Myers Schoolhouse

Hiram H Myers

Hiram H. Myers

Born in 1814 at an "Upper Canada" frontier settlement, later to become Brantford, Ontario, Hiram was the son of Charles Fairchild and Ruhamath (Perrin) Myers. He learned how to farm as he grew up and became well versed in the skills of lumbering. Hiram married Barbara Traxler and they began their family, which would grow to include eleven children.

Shortly after Michigan gained her statehood in 1837, Hiram Myers, his family, along with some members of their extended families migrated to Port Huron, Michigan, then in 1843 the hardy pioneers settled further west in the wilds of Kent County where the soil was fertile and the growing season was favorable for most crops. By 1845, the Myers families were noted to have arrived at "the river crossing" east of what would soon become Sparta Center.

Many who relocated into Michigan from Ontario, Canada, during the 1800s had either been born in the US or their parents emigrated into Canada from the States. Such was the case with Hiram's parents, as his father was born in New York and his mother in Massachusetts, while his wife Barbara's parents were both native Pennsylvanians.

Hiram Myers family

Hiram and Barbara (Traxler) Myers with their family in 1890. Continuing in the back row: Benjamin, Harriet (Calkins) Myers (Andrew's wife holding John), Andrew "Dick" Myers standing on the right. Front row, from left to right: Daniel, Henry, Betsey (Myers) Robinson (holding Mary), Henrietta, and Eugene

Following the American Revolution War, Britain enticed American settlers into Canada by offering them the tempting prospect of land in an effort to boost the population in what was primarily wilderness. However, even though the British achieved their settlement goal they were unwilling to grant the new Canadians the rights of full citizenship, which included voting rights. This policy sparked the failed Rebellion of 1837 and resulted in further dissatisfaction with the Canadian government.

Meanwhile Michigan was fast becoming the most popular destination for those with a pioneering spirit, as it beckoned newcomers to a wondrous land of opportunity. The Myers family, like so many others who came, sought to forge better lives for themselves and their children on the new frontier.

Recognized as an early settler, Hiram's name was included on an 1846 voter's list, having purchased his property in Sparta Township. He selected land in Section 24 which consisted of gently rolling hills covered with a mix of predominately sugar maple and beech trees. As Hiram Myers' land was cleared to make room for a home, barn, and fields, the pastoral scene of the growing village and the ridge further to the west was breath taking, and it is still one of the best views of Sparta today. Early on, the western ridge was dubbed "Hog-back Hill" before it became famous for the wide variety of apples, peaches, cherries, and other fruit produced in abundance.

1855 Plat Map

An eastern portion of the 1855 Sparta Township plat map in which Hiram's property was located at the large "A" in Section 24. Homes were shown by darkened squares while schoolhouses were not filled in. Myers Schoolhouse appeared in the northwest corner of Section 24 while Mrs. John (Harriet) Symes' schoolhouse was drawn on the map at the northwest portion of Section 26, their family name was misspelled as "Syms".

Federal Census records placed Hiram's family at Plainfield Township in 1850 where he operated a sawmill on the banks of the Rogue River, south of Rockford. Meanwhile his parents, siblings, and some of his sons remained in Sparta Township where they tended the farms and erected additional homes or barns. By 1854, Hiram had returned to Sparta. Once the families had constructed their homes and were working to establish productive farms, the necessity to provide a school house to educate their children, grandchildren, and neighborhood youngsters took precedence.

Hiram Myers wasted no time and quickly responded to what was viewed as an urgent need for local children to receive a good education. By 1855, the township plat map indicated the first schoolhouse had been constructed one mile-and-a-half east of what was then known as Sparta Center on the eastern corner of the "H. Myers" property with the family home just to the south. The first schoolhouse was the unshaded square drawn at the southwest intersection of what is now Thirteen Mile Road and North Division. This is the same location where the schoolhouse still stands today.

The first Myers school house was said to be built from logs with split log desks, benches, and even had a desk crafted from split logs for the teacher. Before long, in about 1861, it was replaced with a school house made from wood frame construction.

During these early days, independent schools were scattered throughout the area. As Sparta Township's population increased from 939 people in 1860 to 1,668 just a decade later, Sparta took steps to organize a formal school district. Hiram Myers sold the one-half acre school site in 1873 for fifty dollars, which became known as "School District No. 9 of Algoma and Sparta Township".

1890 Brick Myers School

The delightful brick Myers schoolhouse constructed after the fire burnt down the previous building.

By the time of the 1880 Federal Census enumeration, the record revealed dozens of children in Hiram's neighborhood attended school and Carrie Wallace, who lived just three houses west of the school, was employed as a teacher. A daughter of Russell and Caroline (Myers) Wallace, Carrie was Hiram's eighteen-year-old niece and her mother, Caroline, was his widowed sister. Russell had departed in 1862 due to small pox or another illness, along with two of the couple's young sons, Erastus and Horace, the boys in 1862 and 1863, respectively. Then in 1864, their eldest son, William, perished during the Civil War. The Wallaces resided on twenty acres of the northwestern portion of Section 24 which spanned the south side of the Rogue River, and was situated kitty-corner across from Myers cemetery.

Young Caroline M. Wallace, who was better known as "Carrie", may quite likely have been the first teacher born and schooled in Sparta Township who later also taught students in her hometown. Like most young ladies of the era who taught school, they generally left the classroom once they took on the responsibilities of becoming a wife and mother. Carrie soon married Cyrus Wellington Griffith of Churchill, Ogemaw, Michigan, in 1887, and relocated to establish their household and start a family.

new school

An unidentified class of students and their teacher with the newly built Myers schoolhouse, photograph from the early 1890s.--Sparta Area Quasquicentennial, book published in 1971, copies available for purchase from the Sparta Township Historical Commission

In 1890, the little schoolhouse met with misfortune when it caught fire and burned down. It was quickly rebuilt, this time using bricks made locally. Soon the handsome new Meyers school house reopened and it continued to serve the community not only as a school but also in many other capacities such as a place for church services, Sunday school, and the hosting of funerals.

Hiram Myers passed away at eighty-six years of age on March 26, 1900, following a battle with cancer. He was a widow by then and shared his home with his son, Henry, who had been elected in 1896 as a Sparta Township Supervisor. Hiram was laid to rest at Myers Cemetery, also known as the "East Sparta cemetery" according to his obituary. He was known as a generous and civic minded man who not only stepped forward to provide for a school, but also donated the land for the cemetery, as well.

Myers Students in 1908

Students with their teacher, Miss Eva Trofast, posed for a photograph at Myers schoolhouse dated December 4, 1908, the original photo belonged to Joe Guiles who was the front row boy, second to the right.--Sentinel Leader, published on January 5, 1966; from the Sparta Township Historical Commission newspaper archive

Among the early young men and women who taught at Myers schoolhouse was Eva Trofast. She was the daughter of Swedish immigrants, Charles and Amanda (Carlson) Trofast and grew up in the Casnovia area. In 1903 Charles purchased a farm in Section 3, three miles north of Sparta and he also sold farm implements. Eva taught school at Myers in 1908 and later married in 1916 to Bruce McDougal of Algoma Township.

The charming photograph of the little brick schoolhouse at the top of this page was from a time when the first electrical lines bordered along a narrow dirt road. It included a hand written date of "1913" along with a notation "on the road to Camp Lake from Sparta Mich." written across the bottom. This was before the original roads were officially named "Thirteen Mile Road" and "North Division". Early city directory resident listings simply provided people's name, their township, section number, and municipality prior to when the practice of identifying specific street addresses and telephone numbers became standardized.

Over the years, at least two of Hiram's grandchildren had the opportunity to teach at the Myers schoolhouse.

Grandson, Lynn Daniel Myers, better known as "L. D." and who was a son of Daniel W. and Susan R. (Robinson) Myers, attended college as a young man and earned his teaching certificate in 1915, then taught at the one-room schoolhouse during the 1916 school year. In 1917, he accepted a teaching position at Wyoming, Michigan.


--published on 14 July 1921 in the Lansing State Journal

Granddaughter, Zaida L. Myers was the youngest child of Henry Traxler and Sophia H. (Carlson) Myers. She graduated from Sparta High School in 1910 then attended Western State Normal College in Grand Rapids, also referred to as the Teaching Institute, where she earned her degree before joining the profession at twenty-two years of age.

Zaida taught at several other area schools in Kent and Ottawa Counties. In 1910, she began her career at Foxville schoolhouse, located at the southwest corner of Algoma Avenue and Indian Lakes Road in Algoma Township. She then taught for six years at Wyoming, Michigan, and one year at Lee area schoolhouses. Her next teaching assignment entailed six years at Chalmers before she was finally hired to teach at Myers schoolhouse in 1937, which was within an easy walking distance from her home. Imagine her joy to step into the role of teacher at the same school she attended as a little girl! Zaida taught at Myers for the next twelve years and gained a well-earned reputation as one of the very finest teachers in the area whose students excelled.

She retired just two years before her death on the 31st day of July, 1949, and was laid to rest at Myers Cemetery. As a single woman, Zaida dedicated thirty-six years of her life to educating children, teaching exclusively in rural one-room schoolhouses.

Myers Schoolhouse

Devastating aftermath of a tornado which severely damaged Myers schoolhouse in 1921.

Tragedy struck once again in 1921 when the little brick schoolhouse was hit by a tornado on Wednesday, the 13th of July, and the walls were blown out, yet in spite of the near total destruction, it stood! How incredible to see the oil lamps with their glass shades still attached hanging from the ceiling and how school desks remained in place nearly unscathed, especially considering the substantial amount of damage inflicted upon the building.

Once again, Myers school house was rebuilt, this time with wood frame walls and clapboard siding. In spite of its history of calamities, this fourth schoolhouse structure, now 100 years old, still proudly stands today.

Miss Carlson and students

Miss Sally M. Carlson and her students on October 13, 1924, at Myers school house. Front row, left to right: Lloyd Trum, Ted Meidema, Lowell Ingersoll, Kenneth Cummings, Burt Vander Meer, Cecal Leaf, Carrie Cummings, Irene Weirsma, Evelyn Leaf, and Jesse Vander Meer. Second row: Floyd Guiles, Rolena Weirsma, Rose Cummings, teacher Sally Carlson, Nettie Clark, Mae Weirsma, Ed Chrzah, George Meyers, Albert Saur, and Howard Cummings

After the schoolhouse re-opened, Sally Magnahild Carlson came on board to teach, pictured in 1924 with her students. Sally was born in 1901 at Värnamo, Jönköping, Sweden, and in 1910 she immigrated with her family to America. The daughter of David Theodore and Anna Charlotta (Krohn) Carlson, they settled west of Sparta where her father farmed, worked at a furniture factory, and eventually purchased his own farm in Section 10 on Fifteen Mile Road. In 1925, Sally married Samuel Lowell Stauffer.

All in all, several generations of Sparta school children received their education at the one-room schoolhouse. Over the years, young students discovered how reading, grammar, and arithmetic became indispensable tools with lifelong benefits. They studied history, gained a deep-rooted sense of patriotism, respect and love of country. The pupils recited poetry, read and appreciated classic literature, they expanded their vocabulary, worked to achieve proper penmanship skills, assisted younger or slower students, learned to become responsible citizens and so much more. That is until 1952 when the new Myers Elementary School was built just up the road about one-quarter of a mile on North Division Avenue. No longer in use, the little schoolhouse was sold in 1954 to Harold and Emily Gehl, who mostly used it for storage and occasional flea market sales.

Eventually, in 1983, the Gehls sold it to Shirley Neff and Joanne Furhoff. Wishing to honor the historical significance of the little one-room schoolhouse, the retired Sparta teachers purchased the property as a first step in realizing their dream of saving the old Myers schoolhouse and transforming it to become a teaching museum. Over the next several years, the dedicated women personally invested in the preservation of the historic building and they lovingly restored it. Always focused on their the clear goal to provide a rare opportunity for school children, and the public, to step back in time. They furnished it with items donated by community members and also those which they purchased, themselves.

Joanne Furhoff and Shirley Neff

Retired Sparta teachers, Joanne Furhoff and Shirley Neff, at the Myers schoolhouse in 2015 standing in front of a portrait of teacher Zaida Myers.

Unfortunately, the state of Michigan would require the little schoolhouse to meet modern day building codes if it were to be operated by private citizens as a public building. So with heavy hearts, in November 1990, Jim Lyals conducted an auction to sell the schoolhouse and Bub and Mary Hale made the purchase. The Hales also shared the preservation dream as it was also their vision to create a Sparta History Museum. Just a month later, in December, they donated it to the Township of Sparta. Overjoyed knowing their dream would be realized, Shirley Neff and Joanne Furhoff graciously waived their profit on the sale as the community stepped up to assist with closing costs, and the Hales became instrumental in the establishment of the Sparta Township Historical Commission.


Sparta 5th graders learning about the Myers School Museum with Larry Carter in October of 2021

Once in the care of the Sparta Township Historical Commission, a formal application for acceptance as a Michigan State Historic Site was made, then on December 17, 1992, it was granted. In addition to this designation, the "Fractional District No. 9 School of Algoma and Sparta Township, School 16, Thirteen Mile Road, Sparta" is also notably included on the National Register of Historic Places in Kent County.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Hiram Myers, his family, and neighbors for not only recognizing the value and necessity of a school house, but for actually taking the initiative to see it become a reality so as to provide an opportunity for children to gain the priceless gift of an education and a brighter future. The contributions and devotion of each teacher who selflessly gave their time to ensure each student received the best education possible must also be noted. And it goes without saying, the benevolence, generosity, and vision of Shirley Neff, Joanne Furhoff, Albert Burton "Bub" and Mary Hale, the Sparta Township Historical Commission, and so many others who have made a real difference in the lives of generations of young people in this community is truly a gift. Their kindness and dedication is an enduring legacy.

