To touch the hand that held the axe that felled the tree for the cabin

Posted on January 18, 2012


Tuesday morning I headed down to the south end of the Township and followed the 45th Parallel out Coleman Road to a Centennial Farm. I did not take a single picture, but I have some from the archive. This is what Coleman Road looked like in March, 2008. There was more snow on it Tuesday. Other than that, it hasn’t changed much.  Nice view of the Bay.

I went down there to talk to Aaron Coleman. He knows everybody in five townships, and is related to most of them. He grew up listening to his Aunt Bessie’s stories about life along  the Flat Road. His uncles told him about fishing the creeks for suckers at midnight.  Suckers are good eating they said.  Aaron tells me this in such a way that I can’t help but think there’s more to the fishing story.  I’ll worm it out of him eventually.

Old Grandpa (that would be Aaron’s great-grandfather, Patrick Coleman) homesteaded here back in 1865.  In due course he proved his claim and received a Land Patent dated  November 1, 1871.  (You can see a copy of it here: MI2480__.122.  If you have homesteaders in your family tree, you can go look up their land patents in Government Land Office Records.)

In order “To Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” the Homestead Act required that the homesteader actually live on the land for five years, and improve it.  The clock didn’t start ticking until some kind of rude structure was in place.  The log cabin the Colemans started out in is gone, but the farmhouse Patrick built in 1871 still stands. Grandpa (that would be Aaron’s grandfather, William Coleman) remembered being carried up to the new house in his big brother’s arms when he was just three years old.

Imagine growing up with that chain of memories. Walking that land with Grandpa. That’s where the log cabin was, before Old Grandpa built the farmhouse. Here’s where we used to make the charcoal. We carried it down to the Ironworks in Elk Rapids by wagon–got a good price for it, too.

Generations of Colemans went to the one-room Creswell School.  Eventually it closed and all the kids went to school in Elk Rapids for a Proper Modern Education.  The McLachlans bought the old school building and hauled it up to their farm to use for storage. It’s still there, still serviceable.

Aaron’s still here, too, and still farming.  He raises strawberries, and makes maple syrup every spring.  He spends a lot of time in the fragrant steam at the sugarhouse.  Enough time, he says, to have some to spend telling me stories about the Old Timers.  He’s sympathetic to a fellow sufferer of History Obsessive Disorder.  He gave me a copy of the family history he started to write a few years ago.  He’s going to dig out some pictures, some old record books.  In fact, he has these tapes he made of his Uncle Charlie, telling the old stories . . .

I can hardly wait.