A short history of Smith’s Landing

Sebastian Smith was an early resident of Watervliet who moved from Maine in 1854.  He eventually owned approximately 100 acres of orchards and even shipped apples to England.  Engravings depicting his farm and the outlet bay of Paw Paw Lake accompany a 1890 biographical sketch of him in History of Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan
 With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches
of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.
 D. W. Ensign & Co., Philadelphia 1880.   In these images his orchard extends over the hill that would be platted as Fair View in 1922 and the adjacent Bluecircle farm land.  His cows graze along the road that rounds the bay and lies at the foot of the hill known in 1900 as Hetherington Hill.  Until 1960 this road, identified as M11, would remain a main route connecting Chicago visitors with northern destinations in Michigan.  In the 1880s he built a pier here that would identify the adjacent lakeshore as Smith’s Landing.    What has been described as the first cottage on Paw Paw lake would be built there in 1887, another would be located “in Sebastian Smith’s cowpasture”, and within a few years lakeside development had blossomed at several locations around the lake.  This period of Paw Paw Lake history is reviewed by R.L. Rasmussen in Paw Paw Lake – A 100 Year Resort History (1890’s-1990’s) Southwestern Michigan Publications, Coloma MI.

Smith’s pier was only a hundred feet from the short stream that connects Paw Paw Lake to the Paw Paw River.   Watervliet’s shops, lodgings, and a rail depot were two miles downstream and for some years steam launches navigated the shallow waters.  Even larger steamboats ferried passengers around the lake itself as tourism and resorts proliferated in the early 20th Century.   Today the site of Smith’s pier endures as a Watervliet Township swimming pier and small park, the last remnant of the public beaches of Fair View.  When Abraham Botto purchased Smith’s Landing from Sebastian Smith the boundaries of the property must have been poorly defined.  Botto’s estate remained in and out of probate court from 1920 until 1949 before a conventional description of Fair View was entered by his daughters and Smith’s Landing was finally laid to rest.

Gaff-rigged sailboat at Smith’s Landing


Are poplars afraid of the dark, or the trespass of sodium lights?

Poplars bathed in a sodium nightlight

Having lived mostly in urban areas it is memorable when the lights go out in the basement and true feel-your-way darkness begins.   Such blackness never occurs outdoors in our cities, and increasingly prevalent “security lighting” is making it difficult to find a dark night even in rural areas.  “Light trespass” is a term used to describe undesirable and sometimes completely unacceptable illumination across property lines  (www.darksky.org/assets/documents/is076.pdf ).  In recent years several Michigan communities with long histories of tourism and respect for the environment have enacted ordinances that regulate outdoor lighting, especially when it creates glare or encroaches on property lines.  Do trees, the permanent residents of this hillside,  mind this sort of nightlighting?

For people, it will be several years before the poplars planted just south of this powerful “security beacon” provide sufficient screening to make campfires or any recreational use of this area enjoyable even in summer.   In the meantime the “sodium cityscape” is on display.

An unshielded streetlight-type luminare placed too high and close to the property line produces light trespass

Findings of a maple’s autopsy

Saw work at the top of the high lift

The “tree doctor’s” diagnosis of our nearly 100-year old maple’s terminal condition proved correct.  The sawn trunk sections of our recently felled maple revealed a deep split from “12 o’clock to 6 o’clock” across the middle of the trunk, and a second split at “9 o’clock” that intersected the first at a right angle.  One of the several main divisions of the trunk was hollow and segments of it broke on impact with the ground despite their shell of live wood.  Because of the proximity of power lines and the mature pine   just north of the maple the tree removal took nearly 3 days, but was accomplished without any interruption of electrical service.  Nice work, tree surgeon!

50:50 split of an old maple trunk