A History of Spratt
December 7, 1967
Ardellia M. Herron
The contributions of the small farming communities to the growth of the state of Michigan are often overlooked or forgotten because of a lack of written record. The purpose of this paper is to record as accurately as possible the establishment, growth, and development of Spratt and the importance of its products to the economy of northeastern Michigan.
The writer wishes to acknowledge the aid given by the elderly citizens who contributed from their store of memories of the community which at one time was fondly dubbed "Pumpkin Center". The names of these donors and others who helped by personal interviews are listed in the bibliography.
A History of Spratt
Spratt, a farming community in the southeast corner of Green Township, Alpena County, has no definite boundaries. It extends along M-65 from the Taylor-Hawks Road on the north to the Beaver Lake Road on the south. The eastern limits are defined vaguely in respect to the preference of the residents. They may choose to claim either Spratt or Herron as their community. The LeRoy and Foss Hunting Clubs and the Fletcher Floodwaters form the western extremities.
This area has a variety of soils ranging from sand to muck, but the general classification by soil experts is Onaway loam. Most of the land is well-drained and slightly rolling with only a scattered few acres too rocky or boggy to be productive. Early surveys indicated that this particular region was suitable for fruit and cereal production and ..."this is a first-class grazing country."1
Consequently, as soon as the lumbering companies of the mid-eighteen hundreds had removed the large pines, and vacated these tracts of land, the agriculturalists moved in. The remaining smaller pines and hardwoods which they lumbered off during the cold winters served a two-fold purpose: securing income from the sale of the logs and clearing the land for farming the rest of the year. In their eagerness to clear the land much valuable hardwood was wasted as it was left to decay or was thrown into huge piles and burned. Many board feet of good timber were destroyed because it was simpler and faster to burn the fallen trees than to cut off the limbs, saw the large limbs and trunks into logs, and skid them out of the forest. Some of the harvested timber was utilized in the construction of the farm buildings. Because they were heavy and cumbersome, the log buildings were usually small and inexpensive. The early homes of frame construction were often large, airy, high-ceilinged, two story structures indicative of the abundance of lumber and lack of knowledge of the cold climate of northern Michigan.
In 1877 Melville B. Spratt, the farmer, followed his brother, lumberman A.N. Spratt, and George N. Fletcher to the cut-over lands of Green Township. He purchased a tract in sections 24 and 25, Town 30, North, Range 5 East.2 There, 24 miles from Alpena, he cleared the land and built a comfortable two-story frame house for his family. In a few years half of his original 320 acres were under cultivation. The herd of registered Herford cattle which he brought in to graze on the partially cleared land was the first of such animals brought into the county. This particular breed, a hardy beef-type animal, adapted well to the local conditions and has held an important place in the economy of the community ever since. Mr. Spratt's crops of hay, grains, and potatoes encouraged others to buy farm land near-by.
Soon after construction was completed, the Spratt home became the first from which mail to the community was distributed after being brought from Alpena by lumbermen or farmers returning from a trip to "town." This service to the vicinity, his efforts to develop the agricultural potential, and the admirable moral character of the man led to naming the community in his honor. A publication compiled in 1941 gives 1880 as the date of establishment of Spratt, a statement not officially confirmed elsewhere.
During the 1870's and the 1880's many other pioneer farmers settled in the area. Albert Bates purchased the tract of land across the road from Deacon [M.B.] Spratt. Alfred and John Allen and William Duncan had already started clearing land in the vicinity. In 1879 William Menary came in to work for Mr. Spratt, lumbering in the winter, farming the remainder of the year.
As the families became established, community needs were evidenced. To answer one of the first essentials for these enterprising people, Alfred Allen built the Spratt School in 1879 on a plot of land on the southwest corner of the Mawhinney property. This frame building served other purposes than those purely educational. Nail was brought from Alpena by anyone who happened to be there on business and was dropped off at the school. Neighbors for miles around trekked to the school house to pick up their mail and exchange local news with anyone who happened to be there at the same time. The mail-distribution service was soon taken over by Mr. Spratt because of the inconvenience of keeping the school open and heated in winter months. Social gatherings and meetings of other kinds, especially those of a religious nature, were held in the schoolhouse until the churches were built.
Fred Walker, pastor of a Methodist church in Wilson Township held services in the school during 1909 and 1910. These services aroused the interest of some of the worshippers in the organization of a Spratt Methodist Church, and the acquisition of a site on which to build.
