George N. Potter

George N. Potter wrote his name large on the history of Eaton County, where his memory is honored by all who knew him or are familiar with his worthy career as a loyal, progressive and public spirited citizen and man of affairs. As has been written concerning him. With no advantages of birth or education to advance his career, he utilized the gifts with which nature endowed him and made himself a strong influence in the commercial and financial world. Mr. Potter was born in Ira, Cayuga County, New York, October 16, 1827, being a son of Linus and Diana (Phelps) Potter, the former native of Pennsylvania and the latter of Cayuga County, New York. When he was but three years of age, in 1830, his parents cast in their lot with the pioneers of Michigan, and during much of the journey he was transported by being strapped on his fathers back. The family located in Saline, Washtenaw County, in which little hamlet the father erected the first frame house. It has been deemed consonant to here quote, with but slight change in phraseology, from a sketch previously published concerning the honored subject of this memoir: the family passed fourteen years at Saline, but financial reverses then became their portion and they again became pioneer, invading the forests of Eaton county. The household now consisted of parents and seven children. A shanty of logs was erected, with a roof of troughs and a puncheon floor, neither nails nor boards having been used. The site was that now occupied by the village of Potterville. The father died July 26, 1846, leaving George N., at the age of eighteen years, to care for the family. His only educational advantages embraced a season of three months in school at Vermontville, and during this period he paid for his board by chopping ten acres of woodland. This not having been deemed sufficient pay by the rapacious host, he returned and assisted in hoeing corn for a week in the following summer. With thirty-five dollars given him by his mother as a reward for his fidelity to the family and fifteen dollars earned by himself, he soon afterward departed to locate forty acres of land, which he had previously pre-empted. The government refused the paper money tendered by him, gold being demanded. Not having a surplus with which to effect the exchange he was greatly dismayed, but a kind friend, in the person of Judge McQueen, of Eaton Rapids, exchanged the paper for gold and paid a high compliment to the honesty of the young man by being willing to wait for the difference until he was able to pay the same. Mr. Potter was from that them a landowner, though not yet twenty years of age. Upon his land he erected a comfortable house of logs, and March 1, 1849, recorded his marriage to Miss Martha L. Gladding, formerly of St. Lawrence County, New York. In 1856 Mr. Potter was elected sheriff of Eaton County, retaining this office four successive years, and in 1862 he was appointed deputy provost marshal, in which position he served during the continuance of the war of the Rebellion. He soon afterward became an extensive landowner, and introduced into the county the first circular saw. Mr. Potter’s energies were now directed to the construction of a railroad through the county. He was one of the projectors of the Grand River Railroad and one of the original thirteen capitalists who promoted the Peninsular Railroad, now a portion of the Grand Trunk system, and he was a director of the original company. The inception and upbuilding of the village of Potterville represent the tangible results of his energy and liberality. He first erected a sawmill and later a stave and heading factory. Then followed a brick block, including a spacious hotel. A flourmill was next erected, and still later he built and equipped a factory for the manufacture of bedsteads. In these various enterprises he was intimately associated with his younger brother, James W. His first wife died in 1869, and in 1870 he wedded Miss Mary A. Page, who was born in St. Lawrence County, New York. Mr. Potter was a Republican in politics; was indefatigable in his efforts, had a wonderful mental grasp and executive ability, and he made himself a factor of importance in the business, civic and social life of the community, while no man in the county was better known or more highly respected. His record offers both lesson and incentive, for he marked the years with worthy deeds and left the heritage of an unspotted name. He passed away November 1, 1902, his second wife having died in June of the preceding year.

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