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History Lives Here Text

TheSessions IGA Store in the 30s and 40s

By Margaret (Sessions) Clark

Margaret (Sessions) Clark lived inSaugatuck from her birth in 1927 until 1945. Her recently written recollectionsare rich in description of life in Saugatuck in the 30s and 40s. This excerptis about the Butler Streetgrocery store (later Francis Foods) that the family owned. Portions of themanuscript describing Butler Street in the 30s, schools, the Big Pavilion andother amusements will be published in subsequent newsletters

 

In August 1928, myparents, Stuart and Ruth (Douglas) Sessions, borrowed from Dad's PrudentialInsurance Policy and also from Maggie Bos and boughtthe grocery store at 308 Butler Street from Stephen Newnham.This was in the Heath building, with Bird's Drug Store on the corner.

 

At one time duringthe depressions the average total sale was 18 cents a day, with some day'stotal sales as much as $12. At one time the current bills payable was greaterthan the total assets. When the folks took over the store we moved to theapartment above the store. It is here that most of my Saugatuck memories begin.

 

Before I was oldenough to be out on the street by myself, I was at one time tied to a pole inthe alley behind the store where there was a sandbox. I don't know if my olderbrother Donald was tied too, or if I was just by myself, h being a small townpeople stopped and visited with me, and everyone helped keep track of me.

 

A stairway with adoor opening between our IGA store and Bird's Drug Store on the corner, led tothe second floor. Up the stairs to the left, over Bird's Drug Store was thetelephone office.

 

When the fire siren blew we would run tothe telephone office and listen while the operator told the firemen where thefire was. We had volunteer firemen who had to call in, then go to the firestation and get the truck and head for the fire. The first one who arrivedwould take the truck and the others would drive their vehicles behind the truckwith their horns blowing. If the fire siren blew in the evening we left supperor whatever we were doing and followed the firemen to the fire.

 

Farther down thehall, beyond the telephone office and over Bird's Drug Stare, was an apartment wherethe head telephone operator lived. I remembered visiting her there. I think hername was Mrs. Shaw.

 

Down the hall, inthe back corner also over the drug store was another apartment. Aunt Virginiaand Uncle Cordon lived here at one time when Cordon worked in the grocerystore. I remember Aunt Virginiainviting me to lunch one day and she offered me watermelon, which I said Ididn't like and some other things that I also declined. She told my mother andI got a scolding and was told to never again say I didn't like something.

 

At the top of thestairs to the right was the entrance to our apartment, right over the grocerystore.

 

I can remember Dadtrying to help people to eat as well as they could, or make their money go asfar as possible during the Depression. One day he suggested to a woman wholived behind Parrish's Drug Store and had a big family that she buy a fivepound bag of corn meal and make corn mush. That seemed to be a good idea, butthen they came back to buy milk and sugar. This ruined the idea of feeding thefamily on the money they had.

 

All our producecame by truck from Grand Rapidstwo or three times a week. We ate the overripe produce because customers didn'twant it if it had a spoiled spot. They often bought produce that was not yetripe.

 

One afternoon when I went down to the storemy father was very sharp with me and told me to go back upstairs immediately. Iwas quite hurt, but later I learned that there had been a tarantula in a box ofbananas and he was afraid of my getting bit by it. Dad was able to put it intoa bottle where I later saw it. Bananas came in a large box with the bananasstill on the stalk. He hung the whole stalk from a chain in the front windowand cut them off as they were purchased.

 

We got ourwholesale bread from the Dutch Boy Bakery in Zeeland.The folks bought shares in the bakery. I remember going to the bakery one nightand seeing the bread being baked and they gave us fresh bread samples.

 

Much of the businessduring the depression was conducted on charge books. Customers would buy theirgroceries and most other things on credit and when they got their WPA checksthey would pay their bills. I am sure that most families never had enough topay all their bills. Our IGA store was independently owned but we got ourwholesale groceries from the warehouse in Hollandand they would not extend credit. Cash flow was a real problem. I remember thatDad said one day that the cash intake was only $15. The rest of the day'sbusiness was one credit.

 

I was less than sixyears old when I was aware that ours was a hand-to-mouth existence. We werebetter off then some because we had food from the grocery store.

 

The grocery storeseemed big when we had to run from the front of the store, where the counterwas, to the back to get item by item as the customer asked for things. Whenself-service came into use, and the customers waited on themselves, it wasreally great. The last couple of years I was mostly at the check out. Then Igot tired of standing in one place.

