At the Dream Diner with J. August Lithen

December 6, 2018

by Julie Traynor

Just after the early November release of his book, The Road to Marion Town, I met with its author and my old friend, Jim Lithen for coffee and conversation at the Dream Diner.  Our topic of conversation was, of course, his book.

This was by no means our first discussion about Marion and Jim’s work. We’ve talked about our favorite ‘old gal’; her childhood, adventures and her citizens many times before. The story of Marion and how she grew doesn’t get old for either of us. We both know that Marion does not give up her story or her secrets without some digging.

Local author Jim Lithen will be at the Marion Public Library on December 4th from 4:30 - 6:30 pm for a book signing of his recently released book “The Road to Marion Town: The Settlement of Osceola County, State of Michigan”.

Local author Jim Lithen will be at the Marion Public Library on December 4th from 4:30 – 6:30 pm for a book signing of his recently released book “The Road to Marion Town: The Settlement of Osceola County, State of Michigan”.

Lithen’s road on the Road has been quite a long one, as is often the case with things worth the wait. As publisher of the Marion Millennium newspaper he was drawn to the details of Marion’s story he found while paddling through a myriad of old newsprint regarding the Muskegon River watershed. Our own Middle Branch River and Mill Pond is a part of this system. The further he paddled the newspaper backwaters and libraries of Osceola and surrounding counties, the more he was intrigued by the settlement of Marion Township and by those attracted to this rough and rugged place.  It wasn’t long before Lithen knew he had the makings for a book.

This is an extremely well researched, well written historical, regional work. It is certainly destined to be an important historical resource for the future. Thanks to Lithen’s work the story of how we came to be Marion, Michigan and of the people who tamed and shaped this area will not be lost to future generations. In somewhat of a nutshell, if one can put a 900+ page book in a nutshell, this is the story of us. The Village of Marion is our common ancestor.

Lithen sets Michigan and Marion’s stage geologically, politically and economically. He populates it with those who were drawn to this new place and tells their stories. Early legends Doc Stimpson and Tom Blodgett are given their due with “Doc & Tom – A Historical Novella”. Their trip up the Muskegon and deep into Clare County, via the creek and into the lake which bears their names opened the country for timber cruisers, lumbermen, pioneers and all who followed.

From the timber rich hills of Highland and Hartwick to the busy river townships of Middle Branch, Winterfield and Redding, the reader will recognize places and names, and might just find a relative or two. And he might just learn a few things he did not know about places like Dighton, Vogel Center, Park Lake and Temple while he’s at it.

Lithen tells us about the Clark’s and lays out the true story behind the naming of Marion Township and Village. This was once quite a hot topic in these parts. He also tells us about John Carland, the man whose name is remembered on six residential street signs.

Lithen’s book is comfortable and familiar from the beginning. It takes us from the wilderness into which the earliest lumbermen and settlers came, through the clearing of the land and the arrival of the railroad. Chapter 49 titled ‘A Requiem for the Early Days’ near the books’ close, brings us to the point just past the turn of the last century when the Great Fire changed Marion’s look and direction. The trees were gone and Marion was moving to an agriculture centered lifestyle; changing almost overnight into the Marion we would be for the next fifty years.

Try as I may, however, I cannot review The Road to Marion Town as I might another book. Marion readers will be the ultimate critics. I too, am too close to the subject matter. Marion is my home. I’ve heard the tales.

I will be honest here. I am wandering around in our history, reading what catches my eye and going with it. It does not have to be in chronological order for me. This is all a great read and wonderfully told. There are endless historical tid-bits, references to familiar places and above all stories of the folks who set Marion on the road to being the town it is today. The Road to Marion Town is well illustrated with maps, photographs and artwork.

I am thoroughly enjoying my armchair travels on the Road to here. I cannot recommend J. August Lithen’s The Road to Marion Town highly enough.

The Road to Marion Town will make a fabulous Christmas gift for the Marionite or historian in your family. It is locally available from the publisher, Parkhurst Bros., at Artist on Duty on Main Street, the Marion Public Library and from the author, J. (Jim or Gus to us) August Lithen at his First Street home, where he will be glad to sign a copy for you. The cost is $49.95 and worth each and every penny.

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