When I last wrote about Ella Foster Auther, the younger sister of black women’s suffrage leader Myrtle Foster Cook, I described Ella’s success as a Monroe businessman and owner of the popular Woodland Park – a resort for African Americans located in Merrill Township of Newaygo County. .
At that time, the book “Woodland Echoes – A Cottage in My Heart”, by Dianna Cross Toran had just been published. Its pages include tales of family fun and friendship between what was originally a former sawmill site stripped of its white pine.
It also pays homage to Ella’s early life in Monroe and the successful family livery business, a 23-acre fruit/dairy farm (called Willow Bend Dairy) and a candy and candy business (opened in 1899 and located at 9 West Front Street in Monroe near the Foster’s family home at the corner of E. 6th Street and Scott Street and named the “Sugar Bowl”).
Now, Toran has written a sequel to “Woodland Echoes – A Cottage in My Heart,” which is aptly titled “Shadows Beyond the Pines: A Story about Woodland Park Michigan, A Black Resort during Segregation.”
The new title – published by Xlibris – has been nominated for a Michigan State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan in the books – private printing category. Like the first book, Toran’s second book celebrates the black individuals and families who came from across the United States and brought their culture and 20th century economic successes to the Woodland Park community.
Toran’s references to Ella’s life in Monroe include her mother’s contributions to the Monroe Ladies’ Aid Society (which met frequently at the Foster home), the pioneering efforts of the Sugar Bowl (identified as the first soda fountain of Monroe, which was later franchised to include one in Ann Arbor), and the musical prowess of Ella and Myrtle (both students at Gale’s Monroe School of Music).
As described in “Shadows Beyond the Pines: A Story about Woodland Park Michigan, A Black Resort during Segregation”, Ella and her husband Marion Auther (whom she married on April 26, 1905) relied on an eclectic mix of people to weaving the fabric of the Woodland Park community. New stories about WEB Dubois, John Overton and Hallie Q. Brown are told alongside those such as the story of Antoine Prosper Plaut who has been credited with inventing the automobile carburetor (US patent number US1204901A). Another pioneer visitor was Bishop Reverdy Ransom (friend of Hallie Q. Brown) who was appointed in 1936 by newly elected Ohio Governor Martin L. Dewey as the first black board member of the Ohio Board of Pardon and Parole.
The success and reputation of Woodland Park can be attributed to Ella’s enthusiasm, tenacity and marketing acumen. As Ella wrote in a publicity article, “What does Woodland Park mean to you?”, She said: “It offers you the opportunity to fully realize your fondest dreams, the dreams and ambitions of all who have a desire to better themselves physically, mentally and morally.It is absolutely essential for the well-being of all who are compelled to earn a living and the agonizing bustle of a big city that he spends a part of each year in a place where he can get rid of the cares and worries of his monotonous work, routine life…meet and mingle with his friends and acquaintances in such a place, surrender to pure and unadulterated pleasure and recreation The article ends with a call to buy land in Woodland Park, “Be one of the progressives and take action now.”
Ella Foster Auther died suddenly on November 22, 1941 at the age of 68.
Tom Adamich is president of the Visiting Librarian Service, a business he has operated since 1993. He is also a project archivist for the Greening Nursery Company and Family Archives.