A Family of Dry Hill

by Ed Howard
Reprinted from Society News, the newsletter of the Arcadia Area Historical Society
June 2011. Volume 17 Issue 1.

Hard to imagine now, but the empty, homeless high ground bordering Arcadia on the north and running far eastward was once a thriving farm community--known by early settlers as “Dry Hill.” Local dinner conversations in the thirties and forties rung with Dry Hill names like Van Loon, Bunker, Riley, Chalker, and Baird. Even then, some names had long left the area. As a youth, hearing their stories told over and over again, it seemed those families had been up there forever--and always would be.

But, things and folks are not always as they seem. One Dry Hill family, the Bairds, came to make that very clear. For as long as this farm boy could remember, brothers Ren and George Baird had lived as bachelors on Dry Hill with their spinster sister, Gertie. Besides raising their own crops, they made a living planting and harvesting for other, off-the-hill, farmers like my Dad and the Putneys. When I remembered, their average pay was two dollars a day. Of course, when hired-men came to work, wives, like my Mother, were obliged to feed them. (Since none of the Bairds could drive, my Dad was also obligated to pick them up and take them home too.). So around the dinner table in those days of only radio, young folks would (must) eat quietly while the “old folks” talked. One learned a lot.



I soon learned that Ren and George were not the boring, old stay-at-home farmers I presumed. Dad would encourage Ren, deaf as he was, to talk glowingly of his early excursions West. He’d been in Texas and many Southwestern states before finally settling awhile in Pomona, California. There he worked the citrus orchards. Pomona was so nice, he was always “going back someday”.

Younger brother, George, had also gone West sometime before 1910. In 1909 he was fireman, and sometimes engineer, on a mining railroad in Ely, Nevada. He’d been a member of the Elks Club in Ely and still had many friends there. He talked of his fellow workers, the dangers of the job, his friends, and his many hunting ventures. George, like Ren, was yearning to go back someday.

Well the wind blows and the sands shift, especially on Dry Hill, and it seems “forever” changed direction up there. Ren and George never did make it West again. They both died in their late eighties, some fifty years ago. Most of their final days were spent on their Dry Hill farm. Gertie lived to be ninety-seven and passed away in the l970s,---shortly after letting the farm go to the Consumer Power project.

I like studying those by-gone days, so I feel fortunate to have purchased things from the Baird estate--- shortly before they tore down the old house and barn. Now and then I paw through the stuff and admire things like the billy club George probably carried on the mining train--or the brand new Elks tie-pin he never wore. Then there’s Ren’s rough, hand-sewed traveling pouches, still holding old razors and straps.---What a trail drifter he must have been. And thanks, Gertie, for saving all those letters, scraps, and photos that help paste together the stories of Dry Hill.

The Bairds

Left to right: Sister Addie (who did marry), father Matt Baird, Gertie, Ren, and George

DryHillDry Hill Area
The north line of Arcadia Township showing the southwest sections of Benzie County  -- 1901 Plat Map.