Mrs. Phila L. Hamilton

Mrs. Phila L. Hamilton passed her entire life in Grand Rapids, was a representative of one of the honored pioneer families of this city, and upon this community she left the distinct impression of a gracious and cultured gentlewoman. Mrs. Hamilton long held much of leadership in church, cultural and social circles in her native city and in civic affairs she early became a loyal advocate of woman suffrage, in which connection it is interesting to record that shortly before her death she had the distinction of being the first Michigan woman to be chosen, as a member of the presidential electoral board, to carry the vote of the state to the national capital, this honor having come to her on January 12, 1925, she having previously been one of the women leaders in the councils of the Republican party in Michigan. Mrs. Phila L. (VanBuren) Hamilton, widow of Hiram T. Hamilton, for many years prior to her death, was born in Grand Rapids in the year 1850, and the place of her nativity was the family home that then stood on the site of the old Stocking street public school. She was a daughter of Ocenus and Christiana (Peck) VanBuren, who became residents of Grand Rapids when this city was a mere hamlet in the midst of the surrounding forests. Ocenus VanBuren came to Michigan in 1844, from Oneida county, New York, the journey having been made by packet on the Erie canal to Rochester, thence by railroad to Buffalo, and from that city by the steamboat "Great Western" to Detroit. From Detroit he traveled on the old Michigan Central Railroad, then equipped with primitive strap rails, to Marshall, an entire day having been required to traverse this distance, and from Marshall he proceeded by wagon to Battle Creek, where he took the stage that was to transport him over the pioneer roads, often almost impassible, to his destination in Grand Rapids, the roads having been so muddy as to make the passage of the stage almost impossible the last few miles, which were thus traversed by Mr. VanBuren on foot. He found a village of but two or three houses, and in what was virtually a forest wilderness he purchased land that he later platted into city lots, the same having become the VanBuren & Turner addition to the city of Grand Rapids. Mr. VanBuren was long and prominently concerned with city and business affairs in Grand Rapids, especially the dairy business, and he and his wife were honored pioneers here at the time of their death, both having been earnest members of the Baptist church. Of the seven children only one is now living, Miss Frances VanBuren, who is principal of the Lafayette street public school in Grand Rapids. Mrs. Hamilton gained her early education in the pioneer schools of Grand Rapids, including a normal training school, and for thirty years she was a successful and loved teacher in the public schools of her native city, her pedagogic service having been in the old Union school and many of her former pupils have become business leaders in Grand Rapids and elsewhere. From an appreciative tribute that appeared in a Grand Rapids paper at the time of her death are taken, with minor paraphrase, the following extracts: "Mrs. Hamilton’s death came as a distinct shock and surprise to her large circle of friends, as she was ill only a few days and so late as last Tuesday entertained a group of old schoolmates. A life-long member of the Fountain Street Baptist Church, she was president of the Women’s Working Society six consecutive years, and at the time of her death was president of the missionary society of the church. She was a member of the Eastern Star, Daughters of the American Revolution, Ladies Literary Club, Woman’s council of Kalamazoo College, the Grand Rapids Art Association, was corresponding secretary of the woman’s board of Butterworth Hospital, and was for several years president of the Kent Garden Club. Mrs. Hamilton was a Republican elector for Michigan in the 1924 election and was chosen to carry the vote of Michigan to Washington. While in the capital city she had a personal interview with President Coolidge, and she returned home just three weeks prior to her death." In 1871 was solemnized the marriage of Hiram T. Hamilton and Phila L. VanBuren, but the marital bonds were soon severed by the death of Mr. Hamilton, August 31, 1873. He was born in the state of New York and was in the very prime of young manhood at the time of his death. The one child of this union is Claude T., of whom individual mention is made elsewhere in this work, and who was but five months old at the time of his father’s death. Mrs. Hamilton ever manifested not merely a loyal but a really loving interest in all that concerned her home city and its people, and here no woman was held in higher esteem and affection. She served as chairman of the historical research and preservation committee of the local chapter of the Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and in this connection was instrumental in marking nine historical spots in the city of Grand Rapids. It is pleasing to record that her only son, an appreciative member of the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, is likewise deeply interested in historical matters, especially those touching the state of Michigan, and that his research has been such that he was able to contribute a most valuable historic article to the Grand Rapids Herald of Sunday, December 14, 1924, the same giving a description of a British war ship hunting rebels up Grand river in the period of the Revolution and of how the Grand river valley contributed to "Braddock’s Defeat."


Transcriber: Nancy Myers
Created: 17 February 2005