Rockford Area Historical Society

Indian chief cemetery mystery solved

September 15, 2011 // 0 Comments

The”mystery body” answer came from the Rockford Area Historical Museum, Pederson Funeral Home’s Dave Pederson and from Rockford’s’ Christine Marcus Stone. Questions of “Who and why?” are the norm as the Rockford Lions Club and the Rockford Garden Club bring this forgotten cemetery back to life. Hidden under brush and undergrowth are long-forgotten, broken and illegible headstones that once meant “the world” to their children and spouses. Stone was the instigator of the reburial of the Grand River Indian Tribe’s Chief Ogema. His skeleton was unearthed in 1974 during the construction of a home on Prospect Hill at the corner of Ramsdell and Ten Mile Road. Turned over to the police, the remains found their way into Pederson’s care after Michigan State University had determined they were of a Native American. Somehow the plans to rebury the chief came to the attention of Stone and she, a Navajo descendent, asked that his spirit be put to rest properly with traditional Native American burial rites. In the dark of the morning on April 30, 1975, Stone, Ross Morgan, a Mohawk, and John Bosin of the Kiowa people gathered in the basement of Pederson Funeral Home and wrapped Chief Ogema in a traditional Native American blanket along with their traditional “medicine.” Dave Pendelton and Father Cusak joined the trio in starting the ceremonial fire and watched as the traditional sunrise burial ceremony took place. Stone remembers her surprise at the large gathering of families and children who rose early on that frosty April morning to be part of this traditional rite. Prominent among the throng were Rockford legend Clarence Blakeslee and Homer Burch, who had both played a major part in the retrieval, burial and placement of the stone honoring Chief Ogema. In the ‘60s, the Daughters of the American Revolution determined that there were 119 graves in the cemetery starting with 1849 and ending in 1926. However, Pederson recalls that, up to about 25 years ago, he had handled the re-interment of three or four more similar Native American remains. So, the questions continue as the work continues to make the cemetery presentable. Perhaps, the biggest question is: “When finished, what do we want it to be?” It’s the community’s treasure. What do you want it […]

City Council reverses decision, gives Historical Society chance to prove finances

July 21, 2011 // 0 Comments

New museum could benefit downtown, community by BETH ALTENA Editor’s note: I apologize this story did not run last week as intended. It was written and sent prior to our printing deadline while I was on vacation in Maine (see pic below right). Unfortunately, it was never received by the staff working hard without me. Next trip we will make sure to bring the entire staff along so communication is improved while on vacation. On Monday, July 11, members of the Rockford City Council apparently reversed an earlier decision turning down a proposal by the Rockford Area Historical Society to open a museum in the former 63rd District Court building. Instead they gave the Society a six-month window to raise half of the funds necessary to renovate the building, located across the parking lot from Rockford City Hall. “Our point all along is give us a shot,” said Historical Society President Terry Konkle. He believes the council may have set a precedent by giving dog park hopefuls a year to fundraise for that project at last month’s meeting. In an after-meeting discussion, Konkle said he felt the Society hadn’t been given a fair chance to present their ideas. They have hired a consultant who has helped other groups, such as the Lowell Historical Society, create museums as well as helped them come up with ways to make the facilities self-sufficient financially. On Monday, May 9, Council felt they should explain their decision regarding the courthouse and a possible museum. Part of the annual budgeting process, just completed by Council, is to make a decision as to what to do with the former court building. One member described the reluctance to approve the Society’s use of the building to that of a bank being asked for a loan. “Council is not in a position to loan money. You are asking for the loan of a building and you need to show you have a plan for that.” Konkle said he heard from members of Council in June that they were interested in meeting with the Society board members, including their consultant, to talk about the project. Konkle, consultant Jerry Adams and others made a presentation Wednesday, June 29, and were asked “a ton of questions,” according […]

