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History Lives Here Text

 

Edwin H. House, a "Friend toMan"

In collecting biographies for thebook and exhibit "Heroes, Rogues and Just Plain Folks" muchmore information arrived than it was possible to use. Two daughters of Edwin H.House wrote biographies of this remarkable man. Some facts and stories wereused in the book and display, but much rich material remains. The main workbelow is from Celia House Allen, with additional material in brackets fromKatharine House Allen and other sources.

Edwin Harvey House was born in 1875 in the house his father, HarveyLathrop House, built in 1868 with lumber from the Singapore mills. He was assisted bya Connecticutcarpenter who had been trained in Greek Revivalbuilding. House was the son of pioneers who had come toSaugatuck on the Ira Chaffee from Oswego, New York via River Forest, Illinois. Hisancestors were early settlers in Massachusetts,one of whom sacrificed the lead weights from her treasured clock to makebullets for Revolutionary soldiers.

He attended the Ward school (located on land he later owned) where hismother taught and, later, classes taught by Captain Phelps who ran a very tightship even on land. He and his classmate Carl Bird decided that was not forthem. Shortly they moved on to Oak Park High School.

In his teens he picked violets in the woods and took the night boat to Chicago where he sold them on the corner of State and Adams Streets. Pocketing the money he went to the World'sColumbian Exposition of 1893 tosee the sights

His Oak Park High School days were followed by study at the Columbia Schoolof Expression (later the Chicago Musical College).This period was terminated by his return to the farm upon the death of hisfather.

[Edwin took over the farm on the death of his father when he was just22 years of age. At that time he had the family's riverfront property plattedwith 26 lots. It was to be known as Riverside Heights, with two windingroads, Riverside Driveand Poplar Road.]

The farm became his pride and pleasure working very hard and being inconstant touch with the Department of Horticulture at Michigan StateCollege he raised the best apples he could. Nils Haars who at one time was his principal helper selected thebest specimen and showed them atMichigan State Fairs where he won silver cups and many ribbons- so many hiswife made soft cushion covers -12ribbons in each. [An article in a 1907 issue of the Saugatuck newspaper states:"E. H. House has a display ofWagner's apples in Bird's Drug Store that is rarely seen. It is a small branchwith 87 apples, each one perfectly colored and without blemish... "]

When the need arose he erected a temperature controlled storage housewhich was described as a model facility for those days. In the earliest days ofthe farm apples were shipped in barrels from Pier Cove. In the 1900s thebarrels were loaded from his own dock on to the interurban, then on to asteamboat in Holland and on to Chicago. In the 20s he bought two Reo trucks to carry the apples to the South Water Street wholesale market eachone going in every other night to be in time for the early morning opening ofthe market.

House's cider mill had oneof the first hydraulic presses in the area and a flash pasteurizer where thecider was processed after being bottled. The jugs often came by rail from BallBrothers in Muncie, Indian, to a siding in East Saugatuck and were trucked to the mill.

Healso sold fruit locally from a fruit stand in front of his house. Along withthe fruit, he sold cider, a cherry based drink called "Cherri-Mix" and also honey produced from his own beehives. Another product verymuch like the later one called "Kool-Aid" was tried with a powder wrapped incellophane. While that enterprise was not successful, the Cherri-Mix businessgrew and a concentrate was shipped all over the country to other owners ofroadside stands. In the early 1940s he started battling and distributing softdrinks in 7 oz. Bottles.

A jobber came to buy a truckloads of applesand, on seeing what was going on, said, "Oh, are you that guy? Why, I seen your name all overHell?"

This amused House although he was always a devoted church man, a softspoken gentleman who never used language stronger than "Sam Hill" or "Great Scott. "

Theroadside stand was a popular place for resident of the area as well aspassers-by on the road. If no one happened to be in attendance the customercould ring a bell and usually someone from the house would hear it and go out.Or if the family wanted to go for a Sunday drive, they would simply leave acigar box with some change on a table and the customer was trusted to pay theproper amount for his purchase. After the main road was changed to what is now Blue Star Highway,the fruit stand was moved to a part of the property along the new road. It wasenlarged and eventually part of it was converted to a restaurant. The fruitstand and the restaurant were called "The House by the Side of the Road." Edwin often referred to a poem of that title by Samuel Walter Foss. Heliked the sentiment expressed- of living in a house by the side of the road andbeing "a friend to man." This became his motto.

For over fifty years he served on various boards although he nevercampaigned for election. His interests lay with the Congregational Church, theBoard of Education, and the Township Board. [Often he was called upon to usehis elocution skills at public gatherings.]

Vitally interested in those suffering hardship during the Depressionand World War II he made many visits to determine what could be done to help.During World War II he granted asylum to an architect who, with his young wifeand infant son, had been interned because they were of Japanese ancestry. Thecommunity accepted them and they were extended a warm welcome by the Methodist Church which pleased House very much.

He was vigorously patriotic and saw that the men who worked for himwere registered and drove them to the polls. If he was on the election board,which he often was, his wife did the driving. Activities on the farm continuedinto January and the orchards were at a standstill until spring leaving timefor rest and travel. He loved the natural wonders and national shrines of ourcountry and enjoyed short stays in big cities.

Through out this busy life he maintained an interest in the arts aswell as service to others. During his student days he attended the Chicago Sunday EveningClub where he met Dr. George Gray. Dr. Gray had already metDr. William E. Gamble who enthusiastically supported Dr. Gray's idea that innercity families needed more than fresh air in the country, but society withpeople of wider experience and broad interests.

At this point House invited Dr. Gray and two friends to visit Saugatuckto see its natural beauty and its suitability for a camp site. So Forward Movement began. During this time House gave theuse of his barn as a studio to young artist who had come to paint the Saugatuckscene. Among them were John Johansen, Jean McLean and Fred Stearns. This group,along with Fred Fursman started the colony at Ox-Bowwhich became the Summer School of Painting- later affiliated with the School ofthe Art Institute of Chicago.

During this time Dr. Gamble and his family camped on the beach atForward Movement and participated in camp activities. After several summers theGambles came to need a real cottage for their children and their diverseactivities. They bought riverfront property from Edwin House and built the cottage, a platform for a tent toput guests and a dock for their motorboat "Uncle Dan." Now theHouses and the Gambles were neighbors and Edwin House met his future wife,Celia Gamble.

House encouraged and supported her efforts to make visible to thepublic the work of local artists. With a few friends and the help of Fred Fursman the Saugatuck Art Association began. It was copiedby other Michigan towns which was thebeginning of the MichiganFederation of Art Associations.

House had the first telephone line out to his area. The operator ranghim up with one ring. He cranked the phone twice to get the operator. Manyparties joined the line, among them Force's Florists who had four rings. Allthe rings were heard by all the parties. When Force's four rings were heardunusually often other party line members just picked up the phone to find outwho died.