History: Eden Twp’s Griswolds and their legacy on local education.

February 10, 2020

John and Betsey Griswold

History: Eden Twp’s Griswolds and their legacy on local education.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Editor’s Note: MC History Spotlight is a regular history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care.

Prologue: This is a continuation of MCP’s series on the histories of Mason County’s public schools.

There are many people and families to write about when telling the history of Mason County’s public education systems. One of those families is the Griswold family. The legacy of the Griswolds and education begins with the building of Marble School, located at Darr and Kinney roads, in 1876.

Much of the information in this story comes from “The History of Eden and South Custer,” a manuscript written and completed by George Griswold in 1960 which I plan on writing about more in the future. The manuscript includes a prologue written by Eulan C. Kortge, grandson of George Griswold, in 1981.

John and Betsey Griswold log cabin and farm in Eden Township, 1874.

John Warren Griswold (born Sept. 6, 1836 to February 1921) was born in Spencertown, Columbia County, New York. He attended grade school in Spencertown and high school and college in Chatam, N.Y. After taking a civil engineering course, he graduated college in 1852. John worked in construction until the beginning of the Civil War. He then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1861 and served until August 1864. John returned to his New York home after the war and married Elizabeth “Betsey” Ostrander in 1865. Two sons, John and George, were born in New York.

John and Betsey Griswold moved from Spencertown, New York to White Pigeon, Michigan in the fall of 1871. George Davis Griswold (1871 to 1966) was born earlier that summer. The following year, the family moved to Pentwater where John worked at building two Great Lakes’ size sailboats.

In 1873, John started a homestead on the Indian reservation that covered what is now Custer and Eden townships in Mason County (along with Crystal and Elbridge townships in Oceana County). He built a log house in 1874 and moved to that location in northwest Eden Township. A daughter, Ella, was born in 1877. In 1885 John built a large frame house. Besides surveying and carpentry, he also farmed.

The family lived among Native Americans, mostly Ottawa. George became close friends with many of the Ottawa children and even learned to speak their language.

John W. Griswold and the house he built in Eden Township. Later, the Kortge house.

John Griswold was a surveyor and a carpenter and in the summer of 1876 he built the Marble School (Custer Township School District No. 1) so his children and other neighborhood children could attend school that fall.

Marble School was located on the northeast corner of Darr and Kinney roads. The original school was moved in 1906 and replaced by the structure that still stands in that location. The school district operated until 1957 when it was divided between Mason County Central and Mason County Eastern schools. Alice Bidwell served as the first teacher.

“There were no grades in the early country schools and pupils progressed as their abilities permitted,” Eulan Kortge wrote. “At 14, George completed the country school and went on to the high school at Custer, where he graduated two years later.”


He then attended the Luther Foster County Normal School in Ludington, which was a prelude to the modern community college that trained people to become school teachers. George graduated the normal school within a year and at age 18, in 1889, started teaching. His first term was at Eden Township School District No. 8 fractional, Wiley, which was located on Scottville Road just south of Hawley Road (built in 1887 and closed in 1941 to become part of Riverton Township District School).

Brothers George, left, and John Griswold with their wives, Sadie, left, and Mary. Photograph taken at Silver Studio, 104 Ludington Ave., Ludington.

“At this point he decided that if he was going to continue to teach he needed more education,” Eulan Kortge wrote. “He enrolled at Ferris Institute in Big Rapids and paid his way through college by working during the winters in the lumber camps and by doing assignments during free time, evenings and weekends. When the lumbering camps slowed down after the spring log drive, George returned to Big Rapids to attend classes.”

For over 20 years, beginning in 1889, George taught at rural schools including Resseguie (Custer No. 2), Marble, Fern (Eden No. 3), and Wilson (Custer No. 7), Free Soil School District No. 1 (which included Free Soil High School in the village of Free Soil) and Custer School District No. 5 (which included Custer High School in the village of Custer).

On April 7, 1897, George married Sadie Ordway (1877-1964). They had four children: Ruby Beatrice (1897-1969); Amos (1900-1984); Ross (1905-2001) and Clara (1910-1989).

In 1919, George was elected Mason County School Commission, a position that was responsible for overseeing the quality of education in the 60-plus rural school districts. After spending 32 years on the family farm in Eden Township, George and Sadie moved into Scottville. George retired as school commissioner in 1936 at the age of 65.

Beatrice (Griswold) Kortge, 1959.

Both Beatrice (Kortge) and Ross were also teachers. Ross taught at Locke School (Logan Township No. 2), Wilson School and Dublin School in Manistee County. He eventually left teaching and went to work for Lear-Sigler, Inc. in Grand Rapids, which is a producer of automobile and military equipment. Beatrice taught school for 21 years, including 16 years in Mason County and five in Grand Rapids, according to her obituary. She retired in 1960 and passed away of a heart attack following the burning of the family’s Eden Township barn on March 17, 1969. She was 71.

George D. Griswold

George’s legacy as an educator has continued through his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren many of whom became educators. Their great-grandson Grant Griswold was a local teacher for many years. Several others also have entered into the education field.

Special thanks to Nancy Keith, great-granddaughter of George and Sadie Griswold and granddaughter of Beatrice Kortgem who supplied the research material and photographs for this article.

Presented by Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care, 502 N. Sherman St., Ludington, MI 49431; 231-845-6100; www.ludingtonwoods.com.




George and Sadie Griswold, 50th wedding anniversary, 1947. Photograph by Austin Studio, Scottville.


Ross Griswold, center, teaching at Wilson School, 1928.

This story is copyrighted © 2020, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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