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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Early Life of Charles William Garfield

by Mary Emily Schroeder

Charles William Garfield spent his babyhood and his early boyhood, until he was ten, by a river—the Menominee River—in Wisconsin. He was born there, in a log cabin at Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, on March 14, 1848. What is there about being born in a log cabin that seems to give us so many great and illustrious men? If that's the secret to the key to success, maybe we all ought to go back and try to be born in a log cabin.

However, just because Mr. Garfield was born in a log cabin, doesn't indicate poverty or lack of education. The truth is that Samuel Marshall Garfield, Mr. Garfield's father, was a very enterprising, intelligent and unusual man. A native New Yorker (Genesee County), like so many of our own early settlers, he had migrated west in 1840 to Wisconsin, where he became both a farmer—worked a farm—sold it—and bought another. He was also the Superintendent of a saw mill. It was the desire to raise fruit which brought him to Michigan and Grand Rapids. He had heard tales of the fertility and special suitability of the local soil for that sort of endeavor, from Joel Simonds, husband of his sister Harriet Garfield Simonds, who had bought land from the Burtons and settled here earlier (Simonds' house being on the site of the present Garfield Park Lodge). When, in 1856, he and his family visited the Simonds, they were so impressed, that they decided to buy, too, purchasing the last remaining portion of the Burton Farm, that of the homestead itself of 20 acres, a little time later 70 acres adjoining, and planted a large part of it in orchards.

Excerpted from The Charles W. Garfield Story by Mary Emily Schroeder (available at the Grand Rapids Public Library)

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