A History of Evart
While Evart has enjoyed many times of prosperity and fellowship that are so much a part of small town life, there have been sad times as well. June 13, 1966, was a day of terrible tragedy for Evart citizens. Police Officer George Seman had been dispatched to a domestic disturbance, and he was shot and killed in the line of duty. Officer Seman was well liked within the community, and he was known as a hard working and friendly officer. He left behind his wife and three small children.
Due to the small size of the department at the time, there was no official ceremony or police burial in honor of the fallen officer. Nearly thirty years later, Evart Officer Gary Cole Jr. led an effort to see that Officer Seman’s sacrifice be recognized. On May 15, 2000, the nationally recognized Police Officers Memorial Day, Officers from all around Osceola County and surrounding areas, as well as elected officials and members of the Evart community, gathered to pay homage to an officer who had made the ultimate sacrifice so long ago. The service took place at Guyton Memorial Park on Main Street, with an honor guard present for a 21-gun salute, and a plaque with the engraving “Rest in peace, fallen brother” being presented to Mayor Bruce Robinson. The plaque is now displayed at Evart city hall for all to see, and Officer Seman’s badge number “1″ has been permanently retired in his honor.
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Private Joseph W. Guyton
Evart’s history wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Joseph W. Guyton. On May 24, 1918, Private Joseph W. Guyton of Evart, Michigan, became the first American soldier killed on German-held soil during WWI. The small community of Evart, located in the central section of Michigan’s lower peninsula (population 1744) pauses to remember and honor the memory of this soldier and countless others across the nation who made the supreme sacrifice for freedom.
Joseph Guyton was born June 10, 1889, on a farm in Evart Township (Osceola County). He attended a rural school in the area only for a short time to work in the oil fields of Ohio. Joe was a farmer and also worked as a plumber and well driller. In December 1909, Joseph Guyton was married to Winona Baker from the neighboring community of Lake City. Their only child, Olive Clara Guyton, was born in 1911.
In 1917, after the U.S. entered the war, Guyton was attached to the Thirty-second Division (the Red Arrows Division National Guard Unit) of the 156th Infantry at Camp MacArthur, Waco, Texas. On February 17, 1918, Private Guyton sailed with his comrades out of New York harbor bound for France. May 15, 1918, the status of his unit was changed from replacement division to combat. General Pershing lists Guyton as killed in action on May 14, 1918, in the Gildwilder Sector in Alsace (Elsass, Germany) the day after the unit entered the line of battle. Guyton was temporarily buried in a nearby church yard on foreign soil. He was posthumously awarded the “croix de guerre” (the grand cross of honor)_ by the government of France.
In May 1921, President Warren G. Harding placed a presidential wreath on the flag-draped coffin of Private Guyton at a funeral ceremony for over 5,000 American war-dead at the army piers, Hoboken, New Jersey. He spoke these words: “In the name of the republic, I bestow this tribute on the casket of the first soldier who perished on the soil of the enemy… I chose it because I am offering the tribute to the one returned whose death on enemy soil marked the day when our civilization went face forward and the assault on our present day civilization knew it had failed. May 24. 1918, is the date on which this soldier was killed, and the name is that of Joseph W. Guyton, Company I of the 126th Infantry, a resident patriot and hero of the State of Michigan of the United States of America.”
Guyton’s remains were returned from New Jersey to Evart by rail and were met at the depot by his parents, relatives, friends, citizens of the town, and members of the Joseph W. Guyton Post of the American Legion named in his honor.
June 5, 1921, 10,000 people gathered in Evart to pay tribute to the hero. On hand were dignitaries of the military, state government, local government, and a number of Civil War veterans. The local Evart newspaper reported that over 1,000 automobiles and 500 soldiers were present in the small community that day. Guyton’s remains were buried at Forest Hill cemetery outside of the town.
