Monday, September 3, 2012

Grandfather Beckwith

Example of an 1800s grist mill
My great great great grandfather Charles W. Beckwith was born Nov. 25, 1815 in Madison County New York to Elizabeth Buttolphs/Buttles and Seth Beckwith. They were of English descent and Charles received a common-school education in Eaton, Madison County, New York.

Charles had possibly five siblings Orpha born 1807, Eliza born 1809, Nelson born 1813, Dorcas Elizabeth born 1819 and George D. born 1828. Early census records are difficult to understand and don’t give a lot to go on before 1850 so its a shot in the dark.

A biography posted by a member on revealed Charles parents. Also that he was a farmer and worked in a grist-mill and had mercantile transactions in Michigan.  He was a Democrat and served as Justice of the Peace and Postmaster.

Charles married Emily Minerva Patrick in Sparta, New York in 1843, moved to Kent county Michigan and settled in Fallasburg (near Grand Rapids) where he lived for 12 years.  It was here that his first child Mary Ellen (my great great grandmother) was born in 1843 in Ionia, Michigan. They had nine children. Son George followed Mary Ellen in 1845, Edgar 1847, Charles (Sidney) 1850, Ida 1852, William 1854, Fannie 1857, Inez 1860, and Fred 1863. I'm always amazed at the number of children these women managed to give birth to and raise in a meager surrounding with no conveniences.

Fallasburg map
Fallasburg was settled by two brothers from Tompkins County, New York in 1839.  John Wesley Fallas and his brother Silas purchased land and other family members soon followed, making the long journey in covered wagons. John built a sawmill on the east bank of the Flat River in 1839. He soon added a three story gristmill thirty feet down stream. Later came a tavern and hotel.

A school district had been established in 1837 and a log school house, the first of its kind between Ionia to the east and Grand Rapids to the west, was built the following year.

At the time Charles lived there Fallasburg was a small settlement and the roads were poor with few bridges. Roads gradually improved as need dictated, although most commerce was conducted with Ionia and Grand Rapids along the river.

Fallasburg bridge & sawmill
The first bridge built across the Flat River, in 1840 was at Fallasburg in the Vergennes township.  The early bridges all succumbed in a short time to high water and massive spring ice jams.

In 1841 a state road between Grand Rapids and Detroit ran through Fallasburg. This route, used by stagecoaches, created demand for repair shops and businesses catering to the travelers.  Three parallel roads ran through the village, only one of which still exists. The other two roads were located on either side of the Covered Bridge Road.

In the 1850 census Charles listed his occupation as a miller in Vergennes. This township is located in the same area as Fallasburg. In 1855, Charles transferred the mercantile business to Ionia county (the next county over, east of Kent county) where he continued that business for four years. By the 1860 census he was a hotel keeper in the same area and had seven kids. In 1870 and 1880 he was a farmer with one of his sons.

In 1871 the Fallasburg Bridge was built in Vergennes Township, Michigan,  five miles north of Lowell on the Flat River. It was a 100-foot span Brown truss covered bridge which still stands. 

Fallasburg Bridge
Charles first wife died in 1872 of a tumor in her side and Charles married again in 1874 to Emily (Lull), a widow of Abraham Miller. They had two sons.

By 1890 all the original descendents had died or left the area. Lansing, Lowell and Grand Rapids grew as the commercial centers in the area leaving Fallasburg the sleepy pioneer town it has remained for the past 100 years. Many buildings dating from the nineteenth century still stand, a representation of the growth and development of a small town during the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. A unique little town where I have a small bit of history.

Bibliography (photo of bridge)

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