Memories of the Keith Farm


Galesburg, Michigan

Keith Farm - 1914I grew up hearing stories about the “old farm” and “Auntie and Uncle Ethan.” The above picture was not only displayed in our home when I was growing up but also in the homes of different family members. I recall being in the farmhouse once in August of 1958 just before a fire destroyed it. While there was still furniture in it, it hadn’t been lived in since Uncle Ethan died in 1934, some 20-plus years previous to my visit. Old newspapers were scattered on the floor, left there by “tramps” who used it as a shelter from the weather. I want to say I remember a piano in there and a flight of stairs leading up to what — an attic? a second floor? — that I was told not to go up as it was too steep, the steps were too narrow and it wouldn’t be safe for me. At eight years old, I didn’t have the same feelings as my grandmother, mother and other members of the family, who had such warm memories of their times spent there, and was anxious to be back outside. While we were there, my mother got permission to take the old clock reel[1] that was up the stairs and brought it home with her. I believe she may have rescued a few other items but don’t recall what, if anything, they were. My grandmother remarked that it hurt so to see the old farm in such disrepair, and it would be a blessing if it burned down. Just a week later she regretted saying those words as that’s exactly what happened on September 2, 1858. She was grateful that we were back in Illinois so our Michigan cousins wouldn’t even remotely think that she could have set the fire.


My three-times-great-grandfather, Charles Luke Keith Sr., came to Comstock (a township of Galesburg), Michigan in 1834 from Covington, Genesee Co., N.Y., and began his pioneer work on the north half of the northwest quarter of section 25. His son, Charles Luke Keith Jr., is now living on part of the land his father located, came here in 1837. [2]

Keith Family - 1892

The Keith Family – 1892
Nancy, Ethan, Lois, Jim, Hannah, Louese
Sarah & Luke

Charles Luke Keith Jr., who went by the name of Luke, was married three times. Luke was engaged to Jerusha Crittenden, but then Minerva Payson came to town and Luke broke his engagement to Jerusha and married Minerva. Luke and Minerva had two children, Lois and Henry. Minerva died just four years after they were married, shortly after Henry’s birth. He then married his first love, Jerusha, who died just a little over a year later. Luke then married Sarah Crawford. Luke and Sarah had six children: Ethan, Nancy (my great-grandmother), William (who died in infancy), Hannah, Louese and James. In the evenings Luke would go to the cemetery and play his violin at the graves of his first two wives.

Luke and Sarah’s son, Ethan Keith, spent his entire life in that home as did their daughter, Hannah (Keith) Towne, except for the few years when she was married to Charles Towne,[3] and then the last few months of her life when she lived with my grandmother, Lela (Brown) Mueller, in Chicago, Illinois. Their other children and grandchildren spent many vacation times there over the years, which usually consisted of helping around the house, cleaning, wallpapering, etc. In their letters, Nancy and Louese always referred to these visits as “going home.”


Following is a newspaper story written by Ruth (Blake) Smith, a neighbor of the Keith Family, shortly after the fire, that describes the house before the fire. After that are old family pictures of the buildings and rooms that are mentioned in the story.

Memories Of An Old House
From the September 11, 1958 Galesburg Argus, p.3

There was a low, old weather beaten house, very, very old. A brother and sister lived there. The brother was tall and thin. He kept the yard spotless and had chickens and a garden. He was an authority on early history and knew when all early settlers came and where they lived and who built the stores, homes or farm buildings in and around Galesburg. His family was one of the Alphadelphian Association, which was an experiment in Community Living in the 1840 or 50’s, and much valuable history as to this project was furnished by him.

The sister was a widow and known as the best seamstress any where around. She was a large pleasant woman, with very white hands on which she wore several rings. She made bread and cookies which she fed to small and not so small guests who came to be fitted to new clothes.

When one went on a professional visit, one went to a side door and knocked, then thru a small bedroom into a parlor where you stepped up three steps. The parlor was large with a coal stove and haircloth furniture and a big piano. Everything was spotless and a china headed doll graced the sofa in the corner. Off this parlor was the bedroom used as a fitting room. If you were only a customer you went out the same way, never using the front door at all, but if you were a friend, you went out another door, down three steps to the dining living room, which was large and dark in one part, but light and pleasant toward the kitchen. There by the sewing machine by the windows you stayed and visited and had refreshments. The kitchen stretched on to the south down two more steps.

Whether there was an upstairs or not is not known nor where were located the bedrooms used by the family, but the rooms were low and cheerful and the personalities of the two people who lived there made it a treasured memory to all who knew them.

This was the old house which burned to the ground Tuesday afternoon just off 35th on Miller Road, and the brother and sister who lived there were Mr. Ethan Keith and his sister Mrs. Hannah Towne.


[handwritten] Ruth Blake Smith wrote this


Here are some of the pictures of the farmhouse and buildings, inside and out.

Keith Home - Built in 1873

Keith Farm Kitchen

I assume this was the kitchen although most likely the very first one

Keith Farm - Parlor Entrance - 1915

Front Parlor Entrance – 1915

Keith Farm - Front Parlor - Wall 1

Keith Farm - Front Parlor - Wall 2

Keith Farm - Front Parlor - Wall 3

Keith Farm

Keith Farm

Keith Farm Living Room 1

Keith Farm Living Room 2


Charles Luke Keith.tif


Ethan in the workshop

Keith Farm - Path to Barn - Sept 1920

Path to the Barn

Keith Farm - Path to "Old Faithful" Outhouse

Keith Farm – Path to “Old Faithful” Outhouse


[1] A clock reel was used for winding and measuring a skein of wool. It was made by a Keith in the early 1800’s and Uncle Ethan had it on the second floor in the old Keith farmhouse in Galesburg. A clock reel, or spinner’s weasel, according to Wikipedia, was: a mechanical yarn-measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with gears attached to a pointer on a marked face (which looks like a clock) and an internal mechanism which makes a “pop” sound after the desired length of yarn is measured (usually a skein). The pointer allows the spinner to see how close she/he is to reaching a skein. The weasel’s gear ratio is usually 40 to 1, and the circumference of the reel is usually two yards, thus producing an 80-yard skein when the weasel pops (after 40 revolutions). The clock reel is a possible source for the word “weasel” in the nursery rhyme Pop Goes the Weasel.

Clock Reel

[2] History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan: Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, (1880) Everts & Abbott, Philadelphia

[3] He died just short of their two-year anniversary

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2 Responses to Memories of the Keith Farm

  1. Pingback: Memories of the Keith Farm – Part 2 | Letters & Diary Entries From 1900-1949

  2. Genie Brown says:

    Wow, these pictures and articles are amazing! What a wonderful legacy!

    Liked by 1 person

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