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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Andrew Neil Family Sesquicentennial Portrait Andrew Neil was born in Wigtownshire, Scotland in 1839 and emigrated to the United States in 1858 along with his brother James. They are believed to have arrived on the ship Bridgewater, leaving Liverpool England and arriving in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Andrew and his brother James were identified as agricultural laborers in Scotland and that meant that they worked for who ever had a need for them on a daily basis rather then living on and working someone else's land. Property in the countries of Europe, like many parts of the "Old World" were taken. Land was not an easy thing to come by, and the hopes of owning their own land and farms in Europe were small. Just making a daily living was difficult and life at the time for many consisted of sustenance only, everything was hand to mouth. While many people here may think that they know what that means, take a moment to think about the last will and testaments of so many that left worldly possessions consisting of as little as 2 cups, a spoon, and a shovel to their heirs. The allure of coming to America for Andrew and James and for so many others meant that they had the real possibility of owning their own land and building their own homes and livelihood. The work was hard but the rewards for these early immigrants to northern Michigan were great. Many involved themselves heavily in their church, community, and the daily business of building of a new community. The Neil family, like so many others who came here in the 19th century, got involved. James who was married to Rebecca Key from Pennsylvania, received a Federal land grant for eighty acres because of his service in the Civil War. He established himself in Amber township on the north side of US-10-31 east from Gordon Road. He also owned land in Eden and Victory townships. Although his mother was illiterate, he was an apparent supporter of the establishment of schools, having sold 10 acres of land for one dollar to the Eden township school board for the purpose of establishing a school. James also allowed the log building on his Amber township homestead to be used as the first school prior to the building of the Jones School on the corner of Gordon and Johnson roads. James reportedly went on buy several parcels of land in Mason County; selling the property on which the Hotel St. George later named the Mason Center Hotel in Scottville was built. Agnes Rebecca Neil and her husband John Hathaway of Victory Township remained in Mason County. Most of the James Neil family left the area about 1900 for Campbell County, Virginia and Island County, Washington, but certainly not without leaving their community a better place for their time here. Andrew Neil, a veteran of the civil war, was married by Dr. Knox to Fanny Holmes at the home of his brother James on September 19th 1865. Fanny who had left Ireland with her father and brother [both named John] because "there was no food for the little children to eat" lost her father on the trip over. Diann Neil Engblade and Joseph Swelnis who have shared much of their family research for this article have noted that Andrew must have literally met Fanny as she was getting off from the boat as by September they were in Mason County and starting their new life together. Theirs was the first marriage celebrated by the pioneers of Amber Township. Andrew was a member of the first Board of trustees for Amber Township where he farmed and raised his family. They were parents of eleven children. Like so many parents of the times they suffered the heartbreak that came with influenza epidemics and sickness that took one of their children in 1883 and 3 others in 1894. Seven other children lived to adulthood, Andrew, Margaret, Charles, John, Robert, James, and William. Like with so many families, a sister Janet and her husband Andrew Falconer followed her brothers and arrived in Mason County in 1872 to farm. Their children were David, Janet, James, Andrew, and Agnes. The mother of the three Neil siblings, Janet Parker Neil, came to Michigan in 1886, and she lived with the Falconer family. These names will sound familiar to some residents as Janet and Andrew Falconer were the Great grandparents of Jean Stickney. William Stewart Neil married Bertha Kate Rasmussen who came from Denmark, Wisconsin with her parents because her father had heard that there was good farmland here. His cows were brought over in a boxcar on the boat, unloaded at Amber station and herded to their new home across the road from the Andrew Neil farm on Gordon road. Bertha had told the story that they had come over from Wisconsin on the carferry that had sank a short time afterwards, most certainly the original PM 18 sunk in 1910. In following William Stewart's line four children Lillian [Claude Morse] , William [Mary Bevington] George, and Charley [Ruphine Kotecki] The Andrew Neil farm is a centennial farm, although the original structures were lost in fires in 1925 and 1935. Respectively what lives on is the spirit of another pioneer family that had a deep and lasting impact on their adopted communities and country and continues to do so through the present day. Photograph #1 James Neil's Daughter's circa 1890 Martha, Minnie Viola, Agnes Rebecca,Laura Elizabeth,Jeanette, and Emma May.

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