A legacy of goodness and landPublished 5:00am Saturday, September 5, 2009
Part of a continuing series on Niles’ historic Silverbrook Cemetery, provided by Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery, a group working to preserve and restore the cemetery.
If anyone tries to tell you the family farm industry is dead; go ask the descendants of George and Margaret (Johnson) Foster. They have another story to tell.
This patriarch of a local farm family came to this country from County Down, Ireland at the age of 12 and with his family settled first in Richmond, Ind., later moving to Niles Township.
It was here he met and married the daughter of one of Berrien County’s pioneer farm families headed by John Johnson. The newlyweds settled on what was known as section 9 of the township.
When they moved to live their senior years in the city of Niles, their son, also George, took over the operation of the farm homestead. George Jr. was born on the farm May 3, 1860, fifth in a family of six children.
He was raised there attending district schools and spending his summers learning the family business as had his older brothers before him. In the History of Berrien County, Judge Orville Coolidge writes: “he also had the further advantage of instruction in the St. Joseph Valley schools and during the periods of vacation he worked in the fields, assisting in the labors of the home farm, his efforts being a valuable element in care and cultivation of the property which is now well improved and valuable.”
Foster married Nellie Clark, a daughter of Sidney and Alice (Vanderburg) Clark on Dec.18, 1889. She had also lived her life in Niles Township attending many of the same district schools.
He brought his bride to the family homestead, with its 200, well-cultivated acres. Foster was also a very good businessman. He became the local agent for the Dodd & Struthers Lightning Rod Company, which was headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa.
Foster was described as being an active member of the Democratic party and was a “prominent Mason of Niles” belonging to the Knights of Pythias fraternity, the Knights of the Maccabees and the Masonic Lodge. For two years he served as the treasurer of Niles Township.
Coolidge found much to admire in the farmer: ” No trust reposed in him has ever been betrayed in the slightest degree. He is loyal to the precepts which develop honorable manhood and patriotic citizenship and is well known in the county where he has spent his entire life and where he has so lived as to gain the uniform confidence of his fellowmen.
Could it be that it is those values that led the family farm to grow and saw many future generations continue this dedication to the land and county? A look at two of patriarch George’s older brothers would suggest this is true.
Robert Foster was the second of George and Margaret’s children. In Portrait and Biographical Record of Berrien and Cass Counties, he is described as having “the characteristics of industry and economy that had marked his ancestors…”
In 1887 at 27, he married “Miss Burke who was also a product of Michigan soil, her birth occurring in Berrien Township county. Her parents were early settlers of the county and for many years were honored of the same.”
The Robert Fosters had two children and he was also described as one of the prominent farmers of the township with 240 acres of “excellent land” where in addition to the cultivation of crops he added the raising of livestock.
John J. Foster is noted as the fourth child and second son of George and Margaret. He was educated, as were the rest of the family, in district schools and worked on the family farm until he was 26 years old. He became involved in butchering one summer, perhaps with brother Robert’s livestock?
He first bought a 140 acre tract of land in section 10 of Niles Township, on which he worked and lived until trading it for a farm he developed into 263 acres and also purchased another farm, in Berrien Township. He eventually traded the Berrien Township property for 160 acres of section 15 in Niles Township.
With 420 acres to care for, Foster leased out some of his land and concentrated some of his own efforts on specializing in raising his own livestock. Again it is not only his husbandry skills that made John notable.
History states “He has been very successful and all that he possesses has been acquired through his unfaltering labor. He has indeed been a hard working man and his life demonstrates that energy will unlock the portals of success.’
The article continues: “He has aided in making the county what it is today … he has justly won the somewhat hackneyed but ever expressive title of a ‘self-made man’ and his life has been an exemplification of the fact that success comes as the legitimate result of perseverance, energy and industry.”
“Self-made?” Or was the commitment to farm and family bred in the bone?
A suggestion that the strong family values are what has led to the family business’ continued prosperity and contribution to this area even to this day we think is tenable.
One of George and Margaret’s daughters married Edgar L Snuff who was himself a dedicated farmer here, owning 120 acres in section 10 and 40 acres in section 1 of Niles Township. He was a member of the board of trustees of Morris Chapel.
His obituary said that as a representative to a Sunday School convention in Berrien Springs, he was impressed by how “God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform” remarking on the vision it instilled for a higher and better life.
Palls bearers to Snuff’s burial in Silverbrook included a Fred and Ray Foster.
Current connections to this historic farm family lead to the Teichman farm, known for its annual cherry pit spitting contest that draws worldwide interest.
So to those who dare to suggest that farming is not a huge part of our heritage and continued legacy, look to the farms that still cover the landscape along M140. George and Margaret’s descendants still work the fields and make us proud. They have been performing their wonders steadily and quietly for decades.
For more information on Friends of Silverbrook with regards to memberships and work days to help restore and catalog the monuments contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Ginny Tyler at 445-0997, SPHINX1974@aol.com.