The Edson Witherel Family

Edson Witherel was born in Leeds County, Ontario, Canada on June 23, 1837.He immigrated to the United States in 1870 with his wife (Melvina Livingston and two children , Seth and Elma).They came first to Michigan’s Clare County, Summerfield Township where Edson bought 160 acres of land just east of the town of present day Leota and near the Muskegon River. It is thought that Edson ran a hotel for the timber logging workers who were using the Muskegon River as their means of transporting logs to the mills downstream.

Edson and Melvina were married before they came to the United States. Melvina was the daughter of Robert and Polly (Knapp) Livingston.Melvina was born March 4, 1846 in Canada, died in 1925 and is buried in the Lakeview Cemetery, Lakeview, Michigan.They had four children: Seth, Elma, Effie, and Edna.

Seth L Witherel was born to Edson and Melvina in Canada on October 18, 1863 (he died February 3, 1951, in Chehalis, Lewis County, Washington). As a young boy, Seth helped his father Edson run the ‘half-way’ house they had built near the Muskegon River and also farmed. He married Lillie Isabella Hilson (she was a dress maker from Farwell Michigan) on June 18, 1891 in Harrison Michigan. Seth was farming in Missaukee County at the time of the marriage.He and Isabella would have four children, Leslie, Norman, Norma and Lucile (two boys and two girls). Seth and his family moved to Lewis County, Washington state in 1910.

Elma A. Witherel was born to Edson and Melvina in Canada on July 30, 1866.She died of scarlet fever on May 3, 1875, while the family lived in Summerfield Township, Clare County, Michigan. The family would soon move north to Missaukee County, Michigan.

Effie Orletta Witheral was born to Edson and Melvina in Clare, Michigan on March 11, 1875 (she died April 3, 1939, in Dover, Florida). She married Henry Wynand Modders (he was a farmer from Moddersville Michigan) on December 6, 1895 in Harrison, Michigan. Effie was teaching in Moddersville, Michigan at the time of the marriage. She and Henry would have four children, Eva, Ernest, Ruth and Esther (three girls and one boy). It’s interesting to note that Effie’s maiden name of Witheral would be spelled different than the rest of the family (Witherel). This spelling difference of families last name seemed to be more common from that time in history.

Effie and Henry owned and farmed 80 acres of land just east and south of Moddersville (that property in Section 17 today is shown on the plat book as being owned by Elizabeth Gruenberg). They would eventually sell this land and move. The family moved to Merritt in 1908, to Cadillac in 1910 (living there for 6 years). They also resided in Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon Heights and Benton Harbor, Michigan. Effie and Henry began to travel to Florida in the mid 1920’s for the winter and eventually acquired some land and a small house near Plant City, Florida. It was here that Effie died in 1939.Henry was a barber, carpenter and minister during his lifetime while Effie was a school teacher.

On April 12, 1876, Edson, his wife, Melvina, son Seth and daughter Effie, purchased a tract of land on the borders of Butterfield and Clam Union townships in Missaukee County for farming and this land included the abandoned Hall Lumber Camp (early lumbering in this area began around 1869).This is where the Muskegon River cuts through the townships of Butterfield and Clam Union. This area would later be named Dolph after the first person to buy cedar in the area (a timber buyer), Charles L. Dolph. Charles put up a store building and barn on some leased property from the Edson Witherel estate. The areas original name came from Edson Witherel and was called Edson Corners.E dson would eventually own land on both sides of what is now Cadillac Road, some land in Butterfield Township (north side of the road) and some land in Holland Township (south side of the road). It is of note that the Holland Township of today used to be called Clam Union Township in Edson Witherel’s lifetime. Clam Union Township was a double township and only later did it split up into Holland and Clam Union townships.

It is here that Edson built a ‘half-way’ house (a combination hotel, tavern and at one time a store) where both travelers and lumberman stayed. Edson soon cleared some of the land and was considered to be quite a successful farmer by those around him. Edson is given credit for building the first permanent dwelling in the area. It is said that Edson built the Witherel house from logs that had overflowed the low banks of the Muskegon River.

