Benton Harbor: A Man For Our Time

Steamship “City of Benton Harbor” Near St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, Michigan Lighthouse

For nearly two centuries, the legacy of Missouri’s Benton family has continued to spread.

Maecenas Benton, United States Attorney (1885-1889) and Congressional Representative from Missouri (1897-1905) happened to be the father of Thomas Hart Benton, American regionalist painter and muralist.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which houses many of his paintings, is located in Bentonville, Arkansas, a town named in honor of his great-great-uncle Thomas Hart Benton, a five-term Missouri senator whose efforts on behalf of Arkansas statehood were substantial.  After the first county in Arkansas was named “Benton” as a tribute to the Senator, the site designated as the county seat became known as Bentonville.

Arkansas wasn’t the only state that profited from Senator Benton’s attentions. Only six months after Arkansas’s [¹] 1836 admittance to the Union, Michigan became the next state to join.  Benton Township was established there on March 11, 1837, and in 1865, one of the first towns in the area, Brunson Harbor, became Benton Harbor: also in tribute to the Missouri Senator who helped Michigan achieve statehood. Continue reading

A Pair of Olympic-Caliber Chickens

I’m rarely sentimental about towns I’ve never visited, but Benton Harbor, Michigan is an exception.

Benton Harbor was named after five-term Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who earned the honor by helping Michigan achieve statehood. His grand-nephew, also named Thomas Hart Benton, is one of my favorite American painters and muralists. The younger and more artistic Benton was the son of Maecenus Benton, who served in Congress himself after a stint as prosecuting attorney for Newton County, Missouri.

It’s at this point in the Benton/Benton Harbor history that my sentimental twinges begin. Maecenus Benton lawyered in Newton County, Missouri, while I was born in Newton, Iowa.  My little Newton happened to be home to the Maytag Company, my father’s employer for decades.  In 2006, Maytag was sold to the Whirlpool Corporation, whose administrative headquarters still are located in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

In one more lovely, serendipitous complication, Benton Harbor is located along the eastern edge of Lake Michigan on the Paw Paw River. When I lived in Liberia, my whorled tabby cat was named Paw Paw because she loved to knead sofas, pillows, people and other animals with her paws, just as if she were kneading bread. Continue reading