Silas Almond Wheeler – Our People, Our History
Born on February 11, 1878 in Iona County, Michigan, raised in the Michigan woods, Wheeler did a lot of travelling before he settled down at the age of 66 on the old Percival farm in Forthton.
He was the son of Rastus and Mary Wheeler, Iona County pioneers. The family moved to Cheboygan County Michigan when he was four years of age. There in the deep woods of northern Michigan he grew up.
The following is from an interview with Harry Painting in his column Focus on the District as it appeared in the Recorder and Times February 9, 1978. The interview was done on the occasion of Almond Wheeler’s 100th Birthday.
“When I got to the age where I had to look out for myself as a teenager, I worked around the country, I lived in Onaway, Michigan for a while then moved on to Petoskey and stayed there for ten years. I followed the carpenter’s trade and I had to go where the work was. Petoskey was a summer resort, with lots of cottages. There was lots of work on cottages that was my job and there were quite a few carpenters around in those days”
“Strangely enough most of my work was for the women. Folks owned these summer cottages and they lived mostly in the south from around Chicago and beyond and in the spring they’d have to get the cottages ready for the summer. Well the men couldn’t get away from the jobs, so their womenfolk would come north and get the cottages ready. That’s when I got my carpentry work in, fixing up their cottages.”
In 1912 at the age of 34, Wheeler moved to California, and lived there for two years. While there he worked on the Los Angeles aqueduct, one of the marvels of American architecture.
“But I came back to Michigan in 1914, staying around Lansing. I built some houses there and worked around. Then I headed back to California and went to work jobbing and contracting. I built a lot of small bungalows, but I never worked on any large buildings or a house. I knew too many contractors who went broke putting up big buildings to get involved in that sort of thing.”
In 1897, at the age of 19 he married Glenda Dunham of Cheboygan. They had a daughter born in 1900, and 23 years later a son, Robert. Glenda died during the 1930’s. From this union there were three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
In 1941, Gertrude Forth, daughter of the well known family which gave Forthton its name, was asked by a friend Paula Kingston to be a bridesmaid at her wedding to Jack Burtt in California. Gertrude made the trip and in California met Almond Wheeler, then a widower of 63. They were married that year and three years later moved to Forthton to take over the David Forth Farm. This farm, 100 acres, was an original Crown Grant to the Percival Family.
Gertrude Wheeler was a daughter of David Forth and his wife Alma Giles, related to the famous Giles Family which built Clone House, across No. 42 Highway from Maple View Lodge. She was born in 1893.
David Forth built the Wheeler home, probably 90 or more years ago. The hamlet was then known as Unionville, site of the famous Unionville Fair, of which David Forth was president for many years. The fairgrounds stood just north of the Wheeler and Forth residences. The Forth residence, home of Mrs. Ethel Forth, stands adjacent to the Wheeler home.
When the Unionville Fair folded in the early 1900’s David Forth rescued one of the buildings, the “Honey House” and moved it to his farm. This structure was octagonal in shape, to resemble a section of honeycomb, and was used as an exhibition building. It is still standing on the Wheeler property.
After Almond Wheeler and his bride settled down on the farm, Wheeler erected a small replica of the “honey house’ on the grounds.
“When Almond was in California he always had a dream of farming, so I brought him back here where he could farm” said his wife Gertrude Wheeler.
“There was a bunch of cows here when I came, I had a little experience farming and I made a go of it. I worked the farm for three of four years and I did something everybody around here told me I couldn’t do, I raised fall wheat” Almond said.
“They told me wheat planted in the fall couldn’t survive the winter. But I fooled them. I planted 68 acres and I harvested 400 bushels. I had pictures taken of my fields. When I stood in the field the wheat came up to my chin. You sure can raise fall wheat in Leeds County.”
Sitting in his pleasant little living room, dressed in a smart dark suit, shirt and tie, Almond admits he was still driving a tractor at the age of 99.
“I haven’t driven a car since I had a heart attack 20 years ago. I didn’t wait for them to tell me I couldn’t drive any more after the heart attack, so I just quit. But I still drive the tractor around the farm.”
Mrs. Wheeler, born in this house 85 years ago still drives. The Wheelers have a 1960 model car in perfect condition.
After her marriage Gertrude Wheeler operated a noted antique shop. The Wagon Wheel, in her home. She has been out of business for several years but her home is still loaded with highly prized antiques.
A number of years ago she organized a crafts club of which her husband was an active member. He was noted for his canning chairs and fine examples of his needle-point adorn the walls of his home.
The Craft Club met in the old station that was used in the days of the Brockville and Westport Railway” said Gertrude Wheeler. “I remember Almond did a lot of crocheting. He once crocheted 15 scarves and gave them all away.”
Almond also wrote poetry and in former days entertained his friends by reading his works. He never tried to have any of his poems published.
Of his days in Michigan Wheeler said he was an active walker and recalls walking home a 20 mile trip by bicycle carrying a 60 pound sack of clover seed for his farm.
Approaching his 100th Birthday Almond said “I feel pretty good in spite of everything. I haven’t seen a doctor in three years. I don’t think he could do anything for me if I did see him.”
Almond summed up his life “A man must have faith in himself to make his own way. I believe we can handle our own problems ourselves. I believe if we have willpower and faith enough in ourselves we will make out. There is also faith in God. That’s right. We’ve got to have faith in God but we also have to have faith in ourselves”
Almond passed away on July 16th, 1979.