Between the Lines: St. Joseph County's Hidden History

Jul 14, 2017

Horse-drawn float in a bygone St. Joseph County parade
Credit Courtesy Kelly Pucci

You can live a lifetime in the same place and never know its history. That wasn’t enough for Kelly Pucci. When she moved from Chicago to Saint Joseph County, Michigan. She wanted to know more about her new home. And the more she researched, the more unique and sometimes strange stories she found.

Local historian Thomas Talbot wrote the introduction to Pucci’s new book, Hidden History of St. Joseph County, Michigan (Arcadia Publishing, 2017).

“In the last probably 15 years, I’ve been going through my great-great-grandfather’s papers from the Talbot House in Centreville," Talbot says. "They’ve supplied me with primary documents dating back to the colony’s earliest history in the 1830's, so I got in at the end of the book project, kind of jumped in with both feet and contributed. It was a lot of fun.”

Saint Joseph County grew from a small village established in 1829 on banks of the Saint Joseph River. Gathering stories and colorful memories from various archives and residents, Pucci discovered tales about Hezekiah Thomas, who went fishing, naked, for diamonds in Corey Lake. She writes about Congress officially designating the Village of Colon as the "World Capital of Magic." Lakeside Cemetery in Colon is the final resting place for some 30 magicians, more than in any other cemetery in the world.

Credit Arcadia Publishing

Pucci says her research began soon after she moved to the county five years ago.

“In Chicago, I was the librarian for the Chicago Tribune. When I came to Saint Joseph County, I discovered the Saint Joseph County Historical Society. I decided to volunteer with them. I got more and more interested in the history as I heard more about the many unusual things that happened here. I thought it was going to be just a quiet, rural place.”

Pucci found books on the history of Three Rivers, Sturgis, and even one on Klinger Lake. But she didn't much on the history of the county as a whole.

“Some things go beyond the who-did-what-when,” Pucci says.

Her book includes stories gathered from Burr Oak, Constantine, Fabius, Fawn River, Florence, Flowerfield, Leonidas, Lockport, Mendon, Mottville, Nottawa, Park, Sherman, and White Pigeon townships, as well as the cities of Three Rivers and Sturgis. Pucci also found maps, drawings, and photographs to illustrate the stories.

“Everybody should make an attempt to find out more about where they came from,” Talbot says. “When I was little, I thought everyone knew all about their family history as we did, but that’s not the case.”

Talbot and Pucci say knowing family history and the history of one’s home only adds to a deeper appreciation of one’s roots.

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