The following History of Potterville information was taken from "The History of Potterville, Michigan 1869-1976." Published for Potterville's Bicentennial in 1976, the book was written by Ruth Lovell Wright.
Lee and O.V. Rumsey, lifetime residents of the Potterville area, are direct descendents of the founders of the town that was named after the Potter family. The oldest daughter of Linus and Diana Potter, Louisa, was teaching at West Windsor, walking each day from her parents' home. One particularly wet day she was unable to cross a bad stretch of road on her way home because of the deep mud.
John Carman, a young carpenter only recently arrived from the East, was building a house for H.M. Carman at the location near the present truck. He saw the plight of the young school teacher and called to her to wait and he would get his oxen hooked and come to her assistance. Like the knight in shining armor on his charger and the fair lady he rescued, Mr. Carman brought her through the mud and took her home. Thus began a romance that led to marriage.
John and Louisa Potter Carman's first child was Cora, who later married Sylvester Rumsey and became the other of Lee and O.V., highly respected in this community. Both active and useful members of the area, O.V. having served on the Board of Education for twenty eight years.
Their Grandfather Rumsey and his brother came to America from Ireland. They were orphans and became separated in New York, and never saw each other again.
One of the interesting events that Rumseys recall was of the building of the Adventist Church in Potterville, at the corner of the Lansing Road and Church Street. The church was nearing completion when a Mr. Cook of West Windsor died. Being Adventists, the family wanted to have the funeral in the new church, which had no seats yet. Thick planks were placed on up-ended cross sections of tree trunks, to make improvised seats for the funeral. They would have served the occasion very well, except that minister gave a two-hour sermon, with the assembly sitting on those rough planks with no support for their backs.
In May of 1973, Lee and O.V. Rumsey were given the Outstanding Farmer Award during Michigan Week at Potterville. They both lived on U.S. 27 and at one time had farmed five hundred acres. In 1976 they are still farming on a much smaller scale.
O.V. and his friend, Grover Dickinson, had gone West when they were young men, earning money by helping in the wheat harvest for $1.50 a day with meals included, sleeping in barns and washing in the creek. Once they ran out of money and were really hungry. O.V. has never forgotten how good the fresh home-made bread tasted, given to them by a kind housewife.
Later he studied at a Chiropractic School and was on the staff of Grace Hospital in Detroit, when a serious illness ended his career and he came home, worn out and discouraged, feeling he was a failure. According to O.V., his big brother put his arm around him and told him he could farm with him, a way of life he had not thought he wanted. However, the partnership has lasted all through the years and has been a pleasant one.
Interest in education has played an important part of their lives, beginning with their Grandfather Carman, who built the first school at the corner of Vermontville Road and M-100 in 1858. Their father, Sylvestor Rumsey, was on the West Windsor school board for years, as was Lee for ten years later on. Lee's daughter Ozelma Lockwood was a teacher for forty four years, part of that time in the West Windsor school which she and her father and uncle had all attended as children. O.V. served on the Potterville Board of Education for twenty-eight years.
The population for the City of Potterville is estimated in this year of 1976 at approximately 1,700 people. For a city that didn't have electricity until 1925 and water till 1957, it has done very well in growing power. In the past, there was a local newspaper, a train depot, a bus line, and its own telephone company office. These are all gone now.
Today, Potterville has many businesses and they help to keep the community alive. The giant Potterville elevator, owned by Frank Bowles, has continued to bring business to the community in large quantities. At present, there are over 50 different businesses in the Potterville-Benton Twp. areas, each doing its part in helping the community to continue for the well being of the entire population.
For more history on Potterville, please review the other stories available on this website and stop into the Potterville Public Library, libraries within Eaton County, and the Michigan Historical Library in Lansing, Michigan.
PUBLISHED HISTORIES OF POTTERVILLE, MICHIGAN
Autobiography of Theodore E. Potter, author: Theodore E. Potter
Published by The Rumford Press, 1913.
Pioneer History of Eaton County, author, Daniel Strange. Published by Eaton County Pioneer and Historical Society, 1923.
LETTER FROM ONE OF POTTERVILLE'S FOUNDING RESIDENTS
Following is a letter written by Edward Meeder. The Meeders' are one of the founding residents of Potterville and this letter expresses eloquently the state of Potterville and the feelings of the community during Mr. Edward Meeders' lifetime residency.
