Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: Here’s the church, where’s the steeple?

Latter Day Saints Church Early photo NE Corner Carland and Main

This week brought some physical changes to Main Street and some fond Blevins Street memories for me.
We don’t know what’s in store for the little former church-become-Community Space in Marion, Michigan. But we do note that there is some likely much needed repair and updating going on there this week. New windows are in place and roof work is in progress.
The former Curtis Hotel-Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)-Marion Baptist Church-etc, building at the northeast corner of Main and Carland Streets appears to be getting a facelift. That’s something the little building with its feet in our past and, hopefully, its roofline in our future, is in need. After all, this building has seen Marion pass its doors for more than 100 years.
Very briefly, this is its story. This corner was once occupied by a double glass-front, two-story building with a livery and a deep ravine at the back. It was known as the Curtis Hotel, rooms to let upstairs, a café on the street. This was the arrangement until the early 1920’s when the east portion of the building was removed. At the same time the top story was removed from the west side, leaving a 22×42 foot building. The RLDS congregation purchased this property in 1924. They used, and continued to improve the building. Eventually, they sold to the Marion Baptist congregation in 1972. It was used by several other small church groups after that.
The building passed into commercial use for several years and has stood basically vacant for even more. It has been most recently known as A Gathering Place.
The late Sidney VanderWal and his family, wife Mary, step daughters Anna and Kay, and the VanderWal’s young daughter Susan, lived in the big white house at the corner of Blevins and Grover Streets. The house was surrounded by spirea bushes and good climbing trees. Sid’s daughter, Sue, was my earliest, and now longest, friend.
Sid was a carpenter by trade. As a Blevins Street kid, and a descendant of carpenters, I was always fascinated by his workshop. It was an old barn in their yard, next to Grover St. It smelled of wood and sawdust. Something was always under construction and the barn was usually off limits when he was working.
The old barn was also where he stored his horde of good woods and special boards (all carpenters have them), his many patterns, hand tools, clamps, saws, lathes and such. This was where he built everything from kitchen cupboards to rocking horses. He did them all.
From a Blevins Street kid’s point of view the best thing to come out of his workshop was stilts. They were beautifully made stilts; all sharp edges were sanded and the foot pieces were screwed to the stilt. They had a lip to prevent a foot from slipping off. Every kid wanted a pair and eventually, most of us got them. For a couple of summers, the Blevins Street kids were extra tall.
I received stilts for my December birthday. The temptation to use them in our house was great. By spring, I was a pro. Sid’s stilts were among the best gifts I ever received, and that includes my only bicycle.
Sid did much more than cut boards in his home shop. He prepared finish work for new construction and prepared his built-in cupboards for installation in many area homes. He worked on the building of houses as well. One is a small home, perhaps a half a mile north of the Calvin Church on M-66, is a Sid house. The eaves still have the distinct ‘look’ he used in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.
The VanderWal’s were members of Marion’s Latter Day Saints Church. In fact, Sid was pastor from 1945-47 and served as an Elder for many years. As such, Sid wore many hats, including his carpenter’s cap. He spent many hours helping with maintenance and improvements. From the kitchen and meeting area of the former hotel basement, to the building’s steeple, he left his mark on the building for years to come.
Unfortunately the stilts and rocking horses are gone, and we note that this week, so is his small, sturdy steeple with the scalloped corners. It was pure Sid style. He loved to use scallops in kitchens, on cupboards or at the curve of an eave. For 60 plus years the little church steeple stood as a testament to Sidney VanderWal’s faith and his craft.
Postcard from the Pines – Julie Traynor
Marion Press – May 26, 2023

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