Albert Hugh Crane and The Crane Family

Albert stayed on the home front during WWII to raise food for the country and service men, even though he was classified 1A. Albert lives on one of the first properties setteled in Allegan County by Harrison Hutchins  in 1836. The home is located in the very NE corner of section 1 of Ganges Township. The first Crane to have a fruit farm in the area was John H. and Hattie Blakeslee Crane. Two of their children were the prime Crane family farmers, Henry Blakeslee  and U.S!  Albert Hugh Crane (CL.35) was born in 1916 to H. Blakeslee and Muriel E. (Smith) Crane. Albert's  brothers are Edward H., John Calvin (CL.41), and Robert (Bob) C.; and Sisters Shirley L. (CL.38), Emilyn K. (CL.40) and Elizabeth E. (CL.45); Edward died in 1934 at age of 19. John Calvin died while training with the WWII Air Force in Florida. Bob came home from the navy in 1951. Albert and Bob have been the prime fruit growers going into the 21st century.
Albert Hugh

John and Hattie Crane purchased 63 acres in the NW corner of section 1. He and his sons, Blakeslee and U.S. soon owned many parcels within the area on the map below, like when Blakeslee purchased the Harrison Hutchins farm in 1916. The yellow squares mark the corners as near as  can be judged at this writing. The 63 acre farm was inherited by U.S. Crane along with the Fred Schultz property across the road. He and his Son Richard (Dick) were prime fruit farmers in the 20th century. After their passing Bob took up their ownership and of the 20 acres farm between them. There-in, Crane Orchards are as they are today, within those yellow squares.

Dick C. Crane (CL.38) was the only son of U.S. and Lena (Miller) Crane with sisters Aino Geraldine (CL.34), Rena D. (CL.36) , Norma L. (CL.50), Dixianna (CL.51) and Jacquelyn J. (CL.54).

The orange dashed line on the map above is as Albert described in his stories. It is the old Bailey Mill road that existed along the lake. It was one of the first roads in the pioneer days that came from Swan Creek and extended to Mack’s Landing toward Saugatuck. Roads in those days followed the contours of the land to avoid hill climbing and stayed close to a water source.

The photo depicts the orchard layout pretty much as they here in 2007. The orange square is the Hutchins Cemetery. The Harrison Hutchins house is in the trees to the left. The "Crane Pie Pantry" opened in 1972, in the long building further left (west) and pictured below. The "U-Pick Orchards" surround the area.

The restaurant exists behind the buildings shown above. Albert’s house, right, is the well maintained house of Harrison Hutchins who settled this area around 1837, pictured below. LaVerne took these two photos the fruit photos in September of 2007.

Albert married classmate Letha Hicks and purchased the “Harrison Hutchins” house with 2 acres from his father, Blakeslee Crane. It is on the south side of M89 across the road from their 100 acre farm

The original house is constructed to support two families. Albert now lives in the eastern portion after his wife Letha’s passing away in early 2007. Her ashes are spread in her flower garden and farmland woods. A stone has been placed for them both in the Hutchins cemetery, just east of the house.

This house and farm across the road are now owned by his nephew, Gary and Sandy Crane, Owners of “The Gary Crane U-Pick Farm”.

LaVerne visited Albert in September of 2007 to gain knowledge about the area. Albert sat in the chair pictured below where he can look south out a picture window, over the trees and see Hutchins Lake.      View a June 2008 Visit.

Click photo above for details

Decades ago, Albert’s grandfather, John Crane found the stone he is holding. It’s an Indian rock hand tool. John was plowing near the back of his farm located west on M89 at the SE corner of 62nd street, he had plowed it up, was resting the team of horses and spotted the stone.

The stone was used by his grandma Hattie as a door stop and later ended up in San Pedro, CA at his Aunt Rena’s home, also as a door stop. Later it was brought to Albert by way of a car trip
his Aunt Rena and Uncle Paul’s made via Pennsylvania. They had a car accident there which added a deep flaw to the stone. In the photo below you can see the stone is beautifully ground down to a smooth finish with a sharp edge on the point.  If you look closely from the point by his watch band you can see a horizontal scratch. Rena and Paul brought the stone to Fennville after getting out of the hospital. The police were kind to Rena and said they brought her everything they could find, except the “dozen eggs” they had on the back seat! The car actually went off the road and rolled down a steep cliff and was never driven again, they were lucky to have survived.

This stone reminded LaVerne of Indian arrow heads he used to find at his grandfather’s, (Linn Sheckler) while living with him on a sand hill on the south side of Hutchins Lake.

Robert C. (Bob) Crane served on USS Kearsarge (CV33) when in the navy, 1948-1951

Albert still operates his CAT, used mainly for pulling tree stumps.

One thing Albert remembers about school was that Red Hutchins was frequently late, even though he lived right behind the school. The janitor “Vern Whittaker”, looking at his watch, would keep the bell ringing long enough for Red to run out the door, finish dressing, and get into the school just seconds before the bell stopped ringing.

