The mystery of the green beads path

Most Bluecircle months yield discovery.  In March the melting drifts finally gave way to brown sand and sticks, but colder than usual weather delayed the first bits of green that promise the growing season ahead.  On cloudy days the Conservancy woods looked as much dead as alive.  Toppled and broken trees, victims of storms or disease, mutely block paths or place heavy burdens on their standing neighbors.  But swaying of still limber treetops in the afternoon wind argues that the broken grove will survive.



Green beads turned from a sandy path

Green beads turned from a sandy path


IMG_1139So what about the mystery?  A day or two after St. Patrick’s Day the thin roots of an uprooted tree bled green, dripping glassy beads into the sandy crater where it recently stood.  If it had not fallen at the edge of a walking path, and if its limbs and branches had not obstructed other ways up the hill the beads would not be seen – unknown they would have washed back into the sandy subsoil.

There were no holes in these beads so they would not have come from a broken string.  There were too many to have decorated lost jewelry, or a sash.

To be entangled in  roots of a substantial tree they must have been lost many years ago.  Their past is a unknown – but those that remain on the path have already rejoined the woodland cycle of growth and regeneration.



The Godfather of Fair View

Downtown Chicago 1906 near Abraham's hotel.

In 1922 Sebastian Smith sold his remaining farm and orchard land to Abraham F. Botto and his wife Katherine, both of Chicago.  Based on 1890 census data Abraham was born Antonio Botto, and at that time was a Chicago saloon keeper.  A vignette of him is found in Best’s Insurance Reports 1902: “Botto, Abraham F, is one of three heirs of a wealthy Italian, who left property valued at several hundred thousand dollars.  He formerly ran a saloon at 331 W Madison street but has retired from active business and is now engaged in looking after his property.  He lives in the second story of a frame building on W.  Madison street over a cigar store in property owned by himself and also owns the La Fayette Hotel at the corner of Madison and Des Plaines.  He is estimated worth $50,000 clear.”  In October 1903 he married Katherine Schomer, who was then 37.  Nineteen years later they would be credited with developing Smith’s Landing and adjacent land into a plat of 145 lots in Section 14 of Watervliet Township, and naming it Fair View.  The plat was bordered to the south by  an unnamed  bay at the natural outlet of Paw Paw Lake, and to the north by what is now Bluecirclefarm.  Unfortunately Mr. Botto did not survive to sign the dedication of the Plat, filed June 23, 1922 and signed by Katie Botto (widow) as proprietor.  He has been credited with designating nearly 800 feet of beachfront as “Sunset Park”.    A small portion of this park remains open to the public as a Watervliet Twp. park.

1922 Plat of Fair View, Paw Paw Lake

Mapping the hilltop orchard

Schwarting Property, 1929

Sebastian Smith was the second owner of the Bluecirclefarm hill.  Some of the apple orchards he planted between 1864 and 1890 would last for almost a century.   Historians credit him with exporting apples to London in the late 1800s and helping establish the area’s reputation for fruit production.   By 1900 Paw Paw Lake had become a popular vacation destination with summer cottages, shoreline hotels and attractions and some of his orchards were replaced by new cottages on Hetherington Hill.  He sold the last of his holdings in 1922 to developers.  C.J. Schwarting, misidentified on this 1929 map as “Swarting”, served as trustee for the area which would remain orchards for most of the 20th Century and eventually become home to the Bluecircle.

Remnant of Smith's orchard legacy, 1960s

Pomona Point and Hetherington Development, 1903

1887 Map of Property Owners

Marion’s Golden Bears

Marion Atwill owned the hill that is now the Bluecirclefarm from her second husband’s death in January 1958 until hers in 1987.  This was apparently a time of transition for both her and her land.  In the 1950s she was a successful golfer at the Berrien Hills Country Club, placing on the leader board there and in nearby Benton Harbor golf tournaments.  Presumably her years of occasional “backyard practice”  explains the many golf balls that have surfaced as we work to remove the furrows from the land.  The “Nicklaus Golden Bear #4” found on a recent frosty morning is difficult to date accurately, but similar balls date to the 1960s.   It was a difficult decade for Marion.  Her mother died in 1963 and a son was killed in a local bus-car crash the following year.  Six months later Marion was hospitalized after her own car crash and was named in a personal injury suit but another driver.   There are no further reports of her success at golf in the local newpapers, and  it is likely this phase of her life came to a close.  Within a few years the last of the fruit trees in her orchard were gone as well.