BECKMAZE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
& Dewey-Wedgwood Home

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Beckmaze Home Page

Contact Information

Address:
2551 Oaklane Dr. SW
Wyoming, MI 49519

(616) 245-8341

Questions? Please contact Beckmaze Historical Society President, Ron Strauss ronaldstrauss154@yahoo.com

 

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About Beckmaze: The Story

The Beckmaze Historical Society was organized in 2011 to preserve Wyoming Township’s historically relevant and unique Dewey-Wedgewood Home. Located at 2551 Oak Lane SW, the three and a half acre property includes picturesque Buck Creek and scenic views of a rolling lawn and verdant forest. After years of neglect, the non-profit 501c3 Society is working to restore the building and create an educational opportunity for visitors to experience the architectural innovation and creativity of past generations. The home is not open to the public on a regular schedule, but the organization does hold periodic open houses or other events. It is also open by appointment.

Some places ooze history while others seem to have been passed over by noteworthy local or world-shaking events. The Dewey - Wedgewood Home in Wyoming, Michigan is one of the former: It is connected to well-known pioneer settlers, community founders, abolitionists, artists, and local movers and shakers. For over 40 years years the home even provided a safe haven for children in need. The name "Beckmaze" was given to the Home around the turn of the Twentieth Century, over 65 years after the property’s first land patent was purchased by Luther Lincoln.

This architectural gem’s story is entwined with the early settlement of Wayne, Eaton, Kent and Montcalm counties in Michigan and with the early history of Chicago, Illinois. The first white man to own it was a Quaker. Luther Lincoln is a figure of some historical importance to several Michigan townships and villages. Kent County was not the first place where he had an impact. Before coming here, Lincoln had a hand in settling the villages of Plymouth in Wayne County, and Bellevue in Eaton County. Later he would live with the Indians near Lowell, become the first settler in Montcalm County and built a sawmill in Kent County’s Oakland Township. Wherever he lived, he had cordial relations with the original landowners. It has been said that Lincoln enjoyed the friendship of many Indians, and sometimes preferred them to white settlers. There are also indications that a Native American village was located on or near the Beckmaze property and there are plans for future archaeological study of the land.

Luther Lincoln owned the Beckmaze property until 1834, when he sold it to Nathaniel Jenison Brown. Brown partnered with renowned 1812 Army Captain Roswell Britton, to build a sawmill near Buck Creek. Britton was a blacksmith and with Brown’s uncle, Lemuel Jenison, and Lemuel’s son Hiram, and Brown himself, they cut and processed white pine boards. Brown and a lumberjack from Maine rafted the wood down Buck Creek to the Grand River to the port of Grand Haven. After loading it on the ship, White Pigeon, Brown sailed to Chicago with the first White Pine lumber from Michigan ever sold in Illinois. This was the beginning of the very profitable lumbering industry here in the Mitten State, and it began right here in Kent County.

Nathaniel Brown sold the Beckmaze property to his partner, Roswell Britton, who ran the sawmill until about 1843. The Wright brothers, (no not "those" Wright Brothers) Timothy and John S., owned and the sawmill until they sold it to their cousin, Egbert Dewey in 1853.

Dewey added on to a previous log structure and built the home that still stands today. He also changed the course of Buck Creek and constructed a dam to create a millpond. The Dewey and Wright families were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. Tantalizing clues indicate that the Dewey home may have been a stop in the Underground Railroad. Beckmaze Society members continue to research Civil War resources to verify this historical possibility.

In the 1860 and 1870 Kent County, federal censuses, Egbert Dewey was documented as one of the richest men in Kent County. The 1873 Depression changed his financial status and he was forced to sell the Beckmaze property. Sometime between 1875 and 1895 the millpond was drained.

The property was divided and owned by several people until the early 1890s when George H. and his wife Emma (Jones) Ford purchased it. Mr. Ford, who studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, and Emma, a published author, moved from Muskegon where he had had his own art studio and school. George Ford worked as a landscape artist and architect. Both he and his wife were advocates for the Arts and Crafts movement and the Craftsman style of architecture.

After purchasing the property, Ford made some enhancements to Dewey’s home and called it, "The Lodge" at Beckmaze. Beckmaze is defined as something that is "Sweeter than the Sweetest." To more fully explore the Arts and Crafts movement, Ford designed and built a Craftsman style home, named "The Hut" in 1902, for photographer Fedora Brown. Fedora, no relation to Nathaniel Brown, was one of the first women photographic artists in America. Many of her images won awards and were featured in national and international photographic magazines of the period. Members of the Grand Rapids Camera Club often met at the Hut, photographed the scenic area or used the darkroom there to develop film.

In addition to the Hut, "The Cottage," was designed by George H. Ford for fellow artist Octar Copson and his family. Located close to the Hut and the Lodge, Copson periodically sold hand-painted ceramics from the Cottage. During several summers his daughter served tea on the porch to thirsty travelers from Grand Rapids out for a drive enjoying the scenery in their new-fangled horseless carriages. Son, Arthur Paul Copson, studied art in Paris, entered several art contests and also exhibited his work in Grand Rapids.

The Copson’s daughter, Gwendolyn Mabel, married Nathaniel Carrington at Beckmaze in 1912. Two years later, the Ford’s daughter, Ethel Drusilla and Stephen VanManen were married there. The Lodge, the Hut and the Cottage were "home" to these artistically minded people.

Renowned artist Mathias Alten, painted the distinctive bridge that crossed Buck Creek on the property. Remnants of the bridge can still be seen today. In a Grand Rapids Press article, Fedora describes Beckmaze as "an artist colony."


"Buck Creek" by Mathias Alten ca. 1925; Courtesy of A. Gilleo

WWI has a devastating effect on the families at Beckmaze. Arthur Paul Copson joined the Canadian Army to fight against Germany. He was killed August 3, 1916 in Belgium. By 1918, the Copson’s had sold the Cottage and moved away. The Ford’s left and moved in with their daughter and her family on Grand Rapids’ west side. Fedora Brown remained the owner of the Hut until 1929 when she was in a fatal car accident.

The Fords sold the Lodge to Dr. Llewelyn Wedgwood and he maintained its unique style and beauty from 1925 until his death in 1949. After Fedora’s death, he also purchased the Hut. Besides using the Lodge as his main residence he also saw patients there. After several years the property was purchased by the Braun family and they spent three years restoring it.

Long time west Michigan residents most remember the Dewey - Wedgewood house as the Wedgewood Christian Acres Home for Boys. The LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church purchased the property in 1959, and for the next 49 years the structure required many changes as the church adhered to building codes and created a safe haven for troubled youth.

In 2008, the property was sold to a private owner who could not keep up with the maintenance required by such a large building. In 2011, the Dewey _ Wedgewood home was purchased by a private benefactor committed to the Beckmaze Historical Society’s vision. Members continue to restore, repair and return the Lodge to its former glory.

Be sure and visit us on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/beckmaze.historicalsociety

https://www.facebook.com/Beckmaze-Historical-Society-144278499105277/

Make check payable to:

Beckmaze Historical Society
2551 Oaklane Dr. SW
Wyoming, MI 49519

 


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Copyright 2016 Beckmaze Historical Society. All rights reserved. Revised: July 05, 2016.
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