William A. Jones, a farmer and proprietor of another ‘half-way’ house came to Michigan in 1874 and to Missaukee County in 1880.William Jones came from the same area of Clare County as Edson Witherel. Jonesville is named for this family. At one time there was a bridge across the Muskegon River called the Jonesville bridge. The Jones ‘half-way’ house was located on the Muskegon River, downstream, just one days work from the Edson Witherel ‘half-way’ house.It seems that lumberman would drive the logs on the river beginning, for example, at the Edson Witherel place in the morning and staying with the drive that day, arriving at the Jones ‘half-way’ house in the evening, then after supper walking back to the Edson Witherel’s for the next days work.Harley Apps of Merritt, Michigan once described this type of operation as a ‘beat’ distance representing a days work.

The bridge over the Muskegon River in this area, near present day Dolph, was referred to as the Witherel bridge in the early days and at one time a toll was said to be charged to cross it.

Edna N. Witherel was born to Edson and Melvina on June 4, 1878 in Missaukee County, Michigan (she died November 26, 1952 in Stanton, Montcalm County, Michigan). She is buried adjacent to her Mother in the Lakeview Cemetery, Lakeview, Michigan. She married, first, Henry K. Fink on October 28, 1908 in Harrison Michigan.Edna was teaching in Harrison, Michigan at the time of the marriage. She and Henry would have one son, Henry E.Edna’s husband Henry K. died in 1930 and then she married, Lee Little in 1938.Edna and Lee did not have children. Edna would teach school in Dolph, Harrison, and Lakeview, Michigan. She taught a summer term of school at Dolph from June 29, 1903 to August 14, 1903 in which her nephew Leslie was a 1st grade student. Leslie receive summer school grades from his Aunt Edna of 90% in orthography, 80% in reading, 90% in writing and 90% in arithmetic.

Edson Witherel established a post office here in Edson Corners on the border of Butterfield and Clam Union Township and became its first postmaster on August 21, 1878.The office operated until March 15, 1900 at which time its mail went to Dolph.It was called Edson Corners. The Dolph post office, named for storekeeper and its first postmaster, Charles L. Dolph, would be established on April 13, 1898.The Dolph post office was south of Edson Corners and both operated for a time. Both offices being close to the Muskegon River and taking advantage of the trade of the logging going on in the area and on the river. The Dolph post office closed on June 15, 1926 and the mail then was delivered out of the Moddersville post office (its postmaster was John W. Modders).

Edson, Melvina, and Edna would eventually move to Harrison (while Edna was still young). Edson died July 25, 1895 in Harrison Michigan. Edson was a Mason and Masons from Clare and Farwell came to Harrison to attend his funeral. Edson is buried in the Harrison Cemetery. A farmer most of his life, he was a pioneer of both Clare County and Missaukee County Michigan.

This article was written by Donna A. (Modders) Goodwin, a great granddaughter of Edson and Melvina Witherel and by Rick Ernest Goodwn, a great great grandson of Edson and Melvina Witherel. The following sources were used for this article and many thanks go out to those before us who had the foresight to talk to folks and document those stories:

Central Michigan University term paper by Carl D. Ferguson of Lake City, Michigan, 1968

containing interviews with Ella Shrauger and Harley Apps

History of Missaukee County Schools, Sponsored by Wexford - Missaukee Association of Retired School Personnel, Ford H. Finkel, Committee Chairman, 1976

Michigan Postal History, The Post Offices, 1805 - 1986, by David M. Ellis

Michigan Place Names, Walter Romig, L.H.D.

Michigan’s Timber Battle Ground, A history of Clare County: 1674 - 1900, by Forrest B. Meek

Missaukee County Family Histories, Compiled by Missaukee County Historical Society, 1983

 

March 15, 2000

 

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