Visit the Museum

Myers Schoolhouse

Class is in session at Myers School Museum

A special visit to Myers School Museum is a rare opportunity to step back through time, reminisce, and experience the good old days of yesteryear first hand at an authentic one-room schoolhouse. Learn about local history for a fun and educational outing sure to please the whole family and certain to create some wonderful memories for young and old, alike.


The Myers School Museum is conveniently located at 16 West 13 Mile Road, which is the intersection with North Division Avenue and is just is 1 - 1/2 miles east of beautiful downtown Sparta, Michigan.

The Sparta Township Historical Commission hosts Open Houses at the Myers School Museum during the Sparta Town and Country Days celebration held each year in July. Please check out and join our facebook page for all of the details on this and any additional Open Houses or other events we participate in as they are scheduled throughout the year. Plan your visit... and we'll look forward to seeing you soon!

Private and group tours are available by appointment, only.

Honoring Bub

On Sunday, July 24th, 2022, a heartfelt dedication was held at the Myers School Museum to honor Albert Burton Hale, lovingly known as "Bub" to his friends and family, as a new American flag, flagpole, and black granite monument were presented.

Born at Sparta on the last day of January in 1931, Bub was the son of Albert and Mary (Bisard) Hale. His father was employed at the Muskegon Piston Ring foundry in maintenance and later as the superintendent of trucks for the Carnation milk cannery. Bub, his parents, and older sister, Ardis, resided on Long Lake Drive, north of 13 Mile Road, not far from Myers Schoolhouse.

Bub Hale

Albert "Bub" Hale

As a boy, Bub attended the one-room schoolhouse and in 1952, graduated from Sparta High School before attending Grand Rapids Junior College. He soon heard the call of duty and served his country in Korea with the US Army.

Bub married the love of his life, Marilyn "Mary" Wiggins and they made their home at Sparta, where they raised a son, Stacy. The Hales also opened their hearts and home caring for sixty foster children, including many who had special needs; those who needed a loving home the most.

Bub has always given back to the community he proudly called "home". He retired from the Sparta Water Department after 28 years of service, was the Sparta Township Cemeteries Sextant for 50 years, and a Fire Department volunteer for 17 years. In addition, Bub and Mary's passion to establish the museum, dedication to preserving Sparta history, and their involvement in establishing the Sparta Township Historical Commission demonstrate love of their hometown.

Video provided courtesy of Dan Salas.

As Mary says, "The museum wouldn't have happened without my husband."

On the day of the action, when the Hales purchased the school, once those in attendance realized their intention was to save the building and preserve it as a museum, they had everyone's support. One of the attendees, Dale Sprik, ensured they would have more than just a shell of the building. He asked Bub and Mary what they needed then bought the original teacher's desk, school desks, chalk board, and donated them to the Hales.

On March 5th, 2020, Bub passed away, but his legacy will live on. Memorial contributions were requested to go to the STHC and donations from Bub's family were also provided. Mary suggested the funds be used to replace a flagpole at the museum which had fallen victim to a traffic accident.

"I feel very strongly about our American flag and what it stands for." Patriotism and gratitude for living in a free country matter. Mary continued, "We need to teach our young people the significance of our flag, what it stands for, and how it is most important to show respect for our flag."

Mary offers her sincere appreciation to all of the people who worked on making the flag, flag pole, monument, and special dedication event possible. "So many people were involved: Jo Anne VanderWerff, the former STHC president, who initiated the project. Gary Moody ordered the pole and base, Tom Cheslek had the beautiful black granite monument prepared, Mike Metzger handled the lighting, and the American Legion provided the flag. Jim Lyals worked with Tom on the wording of the monument and he organized the event, Larry Carter gave the dedication address, and videographer Dan Salas who captured it all so well on video."

"Also, I thank the Sparta Township Historical Commission and the Friends of SHC. I am grateful for the Sparta Township Board for giving their approval, applying for grants to provide accessibility, unisex restrooms, and other improvements, along with the fine job they do maintaining the building and grounds. I appreciate the thoughtful kindness of our family and friends, as well as anyone else who had a part in this or anyone whose name I may have forgot."

"I was overwhelmed. This flagpole will last a long time."

"They say it takes a village," Mary adds, "and a township... and a lot of people."

Downtown Sparta

Ever since the founding of the township, Sparta has produced countless citizens who have left their mark on not only their hometown, but even on a larger scale, to make the world a better place. The Sparta Notables began in 2014 as a way to honor some of these accomplished individuals as well as to inspire others to follow their dreams and reach for the stars. A small group of dedicated people meet every two years to make the selections and induct a new class of Sparta Notables. Because of Covid-19, the Notables for 2020 were delayed until 2021, so they will now be announced on odd numbered years moving forward.

Each time a new class of Sparta Notables have been inducted, the evening was recorded for posterity by professional videographer Dan Salas, who has covered some of our other events as well. His youtube channel which includes well over thirty Sparta videos may be viewed at Positively Michigan.

Our 2021 event was held at the Sparta Civic Center and had a tremendous turnout as you'll see in Dan's video, available for your viewing enjoyment. The Sparta Township Historical Commission also has DVDs featuring several past Notables from earlier classes available for purchase.

A general criteria considered in selecting the candidates is as follows:

  1. Ideally, the Notable would have attended or graduated from Sparta High School.
  2. The Notable has distinguished her or himself on a local, state, regional, national, or world stage.
  3. The fields in which any Notable has distinguished themself are wide-ranging.
  4. The Notable is or, if deceased, was a citizen in good standing.
  5. The Notable designation can be awarded to someone who is alive or deceased.

Of course, many of Sparta's earliest settlers who are included - or even current living Notables - do not always fit all of the criteria but they have made enough impact to be included.

Suggestions for future Sparta Notable inductees may be made to the committee. Watch for notices of these events and plan to attend.

Sparta Notables

2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2021

2014 Notables

Leonard V. Andrus

O. E. Balyeat

George W. Bettes

Glenn Burgett

Thiese & Letty DeYoung

Al Lamoreaux

Donald Lamoreaux

Howard Lamoreaux

Les Line

John Maynard

Thurlow E. McFall

Jonathan E. Nash

2014 Biographies Visit the Sparta Notables Class of 2014 Biographies page to learn how they made a difference.

2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2021

2016 Notables

Gordon Balyeat

Donald Bradford

Aleta Vogel Brown

Dan DeLange

Dorothy E. Downton

Dr. Paul Heath

Lou Atkinson Keller

Paul C. Miller

Edith May Nieboer

Civil War Veterans

James Warren

2016 Biographies Visit the Sparta Notables Class of 2016 Biographies page to learn how they made a difference.

2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2021

2018 Notables

Franc Curry

Arnie DePagter

Frank Hall

Mary Jean Herwaldt

Mary Louise Hoffmeyer

H. J. Kurtz

Walter A. Reister

William A. Rogers

Dave Schieber

Bob Taylor

Fred K. Thorne

2018 Biographies Visit the Sparta Notables Class of 2018 Biographies page to learn how they made a difference.

2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2021

2021 Notables

John Paul Badgerow

Norma Chapman

Thomas Keith Cheslek

Gay Ebers-Franckowiak

Ahmed Fareed

Delton Parks

Warren Schut

Dennis Wolters

2021 Biographies Visit the Sparta Notables Class of 2021 Biographies page to learn how they made a difference.

2014 | 2016 | 2018 | 2021

peaches ready for market

Agriculture put Sparta on the map, especially its picturesque orchards scattered over gently rolling hills dotted with charming farms producing an abundance of apples, peaches, pears, and cherries. It didn't take early pioneer farmers long to realize their rich soil and favorable weather patterns were ideal for growing bountiful orchards.

apple trees

W.M. Wylie's advertisement published in the 3 Jan 1855 edition of the Grand River Times at Grand Haven, Michigan

By 1853, William Mosley Wylie had established North Kent Nursery on the north end of Sparta and was advertising apple trees. He was born on 2 Apr 1824 at Lebanon, Madison County, New York and arrived at Sparta in November 1845 with his brothers, Henry and Edward. These early settlers explored and chose 320 acres in Sections 3 and 10, jointly, which they purchased in January. Edward began clearing the lands while William and Henry traveled back to New York. Before long, they returned with Henry's wife and children.

William married Elizabeth Mills, daughter of Solomon Parker and Abigail (Danforth) Mills, on 28 Sep 1853 at Sparta. In 1860, they lived on an 80 acre farm. During the Civil War, William was included on a list of men subject to do military duty dated June-July 1863, with a notation stating his "wife died a short time ago, left 5 small children, oldest 8 years old." Whether or not he was called to service is unknown. On 30 Oct 1868, Ermina Ellis became William's wife and they had five additional children.

apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

The first Federal Agriculture Census to include orchard crops was conducted on 1 Sep 1880, but it only requested details for apples and peaches. The records showed nearly every rural Sparta Township landowner had at least six apple trees and as many as 350-375 "bearing trees", as in the case of Rev. Erastus Norton and Hiram Myers, respectively, whose orchards had each produced 1,000 bushels of apples the previous year. Brothers Ephraim and Perry Bradford had 300 trees combined resulting in 850 bushels, from just seven acres of land in total. Both Carey Buck and the Bloomer brothers, Reuben and Coles Abel, harvested 800 bushels of apples at their farms, while 600 bushels were picked at John Simons' farm, and Gilbert Bettes brought in 400 bushels of apples from 350 trees on six acres.

Sparta apples

Late season apples

Lyman S. Ballard collected 100 bushels of apples from 300 trees he planted on five acres. Dozens of farms had at least 100 apple trees which yielded fruit in their orchards. Many others had planted orchards but their trees were not yet able to produce fruit. Old fashioned apple trees, grown from seed, may take between ten and twenty years to become mature before they bear fruit.

Rev. Erastus Norton's apple orchard covered fourteen acres, the largest in Sparta Township at the time, while Jonathan Nash had planted just one-half of an acre with at least thirty-five trees and they produced 200 bushels of apples. Mr. Nash also dedicated another half-acre of land to growing peaches with 100 trees which brought forth ten bushels of the golden fruit.

The Bloomer Brothers

Among the first who ventured into growing peaches on a far larger scale were the Bloomer brothers who planted a 25 acre orchard and reported 2,800 "bearing trees" from which they harvested 3,000 bushels of the sweet golden bounty. Other farmers who saw the potential in raising peaches included William Anderson with 650 trees on nineteen acres from which he picked 300 bushels. Daniel Purdy and Marcene Cummings each had 200 peach trees while James Hanford planted 30 acres. All three of these farms had brought in 100 bushels of peaches, each.

Ed Swartz, a nurseryman, assisted in an 1881 report presented at a meeting and published by the State Horticultural Society on the topic of "Setting an Orchard". Mr. Schwartz had rented fifteen acres for fifteen years from the Bloomer Brothers on which he planted peaches. He provided a list of 2,800 peach tree varieties planted at a Sparta Township orchard: 600 each of Early Crawford, Barnard, and Late Crawford; 200 each of Hale's Early and Hill's Chili; 100 Early York; 75 Beatrice; and 50 each of Alexander, Foster, Jacques Rareripe, and Reeves' Favorite. In the discussion which followed at the meeting, some varieties were said to be of little value for the table while others were not good keepers, so they were difficult to ship to market and deemed better suited for home use.

After several years, peach trees were past their peak so would be replaced with new stock to maximize production. Varieties such as Hale Havens, Red Havens, Elbertas, and several others improved the size and quality of peaches as well as the growers' ability to enter larger commercial markets. Consequently, as more people came to rely on commercially produced fruit and fewer grew their own at home, many of the delicate and unique heirloom varieties fell by the wayside.

Harriet Symes

Harriet Symes, Sparta Township's first schoolteacher and midwife

Single brothers Reuben and Coles Able Bloomer in their early 20s arrived shortly before 1875 from Huron County, Ohio, to purchase their farm. The Bloomer brothers' property compromised of 160 acres located in the northeast quarter of Section 31 plus an additional 240 acres of the north half of Section 32 in Sparta Township for a total of 400 acres in all. A large part of their purchase was sold to the Bloomers by Mrs. John Manly.

Bachelors off the market! Coles Bloomer married May Cummings in 1890 and in 1893, Reuben wed Susie Gordon. Coles bought out his brother's interests in the farm and Reuben relocated to Grand Rapids. By 1912, Coles had become a member of the Board of Directors for Sparta State Bank and he served as President.

John and Harriet Symes

John Symes planted five acres with 300 apple trees and they produced 450 bushels, as reported. Although the Symes family primarily raised cherries, the 1880 Federal Agricultural Census only sought details for apple and peach orchards at that time.

Noted as one of the earliest settlers at Sparta, John arrived in June of 1845 and settled in Section 26, at the southeast corner of what we now know as Sparta Avenue and 12 Mile Road. The Symes property ran east and south from that intersection to just north of the long-time landmark commonly known as "Potato Joe's".

John Symes had quite a journey to make his home at Sparta. Born in 1817 at Devon, England, he immigrated to the Untied States in 1836 and became a naturalized citizen while he lived in Pennsylvania. He married Harriet W. Abbott, a native of Canisteo in Steuben County, New York, and they soon migrated into Richland County, Ohio, where a son, James Abbott Symes, was born in 1840 at the town of Shelby.

