Other than some large trees and a few outbuildings about to topple over in the wind, what has survived to witness all 175 years of our township’s existence? Maybe some family letters collected for posterity, an heirloom passed down from parent to child over the decades, but what exists that we can all claim as ours as a township?
The Ballot Box.
It is simply constructed, this 15x9x6½ black walnut receptacle. And it helped to form Sparta Township. A two-hinged lid swings open to retrieve ballots. A skeleton keyhole in the front and a ¼x¾ slot in the top provide security and legitimacy. A necessary slate of would-be officers (all men, given the times) completed the effort to turn what was a part of Walker Township into its own state-recognized governmental unit. At the time of its formation, Sparta Township included what is now Tyrone Township.
On April 26, 1846, 23 adults met a mile and a half west of Ballard’s Corners on what is now 10 Mile Road at the Clark Brown farm. These folks voted to begin what is called by the Michigan Townships Association, “the level of government closest and most responsive to the wishes of the people, neighbors serving neighbors, offering accountable, effective, and efficient representation and services to their residents.” They elected a slate of seven to represent the people on this land, the terra firma upon which we have played, tilled, paved, driven, built, and raised families for 175 years now.
Elihu Rice-all Justices
These leaders are obviously all gone. So how did the ballot box survive? Little or nothing else has. In 1963, a Sparta resident who had heard of the box’s existence asked the Sentinel Leader to make a public appeal for information on its whereabouts. Mr. & Mrs. Frank Gillett read the article and were reminded that the box was last in the possession of one Henry Sleeper, who had died in 1951 at the age of 102. Sleeper’s daughter, Augusta, was a friend of theirs and she graciously gave them the box. The Gilletts passed the box along to their daughter, Judy Anderson. In 2015, Judy and her husband, Ted, decided to place the box on permanent loan with our local historical commission where it now resides. Most recently, it was on display at Trinity Christian Reformed Church, Sparta’s polling place, on Election Day 2016.
There are a good number of descendants of the seven original officials still living in Sparta Township. Their stories have been preserved in family documents, a few publications, and most certainly in oral histories shared around the dinner table. The ballot box, a bona-fide piece of Sparta history, has been witness to eight of our nation’s major military conflicts, countless significant world events, and now five major pandemics. And it lives (wood breathes, right?) on. Likely, with the proper care, it will outlast us all to be further celebrated at Sparta Township’s 200th anniversary in 2046.
by Larry Carter
This is article 2 of 7 in the Sparta 175th Birthday Commemorative Article Series.