By: David McDonald
In 1835 a young man of twenty, by the name of Abram Canfield Fisk, came to the infant village of Coldwater, MI. Bringing no claimed wealth with himself, his goal was to find work, accumulate money, and buy some of the government property that was abundant in the new Branch County.
After working for a year in one of the two local inns that were flourishing with settler traffic following the Sauk Trail, Abram paid for forty acres in Section 11 (north of State Street and west of Fiske Road) of Coldwater Township. The Inn in question was identified in an Ezbon Fuller news article later as the Central Exchange, which later became the Eagle Hotel. A second side note: Contrary to history saying it took him a year to save the money, I found record of him purchasing the land in the same month that he arrived. In January of 1836, Abram purchased a second forty-acre plot from another landowner without a public record.
In September 1836, Abram married Catherine Smith, daughter of Reverend Francis Smith, another early settler of Branch County. In 1840 he and Catherine are noted as settling on land that was in Sections 23 and 26. This is the land, today, where you identify the presence of this Fiske family and house. Section 23 is that portion of the property on the north side of US-12 (E. Chicago Road) and the Section 26 land running along the road south of US-12, known to you now as Fiske Road.
The drawn image you see is the Abram Fiske farm on the south side of Chicago Road where their children were born, and where the family lived until 1863. It was here that Abram launched the beginning of his well-known racehorse farm. Through this period, he also bought and sold land on a pretty regular basis. Maybe a little beyond the means of a young man who supposedly came to town with no money. Implying that humility might have been a noteworthy element of his personality.
Abram is an interesting individual to track because he had a habit of using aliases in his dealings and contracts. He served for a period in the Civil War under the name of Canfield Fiske, his middle name and the maiden name of his mother, Rebecca (Canfield) Fiske. Record shows that he served in the Fourth Michigan Infantry.
But in 1863, Abram built the brick Italianate home on the north side of East Chicago and it would become the “Maple Park” farm. He would import quality bred Morgan horses and breed some of the finest of racehorses that he would both race and sell. A practice track was built around the new home of the family. Catherine would pass in 1881, and in 1883 Abram married Eleanor Fisk, the daughter of James Fisk who also arrived in Branch County in 1835.
By 1901 the Maple Park Farm was being run by Abram’s son, William “Willie” Fiske. The farm was of a stature at that point that local photographer Osborn was commissioned to create two large images of the farm to be shown at the Pan-American Exposition.
The dog with the broken tail. Along the way the family acquired a cement dog statue that stood in the lawn circled by the main entrance to the main house. If you have a lifelong history in Coldwater, you may be old enough to remember the dog standing watch in the front lawn. Along the way an accident happened, and the dog’s tail was broken off. So, everyone became used to seeing the dog with the broken tail standing its vigilant watch over the old Victorian era home. Then, one morning the Jewell family discovered that someone absconded with the long-term resident of the A. C. Fiske house, and it was nowhere to be found.
Nearly every time we bring up a discussion on the old Fiske farm, someone will inevitably raise the story of the dog and its whereabouts. While cleaning out an old work desk in the office of the Wing House Museum last week I discovered a picture taken for a long past home tour event. And, there, in all its cement glory stood the dog with the broken tail. I just had to share that picture with everyone in memory of longtime Fiske house owner and Branch County Historical Society member, Elizabeth Jewell. Now known as the Blue Hat Café and owned by Phillip Jewell, you have the opportunity to visit the old Abram Fiske Maple Park farmhouse.