Bowne Township Historical Commission
Bowne Twp., Kent Co., Michigan

Stories and Writings

1. Alden Nash's Journey to Bowne Township
2. John Porritt Settles in Bowne Township
3. A History of the Village of Alto, Michigan

Alden Nash's Journey to Bowne Township
Written by Olive E. Nash Bergy on Nov. 2, 1966
Exactly 114 years after Alden Nash's journey

"In October 1852, two years before my father (John Augustus Nash) was born, Grandfather (Alden Nash) sold his property in Welshfield, Ohio and he and grandmother (Olive Noyes Poole Nash) and their 5 children aging from 1 year - 14 years, came to the wilderness of Michigan with a covered wagon.

Alden had a one horse buggy for his wife and his sister Clarissa Waterman to travel in. They crossed Lake Erie from Clevland, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan and were soon on their way to a new world and a new life. Uncle Dan (Daniel Nash) rode in the wagon and held onto his two sisters - Aunt Mary (Nash), 3 years and Aunt Eleanor (Nash), 5 years - to keep them from being bounced out of the wagon. Uncle Dan was only 9 years old. Uncle Jim (Nash) was 14 years old and Uncle Alden Nash II was a baby of 1 year. My grandfather was 41 years old and Grandmother was 36 years. The going was rough as they went over logs, mud, and bad roads day after day.

The weary journey finally came to an end November 2, 1852. All were happy that the hard journey was over but what a contrast it was from the old Ohio homeland where Grandfather had lived for about 40 years - to a log cabin in the deep wood of Bowne Township in Kent County, Michigan. Relatives and friends had come a year or so before and everyones house was built of logs. Grandfather had a chance to buy 160 acres of heavy timbered farm land with a double house and about 4 or 5 acres cleared. It was nearly across from the Holcomb farm and on the north side of the road. Philancie Holcomb across the road was a niece of Grandfathers and a cousin of my fathers. She was married to Martin Holcomb.

Alden turned in the wagon, buggy, and horses for payment on the farm. The household goods had been shipped by rail to Battle Creek, Michigan, 60 miles away, and a man was to haul them from there. Michigan's railroad history goes back to 1837 when the only railroad in Michigan was built from Toledo, Ohio to Adrian, Michigan, a distance of 33 miles. It was run over wooden tracks and was pulled with horses. By 1852, it had reached Battle Creek.

The winters meant hard work to chop 10 to 15 acres of heavy timber and get it ready to burn. Then they had to log and fence during the summer and fall. There were plenty of wild ducks, turkeys, deer and small game, so they didn't suffer for want of meat, and they found happiness with their hard work and deprivations.

Later on, Grandfather sold his farm in Bowne Township and bought farm land in Muskegon Co., Michigan where he died unexpectedly of pneumonia on April 13, 1871 aged 60 years. My father was 16 years old at the time. My grandmother spent her last days with Aunt Eleanor Johnson and died Sept 7, 1900 in Grand Rapids, Michigan while visiting her daughter Mrs. Rose Califf. She was nearly 84 years old. Grandfather was a fine singer and choir leader. They are both buried in the cemetery at Bowne Center, Michigan."


"Grandfather" is Alden Nash, born Aug. 28, 1811.
"Grandmother" is Olive Noyes Poole Nash, Alden's wife, born Oct 5, 1816.
"My father" is John Augustus Nash, born Sept 6, 1854.
"Uncle Dan" is Daniel Lorenzo Nash, born Nov. 30, 1843.
"Aunt Mary" is Mary Elizabeth Nash, born Aug. 8, 1849 who later married John C. Johnson.
"Aunt Eleanor" is Eleanor Louisa Nash, born May 1, 1847 who later married James Chandler Johnson.
"Uncle Jim" is James Morrison Nash, born Jan. 18, 1838.
"Uncle Alden" is Alden J. Nash, born II, born Dec. 12, 1851.
"Philancie Holcomb" is Philancia Patchin, born July 6, 1829, daughter of Alden's sister Emily Nash (Patchin, Halkins, Pike). Philancia married Martin Holcomb.
"Clarissa Waterman" is Clarissa Nash, born July 10, 1799, sister of Alden Nash, who married Calvin Waterman.
"Mrs. Rose Califf" is Frances Rosalia Nash, born May 1, 1857 in Bowne Twp., Kent Co., Mich. She married Jonathan W. Califf.

