The Porter Farmhouse from a Hawkins photo album

Ferd and Esther Porter spent the last several decades of their lives on the farm on 16th Street outside of Conklin, Michigan. More than a century after it was built, the house is still there and is in use as a family farm home.


The house was “Grandpa and Grandma’s house” to the six Porter grandchildren, Effa’s and Fern’s children. Both sons-in-law (M.E. Hawkins and Clyde Wood) were pastors, so those grandchildren were the first generation in seventy years of the family history to experience growing up somewhere other than the North Chester/Sparta area.


That may account for the strong sense of family locale and loyalty that continued, in spite of their growing up in other towns and in locations that changed from time to time. The forceful pull to return to the family roots whenever possible—even after Ferd died and the brick house went out of the family at the close of World War II—is evidenced by the commitment to:

·    visit the cemeteries where the Porters, Stauffers, and Wells were buried

·    drive past the brick farm house and the brick church in a sort of pilgrimage

·    plant flowers on the graves on Memorial Day whenever possible (Grandson Lyman Wood continued to do this into the ’90s long after other family members had either died or moved too far away. Lyman himself died in August 1996.)

·    take new members of the family, by marriage or birth, on this pilgrimage (this ceased with the great-grandchildren but in recent years is being done again occasionally, with them and yet another generation).



We have had a claim that the brick house was built by George Porter late in his life and that his young second family lived in it for a few years. No other evidence supports that claim, so we don't know how to explain it.


The following is what we do know (2007).  

Samuel and Roxy Stauffer owned the house and lived in it at the time their grandson Forrest Averill was born in it, September 1898, and at the time of Samuel's death in November 1899. The Stauffers' youngest child, Mabel, and her husband, Harvey Averill, continued to live in the house with Roxy and manage the farm until 1908, a year before Roxy's death when her estate was divided among her three surviving children. At that time, ownership of the house and the farm went the Stauffer's older daughter, Esther, and her husband, Ferd Porter.


These facts are gleaned from Forrest Averill's journal, owned by his daughter, from the 1926 Sunday-school-paper account of Samuel's death (see note following “Letter to Samuel Stauffer”), and Samuel's obituary. All this makes the report about George ever living in the house exceedingly mysterious. It is interesting, however, to note that the outside style of the two homes is quite similar. What little we know of the interiors, they are similar but not exact.

We still do not know who built the house, or exactly when, though as educated guess is in the 1890s. We know from a Stauffer great- grandson that the bricks were brought all the way from Chicago to Lisbon, Michigan, by train.   


The farmhouse when it was quite new, abt. 1899

We have a real treasure in a large picture of the house, apparently taken formally when it was quite new and splendid, showing two couples standing in front. Because we have other pictures of Samuel and Roxy Stauffer, we believe they are the couple on the left. That would mean the picture was taken before Samuel died on the property in late 1899. We find it interesting that they wanted the family dog and their horses and buggy included in the picture. And those of us into flowers around the home take happy notice of the plants on the back porch.


Given what we know from Forrest's journal, that Mabel and Harvey lived in the house at the time of his birth and following, we believe they are the other couple in the picture. All this allows us to make a pretty sure assumption that Mabel was the daughter mentioned in Samuel's obituary, the one who helped her mother get her father's body out of the well. 


On June 25, 1992, Porter grandson Lyman Wood was one of a family group who made the rounds of several family history sites in the North Chester area. Lyman remarked in advance that he “had a mind to knock on the door of the brick house and introduce himself.” As it turned out, he didn't have to knock because the current owner and his sons were outside repairing the back porch.


The owner was most cordial, inviting family members to look around, answering questions, and recounting the story of the man who “died to save another” (Samuel Stauffer). He brought out a stack of black and white prints, several inches thick, of family pictures which his family had had made up from glass negatives found in the attic when they purchased the house. He said that Forrest Averill (d. 1986) had come by once and written identifications on as many pictures as he could. The owner also pointed out where the last of Ferd’s barns had recently been torn down.


The 1992 owner, who told us he owned 1200 acres of fruit trees in four adjacent counties, even invited family members into the house. We were able to stand for a few moments in the “two-egg” kitchen (see Ferd & Esther Porter history) and imagine all the decades of family life that had happened there. 


Esther with her Aunt Agnes and Uncle Paul

Paul and Agnes Hawkins, Virgil and Esther Moneysmith, Mont and Fern Hawkins, Esther J. Moneysmith (Gross)

The house is seen in a number of pictures throughout the Hawkins photo albums which have come down through the family, some with people and some without. The two here must have been taken in the summer of 1938 shortly before Porter granddaughter Esther and husband Virgil set off with Esther Joanne for their second term in Africa. It was undoubtedly a trip for them to say goodbye to "Grandpa Porter." 

And a final goodbye it turned out to be. Because of World War II, the Moneysmith family would not return from Africa for seven years. Grandpa Porter (Ferd) would die seven months before our return. By that time, the house had been emptied of family possessions (except for those forgotten glass photo plates in the attic and possibly the Stauffers' huge Bible) and sold. I have no doubt that not long after our arrival we made a "pilgrimage" with Grandpa and Grandma Hawkins up to Michigan to drive by the house and visit Bennett cemetery where the Porters are buried. (I remember several such trips through the years, but they all run together in my memory.) 

I regret I wasn't old enough that day, nor had enough understanding of family history yet, to realize how hard it must have been for my mother. It wasn't just that her grandfather was gone, but the house was no longer in the family and she would never step inside it again. I like to think it would have been a comfort to her to know that, amazingly, fifteen months after her death, I would have occasion step inside it briefly.

[1] Ford Porter, son of George born is 1893,  is quoted as saying he lived in the white Truman Road house until he was “8 or 9” (i.e., 1901 or 1902), and then [George] built the brick house and they lived there for several years. This does not fit with the fact that we now have solid information that Samuel Stauffer owned the brick house when he died on the property in 1899 and that his widow and daughter's family lived there until 1908 when the house went to another daughter and her husband.