Once the young family arrived at their Sparta property in 1845, they cleared some of their land to build a home from logs, about a mile and a half south of Sparta. By the following year, in addition to her own children, Harriet had accepted other students as she taught school in their home, and became the first school teacher in the Township. An energetic hard-working woman who cared about the well-being of others enough to lend a helping hand, Harriet was also the first mid-wife in the Township and she continued to deliver babies for the next thirty years. Whenever Harriet was called away from home to assist with the delivery of a new baby, John would step in and serve in the capacity of a substitute teacher. As a young man, their son James taught school as well.

Symes cherries

Harvesting a bountiful cherry crop at the Symes family's Cherry Hill Farm orchard with James standing and John seated in the buggy. How many people do you see... 10... 11... or more? Photograph was taken at about 1882-1885, from the Sparta Township Historical Commission collection

Lyman and Lucina Ballard

Elinor Mariah Ballard, whose nickname was "Nellie", was born in 1843 at Port Byron, Cayuga County, New York. Her mother passed away and her father remarried. In the 1860 Federal Census, she was recorded as "Ellen" in the household of her first cousin, Lyman S. Ballard, at Sparta.

the Ballards

Lyman and Lucina Ballard

Born in 1817 at Montgomery, in Orange Co., New York, Lyman arrived with his family and two brothers at Sparta Township in 1850 where he purchased land in Section 34 to establish a farm. As roads were developed and named, this location eventually was identified as the intersection of Ten Mile Road and Sparta Avenue. The early settlement of Ballards Corners sprung up at the crossroads as other people made their homes in the area. Mr. Ballard operated a general store then was appointed Postmaster on 28 Feb 1856 for South Sparta, and on July 29th for Englishville. Civically minded, he was an inspiring and driving force in the establishment of Ballards School on one of the corners of the little hamlet. Lyman and his wife, Lucina (Nash) Ballard, donated land on another corner for Ballards Church and became charter members of the congregation.

Ballards General Store

Postmaster Lyman S. Ballards at his Ballards Corners general store

In 1863, James Symes married Elinor Ballard, and the newlyweds began their family. They were blessed with four daughters and a son. Their first daughter, Harriet Mae, died as an infant but Lula, Laura, J. Ballard, and Emma survived into adulthood.

Orchards Report

The Michigan State Horticultural Society published reports detailing the productivity of area orchards in 1880 and 1900 as they compared the number of acres to the bushels of fruit produced.

Apples - 586 acres for 7,233 bushels
Peaches - 58 acres for 2,839 bushels
Cherries, Currants, Plums, and Berries - 9,579 lbs./304 bushels

Apples - 519 acres for 15,163 bushels
Peaches - 369 acres for 19,316 bushels
Pears - 26 acres for 1,983 bushels
Plums - 103 acres for 4,246 bushels
Cherries - 27 acres for 1,354 bushels

At 84 years old, John Symes passed away on 23 Aug 1901 and his son James continued the operation of Cherry Hill Farm. On occasion, with his own brand of wit and wisdom he wrote engaging articles for the National Fruit Growers publication, one of which was included in their July 1903 issue.

The Cherry.
Cherry Hill Farm, Sparta, Kent County
by J. A. Symes

J.A. Symes aticle

J. A. Symes' July 1903 article, "The Cherry", appeared in the National Fruit Grower publication

We are in the midst of cherry harvest and I feel as if, perhaps, I might drop a few hints that could be of benefit to others having like work. My crop is not as large as common, but the quality of the fruit is excellent, and the market is good. Prices are not as high as most people were led to believe they would be; I think largely on account of the rumor that has gone out that "there would be no cherries this year." I have often noticed that when there is an advertised scarcity of any particular product, especially if it be classed among the luxuries, many will make up their minds to do without, and the prices will not come up to what the supply would seem to warrant.

I have had to oversee the harvesting myself, this year, running a crew of about 10 good pickers. There is a knack in setting ladders that few men possess without being taught, for the safety of the tree and the picker, the ladder must be set quite straight with good bearing at the top and firmly footed at the bottom. The ladder setter can often inspire confidence in a timid picker by going up the ladder, thus showing it to be perfectly safe. A wire hook about three feet long to stay outstanding branches to the ladder if often a great help. All boxes must be well filled, shaken down and cleared of leaves, bruised and bird-bitten fruit. The word "birds" brings me to a very perplexing question. I made a very grave mistake in putting my plat of 200 trees of choice sweet varieties in a part of the orchard far from the house. They fell prey to all the feathered tribe. I threaten every year that I will put up a tent in the midst of the orchard and sleep there so that I may be there to salute the dawn by firing a volley of blank cartridges. Crows I find are the most destructive. They will light in a tree and devour all the fruit in reach, but they are very shy of gunpowder and a few shots will frighten them away. Small birds destroy much, but they also save the orchard from many pests so they become bold and it is next to impossible to drive them away. And I am inclined to think that perhaps they are not indebted to the fruit grower for what they eat.

Cherry picking is an art that women and bright children can acquire much quicker than men. Some are of nervous temperament and easily discouraged, and the foreman while being firm should be courteous and always "keep sweet." If any of the help forget the rules and become noisy or careless and thus become a hinderance, after being quietly cautioned do not reform they should be dispensed with at once. Have it understood that you are quite as anxious that they should all earn good wages for honest work as they are themselves, and show a willingness to pay for all odd quarts, and deal honestly with all, children as well as adults.

Harvests Record Crop of Cherries On 82nd Birthday
Sparta Pioneer Remembers When Michigan Was Wilderness.
Special to The Free Press 30 Jul 1922, Detroit, Michigan

Grand Rapids, Mich., July 29--Just to celebrate his eighty-second birthday, J. A. Symes, of Sparta, harvested a bumper crop of cherries on his farm on which he has lived for 77 years.

It was only 18 months ago that Symes relinquished any part his farm duties. This year he has looked only after the eight acres of cherry trees on the 83-acre farm which was his homestead.

The octogenarian was born in Shelby county, Ohio, in 1840. His parents came to Grand Rapids in 1845, but remained only long enough to prospect for land and take up a claim. When the family moved to Sparta its only guide was the blazed trail of the surveyors along the section lines.

The location was reached at 9 o'clock one summer night and the camp pitched was then the beginning of the farm life of the Symes pioneers. Eighteen years later, when the forest had given way to agriculture, J. A. Symes married Miss Eleanor Ballard, who still lives and is as active and vigorous as her husband. Her family is the one from which Ballards Corners, which came into existence before Grand Rapids was established, takes its name.

Symes father was a mason by trade and helped build the abutments for the first bridge across Grand river. Later he laid the engine bed for the first furniture factory operated by steam power.

The Sparta pioneer was born a Republican, his first vote being for Lincoln, but he became a prohibitionist and remained so until the eighteenth amendment became effective. Now he is a Republican again.

Peach Ridge Fruit
Growers Association

Better Fruit is Developed
Million Bushels of Apples and Peaches Is 1941 Estimate
by H.J. Kurtz in Sunday, Sept. 14 Issue of Grand Rapids Herald

Add 250,000 bushels of peaches and 750,000 bushels of apples and you have a million bushels of fruit in anybody's arithmetic.

Sparta apples

Sparta apples

That's the 1941 "take" of the expert fruit growers who operate the large and profitable orchards in the Peach Ridge area southwest of Sparta. These ace horticulturalists are enjoying their most successful peach harvest since they organized the Sparta Peach Ridge Fruit Growers Association in 1929.

Which makes it appear fruit growing is another one of the industries that are back on a pre-depression basis.

Sold on Grounds

By the time the season ends in another week, Otto Klenk, president of the association estimates at least 250,000 bushels of choice peaches will have been sold in the Peach Ridge fruit belt--an area only seven miles long and two miles wide. Ninety percent of the Peach Ridge crop is sold in its own orchards and warehouses, and truckers and buyers representing most of the midwest markets have already trucked away thousands of bushels of such early varieties as South Havens and Rochesters.

Peach Farmers

Sparta's Peach Ridge peach growers--The Grand Rapids Herald, also published in The Sentinel-Leader, courtesy of STHC Newspaper Archives

Now, as the season draws to a close, the luscious, colorful Hales and Elbertas are moving in truckload lots to distant markets.

In the Peach Ridge fruit belt, comprising orchards in Sparta, Alpine, Walker, Tyrone and Plainfield townships in Kent County and Wright and Chester townships in Ottawa County, are some of the most successful peach and apple orchards in the state. Klenk estimates that at least 750,000 bushels of apples will be harvested there this fall, as well as a fine crop of pears, plums and grapes raised by expert fruit growers of many years' experience.

Began Years Ago

Some of these orchardists are the sons of Kent county pioneers who began growing fruit in that section more than 50 years ago. Handed down from father to son as a family heritage, the well kept farms are operated with pride and profit by their owners, who live in large, comfortable homes and have added modern storage plants, electric refrigeration and ventilating fans to their fruit growing equipment.

Farmers' daughters

Daughters of fruit growers in the Peach Ridge District southwest of Sparta with bushels of fresh picked peaches posed for a photo at the orchard of Phil Klenk and Sons. Standing: Natholee Schneider, Margaret and Thelma Dunneback, Dorothy Armock, Frances Dunneback, Agatha Armock, Elizabeth Dunneback, Lucille Finkler, Rosemary Umlor, and Catherine Dunneback. Seated: Norma Fleet, Lois and Phyllis Klenk--The Sentinel-Leader, published 18 Sep 1941, photo from the Sparta Township Historical Commission archives

Among the veteran fruit growers is Phil Klenk, who began orcharding in the Peach Ridge district 47 years ago and built one of the first modern refrigerated plants in that vicinity. In the orchards he farms with his sons, Erwin and Otto, there are now three of these plants, their warehouses have a total capacity of 36,000 bushels of fruit. Annual crop of the Klenk orchards is 6,000 bushels of peaches and 25,000 bushels of apples.

The Peach Ridge Fruit Growers' association now has 80 members. Other officers besides President Otto Klenk are Lowell McKinney, secretary; Harold Wilson, treasurer; Harold Chase and Leo Dunneback, directors.

Latest Methods

Also enjoying a bountiful 1941 harvest is the West Sparta fruit section, four miles west of Sparta, where expert fruit grain and dairy farmers three years ago organized an association which now has forty members. Officers of this association are Julius Nussdorfer, president; Carl Schwartz, vice president; Roland Kraft, secretary; Franklin Reister, treasurer; and John Ritz and Curtis Swarthout, directors.

Success of the fruit growers in the latter area also commands the respect of the horticultural world and has attracted truckers and buyers from a wide area.

Horticulturalists of both the Peach Ridge and West Sparta fruit belts improve their crops by using the latest methods of fertilizing, spraying and pruning. Every year they plant at least 100,000 new fruit trees of many varieties to replace wornout or broken trees, or to set new orchards.--The Sentinel-Leader, published on September 18, 1941; from the Sparta Township Historical Commission newspaper database

The Apple

by Cindy Laug

1953 Apple Smorgasbord

Janet Klein, Gladys Davenport, and Alma Gillett with Apple Queen Carol Fahling at the 1953 Apple Smorgasbord

Over the 20 year span of the Apple Smorgasbords, attending dignitaries included Michigan governors (Williams and Romney), state senators and representatives, as well as journalists, reporters, and farm extension agents. Gerald R. Ford (then U.S. representative) was a regular attendee and Betty Ford even served as judge. Buyers from area grocers, like IGA, A&P, and Eberhard, would attend the event as well as Fred and Lena Meijer. Everyone wanted to be invited to this suit/tie and dressy gathering, but with attendance over 500, it remained by invitation only.

Congressman Ford

Congressman Jerry Ford at the Apple Smorgasbord

Farm wives knew apples could be used in every dish throughout the meal and it was time to share their secret recipes from salads to appetizers, main dishes, beverages, and of course desserts! The buffet featured over 200 homemade apple dishes. Small cardboard apple trays were distributed for folks to fill their plates with the many specialty recipes.

One year, Lady Bird Johnson's submission of White House Apple Tarts was the featured recipe. The women used their old German and Swedish recipes for the buffet dished. And those recipes were in high demand. In 1953 alone they received 4,237 requests for recipes. Requests from all over the country came pouring in and the growers' wives were not ready for that. The MSU extension office helped with printing and mailings and in later years an annual cookbook was presented to guests.

recipe booklet

1963 Apple Smorgasbord recipe booklet from the Peach Ridge Growers Association

Apple crates were used for seating, apple boxes for tables, and there were designated apple polishers. The yearly event rotated from farm to farm and the hosting family spent many weeks grooming, cleaning, and prepping in anticipation. Future events lent themselves to themes, entertainment, and decorations to keep the event fresh.

The marketing scheme worked well as national publications and papers covered the annual celebration (Good Housekeeping, The Ford Times, Washington Post Times, and Parents Magazine). Food editors from across the U.S. would attend this unique event, but politicians came as well. It offered growers a chance to meet with public officials to discuss their concerns and likewise gave those running for office an opportunity to meet with their constituents... a win-win situation. Politicians were brought back to the basics in the farming community, and they liked to see growers take ownership for promoting their own product and not always asking for government assistance.

Planning for such an event was a yearlong undertaking with many subcommittees sharing the load. The host family had a huge commitment as did the chairman of the event. It made sense to hold this in September when the fruit was ripe of the trees and harvest was in full swing. But because of the timing, the men were in the fields so the women took the brunt of the preparation.

