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THE WHITE FARM HOUSE

 

In 1857, when George F. Porter was 25 and two years after he married Delilah Champlin, he bought 80 acres of land in Chester Township, Ottawa County, northwest of Grand Rapids, Michigan (source: 1923 Porter Family History). To quote from the history, written by George’s widow, Mary Ann, “by courage and tireless industry [he] created this piece of wilderness into a beautiful farm home.”

 

In 1861 a home he had built on the property was ready for the family to move into. If we reconstruct correctly, at that time two babies had already been born and had died, Eugene was just a baby, and Delilah may or may not have been pregnant with Edmond, who would be born (and die) the following year.

 

George and his family lived in that frame farm house for four decades. There he raised food to feed his family, including enough to store through the long winters. There he watched six of his children take their first steps and say their first words—and there he watch four more of his children die in infancy. In 1882, he watched Delilah herself die at the age of 43. A year and a half later, he brought home a new wife for himself, mistress for the home, and mother for baby Glenn.

 

At the time of his death in 1908, the house went out of the family. Though it would be quite sadly neglected for the next six decades, today it is resplendent in white aluminum siding and is again the center of a thriving family farming operation.

 

On a “family heritage tour” in late June, 1992, great-great-granddaughters Esther Gross and Dottie Hoppe and Dottie’s daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Tavi Rendón, stopped at the farm house on Truman Road and introduced themselves (“Our great-great-grandfather built this house”). They were warmly welcomed by Fred and Sue Van Oeffelin, the current owners.

 

The Van Oeffelins, who now run the farm as a successful hog-raising operation, were very interested in the history and the builder of the house. They recounted that Ford Porter had stopped by at some time and introduced himself (Fred referred to him as “the evangelist” and kept saying, “He really loved the Lord”). Ford recounted how his father had built the house, that he had been born there, and had lived there until he was eight or nine.[1]

 

The Van Oeffelins showed their guests the book full of land transactions regarding the property. The entry most interesting to them was the one in 1908 when George died, which listed all his heirs, including his widow, Mary Batson Porter, and his six surviving children and their spouses.

 

The Gentz family who bought the house in 1908 apparently did little or nothing over the years to keep it up (it is assumed they were not able to financially?). The Van Oeffelins recounted that when they purchased the home in 1968, it had never had a second coat of paint and still had no indoor plumbing. Over the years they have added bathrooms and redecorated the place, very tastefully and in harmony with its origins. In the early 1980s they did the whole outside in white aluminum siding. It is now stately and beautiful; George would be duly impressed—and probably amazed at the condition of his house after 150 years!

 

Sue Van Oeffelin graciously took the impromptu guests on a tour of the home, including the upstairs. It seems likely that all of George’s children except Adelbert, Edmond, and Eugene were born in the house and that Elbert, Edith, Effie May, Delilah herself, and baby Earl from the second marriage died there. Jean and Mary Ellis, granddaughters of Mary, remember their grandmother telling of being present as a child when one of the babies died right while her mother was holding it. It is likely that croup was the cause of death in at least some of the cases.

 

Being in the home with such an ancestral history was a great privilege and pleasure. In 2002 Esther Gross along with husband Fred drove by the house once more, and it appeared the same as it had ten years earlier.

 

 



[1] Van Oeffelin also reported that Ford said his father then built the brick house on 16th street and moved the family there. Members of the current family feel unsure of that account because it doesn’t fit with other information and impressions they have had of the origins of the brick farm house. For more specifics on this, see notes with write-up about the brick house. Perhaps further research will answer some of these questions.