John Porritt Settles in Bowne Township
Written by Olive E. Nash Bergy in July 1963

"John Porrit was born in Detroit on February 25, 1835 and died in Bowne Township in Kent Co. on Jan. 21, 1915, early 80 years old. He married Elizabeth Pallister who was born Dec. 9, 1838 in England and died in Bowne Township on Aug. 23, 1901. They were married Aug. 1, 1857. After their marriage, they settled in Fairplanes, Montcalm Co., Mich where their first child Alice was born. There, their home burned while they were calling at their neighbors, and they lost everything they had except the clothes they were wearing, and they had gone barefooted.

They left Fairplains about 1858 when their oldest child, Alice, was a baby, to settle at Bowne Center in Kent County. They traveled with a wagon and ox team to St. Johns and back through Lowell. There would be only the main roads in those days. Elizabeth would become so tired of riding behind the plodding oxen that she would walk and carry baby Alice.

They stopped at first with Giles Hatton, another Englishman. Giles lived on the corner and had 160 acres of land which later became Art Porritt's 80 acres and Joe Porritt's 80 acres. It was located about one mile west and one mile south of Bowne Center.

They found a home in a double log house a mile or so south of the Hattons with another family. They soon bought a farm of 80 acres from a New York speculator who had taken up the land from the government. They paid $4.00 an acre for it, and it was all woods. They built a log house at first and later built a large frame house where they spent the rest of their lives. They had 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls: Alice, Joseph, John, Mary Elizabeth, George Alfred, Hannah, Anna, George Henry, Frances and Albert.

A History of the Village of Alto, Michigan
Written by Beulah Hayward in 1945

"The small village of Alto, where I live, is located in section three Bowne Township, Kent County. One street is located on the line between Lowell and Bowne Townships so a small part of the village is in Lowell Township.

Mr. Skidmore, who founded the town, came with his parents from new York State about 1836. He lived about a mile south and east of where Alto is located. In about 1850, he bought 160 acres of land from a man who had taken it from the government, but hadn't finished clearing it. He married, and then went as a soldier to the Civil War.

At that time, there was an Indian trail around a small lake(1) near the north side of what is now the village. This leads from the Stage Coach Road(2) five miles West. This Stage Coach Road was the one that ran from Battle Creek to Kalamazoo and on to Grand Rapids.

Mr. Skidmore, when he returned from the Civil War, cleared the rest of the land with the help of men, ox teams, and horse teams. One piece was a swamp from which willow trees were pulled and land was drained. When buildings were erected, this was filled in from the dirt excavated from basements.

His mother had the first Post Office in her home south of here, then it was moved a mile north, and just as the railroad came through about 1887, it was located on the railroad. Mail was brought by horseback from Hastings and Lowell until the railroad was put through.

At first the land was all put in to wheat in a field consisting of 160 acres.

The Pere Marquette railroad was graded and track was laid in 1887 and 1888 and then the town began to grow. The Post Office and store, the Baptist Church and one or two houses were here before the coming of the railroad which connected Detroit and Grand Rapids.

The village was called Alto by Mr. Skidmore from the name altitude, this being the highest point on the railroad from Grand Rapids to Detroit.

Early trading was done in Grand Rapids. The farmers took their wood, wheat, and other goods by sleigh or wagon. They went one day and returned the next. The distance being twenty miles.

At present (1945) Alto has a population of two hundred and fifty people.

The first school was located in a little red school house about one and one half miles south. The children walked or drove a horse and buggy out there. In 1905, the building was sold and a new two story frame building was built in Alto. It had three rooms with three teachers. The divisions were Primary, Intermediate, and High School. The latter going only through the tenth grade. In 1926, this building burned. During the erecting of a new one, school was held in the Grange Hall which had two stories.