Past participants have two schools of thought of why the Smorgasbord ended in 1971. By the early 1970's it became evident that the chain stores were there to stay, and the small local growers were a thing of the past. Times were changing as was the attendance at the annual event. Locally owned grocers were no longer in business and representation from big chain stores like WalMart and Meijer was not happening. Food editors and buyers no longer came.

Others believed it was getting to big and hard to handle. Too many people wanted to be invited, but the number of growers in charge was the same, thus it became too much. They tried to revive the event and held two gatherings that had roots in the old smorgasbord. But that old "pa-zaz" was gone. The Smorgasbord had served its original mission, to promote the apple industry and build community among the growers. The 1971 Smorgasbord was the last one held by the Peach Ridge Growers Association.

Through the Years

by Jo Anne VanderWerff

In 1917 the Carnation Milk Company opened a plant in Sparta, Michigan, conveniently located at the railroad near the corner of East Gardner and Prospect. At the time local dairy farmers supplied the milk, most likely milking only a few cows by hand, producing canned evaporated milk.

Carnation Milk Company

Carnation Milk Company plant

Over the years Carnation Milk Company employed a great number of Sparta residents, many of them women. By 1960 with fewer local milk producers to supply the milk, Carnation Milk Company in Sparta had no choice but to cease operations.

Chamber of Commerce

Originally Henry DeLange's Harness Shop, the building, built in 1885, now serves as offices for the Sparta Chamber of Commerce

Sparta's own Arzie Pinkney, in his "I Remember" article wrote of Sparta’s first milkman, Mr. Tuxbury. The cost of milk at the time was 3 cents a quart. Delivery was two times a week as most families in town owned their own cow. Years later he sold the business to Charlie Purdy and by then milk sold for 5 cents a quart.

Arzie also writes "Henry DeLang’s mother owned a cow she kept in a barn behind the Harness Shop." Today the newly restored harness shop is home to Sparta's Chamber of Commerce.

"In 1920 a man named Warner Siegel from Howard City started a milk business in the creamery. Many of you might remember the brick building along Nash Creek on the corner of North Union and Olmstead," wrote Arzie. "He also made butter, ice cream and installed the first pasteurizing equipment in town. Eventually the business was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Moody." The Moodys later relocated to 34 Maple Street, then Elm Street. In 1954 the business was sold to Bajema Dairy in Comstock Park who continued to deliver milk under the name of Sparta Dairy.

DeLange Harness Shop

DeLange Harness Shop

Some may remember Sam Stout's Dairy on 10 Mile Road. At one time Sam most likely delivered milk to most everyone in the Sparta area. Sam was my grandma's milkman; I remember the quart glass bottles of milk delivered to her back door. The house and barns still stand today, not as a dairy farm but as Briar Barns, a beautiful wedding venue.

By the late 1930's a new dairy opened in Sparta, located in what we now know as Sparta Optometry on North Union Street. Vaughn Dairy was owned by Harold Vaughn and operated by his son Leonard. Vaughn's own dairy farm, located on Sparta Avenue just north of the city limits, supplied the milk. By now milking machines had been implemented and cows were no longer milked by hand. In March of 1941, Vaughn Dairy was sold to Floyd Buege and Lester Tanner becoming B&T Dairy Bar, a popular place for young folks to gather for a burger or soda. Vaughn's dairy farm continued to supply milk for B&T Dairy Bar.

B & T Dairy Bar

Floyd Buege and Lester Tanner's B & T Dairy Bar on North Union Street

According to an article published in the January 12, 1966 issue of the Sentinel Leader, "House of Flavors, Inc., a chain of ice cream stores, has bought the Buena Vista Dairy located at 73 ½ North Union Street, Sparta." The article states the store will continue to operate as in the past with old style ice cream. Managing the store was Mrs. Millard Belcher of Sparta. As kids we always referred to the House of Flavors as the Malt Shop. Occasionally our mom provided written permission to our teacher to walk from school on North Union Street to the House of Flavors for lunch. Seventy-five cents bought us a burger, fries and a malt. Today, the Sparta Township Historical Commission's research center is located in the House of Flavors building though for whatever reason, the address is now 71 N. Union Street.

For many of us, when we think of dairy, we think of dairy farms. Over the years Sparta has had a major role in dairy production in a way only a small town can through our small locally owned dairies, creameries, and home delivery. Not only were our local farmers responsible for providing dairy within our community, they supplied milk for a major industry which also employed many local residents.

Throughout the years dairy farming has evolved from milking by hand to today's modern, large farms with automated milking equipment. From delivering milk in large cans by horse and wagon, to delivering milk by tanker truck to large milk processors. Dairy Farms continue to operate in the Sparta area, some multi-generational such as Bradford Dairy and VanderHyde's Spartan Farms, who also provide beef to a local restaurant. Today's farmers continue to safely provide the world with an abundance of food and we can be proud of our contribution from here on "The Ridge".

Sparta... A Great Place to Grow.

Sparta Trivia

In Sparta in 1960, Luke Arends discovered a seedling near his McIntosh orchard bearing an early ripening apple that was pleasantly tart. He named the fruit Paula Red for his wife, Pauline. This Michigander apple grows throughout Michigan and continues to be one of the first to be picked in the harvest season. It is enjoyed fresh, as a sauce and in pie.--from Michigan Apples: History & Tradition by Sharon Kegerris

1942 parade

Some Gave All

Residents of Sparta Township have a long history of answering the call of duty to serve during wartime and peace. From the Civil War, not long after the founding of the township, to our current day military soldiers, we honor and highlight those who lost their lives while in military service for our country and in the name of freedom.

Memorial Day: An American Holiday

      Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military. originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. The Civil War which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country's first national ceremonies. By the late 1860's Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.--from the History channel website.

Throughout the years, Sparta has faithfully celebrated Memorial Day. For years it began with a prayer service at Greenwood Cemetery, followed by a parade led by local veterans serving as Honor Guard. Many local civic groups participated such as: Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Brownies, groups from local churches, little league teams, along with our junior and senior school bands. Families lined the streets as children waved small American flags. Following the parade, a Laying of the Wreath Ceremony, in memory of those who died in service to our country, was held at the Sparta State Bank in front of the memorial plaque donated by the Sparta High School Student Council.

In recent years the Memorial Day Service remembering our fallen has been held at Lamoreaux Park, which was named for the Lamoreaux brothers who gave their lives in service to our country during WWII. The event includes the reading of the names of those lost during all wars, the Civil War through today. Hosted by the Lekstrum-Burnett American Legion Post 107 and Sparta Township Historical Commission, the Memorial Day Service features: local clergy, a keynote speaker, the laying of the wreath by our Boy Scouts, and patriotic music played by the Sparta High School band.

Each year, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

These touching 2019 and 2022 Memorial Day remembrance services were filmed by Dan Salas, whose youtube channel may be viewed at Positively Michigan.

In Memory

Civil War | World War I | World War II | Korean War | Vietnam Conflict | Operation Iraqi Freedom

On a computer, mouse over the soldier to view additional details. If viewing on a device without a mouse, give a quick tap to see the info box appear.

Civil War

PVT George Bidleman

Co. B 7th Michigan Cavalry

1827 - 9 Oct 1862 Grand Rapids, Michigan

George was from St Joseph. He enlisted and mustered in on 6 Sep 1862, at Royalton, Michigan. He became ill and died in less than a month of disease. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Kent County, Michigan.

Simeon and Amanda Bidleman resided at Sparta from the time of the 1860 Federal Census. Simeon was the son of Adam and Anna Bidlman. If George was Simeon's brother, it explains how he came to be buried at Sparta.

The name appears as both Bidleman and Biddleman in various records.

PVT James Blackall

Co. B 21st Michigan Infantry

1827 NY - 13 Mar 1865 North Carolina

James enlisted on 11 Aug 1862 at Lowell, Michigan, he was mustered in on the 9th of September. He was killed in battle near Averysboro and buried at Wilmington National Cemetery, North Carolina.

Survived by his parents, William and Sarah (Gathrite) Blackall of Sparta, wife Cynthia Maria (Aldrich) Blackall, and children.

PVT Charles Browman

Co. H 4th Michigan Cavalry

1841 Sweden - 20 Jun 1864 Andersonville, Georgia

Charles enlisted on 9 Aug 1862. He was captured on 15 Dec 1862 while on picket at Nashville, Tennessee. In July of 1863, Charles was returned to his regiment. Once again on 22 Dec 1863, he was taken prisoner and imprisoned at Andersonville, where he died of disease while a POW. He was buried at Andersonville National Cemetery, Macon County, Georgia.

Charles was the son of Peter Magnus and Mary Lisa (Petersdotter) Broman of Sparta.

The name invariably appears as Browman, Brouman, Brooman, or Broman.

PVT John F. Crysler

Co. K 3rd Michigan Infantry

1841 Ontario, Canada - 31 May 1863 Falmouth, Virginia

John enlisted and mustered in on 9 Aug 1862 at Grand Rapids, Michigan. He became ill and died of typhoid fever at the regimental hospital and was buried at Fredericksburg National Cemetery, Virginia.

John was the son of Jeremiah and Rhoda Matilda (Ford) Crysler of Sparta.

PVT Chauncy Cumings

Co. H 4th Michigan Cavalry

26 Oct 1822 New York - 21 Mar 1863 Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Chauncey enlisted on 9 Aug 1862 at Sparta, then mustered in on the 28th of the month. He contracted disease and died at the general hospital. Chauncey was buried at Stone River National Cemetery, Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, Tennessee.

He was believed to be the son of Joseph Mason and Susan (Fenton) Cumings. In 1860, he resided at Sparta and made a living as a carpenter and joiner. Chauncey left behind his wife, Lucy Ann (Fenton) Cumings, and several children.

PVT John T. Duffy

Co. G 11th Michigan Infantry

1828 Ireland - 9 Mar 1863 Murfreesboro, Tennessee

John enlisted on 8 Aug 1861 at Jefferson, Michigan, indicating he resided at Sparta, and mustered in to service on the 4th of September. While on provost duty at Murfreesboro, John became ill and died from disease. He was buried at Nashville National Cemetery, Madison, Davidson County, Tennessee.

John and his family were enumerated at Huron, Wayne Co., New York in 1850, then at Wheatland, Hillsdale, Michigan in the 1860 Federal Census before they relocated to Sparta. He was survived by his wife, Arsenath Francis (Dillon) Duffy, and five children.

PVT Eli Hamblin

Co. F 3rd Michigan Infantry

1834 New York - 18 Sep 1862 Washington DC

Eli enlisted on 13 May 1861 and mustered in on the 10th of June. On 28 Aug 1862, he suffered a severe gunshot wound to his left knee during battle at Groveton, Virginia. Taken prisoner, he was recovered by Union troops who transported him to Columbia Hospital in Washington, DC. Eli died from his wounds and was buried at the U. S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery, Washington, DC.

Eli was the son of Samuel Bela and Drusilla (Calkins) Hamblin. In 1860, Eil worked as farm labor for Rev Erastus Norton at Sparta. The Hamblin family lost three sons during the Civil War.

PVT Samuel A. Hamblin

Co. F 3rd Michigan Infantry

1846 Michigan - 6 May 1864 Wilderness, Virginia

Samuel enlisted and mustered in on 8 Feb 1864 to serve. He joined his older brother, William, already with the Regiment on the 27th of March. Samuel was killed in action on May 6th at Laurel Hill, and is presumed to be buried among unknown soldiers at Wilderness Battlefield, Sportsylvania County, Virginia.

Samuel was the son of Samuel Bela and Drusilla (Calkins) Hamblin. In 1860, Samuel Sr was a blacksmith at Rockford, Michigan. The family lost three sons during the Civil War. Widowed, Drusilla resided at Sparta in 1883 with son-in-law and daughter, James S. and Wealthy M. Barkman while collecting a pension of $8 a month for her sons' service.

CPL William Hamblin

Co. F 3rd Michigan Infantry

1840 Livingston Co., New York - 16 Jun 1864 Petersburgh, Virginia

William enlisted on 13 May 1861 and mustered in on the 10th of June. He re-enlisted on 24 Dec 1863 at Brandy Station, Virginia. Briefly home for a veteran furlough, on 28 Jan 1864 William married Mary C. Rosekrans. On 10 Jun 1864, he was transferred to the 5th Michigan Infantry, Company F, when the 3rd and 5th consolidated. He was killed in action between the 16th and 18th of June and is presumed buried at Petersburgh, Fauquier County, Virginia as an unknown soldier.

William was the son of Samuel Bela and Drusilla (Calkins) Hamblin. The family lost three sons during the Civil War.

PVT Frank F. Hildreth

Co. H 4th Michigan Cavalry

1840 Ohio - 22 Nov 1862 Danville, Kentucky

Frank enlisted on 9 Aug 1862 at his hometown of Sparta and mustered in on the 28th of the month. He died from disease and was buried at the Danville City Cemetery, Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky.

Frank was the son of John and Dolly (Smith) Hildreth.

PVT Charles C. Hilton

Co. B 21st Michigan Infantry

1841 Pennsylvania - 31 Dec 1862 Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Charles enlisted on 5 Aug 1862 and mustered in to service on the 3rd of September at Ionia, Michigan. Killed in action, he was buried there at the Stone River National Cemetery, Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, Tennessee.

Charles was the son of Alanson V. and Eunice M. Hilton of Sparta.

