The Fenton Independent Jan 30, 1975
Basket Case for Fenton
Dear Mr. Silbar,
The January 16th issue of the Independent reached us yesterday, and I enjoyed
the article on Historical Sites so much.
Ebenezer Pratt and Ann were my great grandparents, and I would like to
tell you about them if I may.
Ann (or Rachel Ann) was Clark Dibble's youngest sister, and shortly after
he decided to settle where Fenton now stands, he began writting and sending word by anyone going back to "York State" to Eben
and Ann to join him as soon as they could. Their home was in Manchester, N.Y., and their first child, Dighton Elizabeth, was
just three months old when they packed all the necessary belongings into a big wagon and started west. There may have been
other settlers going at the same time, but I have never heard them mentioned.
When they reached the Niagra River they had to build a raft, and packing
all their possessions around the outer edge, with Ann and the tiny baby in the middle, the horses swam across, towing it behind
them. Ann was so terrified that she vowed then and there never to cross that raging river again until a railroad was built.
And she kept her word. This all happened in the summer of 1834.
Shortly after arriving in what was a little later called Dibbleville, Eben
chose the land he wanted, drove back to the land office in Detroit and bought it. I do not know how many acres he bought,
but it lay in the shape of an "L", forty acres running east from Leroy St., to the brick house on what is now Main St., north
to the land a short time later purchased by Jacob Remington; and west and south to the Shiawassee river.
I disagree about the statement that the home of Col. and Mrs. Clayton was
the first frame building to be built in Fenton, because the very next summer after arriving, Eben hauled lumber from the saw-mill
at "the Flint", as that town was called in those days. It really wasn't a town then, only three houses and the saw mill. He
built his house in what he called the "elbow" of his land, the north-west corner of what is now Leroy and Roberts streets.
It was a two story house, because I have heard my grandmother, their daughter, tell many times of the stairs her father built
in the front hall. It had very deep threads, and very low "risers" to make it easy for the children to go up and down. Eben
was a stone mason by trade, and he built a fireplace in each end of the big "sitting-room" so they wouldnt freeze on one side
and roast on the other in the severe Michigan winters.
His favorite pastime was to go down to the river and sit on the bank in
the evening, his muzzleloader across his knees, and listen to the wolves howl. That would be about where the bridge is on
Silver Lake road now. Ann went down to the river, too, to get rushes and sand, when she mixed with homemade "softsoap" to
scrub her kitchen floor and her kitchen chairs with every day.
Eben made friends with the many Indians around there. He settled their
disputes, and if they had any dealing with white settlers he went with them to see that they were treated fairly. The Indians
named him "Way-see-gay," which we are told means "Laughing Wrinkles," because he laughed alot, and when he did he almost closed
his eyes, causing deep wrinkles around them.
Ann was terrified of Indians, but one time she was very ill, and as there
were no doctors nearer than Detroit, Eben told her he would have an Indian medicine-man come. She finally agreed, but said
if he so much as laid a finger on her, she would die then and there. he came, but stood in the doorway of the bedroom and
looked at her for a long time. Turning to Eben he said, "Squaw no die. Eye too bright." Then he asked for a dollar to go to
Detroit to buy a certain root, or herb, he couldn't find in the woods nearby, promising to be back the next day. He came and
mixed up a brew for her to take. She was sure it would kill her, but took it anyway, and recovered in just a short time.
Their oldest daughter Dighton, died of TB when she was just sixteen, but
five other children were born to them in that home, among them my grandmother, Margaret, who later married james frederick
Bishop, son of Julian Bishop, a civil engineering and government surveyor, who did most of the surveying in Genesee, Oakland
and Livingston counties.
After Eben died, in 1857, Ann sold that home and bought a house on the
north-east corner of Shiawassee and Adelaide st. There my mother, Grace Bishop and her sister Mary Louise were born. And here
again I disagree about the time the Riggs house was built. I was always told it was much nearer Shiawassee Ave., than the
Phillips Library, and they were building the Riggs house when my mother was born in June 1861. I am sure for Ann, her grandmother,
ran over to ask one of the carpenters to go for the doctor.
My mother, Grace, grew up and married Judson B. Phillips, brother of Andrew
and Alva phillips. Mary Louise married Allen D. Grant, son of Sen. Gilbert A. Grant of California.
After the home Eben built was sold it was made much larger and became a
hotel. For years it was the Roberts House, but when I was a little girl, in the early 1900's it was called the Genesee House.
Judson Phillips bought the house where Claytons live in 1882-3. He bought
it of a Mr. and Mrs. Chapin, parents of Henry Chapin a grocer whose store was just north of the Presbyterian Church. They
had remodeled it into the house it is now.
Judson Phillips died in May, 1894, leaving his wife and two children, Nellie
Electra Phillips and Clifford Judson Phillips, In March, 1896 Mrs. Phillips married Hadley Gould, younger brother of Dr. Jefferson
Gould. I was their first child, born 29, Dec., 1896, in the house where the Claytons now live. In July, 1904 my younger brother,
Howard Kenneth Gould was born. When I was ten my mother sold the home to Oscar Hunt and his wife.
That home will always be very dear to me, and filled with precious memories.
In those days a wide front porch went clear around the house, but I like
the new entrance that is there now. At least no one removed the red glass each side of the front door. I used to love to look
out after a snow storm to see the "red" snow.
I never knew the fenton's lived there. I thought their home had always
been further out the Avenue.
I also forgot to tell you that Ellen St., is named after Mrs. Le Roy (the
original spelling) To my mother, and her brothers and sisters, Mrs. Leroy was "Auntie Ellen."
I hope this lengthy letter hasn't bored you. I could write a book about
Dibbleville and early Fenton. I am like Jack Peck in that I am a basket case for Dibbleville. I would like to say, "Move over,
Jace, I am a basket case too! I'll bring my own basket!"
Please give my best to Francelia. She is my very dear sister-in-law, and
will vouch for my truthfulness I know.
Elizabeth (Bessie Gould) Shields