In 1911 an acre of land was donated by two Catholic attorneys who were practicing in Alpena, Michael C. O'Brien and James Francis,3 and the building was started that year.
Lumber for the building was donated, cut, and sawed by eager neighbors. Labor was supplied the same way. This probably accounts for the fact that it was about 1912 before the church was ready for use, and that the building was a bit crooked because of the "green" lumber used in construction.
The Reverend Fred Walker then served as the first pastor with the Wilson circuit. Serving on the first board of trustees were: Andrew Menary, (he has served continuously ever since), William Cully, John Black, Ephriam Richmond, and Mark Hall.
A few years later "Eph" Richmond withdrew his membership from this church and was instrumental in the establishment of a Spratt Free Methodist Church which was built on the southwest corner of the junction of LeRoy Road and M-65. This church was later moved several miles south to the junction of Beaver Lake Road and M-65. In the last decade it was torn down, replaced by a new building, and renamed Beaver Lake Free Methodist Church.
Few changes have taken place in the original structure of the Spratt Methodist Church which stands majestically surrounded by the pines and hardwoods of the neighboring farms. In 1949 a new foundation and full basement were built, and the church moved east only the width necessary to put it on the foundation. The basement has been improved over the years to make it suitable as a social gathering place when the occasion arises and as church-school classrooms every Sunday morning. From time to time other improvements and minor repairs have been made on the interior of the church, but the building and membership remain much the same as they were over half a century ago. Family names of Black, Bates, Herron, Allen, and Stoddard are still to be found on the church records with that of Andrew Menary, the last remaining charter member.4
Pg. 6a: Andrew Menary
After the church was built, the school no longer was used as a religious meeting place, but continued to function as an educational institution for many years. Some who came to serve as teacher of the one-room school made valuable personal contributions to this community. The first teacher, remembered only as Miss Mills, was followed by Sarah Turnbull who married William Menary, the versatile and ambitious employee of Deacon Spratt. The Menarys purchased an eighty-acre tract of land just west of the school property. Their only son, Andrew, was born in the newly constructed home in 1886 and still resides on the property conveniently located directly across the road from the church he diligently serves in many capacities, from trustee to custodian.
Miss Eliza Fensom married Clay Spratt, son of the founder of the community. They, too, established a farm and built a home for their family of eight children. Mrs. Spratt died while still young, and by 1912 all of the family had left the homestead.
Elizabeth Wentworth married Dr. W.E. Carr, a well-known Alpena dentist ; and Rose Aris married one of the town's early physicians, Dr. Boilore.
Minnie Fowler, Margaretta Hilliard, and Elizabeth Hagle went on to teach many years in the county and city. Without a doubt, their early experiences in the one-room school where each was principal, teacher, custodian, playground supervisor, and nurse all at the same time, helped further their careers.
Pg 7a: "County's Oldest School Bows Out"
In 1961 consolidation in the township closed the doors of the old school to education,5 but now it serves a unique purpose. It was purchased by Elden Herron and is used for housing migrant strawberry and pickle harvest hands.
From the school on to M.B. Spratt's home, the local mail distribution center was moved from one farm home to another where each set up a post office of sorts to serve the neighbors who came to pick up their mail. Floyd Stoddard, Ephriam Richmond, Mae Spragg, and Albert Shuell served as postmasters. On March 28, 1910, the post office was officially established with Jennie Moore appointed postmaster; the building, however, was located in the village of Lachine, about ten miles north of Spratt.6
Pg. 8a: Platt Map of the Spratt area 1920's.
Pg. 8b: Section Map including the Spratt area, 1949.
For over thirty years Frank Thompson, a non-resident, carried the mail over this long, rough route. He struggled through the "horse and buggy" days of dirt roads to the more comfortable era of automobiles and hard-surface highways. He saw many changes take place along his route and in the lives of his patrons as they responded to the challenges of the rapidly changing times.
In 1922 the post office was moved to the Charles Kearley general store located at M-65 at the B.C.G. and A. Railroad crossing. Incoming mail was dropped off the train, sorted by the Kearleys, and delivered by carrier Thompson. On its return from Boyne City the train stopped to pick up mail, freight, and an occasional passenger. This convenient arrangement lasted only until the early thirties when the post office was moved back to Lachine.