SGT John T. Krey

Co. E 21st Michigan Infantry

1831 Germany - 18 Jul 1865 Nashville, Tennessee

John lived at Chester, Michigan, when he enlisted to serve on 11 Aug 1862 at Grand Rapids, Michigan. He died at General Hospital #8, Nashville, from a skull fracture suffered in a fall from a window at the barracks, and was buried at the Nashville National Cemetery, Madison, Davidson County, Tennessee.

His parents were Johann and Maria Ann Caroline (Fisch) Krey. John was survived by his wife, Rosina (Mehl) Krey and their three children.

PVT Sebastian Lown

Co. B 16th Michigan Infantry

1821 New York - 5 Aug 1865 Michigan

Sebastian was drafted in to service on 27 Mar 1865 at Sparta, Michigan. He may have been ill or injured as he was mustered out early on 8 Jul 1865 at Jeffersonville, Indiana before the rest of the unit was disbanded at the end of the month at Jackson, Michigan. Sebastian died three weeks later. He was laid to rest at Myers Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

Sebastian was the son of Johann Jacob and Mary A. (Tenney) Lown, he had a brother Joseph of Sparta, and his wife's name was Cordelia.

PVT Thomas McConnell

Co. D 10th Michigan Cavalry

16 Jan 1812 Pennsylvania - 16 Mar 1864 Knoxville, Tennessee

Thomas enlisted 10 Oct 1863 at Sparta and mustered in on the 23rd of the month, claiming to be 43 when he was actually 51 years old. He died of disease and was buried at the Knoxville National Cemetery, Knox County, Tennessee with a memorial stone also placed at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

He was a shoemaker who arrived in Sparta during the late 1840s with his family. Thomas left behind a wife, Elizabeth (Spangenburg) McConnell, and several children. He was the son of John and Melissa Jane (Disbrow) McConnell.

PVT Horace McNitt

Co. H 4th Michigan Cavalry

1842 Ohio - 9 Jan 1863 Nashville, Tennessee

Horace enlisted at Sparta along with may other local men on 11 Aug 1862 who joined the 4th Cavalry, then mustered into service on the 28th of the month. He died of disease and was buried at Nashville National Cemetery, Davidson County, Tennessee.

The son of Ira and Martha McNitt, Horace was also mourned by his wife, Elvira (Fitch) McNitt.

PVT Charles P. Myers

Co. C 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics

1826 Ontario, Canada - 12 Oct 1862 Nashville, Tennessee

Charles enlisted on 19 Sep 1861 at Grand Rapids then mustered in to service on the 29th of October. He became ill in June while in Alabama, later died of the disease at a military hospital in Nashville, and was buried at the Nashville National Cemetery, Davidson County, Tennessee.

Charles was the son of Charles F. and Ruhamath (Perrin) Myers of Sparta. His wife, Louisa Jane (Shoales) Myers, and several children, of Sparta, survived.

PVT Charles F. Myers

Co. H 6th Michigan Cavalry

1839 Ontario, Canada - 21 Aug 1864 Andersonville, Georgia

Charles lived at Sparta when he enlisted on 18 Sep 1862 at Allegan, Michigan, and mustered in the 11th of October. Just over a year later, he was taken prisoner on 11 Oct 1863 at Brandy Station, Virginia, and sent to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Charles died of disease while a Prisoner of War and was buried at Andersonville National Cemetery, Macon County, Georgia.

He was the son of Hiram H. and Barbara (Traxler) Myers of Sparta.

PVT Henry J. Myers

Co. B 16th Michigan Infantry

1835 Ontario, Canada - 9 Jun 1865 Arlington, Virginia

Henry was drafted on 15 Mar 1865 and mustered in to service on the 28th of the month for a term of one year while residing at Sparta Center. Just three months later, he died of disease and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Henry was the son of Charles F. and Ruhamath (Perrin) Myers of Sparta. He was survived by his wife, Lucy (Abels) Myers, whom he had just married less than two weeks before he was drafted.

CPL David Noble

Co. C 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics

19 Feb 1817 Porter, New York - 22 Jun 1862 Tuscumbia, Alabama

David enlisted on 17 Sep 1861, at Grand Rapids, then mustered in to service as a Corporal on the 29th of October. He contracted Typhoid Fever also known as "Camp Fever", died, and was buried at Tuscumbia, in Colbert County, Alabama, but was later relocated to the Corinth National Cemetery, Alcorn County, Mississippi.

The son of Obed and Sally (Allen) Noble, David was survived by his wife, Mary Ann (Knapp) Noble, and three children. Since 1855, the family resided at their farm in Sparta Township.

PVT George Norton

Co. F 2nd Michigan Cavalry

1843 Michigan - 28 Jul 1862 Rienzi, Mississippi

George enlisted on 9 Sep 1861 then mustered in on the 2nd of October. He died of disease and was buried at Rienzi, Mississippi, but was later relocated to the Corinth National Cemetery, Alcorn County, Mississippi.

His parents were Rev. Erastus W. and Minerva (Gardner) Norton of Sparta, a clergy with the Freewill Baptist Church.

PVT William Rogers


1845 Sparta, Kent, Michigan -

William was cited as "the first white child born in the town". However, by 1847, the family moved to Ravenna where his father established a farm and served as a Supervisor.

He was the son of William and Margaret J (Freyer) Rogers.

PVT Andrew Saur

Co. K 1st New York Cavalry

1837 Saby, Jönköping, Sweden - 27 Jun 1864 Frederick, Maryland

Andrew was a Swedish immigrant who resided at Sparta, Michigan, and was drafted on 20 Jul 1863 to serve when additional men were needed. He was sent to serve with the "Carbine Rangers" or "Sabre Regiment", which was also known as the "1st U.S. Vol. Cavalry". During the eleven months Andrew served, his unit saw a considerable amount of action, primarily in Virginia. He died while serving, but his cause of death was either lost or unrecorded. Buried at Antietam National Cemetery, Sharpsburg, Washington, Maryland, his remains were reinterred from Fredericksburg.

Andrew's parents were John and Eva Katarina (Malberg) Saur of Sparta.

PVT Eli J. Severe

Co. E 21st Michigan Infantry

1841 Ohio - 13 Nov 1862 Louisville, Kentucky

Eli enlisted on 5 Aug 1862 at Grand Rapids, Michigan, indicating he resided at Wright, Ottawa, MI, and mustered into service on the 3rd of September. He became ill with Typhoid Fever, died at Park Barracks General Hospital, and was buried at Cave Hill National Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky.

Eli was the son of James W. and Susanna (Graham) Severe. He was survived by his mother and three younger siblings.

PVT Denton Smith

Co. A 16th Michigan Infantry

27 Feb 1823 New York - 6 Jun 1865 Washington, DC

Denton was registered on 1 Jul 1863 while a resident of Sparta. He was drafted on 15 Mar 1865 and mustered in the 28th of the month. He became ill, died of disease, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Denton was the son of William and Barbara (Vosburgh) Smith and was survived by his wife, Fidelia (Soules) Smith and children.

PVT Henry D. Spicer

Co. F 18th Illinois infantry

1815 Springport, New York - 4 Nov 1863 St. Louis, Missouri

Henry was a blacksmith working in Grand Rapids when the family was enumerated for the 1860 Federal Census. He joined to serve and was mustered in on 30 Jun 1861 at Birds Point, Missouri. Buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, Missouri.

Henry was the son of Asa and Elizabeth (Tobias) Spicer. He was survived by his wife Esther E. (Johnson) Spicer and several children of Sparta.

PVT Charles Wegal

Co. H 4th Michigan Cavalry

1840 Sweden - 24 Dec 1862 Nashville, Tennessee

Charles enlisted at Sparta on 9 Aug 1862 before he mustered in on the 28th of the month with his younger brother, August. Charles became ill and died of disease at General Hospital No. 16 then was laid to rest at Nashville National Cemetery, Davidson County, Tennessee.

Charles was the son of Swen and Helen Christiane (Gustaffsdotter) Wegal of Sparta. John Crysler and Charles Browman were Charles' neighbors just northwest of Sparta Center when the 1860 Federal Census was recorded. All three lost their lives during the war.

World War I

Civil War | World War I | World War II | Korean War | Vietnam Conflict | Operation Iraqi Freedom

PFC Ransford B. Basom

Co. D 126th Infantry 32nd Div.

14 Jun 1890 Lisbon, Kent, Michigan - 29 Aug 1918 Juvigny, France

Ransford lived at Sparta and was employed at the Clay Works according to his draft card. He joined the U S Army, trained, shipped out of Hoboken, New Jersey on 17 Feb 1918 onboard the USS President Grant, and arrived March 6th at Breast, France. He fought at Alsace, Marne, Courmont, then relieved a front lines Division of French "Blue Devils" near Soissons. Ransom was killed in action the next day. His final resting place was at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Seringes-et-Nesles, Aisne, Picardie, France. He was awarded the Purple Heart.

Ransford was the son of Edwin Adelbert and Flora A (Bradbury) Basom of South Union Street.

Charles Biggs
PVT Charles A. Biggs

Co. L 337th Infantry 85th Div.
Co. B 28th Infantry 1st Div.

21 Oct 1891 Ashley, Ohio - 8 Oct 1918 Varennes, France

Charles signed his draft card on 5 Jun 1917 while employed at the M.C. Purdy farm and a Sparta resident. He joined the US Army and on 22 Jul 1918, shipped out of Brooklyn, New York, for deployment in France. Used as reinforcements, Charles was sent to the 28th Infantry, comprised of Pennsylvania National Guard. He lost his life in the ferocious Meuse-Argonne operation near the Aire River one day before his Infantry unit was relieved. A Purple Heart and WWI Victory Medal were awarded. He was laid to rest at Ravanna Cemetery, Muskegon County, Michigan.

Charles was the son of Edwin Amos and Bertha A. (Zent) Biggs.

PVT Nicholas L. Denhoff

Hdqrs. Co. 116th Infantry

10 Mar 1896 Chester, Michigan - 11 Oct 1918 Meuse, France

Nicholas enlisted into the US Army, trained, and shipped from Hoboken, New Jersey on 13 Jun 1918 onboard the USS Finland and arrived eleven days later at St. Nazaire, France. He fought along the Swiss border, then at Meuse-Argonne where Nicholas was killed in action and buried at Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Meuse, France, then reinterred in August 1921 at St Francis Xavier Church Cemetery, Conklin, Ottawa, Michigan. He was awarded a WWI Victory Medal and a Purple Heart.

Nicholas was the son of Jacob J. and Wilhemina Minnie (Graftema) Denhoff of Sparta.

PVT Arthur D. LaBarre

Co. M 337th Infantry 85th Div.
Co. L 28th Infantry 1st Div.

3 Sep 1890 Sparta, Michigan - 16 Sep 1919 Rouen, France

Arthur enlisted on 29 May 1918 to serve in the US Army. He trained and shipped out on 22 Jul 1918 at Brooklyn, New York on the USS Nevasa. They served as support units and where needed. At some point, Arthur was sent to join the 28th Infantry. Arthur was scheduled to sail home on the 12th and 17th Jul 1919 but removed from the manifests, unable to make the trip. He died while still in service at General Hospital #21 at Rouen, Normandy, France, and he was memorialized at Lisbon Cemetery, Sparta, Kent, Michigan.

Arthur was the son of George and Jeannie (Blanvelt) LaBarre of Sparta.

CPL Rudolph Lekstrum

Co. A 107th Field Signal Batt'n 32nd Div.

25 Mar 1892 Sparta, Michigan - 19 Oct 1918 Sommerance, France

Rudolph was a machinist at Marsnick Mfg. Co. in Detroit on 5 Jun 1917 when he signed a draft card. He joined the US Army's new "Red Arrow" Division six days later and on 23 Jan 1918 shipped out from NYC on the RMS Baltic arriving on 6 Feb in England, then on to St. Nazaire, France. The 107th kept lines of communication open. Rudolph was killed in action and laid to rest at Saint Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France with a monument placed at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

Rudolph grew up in Sparta, the son of John Fred and Elizabeth Katrina (Broman) Lekstrum.

PVT Hattil C. Sharp

Canadian 3rd Div. Supply Col.

4 Mar 1891 Sparta, Michigan - 1916 France

Hattil enlisted into the US Navy shortly after graduating from Sparta High School. On 20 Jun 1910, he was recorded in the US Census as a sailor on the USS Georgie, residing at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Before the US entered WWI, Hattil enlisted with the Canadian Army Service Corps and died in service. He was laid to rest at Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery, Somme, France, and honored at the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower, Ottawa, Canada.

His parents were Dr. Hattil C. and Sarah Ella (Bacheler) Sharp of Sparta. In 1920, the Census placed the family on Grove Street and Dr. Sharp was a veterinarian surgeon.

Peter VanderLaan
PVT Peter VanderLaan

310th Trench Mortar Battery 85th Div.

30 Aug 1893 Chester, Michigan - 29 Jan 1919 France

While residing at Sparta, Peter signed a draft card on 5 Jun 1917 then enlisted to serve in the US Army. He sailed onboard the SS Mauretania on 30 Jul 1918 to Europe. Peter died from Pneumonia and was buried at St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France.

Peter was the son of Nicholas and Antonia (Raap) VanderLaan.

