Ghosts of Main Street: Eugene Kirby, Stonemason

June 13, 2019

Part Two: A Mark Left In Stone, An Ending Unknown

By Julie Traynor

In a 1991 piece for the Marion Press, writer Sara Ludvigson was a fortunate gal to have had the opportunity to speak with Martha Settle Fordyce and Crystal Kirby Diment regarding their relatives. She heard some good stories in her quest to track down Kirby’s stonework. Crystal, then in her 80’s, remembered her great uncle Gene and Martha shared family stories. Both were well acquainted with the stone baskets. There was, however, some question about where the Kirby’s are buried that went unanswered.

Eugene and Maggie Kirby pose before their home located east of the village on the north side of the road, ca 1918. It has been gone many years. Today, one of Gene’s stone foundations may be seen at the former Sarge and Linda Bigford residence, between the village limits and the high school. At one time there was also a stone porch.

Twenty-five years later enter on line searching, ancestry sites and thereby the ability to find answers and flesh out lives.

Eugene Kirby literally left his mark in stone on Marion, Michigan. His cobblestone basket planters and porch work was truly amazing. He was in demand for foundations and chimneys. More of his work remains than will ever meet the eye. The stonework at his own home was a testament to and an advertisement for his talents. Kirby himself has been largely unseen and unsung until now.

Eugene Kirby, Stonemason 1858-1950

Jacob Eugene Kirby was born in Clinton County in 1857 to Thompson and Henrietta Brown Kirby. He was the second of their six children. In July of 1881 Eugene, 22, wed Emma Chapman, 18, and they settled in Clinton County. They were the parents of perhaps four children. Records are not clear, although records appear for Edna, upon her birth, Catherine (who died at 29, unwed) and siblings Forrest and Vernice Kirby, each through marriage records.  

Emma Chapman Kirby died, just six days shy of her 44th birthday, in January of 1906, leaving her husband a widower with grown children. In June of 1907, Eugene Kirby, 48, wed one Clara Saul, 27, of Farwell. They were divorced less than two years later in 1909.

Shortly after this divorce, Gene Kirby began visiting his “property at Marion” and his brother’s family much more frequently. Three years older, brother Clayton Kirby had come to Marion at the turn of the last century and ran a livery/boarding house/lunchroom on Main Street, on the site of the bank. He and his family also had property northeast of Marion, on Kirby Avenue.

Maggie Miller Settle Kirby stands amid stone baskets in various stages of work. 1918

Eugene Kirby likely found the abundance of rocks and stones in this area most conducive to his work and soon relocated to practice his stonemason’s trade. In the fall of 1911, when he was 53, J.E. Kirby married Maggie Miller Settle, also 53. Mrs. Settle, from the Shiawassee County area, was the grandmother of Martha Fordyce, one of Marion’s most beloved public library librarians.

The Kirby’s moved to Gene’s property on Kirby Avenue in Winterfield Twp, and later to a home just outside the east village limits where he showcased his fine stonework. Kirby’s advertising for stonemason work appeared regularly in the Marion Dispatch. As it was for many local builders, a project in progress made the Dispatch.

Gene and Maggie made the local news from time to time. They traveled and visited relatives in the southern part of the state. In 1921 it was noted that “J.E. Kirby was a deputy constable in the Village”.

What did not make the paper was the fact that Gene Kirby and Maggie Kirby were divorced later in the 1920’s, and Maggie who was in ill health, went to live in Mt. Pleasant with her son, Alvin Settle. Maggie died in 1927 at age 67. She is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Mt. Pleasant. Her death certificate lists her as a widow…and she was the widow of Mr. Settle.

Eugene Kirby left Marion and returned to Clinton County and the town of Muir. At age 70 he wed Elizabeth Phelp, age 74. He too was listed as a widow when he died on June 19, 1950 at age 92, having outlived several women. He is buried in the Eureka Cemetery, near Muir, in Clinton County. There is no word about stone baskets marking any of these graves. 

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