Archived Story

Marcellus columnist mentions Dowagiac

Published 10:01pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recently a good friend of mine, Helen Leich, lent me a book of hers to read.
It was a lot of columns written by Byron C. Hibbard who, like me, wrote for the Marcellus paper.
His column was called Village Affairs in 1960 and he changed it to Weekly Affairs in 1963. He was a great writer, in my opinion.
As I read his 281-page book, I came to things of interest when he mentioned Dowagiac and other locals, so I took a lot of notes and here are some of them.
He mentioned he had ridden on the old stage from Dowagiac to Cassopolis.
I found this of interest as my great-granddad, William LaPorte, and my granddad, Johnson LaPorte, both owned this stage, called the Cannon Ball Express. I wrote about it in my book years ago.
Mr. Hibbard went on to say that in the summer the windows were open in good weather and everybody had a leisurely conversation and with the driver. He also mentioned that people in those days worked hard for the business and the stage driver was no exception.
If you notified him in advance you planned to leave on his stage, he would drive around and pick you up at home, then take you to where you wanted to go at the other end of the line.
My mother, who was born in 1891, used to tell me how she used to ride with her dad as a little girl sometimes, and how he used to do errands for folks on his drive to Cass. Boy, try getting that kind of service these days.
In 1881, Horace Colby, owner of the Colby Milling Co. of Dowagiac, erected a building for the Marcellus Milling Co., as Mr. Colby thought Marcellus was a good place to expand.
Mr. Colby placed his son-in-law, Joseph Serle, in charge of the mill in Marcellus and he operated it successfully for many years. This mill was run by a steam-powered roller mill in 1880-81 by Mr. Colby.
Something of interest that during World War I under Hoover’s administration rule, every housewife was required to buy five pounds of bran and five pounds of whole wheat with every 25-pound sack of white flour she bought at one time.
On the south branch of the Dowagiac Creek from Nicholsville to Dowagiac — about 14 miles as the crow flies — there were at least nine dams used for various purposes, to show how powerful water is.
You could take a stout and tight wooden barrel. Ream out the bung to the size of a standard piece of any size pipe and thread it. Then insert a threaded piece of pipe into the bung and place the barrel and pipe upright. Pour water into the pipe until the barrel is full and the water starts climbing the pipe. It won’t take too many feet before the barrel bursts. The pipe may be small and there may be not much water in it, but it will burst the staves out of any barrel. It makes one wonder how just water could run heavy machinery, doesn’t it?

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City. E-mail him at

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