Sparta downtown

Village Articles

Milo & Ben Stories of two friends and early Sparta businessmen: "Milo Bolender's Pharmacy" and "Dr. Benjamin Zudzense & His Monkeys"
"Charles Henry Loomis" From drugs to hardware
Hometown Hero "Mad Dogs & Marshal Meeker"
The Highway Arrived State Street corridor and post-war growth: "Camp Boys Come to Town" and "Sparta Builders" address the housing shortage
Merry & Bright How we celebrated: "Sparta's Easter Bunny Helper", "A Very Sparta Christmas", "My Christmas Memories", and "Christmases Past"

The Heart of
the Village

After the first seeds of community were planted in Sparta's early days, the landscape of buildings, businesses, faces, and names began to evolve. Change is an ever continuing process yet Sparta's downtown has always been - and still is - The Heart of the Village. It's more than just the buildings. Our history is the story of the People.

Editor's note: The Village banner photo is courtesy of the Karl Nickolai Collection.

Among Sparta's early settlers was blacksmith Peter A. Sleeper and his wife, the former Emily Sawyer, who arrived in 1860 or 1861 from Concord, New Hampshire. The parents of five children, only two survived to adulthood: Emily Henrietta (Sleeper) Seaman and the youngest, Henry Milton Sleeper.

Henry was just a boy of eleven years when he first laid eyes on Sparta; a place where he would be educated, married to Fidelia C. Snyder, and support his family on their farm.

As a young man of thirty-three in 1882, Henry was one of the local "big boys" Principal A. Hamlin Smith drafted to help plant the iconic maple trees at the white brick high school on the north end of town. By 1886, Henry had been elected to the office of Sparta Township Clerk. In about 1897, Henry moved to Grand Rapids with his wife where a few months later their daughter, Augusta, was born. Henry took a variety of positions: as a driver, a conductor, a bookkeeper, a laborer in the manufacture of refrigerators, and eventually became a machinist at a furniture factory. Later in life, after Henry suffered the loss of his wife, fond hometown memories tugged at his heart. Henry reflected on his boyhood years and put pen to paper.

Former Sparta Pioneer Describes Historical Background of Village in Interesting Letter
by H.M. Sleeper
From the Sentinel-Leader Letter Box, January 3, 1935

Editor of the Sentinel-Leader:

In looking over the village on my last visit to your office it called my attention to the growth and present position the village occupies.

I was forcibly reminded of my first visit to Nashville, now Sparta. In 1860 I stood in the road, it had not attained the dignity of a street, in front of where your present office now stands, and looking west I pictured the outlook. I can describe my feelings very nearly by quoting the exclamation of an Englishman on his first visit to America, "A country of magnificent distances."

H.M. Sleeper

Henry Milton Sleeper was a pioneer resident of Sparta who penned several letters to the editor during the mid 1930s. The item for his 100th birthday appeared on Oct 6, 1949 in the Sentinel-Leader.

I stood there and could count the total number of residences on my fingers and thumbs by using two toes to complete the count.

A little old shack, standing where the Dr. Zudzense house now stands and occupied by Sam Mapes. Sam had some of the habits of the wandering Jew, only he was Irish. Later his place came into the hands of Pa Sleeper, a blacksmith. Still west and on the left, J.E. Nash and his family lived in a small brown house.

Still farther west and across the road Mr. Swan and his son, Eben, lived in a little old building as devoid of paint as a saloon keeper is of morals. Later that building was bought by James Teeple, but more of that later.

Next west, now the residence of Mrs. Cheney, owned at that time by Volney Bloss who lived there with his family, Sarah, Frankie and George. Bloss owned and ran a threshing machine. Later he sold and moved on a farm northwest of the village.

At that time the Methodists had a parsonage and a small church next west of Bloss's. Across the road stood a small wooden building. Its style would not remind you of the shades of Barrister Blackstone but he was there. Jared Chapel. Attorney-at-Law. Jared is worthy of more comment but we will pass his now.

The next lot west held the little one-story schoolhouse where those puzzling questions were so ably handled by Thurston, Leggett and later A.H. Smith. Then west to the old rambling farmhouse of Rodney Hastings who lived there with his family. Just west of his orchard he gave to the village two acres for a cemetery.

North and east of his place was the old mill pond fed by Nash Creek. It flooded about forty acres. Summertime it proved a treasure ground for us boys even equal to Mark Twain's swimming hole.

Hastings was confined to his wheelchair caused by exposure when he and Nash dammed the creek, this forming the pond. This creek furnished power for the old saw mill with its upright saw with its leisure movements giving convincing proof that the race is not always to the swift. R.H. Woodin was operator. He was living in a little house north of the mill in the woods and, by the way, it was all woods that side of the pond to Balcom's farm. Later the mill was taken over by the Lowe brothers who converted it into a stream mill, after awhile selling out to W.I. Olmstead with Jack Dyer from Canada to run it.

On the corner north of where the Baptist Church now stands, a solitary house held the corner. Farther south a little house was occupied by the Reynolds family. Next stood Horace Snow's place. Next came the Fulsom farm, at the time occupied by the Powers family. One boy, George, became active in the police force and was killed arresting a criminal.

Lest we forget, at the corner later known as Division and Mill stood the timber frame of a cellar. This lot was given by Nash to Balcom to build a hotel. Either the deacon's faith, ambition or money failed, and the foundation stood for years as a decaying reminder of man's delay. Later the deacon built the hotel which was known for years as the Balcom house. Good old Deacon, he should be wearing a golden crown. The filling into this ground is mostly lacking. The first clerk of the Incorporation has kindly promised me some interesting facts of business and people.

H.M. Sleeper, Grand Rapids

Charles Henry Loomis

Winter gave way to warm southernly breezes and heralded the change of seasons. Spring ushered in new life to the mountains of Franklin County, Vermont and, on April 25th, 1853, a newborn son was delivered to Henry M. & Ann M. (Blair) Loomis at their township of Georgia home. They named him Charles Henry.

Loomis ad

C.H. Loomis advertisement pubilshed in the Sparta Sentinel on 22 Feb 1889--courtesy of the Karl Nickolai Collection

At about 1858, the family relocated to the wilderness of Brooks Township in Newaygo county, Michigan, where Henry and his brother, William, became successful lumbermen. By 1860, Henry also operated a boarding house two miles from the Village of Newaygo. That same year, they donated a sizable sum towards the construction of the Methodist Episcopal Church and were appointed Trustees by the pastor, Rev. Thomas Granger. The Loomis brothers' business boomed as they brought 2,500,000 feet of lumber down the Muskegon River in 1863. Henry partnered with Henry Kritzer to rent "Newaygo Mills" on Brooks Creek in June of that year and the future looked bright, but by December, Mr. Loomis had died.

Ann married Rev Horace H. Bement and by 1870, they resided at Rockford with Charles, who was seventeen. In The History of Kent County a biographical sketch was included for Charles: His advantages for education were good, and he studied for a practical druggist. In 1875 he established his first business at Sparta Center, where he has a stock of $5,000 worth of drugs and articles usually included in similar enterprises and suitable to a country trade.

On August 5th, 1876, Charles married Mary A. Heath at Cambridge, Lamoille County, Vermont, officiated by his step-father. The bride's parents were Madison O. & Amanda (Mott) Heath; her father a lawyer who soon practiced his profession at Sparta.

By 1884, Charles had sold out his pharmacy business to become the proprietor of a hardware store in 1885, and was appointed Post Master in July 1897.

Alleged Burglars Caught While Dividing the Swag.

Grand Rapids, Mich., September 20.--(Special.)--George French's jewelry store and C.H. Loomis' hardware store, both at Sparta, were robbed early this morning, the three burglars securing a large number of gold watches and a job lot of revolvers and cutlery. The thieves were surprised in the jewelry store, but escaped. The sheriff's office here was telephoned to and four deputies were sent out in pursuit of the men. They overhauled them at Englishville at daybreak, surrounded the woods into which the burglars had disappeared and captured them as they were sitting on the ground dividing their plunder. The three have been identified as Lon Campbell, Frank Arnold and Albert Thomas. Campbell is an old offender and skilled criminal.--published in the 21 Sep 1894 issue of the Detroit Free Press

hardware store

This postcard image is a street view of the Loomis building taken about a year or two after his death. It would have been when his successor Shelby Field owned the business. Field also became the Sparta postmaster as well.--courtesy of the Karl Nickolai Collection

A few days later, on the 28th, additional details on the crime spree were released:

There in a Bunch

The other morning burglars robbed the hardware store of C.H. Loomis and the jewelry store of George W French, at Sparta, taking valuable cutlery, revolvers, etc., from the former and a lot of watches, etc., from the other place. The thieves escaped. Word was telephoned to Grand Rapids, and Deputy Sheriffs Carroll and Gast hitched up a fast team and started for Sparta. When near Englishville they met three men who in the dim morning light looked like suspicious characters, and ordered them to halt. Two obeyed and the third ran, but stopped when a revolver shot came close to his head. All three were ordered to throw up their hands, and were promptly handcuffed and searched. The stolen property was all found on their person. The names of two of them are Dan Campbell and "Spat" Forbes, and the other is known by the soubriquet of "Slim". They are now in jail.--reported by the True Northern

Loomis ad

A local newspaper advertisement from 1901 for the C.H. Loomis hardware store from the STHC Newspapers Repository

Family Life

The Loomis family were blessed with three children with the arrival of Henry Madison in 1877, Clarence Black in 1888, and Charles Alden in 1895.