World War II

Civil War | World War I | World War II | Korean War | Vietnam Conflict | Operation Iraqi Freedom

PVT Walter F. Blakslee

1st Div. 16th Infantry

7 May 1917, Grand Rapids, Michigan - 1 Aug 1944 Bretagne, France

Walter was employed by Walter Ebers when he signed his draft card on 16 Oct 1940 while a resident of Sparta. He joined and served in the US Army's "Big Red One". Walt was killed in action as the allies routed German forces in retreat from France. He was awarded a Purple Heart. The soldier was laid to rest at Brittany American Cemetery, Saint-James, Department de la Manche, Basse-Normandie, France.

Walter was the son of Fred Jacob and Oliver Katherine (Smith) Blakslee. He also left behind his wife, Dorothy Florine (Hering) Blakslee of Sparta.

S/SGT Louis J. Burnett

Co. M 32nd Div. 126th Infantry

1920 Comstock Park, Michigan - 26 Nov 1942 Buna, New Guinea

Louis joined the US Army assigned to the "Red Arrow". Upon arrival in New Guinea, troops were sent on a rainy 130+ mile jungle trek over mountainous terrain. Inadequately supplied with six days rations for a trip which took 42 days, many became ill. With just a week of rest, they were ordered to the front lines in the Battle of Buna-Gona, which decimated the battalion. Among the dead, Louis was buried at Manila American Cemetery, Philippines, with a cenotaph placed at Lisbon Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, and he was awarded a Purple Heart.

His parents were Louis E. and Lillian O. (La Barre) Burnett, and wife was Caroline E. (Patterson) Burnett.

S/SGT John P. D'Amour

344th Bomb Squadron 98th Bomb Group 8th Air Force

9 Aug 1911 Rapid River, Delta, Michigan - 1 Aug 1943 Benghazi, Libya

Johnny enlisted on 3 Apr 1942 at Detroit, where he had been employed by Motor Products Corp., and became a B-24 Gunner. On his fateful day, he was assigned as part of a replacement crew to the 9th Air Force, a B-24D Liberator known as "Kickapoo". Operation Tidal Wave's mission was to bomb the Ploesti oil fields at Romainia. Shortly after takeoff, an engine fire engulfed the right wing. Returning to base and upon landing, there was a fiery crash. After the War, he was reinterred at Fort Scott National Cemetery, Fort Scott, Bourbon County, Kansas in 1948.

John Paul was the son of John B. and Mary E. (Guerno) D'Amour.

TM3 Robert E. Devenport

US Naval Reserve

12 Dec 1921 Sparta, Michigan - 1 Jun 1944 near Point Tagan, Matsuwa Island, Kuriles

Bob worked at American Seating Co. in Grand Rapids when he joined the US Navy. Assigned to the USS Herring, a 311' Gato class submarine (SS-233), he became a Torpedoman's Mate 3rd Class. He served in the South Pacific. The sub left Pearl Harbor on 16 May 1944 on a mission to the Kurlie Islands which stretch 800 miles between Japan and Russia. They torpedoed four ships before a Japanese shore battery spotted and sunk the sub with two direct hits. Lost at sea, Robert was memorialized at Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii and awarded a Purple Heart.

He was the son of Ernest and Daisy May (Gilbert) Devenport.

S/SGT Charles H. Doran

824th Bomb Squadron 484th Group 15th Army Air Force

5 Mar 1917 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 30 Jan 1945 Italy

Charles enlisted on 7 Apr 1942 at Lafayette, Indiana, while he was employed as an advertising agent for a soap company. Deployed to a base at Toretta, Italy, southeast of Foggia, Charles was the radio operator on a B-24 Liberator crew. He was killed in a crash during the North Apennines or Rhinelander Campaigns and was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, Alpine Twp., Kent County, Michigan.

His parents were Charles H. and Ruth (Carlson) Doran.

CPL Charles L. Ebers

57th Troop Carrier Squadron 375th T.C. Group

3 Mar 1920 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 9 Jul 1944 Papua, New Guinea

Charles enlisted and served in the South Pacific transporting troops. His crew's mission was to fly a C-47A Skytrain to transport passengers and Browning .50-caliber machine guns to Nadzab, New Guinea. After leaving Saidor Airfield at Mandang, New Guinea, the flight was never heard from again and declared lost. The crash site in mountainous terrain was finally located in 1948 at a 7,200' elevation. Remains were buried at Manila American Cemetery, Philippines with a Cenotaph placed at Greenwood Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan.

Charles' parents were Avery Edward and Sylvia Marie (Bettes) Ebers.

PFC Silas R. Fenn

32nd Div. 126th Infantry 2nd Batt'n.

17 Feb 1916 Pottersville, Michigan - 28 May 1945 Luzon, Philippines

Silas resided at Sparta with his mother and step-father, Albert Sercy, in 1940 shortly before he enlisted to serve in the US Army on 25 Apr 1941 at Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was assigned to the Division known as the "Red Arrow". On 26 May, near the close of the of the Villa Verde Trail battle, Silas was on a mission to guard a rations train when he suffered traumatic wounds in a Japanese attack. He survived surgery but died two days later. He was buried at Benton Township Cemetery, Pottersville, Eaton, Michigan, and was awarded a Purple Heart.

Silas was the son of Ernest Romeyn and Georgiana (Walker) Fenn.

TEC5 Raymond F. Fix

120th Chemical Process. Co.

8 Feb 1923 Sparta, Michigan - 3 Jul 1944 Caumont-l’Evente, Basse-Normandie, France

Ray was employed by Pulte's Plumbing and Heating in Grand Rapids and lived at Sparta when he completed a draft card on 30 Jun 1942. He joined the US Army on 30 Dec 1942 at Kalamazoo, Michigan. Ray became a Technician Fifth Class, was killed in action, buried at Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, Calvados, France, and was awarded a WWII Victory Medal and a Purple Heart. A memorial stone was placed for him at Holy Trinity Cemetery, Alpine, Kent County, Michigan.

Raymond was the son of William and Anna (Thomas) Fix.

SGT Al Lamoreaux

Co. L 78th Div. 309th Infantry

5 Jul 1918 Ada, Michigan - 6 Feb 1945 Schmidt, Rhineland, Germany

Al was employed at Sparta by Michigan Artcraft on 23 Mar 1943 when he joined the US Army serving in the "Lightning Division". During the Rhineland Campaign, Al was killed in action while they fought to capture the Schwammenauel Dam in Roer Valley. Buried at Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands, with a monument also at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, Al was awarded a Purple Heart.

The third son of Clair Bushnell and Alice Hortense (Feutz) Lamoreaux to die in WWII, the military failed to reach him in time to prevent his death. Al's widow was Anita (Petronis) Lamoreaux.

PFC Donald Lamoreaux

36th Div. 141st Infantry

10 Aug 1922 Ada, Michigan - 21 Jan 1944 Italy

Living at King, Washington, Don returned to Michigan to join the US Army on 28 Apr 1943 and was assigned to serve in the "Arrowhead Division". In an attempt to cross the Rapido River boatloads of soldiers were besieged by mines, heavy artillery, and machine gun fire which destroyed most boats. Men who weren't killed or wounded were captured. Don was killed in action. Awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart, he was laid to rest at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Lazio, Italy.

Don was the son of Clair Bushnell and Alice Hortense (Feutz) Lamoreaux. He was the first of three sons to become casualties of war.

PVT Howard Lamoreaux

Co. E 96th Div. 381st Infantry 2nd Batt'n

16 Oct 1924 Sparta, Michigan - 10 Nov 1944 Leyte Island, Philippines

Howard lived at 213 Martindale and was employed by the Muskegon Piston Ring on 21 Dec 1942 when he signed a draft card. On 26 Feb 1943, Howard joined and was assigned to the US Army's "Deadeye" Division. They landed at Leyte Gulf, on 20 Oct 1944, between Tanauan and Dulag. Howard died in battle. He was buried at Manila American Cemetery, Philippines, awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was honored on a stone at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, with his two brothers who also died in the war.

Howard was the son of Clair Bushnell and Alice Hortense (Feutz) Lamoreaux of Sparta.

2LT George James Leary

703rd Bomb Squadron 445th Bomb Group

14 Jun 1920 Sparta, Michigan - 18 Oct 1944 Landican, England

George was a college student in New Jersey when he registered and enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed at Tibenham, Norfolk, England. A B-24 Liberator used as a troop transport flying at 1,000 feet during stormy weather had a catastrophic mid-air explosion, possibly due to fuel leakage. All 24 men on board were killed in the crash at Landican, near Birkenhead, England. George was buried at American Military Cemetery, Madingley, Cambridgeshire, England and a stone was placed at Fairplains Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

George was the son of Clayton Norman and Dora Leona (Miller) Leary.

PFC Philip W. Mutchler

84th Div. 334th Infantry

2 Mar 1926 Sparta, Michigan - 1 Mar 1945 Germany

Philip indicated he was employed by Haskelite Mfg. Corp. in Grand Rapids, on his 1944 draft card. He joined "The Railsplitters" and was killed in action in Germany. Philip's final resting place was at Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, Sangamon Co, Illinois, in 1948, after being reinterred from Margraten, Aachen, Holland, and awarded a Purple Heart.

He was the son of Howard Edmund and Ethel M. (Sabin) Mutchler. Philip's wife was Lorraine Bertha (Visser) Mutchler.

SGT Roger E. Plank

Co. A 88th Div. 350th Infantry

8 Apr 1919 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 19 Apr 1945 Bologna, Italy

Roger's 1940 draft card stated he was employed by S.S. Kresge Co. in Grand Rapids. He enlisted in the US Army on 22 Sep 1942 and served with the "Fighting Blue Devils" in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Roger was killed by a sniper bullet while scouting in advance of his Infantry Company in the Po Valley near Bologna. He was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, then awarded the Bronze Star Medal and a Purple Heart.

He was survived by his father, J. Raymond Plank, step-father and mother, Henry and Eldora (Murray) Schuiling of Sparta.

CPL Lloyd George Rees

Co. E 91st Div. 361st Infantry 2nd Bat.

23 Jan 1917 Tustin, Osceola, Michigan - 17 Oct 1944 Livergnano, Italy

On 16 Oct 1940, Lloyd signed his draft card as a resident of Sparta and joined the US Army on 16 Mar 1942 at Fort Custer, Kalamazoo, Michigan. He served in North Africa and Italy. An Army Chaplin's letter said Lloyd was killed in action during an enemy mortar attack near the front line and he was struck in the head. Burial was at the American Military Cemetery, Pietramala, Florence, Italy. He was re-patriated to Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, and awarded a Purple Heart.

His parents were Harry Leslie and Allie Agnes (Adams) Rees. Lloyd was predeceased by his wife Gladys Marie (Black) Rees, a lifelong Sparta resident, and their three children.

S/SGT Clayton V. Rider

Co. C 9th Div. 47th Infantry 1st Bat.

7 Sep 1918 Solon, Kent, Michigan - 16 Nov 1944 Germany

Clayton enlisted on 23 May 1943 in the US Army, a resident of Cedar Springs, and became a member of the "Raiders". On D-Day plus 4 they landed on Utah Beach, Normandy, France. Four days later, they fought the Germans, and were the first Allies into Belgium. Vernon lost his life during a fierce battle near the Belgium - German border. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta.

The son of C. Clayton and Anna (Albrecht) Rider, Clayton was also survived by his wife, Alma Charlotte (Hagenah) Rider. She lived at Sparta in 1948 when she signed an application for a military headstone placed at Greenwood Cemetery.

PFC Fred Aaron Rowley

Co. H 3rd Marine Div. 9th Marines 2nd Batt'n

30 Aug 1923 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 27 Aug 1943 Guadalcanal, Sol. Islands

Fred enlisted to serve with the Marines on 2 Jul 1942 and mustered in to training at San Diego, California. By January 1943, he was at sea in the South Pacific. Between 28-30 Apr 1943, Fred was listed as a patient at a Regiment Field Hospital. Once recovered, he returned to duty and was killed in action. Fred was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

He was the son of Fred A. and Helen Hazel (Nielson) Rowley. In 1940, the family lived on Englishville Road in Algoma Twp. and Fred Sr. was a tool and die maker at the foundry.

PFC George Otis Timmer

Co. 96th Div. 382nd Infantry

27 May 1921 Hanford, Kings, California - 6 Nov 1944 Leyte, Philippines

George lived with his cousins, Joe and Opal Brooks, on Union St. at Sparta per the 1930 US Census. He signed his draft card on 16 Feb 1942 while employed at CWC Foundry in Muskegon and joined the Army on the 16th of October. Sent to the South Pacific, he suffered a gunshot wound during the Battle of Leyte and was hospitalized, but died three days later. George was buried at Maple Grove Cemetery, Fremont, Newaygo, Michigan and was awarded a Purple Heart.

George was the son of George Augustus and Floy E. (Thompson) Gearing and step-father John Timmer.

ENS James A. Warren

US Naval Reserve Fighting Squadron 33 (VF-33)

21 Oct 1921 Sparta, Michigan - 5 Jun 1944 New Britain Island

Jimmy enlisted and became a fighter pilot. On 6 Sep 1943, he was credited with the first aerial Hellcat victory in the South Pacific shooting down an enemy fighter. In a dogfight on 23 Dec 1943 over Simpson Harbor, his F6F-3 Hellcat was shot down over Kabanga Bay and he parachuted to safety. Soon discovered by the Japanese, he was imprisoned at Rabaul POW Camp on New Britain Island and later declared dead. Memorialized at the Walls of the Missing, Manila American Cemetery, Philippines, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart.

James was the son of Charles Henry and Rose Matilda (Monette) Warren.

