From the unpublished autobiograpy of James McNitt, 1992
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|James McNitt's text||Bill McNitt's annotations|
|To begin at the beginning, I was born on April
9, 1913, on Franklin Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan to William and Emma
McNitt. They say that when my older brothers, Walter and Glenn, came home
from school, I was in a market basket behind the stove. They were
Emma McNitt holding an unidentified baby who is thought to be her son James.
|The family is listed at 840 Franklin Street
SE in the 1912 and 1913 city directories as are Emma's father Roando
Merrill and her sisters Myrnie and Leena. This was on the south side of
Franklin Street just over a block east of Eastern Avenue SE. The house has not survived - the one standing on that site today was
constructed in 2003.
Most of the Grand Rapids addresses mentioned in this history are on streets a mile or two south of the downtown business area and within a few blocks of South Division Avenue.
|My earliest memories are of a few years later.
We had moved to the small town of Marne, renamed about that time from
Berlin because of the war hysteria. I was enrolled in the local school,
and can recall carrying my lunch and eating it there.
||Judging from the Grand Rapids city
directories, the McNitts probably moved to Berlin/Marne (12.6 miles northwest of Grand Rapids) around 1914 and
were back in Grand Rapids by 1919.
The Merrills remained in Grand Rapids, but moved to 339 1/2 South Division and then in 1919 to 107 Logan Street SE (just over a block east of Division).
|That same year we moved back to Grand Rapids.
Due to the difference in the school system, I had to start all over, this
time at Fountain Street school. The name of the street we lived on escapes
me, but it was only a block from where the Grand Rapids Public Library now
Fountain School, 2011
|The city directories for that era do not show a Fountain
Street School, so he probably means Fountain School which is located at
159 College Avenue NE - closer to Lyon than to Fountain Street. This
building is still in use and currently houses the Grand Rapids Montessori
The place where they lived in downtown Grand Rapids is not recorded in the city directories. The 1919 directory shows the Cody Court address referred to below.
|One day when leaving from school, I went out the wrong door and became lost. Fortunately I had enough sense to stop an American Laundry driver and ask him for help. He took me right to my home.|
|I wasn't old enough for the war to impress me.
When Uncle Elmer came home afterward, I was there with the others at the
train station. This must have been 1919, as he was sent to Russia after
the armistice to serve with the Polar Bear contingent in the role of a
Uncle Elmer was Dad's mother's brother Elmer Merrill. Elmer served in the
Michigan National Guard, which was brought into Federal service in 1916-1917
during the Mexican border crisis. After returning home from that
service, his Guard unit was drafted into the regular Army soon after the U.
S. entered World War I.
Although Dad does not specify which train station, most rail traffic in that era used Union Depot at the corner of Oakes Street and Ionia Avenue SW.
The Polar Bear Expedition involved a contingent of about 5,000 United States Army troops (many from Michigan) that landed in Arkhangelsk, Russia as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and fought the Red Army in the surrounding region during the period of September 1918 through July 1919. I have found no confirmation in military records that Elmer Merrill was part of this expedition, so any stories he may have told Dad about service in Russia may have come from his friends rather than his own personal experience. There was quite a delay in the return of American troops from Europe after the end of World War I, however, and Elmer's unit did not arrive back in the U.S. until April 1919.
It wasn't long before we moved to Cody Court, just a couple blocks from
where my Grandfather, Roando Merrill, and my two maiden aunts, Myrnie and
Leena, lived at 107 Logan Street SE. Dad worked at the time for the Grand
Rapids and Indiana Railway. This entitled us to a railroad pass, and I
made a few trips with my mother, and occasionally my father, to Kansas
City to see Grandmother McNitt and to Pellston, Michigan to see an old
family friend, Mrs. Betts.
The 1919 city directory shows the address as 573 Cody Avenue (just
east of Division).
Neither this house nor the Logan Street house occupied by the Merrills
for more than forty years is still standing.
I remember frequent visits to Great Aunts Myrnie and Leena in this Logan Street house during my childhood, including gatherings of the entire family every Christmas Eve. Our family would usually spend the night there and return to Holland on Christmas morning.
Grandmother McNitt was Ella Jane Coon McNitt (1862-1938). After her divorce from Walter McNitt, she married Ernest G. Meyerl and moved to St. Joseph, Missouri. After Meyerl's death she settled in Kansas City, Missouri.
Possibly Mrs.Betts is Effie Grant Betts (1887-1971), wife of Thomas Betts, who appears in census records as living in the Pellston area.
Walter and Glenn in the meantime were growing up. Being 9 and 7 years
older than I was, they didn't have much to do with me. They had their own
friends, Forrest Timm and the Stover boys - Virgil, later to become my
doctor, and Maynard, later my dentist. I occasionally played with their
younger sister, Rhea. Walter and Glenn graduated in the same class from
Central High School. Glenn had skipped a grade and graduated two days
before his 17th birthday.
||Walter and Glenn graduated from high school on Friday, June 22, 1923, as part of a class of 268.|
|Sometime during this period I became involved in selling MenthoNova salve which I tried to peddle door to door. I suspect relatives bought most of it, but I finally sold enough to win the award, a pair of roller skates. I was disappointed when they came in that they had wooden wheels rather than metal.|
|I was attending South Division school then. My only memory is of having the palm of my hand beaten with a ruler for talking in class. I reported this cruelty to a policeman, but he took no action.||This school was at the northwest corner of South Division Avenue and Bartlett. It is no longer standing.|