In January 1927, the new modern bungalow type of school(3) was ready for occupancy. It also had three rooms and a library, running water, electricity, and indoor toilets. The old building had no modern aids. These three teachers were only kept for about two or three years. It was divided into two rooms. The lower room through the seventh grade and the upper through the tenth. When this new school was to be constructed, it was voted on to make this a consolidated school but people in the central part of Bowne Township would have none of it. They thought Alto was trying to put something over and they were jealous.

In 1935, it was voted to have just eight grades and one teacher. The district was so much in debt by this time that they couldn't do otherwise. For the last eight years they have had only six grades in this lovely little building. The upper grades and those in high school are transported to Lowell.

About 1882, there was what was called a Select School held in a Grange Hall, a mile north of Alto. This was something like an academy or high school. Each student took his own desk which was an old fashioned wash stand with a drawer for books. Each parent paid his child's tuition. In 1900 and 1901 another Select School was held over a store building. About sixty attended. Their desks were tables. Some of these students took teachers' examinations and taught after attending. This Select School was taught by a Mr. Merriman and his wife who had taught in High Schools in the State.

There are two churches in town. The denominations are Baptist and Methodist Episcopal. The people who came to Bowne Township from New York were Baptists. They held services in a schoolhouse until just about 1885 when they built a church here. It still stands.(4) It is in itself a picture of the country church with its spire and belfry.

The Methodist Church was moved here from a mile north. It was built by a German organization in a German settlement and was a German Lutheran Church. All sermons were delivered in German but when the younger generation grew up they refused to go so it was abandoned for a time. Then it was moved to Alto(5) and became the Methodist Episcopal. At one time, two ministers served this church and the surrounded country ones of four or five. It was called the Parish Plan. Now (1945), one minister serves this and one other church in the Township.

(1873) The Grange has always been a strong organization here. At first, as long as the oldest inhabitants can remember, it was located a mile north. Then, by the coming of the railroad, it was held over the Post Office. In 1908, a new cememt block building(6) of two stories was built which serves as a Grange Hall and also a Community Hall.

Alto now (1945) is a thriving little country place with two general stores, Post Office with two rural routes, library, barber shop, garage, frozen food locker, hardware store, drug store, gasoline station, bulk station for gasoline which serves farmers for a radius of six miles, tavern, grain elevator, railroad depot, lumber yard, coal yard, fire department served by volunteer fireman, a bank, and blacksmith shop. The livery stable has gone the way of all livery stables in horseless days. The hotel is changed into a filling station.

The Businessmen have an organization which meets once a month. They did what they could for the soldiers benefit and the Bond drives, helped the needy and cooperate to make better business.

The son of the man who started this town lives on a sixty acre farm on one side of the village. A daughter lives on a farm on the other edge. The latter is in her eighties. It is from these two that I procured my information. There would be much more if they could remember. I also interviewed others. It has been a very interesting survey because this is my home.

When I came here nineteen years ago from a small city, it looked very small and unromantic but I like it and I'll tell you why. My husband runs the bulk station that supplies gasoline and oil to the village and farmers of the surrounding communities. He is President of the Business Men. I have taught High School and Sunday School here and have taught in neighboring districts. My girls were raised and married here. They worked in vacation times in the Bank, drug store, Post Office, and the younger one worked in the office of the Cooperative Creamery when it was located here. Like many creameries, it was sold during the War. The older one taught near here. Although it is small and perhaps rather humble, it is still HOME.

1) McEwen Lake
2) Stage Coach Road is the same as Whitneyville Road
3) In April, 2003, this building still stands at 6339 Bancroft and is used as multiple housing of three apartments
4) At present date the First Baptist Church of Alto is still active and stands on the southwest corner of the intersection of Bancroft and 60th streets in Alto
5) The Alto United Methodist Church, located on the northwest corner of the intersection of Kirby and Harrison streets, is active.
6) This building is still standing at the corner of Kirby and Luce, but has been remodeled inside for office spaces.