PO3 Burl Walton Welch

US Navy

7 Feb 1926 Gulliver, Michigan - 9 Oct 1945 Nakagusuku Wan, Okinawa, Japan

Burl and his twin brother, Durl, enlisted on 4 Jan 1944, at Detroit to serve in the US Naval Reserve. Both were assigned to the USS PC-1128, a steel hulled patrol craft built at Bay City, Michigan. Burl became a Motor Machinist's Mate, Third Class. The USS PC-1128 saw action at Leyte, Okinawa, and Manilla. When the war ended and prior to heading home, the ship was grounded at Nakagusuku Wan, also known as Buckner Bay, by Typhoon Louise. Burl was declared dead, missing at sea, and was memorialized at Courts of the Missing, Honolulu Memorial, Hawaii.

His parents were Benjamin Harrison and Maude May (Keach) Welch.

F1C Durl Walter Welch

US Navy

7 Feb 1926 Gulliver, Michigan - 9 Oct 1945 Nakagusuku Wan, Okinawa, Japan

Durl and his twin brother, Burl, enlisted on 4 Jan 1944, at Detroit to serve in the US Naval Reserve. Both were assigned to the USS PC-1128, a steel hulled patrol craft built at Bay City, Michigan. Durl became a Fireman First Class, rating S2C. The USS PC-1128 saw action at Leyte, Okinawa, and Manilla. When the war ended and prior to heading home, ships were gathered at Okinawa when Typhoon Louise struck. PC-1128 rolled twice killing all but 9 of her crew. Durl was laid to rest at Fairplains Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

Durl was the son of Benjamin Harrison and Maude May (Keach) Welch.

2LT Harold A. West

492nd Bombardment Squadron, 7th Bomb Group (H), Crew 67

12 Jul 1920 Michigan - 1 Jul 1944

Harold enlisted with the US Army Air Corps as an airplane mechanic. The 1940 census recorded him at Selfridge Field, Macomb County, Michigan, as he resided at the 27th Pursuant Squadron barracks. When the US entered the war, Harold served with the 10th Air Force as a Navigator and flew in a B-24 Liberator in the China-Burma-India Theater. While stationed at Tezgaon-Kurmitola, India, they undertook missions to transport gasoline across the "hump" to the 14th Air Force in China. He died in service and was buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, Comstock Park, Michigan.

His parents were Harlan Dennison and Elise Nancy (Whebrock) West.

Jack Wendell Young

Air Corps Squadron 14

13 Jun 1922 Sparta, Kent, Michigan - 25 May 1943 Fresno, Kings, California

Jack enlisted on 21 May 1942 to serve in the US Army. He became an Aviation Cadet with the Air Corps and died during a tragic training exercise accident while in advanced training at Lamour Field in California. He was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

Jack was the son of William Albert and Hilda Alberta (Meeker) Young. In 1940, the family resided at 131 S. Union St., Sparta.

Korean War

Civil War | World War I | World War II | Korean War | Vietnam Conflict | Operation Iraqi Freedom

PFC Richard F. Guiles

Co. D 1st Marine Div. 1st Marines 2nd Bat.

18 Jan 1933 Sparta, Michigan - 30 Jun 1951 North Korea

A lifelong Sparta resident, Richard enlisted to serve in the US Marines. In the first 20 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division near Hwach'on Reservoir successfully fought to take the ridge line overlooking a deep valley close to Inje called the "Punchbowl". Ten days later, Richard became a ground casualty as he suffered multiple fragment wounds. During the last week of November, he was laid to rest at Fairplains Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, and awarded a Purple Heart.

Richard was the son of Elijah Joseph "Joe" and Ruth (Welch) Guiles. Joe's WWII draft card indicated he was employed by the Kent County Road Commission.

CPL Elmer Amos Scott

Co. B 45th Div. 180th Infantry 1st Bat.

14 Jan 1929 Nunica, Michigan - 9 Jun 1952 North Korea

On 17 Jan 1951, Elmer Scott, a young man from Crockery Twp. in Ottawa Co., joined the Oklahoma National Guard, the first of two National Guard units deployed to Korea and involved in combat. Upon their arrival, the "Thunderbirds" served in a support role at Yonchon-Chorwon and guarded the route to Seoul, they fought repeatedly at Pork Chop Hill, then participated in Operation Counter at Outpost Eerie to break a stalemate with formidable Chinese forces. Elmer was killed in action. He was buried at Fair Plains Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan, and awarded a Purple Heart.

His parents were Delbert Deforest and Frances E. (Zlotnicki) Scott.

CPL Max Waldherr

Co. B 7th Div. 32nd Infantry

13 Sep 1929 Circle, McCone, Montana - 2 Dec 1950 Hudong-ni, North Korea

Max enlisted on 10 Aug 1948 into the US Army and was reported missing on 2 Dec 1950 during the 17-day Battle of Chosin Reservoir, aka Lake Changjin, not far from the China border. US Army and Marines were out numbered 30,000 troops against 120,000 Chinese. In sub-zero temperatures, three battalions were destroyed as they suffered in excess of 2,000 casualties. Recovered in 1955, Max was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. Among several awards, he received a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Korean Service Medal.

Max was the son of Martin and Hermina (Schmid) Waldherr.

Vietnan Conflict

Civil War | World War I | World War II | Korean War | Vietnam Conflict | Operation Iraqi Freedom

SP4 Daniel Louis Behm

A Battery 11th Artillery 11th Infantry Bde. 6th Bn.

5 Dec 1948 - 24 Jan 1970 Quang Ngai, South Vietnam

A recent graduate of Sparta High School, Daniel served in the US Army Field Artillery. On 6 Feb 1969, he began his tour of duty. Daniel suffered an accidental death and was buried at Lake Forest Cemetery, Grand Haven, Ottawa, Michigan.

He was the son of Louis Henry and Kathleen M. (McCarthy) Behm.

PFC Bruce Wayne Curtis

H&S Co. 3rd Bn. 4th Marines 3rd Marine Div. III MAF

13 Sep 1949 - 25 Feb 1969 Quang Tri, South Vietnam

Bruce enlisted on 27 Jun 1968 and served in the US Marines as a Motarman. On 31 Dec 1968, he began his tour of duty. His death was the result of an accident when an 81 mm mortar round exploded in the mortar tube killing three Marines. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

Bruce was the son of Floyd Curtis of Sparta and Mrs. Barbara Wagner of Jenison.

PFC Michael Dunneback

B Troop 3rd Sqdn. 4th Cavalry 25th Infantry Div.

10 Nov 1948 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 5 Mar 1969 Tay Ninh, South Vietnam

Michael was employed in Sparta by Emelander Construction before he served in the US Army as an 11E10-Armor Crewman. On 9 Dec 1968, he began his tour of duty. While in battle, a hostile grenade hit his tank. Michael died at a US Army hospital three days later from the severe burns he suffered in the attack. He was laid to rest at Holy Trinity Cemetery, Alpine, Kent, Michigan, and awarded a Purple Heart.

Michael was the son of Edward L. and Helen M. (Loveless) Dunneback.

LCPL Dennis Merryman

M Co. 3rd Bn. 5th Marines 1st Marine Div. III MAF

29 Jun 1949 East Grand Rapids, Michigan - 5 Mar 1969 Quang Nam, South Vietnam

Dennis served in the US Marine Corps as a Rifleman. The 22nd of August 1968 was the start of his tour of duty as he arrived in Vietnam. While on combat patrol, he was killed in action near Hoa. Dennis was laid to rest at Algoma Township Cemetery, Rockford, Michigan.

Dennis was the son of Ray C. and Ethel P. (Udell) Merryman of Sparta and husband to Barbara (Green) Merryman.

SFC Ronald Jay Miller


3 Jun 1936 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 12 May 1968 Thua Thien, South Vietnam

Ronald joined the US Army on 6 Jul 1954 and became a Green Beret. He was part of an elite highly classified Special Forces Group, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) stationed at the Forward Operations Base-1 - Phu Bai and Base-4 - Da Nang - Command and Control North. Ronald was killed in action, buried at Idlewild Cemetery, Kent City, Michigan, awarded a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart.

Mourned by parents Leonard G. Miller of Greenville, step-father George and Clara M. (Groner) Nickolai of Sparta, wife Johanna Rosa (Lindke) Miller, and five children.

SP4 Jimmy Roger Murrell

D Co. 1st Bn. 501st Infantry 101st Airborne Div.

24 Sep 1950 Michigan - 2 Jul 1971 Thua Thien, South Vietnam

Jimmy lived at 10613 Alpine Ave., Sparta, when he let to serve in the US Army Light Weapons Infantry. On 28 Mar 1971 he began his tour of duty. He was killed in action and laid to rest at Fairplains Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan.

Jimmy was survived by his parents Ralph and Carrie Aline (McKenzie) Murrell, wife Jean D. (Hanson) Murrell, and a son.

PFC Craig Edward Yates

B Co. 2nd Bn. 505th Infantry 3rd Bde. 82nd Airborne Div.

23 Nov 1950 Grand Rapids, Michigan - 29 May 1969 Binh Duong, South Vietnam

Craig grew up in the Sparta area and his family resided at 720 13 Mile Road, on the southeast bank of the Rogue River. He was a 1968 graduate of Sparta High School and worked at Groendyk's Bargain City. In October, Craig joined the US Army and on April 1st, he went to Viet Nam. In less than two months, he died during combat operations and was brought home for burial at Greenwood Cemetery, Sparta, Michigan. Craig was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Craig's parents were Roland and Marian (Porter) Yates of Sparta.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Civil War | World War I | World War II | Korean War | Vietnam Conflict | Operation Iraqi Freedom

SPC Brandon Lee Stout

46th Military Police Co. 210th Bn.

7 Dec 1983 Grand Rapids, Kent, Michigan - 22 Jan 2007 Baghdad, Iraq

Brandon had strong faith, love of country, and desire to serve. A 2002 graduate from Kent City High, he joined the Michigan National Guard at Kingsford in June 2003, became a MP, and on 9 July 2006 was activated to go to Iraq. He arrived overseas in Oct. to train Iraqi police. Two weeks before the end of his tour, his life was cut short when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. Brandon was laid to rest at Pinewood Cemetery, Tyrone, Kent, Michigan, awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Brandon was survived by wife, Audrey (Hinken) Stout, and parents: Bill & Tammy Stout, Jeff & Tracy (Vronko) Anderson of Kent City, and Gary & Laurie Hinken.

Our Veterans

On the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918, in France, the guns of Europe fell silent to end the war "that would end all wars". "The Great War" officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. Fighting ceased seven months earlier when an Armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the allied nations and Germany went into effect on November 11, 1918. On November 12, 1918, our grandfather wrote from "Somewhere in France":

      Dearest Mother and All,
      Yesterday was one of the most wonderful days that the world has known since the birth of Christ. I know it was a day when the whole world rejoiced.

Sentinel Leader, November 15, 1918:

      Victory Day Sunday, November 17. At the Baptist church Sunday night at 7 o'clock instead of having the sermon announced for Sunday night, we will celebrate the victory of the Allies by holding a big patriotic meeting. We will sing national songs, salute the flag, have special music and a patriotic address by the pastor. You are all invited to come and celebrate. You can shout and cheer if you want to do so for we all feel happy.

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11am.

      To those who recall the hilarious joy occasioned by the close of the World War, Armistice Day will always remain an outstanding occasion. In the more sober celebration of its anniversary, we pause to honor those brave boys who did not return. This bank will close all day.--Sparta State Bank, November 9, 1933, published in the Sparta Sentinel Leader

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. "In order to ensure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citienry will wish to join hands in the common purpose."--Dwight D. Eisenhower

Today we show our appreciation to Veterans by thanking them and asking about their service. We fly the American flag and students in school are encouraged to write letters of thanks to local veterans. Some pause for a moment at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month to thank God for having provided us with the great gift of freedom.

"Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them."--Franklin D. Roosevelt

Submitted by Jayne Heath and JoAnne VanderWerff

North side of Main Street


Newspaper boys shouted, "Read all about it! Read all about it!" to catch the attention of the passerby as they sold their stacks of newspapers hot off the press on gaslit street corners. Did that actually happen in Sparta? Maybe. Maybe not. But we do know by 1876 the town had its own weekly newspaper titled Sparta Sentinel which was founded by Rev. John W. Hallack who wore the hats of Publisher and Editor.

A first time listing appeared in the Kent County section of the 1882 edition of R. L. Polk's & Co. Grand Rapids Directory under the heading of "Newspapers" which simply stated one known as the Sentinel was published at Sparta Center. It was, however, elaborated upon in the general listings as "Hallock John W, propr Sparta Sentinel, Sparta Centre".


Sentinel-Leader office

The 1886 Directory proclaimed "J. George Van Winkle, propr. Sparta Sentinel Sparta." However, Mr. Van Winkle was soon replaced by John W. Woodman. The 1888 directory for Kent County, read: "Sparta Sentinel, John W. Woodman, editor, Sparta." Rev. Hallack took on these partners when he branched out in 1885 to focus upon a new enterprise listed in the directory alongside his name as the Prohibition Publishing Association. However, in 1888, Mr. Hallack had "returned to the managing editorship of the Sparta Sentinel," as reported in the Detroit paper.

For many years, Town Historian, Arzie L. Pinckney, penned a weekly column published in The Sentinel-Leader entitled I Remember. On February 9, 1966, he wrote: "...Dr. Zudense, one of Sparta's best doctors, who was usually feuding with someone in town, got miffed at the editor. In order to get his views before the public, he would go out of town and have some handbills printed and hire some of the kids in town to peddle them from house to house. He finally got tired of doing that so he prevailed upon a Mr. Renith (Ryness) to come to Sparta and start another paper. He did so... and called it the Sparta Leader. From then on, things became quite lively. At that time Sparta was just a small farming center with no way to get out except by train or horses so anything could be an amusement."