Historical Society may have lost bid to move museum

March 3, 2011 // 0 Comments

Two proposals for former court building rejected by BETH ALTENA The Rockford Area Historical Society hired a consultant and had huge plans to relocated their museum, now housed in a 100-plus-year-old building with no running water or fire protection, into the unused portion of the former 63rd District Court building, located across the parking lot from City Hall. A decision by Rockford City Council to reject their proposal stunned the group and has them feeling they were turned down without a proper chance to make their case. Historical Society member Terry Konkle attended the February 14 City Council meeting and talked with Mayor Steve Jazwiec after to ask for the chance to prove to Council the Historical Society could bring in enough money to do a good job setting up and also staffing the museum in the new location. The Historical Society, along with North Kent Community Services, submitted a proposal outlining their intended use of the court and on Friday, Feb. 11 received a letter formally rejecting their proposal. According to Rockford City Manager Michael Young and Mayor Jazwiec, council was unimpressed with the business plan of the proposal and is considering an alternative use for the property. “We have a ton of people who could help us, but we can’t start asking for money when we don’t know if we are going to get the building,” Konkle said. He said he feels council is asking the organization to put the cart before the horse by expecting financial proof before they approve the move. “We’d like a chance to sit down with council and talk about the financials. If we didn’t get a shot at it without talking to council, we’d feel pretty disappointed,” Konkle said to Jazwiec. Jazwiec said council feels they put the offer out, made a decision and are unlikely to want to start over. Young said the council rejected the two proposals and is looking at the cost of upgrading the building to the standards of City Hall. Council plans to reevaluate options to have another public-use building similar to the Community Cabin, which Young said is “booked every day.” Young said as a meeting area, the court building would offer a space twice as big as the Cabin and […]

Seven-season football players, basketball in hold hotel

November 18, 2010 // 0 Comments

Konkle presents history of Rockford athletics by BETH ALTENA Rockford Area Historical Society President Terry Konkle had some surprising facts and tidbits of the early years of the Rockford athletics as he spoke before the Rockford Area Historical Society during the November 4 meeting. Konkle has long been a participant in Rockford sports as coach and said when the district hired the new athletic director Dave Price in 1989, Price challenged all the coaches to improve Rockford’s reputation in athletics. A showcase to highlight athletic accomplishments was part of the plan for a soon-to-be-built new high school and Price asked Konkle to be the one to research the history of Rockford athletic accomplishments. Konkle explained that in researching athletics, there were two avenues to explore: town sports and school sports. Rockford had a town baseball team in 1871 called the Pioneers and, in the 1900s, the town team was called the Redwings. Konkle said he has fruitlessly tried to discover a field in Rockford where the team played, looking over aerial maps and old plat maps, but has been unable to discover its location. “A lot of important games were held at Ramona Field in East Grand Rapids,” Konkle said, noting old-timers will remember the field. The location of the field was about where East Grand Rapids High School’s football field is now. Rockford and Sparta were long-time rivals and in 1911 challenged each other to a five-game baseball series with bragging rights over which town had the best team. The teams were tied at two wins each after four games, but the fourth game which was held in Sparta was declared by Rockford to be flawed. The field they played on had a creek running through it and Rockford claimed the umpire cheated. For the fifth game, the two teams met at a neutral location at Ramona Field. Cuppy Groeschow was umpire and the game was so hotly contested that bets totaled over $2,000. The Sparta team manager bet $500 on his team, and Seymour Hunting, the Rockford team manager, took the bet. E.W. Dickerson, the Grand Rapids Evening News sports editor, took certified checks from each of the men and locked them in a safe. One thousand sixty-three fans came in on train […]

Soldier of War of 1812 honored with gravestone

October 20, 2010 // 0 Comments

Settler cemetery visible from road   One of Rockford’s—then Laphamville—earliest settlers, Joshua Briggs, rested in an unmarked grave for over 100 years before research determined that his grave must lie in the family plot on the grounds of Myrtle Park Crematorium at 9619 Northland Drive. Briggs was recognized in a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 16, surrounded by the aging tombstones of three of his children and their spouses as well as grandchildren. No longer buried in an unmarked grave, the life and death of Briggs is engraved on a new granite marker, which was unveiled during the Saturday ceremony. Briggs was recognized by members of the Rockford Area Historical Society and members of the Daughters of the War of 1812 for his service as a soldier in the two-year war declared June 18, 1812. Without the fame of the Revolutionary War, the historic fight was also between the Americans and the British for our freedom as a country. Battles took place across the United States, off the Atlantic coast and as far away as the Indian Ocean and the coasts of Chili and Africa. Much of the fighting was right here in Michigan, in the Great Lakes and forts of Detroit and Mackinac/Michilimackinac. “Many people don’t know about the War of 1812,” said historian Claudette Darling, who discovered the location of Briggs’ remains through research. Darling said she and other members of the Daughters of the War of 1812 found Briggs and many other veterans buried in Michigan, whose graves were unknown or unmarked. She said a book published in the 1960s on soldiers buried in Michigan had many errors or omissions. In honor of the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the war, the Michigan chapter of the organization hopes to prepare and publish a more complete volume on Michigan’s veterans of the war. Over 3,500 soldiers just from Michigan alone fought in the war. Jim Kornoelji purchased property, which was part of the original Briggs homestead about 15 years ago. At that time the family burial plot was overgrown, although the stones could be glimpsed through the grass by drivers on Northland Drive. Darling said Kornoelji told her he had an archeologist examine the property to make sure the building foundation and parking […]

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