In adulthood, Henry became a barber "working on own account" in Sparta by 1910. He married Emma, the daughter of John and Jan Adeline (Ream) Emerson. John was a Danish immigrant who operated a grocery store at Sparta in 1910. Henry's WWI draft card stated he was barbering with Frank Kellogg. The 1940 Federal Census placed them at 219 Nash Street. In 1950, at the age of 72, was the Sparta Township Clerk.

hardware store

C.H. Loomis Building-Front [about 1908-10]. This postcard image is the front of the Loomis Building taken three or four years after his death. The configuration of front steps had changed since the earlier postcard image. The people standing in front are not identified, but since the message on the back was written by Shelby Field, I believe he must be one of them. As Arzie noted, Field was a longtime clerk for Loomis and bought the business after Loomis died. Field was 46 years old in 1910, so he could be one of the two men on the right. The woman on the left could be his wife Linnie (Brown) Field who was 42. The older man in the hat might be Linnie’s father John Brown, age 69, who was living with the Fields in 1910.--courtesy of the Karl Nickolai Collection

Son Clarence became the Secretary of the Y.M.C.A. as he relocated to the East Coast. In August 1914, while a resident of Norfolk, Virginia, he wed Eva Burtch at Sparta, the daughter of Manly W. & Mary E. (Greiner) Burtch. His mother resided with the family by 1920 at New Haven, Connecticut, followed by a move to Dekalb, Georgia, before 1930. A decade later, Clarence was a Professor at Greenville, South Carolina. Clarence retired to California where, in 1971, he passed away at San Diego.

On 29 May 1917, Charles married Mae A. Burtch, the younger sister of Clarence's wife, Eva. He brought his bride to his home at Newport, Virginia, where his occupation was that of a ship inspector. By 1940, they lived at Washington D.C. where Clarence was an Architect employed by the Navy. He also retired to San Diego, California.

"I remember the C.H. Loomis Hardware store," wrote Arzie L. Pinckney. Although he didn't know specifically when he built the hardware store, he noted it would later become the Wm A. Rogers and Co. Hardware store. "He built a beautiful home on the southwest corner of W. Division and Pleasant Streets. They were the first family to install a coal furnace in their home, but it had to be remodeled before it proved to be a very efficient heating system as the cold air was all taken from out-of-doors and it took a ton of coal a week and then it didn't heat the house very well."

"I remember that for some years the second floor of the store was used as a roller skating rink."

"Everything was fine for the Loomis family, so in the summer of 1905 they decided to go on a camping trip with Professor and Mrs. L.L. Coates. (Mr. Coates was superintendent of the Sparta School at that time.) They selected Bostwick Lake as the best place. After getting the tents up and everything settled, suddenly tragedy struck."

"About six o'clock in the morning, Clarence and his father were out on the lake casting for bass. Charles had been doing the rowing only a few minutes before giving the oars to Clarence when he gasped for breath and fell back into the water. Clarence dove into the water and managed to get him into the boat. He called for help, wakened Mrs. Coates, and she ran to the nearest house for help. There were no other boats on the lake so that by the time that help got there, Clarence had gotten his father to shore by hooking his coat collar to one of the oarlocks and towed him to shore."

A newspaper tribute noted, "Mr. Loomis was best known as a friend of the poor"; an honorable legacy.

Recalls Time When Nothing but Rail Fence Stood West of First Baptist Church
By H.M. Sleeper

published in the 9th of December 1935 issue of the Sentinel-Leader

"My snug little chamber
Is crammed in all nooks
With worthless old nicknacks
And silly old books."

In visiting your village the other day, I stood in front of the Baptist church and as I looked west and shut my eyes what did I see?

That whole corner enclosed by a rail fence, no buildings within a mile, south or west, the white school house and the farm of Bill Gaines. What more did I see? Coming down the road, Warren Burr with his ox team. They swung around the corner and came up to me and Burr asked me if I could drive oxen. Oh, the ignorance of youth. I was about 13 and I said, "yes."

We opened the rail fence and drove through with the harrow. I followed that team around until I was fully convinced that it's not everyone who can drive oxen.

Those were about the days when the Rev E.W. Norton left his farm on the Town Line, after six days of farm work, and came up to deliver a good sermon to us on Sunday. Those were the good meetings. Were those early pioneers more receptive to the spirit of those lessons, or is it the present day observance more acceptable to the people?

My father being a blacksmith had dealings with many and and very likely with a few disagreements. A neighbor came to him and asked him to forget any word or act of his that reflected on their dealings. Being unaware of anything that is not likely to occur in any business the request was granted, and the respect and confidence in and for that man rose 100 per cent and as he shook hands with C.J. Martindale he knew he had secured a lifelong friend.

The moral and social function of Sparta's future was built by such men and women.

But they soon began to build on that vacant corner. Frank Evertz, Dr. Babcock, Jackson Hinman, George Rogers, Cap. Schmidt, C.H. Loomis, well you know all those names. They are recorded in the "Silent City" west of the village.

When I opened my eyes the change of scene was surprising. But not unexpected knowing the people as well as I did.--H.M. Sleeper

Oh My! Darling



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.

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

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For other inquiries, the Sparta Township Historical Commission can be reached by phone at: (616)606-0765 or via email at the following address: