Meet James Thompson, Esq. - my great, great, great, great, great grandfather. Born in London, England in 1806, James sailed to America in 1836. Once settled on the Flat River near the Indian village of Ada, Michigan, James built a log cabin before sending for his family.
James' wife Mary and two sons landed at New York in 1837 and traveled up the Erie Canal before boarding a steamship on Lake Erie bound for Detroit, then overland 150 miles by wagon to the new family homestead.
As an early Kent County pioneer, James and his sons traded with Rix Robinson at his trading post at the confluence of the Grand & Thornapple Rivers at Ada, Michigan, on a site now home to Amway World Headquarters. Here we can see James reluctantly sitting for a portrait. His hardworking fingernails belie his formal dress. A stove pipe hat completes the man-about-town image his photographer seems to have encouraged.
The Thompson Homestead
In the 1840s, this frame house replaced Thompson's original log home on the Flat River, north of Lowell. James was an early customer of the Fallas Brothers saw mill, built on the Flat River at the village of Vergennes.
The proximity of the new mill - together with Thompson's eagerness for an actual house - meant this became a very early example of an eastern Kent County frame home.
The Thompson Homestead
185 Years On
The wood is long gone now except for a spare plank of siding we found years ago. We turned that board into small displays with a square of wood from the original Thompson home mounted like a relic.
It's a remarkable testament to the durability of the "Michigan cellar" that two walls of the root cellar still stand after 186 years of Michigan weather.
These cellars required real craftsmanship. Michigan cellars are typically constructed from riverstones - in this case from the Flat River. The primitive conditions early American pioneers faced meant building with no mortar or concrete.
Instead, the walls were constructed by carefully choosing and laying one river stone at a time, and mucking them to help form a bond with the soil. The goal was for the stones to interlock somewhat, like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Did it work? Today two cellar walls still stand nearly vertical, with a 90-degree corner holding strong.
Thompson Fine Furniture Co.
This photo is the cover of a sales brochure for my grandfather
Donald C. Thompson's furniture company. When he died in 1982, he had more than 10 years of orders waiting to be filled.
Don was also a early proponent of historical preservation efforts in the city. He was a leader in the campaign to save the 6th street bridge across the Grand River. He was also instrumental in the preservation of the Calkins Law office on State St.
Don was also a member of a group that established the Heritage Hill Historic District. His home at 551 Fountain Street NE was one of the first to receive this distinction, and he designed the familiar Heritage Hill shield, with the two capital H letters forming Doric columns. This logo can be found on every street sign in the district, and on many other guidepost signs and licensed products over the years.
The Thompson Fireplace Mantle
There are just a few remaining artifacts from the original Thompson homestead on the Flat River. This fireplace mantle is the original from the 1840 home.
It was rescued by my grandfather Don Thompson just prior to the house being razed in the early 1960s. Not bad for 183 year old, especially when you consider that this was the only form of heat in the house for almost 80 years.
In 1978 we restored the mantle. It's now a fixture in my dad's (Dave, Sr.) home on Thompson Drive in Vergennes Township. This new and far more comfortable homestead was built in 1994, also on the Flat River, less than a mile from the site of the original Thompson homestead.
During the restoration, a decision was made to avoid a reconstruction, meaning we would strip the mantle but not paint it, as well as to make only those repairs necessary to maintain structural integrity. The result are character
scars that carry interesting stories.
For example, a small hatchet for splitting kindling was stowed in the mantle face, blade first, as in this photo. There are also myriad nail holes in the front of the mantle, likely from Christmas stockings hung with care for over a century.
Leveraging the Thompson Branding
The Thompson Photography logo is designed to honor our family heritage. I borrowed my grandfather Don Thompson's fine furniture company logo featuring the swooshy "Th" reflected in his signature.
The circular decal branded every finished piece of fine furniture that left his manufacturing facility. I simply engaged a graphic designers to create a bespoke arts & crafts font.