Marion museum honors village founder Christopher Clark

STEW: Christopher Clark Day was celebrated in Marion on Saturday with a hearty lumberjack stew. Ingredients include ham, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes and turnips. Here, Bernard Prielipp serves the dish to Jerry McAlary. (Herald Review photo/Randy Johnston)
STEW: Christopher Clark Day was celebrated in Marion on Saturday with a hearty lumberjack stew. Ingredients include ham, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes and turnips. Here, Bernard Prielipp serves the dish to Jerry McAlary. (Herald Review photo/Randy Johnston)

MARION — More than 135 years ago, lumberman Christopher Clark forged through the wilderness along the Middle Branch River and founded a community which was to become the village of Marion.

In 1874, Clark stepped off the train in Cadillac with a crew of lumberjacks; beyond lay unexplored territory. Continuing on foot, he led the men through dense forest, hiking 25 miles to reach the ideal site for a new sawmill on the banks of the river.

Clark’s bride, whose name was Mary Ann or Marion Hixon (records aren’t clear about her first name), stayed behind in Cadillac until the workers completed her new home, a log cabin in the woods.

She then hired a horse and buggy and driver and headed for the camp. The buggy’s axle snapped with 10 miles to go. A search party found the two of them wandering in the dark.

This was Marion’s dramatic introduction to the place which was to be her home for the next 57 years — and home to generations of future Marionites. Many believe the romantic story that Clark named the village after his adventurous and accomplished wife, who was the first woman resident and first teacher in Marion.

On Saturday, the Marion Area Historical Society hosted its annual Christopher Clark Day in honor of the courageous spirit of our early pioneers.

Held at the Marion Area Historical Museum, the celebration is a popular local event with food, music, craft demonstrations, special museum exhibits, tours of the log cabin and displays of vintage farm equipment and tools in the barn.

Bernard Prielipp, who has lived in Marion for more than 70 years, cooked the hearty lumberjack stew, a Christopher Clark Day tradition. Simmering over an open fire, the savory dish, which combines ham, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes and turnips, was served with homemade cornbread and a selection of cookies.

Visitors enjoyed live entertainment performed by Larry Dorman and Carolyn Ahrens, both from Marion. Dorman played the guitar and keyboard while Ahrens played a specialized digital guitar called a qchord. They sang a varied repertoire of everybody’s favorites, including country, gospel, hymns and ballads.

A display of pillowcases, handkerchiefs and other linens decorated with hand tatting by Linda Ahlgren from Sears featured more than 20 traditional stitches ranging from simple borders to intricate patterns and lace-like designs. Onlookers watched as she skillfully created a border to demonstrate the delicate art of tatting.

“I’ve been tatting for almost 50 years,” said Ahlgren. “First you have to complete the border, then you sew it onto the piece you’re working on. Just tatting a border for a handkerchief can take 17 hours, but I love it. Sometimes it’s hard to keep count of the stitches, but it’s really relaxing.”

Visitors were intrigued to see six members of the Marion Spinning Guild demonstrate the art of spinning on several different types of spinning wheels and spindles. The spinners were working with a variety of fibers ranging from dog fur to sheep, alpaca wool and silk.

The guild was formed by master spinner and knitter, Ann Davenport Speer, who raises a flock of more than 20 sheep on Bird Hill Farm near Marion. It is called a spinner’s flock because the breeds are chosen to produce distinctive types of fleece that are spun into yarns of varying texture and sheen.

According to Speer, the Marion Spinning Guild is one of only a few in Michigan. Speer founded the guild because she is passionate about the art of spinning and is eager to teach the skill to others.

“New members are welcome,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you already know something about spinning or if you’re a novice. We’re glad to teach anyone who’s interested about spinning.”

For Meghan and Matthew Stalzer, of Branch, a visit to the log cabin located on the grounds of the museum was a highlight of the day.

“This is a nice day, lots of fun, and the people are very nice,” said Matthew. “This is the first time we’ve been inside the cabin and it’s a great way to see a real log cabin and get an idea of an old-fashioned way of life.”

Christopher Clark Day is an annual September event. There is no admission charge, as it is a gift to the community from the historical society.

The museum is at 505 S. Mill St. (M-66), Marion. For further information about the Marion Area Historical Society and the museum, contact Donna Geyer, (231) 743-2854. For more information about spinning, contact Speer at (231) 743-9607.