AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article gives a brief accounting of the movements and accomplishments of Rev. Luther Shaw, who founded the failed community of Belle Arbor along Ross Road east of Van Dyke. Lynn Nolin will be including a more detailed history of Rev. Shaw in her enhanced version of Charles Kellogg Farley’s “Belle Arbor Memories”, which we hope to publish next year. Rev. Shaw’s story is an important episode in Almont’s earliest history, which has been woefully under reported. It adds a new dimension and depth to Almont’s earliest history.

Luther Shaw was born July 4, 1800, in Rutland, Rutland, Vermont, a very religious community, to John Shaw (1768-1842) and Tryphena Bingham Shaw (1773-1858). He was the fifth of nine children. He joined older siblings Truman Freeman Shaw (1792-1844), a baby born in 1794 and that died in 1795, Rockeylena Shaw (1796-), and John Bliss Shaw (1798-1865). He was followed in the birth order by Jerusha Shaw (1802-1873), Louisa Tryphena Shaw (1805-1848), Calvin Augusta Shaw (1808-1879) and Sarah Shaw (1812-1887).

Luther’s early education was in a one-room schoolhouse. As a teenager, he attended the Castleton Seminary in North Granville, New York in 1826 and 1827. He then attended the Auburn Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1830.

Immediately after being ordained, he moved to Romeo, Michigan to become the minister for the First Congregational Church- one of its first ministers. He met Gad and Lydia Chamberlain, who had come to Romeo with a group of about 60 people to establish a religious settlement. In early 1828, Lydia bought property in Section 4 of Almont Township, which was along Ross Road (did not exist when land was purchased) east of Van Dyke and bordered the Belle River. The Chamberlain’s did not develop this property.

According to Margaret Farley, Luther Shaw and a couple of families moved to this land in 1830 to attempt to establish a homestead. They were not successful and abandoned the attempt by 1831.

On August, 1831, Luther married Julia C. Chamberlain, the daughter of Gad and Lydia Chamberlain, in Romeo. Julia was born January 26, 1811 in New York. Luther’s daughter, Julia Electa Shaw, was born June 4, 1832. in Romeo. Son, Robert Bliss Shaw was born in Romeo on October 26, 1834. Unfortunately, Julia Chamberlain Shaw died of consumption on January 15, 1835, and was buried in the Romeo Cemetery.

Shortly after Julia’s death, Luther moved the family to Tallmadge, Ohio. He had moved to
Tallmadge to gather potential settlers to make another attempt at settling the Belle Arbor area. He met, courted, and married Lucy Ann Wright on June 12, 1835. Lucy became the mother to Luther’s children. Lucy was born January 9, 1816, in Tallmadge, Ohio. Her parents were Alpha Wright and Lucy Foster Wright. Her parents were one of the first families to settle Tallmadge, Ohio.

On April 25, 1833, Luther’s father-in-law, Gad Chamberlain bought property in Section 6. Luther and his brother, Calvin, bought property in Section 3 on October 15, 1835. Luther’s brother, Truman Freemen Shaw bought additional property in Section 3 on July 6, 1836. On January 18, 1837, John Shaw bought property in Section 4. It is not presently known if this was Luther’s father or his brother, John Bliss Shaw. This property was eventually sold to Mark and Mary Farley.

During the years 1835 and 1836, about 25 families moved to the Belle Arbor area. Some of these families came from around Tallmadge, Ohio and others coming from near Rutland, Vermont, including all of Luther’s family except sister Rockeylena and her family. In 1836, these families started their own church–possibly associated with the First Congregational Church.

In the 1830s, the area along the northern border of Almont Township was swampy and bug infested. It was not an ideal place to create a settlement. The first years saw a settlement which was sickly (mostly malaria) but there was no loss of life. Being weak from illnesses, the construction of buildings and the development of productive fields was slowed.

Luther’s oldest brother, Truman Freeman Shaw established a tannery along the Belle River in 1836. Truman’s son, Truman Bliss Shaw, was the first person to die in the settlement. He passed on Jan 18, 1839, of typhoid or typhus. For an unknown period of time, Belle Arbor experienced an outbreak of malaria which ravaged the community. Multiple deaths occurred. and those who died were buried in the Webster Cemetery–just to the west of Van Dyke. These were individual graves and were probably marked with wooden crosses. Today, many of these graves are unmarked and unknown. It is assumed that when the wood markers deteriorated, there was no one around to replace them.

Luther’s father passed away on June 1, 1843, and was buried in Webster Cemetery. His mother, Tryphena, survived until July 13, 1858, and died in Illinois. Her body was returned and buried next to John in Webster Cemetery. Truman Freeman Shaw died on August 7, 1844, and Louisa Tryphena Shaw died on May 24, 1848, both in Almont. They were buried in Webster Cemetery.

As the deaths mounted, the early settlers began to sell their homesteads and leave. Eventually by the late 1840s, there were very few of the original settlers still in Belle Arbor. In 1847, the church merged with the First Congregational Church in Almont, thus eliminating the primary reason to remain in Belle Arbor.
Luther’s brother, Calvin, ceased farming, moved into Almont, and opened a store. He lived on East St. Clair and sold Frederick Plummer Currier Sr. the lot on which the Octagon House was built. He eventually moved to Illinois.

It appears that Luther and Lucy moved to Armada after the Belle Arbor Church merged and took over as minister of the First Congregational Church (assumption but probable). Sometime in the late 1850s, while still acting as the Church’s minister, he moved to a farm near Armada. Daughter, Julia was married in 1856 and son, Robert was married in 1861. Both of their children moved away. In 1863, he retired from his ministry and he and Lucy moved back to Tallmadge, Ohio. He then acted as a salesman for the American Bible Society.

Luther and Lucy were active in the Tallmadge Congregational Church. He was a member and active in the Genealogical Society. He wrote numerous letters to the newspapers regarding the problem with liquor.

Luther died on August 10, 1888, in Tallmadge and was buried in the Tallmadge Cemetery in Tallmadge, Ohio. Lucy lived almost another eleven years and died on February 2, 1899. in Tallmadge. She was buried next to Luther in the Tallmadge Cemetery.

Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.