So Sparta became a two-paper town in 1895 as Walter S. Ryness entered the profession of newspaper publisher and threw his hat in the ring when he established the Leader. In retrospect, the 1900 directory glowingly described it to be "a purely republican journal as far as politics is concerned, but comprehensive and general in regards to news and events of the day may be disseminated, and to fully meet this need in Sparta..."...with a "circulation of 800, is most ably edited, and is in every detail up to date." The biography went on to say Mr. Ryness was also the sole proprietor of the Kent City Times.

Who was Mr. Ryness?

Walter S. Ryness appeared in the 1880 edition of Polk's Grand Rapids Directory as a printer for a publication also called the Leader. Two years later, he had advanced to the title of Foreman at The Leader. By 1883, it became the Leader Publishing Company. Interestingly, ten years later, he was listed with a political publication: the G R Democrat.

Competition drives excellence, or so they say. It can also set off sparks! But either way, it benefits the people of the community to become better informed... or entertained, as the case may be since many folks subscribed to both newspapers, each reporting a circulation of 800 copies.

The 1896 directory included listings for both newspapers. In one corner, the Sparta Sentinel had John W. Hallack at the helm along with its printers: Charles M. Hallack and Leta Wheeler, an eighteen year old woman. And in the other corner, The Sparta Leader, owned by Walter S. Ryness and edited by none other than Mr. Hallack's former partner, John W. Woodman.

The rivalry was lively, but short lived. Joining forces under new management in 1900, the two papers were purchased and merged to become a longtime community icon known as The Sentinel-Leader.


Walter Bloomer visited Sentinel Leader a few days ago. His father, Edgar Bloomer came to Sparta in 1900, and Walter has lived here ever since. He said his father moved in from Farmington, Michigan.

Walter Bloomer said he worked for four years on the Sentinel Leader which his father had purchased when he came to Sparta. It was Edgar Bloomer who merged the Sentinel and the Leader and named the paper the Sentinel Leader.

Walter's sister, Helen, married John W. Fifield who became the publisher and editor of the paper in 1909 and continued in this capacity until his death in 1916. Mrs. Fifield continued to edit the paper for a short time until it was purchased by Frank W. Holmes.

The Kent City Times and Casnovia Herald merged with the Sentinel Leader in 1931 while Holmes was the publisher.--published in the Sentinel Leader on May 3, 1971, courtesy of the STHC newspapers database

So what became of Sparta's former publishers? Well, here's the rest of the story...

John George Van Winkle

John George Van Winkle was 28 years of age when he wed Ada M. Baldwin on Christmas day of 1880 at Hersey in Osceola County, Michigan. Earlier that year, when the young man was enumerated in the Federal Census, he was employed as a school teacher. A few years later and after his very brief stint in the publishing world, George was appointed the U. S. Postmaster for Sparta on 12 Jun 1889, which caused quite a ruckus because typically these appointments were reserved for veterans and Mr. Van Winkle had not served in the military. Nevertheless, he remained Postmaster until 19 Jun 1893 when Albert Betterly received the appointment. By 1900, the Van Winkle family relocated and George was employed as a Department of Defense government clerk in Washington DC.

John W. Hallack

John W. Hallack was born in 1844 and raised in Wyoming County, New York. When he came to Almont, Michigan, he intended to study theology and literature at Hillsdale College but on 4 Jan 1864 his plans changed as he volunteered to serve in the War of the Rebellion. During the Civil War, John Hallack was a Private in Co. E and L of the 8th Michigan Cavalry. Afterwards, in 1866, John returned to Hillsdale College completing his studies and in June of 1872 became an ordained minister and entered the ministry.

After he pastored Baptist churches at Lisbon and Sparta for about five years, John realized his calling was not the pulpit, but rather the publishing business. As the young man pressed forward, he "...entered his career as a journalist, practically establishing the Sparta Sentinel." According to a biographical sketch published in 1900, "The material cost about $50, as the press was a wooden affair, made in the village of Sparta, and the type was about on par with the press." Determined and tenacious, John made his venture into a success. The Sparta printing press served its purpose for nearly twenty-five years before Mr. Hallack purchased a Campbell oscillator press and a Gordon job press.

John Hallack

John Hallack

In addition to his Sparta Sentinel, he published the Grand Rapids Evening Post, the Howard City Record, Casnovia News, and the Reunion which was a popular publication for Veterans.

Among the printing apprentices Mr. Hallack employed was Herbert A. Van Antwerp, a Sparta native born on 27 Mar 1872, who was educated in the local schools and, in 1887, graduated from Sparta High School. Herbert learned the printer's trade while he worked at the Sparta Sentinel before pursuing opportunities around the state and then landed a position at the Pittsburg Gazette-Times becoming the second assistant foreman. He returned to Michigan several years later, purchased the Rockford Register in 1910, and was elected Clerk for Algoma Township the following year. Mr. Van Antwerp sought higher office and was elected in 1915 to the Michigan Legislature as Representative of the Third District.

Following the sale of his newspaper, John continued in the Editor's chair for other publications. In a surprising turn of events, it seems the rivalry with Walter Ryness turned out to be friendly as the two newspapermen had much in common and decided to become partners; the editor and the printer, each playing to their strong suit.

"Mrs. Ellen Ray has sold the Antrim County Sentinel at Bellaire to Walter S. Ryness of Grand Rapids and John W. Hallack of Sparta, who intend to continue the publication of the paper without any change of name. Both gentlemen are well known to the newspaper world. Hallack having been for many years the proprietor of the Sentinel at Sparta and Mr. Ryness having been the founder and proprietor of the Sparta Leader."--The Detroit Free Press reported on the 28th of May 1900.

John also purchased and edited another publication, the Thompsonville News until 26 Jan 1901 when he passed away at just 56 years old from a sudden heart attack. He was survived by his wife, Isabelle (Martindale) Hallack, and several children.

John W. Hallack's obituary published on 1 Feb 1901 in The Sentinel-Leader described the close friendship between the departed and Rev. J. H. Maynard, who delivered the sermon, noting the minister was "...visibly affected. Probably no two persons in Sparta were better or more intimate friends" than the two men. It concluded with "The public will never forget the part played by J. W. Hallack in the making of Sparta history. By his vigorous attitude while in the editorial chair he made many enemies and many friends."

Walter S. Ryness

Just a few weeks after the death of his new business partner, in March, Mr. Ryness became a resident of the Michigan Soldier's Home for a short time before he heeded the call in 1903 to head west young --or not so young-- man. Walter reunited with his brother, George, who was a homesteader near Kearney, Nebraska. In 1908, after George's death, Walter turned up in Denver, Colorado, where once again he resumed his trade as a printer, and he lived with his nephew, Fred.

Walter was born in 1844 at Cattaraugus County, New York, and five years later migrated to Michigan with his parents, Russell and Betsey (Hayward) Ryness. He answered the call of duty on 23 Sep 1861 to serve as a Private with Co. I and F of the 8th Michigan Infantry in the War between the States, enlisting at Owasso in Shiawassee County where he grew up and worked as a print shop apprentice. During a battle at Wilmington Island, Georgia, on 16 Apr 1862, the young soldier suffered a gunshot wound in his right side. Walter carried that reminder of battle with him for the rest of his life as the doctor was unable to remove the lead. Three months later, he was back on the battle line. On 15 Sep 1863, Walter was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

Following the war, he returned to printing and accepted a position in 1868 at Grand Rapids. The 1900 directory included a biography for Mr. Ryness which mentioned his marriage to M. E. Cook in 1892 along with his involvement serving as a delegate to various republican conventions. Walter was also active in several fraternal memberships while at Sparta, one of note was the "Fighting Dick post, No. 243. G.A.R." better known as the Grand Army of the Republic, an early veterans organization.

Frank Holmes

Sparta Sentinel Leader office in 1923, from left to right: Kenneth Axford, Frank Holmes Editor and Publisher, and William Axford. Photo and Arzie Pinckney item published October 29, 1969, courtesy of the STHC Newspaper Archives

In 1910, he was recorded at the Battle Mountain, a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Hot Springs, in Fall River County, South Dakota, where he remained until 17 Dec 1927 when he passed away.

After 1900

Typhoid Fever claimed Edgar Rollin Bloomer's life in 1919, which contributed to Mrs. Fifield's sale of the newspaper. Frank Holmes followed until his untimely death on 5 Mar 1931, believed to be a heart attack. He was stricken while sitting in his automobile after a board meeting at the Sparta Baptist Church, as reported by an Associated Press item. In 1932, Mr. Holmes' son-in-law, Horace "H J" Kurtz, took over and remained on board until 1961 when he decided to retire and sold the paper to Barry D. Brand. For nine years, Mr. Brand ran the paper, along with several other specialty publications, until October of 1970 when Niels T. Anderson took the reins.

Welcome to the portal of the Sparta Township Historical Commission Newspaper Archives featuring many of the early copies of our hometown newspapers: The Sentinel-Leader, The Sentinel Leader and Comstock Park Courier-News, and the North Kent Advance from a bygone era.

It's a valuable tool for the student, historian, writer, genealogist, or anyone else who may be curious about the "good old days" as they were at Sparta. Old newspapers have a style and charm we rarely see today. They are brimming with historic facts and thoughtful insight. Even the advertisements are interesting, if not downright entertaining. We invite you to browse the old papers to learn more about our Township, reminisce, and enjoy.

Ready to take a step back into time? Just click on the Newspapers button Newspapers to enter the Sparta Township Historical Commission Newspaper Archives, access the expansive database, and begin exploring our past!

History Links

Did you know there once was a WWII German Prisoner of War (POW) camp at Sparta? Indeed there was, and Mary Galbraith has written an informative article, Sparta, MI German POW Camp, with the all of the fascinating details.

Civil War Letters

Sparta resident Amherst B. Cheney volunteered on 4 Sep 1862 and served in the 21st Michigan Infantry for the duration of the Civil War. One of eleven Sparta men in the 21st, only seven made it back home. Amherst attained the rank of Lieutenant and although initially was assigned to Co. B, he was attached to other companies, as needed.

Cheney wrote nearly one hundred letters which were saved. The Amherst B. Cheney Civil War Letters collection was donated to the Sparta Township Historical Commission and are presented for your viewing... with a click of the button.

What We Do

Raising awareness and cultivating a meaningful appreciation of our history through community involvement is an important aspect of the services the Sparta Township Historical Commission (STHC) provides. Come, join us to raise awareness and help promote our Sparta Township history.

  • Conduct history presentations for a variety of local groups; from school children to churches and civic organizations to senior citizen groups.
  • Participate in the annual Memorial Day service conducted at Lamoreaux Park.
  • Create history themed window displays.
  • STHC has a beautiful memorial garden behind the history center.
  • Select the Grand Marshall for the Town and Country Days Parade in August.
  • Provide a float promoting the STHC for the Christmas Parade in November.
  • Host open houses at Meyers School House Museum.
  • We man Trini's food booth at the Celtic Festival in August which benefits the STHC.
  • Member of a local townships historical consortium.
  • The History Center is open from 9:00AM to noon every Monday, year around, to share memories, old photos, and enjoy fellowship.


Books for sale!

We have a variety of items available for purchase at the history center including old Sparta High School yearbooks, DVDs, and numerous books written by hometown authors.

Help Wanted

Your Sparta Township Historical Commission is requesting volunteers to assist in completing a digital inventory of our collections donated by the public. Jobs include scanning, identifying people and places, creating written descriptions, and inputting on our Past Perfect software. No experience is necessary, just a willingness to help STHC in this massive effort to digitalize our entire collection.

This is a perfect opportunity for students needing volunteer hours or to fulfill an internship.

Please contact us by phone, email, or though our Contact Form, below.

Get Involved

Let me count the ways you can keep informed and get involved in helping the Sparta Township Historical Commission with our mission of "keeping history alive for future generations."

  1. Have you signed up to receive our E-Newsletter or a paper copy Newsletter sent by US mail?
  2. We always have a need and a place for Volunteers to help with our Myers School Museum Open House during Town and Country Days, man the Trini's food booth at the Celtic Festival, and many other tasks throughout the year. No experience is necessary, just a willingness to help. Come, join us and be appreciated!
  3. Items of historical value may be accepted. Please contact us first, though, to inquire and arrange an appointment.
  4. Learn how to support the work of the Sparta Township Historical Commission. Monetary and Legacy donations are greatly appreciated.
  5. Consider donating to the SHC Friends, P.O. Box 163, Sparta MI 49345

For your convenience, use our handy Contact Form button Contact Form to sign up, volunteer, get involved, learn more, or just drop us a line. Join the fun and get involved to help your Sparta Township Historical Commission grow!



Sparta Township Historical Commission headquarters at 71 North Union Street

Our History Center is conveniently located at 71 North Union Street in downtown Sparta. Please join us for coffee and lively conversation on Monday mornings. Visits to the History Center can also be scheduled by appointment, for your convenience.

We do not receive mail at the History Center, instead, please use our mailing address, which is:

attn: Sparta Township Historical Commission
Sparta Township
160 E. Division St.
Sparta MI 49345

For inquiries of all types, the Sparta Township Historical Commission can be reached by phone at: 616.606-0765 or via email at the following address:

Our meeting minutes are available on the Sparta Township website.