The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about the Walker Tavern which was located along a stage coach route in Vergennes Township. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
The Walker Tavern was located along the stage coach route in Vergennes Township, halfway between Ionia and Grand Rapids. Along with being a private home, it also housed a tavern and inn business, served as a town hall, voting location, post office, grange hall and a place for community gatherings, dances and parties.
In 1836, Eliab and Mary (Perrin) Walker left Canada. The family wintered in Kalamazoo County while Eliab built a shanty for their home. The family came to Vergennes in 1837. They crossed the Grand River at the mouth of Flat on a ferry belonging to Daniel Marsac, the fur trader living at that location, and cut their own road through the woods to Section 28, Vergennes. Once settled they built the Walker Tavern.
Eliab served as Post Master of the Flat River (the name predates Lowell) Post Office beginning in April of 1854. As was common then, the Post Office was in the Post Master’s home, and people would go there to pick up mail. Their son Jacob followed in his father’s footsteps, he ran the business, served the community and offered his home for public use. In 1863, Jacob was elected supervisor for Vergennes Township and held that position for 29 years. Public meetings and elections were held at the Walker Tavern.
The Walker Tavern was for many years a stop on the state route from Ionia to Grand Rapids which came over the hills and crossed the Flat River about three miles north of what is now Lowell at Fallasburg. The first bridge at Fallasburg was built in 1840. Multiple early history records describe that the stage road then went past the Walker Tavern and hit the Grand River about two miles below the Flat River, passing down the river bottoms near the bluffs, then westward along the Grand River. In today’s road names, the Walker Tavern was located on the north side of Vergennes Road, just West of Alden Nash Avenue.
The building itself is described as having dimensions 24 foot by 84 foot with a huge fireplace and two story porch. Jacob Walker’s home is listed as the largest in the township in 1881. The Inn had sleeping rooms, a sitting room and bar across the front on the first floor with living quarters for the help and the post office in the rear. The bar room had a mammoth fireplace where a six foot log could be laid. The second floor was one large ball room with what the dancers of the period called a “spring floor.” Over the years, parties, meetings and community gatherings took place in the ball room.
The property boasted a spring fed creek with hundreds of tall pines. Weary travelers came to the tap room to refresh themselves while horses were being changed or put up for the night. The bar was famous for the whisky made on the site, using the ice-cold waters of Cherry Creek to cool the coils. Water for the inn was brought from springs high in the hill behind the tavern building in hollow log piping.
Along with passengers and regular supplies, the stage coach line also delivered emergency cargoes, such as medicines. In a speech given to those gathered at the second annual picnic and reunion of the Hooker Pioneer Society in June of 1894, a story was told about Dr. Arba Richards. When in a desperate need for Quinine to treat his patients suffering from malaria, he had some ordered from Grand Rapids that was to be delivered to the Walker Tavern.
Jacob Walker died in 1907 and joined his parents and family in the Krum-Blanding Cemetery just down the road from where he lived. The old inn suffered from the ravages of time was torn down in 1926. It was said in 1956 that traces of the old foundation remained but it is believed that it has since been removed in order to be farmed.