All things champion Mayfield gets her day | News

MAYFIELD — A remarkable woman, a legendary city and a community effort to turn a historic site into a public park will have their day.

Two stars will honor Grand Traverse County’s Edna Sargent Day celebration on May 21. One, of course, will be Sargent, a 96-year-old Mayfield legend who continues to live a remarkable life.

Her deep local roots make her the go-to local historian of Mayfield and a champion of all things Mayfield.

The other headliner will be Mayfield Township Park itself, where the event will take place from 1-3 p.m. A historical exhibit will tell the story of the village and the park, and friends and dignitaries will pay their respects to Sargent. All very fitting, as Sargent’s life is inextricably linked to the history of this charming place.

At the center of the park’s history is the now pristine Mayfield Pond. Sargent’s maternal grandfather, James L. Gibbs, owned a sawmill in the mid-1860s that depended on the newly created pond to operate. And Edna and her brother James, along with others like the Halladay and Biederman families, were key players in creating the public park that surrounds it.

Sargent was born in 1926 and, with two notable exceptions, has lived near Mayfield his entire life.

Educated in the village’s one-room schoolhouse, she attended Michigan State College (now Michigan State University), where she earned her teaching degree. She taught at Buckley and Kingsley, then from 1955 to 1977 worked as a counselor and registrar at Northwestern Michigan College.

Sargent also served in the Women’s Army Corps in Germany during the Korean War and ran a horse farm. And, of course, she defended Mayfield’s story. She collects stories, artifacts and documents and ensures they are preserved in local libraries.

She also served as keeper of Barnum Memorial Cemetery and worked hard to create Mayfield Township Park.

Mayfield is settled on land once regularly traversed by the Anishinaabek, ancestors of many local Native Americans today.

But like most countries, in the mid-1800s the federal government claimed these lands and made much of it available to mostly white settlers.

In Mayfield, one of these early settlers was James L. Gibbs. He and two others formed Mayfield Pond by damming Swainston Creek. They then built a sawmill. Gibbs soon became the sole proprietor of this business and also built a gristmill and clapboard mills.

In 1921, Edna’s father, Harry Sargent, joined forces with her stepfather to convert the flour mill into a hydroelectric power station, thus founding the Mayfield Electric Company. From 1921 to 1947, the company provided lighting and electricity to the village and to Kingsley.

Edna Sargent and her brother James grew up close to these family businesses, but as the wood ran out the mills eventually disappeared. But unlike many small lumber towns, Mayfield survived.

In the early to mid-1900s, the village grew from a logging town to a fishing and hunting center.

Locals Leonard Halladay and Harold Gibbs have become much sought after guides.

Halladay achieved national fishing fame in 1922 when he designed the much-loved Adam’s Fly, primarily used for trout fishing.

Halladay also had a hotel to the east of the old mill pond, just across the railway line.

The pond and stream were so well known that in 1916 even Ernest Hemingway and a friend spent time fishing there. Hemingway recorded that they caught two rainbow trout and six speckled trout.

By the mid-20th century, Mayfield’s fishing and hunting businesses had declined. Today the village survives as a small settlement, easy to miss when traveling between Traverse City and Kingsley.

But those who slow down and travel west for a block or so will be handsomely rewarded. Because just at the end of the village is the Mayfield Township Park.

Tucked away are stretches of peaceful greenery, winding paths and a sparkling body of water. All this where the logs once rumbled and the mills once roared.

Creating this elegant park was no small feat. By the middle of the 20th century all the industrial buildings had disappeared, but the pond was of questionable quality, with a century of debris at the bottom, and with a decaying dam and weir just downstream.

The land closest to the pond had been sold to Les and Ann Biederman – Les being the founder of the Midwestern Broadcasting Company in Traverse City. There they built a small cabin.

This scenario changed when James Sargent, Edna’s brother, retired and returned to Mayfield from out of state.

The Biedermans soon realized how much the pond meant to Sargent and other Mayfield residents.

So, in 1984, they generously ceded the land to the township to turn it into a park.

What followed shows the good that can happen when citizens, government, and nonprofits work together. Mayfield residents, township and state government, fishing organizations, and groups like Rotary Charities have all contributed to the successful creation of the park.

In 1986 the Mayfield Park Committee was formed, leading a multi-year effort to rejuvenate the area. A diversion channel was built and the pond was drained so that silt, dirt, logs and other debris could be removed. A road was literally moved so the dam and spillway could be repaired.

In 1990, the Halladay family allowed the park to expand eastward, donating land where the Halladay Hotel once stood. The basin was filled with water.

While this was all cause for celebration, tragedy struck when committee chairman Jim Sargent died of a stroke in October 1990.

Yet the rejuvenated land was dedicated as a township park in June 1991.

Even more improvements have been made since then. Several acres have been added to the park, including a network of trails. Stone memorials, a playground and a pavilion also adorn the park.

The pavilion is on the site of the Halladay Hotel and features an original fireplace from that company.

And what about Edna Sargent?

For decades, she volunteered to help maintain Mayfield Park, regularly raking, trimming trees and doing whatever was necessary.

The resulting beauty reflects the affection she and many others have for the heritage of their village and their families.

About Patricia Kilgore

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