The Naming of Elsie, Michigan

Sarah Spelling recounts the story of how Elsie was adopted as the name of the village where Franklin James Tillotson and Jane Ann Sexton Tillotson made their home after moving from Medina County, Ohio. Sarah was a schoolteacher in Elsie in the early twentieth century. She wrote this essay around 1938.

Towns and cities get their names in various ways, but none came to theirs in a simpler, sweeter way than this little town (Elsie). The people are prone to forget -- if they ever knew -- why it was so called. In running through the items of interest of 20 years ago, I came across one telling of the death of Mrs. Elsie Barbour at Bowling Green, Ohio, and of her burial there. Far from the little town which bears her name.

Many years ago -- I dislike statistics -- one warm afternoon, a group of the citizens gathered in the parlor of Franklin Tillotson's house. It was a momentous occasion. The stiff collars, Sunday suits, and polished boots were uncomfortable, but a name had to be decided upon. The afternoon was passing. The buzzing of a fly on the window sill, the creaking of empty wagons returning from Ovid north to Potter's Mill, and the distant voices of children at play in the fields came to them, through the open door. Chore time was near and as yet no name for the village.

No one has ever recorded just what names were discussed pro and con; however, it is most likely that the names of a wife or sweetheart were suggested, and perhaps the name of some former home town came up for discusssion. Anyway the time passed and no decision. Then there was a sound of hurrying feet and a childish voice calling "Father." Suddenly on the threshold silhouetted against the bright sunlight stood the host's daughter, little Elsie. Her yellow curls were blown, and she was holding her little blue apron, full of daises, with both chubby hands. Her full skirted prim, little grey dress and ruffled panalettes were as demure as her sweet face which flushed with embarrassment at seeing the parlour full of men who suddenly sat silent and stared at her. She dropped a little curtesy and ran back to her play.

There was silence in the stuffy seldom-used parlor with its lace curtains, what-nots and framed hair wreaths. The men sat awkward and stiff on the hard horse hair covered chairs. The the chairman -- whose name too is lost in the past -- rose and in a relieved voice said "Gentlemen I suggest that in due respect to our host and to his efforts in organizing this village that we choose the name "Elsie." Elsie for that fair, little lass, and Elsie for our new village.

"Ay, ay," came the unanimous reply for it was hot and the chores were waiting and goodness knows, there wasn't anything sweeter and fairer than little Elsie Tillotson.

So Elsie it was, and the years hurried by, as years have a habit of doing. The little town grew, and flourished. There were churches, school, new stores, wooden sidewalks, which soon gave way to concrete, lights, and a water system. People went busily about their work perhaps writing the name Elsie many times a day, with never a thought of the Elsie for whom the place was named.

Through the years, the name of Elsie was carried far in War -- to battlefields of the South, to Gettysburg, to Libby Prison, to San Juan Hill, to Cuba, to the Philippines and Hawaii, to the Hindenburg Line and to France, and on the Archanel(?) beside Arctic Seas. In Peace the name has gone with its citizens to places of honor and trust, and when the allotted years of many former residents were done, they were at last brought back to Elsie to rest. Now carefree boys and girls chanting their songs and cheering "Rah, Elsie" lead their teams to victory. Now a tall water tower keeps vigil over the town and in the sunlight, or in misty, shimmering moonlight, or also through raging storms, proclaims in high, white letters to all who travel the earth on airways, the name, Elsie.

Somehow I'm glad my town was named for a fair-haired, little girl with an apronful of daisies, and not for some warrior who made his way to victory in a sea of blood, or some stuffy politician or ancient poet.

Leonard C. Tillotson provided the text of Sarah Spelling's essay.

Back to Tillotson Genealogy.
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Last modified by pib on July 6, 2003.