lowell area.
Why, then, had I never heard of him? There were many of the town’s founders that I had studied in school or whose names graced the institutions of the community. Yet his was a name that, as far as I knew (and I would be wrong on one count) had never been attached to any building, park, road, or other public edifice or conveyance, despite the contribution he made to the town’s founding years
Morgan Lyon was a self-made man who rose from nothing and accomplished much for the benefit of his community, only to fade into obscurity after his death. I wanted to know why this was, so I began to dig into every facet of his life that I could find, and what I found surprised me. I hope you find the story of Morgan Lyon as interesting as I have.
This biography is intended to accomplish three things: First, it is my intention to give a local historical context to the life of Morgan Lyon. Second, I intend that this should be a genealogical review of Morgan and his close relatives. Third, I have attempted to explain why Morgan Lyon became Lowell’s forgotten pioneer.
James William Lowry
Note: There are many questions to which I still have not found satisfying answers to in regard to Morgan Lyon and his life and times. You will see as you progress through this work many times when I have mentioned that no further information is available about a particular topic or person. This is intended to be the first edition of a work that will be completed after more of these questions have been answered.
York, Upper Canada: April 1813
The War of 1812 was underway and American forces were on the offensive in Upper Canada in the area now known as Toronto, Ontario. British forces, mostly Canadian volunteers, had begun to reinforce the town of York. There existed a stone powder magazine and some earthworks that outlined what would one day become Fort York.
American forces under the command of General Henry Dearborn went ashore from Lake Ontario and attacked early in the morning of April 27, 1813, aboard U.S. Naval vessels commanded by Commodore Isaac Chauncey. The British commander, Major General Roger Sheaffe, had about seven hundred men under his command, about half local militia, when the American forces reached the fort at about eight o’clock in the morning. Vastly outnumbered (the Americans showed up with over two thousand troops), the British offered little resistance once the first beachhead was established.
The main U.S. attack was commanded on the ground by Brigadier General Zebulon Pike, he who had discovered Pike’s Peak in present day Colorado some years before. The officers and soldiers under Pike’s command included a company of militiamen from upstate New York under the command of Captain Thomas Lyon of Norwich in Chenango County. As Pike and his men approached the fort, General Sheaffe and his men had retreated, but left the British jack flying so as to make the Americans think the fort was still garrisoned. This was a tactic to slow the Americans and cover the British retreat; Sheaffe had ordered the powder magazine destroyed as the American forces approached.
As Pike was interrogating a British sergeant, the powder magazine exploded. According to one witness, "the building rose slowly, assuming the shape of a vast balloon; then out of the balloon-shaped cloud huge stones and wooden beams began to rain down on the nearby Americans. General Pike's back and chest were crushed, twenty-eight of his officers and men were killed outright, and over two hundred were wounded."
Among the dead and dying was Captain Thomas Lyon. General Pike, Captain Lyon, and the other wounded officers were returned to Commodore Chauncey’s flagship, the U.S.S. Madison where Captain Lyon died later that day from his injuries.
Captain Thomas Lyon was buried at Fort Tompkins at Sackett’s Harbor, New York. He had been married (and widowed) several times. At the time of his death, Thomas Lyon was married to Mercy Brown and had by her at least four surviving children: Lucinda ("Lucy"), Betsey, Morgan, and William B. Lyon. William was less than a year old and Morgan a mere two and a half years old when their father was killed.
Norwich, Chenango County, New York: the Early Years
Morgan Lyon was born at Norwich, Chenango County, New York on October 10, 1810 to Captain Thomas Lyon and Mercy (Brown) Lyon. He had three siblings, two older sisters named Lucinda and Betsey, and a younger brother called William B. Lyon. Lucinda was born sometime in the first decade of the 1800s, between 1801 and 1807. The exact year of her birth is unknown; there are conflicting data recorded by census takers in later years and these are some of the best records we have of Lucinda Lyon. Betsey Lyon was born February 10, 1803 in Oxford, a town near Norwich, and William B. Lyon was born June 5, 1812 in Norwich.
Mercy Brown Lyon was the daughter of Revolutionary War veteran Jesse Brown and his wife Mary and was born about 1774 in Rhode Island. She was the third or fourth wife of Thomas Lyon and was about twelve years his junior.
Captain Thomas Lyon’s father, Thomas Lyon, Sr., and the elder Lyon’s brothers David and Samuel ventured to upstate New York from Great Bend, Pennsylvania in 1792 and settled on Lyon Brook (which bears their name to this day) south of Norwich.
The Lyon children grew up in poor circumstances in Norwich, their primary means of support being the pension that they received from the death of Captain Lyon in service during the War of 1812. The area was thinly settled and opportunities for education and advancement were few. Thus, Morgan Lyon’s educational experiences would likely have been limited to a "country school" curriculum. He was taught to reading, writing, mathematics, history, civics, etc. as one might expect at a secondary school level today.
While growing up or sometime in his early adulthood, Morgan came in contact with the Purple family. This was an association that would have a profound impact on his life. William D. Purple was a prominent physician, civil servant, and merchant who lived in Chenango County. Early in his career, Dr. Purple had been the clerk during a trial of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Thus, Dr. Purple enjoyed some notoriety within the small New York community in which he lived.
Isham Purple was a distant relative of Dr. Purple. A veteran of the War of 1812 who had served in Howe’s volunteer regiment from Connecticut, Isham Purple was married to Phoebe Rogers. They were somewhat younger contemporaries of Captain and Mercy Lyon, Isham having been born in 1781 and Phoebe in 1787. Isham and Phoebe moved from Connecticut to New York in the early 1820s and settled in the vicinity of Chenango County. They had at least six children: Dorothy, born about 1803, Daniel, born about 1811, Mary, born June 9, 1812, Martha, born about 1817, Louisa, born November 13, 1823, in Norwich, and William, born about 1825. The Purple family were farmers.
Morgan was the last of his siblings to marry. Betsey married George Knapp about 1825 and older sister Lucinda married Charles Newton about 1830. The year before Morgan’s first wedding, younger brother William B. Lyon married his first wife, Nancy Cahoon, on January 5, 1834. In January 1835, Morgan Lyon and Mary Purple were wed in Norwich.
It was a good thing that they were married, too. On August 6th of the same year, Matilda Lyon was born to Morgan and Mary. One must refrain from drawing a hasty conclusion, however; many pregnancies were not carried to full term in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Soon after the birth of Matilda, Morgan and Mary Lyon set out for the hostile frontier then known as "The West," namely, Michigan. They settled in Howell, Livingston County, Michigan in 1836 (more in the next chapter).
With the exception of Mary Purple Lyon, the Purples remained for a time in upstate New York. This is significant because, as we will see, within two decades or so, most of the surviving members of the Purple family, with the exception of Dorothy Purple, would follow the same path as Mary and settle in Michigan.
Dorothy Purple married Willard Edmonds sometime around 1835. They stayed in Chenango County and had several children, among them a daughter Calfernia and a son Samuel. Isham and his son Daniel, who married a woman named Persus in the late 1830s, soon settled on adjoining farms in Broome County, and at some point before mid-century, Martha Purple did an extraordinary thing for her time.
On the eve of their nuptials, Martha Purple’s intended, a young man of whom nothing else is known, unexpectedly died. Devastated,
but with the determination to make the most of herself she gathered the broken threads of her life, and what she has woven of them is known by the poor and distressed. Entering on her profession when to do so placed her almost outside the pale of human sympathy, when for a woman to do that most womanly work which had hitherto been done only by men was to voluntarily invite upon her head obloquy and contempt it is hard for the young lady student of today, who comes forth from our University crowned with the approval of professors and the pride of friends to realize the roughness of the path that such as she was forced to tread. But the leaf of history has been turned and she lived to see the name of woman written in clearer letters on the new page to see her unassuming and faithful work appreciated, and has won the respect of her fellow practitioners, and the fullest confidence of her many patients.
After the death of her fiancé, Martha Purple successfully completed the work necessary to become a medical doctor. It is likely that she studied under Dr. William Purple or one of his contemporaries in Chenango County before eventually becoming one of the first female doctors in Michigan.
Pioneer Privations: 1836-1849
Morgan, Mary, and Matilda Lyon moved west, along with others from Chenango County, to Howell Township, Livingston County, Michigan on September 18, 1836. There they settled on 160 acres of land on Section Eighteen, purchased from the United States government. The Lyon family farmed the land and improved it with a house (likely a log cabin) and outbuildings. By 1837, the farm had a taxable value of $480.
The land in that part of Livingston County was well suited to grazing animals, but there is no evidence that this was the pursuit of the Lyon family. Howell was like much of the rest of Michigan: sparsely (if at all) inhabited with vast tracts of wilderness available to be tamed. The nearest large settlement at the time was Detroit. There was not much in the way of facilities (outside of the tiny village, there were no settlers until 1835) for processing or marketing farm goods. Like most pioneer settlements, most early trade would have consisted of bartering for the necessities of life with other settlers. Indeed, it was not until 1837 that a township government was formed. Although he would later become an office holder and a strong force in the Kent County Democratic Party, Morgan Lyon never held office in Howell Township. It must be remembered, however, that he was only twenty-five years old when he arrived.
