This letter from John Richard "Dick" Sinclair to his brother William D. Sinclair recalls the history of the Sinclair family from the time it arrived in Midland, Michigan, marked in yellow in the inset map of Michigan below and in the overview map of the United States. Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes - Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior - which divide it into the spike-shaped Upper Peninsula and its mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula.


Dear Bill,

       I mentioned in your office the other day that I have been trying over the last year or two to get from Uncle Harry what he knows about the Sinclair family in Midland County. All of my talks with him are on cassettes. The following (except for the last five paragraphs) is a distillation of those talks, although you must remember that at his age memory can be inexact. Harry D. Sinclair is the last living child of David Lowrie Sinclair and Harriet McRae. HDS was the fifth child. The others, in order of appearance, were: Alice (1882-1978); Anna (1884-1924); Blanche (1888-1975); John L. (1890-1966); and HDS (1896).

       David Lowrie Sinclair (Lo) came to Midland County in 1865 from Dover, Maine. He was 20 years old. Lo had tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War (the secesh call it the war Between the States) but was turned away as too young. After he arrived in Midland, probably the city) he sought a job in the lumber camps. The people in Saginaw, to whom he had applied, told him the lumber camps were not operating since it was spring. Instead the Saginaw people offered Lo a job hauling supplies across Houghton Lake from West to East. These were lumber camp supplies. Lo took the job and worked at it for a couple of summers. During the winters he got jobs in the lumber camps. Lo was probably an experienced seaman from youthful days spent on the water around Mount Desert Island in Maine. (Mount Desert Island is the location of fashionable Bar Harbor. The writer has "birded" in this area and can vouch to its beauty).

       Later on Lo went to work for Sam Sias as a bookkeeper in the various camps that Sam was working. Sam couldn't read nor write. Lo could; so Lo kept the books. Sam Sias married Lo's sister Mary who had come to Midland County from Maine with her parents and brothers and sisters. By way of explanation Lo had gone back to Maine after spending a few years in Midland County. He induced his whole family to return to Midland County with him. The family of Lo included parents Ahira and Harriet (Bartlett); Mary (who, as noted before, married Sam Sias); Charles W.; Oriel; Anna; and Elizabeth. HDS thinks there were two other girls but so far we have not established their existence.

       HDS told me a story about Charles W. which bears repeating. It seems that Charles W. performed guard duty at Fort Wayne (Wayne County) during the Civil War. One night Charles W. went to relieve the guard on duty. The wind was blowing in the face of Charles W. so that when he shouted at the guard on duty his voice did not carry. So when Charles W. (he was known as Bill) came up in back of the guard on duty the latter spun around and shot Bill in the leg. Bill got a pension for this which set him up for life as a gentleman farmer. HDS says that Bill owned a farm at the confluence of the Pine and Chippewa Rivers in Midland County. The home is gone now; the land is owned by the Chippewa Nature Center which has constructed a log house about where Bill's home sat. I asked HDS if Bill ever did any farming. HDS said that Bill grew strawberries which for some strange reason he sold in Saginaw. (HDS said that Bill took the strawberries to Saginaw in a "democrat" wagon. Yes, the writer asked HDS what a democrat wagon was; but the writer didn't comprehend the answer.) Bill also raised sheep on the meadow across the Pine River from his residence. I gather from HDS, however, that Bill did not exert himself at farming.

       Getting back to Lo, he worked for Sam Sias for several years in the lumber camps. One of Sam's daughters (Ella) married a Sam McCravy (McReavey?). The latter Sam seems to have ousted Lo from the job as bookkeeper. Lo told Sam Mccravy that he, Sam, would regret joining up with Sam Sias. But the caution went unheeded. Sam Sias ultimately went bankrupt owing Lo something like $3,500. Lo last worked in Sam Sias's lumber camp at Highwood. (The writer is still searching maps for Highwood and is not certain yet of the correct spelling for that piece of forest.)

       After his association with Sam Sias ended Lo took over supervision of the County Poor Farm. This would have been about 1906. Lo supervised the County Poor Farm for about five years. I assume that all of Lo's children - Alice, Anna, Blanche, John and HDS - spent some of their youth at the Farm.

       Than Lo left the Farm and did some work for The Dow Chemical Company. He would have been 65 or 66 at this time. He moved his family to the City of Midland where they all lived on the corner of Towsley and what is now called Whitman Street. One crossed the old Benson Street Bridge then turned right to get there. Of course, the old Benson Street Bridge was abandoned and torn down many years ago. (As an aside the writer remembers that when stock shows came to Midland years ago they set up their tent just across Benson Street Bridge and to the left where there was a clear, grassy area between the road leading to Whitman's ice house and the river. The last stock show the writer remembers was Kelley's. The show would stay for a week or two and put on a different performance each night.) Lo worked for only a few years for Dow. I believe he mainly used his horses and wagon for whatever work this combination could do. Then he retired to the home on Towsley Street.

