Friday, April 11, 2008

Harlan Page Colby

Harlan Page Colby was born November 14, 1841 in Haverhill, Grafton County, New Hampshire, the son of Luther (1804-1884) and Hannah R. (Page, 1805-1870).

Luther and Hannah were married in October of 1827 in Hebron, New Hampshire (Hannah’s hometown) and they resided in Hebron for several years. By 1830 they were living in Haverhill and 1836 they were in Bow, Merrimack County, New Hampshire. By 1839 they had returned to Haverhill, New Hampshire where they were still living in 1840 and 1841.

In 1853 Harlan’s family moved from New Hampshire to Grand Rapids, and two years later, while attending high school in 1855, Harlan wrote the following “Description of Grand Rapids”.

He first listed the faculty, “E. W. Chesebro, principal; George Chesebro, assistant; Miss Winslow, Recitation rooms; and Miss E. Snow.” He then briefly outlined a history of Grand Rapids: “the County seat of Kent co., lies on [the] Grand River, about forty miles above the confluence with the water of Lake Michigan. The different parts of the town are connected by a bridge, some 900 feet long. Till the year 1831, the site which the city now occupies, was an unbroken wilderness inhabited only by the red men of the forest. In that year, a few French families leave out from the eastern part of the state, and commencing a settlement, laid the foundation of a city destined at no distant day, to become second to none in Michigan.” He continued,

Up to the year 1836, the population increased very slowly, consisting at that time, of about a dozen families. Actuated by a spirit of speculation, this year beheld a large addition to the number of inhabitants, many of whom found to their sorrow and great disappointment that ‘all is not gold that glitters’, that paper cities require a great deal of hard work before they become cities in reality. From that time till the present, it has steadily advanced in size and prosperity, numbering last year [1854] about 6,000 souls. The city received its charter in 1800 [?], the first mayor being the late H. R. Williams, succeeded by R. W. Cole, W. H. Withey, T. B. Church, and W. D. foster. There are five wards each of which is entitled to one alderman. The people are generally emigrants [sic] from the east, the natives coming from New England, New York and Ohio, the foreigners from Ireland and Holland. composed of such discordant materials, society presents a very different appearance from that found in older settled countries [counties] at the east[ern end of the state]. A stranger would find a great want of social feeling absorbable everywhere in communities composed of less antagonistic elements. The site of the city comprises four square miles, lying the one half in the Township of Grand Rapids, and the remaining . . . in the Township of Walker. The ground upon which the city is built is very uneven, being composed of sand bluffs, excepting a narrow strip along the river which is interspersed with swamps, and cut up by ravines and water courses. Although the situation of the town is so unpromising in this particular yet in consequence of its contiguity to an excellent water power, property commands a very high price. Within the bounds of the city the river falls about 19 feet affording mill privileges scarcely inferior to the Genesee at Rochester. Within the limits of the corporation there are 25 machine shops and mills driven principally by water which is directed from its course by a dam thrown across the river and a canal which conducts the water to points where it can be conveniently used.

To show the size of and importance of the town, it may be proper to give the following statistics:6 Hardware stores, 15 dry goods stores, 8 clothing stores, 4 hat and cap stores, 4 furniture stores, 1 curiosity shops, 6 drug stores, 4 book stores, 30 groceries, 5 meat markets; 2 baker shops, 9 wheel wrights, 1 confectionery, 3 engine companies, 3 engines, 1 hose company, 150 firemen, 8 hotels, 4 liveries, 6 steamboats, 8 barges and tows, 4 saddle & harness shops, 8 shoe shops, 100 streets, 4 jewelry stores, 2 printing offices, 4 private schools, 3 public schools, 12 physicians, 23 lawyers, 8 clergymen.

In the number and character of its professional men, Grand Rapids stands proudly prominent. Our physicians are polite, attentive and skillful, one dosing you allepathecally another hydropathecally and a third homeopathecally, while each attempts to convince you that he is not treating you hobbypathecally.