In the meantime, Morgan’s brother-in-law and sister, Charles and Lucinda Newton, ventured farther west. They purchased land in Vergennes and Lowell Townships, Kent County, Michigan and settled with their sons Clark (born about 1833) and Truman C. (born about 1835) west of a tiny village at the confluence of the Flat and Grand Rivers that would later be called Dansville, in 1837. If Howell was sparsely populated, Kent County was even less so. The only major settlement there was Grand Rapids, downstream of present-day Lowell on the Grand River. Grand Rapids consisted of about ten houses and two stores. The remainder of Kent County was a "howling wilderness."
When the first government in Vergennes Township was organized on April 12, 1838, there were but about nineteen families living there. When Benjamin Fairchild passed through Lowell Township in 1838 on his way from Canada to settle at Vergennes,
he counted but three houses. For several years the farmers in that vicinity were obliged to take their grist to Ionia, to Grandville, or to Kalamazoo to be ground. Considering the poor roads which the scattered community were then tormented with, and the bridgeless streams which must be crossed, such journeys doubtless seemed quite uninviting.
This might seem to some an even less hospitable land in which to raise a young family than Howell was, but not for Morgan Lyon. On April 12th, 1838, a mere ten days after Charles Newton was elected one of Vergennes Township’s first Directors of the Poor, Morgan and Mary Lyon sold their 160 acre homestead in Howell to Christopher Van Ness for the sum of $850.
That Mary had a legal interest in this land gives us an interesting clue to the relationship that Morgan Lyon had with not just his wife Mary, but to her father and indeed the whole Purple family. It was unusual at that time for a woman to own land. It was also unusual for someone who grew up the son of a war pension widow to be able to afford to buy 160 acres of land on the frontier. Although it is possible that the Lyon children received some kind of land bounty for their father’s service and death in the War of 1812, it is more likely that the initial purchase of land was assisted by the payment of some kind of dowry by Isham Purple upon the marriage of his daughter Mary to Morgan Lyon. Further evidence for such an arrangement will be presented later in this chapter.
Once again on the move, although this time with some guidance from Charles and Lucy Newton, the Lyon family migrated to Kent County and settled in Vergennes Township on 160 acres in the late spring of 1838.
In speaking of Vergennes in early times, it must be borne in mind that its center was Lowell; that its settlers were mainly there, or in that part of Vergennes which is contiguous. A few pushed up Flat river. The two towns Vergennes and Lowell lived lovingly together as one for 10 years, not following the example of many sister towns, of setting up independent as soon as they had a dozen voters. There is good reason why the two townships should keep together. They were, in substance, one settlement, which the township line about equally divided. This settlement, near the mouth of the Flat river, was the place; the scattered settlers around seemed to be its dependencies. They lived together as a community; they did not choose to divide; and they did not until both towns were well supplied with inhabitants. Vergennes was one of the towns earliest organized. By act of the Legislature in 1838, four townships, 5,6,7,8, north, range 9 west, Bowne, Lowell, Vergennes and Grattan, were set off from Kent, and made a town. The first settlement was in what is now Lowell, and the south part of the present town of Vergennes. Its early history is mainly that of Lowell.
A tribe of Indians were the largest group of inhabitants in the Lowell/Vergennes area in the late 1830s. The tribe’s chief was a man named Cobmosa, which translated roughly as Walker. They were quite hospitable to the settlers. Sometime prior to the arrival of the Newtons and Lyons, two earlier settlers, Rodney and Lucas Robinson had helped the Indians fence off 100 acres of land about a mile north of the Grand River on the east side of the Flat River for farming. The Indian settlement continued up the Flat River, off and on, for several miles.
At this time in its history, there were no frame buildings in Vergennes. The settlers built their own log cabins and often relied on the Indians for shelter and assistance in difficult times. It was in such circumstances, according to an obituary from the Ada Pioneer Association, that James A. Lyon was born to Morgan and Mary Lyon in an Indian wigwam on the banks of the Flat River on the twenty-first day of July, 1838.
As the Lowell and Vergennes areas began to grow and see more settlement over the next few years, so the presence and influence of the Lyon family grew. In 1839, William B. Lyon, his wife and three children, Betsey, Henry, and George, settled on a farm near where the Newtons had put down their stake two years before, a few miles west of what is now the city of Lowell. To William and Nancy were born William A. (on March 4, 1841), Nelson T. (August 20, 1842), Richard B. (January 14 1846), and Phebe J. (July 20, 1849). Meanwhile, to Charles and Lucy Newton were born Mercy (1839), Charles H. (1841), and Orrin Newton (1844).
Although there is no record that they ever lived in Michigan, George and Betsey Knapp also purchased land in Vergennes Township. This added to what would eventually be an enviable holding of real estate in Vergennes and Lowell Townships by the Lyon family and their relatives. The exact transactions of land are complex and have been thoroughly documented by Lynda K. McGinnis (see Special Acknowledgement at the beginning of this volume). In summary, Morgan Lyon and his kin established, over the course of the next several years, considerable land holdings in the northwestern sections of Lowell Township and the central and very southern sections of Vergennes.
Morgan Lyon, following in the footsteps of his brother-in-law Charles Newton, was elected to local public office for the first time in 1841, when he succeeded Dr. Arba Richards to the office of Treasurer of Vergennes Township. He served in this capacity for one year, and was also elected to at least one term as Justice of the Peace of Vergennes Township in period between 1838 and 1848. Politically, Morgan was a Democrat and grew to be a "potent factor" within the Kent County party organization.
However, in the early years, the development of the fortunes of the Lyon family, particularly that of Morgan and William, ran parallel to that of their environs (and indeed, to that of any newly settled area). The first focus was on establishing business services that eased the burden of pioneer life. The farming pioneers, Lyons among them, concentrated on establishing their farms and farming infrastructure. According to Frank Lyon Ryder, the great-grandson of Morgan Lyon, "[Morgan] began farming in a natural clearing created by beavers damming up the creek on neighboring property. Then he just cleared land around that every year. He built a log cabin and granaries and grew wheat." This refers to the homestead farm on Section 20 of Vergennes Township, just east of what is now the Vergennes Township Hall.
The village of Fallassburg was established in 1840 and soon grist mills and a saw mill were erected, mostly on the banks of the Flat River, or in the village of Lowell. A tavern was set up in Lowell as well as a hotel, and roads were gradually improved as need dictated, although most commerce was conducted with Ionia and Grand Rapids along the river. A school district had been established in 1837 and a log school house, the first of its kind between Ionia to the east and Grand Rapids to the west, was built the following year.
By the middle of the 1840s, the population of Kent County had grown to over six thousand and Grand Rapids was becoming its hub of progress. The first steam engine had by then been constructed there and soon thereafter, steamboats began to paddle up and down the Grand River. The area was growing and industry was beginning to develop, and Morgan Lyon was developing a strong financial foundation in real estate by improving his farm and acquiring more land from the owners of adjoining land in Vergennes.
Some other local social, economic, and historic firsts that the Lyons were witness to were:
The first marriage, between Caroline Baird and Caleb Paige, both of whom were associated with the first school.
The first bridge built across the Flat River, in 1840 at Fallassburg.
The second bridge over the Flat River in Lowell, in 1844.
The first frame home built in the area, by Cyprian Hooker, who began construction on it December 18, 1846 and moved into it with his family on Christmas.
The first dam built across Flat River, also by Mr. Hooker, in 1847, the same year that he built a grist mill on the east side of the river.
The first sermon in the area, preached at the home of Mr. Hooker by the Congregational minister Reverend S. S. Brown, in 1849.
The first physician to come to the area, Dr. Arba Richards, after whom Richard’s Park on the west side of Lowell is named.
One of the land owners from whom Morgan Lyon would acquire eighty acres of land in the 1850s settled just east of the Lyon homestead on Sections 21 and 22 in Vergennes on October 1, 1844. Benjamin and Charity (Hicks) Ryder arrived from New York via a twelve year stopover in Brant County, Ontario, Canada with their sizable family consisting of sons Guernsey, Elias, John, Rowland and Benjamin, Jr. (born later in October 1844), and their daughters Elizabeth, Ruth, and Sarah Ann. The Ryder family would soon play an integral role in the lives of the Lyons, if perhaps not as significant as that of the Purples.
