The Starkey Family

For a brief period in the 1870s and early 1880s the Starkey family was one of the prominent families in Fowlerville. They were uncle and nephew, William W. Starkey and Frank H. Starkey. Their prominence came from the importance of the shook factory that William W. Starkey began in 1871.

William and his brother Henry were sons of Henry Starkey, Sr., and were born in New Hampshire. Henry Jr., the elder brother, was born in 1824, and worked as a shoemaker, and later, a hotel keeper. He lived in New Hampshire and Vermont until at least 1870, when the federal census shows him living in Battleboro, Vermont, with his son Frank. At some point after 1870 they moved to Michigan. Henry bought a hotel in Ionia and owned it until 1882, when he sold it, planning to move to Fowlerville, where his son Frank was living.

William W. Starkey, born in 1840 in New Hampshire, was living in Vernon Township in Shiawassee County by 1870. He was married to a woman named Italy and they had two daughters: Eva, born about 1863 in New Hampshire, and Grace, born about 1876 in Michigan.. Eva married into two other prominent Fowlerville families when she married  Frank G. Palmerton, the son of George W. Palmerton and Joanna Fowler. Frank was the grandson of town founder, Ralph Fowler.

W. W. Starkey began a shook factory in Fowlerville in July, 1871. The factory made red and white oak "shooks" or staves for the manufacture of hogsheads and tierces (two different sizes of wooden barrels). These barrels were used for rum, molasses, sugar, and fish in the West Indies. In 1873 he employed 35 people in the mill and shop, with another sixty men in the woods. Starkey was the largest employer in Fowlerville. The shop used a 40 horsepower steam engine to drive the machinery. Annual production at that time was 75,000 to 100,000 shooks (in this case, barrels), which accounted for $150,000 in sales (more than $2.4 million in 2006 dollars). His nephew, Frank H. Starkey, was the superintendent in 1873. At some point Starkey also owned a shook factory in Ionia. A period article from the Ionia Sentinel describes the process:

"In one of the buildings the staves are prepared by machinery to be made into hogsheads and the heading [end of the barrel] is also sawed out by a circular saw in this department. They are then taken into the next building where 12 coopers are employed in putting them together. After the staves are made into casks they are numbered so that when the casks are again made up in the West Indies they can readily be put in the right place. The casks are then taken apart and the staves of each one bound in a bunch by itself. The staves tied up in these bunches are called 'shook.' They are shipped in this form to save room, and freight. Enough casks are left whole, however, to pack the heading."

The shook factory was located near the railroad tracks, west of South Grand Ave. A fire in October 1878 destroyed property in the factory worth $4000, but it was repaired, and ran at full capacity, day and night. Another fire occurred in November 1881. The Fowlerville Review reported it: "The Shook factory burned together with the large steam dry house containing over 3000 ft. of steam pipes, and full of partially dried staves. The fire was discovered by E. Hale, night watchman. The loss above insurance was about $2500. A large amount of new macinery had just been installed. Mr. Starkey announces that the factory will be rebuilt. He is erecting temporary buildings on the opposite side of the R.R." On March 20, 1882, the Review reported that "F. H. Starkey took over the Shook Factory from W. W. Starkey and erected a new building in March 1882. W. W. Starkey will manufacture shook in Buffalo, N.Y."

Frank H. Starkey, the son of Henry, Jr. and the nephew of William, was born in Swanzey, New Hampshire in 1850. He was only about 10 years younger than his uncle William. Frank came to Fowlerville with his uncle in 1871. In addition to helping with the shook factory, Frank owned a hardware store in Fowlerville and a lumber yard in Byron. He also had a passion for breeding and racing horses. In 1882 he built shops in Evart, Michigan, near Clare, and continued the shook business there in connection with his father, Henry.

On May 15, 1876 Frank married Sophia P. "Sofie" Cook, the daughter of Jared Lockwood Cook and Sarah M. Drake. Sofie was the sister of Fred Cook, who built the hardware store that is now the east half of Fowlerville True Value Hardware. In November 1880 the young couple  purchased lot 2 and the east half of lot 1 of Benjamin's Addition in the village (the southwest corner of Grand River Ave. and Maple Street). Shortly afterwards they built a large horse barn there, and a year later, in October 1881, they broke ground for "a fine residence" on the lots. They moved into their new home, "the finest in town," nearly two years later, in the first week of October, 1883.

Frank would live in the home for less than five years. He took ill in the fall of 1887, and died about a year later, November 6, 1888 in Winchester, New Hampshire. He was only 38 years old. He was buried at Swanzey, New Hampshire, next to his mother, Mary.

Presumably Sophia remained in the house until May 1891, when it was sold to Henry and Sarah Greenaway for $2000. Sophia later remarried, to a man with the surname of Swinburne. She died in March 1939, but it is unclear where. At the time of her death, she was a resident of the state of Washington (her brother Frank was a resident of Tacoma, Washington, so it is possible they were living together or near each other). Regardless, Sophia is buried at Greenwood Cemetery with her parents Jared L. and Sarah M. Cook, and her brother, Frank J. Cook.

starkeyhouseThe house that Frank Starkey built still stands. Several prominent families have lived there: Henry Greenaway, Judge A. E. Cole, Clayton Fenton of Fenton Drugs, and Dr. Hauer. Currently the home is owned by Brian and Sheri Kennedy, who are in the process of restoring the home. One of the interesting things they discovered is that although the home was white for many years, originally it was painted in the colors currently being put on the house, a dark green with contrasting trim.


The Fowlerville Review (various issues).

Kennedy, Sheri. Research on the Starkey family and the Starkey house.

Federal Census records of Michigan.

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