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Mason County Memories

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Freesoil Township History Column Dave Petersen Freesoil township was one of the three original townships in the County of Mason, Grant and Mead Townships were carved from the original that spanned the top third of the County in 1855. The first township meeting was held that spring in the home of Charles Freeman. We have talked before of the veritable wilderness of our County during those early years and the difficulty of travel to purchase or trade for supplies even for those close to the rivers and to the Village of Lincoln or Pere Marquette. The isolation experienced in the outer reaches of the County at that time must have certainly put the hardiest pioneer to the test. In an article in the August 27th 1941 issue of the Daily News the beginnings of Freesoil are discussed and the reader is asked to imagine what it would be like to be in a small cleared space in the forest, in a crude log cabin, a team of oxen and the barest of necessities to survive in the wilderness. We know from previous first hand accounts that it was a journey of days to make the round trip from home to a store or the grist mill at Lincoln. Old Freesoil was located at the mouth of Guernsey Creek, now part of Grant Township. Freesoil Village came about after an early resident by the name of Philip Riter built his home and was joined by many other loggers of the region north of Freesoil towards Manistee. In 1870 a log building built on the Riter farm housed the first school (school District No. two) The present High School having been established in 1913. In quoting from the August 27th edition of the Ludington Daily News article, "The first licensed physician arrived in the village and taught school to earn his living. It is said that often while teaching he left the school to run itself while he made a professional call on some sick patient. "The pioneers were very religious and for some time services were held in the various homes, and in 1865 the Methodist conference organized a Sauble River Circuit which included all the territory as far south as the city of Scottville. The Methodist Church was dedicated in 1884. " The second church to be organized here was the Latter Day Saints in 1887. Previous to this date meetings were held in the various homes and the present church building was erected in 1901 and dedicated in 1902. The St. Johns Cantius Church was erected about 35 years ago (about 1906) and many additions and improvements have been made." Freesoil like many communities enjoyed a bond between the families that called it home and in 1936 began a homecoming tradition during the Labor Day weekend. There had been a group of residents that met at a Freesoil Detroit picnic and enjoyed it so much that they pursued the idea of a homecoming celebration in order to try and get friends and families together and friendships renewed. The idea was met with some hesitancy and the Village Council moved ahead with sponsorship to try it once. The first homecoming in Freesoil brought in 2,000 people for the event and it was continued. The next year it was estimated that over 2.500 people attended and the third year an estimated 4,000 people attended an event in a community that only had a few hundred year round residents. Must be something about Mason County that keeps drawing people home don't you think? During the celebration a children's parade was held and as you can see in our photo the kids seemed to be having a good time, as well as the King and Queen. We quote from the caption of these photos in the September 6th edition of the Ludington Daily News. " Shown here are the opposite ends in age of the interesting program for the sixth annual Freesoil Homecoming held last weekend. Top picture was taken despite protests from the children who were in a hurry to get on to the next event. It was just after the kids parade showing three of the entries. In the center is Randie Bennett attired as a boxer, black eye and all. As a final concession he did offer to hold up the big gloves, almost heavier then himself one more time. Below are the festival king and queen crowned as such by the virtue of being the eldest in years to attend this year's homecoming. They are left right Mrs. Henrietta Geweke of Chicago 88, and Henry Guernsey of Freesoil 84." In 1880 Freesoil Township had 318 residents during the reign of King Pine, and it developed into a successful farming community after the logging went bust. Freesoil Village today (2000 US Census) has 93 homes and 171 residents, the township recorded 809 residents. If you have any stories or photos you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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