EDWARD J. MEEDER
I was born in Potterville in September 1902, and have lived here ever since, and have never had any real desire to move.
It was a typical small farm community of about four hundred and fifty people, all of whom knew everyone else and their business. There was no electricity then. Stores were usually lighted by gas or oil. Heating was done by wood or coal stoves.
The down-town area was quite a lot as it is now, except that the part of the block on the south side of main street was a large two story brick building. It housed a hotel and opera house on the second floor, and a hardware store. This section was totally destroyed by fire about 1914.
Where the Hardware is now located was a two story building, which was a saloon, and the owner lived up stairs. Between this saloon and the hotel building was a small frame building, which housed a meat market. In those days, the butcher usually butchered his own meat and sold it as you called for it, out in front of your eyes, and that was all they sold. (Just meat)
The building where Howard's garage is now located, was a print shop for the "Potterville Press", a weekly gossipy news paper. At the rear of the building, the owner and Editor and family lived.
On the site where the Post Office is now located, was a large livery Stable, where you could put up and board your horse or rent a horse and buggy if you were traveling out of town.
The North side of Main Street, starting at the West end: The Grand Trunk Depot was a busy place in those days. If I remember correctly, there were two trains a day running East and two running West, that stopped here to let off and take on passengers. There were also several (so called fast trains) that dropped mail here and picked it up by aid of a hook, which protruded from the mail car. This hook snatched sacks of mail from a special built pole. We received a mail delivery about six times per day.
The rest of the North side housed three grocery stores, a drug store, U.S. Post Office, meat market and a Dry Goods and notions store. All of these buildings had wooden shed type roofs reaching out to the edge of the side walk to shelter from rain and hot summer sun.
There were hitching rails all along both sides of Main Street. Everyone, in those days, came to town with either horses and wagons or sleighs in winter. The same old concrete side walk runs there, that we have now. It was the only cement walk at the time.
Saturday and Saturday nights were busy times in the down town area. Farmers for three to five miles came in to sell grain or have it ground, and to trade their eggs and butter for groceries etc. Nearly everyone in town knew the farmers and it was usually a real good time to exchange news and just gossip.
As said earlier, this was a typical small town. There were no real wealthy, nor very few so called poor. Many of the men worked on the Grand Trunk as section hands. Some of the younger ones went to Battle Creek to become engineers, conductors, brakeman, etc. for the Railroad. A few worked in Lansing. Many others worked by the day for farmers, and others at odd jobs where they could find them.
The streets were dusty and dirt roads as there was very little gravel then. The roads were graded in the spring and again in the fall, either by four horses or steam engines hauling one of the old heavy one-bladed road graders used at the time. What few side walks we had, except for downtown, were of hard wood construction with cracks wide enough to let rain through, also any loose money that you might drop. I remember too well, losing fifty cents through one of those cracks, marking the spot, and going home to get my Mother and a hammer to rescue it. Fifty cents was quite a lot of money at that time.
Just before the turn of the century Potterville had several Industries going, but nearly all had failed by the time I can remember. There was a tile factory and brick yard located on U.S. 78 on what was then the old Potter Farm, and now owned by Harry Wright. This enterprise ceased for lack of clay. Many of the old brick tile came from there. Incidentally, the West Benton Church used brick from this yard.
Across the road from the tile factory where Michigan National Bank is now located was a cheese processing plant, which was still in operation until about 1910.
In the area across the Grand Trunk Tracks, in back of the business district, there had been a large saw mill, which had burned to the ground before I could remember. Close to that, there was a rake factory where they made the old fashioned wooden hand rakes, handles for shovels, etc. This was no longer functioning at my earliest recollection.
On the South side of the tracks, and just West of the depot, was a large Grain Elevator and Stock Yard. Neither was in use. The Elevator was a wonderful place for small boys to play hide and seek. These two facilities were torn down by about 1912.
The Stockbridge Elevator Co. owned and operated the original building where Frank Bowles now owns. They had a long series of coal sheds along the tracks too.