The legal fraternity ranks among its members some of the ablest men of the state, men distinguished for learning and patriotism, men who would do honor to any profession in any country. Nor are the clergy less noted for piety than the lawyers for patriotism. A band of men more devoted to the interests of those over whom it is their duty to watch, cannot be found. “Go search the land of living men, where will you find their like again?”

The churches are distributed among the different denominations as follows: 1. Episcopal - Rev. Dr. Cuming - 400 members; 2. Congregational - Rev. Mr. Hammond - 184 members; 3. Second Congregational - Rev. Mr. Ballard ; 4. Catholic - Rev. Mr. Van Pelmel; Catholic - Rev. Mr. Van Erb - 150 families; 5. Methodist - Rev. Mr. Tappes - 250 families; 6. Baptist - Rev Mr. Prescott - 108 families; 7. Dutch Reformed - Rev. Mr. Klyme. The Episcopal which is the largest and most costly in the city, is built of limestone taken from the bed of the river just below the dam, as are also the Catholic and Old Dutch churches. The new Dutch edifice is of brick while the Congregational, Methodist and Baptist houses are of wood.

The County jail and an old building used sometimes as a church, and sometimes as a court-house, are situated on the west side of the river. Although Grand Rapids is of such recent origin, yet its founders have neglected no effort to secure to their children the blessings arising from a good education. The greater part of the city limits [is] divided into two school districts, the one lying on the east side and the other on the west side of the river. The Union school on the east side of the river is situated on the summit of one of the noble hills which environ the city, and commands an extensive view of the delightful plains and hillsides forming the Grand River valley. Its dimensions are 64 by 44 feet, three stories in height, and surmounted by a cupola from which may be had a most delightful view of the city and surrounding country. This cupola also contains a bell which chimes most disagreeably upon the ear of the tardy schoolboys as “With sachel and shining morning face he creeps like a snail, unwillingly to school” In all its interior arrangements and Divisions, excepting its desks which are an instrument of barbarism yet most excruciating to the luckless scholar who is obliged to be jammed down to them all day, it [is] well adapted to the purpose for which it is designed. There are three large study rooms, six smaller recitation rooms, and two rooms the one used as a dressing room by the girls, and the other as a library and apparatus room.

The city library comprising about 150 volumes and the mineralogical cabinet of the Grand Rapids Lyceum of Natural History, now in process of being collected, are kept here. The “Faculty” consists of eight female and two male teachers. The school is divided into three departments, in the first of which are taught the alphabet, Reading, Arithmetical Tables, and Primary Geography. In the second department, Spelling, Reading, Writing, mental and written Arithmetic and Geography. In the third department are taught all the [disciplines] commonly [taught] in Union schools. In summing up the character of the school, we may say that the buildings are substantial, its Divisions good, its internal fixtures decidedly bad, and its teachings such as might be vastly improved did not a perverted public taste prevent a more strict and energetic government.

The school on the west side of the river is in a very flourishing condition under Mr. Milton S. Littlefield formerly of Syracuse, New York assisted by Misses Hyde and Chubb. It numbers about 100 pupils with a list constantly [changing] . The old hovel now occupied by this school might be supplanted during the coming summer, by a neat brick building, 40 by 70 feet, and two stories in height. “A consummation most devoutly to be wished”. We can but wish them God-speed.

Situated in the midst of a fertile and rapidly populating country, remote from all other cities and large villages, cozily nestled in the Grand River Valley, secure from the chilling blasts which howl with such relentless fury across the great part of the western country, possessing a water power unrivaled in the state, and enjoying a locality healthy to a proverb, Grand Rapids bid fair, ere long, to become the first, as it is now the second town in Michigan. What shall prevent her? We may confidently assert that it will not be far lack of superior advantages for she possesses them; it will not be on account of the envy or jealousy of her sister towns or villages in other parts of the state, for she has the power to render herself independent in a great measure of them all, but it will be on account of that excessive greed, that ardent desire, that burning thirst for riches which would bring down the golden shower like an avalanche from the mountain regardless of its blighting effects upon all the finer feelings of the soul. May the time be far distant when our citizens shall loose [sic] their public spirit in the inordinate love of self, when they shall clutch for the dross that perisheth unmindful of the privileges of their social position. May Grand Rapids be carried forward on the swelling tide of prosperity, retaining ever a safe pilotage in the intelligence and virtue of her citizens, till she changes her anchorage from the “Valley City” to the “Empire city” of Michigan.

In 1859-60 Harlan was living with his family on the west side of Barclay between Bridge and Bronson (now Michigan) Streets, and by 1860 he was attending school and living with his family in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward where his father was a bridge builder. In early 1861 he may have joined the Valley City Guard, the prewar Grand Rapids militia company whose members would form the nucleus of Company A.

More likely, however, he was a member of the Grand Rapids “Greys”, which also included Hobart Chipman who would join the Third Michigan Band. Indeed, according to a roster published in the Grand Rapids Democrat on August 28, 1891, Harlan was one of the original members of the Grand Rapids “Greys”, a small select militia company in Grand Rapids established in May of 1861. According former “Grey” member, Joseph Herkner, “A large number of boys like myself belonged to the Valley City Guard when the war broke out and our parents made such a fuss about our going to the front that we did not go when the other members went out” with the VCG, which became Company A of the Third Michigan infantry. “The first call,” continued Herkner, “disorganized the company and those of us who were left conceived the idea of organizing another company for mutual instruction in the tactics so that in case we were to go to the front we would know something besides how to shoulder a musket. The result was the founding of the Greys.”

Harlan stood 5’10” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was 19 years old and probably still living with his family in Grand Rapids when he enlisted with his parents’ consent as First Corporal in Company A on May 13, 1861, but was soon transferred to the Band. He was discharged on November 15, 1861 for aphonia (loss of voice) at Fort Lyon, Virginia.

He returned to Grand Rapids where he was living when he married New York native Maggie M. Spraker (1845-1928) on July 5, 1862 in Grand Rapids; they had one child: Harry L. (1864-1936).

Harlan reentered the service as a Private in Company F, Thirtieth Michigan infantry on December 15, 1864 at Grand Rapids for one year, and was mustered the same day, crediting Leroy, Oceana County. The regiment was organized for 12 months’ service and was mustered into service on January 9. It was engaged in frontier duty along the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers until June. In May of 1865 Harlan was promoted to First Sergeant, and then to Quartermaster Sergeant replacing Sergeant Wiredon. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on June 5, 1865, but was never mustered as such, and was mustered out of service with the regiment on June 30, 1865 at Detroit.

After his discharge from the army Harlan returned to Grand Rapids and according to one report, by early July of 1865 was working as a local musician. According to the Grand Rapids Eagle of July 3, Colby, who had just returned home, “plays a huge brass horn, in the Grand Rapids Band.” He also became involved in the local militia movement and in 1866 he was serving as First Lieutenant in command of the Valley City Zouaves. In fact, Harlan would spend the remainder of his life in Grand Rapids. According to Albert Baxter's exhaustive history of Grand Rapids, in 1865 Harlan, along with James McKee, started a carriage factory, and on “October 1, 1867, Arthur Wood was induced to purchase the McKee interest in the business of Colby, Sons & co. and the firm was changed to Colby, Wood & Co.” On “February 1, 1868 Mr. Wood bought out the other partners. . . .”

According to the Grand Rapids City Directory in 1867-68 Harlan was working for Colby, Wood & co. (Luther and Harlan Colby and Arthur Wood), carriage makers, located on the west side of Waterloo at the foot of Ferry Street, and he was residing at no. 8 Barclay. In 1870 he was working as a wagon-maker and living with his wife and son in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward; at some point he was living at 90 Coit Avenue. He served as Superintendent of the old Masonic Home on Reed’s Lake before it burned down, and was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association.

In 1861 he applied for and received a pension (no. 12080).

Harlan died of myocarditis on Thursday, January 15, 1925 at his home at 643 South Division in Grand Rapids, and his funeral services were held on Monday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. at the Masonic temple. He was buried in Oak Hill (North) cemetery: section 10, lot no. 102.

The week after Harlan died his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 958278).

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