General Lewis W. Heath

Gen. Lewis W. Heath—Michigan has been especially honored in her public men. Not only is this true of the state, but in every city, town and hamlet, there are, rising above the masses, individuals distinguished beyond others, who, by reasons of pronounced ability and forceful personality, have always commanded the homage of their fellow-men, and who have revealed to the world those two resplendent virtues of a superior race perseverance in purpose and a directing spirit which never fails. Throughout the great northwest are found men who mark with deeds the vanishing traces of time, and whose accomplishments have done much in directing and controlling the destinies of the communities where their lots have been cast.

Of this class Gen. Heath ranks among the distinguished citizens of Kent county, and has stamped the impress of his strong individuality not alone upon the local community, for he has figured prominently in the public affairs of the state, political and social. He has been a man among men, progressive and public spirited; he stands for that which is highest and best, and has ever been a recognized leader in supporting and disseminating progressive ideas. He entered upon life’s career with but little to commend him, other than a vigorous constitution, indomitable energy, and a good education.

Lewis W. Heath was born in Ashtabula county, Ohio, June 22, 1837, and is a son of James and Mary A. (Mann) Heath—the latter a cousin of Horace Mann, the eminent Massachusetts statesman. When a lad of eight years his parents removed to Geauga county, Ohio, locating near Hiram college, where his boyhood and early manhood years were spent as a student. There he formed the acquaintance of James A. Garfield, then a student and under teacher in the college. This acquaintance ripened into warm friendship, which was continued throughout the remaining years of the late president’s life. After leaving college they continued in regular correspondence, Gen. Heath having at present some letters which reveal the close relationship of the two young men after each had merge into life’s work. In 1857 the subject left college and came to Lenawee county, Mich., where he was engaged in teaching until the beginning of the Civil War. He offered his service to the country, at the first enlistment in Michigan, becoming a member of company K., of the First Michigan Infantry, April 18, 1861, and serving under the "three months’ call." Returning in August, 1861, he assisted in raising company F. of the Eleventh Michigan Infantry, in which he was commissioned second lieutenant. In April, 1862, he was promoted to captain and placed on detached service. In the spring of 1863, he resigned his commission in the army by reason of impaired health, and returned to Adrian, Mich. The succeeding four years were spent in life insurance work, he being connected with the Michigan Life Insurance association. In 1867, he came to Grand Rapids as their general agent, serving here in that capacity until 1869, when he engaged in mercantile life and transacted a large and prosperous business in hats and furs for many years.

Immediately preceding the nomination of President Garfield, he manufactured a hat for him and took it to Washington. Just previous to the inauguration he made him another one which was worn during that ceremony, and is the hat which the president wore at the time of his assassination. The hat was subsequently returned to Gen. Heath, and is now treasured among the family relics. This feature of the subject’s life work is simply recited here to show the close relationship which existed between himself and the martyred president.

Gen. Heath has been prominently connected with state and national politics. He has always been an ardent and uncompromising republican, and served twelve years as a member of the state central committee; was elected to fill the vacancy created by the death of Senator Chandler as a member of the national committee, and was appointed a member of the executive committee of the national republican committee. In 1877 he was appointed inspector general of the Michigan state militia, serving four years in that capacity. In April, 1881, he was appointed post office inspector, a position he held for several years. Gen. Heath also served as alderman from the Third Ward of Grand Rapids, and has ever taken an active interest in local and general politics.

As a prominent official in the military affairs of the state, he has been zealous and influential in elevating the standard of morality, punctuality and discipline in the state militia.

In 1878 the general offices of the military service of the different states met in New York and organized the National Military association, for the purpose of raising the standard of the militia of the states, establishing a more uniform system for the government of that service, and securing more liberal recognition from the general government. Gen. Heath was a delegate from Michigan. At this meeting a bill was formulated and presented later to the various legislatures of the states, which have since established a uniform system of discipline and raised the national guard or state militia to its present high grade of efficiency.

September 1, 1863, Gen. Heath was first united in marriage, at Medina, Mich., with Miss Jennie Worcester, a native of New Hampshire, in which state she grew to womanhood and was educated. Two children were the fruit of this felicitous union, viz: Jennie Alicia, wife of Frederick Tinkham, who is engaged in the furniture business in Grand Rapids, Ferry Kimball, who is associated with John Byrne, in the insurance business in Grand Rapids. Both these children are graduates of the Grand Rapids high school, and Ferry, spent two years in the university of Michigan, at Ann Arbor. The latter also was a soldier in the Thirty second Michigan infantry, during the recent Spanish-American war.

The Heath family has ever been noted for its patriotism, its members having been identified with every American war since that of the Revolution. William Heath, great-grandfather of Gen. Lewis W. Heath, was captain in 1770 of the ‘ancient and honorable artillery’ of Boston, and was afterward a prominent commander under Washington, with the rank of major-general; he was also a member of the provincial congress of 1771-75, and died at Roxbury, Mass., January 14, 1814. On the maternal side, Major-Gen. James Wadsworth, of Revolutionary fame, was an uncle of the mother of the subject, and his son, Major-Gen Wadsworth, was killed in the Civil War. Gen. John Parker Boyd, the ‘hero of Tippecanoe,’ was a cousin of Mrs. Mary A. Heath, the subject’s mother, and was a resident of Newburyport, Mass. The Civil War also found members of this family on the adverse side, and one of them was a major-general in Lee’s army. The final link in the connection of the Heath family with the wars of the country is supplied by Col. William Angier, a relative, who served under Gen. Winfield Scott in the war with Mexico. The first assistant postmaster-general of the United States, Perry Heath, is also a cousin of the subject, once removed.

Mrs. Jennie (Worcester) Heath was called from earth in July, 1881, and in September, 1882, Gen. Heath formed a second happy matrimonial union, his bride being Miss Mary H. Parker, a native of Marine City, Mich., and a daughter of L. B. and Jane (Sparrow) Parker, the former a retired physician of that city, but who has two sons in the active practice of medicine. To this second marriage of the general have been born four children, viz: Marcia Helen, Lewis, Delos and Parker. The family worship at the Congregational church.

Gen. Heath is a knight templar Mason; he is also a member of the G. A. R., and assisted in organizing the first post in the state, and is likewise a member of Michigan commandery, Loyal Legion. The general in now president of the Grand Rapids Duplicate Whist & Novelty company, manufacturer’s of duplicate whist boards and counters.

Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 18 May 2007