Charley Farley woke up to the shuffling of his father Mark’s heavy boots across the wooden floor downstairs. He turned over and tried to get back to his dream of running pine logs down the nearby Belle River. Suddenly he realized it was Saturday! No school today, no Ella Theadorcas Taylor, the young lady teacher who was heartily disliked by most of the pupils at Rider School. The one room country schoolhouse stood at the corner of Hollow Corners and Farley Roads, about a mile from their farm, which was just north at Farley and Ross roads.
With a bolt from bed Charles Kellogg Farley hurried to put on his shirt and pants. Since he didn’t have to face Miss Taylor today, he wasn’t going to waste a minute of the daylight. Oh sure, he had some chores to do, but Saturdays allowed time to meet up with his friends like Nelson Kirby, Gardner Carr and the Deneen boys, Lewis and James.
Early spring days like this were perfect to go down to the apple orchard, sit upon the rail fence and watch the river men at work on the “drive.” Charley and his friends sat watching the skillful river men at their work. There was a swift turbulent current from the spring runoff and the river channel was jammed full of logs along the Belle River. There was still considerable white pine on Mark Farley’s property holdings which laid on both sides of the Imlay and Almont Township border.
Running logs down the river every spring was slowly giving way to the changing times but today it was still an occupation for many and entertainment for a 11-year-old boy like Charley. The artful balance of the red shirted river men with their pike poles, prodding and pushing the logs along, skillfully keeping the logs from becoming a solid jam and blocking the river was spellbinding to the young farm boys. Time was of essence, advantage must be taken of the high water, so the drive could be taken over the shallow and stony river bed of the Farley’s pasture land, called “Farley Rips,” before the flood subsided. The river was at high tide; from where Charley and the Deneen boys sat it stretched to the road ½ mile north of the river. As the boys watched, one of the river men called to them, asking the transfixed young boys to fetch them a pail of “good drinking water from your well.” As Charles later recounted in his memoirs “He was like the thirst crazed ancient mariner – water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink”. River water was not fit for human consumption. The boy obliged the river man.
The day was winding down, the sun had burned off the morning dew, grown warmer and boys grew restless. The boys decided to explore one of the several old abandoned houses in Belle Arbor, the name of the now long forgotten colony. The main road for the village once ran east/west along Ross Road between Webster and Farley roads. And as Charles put it, the tenants “came and went like passenger pigeons” that once were so plentiful in the area. These houses sparked the boys imagination, so mysterious and scary. What ghosts of the doomed colony still roamed in these houses and barns; the young explorers wondered? Charley stuffed his pockets with whatever small trinkets he could find, reminders of lost hopes and ambitions of earlier settlers. Many whom Charley had heard his parents say were now interred in Webster Cemetery.
The boys slowly left one another as the sun began to set, returning to their respective farms and late day chores. Charley heard his father call to him. Their cows had a wide range of pasture over in the woods and swamp east of their home and it took some time to gather them up at milking time. This night several were missing. Charley, his mother Mary, and sister Nellie were tasked to search for them and bring them back to the barns. They followed the woods south to the old “deer lick,” a salted piece of ground near the swamp. The deer enjoyed this gift from nature as did the Farley’s cows. But no cows were to be found there, so they went on south and came to the road “where the John Mitchell family lived.” This is now known as Hollow Corners Road. From there the Farleys took the road home going ½ mile west to Farley Road then turned and went north a mile back to their farm.
Mrs. Harriett Clark, her daughter, 16-year-old Cleantha, and six-year-old son, Frank had gone to the “Village” (Almont) to do the weekly trading as is custom for area farmers to do on Saturday. They lived about ½ mile from the Mark Farley Farm. As she and her children unhitched their span of horses, worry weighed heavy on her soul. Her daughter knew what she was thinking, she was old enough to know. The war had been raging for four years and her father Levi had joined the Union forces just a year ago. Lee had surrendered just last week to General Grant. The telegraph just brought that joyful news only five days ago. How can this be? Frank couldn’t understand the tears and ashen faces he saw in Almont. But he knew for some reason, their lives were changed. He worried what this would mean for his father’s homecoming.
It was getting dark and as the Farleys turned and passed the Levi Clark farm. Charles recalled, “We saw the Clarks unhitching their span of horses from their wagon. They had just returned from the village of Almont and as they saw us going by, Mrs. Clark called out, ‘LINCOLN HAS BEEN SHOT!’ The terrible news stunned us. We knew at once that one word meant Lincoln had been killed. The Clarks said no more and Mother asked no questions. It was such a terrible thing they could not talk about it. That night, quite late, Uncle Joe Deneen living three miles north-west, walked to our house, through the muddy roads to see my Father and talked in hushed tones about the future of our country. It seemed as if the end of the world had come, and that, without Lincoln, slavery would again become rampart. At a late hour I stole away to bed, hushed and panic-stricken, leaving Father and Mr. Deneen alone facing that terrible loss. They talked all night while the rest of the family slept. But there was no sleep for those two men.”
The Farleys, Clarks, Deneens, Carrs and others in that little Belle Arbor settlement had to wonder if the delicate peace would remain or if war’s dying embers were going to ignite into a hellfire again.
Saturday, April 15, 1865 started like any calm spring day for those others along Farley Road. A bullet changed all that, the news traveling within 24 hours by telegraph, messengers, shopkeepers, and neighbors. For the first time an American president had been assassinated. Today we receive “generational events” like this within minutes in the palm of our hands via cellphones and the internet.
Fortunately, our country was strong enough and we didn’t plunge back into slavery or civil war. Charley grew up and farmed for many years before moving into the village of Almont. He became a nationally recognized amateur writer and attended luncheons in Chicago with the likes of Thomas Edison. He wrote his memoirs in his advanced years for his family, titled “Belle Arbor Memories.” This slim 68-page book will be republished by me with added background history on the Belle Arbor community, its founder Rev. Luther Shaw and biographies on other Belle Arborites and Almonters. The proceeds to benefit the Almont Community Historical Society’s Museum. Look for it in time for Christmas.
Lynn Nolin is a local historian, social media writer/creator and volunteer at Almont Historical Museum. Her social media history page can be found on Facebook, under the title of “Imlay-Almont-Dryden Area History.”