2015-07-09 / News

Historian bridges centuries with stories passed down from elders

BY LANIA ROCHA
810-452-2652 • lrocha@mihomepaper.com


Lori Heller of Prudenville, formerly of Gaines, shares a tale of a jilted wife during the Historical Society’s annual cemetery tour. 
Photos by Lania Rocha Lori Heller of Prudenville, formerly of Gaines, shares a tale of a jilted wife during the Historical Society’s annual cemetery tour. Photos by Lania Rocha GAINES – Few people put pen to paper to preserve their recollections, and so many memories are lost to history.

“Everyone has a story,” said Len Thomas, president of the Swartz Creek Area Historical Society. “But we’re all afraid to write it down because we don’t want people to think we’re bragging.”

It’s not bragging, said Thomas.

It’s slices of life that future generations are likely to treasure. Sometimes, even the slightest detail can be fascinating to someone whose reality is filled with modern distractions.

Lori Heller of Prudenville knows that very well.

Heller lived in Gaines for 30 years and spent much of that time in elder care. It was her good fortune that many of the people she worked with her genealogists.


Len and Sharon Thomas place a G.A.R. marker on the grave of a Civil War soldier at Oakwood Cemetery in Gaines. Len and Sharon Thomas place a G.A.R. marker on the grave of a Civil War soldier at Oakwood Cemetery in Gaines. On Saturday, June 20, Heller made the 135-mile trek back to Gaines to meet up with the Historical Society as they embarked on their annual cemetery tour.

The tour began in the village, at Oakwood Cemetery, where the tombstones read like a “Who’s Who” of Gaines area history.

Heller shared a few of the stories, memories and what was almost certainly scandalous gossip of the day, which she discovered through conversations and research.

There are 102 Athertons in Oakwood Cemetery, Heller said. The Athertons were a prominent family around town in the early part of the 20th century.

Orrin and Louisa Atherton ran the hardware store downtown. It was a typical general store of its time, with tin ceilings and hardwood floors, Heller said. Two subsequent generations of Athertons kept the family business going into the 1960s.


Mike Shumaker and Angie Buda contemplate an unusual grave marker at St. Joseph Cemetery. Etched in the base are the words “Joanne Hogan Age 15.” Mike Shumaker and Angie Buda contemplate an unusual grave marker at St. Joseph Cemetery. Etched in the base are the words “Joanne Hogan Age 15.” Back in the day, Gaines had community wells throughout town. It was largely the responsibility of the children to haul water in buckets.

A milkman delivered bottles of milk daily via cart and horse, and the town physician was known to have delivered many, many babies in many, many homes for the remarkable sum of one quarter.

Situated high on the rolling terrain of the burial grounds is the only private mausoleum in Oakwood. It holds the remains of Julia Corrigall.

Little is known of the 39-year marriage of Julia and her husband, but pictures indicate the couple was distant. They divorced in 1903 and Mr. Corrigall soon married Julia’s niece, a woman 35 years his junior.

He died in 1915 at the age of 78, leaving his young widow with two small sons. She, in turn, died three years later. Other relatives who lived in town adopted the orphaned boys, then 7 and 9 years old, Heller said.

Julie lived to be 81 years old. She died in 1921. Her final resting place looks down on the graves of her former husband and niece.

Around the northern edge, beneath towering pine and oak trees, are five headstones bearing the name “Bronson.” The family – father, mother, two children and a grandfather – were killed when a train struck them while they were en route to visit friends in Flint.

Tucked back into a remote corner of the cemetery, set apart from the other graves, is a very small, very weathered headstone with markings almost unreadable. The only clues are the initials N.W.R. and S.B.R. etched in the stone. Heller said there is no record of the burials.

Heller shared more tales of mischief and sorrow and triumph, and the tour continued on to St. Joseph in Gaines Township, Mount Hope in Rankin and Odell in Mundy Township.

The Historical Society will meet again at 7 p.m. July 8 at City Hall, when they will view a video presentation on the orphan train and enjoy their annual ice cream social.

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