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
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
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
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
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
Make check payable to:
Beckmaze Historical Society
Wyoming, MI 49519