Archived Story

Cardinal Charlie: Fitch fortune came from railroad

Published 2:28pm Friday, March 22, 2013

Carson Minshall said his dad had a neighbor poorer than Job’s turkey.
He was Root Fitch. He discovered he was the last of the Fitches who built the Fitchburg railroad and for whom Fitchburg, Mass., was named.
Root got $1.5 million on a first settlement. When the older Fitch died, E. Root got $2 million plus.
A lady named Bessie sought him out, married him and helped him spend his money.
They moved to a big house corner of Green and Spruce in Dowagiac. Bessie liked to entertain.
Chief entertainers were the Bakemans. Wilma gave vocal and piano lessons. Cart was one of her failures.
He said Paul never had a job but working for the Fitches. He presided at all her functions and was known to help lace up Bessie’s corset. Paul was a fine vocalist.
Bessie had a son involved in airports. There is a connection with Fitch Beach Airport in Charlotte.
Root bought the Bakeman farm at Cable Lake and started a foundation which turned into a day camp administered by the school system.
Charley Canfield and Skipper Dorgan ran the camp.
Pat Zellner, Lisle “Boog” Borders and Bruce Beidler worked there.
Cart said he taught Arlene Jones how to swim when he worked there.
Ray Long and Francis lived on High Street. Ray was disabled. Cart’s dad used to sit with Ray and do small maintenance. Francis took good care of Ray. After he died, she remarried and moved to Decatur (Francis was a supervisor at Heddon’s when I was there and her new husband, Tom, used to pick up liquor for the vets club in Decatur).
Cart said E. Root was paid out of a pool. When he died, income stopped. Bessie didn’t adjust her lifestyle. Lawyers and the IRS got most of the money. She died in debt.
Cart said he and his folks used to angle park downtown and watch all the dummies walk by. An hour later, Cart’s dad said it’s our turn to entertain the other dummies.
Cart recalls Gov. Lauren Dickson talking at the high school when Jim Lewis was superintendent.
Cart said Gov. Kim Sigler worked in the same building where he did. Soapy (G. Mennen Williams) was governor at the time. Soapy wouldn’t live in the mansion, but lived at his mother’s house four blocks from the Capitol and walked to work most days, chatting with folks and driving his bodyguard nuts.
Once, in a parade, Gov. George Romney rode in an open convertible, jumped out and asked Cart’s 3-year-old girl to walk with him. She did and he carried her part way.
Cart and his wife stopped to see the priest of their church and were invited to meet her brother, who was Jim Blanchard, who became a Michigan governor.
When in school, Cart worked for Miller Jones shoe store and made 25 cents an hour. It was next to the drug store on Front Street.
Dale and Dorothy were the managers. Dale was told by his doctor he could have one beer a day. Dale figured two quarts at once was one beer a day.
When our “big storm” came, a metal stand of shoes went sailing down the sidewalk.
He said at the rear of the store was a small balcony 10 feet above ground. It faced Dr. Loupee’s office. Cart got there just in time to see the huge elm tree fall on the office (I sure can recall the storm he talks about).
Russ Forest was owned by Michigan State University and managed by Dutch Robinson, a chum of Cart’s dad.
When they moved in they found several thousand dollars in a mattress and another several in a grandfather’s clock.
He only got a handshake for his thanks. Cart had a permit to hunt the forest.

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

By using this website’s user-contribution features, including comments, photo galleries, or any other feature, you agree to abide by the terms of use. Please read this agreement in its entirety because it contains useful information that will help you better understand the rules and general "good manners" that are expected when contributing content to this website.

Editor's Picks