There were two Blacksmith Shops at the Time. One was near the Coal Sheds and one was up on Dunbar Street across from our present Post Office. It was always a good place to stop and look, to see the many things those old Smithies could do with iron and steel as well as the fitting and nailing shoes on the most resistful horses. We had four churches at the turn of the century. Two were located in the same block where the Nazarene Church now stands, and the United Brethren, nearly identical to the Nazarene it looks, stood where Ellis VanLoton's house is located. Then up on the corner of Church Street and M78 was the Adventist Church, with its sheds for Church goers' horses and buggies. The only Church in operation at the time was the Methodist, which was rebuilt about 1918 or 1920. The entrance door and bell tower were on the south end, pulpit and choir loft in the north end. (It was turned around and slanted floor added.)
There were two brick school buildings in those early days. The so-called little school, where my wife and I have lived for the past twelve years. It has been finished off into a very comfortable two bedroom home and because of its double wall brick construction is cool in summer, and easy to heat in the winter.
This school took care of the chart class, first and second grades. From there, you passed on to the old high school building, which at the time was composed of an intermediate room consisting of the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Then there was the grammar room, composed of the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. The superintendent's office also was on the first floor of the building, the library was in this place too.
The high school was on the second floor, and was made up of two classrooms. One was used as a laboratory for Chemistry and Physics class, the other a large assembly and study hall. I would like to add at this point that I still think that the grouping of classes under this system had a lot of merit, as children in the lower grades could hear older kids recite and were therefore able to grasp much more easily what they were to learn when they passed on to the next grade.
These schools, by today's standards were pretty crude. Each student was assigned his own desk where he kept his books, pencils, etc. The student then went to the recitation bench at class time, so that all others in the room could tune in if they were interested.
Water came from a hand pump in the yard. Outdoor toilets were used and there were no lights, no gymnasium, no coaches, in fact, what recreation we had was promoted by the students. We usually had a baseball team and played any one who would play us, from Charlotte to Dimondale or West Windsor. Umpires for these games were very courageous men from the local communities. Money for equipment was usually subscribed form local merchants. We did have a lot of fun, and competition was usually as keen as it is today.
The old high school burned when I was in the third grade, and was rebuilt, I believe, in the year 1910. Most of our books were saved and scattered all over the grounds, but we managed to find most of our stuff.
We had to go to make-shift buildings at the time. The third, fourth, and fifth grades to the Adventist Church, the grammar room was in the back part of the Methodist Church. The high school students used the upstairs of an old house, which was located across from our present Post Office.
The new building was much the same as the old one had been. The gymnasium was added by W.P.A. help in about 1934, and the South classroom wing in the late thirties. The complete site and buildings are now owned by former Mayor Kenneth Fry.
We, as Potterville residents, should be very proud of our fine new buildings, and the ample grounds surrounding them. We can be very thankful that we were not absorbed in to some of the surrounding districts, and thus to have lost our identity.
In writing about downtown Potterville, I forgot to mention the Backus Bank, which was located where the present Beauty Shop is. This bank failed around 1910 and caused quite a lot of hardship at the time.
In the rooms above this bank was located the Citizens Telephone Office, pretty crude by today's standards. I was night operator for about two years, while still attending high school. We had to memorize all the numbers and owner's names, as when people called they would usually say, "Ed, give me Jay Green, or Bill Marshall, or Fronie Backus, etc.." There were from three to ten parties on a line, and at times it was very frustrating to try to get through when people were visiting. There were some one-party phones here in town. It was during the time I was here that the company installed a dial on our switch board, and patrons, for a small monthly fee, could call Lansing, or Dimondale. These lines were in great demand. Long distance calling was rather limited as interference increased with distance. For instance, a call to Chicago was pretty difficult. It was a very memorable experience, and I made many friends while serving. One thing, I might mention in passing, is that the telephone office was really a hot spot during electric storms. I have seen the rack, where the lines came into the building, flash red and blue almost steady, and we were told to stay away from the board. They did not know how to use ground that they have now.
The old section of town has not changed much over these years. A few buildings have burned or been moved, but not many. In the very early days, the alleys were used for access to the barns, as most families had a horse and many had teams, which were used for road building and hauling, etc.
