Mason County’s pioneering French families: Chauvez and Courtot. 

February 20, 2021

Mason County’s pioneering French families: Chauvez and Courtot. 

Around the County is a presentation of Preferred Credit Union, www.preferredcu.org, located locally at 266 N. Jebavy Dr., Ludington.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

It’s very likely that the most mis-pronounced road name in Mason County is Chauvez Road, which stretches from the lakeshore to nearly the eastern county line. While looking at the name one may assume that the name is of Spanish origin and is pronounced “show-vez”. That is actually incorrect. Nor is the other common local pronunciation of “show-vee” correct. The proper pronunciation is “show-vay”, as the family from which the road was named after came from France. 

Francois “Frank” Chauvez was born March 12, 1837 in France (and died on Feb. 27, 1913). He immigrated to the United States from France in 1857. His wife, Paulina Geyfried Chauvez, immigrated in 1883. Paulina was born on Jan. 22, 1860 in Stuttgart, Germany (and died on July 23, 1934) and immigrated to the U.S. on her own when she was 23-years-old. The next year she married 47-year-old Frank.
It is likely that Chauvez was not even Francois’s original surname. A 1910 U.S. Census document shows the spelling as Charriez. Any web searches to the name Chauvez in France re-direct to the spelling Chauvet.

The Feb. 27, 1913 edition of the Ludington Record-Appeal and the March 5, 1913 edition of the Ludington Chronicle published Frank’s obituary. 

Frank was born near Strasbourg, France, located near the German border. Strasbourg had historically been a site of contention between the French and Germans. In 1681, it became a French city after the conquest of Alsace by the armies of Louis XIV. In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, the city became German again, until 1918 when the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, placed it under French rule again. When Germany invaded France in 1940, the Germans again claimed it. Since the end of 1944, and the liberation of France, the city has been French.  

Frank came to the U.S. when he was 19 and became a mine worker for the Calumet and Heela Co. in the Upper Peninsula. Later he came to Saginaw and began working for the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad as a car repairer and later as a wheels and cars inspector. He worked for the railroad for 25 years, until 1888 when he bought a 135 acre farm on the northeast and southeast corners of what is now Pere Marquette Highway and Chauvez Road, known one time as Suttons Corners. 

“He took the farm from a run down and poor piece of property, built it up, planted it to fruit, built beautiful buildings and it now stands to the credit of this county as one fo the finest fruit farms and country homes in western Michigan,” the Record-Appeal obituary stated. 

Frank Chauvez was a pioneer Mason County farmer. Today, many acres of land, especially in Pere Marquette, Riverton and Summit townships, continue to be orchards.

“Visitors from outside were shown the Chauvez home and farm as an evidence of what this county could produce when handled by competent people,” the obituary continued. “The hospitality of the home was also a marked feature. Strangers were always gladly welcomed and very many citizens of Ludington and besides those whose homes were in other localities will add their sympathy and condolences to ours, when they are told that ‘Frank Chauvez is dead.’” 

The obituary stated that Chauvez, who was 76, died of pneumonia. 

According to Paulina’s July 24, 1934 obituary in the Ludington Daily News: “Mr. Chauvez was one of the county’s most enthusiastic fruit men and he and all the family worked early and late planting and cultivating the orchards that finally covered 60 acres.” A 1904 plat map showed the Chauvez family owning 135 acres. Their farm was called South Pere Marquette Farm.

Frank and Paulina had five children, with three of them dying, as adults, within one year of each other: Frances Frank Chauvez, June 28, 1884 to Aug. 7, 1909; Pauline E. “Dolly” Chauvez, March 2, 1886 to Nov. 28, 1908; Wellington Chauvez, 1888-1910; Elery (or Emoory or Emery) Chauvez, Sept. 6, 1891 to Feb. 21, 1939 and Mamie Chauvez (later Pfenning),1894-1956.

According to their death certificates filed with the county: Pauline died at the age of 22 from tuberculosis. Son Frank, Jr. was killed at the age of 25 after being run over by a wagon. Son Wellington died at the age of 22 of bone tuberculosis (effecting his spine). 

The Aug. 11, 1909 edition of the Ludington Chronicle had a very detailed account of Frank, Jr.’s death: 

“Skull Crushed” the headline read. The next day, Aug. 12, 1909 edition of the Ludington Record Appeal’s headline read “Skull Crushed by Wagon; Frank Chauvez, Jr. killed instantly by axel of wagon; his family prostrated; Death visits home twice in few months. Family well known in Mason County. Sad blow to father.”

