Many who rest in Silverbrook left monuments Niles treasures today

Published 1:12 pm Friday, June 29, 2007

By Staff
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.
NILES – Of the more than 25,000 buried in Silverbrook Cemetery, several have left "monuments" to their community.
Among the Niles' treasures secured for us by our ancestors, now resting in Silverbrook, are Island Park, the boulder which marks the place of Fort Saint Joseph, the Cross of Father Allouez and the former "Castle Rest" mansion, once located on the spot now occupied by Lakeland "Pawating" Hospital.
The Woman's Progressive League of Niles played a large role in the community since its founding in 1912. The first president and one of its organizing members was Mrs. W. W. (Adeline) Dresden.
"Since the removal of the family from Chicago to Niles, in 1903, Mrs. Dresden has taken an active part in the city, church, and club affairs, aiding every movement for the uplift, pleasure, improvement, and betterment of the community. Her home, 'Castle Rest,' was constantly the scene of gracious hospitality, its doors being open alike to private and public entertainment. The city's interests were close to her heart and it was largely through her zeal and interest, that the Woman's Progressive League, to which most of the women of the city and vicinity belong, was organized," an article from the Jan. 22, 1915, issue of the Niles Daily Star said.
The article continues to speak of Island Park:
"Her name will always be associated with 'Island Park,' for the acquisition of which she worked zealously, and in addition donated a strip along the river, opposite the park, for the use of the people."
The property now known as Island Park was said, at the time of its sale, to have been "located, June 25, 1851, by Abraham Edwards. The title has been transferred regularly several times and is familiarly known as Castor's island. For several years it has been assessed to Laura Gallup at $30, with taxes amounting to 36 cents per year."
It was from Mrs. Gallup, that the League purchased the property for $525 according to the Star article of Oct. 10, 1912.
The deed specified that the island shall not be used for any purpose other than a public park or playground. It was converted into Niles first public park.
According to the 1912 article, "Mayor Smith appointed a park commission to represent the city. On this board are F. J. Plym, W. W. Dresden and Lt. Roy Latham."
The bridge to the island park, cost more than the land itself – $600.
The cross for Father Jean Claude Allouez
Another local landmark indebted to the Woman's Progressive League for our enjoyment today is Fort Saint Joseph and the cross dedicated to the life of Father Jean Claude Allouez.
While there is some discrepancy as to whether his given names were ordered as Jean Claude as in the history of the area, or Claude Jean as is imprinted on the plaque located on the base of the cross, there is no doubt of his role in the area.
Father Allouez came to the mid-west from France with the first Jesuit priests bringing Catholicism to the area in the 1680s. The plaque suggests he died near the site of Fort Saint Joseph on Aug. 27, 1689.
The League erected the cross to his memory in 1916.
The Father's name was not the only confusion of the day. Some years earlier, historians had confused Fort Saint Joseph with LaSalle's Fort Miami and assumed both colonial French forts had stood in Saint Joseph.
"By the turn of the century, however, more careful research had documented the fact that Fort Saint Joseph had actually been located on the west edge of Niles," an entry in the book, Historical Sketches of Berrien County said.
The article chronicles the coming of the Fort Saint Joseph Boulder to its final resting spot at the site.
"In 1910, some of the leading citizens of town decided that the fort site ought to be marked by a monument. They organized the Fort Saint Joseph Historical Society and began a long search to find a suitable stone, culminating in the discovery of a large rock in some swampland owned by a farmer named Peter Malone."
The article goes on to detail the contracting of a South Bend firm to do the lugging of the stone to the site. It seems that no one had realized "the rock was something like an iceberg-only the very tip was visible. When it was finally dug out in 1912, what had at first appeared to be a modest-sized stone turned out to be a seven-ton boulder about 11 feet in diameter."
The historians had originally budgeted $400 for the project, the final cost of which was nearly $1,050. However, school children donated a nickel and their efforts along with donated by local citizens and businessmen the needed funds were raised.
A dedication of the Fort Saint Joseph Boulder was held July 4, 1913. It rests on its foundation near the corner of Bond and Fort streets.
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, or contact Ginny Tyler at 684-3687,