Rockford researcher reveals ‘History’s Mysteries’

Secrets of the past are hidden in plain sight

By BETH ALTENA

Not only does the past never leave, its evidence is all around if only we know what we are looking at. This was more or less the premise for a very interesting and informative talk by Jerry DeMaagd at a recent Rockford Historical Society meeting. DeMaagd compared historical research to forensic science and said it is useful in understanding the significance of places and objects to consider what was happening elsewhere as it relates to Rockford.

As an example he noted that Michigan became a state in 1837. When Horace Greely, editor of the New York Tribune said, “Go West young man,” Michigan was the West that he was referring to. In 1842 a man named Merlin Hunter moved to the area as a timber cruiser, he built a cabin near a small brook that was never named or shown on a map. Now the brook is mostly gone, and is visible in the woods behind St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.

A creek with a long history, but is now just a spring, the former Hyde’s Creek was the site of the home of one of Rockford’s earliest settlers. It can be seen on the property of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, although it is no longer much to look at.

The creek is referenced in Homer Burch’s book From Sawmill to City, The Long Years Passing. There Burch calls the spring-fed tributary Hyde’s Creek, which was still flowing into the 1920s when it was routed into ditches and behind homes.

DeMaagd said the area is of interest, in addition to its site as one of the earlier settlers, but also because the creek used to flow into an open culvert about three feet in diameter that ended near where City Hall is now. Kids used to crawl through the culver in either direction, but the pipe was so narrow it was impossible to turn around. If kids going through met part way, it was necessary to very carefully negotiate a tight passage past each other to come out at their respective ends.

That spot was also the point where four townships met, Cannon, Courtland, Plainfield and Algoma. The property was later owned by the Hyde family and was known as Hyde’s Corner. This was why the creek was probably named Hyde Creek.

The headstones of Joshua Briggs, War of 1812 veteran and his son, Marquis de la Fayette Briggs. The cemetery is located on private property but can be seen from Northland Drive north of Rockford.

The next mystery of history still visible today is the Briggs Cemetery, located on private property on Northland Drive north of Rockford. The cemetery was established sometime after the end of the War of 1812 and before the Civil War. In that cemetery is buried Joshua Briggs, who was one of six new settlers to the area in 1845. Briggs was a veteran of the War of 1812 and his tombstone is visible today.

Briggs was drafted into service in Middlesex, Ontarion Co., New York on or about the fifteenth day of March, 1814 for the term of ten months. After the war he was awarded a land grant for 140 acres. Research by Claudette Darling for the Power House Post in 2012 revealed that information.

In addition to Joshua, his son is also buried there, with the French name of Marquis de la Fayette Briggs. He died at the age of nineteen, and the mystery is not just his youthful death, but how a Michigan-born son of Joshua Briggs would have the French name. Another brother, who was less oddly named William Briggs, joins him in his burial at the frontier grave.

Residents of Rockford can have the privilege of viewing the home originally built by relatives of the lieutenant in charge of the first battle of the ironclads in the Civil War, between the Monitor and the Merrimac.

John Worden, Rear Admiral, United States Navy, was the first prisoner in the Civil War. He was captain of the Monitor, a U.S. ironclad battleship in 1862. One side of Worden’s face was permanently blackened as a result of a shell explosion during the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac.

John Worden was the first prisoner of the Civil War, and had a long and very famous naval career. He was the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy from 1869 to 1874. Worden never lived here but his sisters and father lived here and he visited May 17, 1881 and April 12, 1888, staying at the “Betts House.”

Members of the family built a log cabin at the corner of Myers Lake and Ten Mile in 1847 and in 1853 replaced it with the wood-frame home at 8330 Myers Lake Avenue which still stands today.

Watch future issues of the Squire to find what other mysteries of history are hidden here in plain sight.

About Squire News

The Squire has been Rockford’s free weekly newspaper since 1871. Our loyal readership includes over fifteen thousand homes in the Rockford area, including the affluent Lakes area of Lake Bella Vista, Bostwick Lake and Silver Lake; Belmont, Blythefield, as well as Algoma, Courtland, Cannon and Plainfield Townships. The Squire is distributed through the U.S. Post Office every Thursday. We also deliver to in-town businesses and homes with paper carriers and news stands in our grocery stores and over thirty local shops.
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