For many years, I’ve heard rumors that famed American writer Ernest Hemingway was related to one of Oakland Township’s early settlers, Needham Hemingway. A few months ago, I contacted the Michigan Hemingway Society asking them if they knew of a connection. Unfortunately, the society was unaware of an association between the two, but encouraged further research.
So, with tremendous thanks to the internet and a variety of published family trees, I have found a genealogical link between Needham and Ernest Hemingway. While Ernest’s connection to Goodison and Oakland Township is a distant one, it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
As my research suggests, both Ernest and Needham are descended from Ralph Hemenway who was born in England in 1603. Among Ralph’s children were two sons, both of whom were born in Massachusetts; Samuel in 1636 and Joshua in 1643. Ernest Hemingway is a descendant of Samuel, while Needham is descended from Joshua.
Needham Hemingway: An enterprising & adventurous young man
Originally from Canandaigua, New York, Hemingway was born in 1793 and traveled to Michigan in the early 1820s when Michigan was still a territory.
In History of South Dakota, Vol. II, published in 1904, Doane Robinson wrote that Needham was “a contractor of mills, and at the same time was also engaged to a considerable extent in farming. He came to the state of Michigan in an early day, braving the rigors of a new country, and there,” wrote Robinson, “spent the remainder of his sturdy life in [farming].”
Hemingway was among the first to purchase parcels of land in Avon (now Rochester Hills) and Oakland townships.
According to the Rochester-Avon Historical Society’s blog site, the Spring Hill subdivision, which is located near the southeast corner of Walton and Adams roads, is on land Needham purchased from the federal government in 1825.
In “Heritage of Oakland Township,” written by Delta Kelly and Barbara Kandarian and published in 1976, Hemingway is credited with helping to create a commercial hub that later became Goodison, an uncharted hamlet within the boundaries of Oakland Township. In 1835, Hemingway built a grist mill on Paint Creek near where the Paint Creek Cider Mill stands today along Orion Road.
“He dug a mill race from a half-mile upstream, and instead of the usual waterwheel,” Kelly and Kandarian wrote, “a box-flume fed the water under Gallagher Road (then the old Tower Road) into the basement of the mill, where it turned a turbine. This engaged a shaft that reached up to the second story and turned the mill stones.”
The mill was purchased by William Goodison in 1877. A post office, blacksmith shop and a railroad flag station followed, which transformed the area into a center of commerce. Over the years, the mill was expanded and fitted with modern machinery. It remained in use until 1941 and was dismantled sometime in the 1940s or 1950s.
It's worth noting that the current Paint Creek Cider Mill is not part of Hemingway's original grist mill. As noted in a 2003 National Register of Historic Places nomination form for Goodison, today's mill is made up of a structure built off-site in the early 1900s (then later moved to the mill site) and an addition built in 1965 that included a cider press and garage.
According to The Descendants of Isaac Hemingway, Jr., 1762-1976, written by the Hemingway Book Committee and published in 1981, Hemingway and his brother, James, who also settled in Southeastern Michigan, lived to be “old men and ... both died in Lapeer County.”
For years, their children “kept in touch and even met together occasionally in Michigan. Family reunions were held from 1911 to 1976 and kinsmen from Michigan attended with a few from other states.”
A Facebook page called “ The Great Hemingway Family Tree Experiment” indicates that family reunions are still held during the summer in and around Lapeer County, including Hemingway Lake and the Village of Otter Lake.
Ernest Hemingway: Adventure and innovation runs in the family
Though a native of Chicago, IL, Ernest Hemingway had strong ties to Michigan. As a boy, he spent summers in Northern Michigan with his family, visiting Harbor Springs and Petoskey.
In 1921, Hemingway married his first wife, Elizabeth, in Horton Bay near Walloon Lake and would later use the region as the setting for some of his publications, including The Nick Adams Stories, a collection of short stories published posthumously in 1972.
Hemingway died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in 1961.