Jack Farmer moved to Spring Lake three years before the village celebrated its centennial. Now, more than half a century later, as the village prepares to celebrate its sesquicentennial, he reflected on memories of his adopted hometown.
Farmer, who will turn 93 next month, said he always wanted to live in Spring Lake.
“It’s where I wanted to come when we first got married, but my wife (Betty) didn’t want to because she had brothers and sisters in the Muskegon area,” he said. “We’ve been in the same house on South Street, just a block and a half from the school.”
Betty died three years ago.
“We would have been married 70 years if she would have lived another three months,” Farmer said. “We really liked Spring Lake because it’s a small place. When we first moved here, there were only 1,900 people in Spring Lake.”
According to the last Census, the village’s population is now just over 2,300 residents.
Farmer has seen the village transform over the years.
“When we moved here there was no such thing as Holiday Inn,” he said. “Where the Holiday Inn is today was nothing but a piece of swampy land with brush and trees growing there. Just a few years after we moved here, they built that Holiday Inn.”
Farmer recalls the “nice dime store” on Savidge Street called Dahl’s Variety, which stood where Fields’ Fabrics is now.
“It was a man and a wife that owned it,” he said. “They were really nice people. It was a nice clean store and they had a lot of different things like dime stores used to have, just about anything you could ever want – kitchen utensils, frying pans. ... They were real reasonable, too.”
Farmer recalls a village business that’s still thriving today.
“Stan’s Bar – that’s been there forever, I guess,” he said. “Eshelman’s drug store was next door to that. On the other side of the street ... there was a grocery store there. I can’t remember the name.
“Across the street there was an old train depot. It used to be right on the corner there,” he added. “They moved that down to the other end of M-104. It’s still there (now Depot Antiques).”
Across from the current Wesco station, Farmer recalls a motel.
“It was an old run-down motel,” he said. “They finally did demolish that. And where Wesco is now, that was a little gas station until Wesco took that place over. That created a lot of stir when we got that. Then they built all of those stores in back of there.”
One of Farmer’s favorite businesses was Braak’s Bakery, which immigrant Jacob Braak opened in a former blacksmith shop at 110 W. Savidge St. in 1903. Braak’s Bakery, famous for Town Talk cookies, burned down in 1997.
“On Saturdays, they always made coffee cake there, and man, did they make some delicious coffee cakes,” he said. “You had to get there about 7:30 in the morning or they were all sold out. We asked, ‘Why don’t you make more?’ They said the baker works 12 hours and only has so much time.”
Farmer fondly remembers Braak’s Wednesday special.
“We used to get five loaves of bread for 15 or 20 cents a loaf,” he said. “Our son, Mark, would go down. He was in sports in school, so if he didn’t get down there before they closed, they’d put it in the stairway so he could pick it up. They’d say, ‘Just pay us next week, that’s OK.’”
After working 27 years at Farrview Dairy, the company shut down.
“I didn’t have a job and I was 50 years old,” Farmer said. “I got to work for the village for six months. I did anything that came up – working on the street or most anything that had to be taken care of. John Hansen was the head of public works there. He wanted to know if I wanted to work for them full time, but I couldn’t pass the back physical.”
Eventually, Farmer landed a janitorial job at the United Methodist Church of the Dunes in Grand Haven.
Farmer said he remembers the village’s weeklong centennial celebration in 1969, and attended some of the events, “but I worked long hours, six days a week at the dairy, so there were a lot of things I couldn’t go to.”
Farmer said he’s impressed with the new condominiums near the Holiday Inn and the Kim VanKampen projects in the downtown area.
“I think we’re doing a step forward,” he said. “It’s taken a long time. I think that’s going to be nice for Spring Lake.
“I don’t know about the parking situation, though,” he continued. “When you get these buildings all built, it’s going to take a lot of parking. But progress is important, that’s for sure. No matter what you’re doing, you have to keep going.”
Farmer has seen a lot of changes in the past half-century, but Spring Lake remains his beloved home.
“There’s been a lot of progress in the 50-some years that we’ve been here,” he said, “but it’s still a nice quiet place and it’s practically crime-free.
Farmer sold his car around his 90th birthday, but when he had one, he would leave his garage door open.
“I’ve been here over 50 years and I don’t remember anybody ever missing anything,” he said. “That’s the truth.”