Great-great nephew trying to set the historical record straight

July 15, 2013
Fred Reader IV wants to correct the historical marker in Scottville.

Fred Reader IV wants to correct the historical marker in Scottville.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

SCOTTVILLE — Fred Reader IV is in pursuit of correcting what he says is a historical inaccuracy that leaves out a key figure in Scottville’s history.

In 1989, Scottville celebrated its centennial, honoring the year it became a chartered village (in 1907 Scottville was chartered as a city). The town held a year-long celebration with one of the highlights being the dedication of an official State of Michigan historical marker located in the pocket park (also known as the mall) in downtown Scottville.

The marker tells of a town legend of businessmen Hiram Scott and Charles Blain flipping a coin to name the town. This event took place shortly before the town became a village. Prior to that time, the town had been known as Mason Center and as Sweetland; James Sweetland was one of the town’s original settlers but, the story goes, he abandoned his wife and their newly born twins, thus no longer being deserving of the namesake.

Hiram Scott was a lumberman who was also business partners with George H. Reader in a general store. Charles Blain was a banker from Ludington who owned the majority of the land that is present day Scottville. George Reader, the third person of significance in this story, was an immigrant from England who, by today’s standards, would be known as an entrepreneur.

George H. Reader

George H. Reader

The Reader family still is very much present in Mason County. Some of the family members continue to own original family homes. George, known as G.H. in the family, also served as a state representative. He and his brothers Talcott and Fred J. owned a general store which later became F.J. Reader and Sons Hardware. The Reader brothers built several of the downtown Scottville buildings. One of those buildings, now occupied by Business Print, still stands with the name F.J. Reader in the placard.

Several accounts of the town’s history tell of the coin flip that Hiram Scott participated in. It’s pretty clear that the town was named after him. The dispute, though, is who else tossed the coin.
Fred Reader IV says it was his great-great uncle George Reader was that person. Most of history agrees.

In 1936 G. Pearl Darr of Free Soil (Darr Road), wrote a history of Scottville’s early days. The history, which is available at the Scottville branch of the Mason County Library, is five pages. It does not state Mrs. Darr’s credibility but it is assumed that she was a town pioneer.

“In changing the name of the town it fell to George Reader and Hiram Scott the duty of renaming the town,” Mrs. Darr wrote. “They decided the matter by flipping a coin with the result that Scott was to name the town and Reader the streets.”

This story was re-told by author June Newkirk in her book “Back Home with Ruth,” a biography, published in 1976, of Ruth Falconer, one of the first children born in Scottville. In that biography Mrs. Falconer also tells the same story.

“My grandfather and my dad both told me the story when I was young,” Fred IV says. “Also, I met Mrs. Scott back in the 1950s. She came into our store. She was living in Manistee and I remember it was her 90th birthday. She told us, in the store, that her husband and George Reader tossed the coin.”

Fred says he can only find one published article that references Charles Blain participating in the coin toss instead of George Reader. That article was written by a Mrs. O’Hearn in 1942. “She was having a big argument with my grandfather at the time,” Fred says adding Mrs. O’Hearn made a point to discredit George Reader’s contribution in her article.

If most of the historical records indicate the toss took place between Scott and Reader, then how did the marker end up telling the other story?

In 1989 Thom Hawley was director of the Mason County Historical Society. He said he doesn’t recall being overly involved in the historical marker application process.

“I don’t recall who submitted the copy for that originally,” Hawley says. “The state has to rely upon local research.”

Hawley says it’s likely whomever submitted the application used the O’Hearn article as reference rather than the older historical documents.

Scottville’s Main Street Manager Heather Landis and City Manager Amy Williams both say the city is supportive of changing the sign if it means setting the record straight. However, the key is to find out which is actually historical fact.

Landis says while in college she interned with the state’s historical center. Part of her duties were to verify the accuracy of historical markers. She says since the Scottville marker was erected in 1989 the state has tightened its requirements on historical documentation.

Fred Reader thinks he has enough historical records to make his case, however. He also has the financial backing from his family to pay for the changes. But, he would like the city to chip in. Williams says the Main Street Committee has discussed helping with the changes.

“I just want to set the record straight,” Fred says. “That’s the right thing to do.”

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