Back in the times that mail from Alpena was being distributed from local homes, the travelers to and from town were afforded over-night accommodations at stopping-houses or half-way houses along the way. Spratt boasted the largest and best stopping-house from Flynn Valley to Alpena.
In the year 1890 Ambrose and Mary Ellen Bryant purchased a one hundred sixty acre tract of farm land in the center of Spratt,7 and in the following few years built a house and barn large enough to accommodate teamsters and their teams from the forests to the south and west enroute to Alpena sawmills. The two-story frame house was made up of two parts. The west wing faced the highway and contained many upstairs bedrooms, a large dining room, living room, a kitchen, and a bar room. The upper floor of the east wing was comprised of a large dance hall and store rooms, over the wood shed and "summer kitchen."
The barn was over one hundred feet long and forty-two feet in width. In the south end stable, teams were bedded down and fed. The sleighs were placed end to end through the center of the north end. The space on each side of the barnfloor was filled with hay and straw. This structure built of magnificent hand-hewn beams; some thirty-six feet in length , held together by hand-fashioned wooden pegs. It was sided with boards from twelve to fourteen inches in width and twenty feet in length. The once-shingled roof has been replaced with corrugated steel.
Impossible as it sounds, Henry Van Sipe, who purchased this property in 1906,8 later moved the barn about two hundred feet east, probably because it was too near the "highway". After lumbering was completely replaced by diversified farming in this locality, the barn was used as a shelter for many head of livestock and for storage of quantities of hay, grain, and straw. Van Sipe grazed large herds of Herford and Short Horn cattle and flocks of Shropshire sheep on his farm. Robert Rayburn, who was Spratt's neighbor to the west, introduced the grey roan Durham and a flock of fifteen hundred western sheep to these good pasture lands.
As a member of the State Department of Conservation, Mr. Rayburn was influential in having a small herd of elk imported to Spratt in the winter of 1918. These animals were brought in on the Detroit and Mackinac Railroad to the village of Lachine. Several farmers transported the individually crated elk by team and sleighs to the forested land west of Rayburn Ranch. This exciting event caused quite a stir and created much interest, but no permanent elk herd resulted.
The production of beef, mutton, wool, cereal grains, and potatoes all helped the neighborhood flourish as a farming community; but the introduction in 1917 of strawberries as a money crop really put the place on the map.9
Pg. 11a (1): "Million-Quart Raspberry Crop Expected in County"
Pg. 11a (2): "He's Been Raising Strawberries Since 1917"
In that year Frank Herron planted five acres of strawberries which were harvested by local help at the rate of one cent per quart to the picker. These were "peddled" in the near-by towns of Alpena, Hillman, Rogers City, and Onaway for three dollars and fifty cents for a twenty-four quart crate.
The success of this venture was obvious to other farmers, and each year more and more berries were planted until local and regional markets were no longer sufficient for the production. In 1922 the first shipment of strawberries from the Herron farm went by truck to Bay City. Within the next ten years markets in Flint, Saginaw, and Detroit were made aware of the good quality and exceptional flavor of strawberries grown in Spratt. Demand from these markets encouraged farmers to increase their acreage of strawberries and to experiment with raspberry culture.
By the late 1940's the volume of production of these fruits necessitated the seeking of extended marketing outlets by area growers. In 1950 the Alpena Berry Growers Association was organized to include not only Spratt farmers, but other interested farmers scattered over the county.10 This group set up marketing plans and by-laws under the supervision of a five-man board of directors: Herman Wegmeyer, Eldon Jacobs, Ernest Chabot, Lois Barger, and Raymond Tupper. A temporary marketing center was set up at the Chabot farm where buyers from major outlets in Michigan and other states were encouraged to purchase by the bidding method. Berries were brought in small or large lots by farmers who were members of the organization.
Two years later a fine marketing building was constructed by this group on a lot adjoining that of the Spratt Tavern, which is conveniently located on the north side of the junction of Werth Road and M-65. This building houses offices for buyers and the association manager. A truck loading dock was built just east of the building.
From 1952 until 1960 there was a continual rise in the production of strawberries, but diseases attacking the fruit somewhat curtailed raspberry culture in the vicinity. Not all berry growers make use of the market place on the association; some prefer to sell directly to commission merchants on large city markets.