       The writer remembers only a few scraps about Lo's wife Harriet. She would be the writer's Grandmother. Harriet came to Midland with two girls who had married brothers. She worked in Midland for a while before marrying Lo. She was fifteen years younger. (Lo postponed marriage until he could afford a home for his bride plus some financial security. Presumably Lo picked up some values in Maine which would well serve our society today.) Harriet was a good mother. She tried valiantly to make a musician out of HDS. HDS says he took something like 250 lessons on the piano. But HDS claims that a real difficulty in his musical career, one he may never have surmounted, was that while his lessons were on the piano he had to practice at home on the organ. The writer remembers the organ in the parlor of the home on Towsley Street.

       Harriet, as the writer remembers, always wore a choker around her neck. Whether this was fashion or modesty, no one will ever know. She also cooked both beans and bean soup on every Saturday. HDS says that he and his brother John Lowrie (the writer's father) managed to get to Harriet's table on Saturday night for some time after the two of them married. Harriet died in 1930.

       One of Lo's children was John Lowrie Sinclair. John was born in 1890 and died at the age of 75 in 1966. Little, so far, is known of his early life. HDS says that John was born in a log house on Pine River Road in Homer Township. This log house sat on the 80 acre plot which Lo purchased and farmed. The current plat maps show that this 80 acres plot is owned by a George Timmons but it is believed that the ownership changed in recent years. We are talking about, to be technical, the SW 1/4 NE 1/4 and SE 1/4 NW 1/4, Sec. 33, T14N, R1E. The Pine River Road runs from Northeast to Southwest across the southerly and easterly portion of the 80 plus-or-minus acre plot. The log house in which John was born burned down. Lo bought three acres at the Northeast corner of the plot where a new house was built and still stands. Some people by the name of Varner live there.

      John went to work at about the age of 18 at Dent Iron Factory on Main Street. That factory is no longer there. The writer negotiated the exchange of the factory site for the land and buildings which were known as the Meridian Power House of The Dow Chemical Company. The writer remembers clearly that Dow and Dent exchanged parcels of land and buildings in addition to which Dow paid Dent $35,000. It is believed that the Dents still carry on a business at the old Meridian Power House site.

       After working at Dents for a time John (whom I'll call Dad from now on) got an opportunity to work in the Dow wells. He took it. It turned out to be a career for him, lasting until his retirement 45 years later. Dad did not have an easy time of it from what I learned from him. It seems that in the last half of his career his superior kept holding Dad back. I surmise it was because Dad, although possessing the talent and experience, did not have a college education. This is a surmise only based on the belief that at Dow in those years a sine qua non for advancement was a degree.

       Dad married Isabelle C. Murphy (about whom more will be written in a separate monograph) around 1912. Out of that marriage came: Helen L., who married Samuel MacCutcheon; William D., who married Mary Palcich; John D. (Richard), who married Elaine Markey; Joseph K., who married Kate Loebrich; S. Jane, who married first Cayley Landis and then after Cayley's death, Earl Farnham; Thomas D., who married Roberta Paddock, his high school sweetheart; Shirley Ann, who married Dale Snider; and, Maryanne, the baby of the family who married James W. Dreyer.

      Dad started out on the wells as a handyman, I assume. He dug ditches, fit pipes, dressed tools and anything else required of a worker among the derricks. He learned and mastered all the trades required to bring, what was then, the precious brine to the surface, It was the brine underlaying this area of Michigan that brought Henry Herbert Dow to Midland in the first place. Now the Dow Chemical Company is winding down brine production around the Midland plant because other locations in the U.S, lie above richer beds.

       During his lifetime Dad lived in three different homes. The first was on Gordon Street just across from the Frolic Theatre and katty-corner from St. Brigid's School which he purchased or rented at the time of his marriage to "Belle", or shortly thereafter. Then, biting the bullet, he had built for his growing family a home on Carpenter Street (107). Carpenter Street was unpaved at that time. The year was 1926. Drinking water was still obtained from a pump at the corner of Gordon and Hines Street. Carpenter Street was almost on the outskirts of the city. After Dad retired he sold the house on Carpenter Street, after living there a while, moving to a smaller home on Nelson Street. Mother and Dad lived at the house on Nelson until each passed away.

       I have appended a genealogical study prepared by Tom Bradley at the Miner Funeral Home here in Midland. Jerry Miner gave it to me one day after a Rotary meeting. I do not vouch for its accuracy. I am also appending three sets of documents which may have come from you originally. If they did not come from you I have no recollection of their source. These documents relate to (1) the Sinclair family from John Sinkler to David Lowrie, (2) the Dorr family, and (3) the Lyford family.

 

 

 


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