Reminiscences of the Phelps Free Library
By James Carl Wood

The Phelps Library (now the Mecosta County Historical Museum) located on the corner of Stewart and Elm across from the elegant Victorian Mecosta County Court House (now replaced with the more modern Mecosta County Building) was a wonderous place to visit.

We lived at 230 Division on the corner of Division and Sanborn some seven blocks (more accurately five regular blocks and a very long block) away from the grand lumberman's Nineteenth Century manor house. Just walking to the library was an adventure for there were many interesting things, at least to a young towhead, to observe. Mothers most times are in a hurry and not very interested in watching a squirrel gamboling across the laws or dashing up a tree or leaping from limb to limb. Mothers mostly hurry and scurry.

When we arrived at the library we sometimes split up. That is mother let me play on the court house laws as long as I promised to not leave the court house brounds or enter the building. It was understood that violation of the promise meant forfeiture of all privileges for eons and eons or maybe forever, whichever came first. Mothers are sometimes draconian tyrants.

In good weather I preferred playing at the court house. My favorite past time was firing the silver painted World War I German field gun located on the northeast corner of the lawn. The gun pointed north, directly at the Matchette home inside its picket fence. In my imagination Matchette's house was a British Colonial Governor's mansion within a barricaded compound. At this time, one of my favorite books was "General George the Great." The game was to lead an army supported by artillary fire and destroy the despicable Governor's home and rout the British forces of evil in our town. Without becoming stale, the game could be repeated endlessly. The Matchettes who rarely lived in their house never realized that it stirred a youngster's imagination or that their house had at least a million zillion times been blown to smithereens.

One of the books that I checked out from the Phelps Free Library was "Timothy Tim the Toy Makeer." an all-time favorite. The fall when I was a lively four, my uncle Ed in Midland gave me a black and tan beagle puppy. It was a nobrainer when he was named Timothy Tim the Toy Maker. Of course I kept my promise to take care of my new friend. That summer we toured Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky selling seeds for the Mandeville and King Seed Company. Tim stayed with Uncle Ed, aunt Jessie and cousin Sonja in Midland. Just before we returned home and just before the hunting season started, Tim was dognapped while running along the Tittabawassee River in front of Uncle Ed's home. At least for a short time. Tim was loved very dearly and had a great name.

When I went into the library with mother, I sat at a little table by the north window on the ground floor and looked at books. From the window you could see across the library's north lawn and across the neighbor's (Mrs. Jensen) backyard. Mrs. Jensen was Mrs. Matchettes's sister and was a member of the Big Rapids Bridge Club along with my mother. The library had a book (name not remembered) about a magical toy train that could run outdoors by itself. Track appeared in front of the engine and disappeared as the last car moved forward. Necessary railroad equipment, structures, switches, depots, and bridges came and went as required. The book stretched my imagination. Holding the book open to a picture of the train, I could look outside and imagine the train rolling across the grass around the base of trees and under nearby bushes. Minutes flew by as the train ran its magical course through the neighborhood. Then reality would occur when mother notified me that it was time to leave this special world.

When mother and I left the library, we often stopped at the Liberty Dairy's cone shop on Maple near Warren. There a young fellow could obtai a double dip cone for a nickel. After all we had a busy day and faced a long tiring walk to Sanborn and Division.

About the author, Jim Wood was born in Big Rapids. His wife Doraluvinia was born in Los Angeles. They reside at Peachwood in Millbrook Township, Mecosta County. Jim passed away several years ago, but not before I had met him and he shared so much of his own knowledge and research with me. He constantly checked my Mecosta County wesite for errors and helped me to update. He also gave me permission to put the stories that he had written for the Pioneer Newspaper, along with much research to use on this website. I haven't done much about the stories until lately. I hope to start doing them again soon. Jim is always going to be sadly missed by those who knew him.

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