The original Route 131 is shown being cemented in downtown Wayland in 1911. The Wayland Hotel is shown on the right. Originally a plank road, it put Wayland on the map in 1855. US-131 as we know it west of town was built in 1958.  (Photo provided)

Wayland’s past builds into 21st Century (Part 2)

Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

After the county around Wayland was gradually cleared from dense woods and the swamps were drained, the farming countryside became a productive dairy section.

Taking advantage of the dairy herds in the area and increased consumption of evaporated milk, a milk condensery was built in 1915 and began producing canned milk. Two sizes were made, a tall can and a small can of six ounces, which was called “Our Pet.” This was shortened over the years to “Pet” and eventually the name of the company was changed to “ Pet Milk Company.”

After World War II the plant started to make non-fat dry milk and eventually changed over completely to a powdered milk plant. In 1964, due to several factors, the Wayland plant discontinued receiving milk and became known as the Food Products Plant. In 1982, it became Dean Foods and today it is Bay Valley Foods. It remains a major employer more than 100 years later.

The area’s biggest employer is now Gun Lake Casino south of town in Bradley, which continues to expand. It is owned by the original settlers of the area, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe.

The casino not only provides jobs for many people in the area but it’s biggest recipient of local revenue sharing is Wayland Union schools, with more than $1.6 million annually.

The schools are the City of Wayland’s largest employer, coming a long way from attending class in Nelson Chambers’ shingle shack.

The first permanent school was built in 1862. A larger building that replaced the school in 1872 burned down in 1896 and was replaced by a brick building.  Students attended the school until the 1950s when the brick schoolhouse was torn down to build a new high school. The former high school building later became Pine Street Elementary School and the schools have been expanding ever since.

Prior to the casino, Wayland’s biggest stimulus for growth was the plank road that literally put Wayland on the map. While the plank road through “Chambers Corners” was short-lived—the planks wore thin and weren’t replaced—the railroad arrived in 1870, providing further stimulus. 

Factories and lumberyards clustered along the railroad track west of town. The Smith Lumber and Coal Company is one that still stands today. The J. L Smith & Son company served local farmers, handling the sale and transport of hay crops.

Family-owned since 1898, it eventually handled anything a farmer could possibly need. Around 1901, the Smiths built a building at 710 W. Maple St. to store baled hay and straw.  In 1912, the headquarters moved from North Main to the Maple Street building and continued as a lumber and coal yard next to the railroad tracks.

In 1916, the company changed its name to Businessmen’s Paper Press Company after Smith bought a waste paper baler patent and sold and manufactured the machines. That put the lumber company on the map before the name was changed back.

In 1923, the Smith family opened a branch yard in Shelbyville—now Boniface Heating. Other yards were also opened in Middleville and Hastings.

The red barn building next to the railroad tracks in Wayland is now a new business: Lumberman Events Center.

Among the many businesses that stretched along Main and Superior streets was the Wayland Theater. Built in the then ultra modern Art Deco style in 1938, it was owned by Namen Frank. The first film shown there was Coconut Grove.

In 1953, Frank sold the theater to Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Forbear. It was demolished in 1971 to make way for a parking lot for Harding’s Market.

One innovative feature of the theater was a crying room where parents could take restless  children but still watch and listen to the program.

Frank started Wayland’s first movie house in 1910 across the street from the theater on West Superior at the opera house he converted into a theater before building the new location.

While the art deco building was a spectacle, Wayland’s architectural jewel has always been Henika District Library. Built with a bequest from Julia Henika in 1898, it still serves its residents 120 years later.

Another landmark building is Wayland City Hall. It was erected by Wayland State Bank in 1917 and still says so on its sturdy brick façade. When it became United Bank, it expanded to the south, incorporating another building that once housed the Doll House restaurant.

The structure was modernized with stone facing on the lower level and a metal grid on the upper level.  After United Bank moved down the road, like many businesses in town, the building’s façade has been restored to look similar to its original design a century earlier.

To keep the bank from being robbed and for the general safety of the community, the Wayland Police Department was established in 1952. Forrest Reichenbach was chief and Eldon Milheim worked the night shift. Prior to that, the Village of Wayland was served by village marshals from 1871 until the early 1900s when the village employed various night watchmen. The first night watchman “Mose” Jerome was accidently killed while on duty.

Part of the  night watchmen’s jobs were to collect their salary from each businessman, being paid a designated amount by each merchant weekly.

In 1956, the state police established the Wayland Post on North Main Street.

It was the state that took over the right-of-way for the old plank road, which only lasted about 10 years. By the turn of the 20th century a road for automobiles was established—the original Route 131—which is now 10th Street. It was cemented in 1911.

Later in 1923, Calkins Corner, a mile north of town was cut off, shortening the route from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo.  For a time, this short cut was known to Wayland folks as “Mae West Curve.” It wasn’t until June 26, 1958, the expressway was opened west of town.

1958 was also the year Wayland’s world renowned Dahlia business closed after the death of its founder Earl Ryno in 1956.

In its heyday, Ryno’s Dahlia fields put Wayland on the map across the nation as “The Dahlia City.”

On Saturday, July 14, 2018, as an ode to its history, a dahlia mural designed by Wayland native and artist Tess (Tobolic) Marhofer will be going up on two sides of the Wayland Hotel at the corner of Main and Superior streets. A portion of the design is paint-by-number to allow community volunteers to take part in painting a piece of Wayland’s history.

Sign-up is available at

A bit more on Wayland’s dahlia history will be next week in Part 3 of Wayland’s history to commemorate its 150th anniversary. The schedule for the July 20-21 Main Street Celebration and 150th birthday will also be provided.


Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from when it printed in the July 12 issue to reflect the proper location of the casino.


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