The volume of business through the Alpena Berry Growers Association for the year of 1966 added approximately two hundred twenty thousand dollars to the economy of the community.11 However, the selling price of berries has not increased in proportion to production expense. The result has been a recent drop in acreage of these fruits and a search for another money crop by local farmers.
In 1966 Orville Herron introduced pickles as a crop for commercial production.12 A bumper crop that year indicated that the soil and weather conditions were favorable to their growth. As a result, over two hundred acres of pickles were harvested by Spratt farmers in 1967.13 The old "stopping place" barn constructed by Ambrose Bryant in the lumbering era was converted by Orville Herron, the present owner, into a pickle grading station that year. Over nine hundred tons of pickles were graded, loaded onto trucks, and shipped to pickle companies throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It is hoped this newly-tried money crop will help this rural community meet the increasing demands of progress.
As changes have been made in farming practices from the diversified to the large-volume concentrated production, the face of the community has changed also. During the depression years of the 1930's local labor was plentiful and cheap. Strawberries were harvested for one or two cents a quart, and raspberries for five cents. During the war years of the forties, harvest labor was difficult to obtain locally even with a substantial wage increase. White migrant labor began to trickle in from the southern states. As this seasonal influx continued to grow yearly, small houses or apartment-type structures were built on the farms to accommodate these workers.
In a few years the high wages tempted these people into the shops and factories of the industrial cities where they became permanent residents. Then the American-Mexican came in to occupy these "labor camps" and to help with the field work and harvest. Now and then Negro crews have ventured this far north as migrant labor who find today's minimum wage highly satisfactory to meet their needs. The people of the community not only have learned to adjust to the habits and customs of the migrants, but now look forward to the increased tempo of neighborhood activities during the harvest time from late June for strawberries through mid-September for pickles.
Following harvest, evidence can be seen in the vicinity of the degree to which it was a profitable year; and Alpena merchants feel its impact one way or the other. Good years for the farmers resulted in the buying of equipment, machinery, trucks, and automobiles. Many new homes have replaced the old ones in this community where all have learned to work together in a concentrated effort to stay a prosperous, productive agricultural area.
Though its place name may not be found on recently published maps of the state, the community of Spratt has made definite important contributions to the economy of Alpena County from it pines of the 1860's to its pickles of the 1960's.
[This marks the end of the narrative text, and several pages of addenda follow. However, several pages of pastors at the Spratt Methodist Church and teachers at the Spratt School followed in a format that was easier to present as a continuation of the narrative (see below) than to set as separate web pages. NRH]
Pg 16a: "First Area Pickle Harvest"
Pg 17a: Home of Clay Spratt, son of Mr. "Deacon" Melville B. Spratt and Mrs. Olive (Crawford) Spratt.
Pg 17b: Harford Smith/Robert Rayburn home (Rayburn Ranch)
Pg 18a: "Bag Two Big Ones" - the 1967 deer season
Spratt Methodist Church Clergymen
1912 - ............................................... Fred Walker
1912 - 1913 ............................................... William Tyrell
1914 - 1915 ............................................... S.S. Cross
1915 - 1918 ............................................... E.E. McMicael
1918 - 1919 ............................................... E.E. Medcoff
1919 - 1920 ............................................... P.H. Brown
1920 - 1921 ............................................... J.H. Crocker
1921 - 1923 ............................................... Henry Hiles
1924 - 1925 ............................................... Leo Hooper
1925 - 1927 ............................................... Frank Day
1927 - 1932 ............................................... John W. Dingle
1932 - 1933 ............................................... Herbert Davis
1933 - 1935 ............................................... W.I. Francis
1935 - 1941 ............................................... James Cobb
1941 - 1945 ............................................... C.F. Edgerton
1945 - 1949 ............................................... John Roach
1949 - 1951 ............................................... Carl O. Joy
1951 - 1953 ............................................... Fred Werth
1953 - 1957 ............................................... Robert Garrett
1957 - 1961 ............................................... Carter Preston
1961 - 1963 ............................................... Donald Brown
1963 - 1964 ............................................... Paul M. Jarvis
1964 - 1967 ............................................... Howard Shaffer
Spratt School Teachers
(Chronological order up to 1929 not officially recorded)
|1880 - 1928|
|Miss Mills||Carrie Dent|
|Sarah Turnbull||Mable Hall|
|Miss Beale||Merle Craig|
|Ruby Huston||Lula Moffet|
|Miss Rensberry||Mable Fletcher|
|Maggie Spicer||Daisy Richardson|
|Minnie Fowler||Emma Aris Hobbs|
|Howard Goldie||Elizabeth Wallace|
|Margaretta Hilliard||Nan McClure|
|Eliza Fensom||Elizabeth Hamilton|
|Rose Aris||Alfie Marsh|
|Elizabeth Hagle||Leila Dean Van Sipe|
|Jenny Gardner||Dorothy Jacobs|
|Azuba Davis||Irene McDougall|
|Miss Smith||Betty Cameron|
|Anna Spain||Charlotte Basil|
|Hattie McLennan||Minnie Turner|
|Ann Hazelwood||Wilred Turner|
|Elizabeth Wentworth||Jennie Green Chabot|
|Ina Davis||Robert Hobkirk|
1929 - 1961
Myrtle Collins, Alpena, Michigan, October 8, 1967.