As economic opportunities grew and infrastructure improved, there were still many physical challenges. A report by the Michigan State Agricultural Society in Michigan tells of the conditions in the late 1830s and 1840s:
These were gloomy years for Kent county. The merchants failed. the farmers were ruined from paying enormous prices for provisions and mechanical labor to commence their improvements. By the time they had raised crops, if they had anything to spare, the same would hardly pay for the seed, so sudden was the change; and mechanics could find no employment, unless on condition of taking pay in village lots, or promises not to be fulfilled; and some of the gentlemen of leisure left the land. During the succeeding years of 1841 and 1842, there was but little increase of emigration or apparent improvement in the circumstances of those here. Stock had been brought in from Ohio and Indiana, but the farmers had often to supply themselves on credit. There were no sheep, but there being a succession of mild winters, hogs had become quite numerous and cheap. But the severe winter of 1843 swept three-fourths of them away, with some of the cattle; snow lay deep on the ground from the eighteenth day of November till the same date in the following April. Residents will long remember that gloomy winter. They hoped for spring at the usual time, but, instead of open fields, March brought its four feet of snow, and a greater degree of cold than was ever known in any month before or since in the west. The river broke up on the 11th of April, and May opened with pleasant weather, followed by a fruitful season. Still, that season hardly made up for the
losses of the winter . . . Better times extended also to the old settlers, so it may be said that 1844 was a new era in the Grand River Valley; and from that time to this general prosperity has prevailed, and there has been a healthy increase in the population.
Then, according to Chapman,
The country was filled with miasmatic vapors, sickness entered almost every household and held sway, whole families were prostrated, and it has been known that not one member retained sufficient strength to help the other to a cup of water. There, too, between the years 1836 and 1846, the very dogs were seen to shake with ague. This statement is further substantiated. [Philander] Tracy says: "During that period I was a resident of what is now called Lowell, and one-third of the time I suffered from diseases common to the country. I make the statement in order to give some idea of the sufferings of the early settlers, and am now happy to state that al1 has changed, and Lowell become one of the most healthy and agreeable districts in Michigan."
A second daughter, Emily, was born to Morgan and Mary Lyon under these conditions in June 1845 and it was sometime during this decade that their son Thomas Lyon was born, died in his infancy, and was buried in what would become the family plot at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery in Vergennes. Tragedy again struck in the later part of the ‘40s when Mary was taken ill and died on August 6, 1848 and was buried next to her baby Thomas at Foxes’ Corners.
The record of what happened next is mixed. The Baxter biographical sketch of Morgan Lyon states that he returned to Chenango County at this time, but Louisa Purple Lyon’s obituary states that she came with her parents to Vergennes in July of 1849 (other evidence disputes that). Regardless of the details, or even where the event took place, Morgan Lyon married his late wife Mary’s younger sister Louisa Purple about 1849 or 1850. This event led to a very interesting marital relationship and to an influx of Purple family members to the Lowell area soon thereafter.
It is also further evidence that some sort of financial relationship existed between Morgan Lyon and his father-in-law Isham Purple. If such a relationship did exist, Morgan could scarcely have afforded to pay half of the value of his estate to Isham Purple upon the death of Mary and the two may have agreed that he would marry Louisa instead. Such a marriage as might have been unwanted by both parties would certainly help explain what happened between Morgan and Louisa Lyon after the death of her parents.
Pioneer Prosperity: 1850-1861
The Lyon family recovered quickly from the death of Mary. With his new bride now in charge of the domestic front, Morgan Lyon continued to apply himself to farming, real estate and other business ventures, and to politics during the next decade. He was elected to his last local political office in 1850, that of Supervisor of Vergennes Township, in which capacity he served a one-year term. Morgan Lyon also served as the Kent County Agricultural and Horticultural Society Vice President for Vergennes Township for at least one term beginning in 1854.
As the Lowell/Vergennes area continued to grow and prosper, so did the Lyon family. Several real estate transactions were made among Morgan and his relatives and neighbors so that, by 1855, the Lyon homestead farm on Section 20 of Vergennes had grown to 230 acres. In 1858, he purchased forty more acres across the street from his farm, bringing the total size of his homestead farm to 270 acres.
On the homestead, Louisa gave birth to the only child she and Morgan would have, a daughter named Mary E. Lyon, in the later part of 1850. The extended Lyon family also continued to grow.
In 1856, William B. Lyon’s wife Nancy died and he remarried not long thereafter to Caroline Smith. To them were born Frederick A. (January 19, 1857) and Mary A. (October 13, 1858). The Newtons had no more children, and Charles passed on October 16, 1855 and was buried near the Lyon plot at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery. Lucy Newton never remarried.
The extended family continued to expand geographically, as well. While William Purple, Louisa and the late Mary’s brother, had moved to the Lowell area prior to 1850, the marriage of Morgan Lyon to Louisa Purple portended the migration of much of the rest of the Purple family to the Lowell area. By 1860, Daniel Purple and his family and Dr. Martha N. Purple (listed in the census with the occupation of "Doctress") had joined their siblings in Michigan. While Dorothy Purple Edmonds and her family stayed in Chenango County, New York, two of her children would eventually also move to Lowell.
During this time, Isham and Phoebe also moved to the area, living with their daughter and son-in law on the Lyon homestead in Vergennes. Phoebe died sometime before 1860 and became the first person buried in the Purple family plot at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery. Isham continued on as a farm hand, beyond the age of seventy-nine, at the Lyon farm.
Matilda Lyon married a neighbor sometime around her twentieth year in about 1855. Her husband’s name was John H. Ryder, the son of Benjamin and Charity Ryder, who had settled on a farm on Section 21 of Vergennes Township. They purchased land on Section 9, north of where their parents lived, before 1863 and took up farming. Matilda gave birth to Frank W. Ryder on March 1, 1856, Fred Ryder in 1858, and George Ryder on September 15, 1860.
Also before 1860, James A. Lyon struck out on his own. Two of his Knapp cousins, George and Charles, had moved to Champaign County, Illinois. George was a newspaper editor for a journal in the city of Champaign, and Charles had settled on a farm near East Bend. A single man, James went to live with his cousin Charles on his farm and took a job as the teacher at the local country school.
Benjamin and Charity Ryder were not as prosperous as the Lyons. Throughout the 1850s, they ran into financial trouble and almost lost their farm at least once before finally selling to Edwin Foote in 1859. Morgan Lyon purchased the Ben Ryder farm, as it was known, from Foote almost immediately. He allowed the Ryders to live there for some time. Morgan Lyon also employed another Ryder son, Rowland, as a farm hand.
Morgan Lyon also expanded his business interests beyond farming and real estate. In an article written by E. J. Booth, an early pioneer of Lowell, in 1909, Booth related the following tale:
As to business, it was good. The surrounding country was well settled at that time. Our business, however, was conducted mostly on a credit basis, but we did not have many losses on account of credit as in later years. The sturdy, honest pioneers . . . seemed as a whole to make it their object first to pay their debts . . . I recollect that I at one time went to the Burass Mill [presumably a grist or feed mill on the Flat River] for feed for my team [of horses], forgetting to take with me any money. Meeting Morgan Lyon on the way, [I] told him the circumstances and asked him loan me $5.00. Said he "nothing but gold." I said "very well. I will give you an order on Mr. Chapin [a banker] for $5.00 in gold." Not having any paper, I went to the fence and took a bark from the rail and wrote Mr. Chapin, "Please give Mr. Lyon a $5.00 gold piece."
This story gives us much insight into not only the subject of this work, but the social and business environment in the 1850s.
First, Morgan Lyon was a shrewd businessman; he would give credit but only on solid ground. By asking for gold, he indicated that he was willing to do business but only with someone who could prove that he was capable of paying his debts. Second, Morgan was probably somewhat of a jerk. Clearly, Mr. Booth was someone well known to Morgan and he would have known his creditworthiness. Third, he was involved somehow with the Burass Mill, whether as a manager or partner. It is likely that the farmers in the area who used the mill had formed some sort of cooperative. Given Morgan’s demonstrated leadership skills, he was probably involved somehow in directing such an effort.
We also learn something about the state of business affairs in the Lowell and Vergennes area at the time. Booth tells us that "business . . . was good" and that "the surrounding country was well settled," which tells us that the area was beginning to prosper. We learned in the last chapter that things were difficult in the early years, that it was a real struggle to survive. However, infrastructure had been developed by this time, settlers were moving in, and business was booming.
Of the conditions of the area for farming and farmers, we learn more from the Michigan Agricultural Society report of 1854:
And though [the farmers’] means were generally very limited, they purchased and lived within their means and kept unusually free from debt. This prudence, with industry and improvement of the times, has enabled them all, or certainly the average, now in 1854, to show an increase to their means of at least one thousand per cent. This may be considered a fair result for eight or ten years' labor. Better times extended also to the old settlers . . . and . . . general prosperity has prevailed, and there has been a healthy increase in the population; the [Kent County] census of . . . 1850 [enumerating about] 12,000, and of this year, (1854), 18,000, with a fair prospect of a like or greater ratio of increase in future. The settlers being mostly from wheat growing States, hope perhaps turned their attention too much to that one crop. For hardly a year has there been a supply of the coarse grains to meet the demand. This is principally owing to the extent of the lumbering interest here and to the north. Nor has there been the attention paid to the dairy business, that might seem profitable, there not always being made a full supply of butter, and no cheese' of any amount, so that this latter article is as high here as in any other market. There has been a great lack of fruit, but of late much attention has been given to it, and exhibitions show that this county can equal any portion of the State in that line. Much interest has lately been taken in the improvement of stock by the introduction of improved breeds, and the original inferior cattle from the south have much improved in this more healthy county. No large flocks of sheep have yet been introduced, still they are now rapidly increasing, and our county seems particularly well adapted to them. As the farmers become better able, they show a very general ambition to inform themselves in all things pertaining to their business; and every year shows a great improvement in the quantity and quality of crops and appearance of all kinds of stock. And not less regard is paid to the elegance and convenience of buildings, and no county is better supplied with materials for that purpose. Lime, sand, clay, and pine timber are all in great abundance, and these have been turned to account for the convenience of man and animals. And last, though by no means least, few communities have enjoyed so uniform good health as the inhabitants of Kent county from its first settlement.
Responding to the need for better supplies of "coarse grains," Morgan Lyon decided to build some of the first granaries in the area to store grain and other products from his and nearby farms. He also established one of the early dairies in the area, the output of which was primarily butter and cheese. This dairy proved a huge success and stayed in operation well into the succeeding century. Thus, with a new focus on the grain markets, the products grown on local farms were in abundance and more and more were shipped to metropolitan areas, allowing the farmers to continue to prosper.
The local economy got another huge shot in the arm a few years later. On July 12, 1858, the first locomotive ran from Detroit to Grand Rapids on a route that took it through Lowell. This enabled people and goods to be shuttled back and forth between the two cities, and all points in between, in far less time than had been possible by boat or raft.
Thus, by the end of 1860, Morgan Lyon’s farm was well established and his wealth and influence were growing. He had proved himself an able businessman and farmer. His two older children were on their own, one married and the other pursuing a career in education in another state. His two daughters, wife, and father-in-law and a former neighbor were helping him to run his farm, which was home to possibly the largest stockpile of farm products in West Michigan. While Morgan’s brother and sister and their families were not faring quite as well financially, they were doing well enough and their older children were making their own way in the world, most of them still living in the Lowell area.
While Morgan’s motive for storing grain was to drive the success of his farming enterprise, the timing could not have been better. In a short time, the attention of the area and the entire nation would change from expansion and prosperity to survival and America stood on the brink of its bloodiest war, and a large and ready supply of marketable commodities would prove useful in more ways than one.
The Civil War: 1861-1865
When the call to arms was raised to defend the Union during the Civil War, the members of the extended Lyon family answered the call with honor. At fifty, Morgan Lyon was generally considered too old for active service in the volunteer regiments, but his son James and at least four nephews enlisted; one lost his life and another was disabled in defense of the United States.
Those that are known to have fought in the Civil War follow:
James A. Lyon, Morgan’s son, enlisted as a private in Company F of the Twenty-Fifth Illinois infantry regiment on June 4, 1861 and was mustered into service on August 6, 1861.
The Twenty-fifth was composed of volunteers from the counties of Kankakee, Iroquois, Ford, Vermilion, Douglas, Coles, Champaign and Edgar. The Regiment rendezvoused at the U. S. Arsenal Park, St. Louis, Mo., August 2, 1861, and was mustered into the service for three years August 4, 1861. The men of the Twenty-fifth Illinois traveled on foot during three years, 3,252 miles, and by steamboat and railroad 1,710 miles, making a total of 4,962 miles. The Regiment participated in the battles of Pea Ridge, Ark., Stone River Tenn., Chickamauga, Ga., Missionary Ridge, Tenn., Siege of Corinth, Miss., Kenesaw Mountain, Ga., Siege of Atlanta, Ga., and innumerable skirmishes.
During this term of service, James Lyon was promoted to full sergeant and was mustered out of active duty on September 5, 1864 at Camp Butler, Springfield, Illinois. The following year, on February 23, 1865, he enlisted in Company I of the 155th infantry regiment at the rank of Sergeant First Class.
The One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Infantry Illinois Volunteers was organized at Camp Butler, Ill., by Colonel Gustave A. Smith, and mustered in February 28, 1865, for one year. On March 2, the Regiment -904 strong- moved, via Louisville and Nashville to Tullahoma, Tenn., and reporting to General Milroy, was assigned to the command of Brevet Brigadier General Dudley. On June 17, the Regiment was divided into detachments of twenty or thirty men each, and assigned to guard duty on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, occupying the block houses from Nashville to Duck River, a distance of fifty miles. On September 4, the Regiment was mustered out of service, and moved to Camp Butler, Ill., where it received final pay and discharge.
James was promoted to Full Quartermaster on June 14, 1865 and to Lieutenant First Class upon his transfer to Company S (Staff and Officers) on June 23rd. He served in the capacity of Quartermaster for the remainder of his service, mustering out with the rest of his company in September. Upon completion of his service, he returned to country life in Michigan instead of going back to teaching in Illinois.
George R. Lyon, son of William B. Lyon, enlisted as a private on August 6, 1862, in Company B of the Twenty-First Michigan infantry regiment at the age of 23 and was mustered into service with the rest of the company on September 4, 1862. Company B was made up mostly of young men from Lowell and Vergennes Townships.
The Twenty-First was recruited in the Fourth Congressional District, comprising the counties of Barry, Ionia, Montcalm, Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, Oceana, Newago, Mecosta, Mason, Manistee, Grand Traverse, Leelanaw, Manitou, Oceola, Emmet, Mackinac, Delta and Cheyboygan and was mustered into service Sept. 4, 1862, with an enrollment of 1,000 officers and men. During their term of federal service, they were engaged at: Perryville, Ky., Lavergne, Tn., Stewart's Creek, Tn., Stone River, Tn., Tillahoma, Tn., Elk River, Tn., Chickamauga, Ga., Brown's Ferry, Tn., Mission Ridge, Tn., Savannah, Ga., Averysboro, N.C., and Bentonville, N.C.
George Lyon would not have lived much past the battle at Perryville; he was wounded and died of disease on November 13, 1862 and was buried at Cave Hill National Cemetery in Louiville, Kentucky on November 30th.
William A. Lyon enlisted as a private on August 6, 1862, at the age of 21 and served with his brother George in Company B of the Twenty-First Michigan infantry. He was discharged due to disability on September 7, 1863 and returned to Michigan.
Thomas Purple, son of Louisa and Mary’s brother Daniel and a resident of Ada, Kent County, Michigan, enlisted as a private on August 11, 1862, at the age of 22 in Company A of the Sixth Michigan cavalry regiment, which was mustered into service on August 28, 1862.
The Sixth Cavalry was organized at Grand Rapids, under the authority granted to the honorable F.W. Kellog, by the War Department, approved by the Governor. Its recruitment being completed, it was mustered into the service of the United States on the 13th. of October, 1862, with 1229 officers and men on its rolls.
The Regiment left its rendezvous at Grand Rapids, fully mounted and equipped, but not armed, on the 10th. of December, 1862, under the command of Colonel George Gray, with orders to proceed to Washington. During its entire time in the service of the United States, they were assigned to the famous, Michigan Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General George A. Custer.
Thomas Purple mustered out of service on June 21, 1865 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. However, the Michigan Cavalry Brigade was improperly retained in service until March 10, 1866, when its members were released from service. At this time, Thomas returned to Michigan where he soon thereafter joined the Grand Rapids police force.
Samuel F. Edmonds, son of Mary and Louisa’s sister Dorothy Purple Edmonds, enlisted at the age of 25 on August 5, 1862, in Company B of New York’s One Hundred, Fourteenth infantry regiment.
July 21, 1862, Mr. Elisha B. Smith, of Chenango, was appointed Colonel and authorized to recruit this regiment in the counties of Chenango, Cortland and Madison, with headquarters at Norwich, where the regiment was organized, and, September 3, 1862, mustered in the service of the United States for three years. The men not to be mustered out with the regiment were transferred, June 3, 1865, to the 90th Infantry. The companies were recruited principally: A and H at Oxford; B and C at Norwich; D at Eaton and Lebanon; E at Greene; F at Sherburne and New Berlin; G at Hamilton and Brookfield; I at Otselic; and K at Cazenovia; and a few men were enlisted in Cortland county. The regiment left the State September 8, 1862; it served at and near Baltimore, Md., in 8th Corps, from September 9, 1862; at Newport News, Norfolk and Fort Monroe, Va., 7th Corps, from November 9, 1862; sailed in Banks' Louisiana forces from December 4, 1862; served in 2d Brigade, 1st Division, 19th Corps, from January, 1863, but mostly detached from it at Brashear City, New Iberia, Opelousas and Berwick City, La.; before Port Hudson, La., with its brigade from May 31, 1863; in the Reserve Brigade, 1st Division, 19th Corps, from August, 1863; in 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 19th Corps, from September, 1863; in 1st Brigade, same division and corps, from February, 1864; and it was honorably discharged and mustered out, under Col. Samuel R. Per Lee, June 8, 1865, near Washington, D. C.
Samuel Edmonds was wounded in combat on June 14, 1863, at Port Hudson, Louisiana and was discharged June 8, 1865, in Washington, D.C. He returned briefly to New York after his service before emigrating to Lowell, Michigan in August 1865, possibly with his sister Calfernia Edmonds.
In addition to these close relatives, there were three other young men with whom Morgan Lyon was significantly associated and who served the Union army. There were:
Hiram B. Aldrich, who married Morgan and Mary Lyon’s daughter Emily on February 5, 1864, served with George R. Lyon and William A. Lyon in Company B of the Twenty-First Michigan infantry. He enlisted on August 9, 1862 and mustered out with the rest of his company on June 8, 1865, in Washington, D.C. Since he was married during this period, likely on some sort of temporary leave, it is reasonable to conclude that he and Emily were well acquainted before he left for the war. Upon his discharge, Hiram Aldrich returned to Lowell, Michigan where he and his bride settled on a farm.
Omer O. Adams, who would marry Morgan and Louisa’s daughter Mary in 1871, served with the Second United States Consolidated Cavalry.
Benjamin Ryder, Jr., youngest child of the Lyons’ neighbors Benjamin and Charity and brother of Morgan’s son-in-law John, enlisted in Ionia, Michigan on March 26, 1864 at the age of 20 in Company 2nd SS (Sharp Shooters) of the 27th Michigan infantry. He was mustered in as a private and his company joined the rest of the 27th, which had been in service for some time, at Annapolis, Maryland.
These two companies were designated as the First and Second companies of sharpshooters, attached to the Twenty-seventh Infantry, and served with the regiment to the close of the war. The advent of these "sharpshooters," with their magazine rifles (Spencer), the then new and most destructive infantry arm known, was hailed with delight by officers and men, for not only was the regimental front made respectable in point of numbers, but the GUNS! the only such in the Ninth Corps! Petition was at once made--vive voce--to arm the whole regiment with "Spencers"--make them all "Sharpshooters." With alacrity unusual in honoring requisitions, this special was filled, and "Spencers" graced the shoulders of "ye Twenty-seventh," a prominent factor, later, in probable loss--certainly in artistic profanity by the bearers of the once coveted instruments of death. These seven-shot rifles at any point of attack or defense were "king bees," but on advanced picket or firing lines they--the rifles--simply dominated the situation, as against the muzzle-loaders then in general use.
Benjamin Ryder, Jr. would likely have seen service in some of the hot spots in Virginia, including the infamous seige at Petersburg. He died of disease on September 9, 1864 and was buried at Annapolis National Cemetery, Annapolis, Maryland.
During the war, Morgan received news of the death of another family member. His mother, Mercy Brown Lyon, passed away on October 31, 1862 in Guilford Center, Chenango County, New York at the home of her daughter Betsey Knapp. She was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Norwich.
In the immediate environs of Lowell at this time, other changes were affecting the Lyon fortunes. With the onset of war, the vast quantities of wheat and other grains that Morgan had stored increased in value several times. "When the Civil War came, wheat was worth about 50 cents a bushel, so [Morgan Lyon] just saved several years' crop of wheat in his granaries. When he sold it after three or four years, it had gone to $3 and he profited several thousand dollars." That his son Lieutenant James A. Lyon was the quartermaster for his Illinois infantry regiment, and thus responsible for acquiring supplies, may have assisted considerably in Morgan Lyon finding a market and receiving good money for his supplies.
Morgan Lyon was able to purchase a lot on block six of the Richard’s and Wickham’s plat in the city of Lowell. This is the block that is immediately east of what is today Richard’s Park. On this lot, he built a small frame house and moved there with his wife and, possibly, Isham Purple in 1865. It is not known who managed the farm at this time, but it was apparently kept in working order until he returned a few years later.
The motive for this move soon became evident. Sometime around the middle of the 1860s, Isham Purple died. He was buried in Foxes’ Corners Cemetery next to his wife. Whether Morgan and Louisa were living in Lowell already or the event of Isham’s death prompted Morgan to have the house built for Louisa is unknown. However, soon after Isham Purple’s death, Morgan Lyon left his wife Louisa at the house in Lowell and moved back to the farm. While they always remained married, they were never again known to live together. Morgan stayed on the farm in Vergennes, and Louisa stayed at the house in Lowell.
This is the last bit of evidence that there was a financial arrangement between Isham Purple and Morgan, a sort of dowry dating back to the marriage of Morgan and Mary in 1835. Upon Isham’s death, it seems that Morgan had fulfilled what he felt was his obligation to Louisa by building her a house and caring for her financially. That they had lived as man and wife there is no doubt; they had a daughter together. There is no evidence of whether they had ever lived happily or that their marriage was anything but a financial relationship.
Settling in After the War: 1866-1880
"[S]ome three years" after moving to Lowell with his wife Louisa, Morgan Lyon moved back to his farm in Vergennes, which by now was "a large, square, two-story wood house nicely finished and furnished." He left his daughter Mary in town with his wife, she being the only child now under their care.
Dr. Martha Purple moved in with Louisa and Mary and practiced medicine from a nearby office on Bridge Street, which is now East Main Street in the City of Lowell.
By 1870, Calfernia, or "Fern" Edmonds moved to the Lyon farm with Morgan. She was his housekeeper, but their relationship ran deeper than that. One might speculate that Morgan had taken her as a mistress, because she lived alone with him for many years and he involved her in several real estate transactions in Lowell and Vergennes. Of course, having real estate put in her name may have been done for other reasons as well and need not imply undue intimacy in their relationship. However, as we will see in the next chapter, it was Calfernia and not Louisa that was close to Morgan in his dying days.
Morgan’s son James Lyon married Emma Fuller of Ada on Christmas Day, 1866at Ada. A year later, they moved to Independence, Buchanan County, Iowa. They had four children, Sarah C., born November, 1867 in Michigan, Sanford W., born in 1870 in Iowa, Bertha L., born December 1871 in Iowa, and Martha L., also born in Iowa about three years later. They returned to Lowell in 1880. James Lyon gave up teaching in schools and took up the carpenter’s trade. Sanford died sometime before the age of ten.
By 1870, John Ryder had given up farming and he, Matilda, and their children moved into Lowell, where John took work as a laborer. Mary Louise, their only daughter, was born on March 10, 1866. Matilda gave birth to Jay B. in about 1875. On September 14, 1877, Matilda Lyon died suddenly of unknown causes and was buried the following day in the Ryder plot at Foxes’ Corner Cemetery. John and Matilda’s son George drowned on July 10th of the following year and was buried next to his mother.
John lost his mother Charity Hicks Ryder on October 23, 1861 and a brother, Elias, on April 5, 1872. They were both buried in the Ryder plot at Oakwood Cemetery in Lowell. Not long after the death of his wife, Benjamin Ryder moved in with his son Rowland on Rowland’s farm just north of Lowell near what is now the new part of Oakwood Cemetery. It is not known who managed the Ben Ryder farm after that, but it was kept active and in Morgan Lyon’s possession until his death.
By 1880, Frank Ryder had moved out of the family home, although he was boarding with the Johnson family next door to his parents’ home and was working as a store clerk. His younger brother Fred was also not living at home, although where he went at this time is not precisely known. He turned up in the late 1880s working in Midland County, Michigan.
Settling in after the war, Hiram and Emily Lyon Aldrich lived on their farm in 1870 and had moved into the town of Lowell by 1880. Like his brother-in-law James Lyon, Hiram had also taken up carpentry. A daughter, Lillian D. was born to them in 1866 and they had a son, Charles H., born January 5, 1869 in Vergennes.
Samuel Edmonds and his wife, Jane Smith, had been married in Norwich, New York on November 22, 1857. Prior to moving to Lowell in 1865, they had one daughter, Ellen, born about 1858. After arriving in Lowell, two sons, Raymond and Brace, and a daughter, Callome, were born to them in 1866, 1867, and 1869, respectively. Samuel and his family moved back to Norwich in 1871 and returned to Lowell in 1876. In 1879, the family moved again, this time to Nebraska.
William B. Lyon’s family continued to grow. He and Caroline had several more children. Two sons, Dodge G. and George R., were born November 16, 1861 and February 8, 1863, respectively. George R. Lyon was named for his older brother who was killed during the Civil War. Caroline then gave birth to twin daughters on February 16, 1866. Their names were Emma and Ella Lyon.
The year 1872 was tragic in William B. Lyon’s branch of the family. His son Nelson died at the age of 26 of smallpox on March 18, 1872, leaving a pregnant wife, Mary. Mary gave birth to a daughter, Elsie shortly thereafter, but Elsie died at the age of three months on September 17th from an inflammation of the lungs. Emma Lyon, the twin, caught a fatal case of dysentery and died at the age of six years on October 12, 1872.
However, the early 1870s were not such bad years for Morgan and Louisa’ daughter Mary. She married Omer O. Adams in February 1871 and in 1873 was born to them their only child, Cora Adams.
One of the first comprehensive histories of Kent County was published in 1870 by Dillenback and Leavitt. I am including this section in its entirety for two reasons. One, it gives us a good sense of what information the editors thought important to communicate to their customers, the people of Lowell, about their community. Second, I would only do the original authors a disservice by paraphrasing their work. This history gives an excellent summary of some of the facilities available in Vergennes Township in that year, as follows:
Vergennes has good educational facilities. Its schools are well organized, and are supplied with competent teachers. The school buildings are generally good, though not costly, and present a tidy appearance. The Valley School house, situate on the south part of section twelve, is a plain, wooden structure. It was once white, but the elements have produced their usual effects upon it, until now it presents a wood-colored appearance. Bailey School house, situate on the northeast corner of the northwest quarter of section twenty-nine, is a plain, white, wooden structure. It was built in 1855. The school house at Fox's Corners is a beautiful, new, wooden building, is situate on an eminence at the southeast part of section twenty-seven, and was built in 1870. The McPherson school house is situated on the northeast corner of the southeast quarter of section eighteen. It is a white wooden building, built in 1861. The Aldrich school house, situate at the center of section nine, is constructed of logs, is quite old, and, to all appearance, is becoming unsafe. The people of the district intend to build a new one ere long. The Kelsey school house, situate on the northeast corner of section thirty-two, was erected in 1852. It is a red wooden building. Barto school house, situate on the northeast corner of section two, is a plain, white, wooden structure. It was built in the year 1856. The Godfrey school house, situate on the south half of the southeast quarter of section two, is an old red wooden building. It was built about twenty-five years ago. The Water's school house, situated on the northwest corner of section twenty three, is a neat wooden structure, painted white. It was built in 1868. There are two outside the village of Fallassburg. The First Methodist Episcopal church is situated on the southwest corner of section twenty, within a short distance of Long Lake. It is a substantial wooden building, painted white, and has a capacity to seat three or four hundred persons. The present pastor of the congregation who worships there, is the Rev. Charles Chick. The First Christian Church of Vergennes, situated at the southwest corner of section two, was built in 1868, and is a substantial wooden structure, painted white. The Wesleyan Methodists in this vicinity also hold their meetings in the same building. There are two grist mills and one saw mill in Vergennes, outside the village of Fallassburg. The Foster grist mill is situated on Flat River, on section twenty-six. It is a three-story wooden structure, painted white. Proprietors, T. W. Fox & Co. Alton grist mill is situate on the northeast corner of section ten, on Wood's Creek. It is a two-story wooden building, used exclusively for mill purposes: Proprietor, Thomas B. Woodbury. Ring's Saw Mill and Wagon Shop, are situated on the northwest corner of section ten, on Wood's Creek. The mill contains one upright saw. Proprietor, Edmund Ring. There are blacksmith shops at the following places: Northwest corner of section twenty nine; northwest corner of the southwest quarter of section fifteen, (Lewis Smith, proprietor); and northwest corner of section thirty-four.
Below is the Dillenback and Leavitt assessment of the facilities in Lowell, also in its entirety:
During the past four years some fine brick buildings have been erected, among which are the large two story block on Bridge street, west of the river, containing five stores below, and a large hall and offices above; Lee's Block, two story, which contains two stores and a hall above; King's Block, now used by Joseph Amphlett as a carriage factory, and Graham's Block, three story, containing two stores, printing office and other offices, and which was erected almost entirely by Mr. Graham with his own hands. Besides the brick stores there are some very good wooden buildings. The village contains in all between 30 and 40 stores, besides the usual number of meat markets, restaurants, etc. There are two hotels: The Clifton House, part brick, kept by Charles Morse, and the Franklin House, a large frame building, kept by C. C. Parks. Manufacturing Establishments: Hatch & Craw's grist mills are two large framed mills containing three run of stone each, and capable of grinding 50,000 barrels of flour per year, besides doing a large custom business. The Lowell Woolen Mill, erected by Blodgett Brothers, in 1867, is a good, framed building, now owned by M. R. Blodgett, and does about $20,000 worth of business per year. Wilson, Gardner & Co. have a steam planer, sash, door and blind factory, erected in 1868, and are doing a good custom and shipping business. Avery & Johnson have a planer and sash, door and blind factory, which is doing an extensive custom business, and shipping largely both east and west. This factory runs by water power, and was erected in 1868, on the site of their mill which was destroyed by fire the previous year. In connection with this mill is a machine for the manufacture of wooden eave troughs-a new invention of Mr. E. W. Avery. Fort’s Western Medicine Manufacturing Company: E. M. Fort, the patentee of these medicines, commenced business a few years since on borrowed capital, paying therefore at the rate of 15 per cent. interest. Many of our readers will remember having seen his pleasant face on the streets of the various towns and villages of Kent county, when he was selling his remedies at retail. The business had increased so rapidly and become so popular in Lowell, that in March, 1870, some of the leading capitalists of the town joined him, and established the above-named stock company with a chartered capital of $100,000, making Mr. Fort the secretary and business manager, with the assistance and advice of a board of directors. Since that time they have branched out, and are rapidly introducing it in the adjoining states, and money invested in the company's stock must prove exceedingly profitable. Parties who know best, think it will soon pay a dividend of 30 per cent. as the sales are already immense and largely on the increase; these preparations being acknowledged to be among the best medicines in the market, their popularity having gained for them the endorsement of the widely known and popular drug house of Farrand, Sheley & Co., of Detroit, generally admitted to be the largest wholesale drug house in Michigan, who have purchased a large amount of the capital stock of the company, and are acting as their agents for Detroit. Boyce & Nash have a shop for the manufacture of agricultural implements, axes, etc., making about 150 dozen axes per year, and manufacturing in all about $6,000 worth per year. Joseph Amphlett's carriage factory is quite an extensive establishment, turning out about 100 carriages and wagons per year. Churches: The Methodist Episcopal church building is a fine brick structure 40x60 feet in size, completed and dedicated in 1859. It stands on a little rise of ground on Bridge street, east of the business part of the village. Cost over $8,000, including furniture. Near this is the unpretending Baptist church, which is a good, little framed building, erected in 1859. During the present season this church has been tastefully fitted up and newly painted. The Congregational church on the west side of Flat River is a good looking, framed building, 40x56 feet in size, erected in 1858 at a cost of $2,500. There are also two or three church societies and a Masonic Lodge and a Good Templar's Lodge, which meet in halls. Schools: There is a good, framed school-house 36x54 feet in size, and two stories high, which was erected in 1862 at a cost of about $2,000. It is being repaired the present season, but is small for the size of the district, which takes in quite a large extent of territory, and a larger building will soon be required. There is one ward or branch school in connection with this district, which is the old district No. 1, of the township of Lowell. This branch school is located on the south side of Grand River, in the vicinity of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad depot, where a village called Segwun was platted by William Chesebro, about the time the railroad was built, but which is seldom known by that name. Mills and Factories: On the above-mentioned plat is the steam saw mill of C. T. Wooding, erected in 1866 by Knapp & Tucker, and capable of cutting 20,000 feet of lumber per day; also, the cider and vinegar manufactory of E. R. Peck, erected in 1869, and capable of grinding 18,000 bushels of apples per year. In this vicinity is also quite a collection of small houses, mostly occupied by laborers in the above named establishments and on the railroad. Near at hand and a little east of the depot is the extensive chair factory of John Koph & Co., which has a small cluster of pleasant looking buildings around it, and has withal an appearance of thrift and neatness. This building was erected in 1858, by Seth Cogswell, and the machinery is run by an overshot waterwheel, water being obtained from a small spring brook which rises about two miles south and comes in through a gorge in the hills. About a mile distant is the large grain cradle and bed bottom factory of E. W. Tucker. His first mill was a three-story frame building 30x40 feet in size, erected in 1862, in connection with which is a new mill or shop 35x50 feet, erected in 1868. In the one item of grain cradles they have facilities for manufacturing 1,200 dozen per year, besides bed-bottoms and harvesting implements, such as hay-rakes, etc. This is also run by an overshot water-wheel. From 20 to 60 hands are employed. At the head of this stream, and about two miles south of the depot, is a fine bed of marl, on the farm of Alexander McBride, from which Mr. McB. has manufactured $4,000 worth of lime within the past four years. The Grand River Nurseries: N. P. Husted, proprietor, are situated about five miles southwest of the Lowell depot. He commenced planting in 1862, putting out about 40,000 apple trees, 40,000 peach trees, and other stock, since which time he has been gradually increasing until now he sets 300,000 apple and 300,000 peach and other stock every year. Besides this he is giving considerable attention to ornamental stock. The nurseries now cover 130 acres, all closely planted, and the amount of sales is nearly $50,000 per year. From 30 to 60 hands are employed. He is also turning his attention to orchard culture, having at present 1,000 four-year old peach trees, over 500 apple trees, 400 pear trees, 200 plum trees, and 4,000 grape vines; also, a good assortment of small fruits. The soil is a clay loam, which is well adapted to the growth of hardy, sound, nursery stock and profitable orchard culture. There are now over 15,000 orchard trees in the immediate vicinity, all of which have been set within a few years. Peaches have borne well every year.
