LEE A. SOMERS

Memories of Fremont, Michigan
At The Turn of the Century


Our memories play tricks on us. A man who was in every way normal may be forgotten, while one with some peculiarity of manner or of speech will be remembered. I may mention some who had left Fremont by 1900, and others who did not come there until a few years later. No doubt there will be some errors.

I was born June 1, 1887, on a farm one mile east and three miles north of Fremont. My parents were both born in Holland. My mother spoke both Holland and English beautifully. My father spoke English very well, too. We were a well Americanized family.

Other than being taken to church, I did not see Fremont until I was five years old. Then my eldest sister, Anna, washed and scrubbed me, dressed me up, and took me to town with her. I have never forgotten that thrilling experience. (Sisterly moan: "Doesn't that kid ever stop asking questions?")

By the time I was ten years old, I was driving our white horse, Prince, to town to exchange eggs and butter for groceries. Sometimes I was permitted to spend one penny for candy.

Churches in Fremont at that time were the Dutch Reformed, the Christian Reformed, Methodist, Congregationalist, Disciples of Christ, and the United Brethren. There was a building called the Catholic Church, but few, if any, services were held there.

The Fremont Tannery was the principal industry and source of employment. Burns' saw mill and Merchant's saw mill operated in season. Brown's (later, Wolters') flour mill, Darling's flour mill, and Hagedorn's Creamery were in operation. There was an old and abandoned furniture factory about where the Gerber Canning Factory now stands, and an abandoned Evaporator, for drying apples. This was near the railroad station.

The Gerber's Fremont Canning Co., the H.J. Heinz cucumber-salting station, and the Farmers' Cooperative Creamery were in the infancies.

The grocery stores were Mulders, which, I believe, became Pikaarts, Pearson's, Vander Linde's, and Dew's, the latter being taken over later by Peter Oosting. There were Jacklen's and Pearson's meat markets. Gerrit Hain and George Raider had hardware stores. There were the James Darling, Frank Smith and Pearson's dry goods stores. I believe that the Rebers and the Shoecrafts came a little later.

Vanderwerp's was a men's clothing store. Dick Crandall was the mortician, and had a big furniture store. Later, John Ensing joined this business. Gerrit and George Bode had a nice shoe store. George Bode also had several other interests. Mr. Kuipers was a cobbler, and also carried a small line of footwear.

Sam Odell's (later Dallas Alton's), Dr. Norton's and Angus Stewart's (now Baar's), were the drugstores. Frank Ketchum has a variety and notions store. Charles Rathbun had a clock repair and jewelry shop. Amos White had an insurance office. Ernest Noble operated a photography gallery. Glen and Frank Bisbee had a music store. Glen Bisbee was the organizer and leader of the Fremont Band.

The Gerbers were then, as now, the leading family in the town. Among their other interests they had the Fremont Bank. Later, Emil Kempf opened another bank. George Hilton was the postmaster. He was also a dealer in apiary supplies..

Professional men were Dr. Nafe, Dr. McNabb, Dr. Vanderberg, and Doctor Weaver. Dr. Lamareaux was a dentists. Martin Razema and Mr. Leonard were lawyers. Dr. Massey and Dr. Veldhuis were veterinarians.

There was no lack of lodging. There was the DeHaas Hotel, the St. Charles Hotel, the Pacific Hotel, which was near the railroad station, and Mrs. Fry's restaurant and rooming house. There were three or four saloons. Bruce Hewitt ran one of them.

Among the services, Frank Hart, Sr., had a big livery stable. There was a laundry in one wing of the St. Charles Hotel. Frank Hart, Jr., and Harry Wilson were barbers. Claude Lloyd was the electrician. Nelson Laing was the telephone office manager. Frank Frisby was the railroad station agent. Peter Van Zil, Ben Dill, Ole Lockwood, and John Stell were blacksmiths and horse sheers. Mr. Macumber was a carpenter. Abe Baars, Frank Hilton, and Sander Last were masons and plasterers.

In dealing with the farmers, William Hillyard and Mr. Boyd were farm produce buyers. Other potato buyers would come in the fall. Charlie Buck was a livestock buyer. George Freeman and Fred Nay were nursery stock salesmen. John Cole had a business that took him out among the farmers. Mat Murphy and Bill Denney were farm-machinery salesmen.

Elmer Holt was a real estate dealer. Ed Evans, later Evans and Tinney, came to Fremont at about this time. Andrew Dake was the first Rural Free Delivery mail carrier. His route took him past our house.

Prominent young men of that time were Phil and Ed Fry, Ed and Dan Vanderwerp, Frank and Ed Marshall, Willis and John Hoekje, Fred Vanderbelt, George Burns, Milo White, John Bowmen, Will DeKuyper, Dick Smallegan, Cliff Raider, John Troost, and Harry Meeuwenberg.

Since our family belong to the Christian Reformed Church, my early associates were largely boys from that congregation. Fred Bultman, Martin Schreur, Arthur Bode, Ben Timmer, Henry Smallegan, George Vredeveld, Jake Bowman, and Lenard Kloet were about my age. Herman Schuiteman, George Baars, and Henry Bode were a few year younger. Jack Smallegan, Henry Vredeveld, Albert Zaggers, and Albert Oosterhusi were a few years older.

Fremont was always a town of culture and education. Each summer for several years there was a week-long Chautauqua, which was held in a tent in the school-yard. In the winter there was the Lyceum lecture and entertainment course. These were held in the Opera House, which was over a livery stable. I still remember the gist of a lecture by Newell Dwight Hillis. The Big Meetings in Hesperia drew many from Fremont. Among the Holland people there were the neighborhood singing schools.

Early Fremont also had its sports. The Fairgrounds and Race Track lay between the town and the cemetery. Several Fremonters had race horses. They would proudly paint the names of their horses on their barns. In the summer there were baseball games, and in the winter, indoor baseball was played in the old rink on main street. My cousin, Herbert Somers, was a very good indoor baseball pitcher.

The Spanish-American was just over, the patriotism ran high. A Soldiers' Reunion was held at Fremont Lake each summer. Fourth of July and Declaration Day never passed without patriotic speeches, cheering, and singing. How well I remember ---"Under the sod and the dew, waiting the judgment day, under the roses, the blue, under the daisies, the gray."

Such are my memories of Fremont at the turn of the century. My apologies to those whom I have not remembered.



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