Albert has many happy memories of early farm life. They had running water by way of a large storage tank in the attic, furnishing water to the kitchen and bathroom and pumped at first by a windmill and later by a one-cylinder gas engine. There was also an “icehouse” under the back section of the house.

With an old Model T Ford, they trucked sawdust from an old sawmill site at Singapore and piled it near the “icehouse”. Come winter, Albert’s dad with team and sleigh, plus several neighbors, would head for Hutchins Lake to cut ice. It took several days to haul, pack the cakes of ice and insulate the ice with sawdust. For a number of years there were seven children, Blakeslee, Muriel and Muriel’s father Charles Smith, at each meal. They all helped with things they were capable of doing. Albert’s job was to milk the two cows, feed the horses and chickens and empty the wash water. Having a grandfather around was great. He would read to the family and tell exiciting stories. He was a student of Shakespeare, probably because as a young man he worked at the theaters in New York. He told about the Booth actors. It wasn't much in the way of entertainment but they could not remember being bored because they made their own entertainment. It was about 1932 when they got a radio and what a great time that was. Albert’s final comment is: “As we live our lives we may not end up with a fortune, but if we have fond memories, they are the greatest treasures”.

During  World War Two, a firm in Detroit wanted apples delivered fresh and ready for shipment to destinations all over the nation. Albert, brother Bob and cousin Dick had the apples packed in special paper lined crates and each drove their truck to Detroit in the early hours of the day and waited at the firms doors until it opened. They would sleepily drive their trucks home to do it all over again.

To help pick the fruit during 1944 and 1945, Cranes and other farmers, drove to Camp Lakewood near Allegan and transported German War prisoners to orchards to work for the day and then drove them back. The prisoners were paid 5¢ and hour where their rewards were used for toothpaste etc. The prisoners were mostly those captured in Northern Africa. Albert got to know one of them and 20 years later, he and his wife knocked at Albert’s door. They staye. Albert got to know one of them and 20 years later, he and his wife knocked at Albert’s door. They stayed in the Crane home for a couple weeks in the apartment up stairs.

After the war, the prisoner had returned home and some how got to Tasmania, Australia. There he met, married a girl and spent his life as a “brick layer”. Later Albert and Letha spent time with them at their home in Hobart, Tasmania. Albert considered them as “Very Nice People”.

Albert also planted 20 acres to string beans behind the house during WWII. The beans and fruits were picked and delivered to Michigan Fruit Canners and the Fruit Exchange after they grew and were nurtured through the seasons of the years by Albert and other Crane family members.

LaVerne worked on Crane’s orchards several times during his high school years. He especially remembers picking cherries out behind Dick Crane’s house with his sister Dixie. He also worked by moving crates around in his cold storage houses supporting the apple graders. On the Wadsworth farm, just around the corner from U.S.’s, he picked up apples destined for the cider mill in Fennville. The cider mill and pickle factory was managed by his uncle Keith Hutchins. LaVerne shoveled apples in to a shoot with flowing water that carried apples to the grinder. Apple juice was turned into vinegar by straining it through 25 foot high tanks filled with apple wood shavings. LaVerne tried to take on the job of cleaning out the used shavings after they had the juice run through them but the vinegar fumes were to strong for him. You could stay in the tank no more than 5 minutes at a time.

The Crane family came to the Fennville area in 1874 from Battle Creek. Dwight and Lydia Crane came with their two sons and one daughter;
John H., Dwight R. and Emma E. (Swartz).  John H. decided to turn his attention to fruit and soon owned

sixty-three acres of land devoted to raising fruit. He also rented his parents farm of one hundred and twenty acres, fifty of which were devoted to the raising of fruit. The remainder was used for general farming purposes. John H. made a study of the fruit business and thoroughly understood  all the details connected with the care

and cultivation of fruit, so the products of his farm found a good market place, owing to their superior quality and flavor. Besides the farm in this

country he also owned a tract of 165 acres in cuba, which was situated near San Marcus where he expected to develop the property having firm faith in the possibilities of the island. A story has been handed down in the Crane family that concerns John's visit to Cuba about the turn of the century. In Havana he fell in with a man who was a world traveler, and John asked him, "Out of all the places he had seen anywhere in the world, what was the prettiest place he had  ever been".

John H. Crane

The man considered, "Well," he said at last, "I have seen islands, mountains, and cities, but the prettiest place I have ever been is in a little village on the Kalamazoo river in Michigan. It's called New Richmond. I don't suppose you have ever heard of it."

John became one of the largest shippers of Fennville. He constructed modern and substantial buildings and soon became one of the model country homes in Allegan County.

In February of 1887, John H. married Hattie Blakeslee, daughter of Henry and Irene (Fenn) Blakeslee. Hattie was the first child born in a frame house in Fennville. The house was the property of her grandfather, Elam. M. Fenn, the village being named for him.

Hattie’s father and Mr. Atwater, who came from the east, owned the land on which Fennville now stands, besides much of the surrounding district.

John and Hattie Crane had seven children. Five were Ethel M., U.S, Lydia I., Henry Blakeslee, and Berneth R. Dwight died in 1894 at the age of 65.

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