“A wheel of the heavy fruit wagon coming off and throwing him to the ground caused the almost instant death in this city Saturday afternoon of Frank Chauvez, eldest son of Frank Chauvez, one of the most prominent and wealthy fruit growers of Summit Township,” the Ludington Chronicle article read (inaccurately since the Chauvez family farmed in Pere Marquette Township, not Summit Township). 

“Mr. Chauvez and his son were bringing a big load of peaches to Ludington, the latter driving the powerful team. Just as they arrived opposite the Ludington Woodenware company’s    pin mill, the wheel under the young man rolled off suddenly. He pulled up the horses and spoke to them in an effort to prevent a runaway. In an instant the jolt of the wagon tipping threw the unfortunate young man under the nearest horse’s hind feet, their hoofs crushing his skull. As they moved on the axel of the lost wheel completed the awful mangling of the skull. The father jumped but was powerless to avert the tragedy.”

Later the article stated: “The sad death of the son has been a terrible blow to the family especially coming so soon after that of the daughter Mary Chauvez who died of consumption last winter.” (The daughter’s name listed in her death certificate was Pauline, as stated above). 

  Following her husband’s death in 1913, Pauline Chauvez moved to her daughter Mamie’s home in Muskegon where she lived the remainder of her life. Their remaining son, Elery, lived at 306 E. Melendy St. He and his wife, Emily Johnson Chauvez (1898-1988), had two children, Laverne Chauvez (1918-1995) and Ellery Jack Chauvez (1924-1984). Records show that both of them moved out of the area. Laverne to California and Ellery to Muskegon. 

Riverton Township farmer Foster LaBar purchased the farm in 1921 and then sold it to Gustave Affloter of Ludington in 1923.

Mason County has not historically been known as a destination for French immigrants. But, another known name in Ludington in the early 20th century were the Courtots. Frank Joseph Courtot was born on July 21, 1851 in Belfort, France (and died on May 4, 1930 in Ludington). He immigrated to the U.S. in 1880 along with his wife, Celestine (1851- 1929) and their son, Louis, born Dec. 30, 1876 (to Jan. 26, 1948). 

Frank Courtot was a nephew of Frank Chauvez. He served in the French military during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and an additional two years following the war. He was a moulder by trade. When he came to Ludington he began working at Goodsell Iron Works, which was located on Rath Avenue where later the Star Watch Case factory was located (now Waterfront Condominiums and Marina). 

According to Courtot’s May 5, 1930 obituary, Goodsell Iron Works “did a rushing business turning out boilers and other machinery for the saw mills and steam barges.” 

He then moved to Milwaukee in 1897 where he worked for eight years and then returned to Ludington where he worked for Industrial Iron Works, operated by Patterson and Rohn. He later worked for the Stearns Motor Factory (see related story here), which was located in the present location of the Ludington Municipal Marina and owned by lumber baron and entrepreneur Justus Stearns. After working for Stearns for five years, he retired after 55 years in the moulder’s trade. 

In 1904, Frank and Louis opened Frank Courtot Grocery at 419 E. Dowland St. (modern location of Clingan-Irvine Associates), just a block away from Frank and Celestine home at 407 E. Melendy St. Louis (Louie) and his wife, Della, lived at 411 E. Melendy St. 

Frank’s obituary described his relationship with his wife and son: 

“Frank Courtot was born in Belfort, France and there married the bride he brought with him when he came to Ludington and who walked by his side, a true helpmate, more than half a century. She passed away last October and since then Mr. Courtot had failed rapidly.”

“Twenty-six years ago Mr. Courtot established the grocery business at 419 Dowland St. of which his son, Louis, has been manager. On Louis’ birthday three years ago, the father made him a deed of gift of his share, making the son sole owner of the business. 

An unusually close and binding tie has always existed between father and son who were inseparable companions sharing every interest. The father was a man of gentle, kindly instincts tenderly devoted to wife, son and grandchildren and was always ready to do a kindness where there was opportunity.”

The Courtets sold the grocery store in 1938. 

Frank and Pauline Chauvez are buried in Lakeview Cemetery while Frank and Celestine are buried at Pere Marquette Catholic Cemetery. 

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