Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, January 11, 2004, pg. 9
He walked twelve miles from Albion to Eckford, became a farmer there, and later became the chairman of the board of trustees at Spring Arbor Seminary for twelve years! We go “on the road” this week to feature the interesting story of John Mains, Sr. (1837-1916). John was born to Irish parents, John and Margaret (Denniston) Mains, on Grand Island, located in the middle of the Niagara River just above Niagara Falls. His family was forcibly removed from the Island along with others after the Canadian-U.S. boundary settlement placed the location within the state of New York. His father died when he was only a year old, and the family moved to Wayne, Michigan by Detroit, where John grew up.
After living with an uncle for a time in Illinois, Mains came to Eckford (northwest of Homer) in the spring of 1855. He had been visiting his mother in Wayne, where the duo took the train to Albion to visit their uncle/brother, Samuel Denniston. In his 1912 memoirs John recalled, “Arriving there we set out on foot thinking he lived only 5 or 6 miles south of that place [Albion], but before getting quite there we learned that he had moved into Eckford Township. So after a 12 mile walk we arrived at his place of residence.”
Denniston owned over 60 acres of land along 20 Mile Road north of J Drive South in Section 28 of Eckford Township. Samuel’s neighbor across the road made an offer to John to purchase his 40 acre farm, which he did. Thus began John’s farming endeavors. He became very successful, and through the years he was able to increase his farmland to over 500 acres. John married Mary J. Ball (1835-1905) in 1856.
There were two landmarks that were named after this prominent Eckford Township farmer: The first was the Mains & Allen drainage ditch, carved through the southeastern edge of his property. This is clearly labeled on the 1894 plat map. How would you like to have a drainage ditch named after you?
More appropriately, on the eastern edge of his property was erected the Mains Schoolhouse on the northwest corner of J Drive South and 20˝ Mile Road. This rural Homer-area country school served the educational needs of neighborhood children for many years well into the mid-20th century. How many of our readers remember the Mains School?
John moved his family to Spring Arbor in November, 1882 in order that his several sons could attend the fledgling new Seminary there operated by the Free Methodists. Back then, Seminary meant a private school that covered all grades--even elementary. Today of course this institution is known as Spring Arbor University. Mains still retained his Eckford farm, however. Regarding the move, John wrote, “Seeing the evils brought to bear on their youthful minds in the community where I lived [Eckford], I sought to place them where the influences would be of such a character as would tend to lead them to a higher and better life.” Such were the motivations to attend Spring Arbor in those days.
A devout Free Methodist, John became active in the school and served on the Seminary board of trustees. He was instrumental in the early development of the school and gave $800 towards the erection of the main 3-story central building. He also donated his team of horses to the school and spent many hours working at the institution. From 1885 to 1897, this Eckford farmer was even the chairman of the board of trustees of Spring Arbor Seminary. His home was on First Street across from the northeast corner of the campus, where he could keep an eye on things.
John’s 1912 memoirs contain much information about the Eckford Free Methodist Church of which he was a part. That church was featured in the January 28, 1996 edition of this column. John gives a detailed account of the circumstances concerning that church and other churches in the greater Eckford area. He also relates his own experiences with the Michigan Free Methodist denominational leaders at the time. Unfortunately we don’t have space to elaborate on the details here, but they are interesting indeed.
John Mains, Sr. died at his home in Spring Arbor on April 5, 1916. His remains were brought to the West Eckford Cemetery, located at the intersection of 19˝ Mile Road and E Drive South, where he was buried next to his wife. Also interred there in the family lot is their son Burton S. Mains, Sr. (1876-1932), daughter Adaline (1861-1917), and two infant daughters. Their burials are posted on the www.findagrave.com website which you can easily access. Denniston and Ball family relatives are also buried in the same cemetery.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph John Mains, Sr., courtesy of a descendant, Justin Fast of Coldwater. Special thanks also to Susan Panak, archivist at Spring Arbor University (O.K, I admit it’s the alma mater of yours truly, Class of 1975) for her help in obtaining information for this week’s story. For our new readers in the Spring Arbor area this week, you might like to know that my weekly columns are reproduced on the www.albionmich.com website. Check these out, including my article dated October 9, 1994 concerning Spring Arbor’s “Falling Waters Park.”
John Mains, Sr.
Next: THE ESLOW BLOCK, PART 1
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic