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Life in Algoma Township in the 1800’s

Life in Algoma Township in the 1800’s


By Eloise (Armstrong) Covey, courtesy of the Algoma Township Historical Society

The Armstrong family home: 120 acres  on Algoma Avenue, north of 14 Mile Rd, between Indian Lakes and 15 Mile Rd. Helen and John are show here with five of their nine children. Front row (L to R): mother Helen Armstrong, Matie, father John, and Bessie. Back row: Harvey, Eloise’s father Milton, and Hattie. Photo courtesy of Algoma Township Historical Society.

The following story was submitted to the Algoma Township Historical Society by Eloise (Armstrong) Covey, who passed away in 2011. She donated many artifacts and pictures. She and her family owned and operated an upholstery business in Cedar Springs and a portion of her work is displayed at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in the “Queen” exhibit.

My grandmother, Helen Armstrong, was such an important part of my life as she often stayed with my family when I was a little girl. She told stories about living in the log cabin that her husband, John, built in the tall timbers that covered almost all of Algoma Township. The home was located just east of Algoma Avenue and on the south side of 14 Mile Rd.

The cabin was very small with only one window and one door. They had two small boys when they build the cabin. My father, Milton Armstrong, was just two years younger than his oldest brother. Grandma told me about the bears and wolves that roamed the thick woods surrounding their cabin. One time, she explained, they were out of meat but to make matters worse, they had no ammunition for their rifles and it just so happened that one night they heard a bear clawing at their door. Grandfather John wanted to take an axe and to go out and kill it before it got into the cabin and then they would have a good supply of meat but Grandma Helen begged him not to do it. She said an axe was of no good against a hungry bear! Just then they saw a second bear come around the side of the cabin so Grandma was right in not letting him go outside and confront the bear. The bears finally left the cabin alone and slipped back into the woods.

Eloise’s parents, Minnie and Milton Armstrong’s wedding picture from November 24, 1917. Minnie’s wedding dress has been donated to the Algoma Historical Society and is on display. Photo courtesy of Algoma Township Historical Society.

The family had made a narrow trail through the woods to go to Edgerton for supplies. Grandma Helen sometimes took the train from Edgerton to Grand Rapids to visit her mother. One time when she was coming home the train had some mechanical trouble so she arrived in Edgerton way after dark. She had no other choice than to walk through the dark woods on the narrow trail to get back to her log cabin home. She had no lantern to light her path and the thick woods prevented starlight from sharing its light. Her mother had given her a fresh loaf of bread and a pail of honey to bring home. Grandma said she could hear all kinds of animals in the dark woods around her and as she hurried toward home she pried off the lid of the honey jar and dipped chunks of bread in it and she determined that if any animals came close to her or within her sight she would throw the morsels to them. She was thankful she didn’t need to do that and she did get home safely.

Nine children were born to the family and they eventually moved to a big house on Algoma Avenue, between Indian Lakes Rd and 15 Mile Rd on 120 acres.

Grandma said when they moved there that the road (Algoma Avenue) was just a rutted sand two track and that even the horses had a hard time pulling their wagons with household goods up the hill that was just north of 14 Mile Rd on Algoma Avenue. The children could not ride but would follow behind and would carry their chickens, pigs, and other animals and pets.

Reflecting back, I’m sure it was a big and welcome change to move from a log cabin in the deep woods to a large house on what was then a road that was a route to civilized areas. I pause many times and think of how all those forests were cut down and the timber was brought to the nearby lumber mills and how more families came into the area to farm and raise families and how all that changed the landscape. I am thankful for the strong determination and will of my and all our early settlers, paving the way for the farm fields and homes and to still see many stands of timber standing tall and giving natural habitat for woodland birds and animals. 

I so enjoyed hearing my grandmother tell stories of her growing up in the 1800s and all the hard work and determination to provide for her family in the rough conditions of the early settlers days in Algoma Township.

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