My father always had a good team of horses, which were very necessary to him and his business. He had two steam engines at this time, and horses were needed to haul water from them. He was Township Highway Commissioner for many years, and graded and graveled nearly all of the roads in Benton Township and Potterville. Our family did custom threshing, clover hulling, hay baling, and corn husking, from my earliest recollection, which enabled us to know most of the farmers for miles around. It was a good life.
I would be remiss if I did not tell of the days of the harvest. Grain was cut and tied into bundles, and shocked by hand. The cutting was done with a binder hauled by three horses, and it usually cut about five or six feet wide. After the grain had dried, it was either hauled and stacked or threshed right out of the field.
When a threshing machine moved into a community, it meant very busy times. The farmers all exchanged work, furnishing teams and wagons to haul the bundles, also the grain to the bins or town if sold. The work was hard and sometimes dirty if the wind was wrong, because there was always a lot of dust around these machines. The farmers' wives usually helped each other with the meals; dinner or supper was furnished as part of the job. These meals were really something to look ahead to, and in most cases they came close to being a banquet. Each woman always seemed to want to make as good or better showing than her neighbors. There was home made bread, pies, cakes, vegetables, potatoes and gravy, chicken and biscuits, or roast beef or port, and salads. It was quite a job after a noon meal like that to get the wheels rolling again.
The first autos showed up around 1910. 30e Ross, a local blacksmith, owned the first one, I can remember. It was a one cylinder Reo, the motor was under the front seat and cranked from the side, and steered with curved handle bar. It probably had about six or eight horse-power, made a lot of noise, and didn't go over ten miles an hour. Dad bought our first 1911 Reo (used) about 1913. It was really something. It had a four cylinder motor, which I expect developed about twenty-five or thirty horse-power. It had two seats (five passenger), acetylene lights, gear shift and emergency brake were outside on the left. The wheels were 37 x 5, and you were lucky if you drove ten miles without blowing a tire. On a trip of fifty or sixty miles, you had to carry two or three spare tires, a good jack, plenty of patches, and boots to patch inside blow-out holes. We thought we were having great fun.
Then came the Model "T" Fords, and because they were cheap, easy to maintain, and low in cost, they were readily accepted by the public. Thus the old down-town sections withered. Grocers quit, other businesses withered, and when the Lansing to Charlotte pavement was finished about 1924, making access to these more diversified shopping centers, it about signaled the end.
We, here in Potterville, were fortunate that Denny Carl had the courage to open a grocery store in the front of his home. Because of a fine personality, credit to needy customers and good management by Denny and then his daughter Ozelma, the business grew into the very fine super market, which we now enjoy. This fine super market is operated by the "Joseph Brothers", grandsons of Denny Carl.
Electricity came in from the city of Lansing about 1927. This meant the wiring of houses, septic tanks, bathrooms, etc., and so ended another era. The old outside johns were soon gone.
It has been a wonderful experience for me to see the men walk on the moon. It has been rather breath taking, and I am almost sure that I preferred the slower pace of the olden days.
HISTORY OF THE CITY OF POTTERVILLE
(from a short history written by Evelyn Van Fossen in 1973)
Today Potterville was a fringe, suburban residential area and remains so today. Historically, it is an old community dating back to 1837. The Potters, after whom the town was named, moved to the area in 1844. It was first platted in 1968. Many nostalgic memories of the past remain. Being on the Chicago and Lake Huron road and in the heart of some very good timber country, Potterville was considered a thriving village back in the late 1800's. It had a furniture factory which employed 75 people and build 125 hardwood bedsteads per day. Industry also included a handle and rake factory and a flour mill turning out 100 barrels of flour per day. The flour mill was considered the best in Eaton County at that time. In 1876, Potterville was the largest manufacturer of products from natural resources of any community in the country. The post office was established in the year 1870 with James Potter as postmaster. He received a salary of twelve dollars per year for his services.
A generation or so ago, Potterville was basically a self sufficient community providing for most of its citizens a place to live along with the means to earn a living. Today a large proportion of the population only resides in the area. They work and participate in activities else where. Only a few of the basic needs are now provided locally. For those families who enjoy living away from the city and commuting to work, an area like Potterville has much to offer.
The city offers much in the needs of a small community; a well trained and equipped fire department, a police chief plus four deputies, a mayor and six council members, a planning committee, fire board, library board, plus a full time city clerk and thee city workers.