 

Almost everythingwas sold in bulk, other than canned goods and cold cereal. Sugar came in 50 poundbags and we would sack it into five-pound bags. I think flour came in clothbags and was not repackaged. Rice, beans, nuts, etc., came in large quantitiesthat needed sacking in smaller paper bags when purchased.

 

Cookies came in a12 to 15 pound square box. We had glass tops with a metal edge that fitted overthe top of the box and allowed one to see the cookies, but keep them covered.It also made it easy to open the cover and help ourselves to one when we passedby.

 

We had big rounds of cheese, which webought in wood boxes and would store four or five to let them age. We also hada kerosene pump from when we would fill the customer's can when needed. Iremember at one time we had the cheese sitting near the kerosene and either wespilled some or it leaked, making the cheese worthless.

 

We also sold homebakery goods made by a German family which lived in East Saugatuck. They made the most delicious chocolate eclairs as well as breads and cakes.

 

Two things Iremember happening at the store. One was the day the eggs exploded. We had noway of candling eggs at that time. We put a dozen eggs in small brow bags and kepteggs on the back side of the bread rack without refrigeration. I don't know howlong they had been on the shelf when one bag exploded. The mess and smell wasterrible. The other experience was when a can of molasses exploded. The smellwas not bad, but the mess was very hard to clean up.

 

When the weatherpermitted we put benches in front of the store on which we would pilewatermelon in season and other produce. In late summer we had gladioli thatwere grown on a farm halfway between Hollandand Saugatuck. The flowers were really beautiful. When I was 10 or 11 I wouldsit out in front and sell these flowers for 25 cents a bunch for the smallerblooms and So cents a dozen for the larger blossoms.

 

I carried cases of cannedgoods, 25-pound bags of sugar and flour and all other groceries, from when Ifirst started working at the store. Dad was a good boss to work for, but we allworked hard. He did not complain or care if those who worked for him ate someof the merchandise. I got paid at the same rate as non-family clerks.

 

The store had a wooden floor we sweptregularly with a wide broom and oiled sawdust and from time to time we moppedit with a huge cotton mop. This was no small task. Sometimes when the folksleft me in charge of the store with the butcher, I would mop the floor to gainthe folks' added approval. I cashed up at night and was given lots ofresponsibility.

By the start of World War II I was working at the store most of thetime, that is, after school and on Saturday. We had a butcher who did most ofthe meat cutting, but Dad was able to cut meat toy. In the summertime we wouldgrind as much as 50 pounds of hamburger at a time for the restaurants. This wasoften my job. I liked working with John Biller, thebutcher.

 

Weekdays during the summer when there was a lull at the grocery store,I would go next door to Bird's Drug Store and go behind the soda ` fountain andhelp them make sodas, sundaes, etc., for customers. Then after helping thecustomers I would make myself a sundae and sit at the bar and eat it beforereturning to work at our store.

 

Because of the war and rationing food coupons became a part of everydaylife. We had meat stamps, sugar stamps and canned goods stamps. These all hadto be counted and put in books and turned in for us to buy from the warehouse.Some food items were hard to get, like pineapples and bananas. Sometimes folkswould have to take their food stamps with them when they were going to visitfor more than a day or two, so their hosts could get enough food.

 

We sold the grocery store in May of 1945 and the folks packed up mostof our household furnishings and moved them to Albionwhere Dad had a new teaching job. They left two beds, one for me and one for adeaf lady who was to stay with me far the summer.

 

I went to work atone of the restaurants on the main street. When Sunday morning came around andthe church bells rang, I knew I didn't want to stay at the restaurant and workSundays. The man who had bought our IGA store was floundering, not knowing whatto buy and how. He was glad to have me back and help him know what and how toorder what was needed. Because certain items were still hard to get we hadstockpiled such things as salad dressing, so there would be enough for thesummer trade. This was one of the items he had sold out without continuing toorder more and so came up short before the summer was half over.

Research Books Added

Three donations of books have recently been received by the Saugatuck-DouglasHistorical Society and will eventually be part of a now-forming researchlibrary.

