Connecting Local History
by Ed Howard
Reprinted from Society News, the newsletter of the Arcadia Area Historical Society
June 2017. Volume 23 Issue 1.
It’s funny, as you gather and report local history, how things, people, and events often just interconnect and keep coming together to form a more complete picture. This is certainly true in the case of our recent newsletter articles on Arcadia Firsts, Early Roads, and A Family of Dry Hill.
I just finished reading one of the “One Hundred Years Ago” series articles from the Manistee News dated April 19, 2003, and it brought a stark reminder of these many connections. This particular article describes a great celebration on Dry Hill back on March 30, 1903 in which the entire community, over one hundred in attendance, gathered to bid farewell to the 1866 log home of Orlo and Viola Putney. The Putneys were about to move into their newly built house right next door.
This new house itself would later gain local fame due to its unusual octagon style and cemented exterior, but this day, as the article states, was “…to bid farewell to the old log house which had been their home during their married life and was built by the parents of Mrs. Putney in her early girlhood, and that both by her parents and herself has always been kept hospitably open.”
Orlo, or O. E. as often referenced, had become a prominent figure in the community. He was the constant overseer of many local barn raisings and road projects—and was believed to even have had input into early railways. Also, while large saw mill owners like Crane and Hale ran mass production cutting operations, Orlo had himself long run a small mill that cut the lumber specifically needed by local farmers for constructing their homes and farm buildings. He often used the customer’s own logs.
The log home that Orlo and “Ola” (Viola) were ceremoniously vacating this day had been built in 1866 by Ola’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bauman. As reminisced by the guests and family on this day of farewell, gatherings in this old house had left lasting memories. Present at the farewell were two men who helped put the logs in place in ’66, Sam Gilbert and Jesse Bunker. Another local pioneer, Olivia Gilbert was present to read an historical sketch about the Baumans and the many gatherings, sad and joyous, that had been held in this old home.
It was Mr. Bauman, Ola’s father, who conducted the first Arcadia funeral that Olivia Gilbert so amusingly described in our last article on Arcadia Firsts--the funeral of Mr. Towsley. Having taken on such a hallowed assignment, we can presume that Mr. Bauman was a religious, highly respected man in his community.
We can be assured the Matt Baird family was amongst those at this farewell celebration. Remember, we featured them in our article on A Family of Dry Hill. Sisters Addie and Gertie Baird can be seen in at least one of the accompanying photos (which we judge were taken on the day of this special occasion). Addie, as mentioned in that article, would be the only member of Matt’s family to marry. In 1910 she married John Matzinger, a widower from Frankfort.
Mr. Matzinger, after a long successful career in the fruit and produce business, would in 1917 establish a Ford garage and service station in Frankfort. As can be recalled from our Arcadia Firsts article, the unique snowmobile that appeared at Kalbitzers Store on that stormy day in 1929 originated from John Matzinger’s Ford dealership in Frankfort. Life for the hardworking Baird family eased a little after Addie and John’s union. The non-driving family got around much more by car, and Matt, in his final years, spent winters with them in Frankfort and even passed away there in 1929.
It’s maybe questionable about the tree foliage and the ladies’ dress for a March 30th day, but these two staged photos would seem to have been taken just prior to the “farewell to the old log home” celebration. The upper photo shows the ladies around a set table in front of O. E. Putney’s newly built octagon house. The same dress and hair styles reveal both photos were taken on the same occasion, and the ladies present are ones known to have attended, including Theresa Hunt, Luty Howard, and Olivia Gilbert from the Herring Lake area.
It would have been natural for the ladies to arrive early and make meal and social preparations. It was to be an evening of recitations, music, and reminiscences “…until about midnight when a bountiful supper was served…” John Howard’s diary states that “all hands” went to Orlo’s that evening.
John Matzinger and wife Addie driving one of the dealership’s Ford cars in a Frankfort parade.
In continuing connections, this time in regards to our Early Roads article: John Matzinger’s first wife had passed away in 1902, and John was left with a young daughter, Rowena, and a new born son, Hubel. Hubel would go on to become a right of way engineer for the Michigan State Highway Department and, ultimately, be involved in the 1941 diverting of Scenic Highway M22 westward just north of Arcadia and, thus, in the creation of the original Scenic Turnout. The first dedication of that scenic site was, in fact, in his name. We might presume also, we’re still inquiring, that the main road through the Dry Hill area became “Matzinger Road” because of his influence.
Here’s some final facts that connect the Putney Octagon house right to our Museum: Etha (“Effie”), daughter of Orlo and Ola Putney, grew up in this house. She married David Lemley (1907), and they continued living there, raising their own children and even caring for her parents there in their later years. One of Effie’s children was a daughter, Norma. Norma attended Arcadia High School and would later marry a fellow student there, Eldred Gilbert. Well, Eldred happened to be the grandson of Howard Gilbert, builder of the Victorian home that is now the Arcadia Area Historical Museum. Eldred’s parents had eventually inherited this home, and Eldred himself had been raised there. As fate would have it, Eldred, along with wife Norma, of course, would find himself spending a portion of their child raising years living in the old, locally famous, octagon home of Norma’s grandparents.