The Henry Clay Matteson Family:
Record Keepers, Collectors, Builders

by Ed Howard
Reprinted from Society News, the newsletter of the Arcadia Area Historical Society
November 2014. Volume 20 Issue 2.

Of the many pioneer families to settle the Arcadia area, none left a better record nor a greater imprint than the family of Henry Clay Matteson. Henry, himself, was to leave behind 24 volumes (sixty pounds worth) of diaries. His oldest son William, though probably impressing most through his building accomplishments, recorded family history in his own way by keeping details of family vacations, hunting trips, and photo takes. Youngest son, Charles, of course, left an Arcadia landmark that still stands on the northwest corner of Lake Street and M22, the “Charlie Matteson Store.”

Charles Matteson StoreThe Charles Matteson store north across from the Matteson Manor

Henry Clay Matteson, a Civil War veteran, came to Arcadia, via Vermont, Wisconsin, and Missouri, in 1867. As a veteran, he was able to gain a homestead on the hilly land south of Bar Lake (Arcadia), later known as “Peeks Hills.” By 1872 he had cleared and developed the land, built a home with farm buildings, and, thus, had “proven” the homestead. Now with legal deed, Henry sold the property and moved to the valley lands south of Pierport. There he not only established a substantial farm, but was soon able to build a family summer home on Pierport’s south bluff. Even within those laborious days clearing and settling the land, Henry faithfully kept the diary he had begun in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia in 1861. He continued the diary until 9 days short of his death in Arcadia Township in 1899.

The local impact of son William became very apparent after a recent visit by six, counting spouses, of his descendants. The group included Mary Hathaway, William’s granddaughter, and Jon Matteson, a great grandson through Mary’s brother Bruce. They brought with them photos, drawings, some of William’s journals, and general information that provided a greater look into William’s accomplishments. These are items that will now remain in our Museum.

William Matteson, born in 1864, developed as a teenager an avid interest in collecting Indian artifacts, unusual rocks, and rare stones. He continued this hobby throughout his years in Pierport and long after moving to Arcadia near the turn of the century. Before coming to Arcadia, William had married (Senie Electa Shira) and had also become a very proficient carpenter and cabinet maker. A handwritten caption under an early Pierport street photo states that William had built the “houses on this street.” In Arcadia, he quickly used those skills to build a home and hotel on the southwest corner of Sixth (M22) and Lake Streets (property he had bought from the Starke Land and Lumber Company). The hotel, also to become a fine restaurant--and sometimes bar, would be named and remembered in Arcadia history as the “Matteson Manor.”


Henry Clay Matteson
Henry Clay Matteson

Henry Clay Matteson's Diaries
Henry Clay Matteson’s sixty pounds of diaries (1861-1899)

The Matteson Manor in 1925

William and Son JimA corner of William Matteson’s Shop inside the Hotel.
William is on the right. His son Jim is on the left.

William Matteson Cabin below Inspiration PointThe cabin built by William on Lake Michigan below the Scenic Turnout

William’s hobby of collecting would finally result in an enormous collection of museum-worthy things. He had probably also inherited some of father Henry’s gatherings, including the diaries. Wanting to share his heritage and his fine collection, onto the hotel’s west side, he built a small display room---thus, came into existence Arcadia’s first museum. It was long a place that fascinated locals and visitors alike.

Now, with William’s collection long ago distributed and “The Manor” itself a few years gone, we’re fortunate, thanks to William’s granddaughter Mary Hathaway, to at least have a list (typed in 1944) of those artifacts. It is nineteen pages long and includes amazing finds like a flint knife, eleven and one-half inches long, “used by pre-historic man and lost in the swamps east of Arcadia. Found by Joseph Tondu”. And, here’s a real amazing item, “wood from the Griffin.” The Griffin was the first ship built on the Great Lakes in 1660. Loaded with furs, it disappeared on its very first trip, and its fate, supposedly, was never known. The list says “…the remains discovered by fisherman about ten years ago.”


William and SenieWilliam and Senie Matteson on Lake Michigan below “Highland Park” (The Scenic Turnout)

In his middle years, William had resources and some time to travel. In the fall of 1924 he bought a brand new 1925 Star automobile and, with wife and sons Billie (to many locals “Willie”) and Adam, made a five and a half month, 11,000 mile trip west. From William’s travel log, we know they took in 15 states and two foreign countries, used 403 gallons of gas, and got 27 and two-fifths miles per gallon. But, of more historical importance, we learn the re-locations of some of Arcadia’s early citizens. For example, from notes made while stopping in Arcadia, Nebraska, we learn that town was named by Mr. W. H. Cotton, first supervisor of our Arcadia Township (which he had also named). Mr. Cotton had emigrated there before moving further west to Oregon.


Car Trip

On the long trip west – Senie, William, and son Billie with the 1925 Star Automobile


Current resources have already given us a great look into this Matteson family’s history and how they have impacted Arcadia, but a recent acquisition will enable us to learn much more. The Manistee County Historical Museum has placed the 60 pounds, 24 volumes of Henry Clay Matteson’s diaries onto a CD. Curator there, Mark Fedder, has honored our request for a copy, and we now have it. Let the new learning begin.