 

The MichiganWallins

By Van A, Wallin (Published by Author) 1930

 

The subtitle of this volume is "A History from Stratford-on-Avon1791 to Wallinwood-on-the-Grand 1933." Betweenthose two places the Wallin family stopped in the Kalamazoo Valley where from 1853 to 1881 they operatedtanneries. The largest was one at Wallinville (or Dingleville). The site of the factory is now the fifthgreen at Clearbrook Golf Course. The large square Wallin family home built in 1859is still standing nearby. Later the Wallins purchasedthe Douglas tannery and there was also anoperating agreement with a facility located at Plummerville.

 

It is one of the most interesting chapters in the book because most ofwhat happened in the Kalamazoo Valley was personallyexperienced by the author, a son of Franklin B. Wallin.The family was active in the founding of the Saugatuck Congregational Churchand Van's description of school days at the old Union school and later at Saugatuck High School is vivid and detailed.

 

He describes a childhood near the millpond and the games that thechildren played in the woods. Also the great fires of 1871 and how he and hisbrother fed the workers who stayed up all night to keep the tannery buildingsand woodpiles from lighting from the sparks all around them.

 

When Van was still in grade school his elder brother fell through theice in Goshorn Lake and was drowned. Theshock of the accident that took her eldest son brought about the death of hismother a few days later.

 

A copy of the bookwas given to the Society by Frances(Wallin) Shaw of Grand Haven.

 

Forest Haven Soldiers:

The Civil WarVeterans of Glen Lake & Surrounding Leelanau

 

By Leonard G. Overmyer III

(Overmyer Historicals:Grand Rapids)1999

 

This book is acompilation of soldiers from the Glen Lake area who served inthe Civil War with many previously unpublished pictures and narratives. It isinteresting to Saugatuck-area readers because of Captain (later Major) WilliamH, Dunn of Ganges who was the head of Company E, 10thMichigan Calvary.

 

Overmyer relates how Company E, under Dunn'sleadership, captured about 80 members of a Georgiaregiment who were attempting to slip off to Mississippi to avoid surrender and parole atthe close of the war - without firing a single shot.

 

Dunn began his service as a member of the 5th Michigan Calvary and rescued Major Luther S. Trowbridgeafter his horse was shot out from under him at the Battleof Gettysburg.Both Trowbridge and Dune left the 5th in 1 863 and were organizingmembers of the 10th Calvary,

 

Major Dune wasactive in the GAR after the war. The horse which he had taken to battle livedfor many years and was ridden in Memorial Day parades. Myrtle (Warner) Stremler of Ganges remembers that even in his later years,when his horseback riding skill was limited by advanced age, Dune insisted onbeing mounted for the Ganges Memorial Dayparades. Mrs. Stremler notes that the efforts of theMajor to control his horse were often more interesting then the speeches at theannual ceremony.

 

A copy of the book was presented to theSociety by the author, a former resident of Glen Arbor who presently resides inGrand Rapids,with thanks for assistance during his research by Society archivist Bill Kemperman, Louis and Betsy Plummer, Kit Lane and other Society members.

CentennialAnniversary Celebration of the East Saugatuck Christian Reformed Church1869-1969

 

(Published by the East Saugatuck Christian Reformed Church) 1969

 

A hard cover bookpublished by members of the East Saugatuck Christian Reformed Church 1869-1969was contributed to the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library book sale and givenby the Friends of the Library to the Society for placement in the researchlibrary.

 

The East Saugatuck church was one of the earliest churchesborn of the True Reformed movement that had begun in 1857 at Graafschap. Despite its historic associations, the originalchurch building at Graafschap was razed this year.

 

When increasingdecentralization of Dutch settlers made it difficult for those in outlyingareas to get to church, the formation of a new congregation at Collendoom, south and east of Graafschap,was authorized by the General Assembly in 1868.

 

The congregation'sfirst church building was destroyed in the fires of 1871 and rebuilt, with muchhelp from the community the following year. The 1872 building, an imposingwhite clapboard structure, was razed in 1966 in favor of a modern A-frame styleedifice.

 

The name of thedenomination was changed from "True Reformed"to "Christian Reformed" in 1890 and the name of the community from Collendoom to East Saugatuckin 1902, although it had been in general use for the railroad stop since the1870s.

 

In 1962 the East Saugatuck Mission Board took on as a project a fledgingcongregation that had been meeting in various places in Saugatuck since 1957.Ten acres of land was purchased on Allegan Street near the Blue Star Highway. The SaugatuckChristian Reformed Church was constructed on the site in 1965.