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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Emily Jewell Clark

by Jennifer Morrison of MI-Stories.com

published: March 15th, 2007

Emily Jewell Clark, born in 1843, was the daughter of Solon Township pioneers who immigrated to Michigan from the East Coast. Her marriage to successful businessman, Melvin J. Clark ensured her rise in social prominence and by the end of the nineteenth century she was counted as one of Grand Rapids’ social elite. Before her death in 1929, she made major contributions to several Grand Rapids and Michigan institutions that remain vital today. (Find more information to your right in Related Items)

Emily Jewell, daughter of Edward and Sarah Jewell, was born on a farm near Nelson, Pennsylvania on October 19, 1843. Soon after, her parents moved to New York and then to Michigan, where her father cleared land and built the first frame house in Solon Township. Edward held township offices and was twice (1864 and 1866) elected state representative. He was also responsible in 1866 for bringing to Cedar Springs the first Methodist Episcopal Society, of which Sarah and Emily were among the founding members.

On December 15, 1861, a circuit riding Methodist minister married eighteen-year-old Emily to Melvin J. Clark. Melvin was twenty-six, and in addition to operating his Solon Township farm, had just opened a tiny general store in Solon Center. His grocery business grew, taking the couple first to Cedar Springs and then to Grand Rapids in 1874. Melvin also became successfully involved in the lumber industry which allowed him to invest further in business and eventually earned him a fortune. He died in 1909, while on a business trip to Arizona with nephew-in-law, Charles Sligh.

The first home that Emily and Melvin owned in Grand Rapids was on Sherman Street. Just outside the city limits, the home sat on a twenty acre farm. Eighteen years later, the Clarks bought a second home in Grand Rapids, now Mangiamo Restaurant on Lake Drive. For another dozen years the Clarks owned both homes, reserving their Sherman Street home as their "summer" or "country" home. Then in 1905 they donated the Sherman Street home to become the M.J. Clark Memorial Home. The home cared for area elderly at a time before Social Security or private pensions.

Emily and Melvin Clark had three adopted children. Their only daughter, Marguerite, married Edmund Wurzburg in 1905 and the wedding took place on the Lake Drive property. Seated at lower right in this photo are Melvin and Emily and between them is their youngest son, Melvin Jr., or Jewell as he was most often known. To Emily's right is the bride, and then the groom and then the groom's father and department store founder, F.W. Wurzburg. Standing directly behind Melvin Sr. is the Clark's oldest son, Edward, with his wife, Florence, on his right. Directly behind Marguerite is Bertha Wurzburg Logie, also a bridesmaid in a veil. Bertha was sister to the groom and daughter of F.W. Between Bertha and Florence Clark is Bertha's husband, William Logie, who became the grandfather of former Grand Rapids mayor, John Logie.

Emily Clark donated the money to build the first schoolhouse at Starr Commonwealth in Albion, Michigan, and the building was named for her in gratitude. Emily was actively involved with the D.A. Blodgett Home for Children, including serving as president of the organization during the planning for the 1908 building on Cherry Street. An avid art enthusiast and collector, Emily purchased the former Pike home on Fulton Street to become the first Grand Rapids Art Museum. Her philanthropy has benefited the generations at all of these existing organizations.

Emily and Melvin had three children. Their youngest son died shortly before Emily. He served in the naval air service during World War I and returned home with tuberculosis from which he died at the age of thirty-two. Edward became vice president of Clark-Weaver Hardware upon the death of his father, and like his father, was associated with several businesses in his lifetime. He died in Florida in 1959. Marguerite became a vice president of Wurzburg's Department Store in 1928 and remained so until her death in 1948. Jane was one of her daughters.

Emily Clark died of a heart condition in her Lake Drive home on August 13, 1929. Her passing generated headlines such as "Useful Life Ends" and "Benevolences Covered Wide and Varied Field." Elvin Swarthout, Grand Rapids mayor, gave a tribute to her in the Grand Rapids Press. The art association issued a resolution of appreciation and a tribute to her memory.

First Art Museum

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The first home of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the failed venture of Port Sheldon have an interesting historical connection.



Books Available at GR History and Special Collections, Grand Rapids Public Library

  • Drake, Floyd N. History of the M. J. Clark Memorial Home. Grand Rapids: Clark Home, 1959.
  • Harrison, Sue A., and Donna J. DeJong. The Cedar Springs Story: A History of Cedar Springs-Nelson & Solon Townships. 1976.
  • Morrison, Jennifer and Gordon Olson. Caring Community: The History of Clark Retirement Community. Clark Retirement Community, 2006.
  • Women's History Clippings Index Search

Book Available at the Grand Rapids Public Library

  • Fennimore, Dr. Keith J. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr & His School. Albion: Starr Commonwealth, 1988.

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