The following week, Guyton’s ten-year old daughter, Olive, presented the American flag, which had draped Guyton’s casket to the local American Legion Post. Olive made the presentation with the assistance of her uncle, L.V. Guyton of Lancaster, Ohio, as her mother had died from influenza just months after her husband had been killed. Olive died just one year later from pneumonia..
In the early 1800s, Osceola County came to be known as “The Land of Green Gold.” The area was given this title because of the beautiful timber located in the county. Located right in the heart of all the timber sat a little village known as Evart.
Mr. Delos Blodgett and Mr. James Stimson were the first two people in this territory in 1850 – other than a few Indians and trappers. They came by canoe up the Muskegon River as far as Doc and Tom Creek (just below the Muskegon River Bridge on M-66). The creek was named after these two adventurous men. They looked over the beaver meadows, cut hay for the coming winter, and walked back to Muskegon.
When they returned, they brought oxen, supplies, and camp equipment and hired a crew of men. From Big Rapids it was an unbroken wilderness at that time, and they drove their oxen through the thickest of woods, without any road or trail to the mouth of the Doc. and Tom Creek, their future lumbering camp.
In the spring of 1851, they constructed canoes, and when the river broke up, they put in their camp and started down, driving logs before them. Delos Blodgett and James Kennedy selected the village site. Mr. Kennedy built the first sawmill in Evart Township. The second sawmill was built by Charles Lambs; the third by Barlow Davis.
So, What's in a Name
Evart was named in honor of the first soldier who settled in the area, Perry Oliver Everts. On April 3, 1867, Civil War Veteran Perry O. Everts married Harriet A. Whiting, daughter of Nathan and Harriet Whiting, in Van Buren County, Michigan. The City of Evart, Michigan, is named after this man. Perry O. Everts (also known as “Frank”) enlisted in the Union Army July 24, 1861, in LaGrange County, Indiana and fought in the Civil War. He served with the 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery Company “A” as a private and mustered out January 13, 1866. After the war, he came back to Michigan, where he was born in 1843,and purchased 80 acres where the town of Evart now stands. At the town’s organizational meeting in 1870, they wanted to name the township for the earliest settler and a Civil War veteran. John Smith was the choice, but Smith was such a common name that he passed to Frank (Perry) Everts as the next settler in the township.
Everts’ name was misspelled and that misspelling was allowed to stand. Lumber Baron Delos A. Blodgett officially platted the town in 1872, the same year it was officially organized as a village. Evart was a strategic point for sorting timber that was floated down the Muskegon River. It was later organized as a city in 1930.
Everts was a farmer and a well liked man by all accounts. Perry and Harriet had 8 children. Perry died in a barn raising accident in his early 40s.His tombstone in Forest Hill Cemetery in Evart reads:
Perry O. Everts, 1845-1891. Perry O. Everts age 46 buried Jan. 11. 1891.
In 1975, an Everts’ granddaughter, Ruth, who knew Harriet Whiting Everts, visited Evart and brought the portaits of Frank and Harriet to Evart. In the article, she says Harriet died in 1920 at her home (Ruth was 6). Harriet Whiting Everts moved with daughters family to Snohomish, Washington, where she died in 1920, and is buried at the G.A.R. Cemetery.
By 1858, Blodgett owned farm buildings, a sawmill, and a gristmill at Hersey. He had exercised squatter’s rights to a large acreage.
In the meantime, Benjamin Gooch had cut a road northward 4 miles from Big Rapids to Cat Creek. After working one winter as a foreman of a logging camp, Gooch built a log shanty and cleared a sizable space. In the spring of 1857, he planted 100 apple trees, which he hauled 75 miles with a team of oxen from Grand Rapids. The last apple tree was cut down in 1967; it was 110 years old.
The first schoolhouse of the county was built on land donated by Benjamin Gooch.
The woods were full of wild animals: bears, wolves, wildcats, fox. There were only a few trappers and Indians, the latter of which were somewhat hostile, but could usually be soothed with a pot of stew.