Dillenback and Leavitt in their accounts demonstrate that by 1870, the Lowell area was well established both agriculturally and as a manufacturing site. The confluence of two rivers as well as the railroad enhanced all the hard work put in by the pioneers over the previous three decades to create an environment rich in resources and opportunities.
On March 22, 1877, the early pioneers of the Lowell area met at Frain’s hall to form what would evolve into the Hooker Pioneer Society. In the early days, however, it was simply known as the Old Residents’ Association of the Grand River Valley. Morgan Lyon was present at this and many other meetings of the group. He was involved in its charter and was elected its first Treasurer. Contained on the first membership list produced by this group were the names of Morgan Lyon and Benjamin Ryder. Morgan Lyon was also active in the Ada chapter of the Masonic Lodge, although interestingly not in the Lowell chapter.
However, a scant eleven years later, another history published by Charles Chapman and Company identified another opportunity for development of the Lowell area: "As recently as 1870 the village of Lowell might be called a town of wooden walls. Very few brick buildings were then in existence, and even the frame structures were as unpretentious as they were scattered." This represented the next and last great business opportunity for Morgan Lyon.
The Lyon Block: 1881-1893
Before 1880, Morgan Lyon had taken a school teacher into his home on the homestead in Vergennes. The farm continued to prosper, but he also sought other opportunities to expand his business interests. Louisa, as mentioned earlier, continued to live in the house in Lowell.
Cyprian Hooker, an early pioneer of the Lowell area who was responsible for so much construction in the village and its environs, built the Franklin House Hotel on Main Street just west of the Flat River in 1855. Sometime around 1880, Freeman Jones acquired the building and much of the rest of that block, which is today defined by Cousins Hallmark card shop on the west and the offices of Dr. James Reagan, DDS, on the east. In 1882, in the name of Calfernia Edmonds, Morgan Lyon acquired the east half of that block and began to build the stores and offices in the same style that Mr. Freeman had begun at the same time. The storefronts under his ownership on that block would eventually contain a dry goods store, a grocery, a bank, and a drug store. He also acquired at least one storefront in the building across the street in the Union block, now occupied by the Flat River Antique Mall. These buildings were constructed over the course of about ten years.
Dr. Martha Purple continued to practice medicine in Lowell until she fell ill and died of heart disease on September 5, 1884, two years after brother William also died in Lowell. At the time of her death, Martha Purple was the Vice President of a women’s group called the Lowell Liberal League, an association dedicated to what would years later come to be known as women’s liberation. A woman doctor at a time when such things were unheard of, Dr. Purple was truly a pioneer in many ways. She was buried next to her parents and brother William in the family plot at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery.
Louisa lost another sister in the 1880s. Calfernia and Samuel Edmond’s mother Dorothy Purple Edmonds died on January 16, 1887, and was buried at the Quarter Cemetery, South New Berlin, Chenango County, New York.
Calfernia remained on the farm at Vergennes in the role of housekeeper. She continued to be involved in Morgan’s land transactions, having been assigned title to a 160 acre farm he purchased west of the homestead on Section 19 of Vergennes. This farm was the home of Omar, Mary, and Cora Adams, Morgan’s daughter and her family.
James Lyon and family moved to Grand Rapids in the later 1880s from Lowell. His daughters Bertha and Sarah became bookkeepers and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the 1890s. Daughter Martha ("Mattie") lived on her own in Grand Rapids by 1894, but her occupation is unknown. Emma J. Lyon, the wife of James, died on October 23, 1892 and was buried in an unknown plot at Oakwood Cemetery in Lowell. James was also very active in Democratic politics and likely began his involvement with the Lowell and Ada pioneer societies at this time.
John H. Ryder was married a second time to Rosaltha ("Rose") D. Fullington, also widowed, on October 22, 1883, in Lowell. Soon thereafter he moved with his new wife and son Jay to Grand Rapids, where he continued to drive horses, an occupation he had taken up while living in Lowell. The marriage between John and Rose did not please Morgan Lyon. In no biographical sketch published during this time does Morgan ever mention that his daughter Matilda had been married to John Ryder. Also, neither John nor the son living in his household were mentioned in Morgan’s will.
John’s father Benjamin Ryder died at Vergennes on October 18, 1885, and was buried next to his wife in the family plot at Oakwood Cemetery. On February 5, 1887, John’s son Fred Ryder was killed in a lumbering accident in Midland County, Michigan. He was unmarried and his place of burial is unknown.
Frank Ryder had likely joined his brother Fred in the lumbering business in the area around Roscommon by this time, although no mention of him is made in the newspaper account of Fred’s death. Mary Louise Ryder married sometime before 1893 a man whose last name was Roulo and about whom nothing else in known.
The marriage between Hiram Aldrich and Morgan’s daughter Emily dissolved during this time. She would eventually remarry, but is it unknown where Emily lived or what she did between her marriages. It is possible that she lived with her father on the farm or with her stepmother in Lowell.
Samuel Edmonds, Morgan’s nephew, and his family returned to Lowell in 1881, where he lived out the remainder of his years after the example of his uncle.
Morgan and his family received news from New York in early 1884 of the death of his sister Betsey Knapp at Guilford Center on January 27th. She survived her husband George Knapp by about six years, he having died on July 2, 1878.
Mercy Newton, daughter of Morgan’s sister Lucinda Newton, married her second husband, Elberton Kimberley, in about 1888. I mention only Mercy out of all of Lucinda’s children and only here because she seems to have been the only one of Charles and Lucinda’s children with whom Morgan Lyon had kept in touch with over the years. Lucinda lived with her daughter as late as 1880, but it is not known what became of her after that. Mercy Newton Kimberley had at least one child, a son named O. Charley Filkins, by her first husband Alfonso Filkins.
All of this occurred in a climate of progress in the Lowell area. Services and amenities were added that made the lives of residents much more comfortable and must have astounded those like Morgan Lyon who had tamed and settled the unbroken wilderness. To wit:
In 1887, the Lowell Water Company was organized, utilizing steam power, was able to pump out 750,000 gallons of water a day.
While gas lighting had been lighting Lowell’s streets since 1870, on September 20, 1890, the Lowell Electric Light and Power Company began lighting the streets and, soon afterward, people’s homes.
A Democratic newspaper, appropriately called The Democrat began publication in 1880 to compete with Lowell’s older newspaper, the Republican Lowell Journal.
A cigar factory was built in Lowell and went into operation in 1890.
The Lowell Creamery Company began operations in Lowell in 1883 in response to the demand for diverse dairy products.
Among the new merchants that commenced in the Lowell area at this time included a dealer in carriages and buggies, and another in musical instruments.
These amenities brought little comfort to Morgan Lyon. In his eighty-second year, he fell ill. On March 24, 1893, he committed to paper his last Will and Testament. It was signed by him in a very shaky, almost illegible hand, doubtless brought on by his unknown illness. The will was witnessed by two of his neighbors. Three days later, he made a codicil to the will on which his signature is even more illegible. That addendum was witnessed by Calfernia Edmonds.
Morgan Lyon died April 1, 1893 and was buried in a service that included full Masonic honors befitting his station with that organization next to his first wife Mary and infant son Thomas in the Lyon plot at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery.
In his will, Morgan allowed for a monument to be erected in his honor, which still stands today in the center of the burial plot. To his widow Louisa, Morgan gave the income from rentals on a portion of his block of stores in Lowell and the house in which she lived.
He gave ownership of the farm occupied by Omer and Mary Adams to them, and they also received the property left to Louisa upon her death.
He bequeathed the homestead farm at which he died to his son James.
His daughter Emily received part of the Lyon block and the portion of the block he owned across the street.
His niece Mercy Newton Kimberley received five hundred dollars.
Two of John Ryder’s children were mentioned in the will as well. Frank Ryder was given the eighty acre farm that had at one time belonged to his grandfather Ben Ryder. Mary Ryder Roulo was also bequeathed five hundred dollars.
Oddly enough, despite her long service to Morgan, Calfernia Edmonds was left nothing. Even more strangely, she was made to sign over to him her interest in the real estate that was in her name but under his control before he died.
