Ghost towns are not cities populated by ghosts. In fact, they are places where real people once lived and dreamed. Several ghost towns around Lowell have since dissolved into nothing more than crossroads for one reason or another. Fallasburg, Bowne Center and Alton faltered when proposed railroads bypassed them altogether. Waterville and South Boston died when populations shifted to other locations. The booming railroad towns of Elmdale and Moseley later faded as the railroads gradually became obsolete and their grain elevators were no longer needed.
These are the stories of those places we drive by without noticing... remnants of another time, occupied not by ghosts, but by those who came before us...
At the turn of the century (1899), a railroad was built from Lowell to Belding with plans for a depot near Alton. However, at the final moment the depot was built on Four Mile Road near the John O. Wingeier farmhouse instead because the railroad company said “the terrain was too steep for the train to stop and start near Alton.” Shortly after the railroad was completed, the Moseley brothers from Grand Rapids, who were produce buyers, built a potato warehouse next to the siding. They also built a house for the manager. This venture gave the name “Moseley” to the depot and the new village.
By 1905, the Pere Marquette schedule shows four trains leaving Lowell for Belding and Greenville every day, passing through Moseley. It became part of the Saginaw main line from Greenville to Belding, on to Lowell, Elmdale and Grand Rapids.
A grocery store was built west of the warehouse by Fred Condon and later operated by George Whitten. In 1908, Charles Jakeway built a warehouse for potatoes and beans and a stockyard near the siding. The Gleaners built a large hall, but soon sold out to Frank Keech who opened a grocery store. At one time, Moseley had a saloon, blacksmith shop, apple dryer and a creamery. The creamery was later turned into a cheese factory by the Swiss farmers of the area. The Jakeway warehouse was eventually sold to C.H. Runciman around 1920 and used a short time before it was torn down.
By 1932, only Frank Keech, grocer, and W. G. Miller, flour miller, are listed in the business directory. Miller retired in 1932 and Keech operated until 1946. Automobiles and trucks replaced the railroad as the preferred mode of travel and Moseley, like the popularity of the locomotive, faded.
Moseley Depot and Fruit Storage buildings
Alton was originally settled in 1839 and was first known as the “Godfrey Settlement.” Elder Newcomb Godfrey preached his first sermons in a barn until a small log school was built. The Christian Church Society was formed in 1842, the Adventist Church in 1850. No church building was erected until the Alton Community Church was built in 1868. The use of this church was shared by two congregations on alternate Sundays as well as the Swiss settlers during the week for Revivals. A gristmill with a dam and millpond, originally built in 1865 operated until 1932. A general store was built the same year that the gristmill began serving the growing community. Around 1870 Edmund Ring began his “Ringville” businesses with a sawmill, a carriage shop, a rake factory and a picket mill. At one time, there were three blacksmiths.
During the late 1880s and early 1890s, a large influx of Swiss immigrants, including the Blasers, Wittenbachs, Wingeiers, Farhnis, Bieris, Reussers and Kropfs settled Alton and greatly influenced the culture, language, and lifestyle of the village. Swiss contributions included a Swiss band and several cheese-making operations.
The demise of Alton began in 1900 when the railroad from Lowell to Belding was built, and the depot was built a mile away in what became Moseley. The Alton townspeople were angry! They had previously met with railroad officials and agreed to all their demands. A Lowell Ledger columnist from Alton wrote:
Cutting ice in Alton
“They have not dealt fairly with us. First, we must give to them the right of way and everything else they see fit to demand, even to food and labor free of charge, then we must change the name of our village, next buy and deed to them a place for the depot and then they must needs build it a mile further off ....”
And that was the end of Alton as a commercial center. Most businesses closed and moved to Moseley, the exceptions being the church, cemetery, and the mill. The post office finally closed in 1909.
Today Fallasburg is a glimpse into the past….
When young John Wesley Fallass arrived from New York in 1837, he selected land on the Flat River that included the perfect location for a sawmill and gristmill. His brother, Dr. Silas Fallass and their uncle, Arad Melvin joined him. Together they built a three-story sawmill (1839), with a chair factory on the third floor of the mill. This was one of Kent County’s first furniture companies. Next, they built the first bridge across the Flat, ensuring the stagecoach runs would pass through town. That meant an opportunity to build a tavern and inn. Silas Fallass built a general store. John Wesley next built a gristmill 30’ downstream and was soon taking nine barrels of flour to Grand Rapids each week. He platted the village in 1841 and built his home, a frame house that still stands today. He then went back to NY to marry and bring back Fallas and Brown families to settle the town.
Business boomed. By 1850, millions of board feet of pine were being floated down the Flat to mills in Lowell, Grand Rapids and Grand Haven. With a population around 100, the community “boasted a hotel for loggers, an inn, two general stores, two shoe and harness shops, two blacksmiths, a distillery, a post office and eighteen other dwellings.” The inn was a regular stop on the stagecoach route from Grand Rapids to Ionia.
In 1858, the railroad tracks were laid through Lowell instead of Fallassburgh. From then on Lowell grew, Fallassburgh declined. The population peaked at around two hundred residents in 1870. By the time of John Wesley Fallass’ death in 1896, many people had moved away.
The abrupt failure of Fallasburg (the second “s” and “h” were dropped in 1893) was fortuitous for us because it provides a ready-made glimpse into the past. You can still visit the surviving buildings in the village and understand why John Wesley decided to stake his claim here.