Clayton Cripps, Herron, Michigan, October 10, 1967.
Harvey Duncan, Alpena, Michigan, October 23, 1967.
Beulah and Frank Herron, Lachine, Michigan, October 27, 1967.
Ruth Hudson, Alpena, Michigan, October 1, 1967.
Joan and Roland McNeil, Alpena, Michigan, November 4, 1967.
Andrew Menary, Lachine, Michigan, October 8, 1967.
Howard Shaffer, Hillman, Michigan, November 8, 1967.
Roy Spratt, Lachine, Michigan, November 8, 1967.
Marie Van Sipe, Lachine, Michigan, October 6, 1967.
Oliver, Daniel D., Centennial History of Alpena County, Michigan, Alpena, Michigan: Argus Printing House, 1903.
Parker, Donald D., Local History -- How to Gather It, Write It, and Publish It. New York: Social Science Research Council, 1944.
Vogele, F.B. Postal Service in Alpena (Pamphlet).
_______. Knowing the Thunder Bay Region. Compiled by Workers of the Writers Program of the Work Projects Administration of the State of Michigan, 1941.
_______. Alpena -- Dates of Events, 1862 - 1902. Alpena, Michigan, 1903.
1. Daniel D. Oliver, History of Alpena County, Mich., Alpena Argus Printing House, 1903, p. 100.
2. The Alpena News, September 21, 1912, "Alpena's Living Pioneers".
3. Photostatic copy of original Deed, possession of Howard Shaffer, Hillman, Michigan. [pastor of the Spratt Methodist Church at the time.]
4. Church records in possession of Howard Shaffer, Hillman, Michigan.
5. Alpena News, February 11, 1961, Mable Aikens, "County's Oldest School Bows Out."
6. National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C.
7. Document: Abstract of Title, possession of Orville Herron, Lachine, Michigan.
9. Alpena News, July 1959, "He's been raising strawberries since 1917."
10. Records in possession of County Agricultural Agent, Federal Building, Alpena, Michigan.
12. Alpena News, September 15, 1966, "First Area Pickle Harvest."
13. Business Records of Orville Herron, Lachine, Michigan.
Unnumbered supplement #1: Melville Bartlett Spratt
Unnumbered supplement #2: Albert Bates
Ardellia Herron (Manning) was my aunt. She was married to my dad's oldest surviving brother, Orville Herron. She was a long-time teacher in the Alpena County school system - she was my sixth grade teacher when the old Spratt school closed, and we moved to the Green Township Consolidated School on Carney Rd. behind the Manning's Meat Market on M-65. I have attempted to present this paper as closely as possible to the original type-set. I had to renumber the footnotes because they were written as pagenotes on the original. In addition there are several pages that were written as insert pages (6a, 7a, etc.). I have included them as linked pages at about the same point as they occurred in the original paper. One of them is the same article by Mable Aikens that I posted on this web site a few months ago. The article from the Alpena News is linked above but contains copies of the original photos from the newspaper article and a number of ancillary notes that I wrote when I first posted it.
The B.C. G. & A. was the Boyne City, Gaylord, and Alpena railroad line. - Nelson Herron, February, 2003.
Note the original paper is in the archives of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. It may be referenced as:
Herron, Ardellia M., History of Spratt, 1967, Central Michigan University Student Term Papers, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University.
Many thanks to Marian Matyn, Archivist, who made this paper available.