The governor ceded northern Michigan as homestead territory. Solders from the Civil War could have 160 acres, others less. The first settler to come to Evart was Joseph Smith from England in 1857. In 1860, he went to Illinois to finish his education. While there, the Civil War broke out, and Mr. Smith joined the Illinois Volunteers of 1862. When he came home, he married Mary Jane Lidster. They came to homestead in Evart, others soon followed: Frank Everetts, William McMullen, Hugh and James Alexander (1870).
There were no roads to the nearest town, Big Rapids, so it took several days to go for supplies.
The first crops planted and harvested (by hand) here were potatoes and wheat. Mr. Smith made the first maple syrup in Evart Township and it cost $2.00 a gallon.
In May 1871, James Kennedy built a lumber mill, a store, and a boarding house.
The first child born in Evart Township was Mary Elizabeth Smith on August 4, 1868. By 1870, there were 29 families in Evart Township.
The first house was built by James Kennedy in 1871. The first general store was James Kennedy’s in a board building near the old mill site; the second house belonged to E.C. Cannon.
Right after the land was platted in 1871, the four lots on the corner of Seventh and Main Streets were bought by Trowbridge and Parashall. Here is where Barlow Davis and his brother built the Evart House. It opened for travelers that year.
The town was platted in 1871, but historians think it should be 1872. The survey in January of 1871 was done by surveyor Coffinbury.
September 20, 1872 Kennedy’s sawmill burned out along with Tripp’s, Cannon’s, Ardis’, Cone’s and Williams’. Kennedy rebuilt immediately.
One day, Hugh Alexander was at Mathew’s Mill with a load of logs and after delivering them, on his way home, a train of logs came past and the team of horses apparently tried to go between the two cars and couldn’t be stopped. They ran against a car and the team, sleigh and driver (James Alexander) were dragged along over logs, lumber and the end of a tram for about six rods, where they all ended over in a promiscuous heap. It’s a wonder that horses and driver were not killed outright, according to historians.
The first lawyers in Evart were Sayles and Trumbull, first druggist was McPherson and Tripp, first clothes store was Griggs and Ennis, first hardware store was Mapes & Weightman, first postmaster was L.J. Lembert, and the first slaughter house that sold meat from its own market belonged to James Deacey.
In the spring of 1872, liquor ran free, lumbermen from all camps came to town for drinking and howling and fighting. Police was now in demand. Law and order finally took a firm hold in 1875.
The Evart Review was started in October of 1872 by W. H. Hess. Then it was owned and edited by Irwin Chase.
On January 30, 1943, Davy’s Grocery Store, Fleming’s Shoe Store, the Drug Store, Sally’s Beauty Shop, and C. L. Rose’s office were destroyed by fire.
Northland Dairy started construction of a new plant on River Street in April of 1948. In October of 1966, Liberty Dairy, a division of Dean Foods, moved to Evart from Big Rapids. The plant expanded several times and at one time employed over 200 people. Liberty Dairy closed in 2012.
After being open since 1891, Mary Seath’s grocery store closed in 1948.
In 1954 a huge gas explosion demolished the restaurant on 7th Street and Fleming’s Shoe Store, leaving Mr. W. Corey fatally injured.
Detroit newspapers in 1953 described the Evart Products plant as “American Motors hush-hush Plant, somewhere in Michigan.” But Evart was shouting happily over the plant. At first they employed 25 people. Eventually, the plant with over 1200 employees became Osceola County’s biggest employer. Groundbreaking for Evart Products began in 1953. Products Wire Harness was built in 1966.
Another industry moved into Evart in 1990, the Evart Glass Plant, now owned by PPG.
Within the city of Evart today are a park and highway bridge both dedicated to the memory of Joseph W. Guyton. In Guyton Park stands a cannon dating back to WWI and a monument to the memory of all who lost their lives from Evart during WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam conflict. Memorial Day ceremonies begin at the Guyton Park and conclude at Forest Hill Cemetery. The memory of Joseph Guyton and the many others who gave their lives will never be forgotten.