Pettengill legacy carved in stone

Niles Daily Star, Published 12:26am Saturday, September 26, 2009


Part of a continuing series on Niles’ historic Silverbrook Cemetery, provided by Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery, a group working to preserve and restore the cemetery.


While the Pettengill name may not be known as well as many we mention, it is connected to both prominence and importance as part of Silverbrook’s legacies passed on to us.

Moses Pettengill was described within the family lineage; The Pettengill Family of Salisbury, N.H. on; as “…the most intelligent and scholarly of the family, married twice and both times happily. He spent the most active portion of his life at Niles, Michigan, but finally, like his brother Reuben, he sought the genial climate of California, at Auburn, where he d. (died) Feb. 3, 1884. What he saw in his extended and frequent journeys he wrote up for the press, and his articles were read with profit and pleasure. Moses was as tolerant in spirit and genial in manner as he was thoughtful and cultivated. He left a widow and two married daughters, Mrs. Coolidge, of Niles, Michigan, and Mrs. Hoppin, of Woodland, Calif., both of whom are very lovely and accomplished women.”

The Pettengill family “emigrated from Yorkshire, England, purchasing a large tract of land in what is now Newburyport, Mass., in 1640. A portion of this land remained in the family until 1875, when it passed into the hands of the gold speculators. From this land considerable of the precious metal has been taken. The family in all its branches has been enterprising, hospitable, given to social enjoyment, moral and conscientious, positive in their opinions, faithful in their engagements, and universally respected.”

Brothers and sisters who settled in Salisbury included Captain James Pettengill, born November 1775, who married Hannah True in 1797 and together with their six children left Salisbury in 1816 when he was 41 to “the wilds of western New York” state.

He carried $3,000 in saddlebags so that the money could be easily transferred to horses should the family encounter “trouble or attack, a thing not improbable in those early days.”
An immense carriage was constructed especially for the journey, according to the online report, and as the family left Salisbury: “No less than eight carriages and vehicles, filled with friends and neighbors accompanied this brave little band, departing in such a truly patriarchal style, for a whole day’s journey. There was during the day much hilarity as well as sadness, many jests and many sad words of parting, and at length the last good bye.”
The journey, though difficult as the family made their way across “hundreds of unbridged rivers and streams forded, and the way picked for hundreds of miles through an almost unbroken forest, was described as seemingly like a picnic or hunting excursion to the three boys and strange and wild to the girls. They finally arrived and settled at Ogden in Monroe County, N. Y.”

What we know of Moses Pettengill between the time of the family’s arrival and his death is described in the second paragraph. We do not know how or when he came to Niles, only that he did.

The History of Cass County published in 1882 by Waterman & Watkins lists Pettengill as “the first dealer in marble and maker of monuments … he carried on the business in Niles and his branch shop in Dowagiac was the first in Cass County. It was purchased in 1870 by T. J. Edwards, who has, since that time, carried on a large business and placed many beautiful monuments in the cemeteries throughout Cass and contiguous counties.”

It appears that Pettengill is responsible for many of the very stones marking the graves of many of those featured in the Silverbrook Legacies series.

While this is all we find written and known of Moses Pettengill, this is not where his influence ends. Remember one Orville Coolidge? The author of The History of Berrien County, which accounts for much of our knowledge regarding these Legacies articles, among his other accomplishments, married Moses’ daughter Katie.

She is the Mrs. Coolidge described as one of his two very lovely and accomplished daughters. More than that she is the mother of one Miss Orrill P. Coolidge (the P being for Pettengill), who was the first librarian in Niles.

The library was organized in 1903 through the efforts of Niles’ ladies. Andrew Carnegie appropriated $15,000 for the building and citizens made donations to the fund which grew to $3,500 for the purchase of a site.

The common council then made an appropriation of $1,500 a year for the support of the library which was opened in what is now the Chamber of Commerce building, at the corner of Fourth and Main streets, for public use in November of 1904.

The Ladies Library Association, organized 25 years prior, donated a large collection of books and a large portion from the previous public school library. Citizens of Niles contributed many of the books.

Moses’ granddaughter Orrill was on hand for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1954. She had served as the librarian from 1904 to her retirement in 1940. She died in February of 1957.

From this one family we have received many of the markers of which we write, the wife and main support of one of our leading citizens, and the original custodian keeper of our beloved library. You can’t tell a book by its cover and sometimes even the smallest paragraph can lead to an even larger story.

If you want to be a part of our story and for more information on Friends of Silverbrook with regards to memberships and work days to help restore and catalog the monuments contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Ginny Tyler at 445-0997, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..