Barry County, Michigan
Letters, Diaries & Stories

-1887 letter from Barry County, Michigan
postmarked NASHVILLE MICH OCT 24 and addressed to Mrs. Lewis McCrea, Webster, Ohio (Dark Co)

Sojourn in Carlton Center by Stewart Cain, February 1986
The Little Thornapple River slides under the road bridge in Carlton Center and snakes to the Thornapple which flows to the Grand which empties into Lake Michigan that laps the shore of Illinois a few miles from where this typewriter is clicking.

Some two hundred feet north of the bridge, on the river's east side I was born in a still-there small frame house on June 6 in 1906 (6-6-6), to Theron Allo Cain (1879-1972) and Mary Usborne Cain (1881-1948). Their first child, we moved to Hastings that fall, to a rented house at the north-east or entrance corner of the Barry County fair grounds, close to the Grand Rapids Bookcase Company factory where Dad was foreman of the finishing room.

Dad had come to Carlton Center in Michigan's Barry County in 1884 from the equally small village of Carlton in Upstate New York, close to Lake Ontario, with his parents, Lymon Dillazon Cain and Sarah Shorten Cain, to live in a typical two-story frame house west of the river. They had been attracted to the area by Washington "Wash" Cain, Lymon's brother, who had taken up a tract of land east of Carlton Center. Lymon, always known as "Dill", was a house painter all his active life.

Dad spent all his early life in Carlton Center, with his brothers Clarence and Dorr, and sisters Gazella and Stella. While he was still a small kid, a church was built close to their house. As the steeple was finished, a haul rope was tied to Dad and he was pulled to the high-up cross, a thrill he never forgot. Once, as a small kid, he was in Hastings with his father and saw the foundation being installed for the Barry County courthouse, the stones being broken and shaped by man-powered sledge hammers. The Civil War monument, already installed nearby, was never fully paid for, the story went.

With oxen and horses for transportation, Carlton Center was in fact a commercial center, with education and religion added on. The general store came first. Owned-operated by Bill McCally, it sold a variety of goods and foods, and was an impromptu gathering spot, with a pot-bellied stove in cold months. Dad "grew up" there and told stories of the place. 

It was a blustery cold day. Mrs. Bagley, a stooped old woman came in, a burlap sack over her shoulder. She purchased a load of groceries and had them "put on my bill." When she left, trudging to her cottage through the snow, a man said to Bill McCally, "There goes your money. Why'd you do it?" Said McCally, "I wish I could depend as much on you. I'll get every cent." And the day a big man drove Dad, a kid, away from the heating stove. His dad, my grandfather Dill, yanked off his coat, ready to thrash the big guy who backed away to the front door.

School--A one-room, one teacher building across the road from the store, looking north down a dirt road into hardwood forest country; today Usborne Road. The school's "kids" were from six up into the twenties, attending only when farm work permitted, not in planting/harvest seasons. The teacher, always a robust male, taught the three Rs with determination and discipline - and a wide leather pants belt. Here Dad met Mother. "The best thing I ever did in my life, when I asked her if I could walk home with her," he related to me some fifty years later. That was about 1901; they married in 1904.

There were two Protestant churches. The nearest Catholic was in Hastings. One I have mentioned, where Dad was pulled to the cross. The second was across from the store, east. In fact, the road was a T at this point, not a I or a +. Today, the second church has been taken to Barry County's Charlton Park, an ever reminder of early days in now no-store, no-school Carlton Center.

Mother? She was born and raised in Michigan's town of Shelby, on her parents' fruit farm north of Grand Rapids. In 1895 her parents, John Usborne I and Emily Burden Usborne, purchased and moved to a farm about a mile north-west from Carlton Center Retired from the farm about 1914, they lived in a house on the north side of Hastings (still there) where John died in 1919; Emily in 1920 at the home of her son William/Laura in Grand Rapids. They are buried in Hastings' Riverside Cemetery; on the same lot as Maty (1948) and Theron (1972), my mother and father. As indicated before, Dad and Mother met at the Carlton Center school.

Largely, Dad worked as a painter with his father, and as a day farm hand about the village. It was probably in the fall of 1900 or 1901 that things changed. Mother was Dad's girlfriend. He was calling on her at the farm home. He and her brother William were hand cutting corn in a field by the village, likely as dollar-a-day hands. As Dad related it to me, "We were fed up." They decided to quit. They did. 

William went to Grand Rapids, eventually to become a career United States Post Office employee to retirement, living with wife Laura Harrison Usborne at 848 Geneva Avenue; three children blessed their marriage. Dad went to Hastings and the Grand Rapids Bookcase Company, where he became finishing room foreman, quitting about 1908 to become a farmer, to retirement in Hastings in 1950; Mother had died in 1948. They had three children.

The Usborne farm was largely a happy farm. The Usbornes were quiet, friendly, warm, generous people. John and Emily farmed their acres and reaped their crops. Their children--Bertha, who died at birth in New York state; Theron, the next oldest, who married and remained in Shelby when they moved to Barry County; Alexander, Lafayette, William, Mercy and Mary, and John.

Life goes on. Years gave way to years. Came 1904. On October 5, there was a double wedding at the farm--Mary Usborne and Theron Cain; John Usborne and Elma Verdie Knowles. The Theron/Mary first home was the cottage beside the Little Thornapple River in Carlton Center, where I was born; John-Verdie's a farm a mile north of Carlton Center, where they lived their entire lives.

Lafayette "Lafee" Usborne married Achsa Eisenhood. In his youth, Lafe was known at home as "Deacon," for, like his dad, he had a warm, kind heart, but a seldom smiling face. When his parents left the farm, he and Achsa remained for the balance of their lives. The greatest tragedy of their lives was the death about 1917 of their son Tom, a fine young man and student at Hastings High School - poliomyelitis, "polio". I contracted the disease a year later, but largely recovered.

Today the John/Elma Verdie Usborne farm north of Carlton Center is occupied by their son John III and his wife Betty, and their son John IV, unmarried. Carlton Center is there, a square at Usborne and Carlton Center Roads on Michigan's Barry County maps. Gone are the Cains and Usbornes of the 1890s, gone with the westward breezes that brush the waters of the Little Thornapple River.

Copyrighted 1986 The Stewart Cain Family
written by Stewart Cain February 1986
Submitted for use by the USGenWeb Barry County, MI webpage
by Bruce & Debbie Eddy September 2002

Stewart D. Cain, a resident of Glen Ellyn since 1949, died Aug. 15, 2002, at his home at the age of 96. He was born June 6, 1906, in Carlton Center, MI. He attended school in Hastings, Mich., and received his Bachelorís degree from Michigan State University. Mr. Cain did his graduate work at the Social Work School at the University of Chicago and retired from the Skokie Valley United Way as executive director in 1972. His wife Grace (Watkins) Cain has generously shared her husband's family story with us. Thank You, Grace! 

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