The Forgotten Pioneer: April 1, 1893 –
A little over a month after his death, the following obituary appeared in the May 5, 1893 issue of the Lowell Journal:
Morgan Lyon, an old resident of Vergennes, died at his home Saturday morning April 1st, at an advanced age. He was buried Tuesday in the Fox's Corners Cemetery by Ada Lodge F & A M of which he was a member, a large number from Lowell also attending.
By this time, the old pioneers who passed on typically were given a front page, one-column obituary with a photograph in the Journal. Morgan’s obit was four column lines, with no picture, placed among the social and commercial announcements. There are likely two reasons for this unusual treatment.
First, Morgan Lyon was a Democrat, and an active one at that. The Journal was a Republican paper. Likely the paper’s editor and Morgan had political differences, and this contributed to the less than stellar treatment Morgan received in the Journal’s pages upon his death.
Second, Morgan Lyon’s behavior suggests that he was less than a likable fellow. Elsewhere in this volume, I ventured to describe him as a jerk, and some of his documented behavior supports this assertion. After the death of his in-laws, Morgan Lyon essentially sent away his wife and daughter to live in Lowell. While he provided for their physical and financial needs, there is no evidence of any involvement beyond that, at least toward Louisa, his wife. In his business dealings, we have also seen evidence of inflexibility and an adherence to hard-handed principles.
However, this is not to say that Morgan Lyon was a mean-spirited ogre, as many might argue of such a man today. There is evidence to support the notion that Morgan was a charitable and civic-minded person. He purchased the Ben Ryder farm at a time when his neighbor and friend was in financial trouble and let the Ryders continue to operate it. He eventually returned ownership of the Ryder farm to his and Benjamin’s grandson, and thus kept it within the family. Morgan took financial, if not necessarily emotional, care of those for whom he felt responsible, including his estranged wife Louisa and Miss Lyla Robinson, the school teacher that boarded with him at the homestead. It should be noted that the prevalent notion of charity at the time was to help others become self-sufficient, and his actions in these instances demonstrate that this was his aim.
Morgan served honorably in local office at a time when such service offered little personal benefit. In their political dealings, he and his son James sought to keep the Democratic power brokers in Grand Rapids from assuming what the Lyons considered to be too much power at the expense of the rural areas. His non-farming business interests, especially the construction of the Lyon Block in the town of Lowell, served not only his own interests but the community as well. His sale of his stockpiles of grain to the Union Army during the Civil War likewise was of benefit both to him and to his country.
The combination of harsh fiscal conservatism, civic-mindedness, industriousness, and charity are traits that served him and other pioneers well. Strong willed, fair-minded, and determined individuals were the only ones that could hope to survive the conditions attendant to pioneer life in the middle nineteenth century. Morgan Lyon had these characteristics in abundance. Morgan Lyon might best have been described as a clan chieftain. This paints a picture of a strong, industrious, and practical leader who is at once charitable and emotionally distant. Again, Morgan Lyon exhibited these traits in spades.
That his strong will and harsh fiscal conservatism served him well is evident, that it may have led to his becoming a forgotten pioneer is equally evident. Morgan Lyon was a successful individual, in business, politics, and socially. He was a wealthy businessman; the net worth of his estate at his death being estimated as high as $75,000, which would translate into about three million dollars today. He was the holder of several elected offices and an active force in the Kent County Democratic organization. Morgan Lyon rose to high rank in the Masonic fraternity and was an officer in the Kent County Agricultural Society and the pioneer group.
Very few who accomplish so much having started with so little do so without making enemies. It would seem that Morgan Lyon had made enemies of many of those who were in power in the area at the time of his death. Thus, his name and reputation faded over time as those of others remained prominent. A brief biographical sketch provided by Morgan’s son-in-law Omer Adams, appeared in a local history book published in 1900. After that, Morgan Lyon became a mere footnote to the history of the town he helped found and build.
As the intent of this work is to present a genealogical as well as historical biography, we will now look in brief at what became of some of the other people in Morgan Lyon’s life.
Louisa Purple Lyon, Morgan’s widow, lived in the home he built for her until her death on August 7, 1913, at the age of almost ninety. She was the oldest person living in Lowell at the time of her death, was cremated in Detroit, and her ashes were buried next to Morgan and her sister Mary at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery.
John Ryder, the widower of Morgan’s eldest daughter Mary, worked in Grand Rapids as a teamster and general laborer until he died of heart disease at his home in Grand Rapids on January 15, 1894. His body was returned to Lowell for burial, presumably in the family plot at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery. He and his second wife Rosa had two children, Joseph A. and Harry Leroy Ryder.
Morgan’s son James A. Lyon managed the homestead farm at Vergennes until about the time of his death in 1904. He was Acting President of the Pioneer Association of Ada and Vice President of the Hooker Pioneer Society in Lowell before he died. The farm was passed to his daughters Sarah, Bertha, and Mattie. He was buried next to his wife at Oakwood Cemetery in Lowell in an unknown plot.
Emily Lyon Aldrich, Morgan’s daughter, married another Civil War veteran, Helmus Hendricks, and they lived in Grand Rapids. She died July 9, 1918 at her home and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Grand Rapids Township.
Mary E. Lyon Adams, Morgan and Louisa’s daughter, lived with her husband on their farm at Vergennes, bequeathed to them by Morgan. He died in 1909 and was buried at Foxes’ Corners near the Lyon plot. She lived until September 26, 1924, when she died from complications resulting from a fall at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad station, Chicago, on Aug. 16th of that year. She was returning from a visit to her nieces Bertha Hawley and Mattie Thompson, James Lyon’s daughters. These ladies accompanied her body to Lowell and she was also buried at Foxes’ Corners next to her husband.
William B. Lyon, the brother of Morgan, lived in Lowell, Grand Rapids, and finally Cedar Springs, Michigan, where he died December 29, 1897 at the age of eighty-five. He was buried near the farm he settled in Lowell Township in the Rolf Cemetery.
Morgan Lyon’s grandson Frank Ryder managed the Ben Ryder farm. He married Anna Reusser on May 24, 1894, in Lowell and they had twelve children, one of whom died in infancy. They eventually purchased the Lyon homestead farm and became the proprietors of the Ryder Dairy. Frank died due to heart failure on November 14, 1912 at the Vergennes farm. Anna continued to operate the dairy until about 1935. She died August 20, 1962, and was survived by 122 descendants.
Jay B. Ryder, another grandson, followed the family urge to move west and settled in Omaha, Nebraska, where he married a German woman named Helen and where he worked as a railroad switchman. They had two sons and Jay died sometime between 1914 and 1920.
Mary Louise Ryder, Morgan’s granddaughter, married again to a man by the last name of March and settled in California where she managed a boarding house and changed her name to Mae March. She died on October 31, 1953.
Sarah C. Lyon, another granddaughter, lived with her sister Bertha Hawley in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a while before moving to South Bend, Indiana to live near her other sister Mattie Thompson. She started her career as a bookkeeper in Grand Rapids, and moved on to selling clothes in shops for women and children before becoming proprietor of her own children’s clothing store. Her date and place of death are unknown.
Bertha Lyon, Sarah’s sister, married Tracy F. Hawley in about 1901 and they lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To them was born at least one child, a daughter named Jane L. It is not known where or when Bertha died.
Sarah’s other sister Mattie Lyon married Russell Fred Thompson and they lived in South Bend, Indiana. Mattie gave birth to at least two daughters, Dortha and Alice Thompson. Mattie’s place and time of death are unknown.
Morgan’s granddaughter Lillian D. Aldrich married a man by the name of Van Dyke. She was living in Grand Rapids at 1001 Jefferson Avenue at the time that the 1920 census was taken. Nothing else is known of her, or of her brother Charles H. Aldrich.
Cora L. Adams, yet still another granddaughter, married John Krum. They had no children. She died in 1910 and was buried next to her father at Foxes’ Corners Cemetery.
Samuel F. Edmonds, the nephew of Morgan Lyon, continued in his uncles example. He became a Royal Arch Mason in the Lowell Masonic lodge (Hooker Chapter, Number 73) and served a total of eleven years as the village marshal in Lowell and one year as its clerk. He died on April 26, 1901 and was buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
Calfernia Edmonds was still alive and living in Lowell at the time of her brother Samuel’s death. Nothing more is known about her.
Mercy Newton, Morgan’s niece, was living with her husband Elberton Kimberley at Belding, Ionia County, Michigan in 1900 at the time the census was taken. Nothing more is known about her.
Morgan Lyon’s Grandchildren
Morgan Lyon’s grandchildren.
Back Row, Left to Right: Jay B. Ryder, Frank W. Ryder, Charles H. Aldrich
Middle Row: Mattie Lyon, Lillian D. Aldrich, Sarah C. Lyon, Bertha Lyon
Front Row: Cora L. Adams, Mary Louise Ryder
Contributed by J. William Lowry
Created: 17 March 2005