ESCANABA – Delta County Genealogy Society is presenting a series of articles on the people who helped make Delta County what it is today. People from all walks of life and from all over Delta County will be chosen and honored for his/her contributions toward helping to shape life in Delta County. This month’s selection is…
GLADSTONE – On County Road 416 in Flat Rock sits a large farm. This centennial farm was begun in 1902, when George Hughes purchased 160 acres at the site. Here he began what would become his legacy.
George Hughes, son of John and Martha (Ogden) Hughes, was born in Canada on March 18, 1845, of Welch parents. George was the eldest of 12. His wife, Catherine, daughter of James and Jane Curran, was born in Lake Geneva, Wis. George was a railroad conductor and somewhat of a land speculator. He began purchasing land in Delta County and the City of Escanaba in 1887. The land that would become Maple Leaf Farms was purchased in 1902. George later donated the land on which the Holy Family Church in Flat Rock sits just up the road from where his original home was located. George and Catherine would have six children together: George Jr., James, Andrew, John, Mary and Gracie, who died shortly after birth.
The second oldest son, Andrew Jackson Hughes, was born July 22, 1876, in Escanaba. He went on to attend the Rush Medical School in Chicago, Ill., and graduated from Barnes Medical College in St. Louis, Mo. After graduation, he remained in St. Louis and practiced medicine. During this time, he met Honora “Onnie” Connors. Onnie was the daughter of Martin and Onnie Connors and had come to the United States in 1908 from County Mayo, Ireland. Onnie work as the secretary to Dr. Hughes while in St. Louis. These two would eventually marry and start their family there – the first five of eight children being born there.
Around 1919, Dr. and Mrs. Hughes would return to Delta County, when Dr. Walch invited him to come here and practice. Dr. Hughes practiced general medicine although he had a license for surgery. Dr. and Onnie Hughes’ children were George, John, James, Andrew Jr., Henry, Catherine, and Jane. Andrew inherited the farm when George Sr. passed away on Feb. 24, 1926.
Henry Hughes tells the story of the Bisdee Drug store in Wells where Dr. Hughes would go every Sunday after church. There he would buy the ingredients to mix into the potions that would treat his patients. He was well known for his own salve and even after he retired, people were still requesting it.
Dr. Hughes was your typical kind hearted country doctor. No bookkeeper was ever employed. Payment was sometimes received in things other than cash and because of the Depression, sometimes not at all. When Dr. Hughes passed away, they did find a few unpaid $2 billings, but true to his memory, payment was not perused. Around the time of his 60th birthday, Dr. Hughes stopped driving. While he still saw patients, one of the boys would drive him where needed. Henry tells of many a long hour spent sitting in the car waiting for a baby to be delivered. In 1925 the farm expanded by adding a dairy herd and a maple syrup business. Mrs. Hughes passed away Feb. 23, 1951, and Dr. Hughes followed her on Oct. 5, 1962.
Henry took over the farm from his father and after marrying Ilene Neuens in 1947, went on to raise their children there. Henry and Ilene have five sons and five daughters: Joseph, Patrick, Rosalie, Barbara Ann, Raymond, Ilene, Ronald, Connie, Larry, and Mary. Like many other farmers in the area, Henry supplemented the family income by working outside of the farm. He drove bus for the Gladstone area schools for 25 years. He also worked for the Surge Company, installing pipelines for the automatic milking machines that carries the milk to a holding tank, until pickup for processing.
Henry and Ilene started their family in the same small house that Dr. Hughes once lived in before Henry built the larger house that sits on the farm today. The family burned wood for heat like most farm houses of the time and Henry said that they used to buy a truck load of slabs to burn for $15. Ilene tells the story of their son, Raymond, being carried out the front door of the old house in to the back door of the new one asleep in his cradle and never waking up.
The Hughes children have many different interests and jobs. Joe is part owner of Hughes and Havinga Insurance. Patrick lives in Canada and works in an auto dealership. Rosalie is a Catholic nun and works at the Bishop Noa Home. Barbara Ann works in the bakery at Elmer’s. Raymond works on the farm and also for the railroad. Ilene plays organ for the church, Ronald lives downstate and is a lineman. Connie is also an organist for a church in Florida. Larry also works the farm with his dad, and Mary works transcribing medical records.
If you visit several stores in Delta County, you will see the Maple Leaf Farms syrup. The Hughes family has been in the business for many years. While new processing methods have made the cooking of the syrup easier, the work of collecting and bottling has stayed much the same. Henry explained that originally the syrup was cooked in large pans over open fires, the sap boiled down to produce the syrup. In 1962 an evaporator was purchased to replace the open fire method and improved the cooking method. It takes 35-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
Last year they tapped 7,000 trees to get 1,400 gallons of bulk syrup. The syrup is graded by color with the lighter color being considered premium if sold as bulk. Weather can effect the color of the syrup.
A total of 140 members of the Hughes family gathered for a reunion last summer to remember George Hughes. As the fifth generation of Hughes children get ready to take over the family farm, I’m sure George and Andrew are proud of the continuing tradition of the Hughes Family in Delta County.