Stories to Tell

A continuation of last week’s story about Robert H. Jackson’s birthplace:

¯ By early 1932, John Barrett, Jackson’s biographer, said, the Martins were almost $3,000 behind on their mortgage and interest payments and the Land Bank foreclosed.

¯ The property was then put up for auction at which time Jackson did not bid on it.

¯ The Detroit Land Bank, Barrett said, bought the farm at auction in February 1932.

Barrett then met with neighboring property owners after the trip to the site and shared additional information.

William Henry and his sister Betty Stewart owned the farm from “some time in the 1930s until his death in the 1950s.

Richard and Dorothy Morton, the last people to live in the home, then lived there until they sold the property in the 1960s.

Though Spring Creek was home for just a few years for Jackson, it is evident the place remained special to him as well as his family.

Tom Loftus, a grandson of Jackson, said that Jackson regularly returned to Spring Creek on vacations until the year he died.

Gib Putman, a local resident, said that his family had a horse that Jackson’s daughter – and Loftus’ mother – Mary “just loved.”

“They had a little camp up on Turner hill,” Putman said. “They enjoyed it.”

He said he would wonder why people from DC would want to come here.

“She was a horse person,” he said. “She loved the horses…. They just loved the area. They were just real nice people to us.”

“She just loved Spring Creek,” Loftus said of his mother.

She had a camp in the area from the latters 1960s into the latter 1990s, Loftus said.

Loftus said he could remember coming to the homestead site with his mother and test camping on the property when the Morton family – a distant relative – owned the place.

“It was true camping,” he said. “Mother was an avid camper.”

Spring Creek was so special to Mary that she was buried in the Spring Creek cemetery after she passed away in 1999.

The house and barn stood into the 1970s when problems with the bridge over the Brokenstraw Creek that provides access to the site fell into disrepair. The property owner at the time essentially unleashed some youths to tear both down.

With nothing but the foundations left, nature took over.

Arthur Stewart’s Cameron Energy Company agreed to clear the site for the Center.

Stewart said it took over 60 man hours over three days to remove all the brush and trees.

That paves the way for Mercyhurst University to start to add some meaning to what remains.

“What we want to do is come in here with a total station,” Mary Ann Owoc, associate professor, department of anthropology/archaeology said, to “make sure we can get a good record of this foundation, this location and all the visible structures (and) also some topographic points so we have a sense for the relief around the site.”

Owoc said that would provide data that would allow them to identify where they would want to dig.

She said they will “want to do a shovel test pattern around the house” and a landform behind the house.

“What different parts of the property were used for, the artifacts will give us a good idea about that,” she said. “From that evidence, (we are) going to have a lovely picture of what like was like in this house.”

Owoc said that she sold look to bring a historian with a background in 19th century architecture to examine the foundation.

“I think there’s a lot to be said her. There’s a lot we can do,” she said. “If people want to come out and play in the dirt with us, that would be good.”

She called Jackson a “historical figure” said the homestead is “an important place in the community. We want to get as many people involved as possible if they wish to be involved.”

As far as a timeline, she said that “it would be nice (to have a) student or two working on a senior thesis for the project.”

She said the planning would take place this call with the excavation to occur next spring and summer.

This might seem like a collection of short stories on the project.

It is.

And I saved the best for last.

Local citizens also told the Center in videos posted to YouTube of a special phone call that came during one of Jackson’s visits to Spring Creek.

At the time, the main telephone in Spring Creek was at the local store.

Jackson received a call from President Roosevelt… and had to be fetched from fishing to take the call.

An elderly man who was just a boy at the time said that they were asked to move to the other end of the building for Jackson to have a bit of privacy to take the call.

Barrett said that the phone call occurred in August 1940.

Jackson – then Attorney General – was called back to Washington DC for a “high-level cabinet meeting” as the administration was contemplating the 1940 destroyers deal.

In what became known as Destroyers for Bases, the two Allied powers announced the deal the following month – fifty mothballed destroyers were transferred to the Royal Navy from the United States Navy in exchange for land rights on British possessions.

“That was a big thing in Spring Creek,” one woman said.