by Dave Votta, CADL Local History Librarian
The Grand River has played a pivotal role in the history and development of the village of Dimondale since Isaac M. Dimond built the first dam and mills in the 1850s. The dam and his mills were mostly washed away by freshets. However, Mr. Dimond persevered and in 1856, the year of his second ill fated mill, he platted a village and named it Dimondale. He then summarily returned to New York where, according to Durant’s History of Ingham and Eaton Counties “his death soon after occurred.”
Despite onerous origins milling became a viable business in the village. By 1880 there were saw, steam, planning and grist mills. Mechanic and millinery shops thrived. There was a post office, hotel and several stores. In October of 1897 the Dimondale News began.
Amid this description of a bustling, picturesque village a shadowy figure emerges steeped in American Gothic. One Delos Marvin, a resident of Dimondale, is described in the State Republican newspaper of 1908 as living alone in a “strange little house close beside the Grand River.” He occupied his time not only is constant verbal communication with an unseen or heard good spirit companion, but fighting and eradicating evil spirits. The interior walls of his one room domicile were covered in punctured scrap metal. The pieces included tin, iron, stove pipes, washboards and more, all perforated with nail holes. Each hole stated Marvin “destroys an evil spirit.” He wore a necklace of small, round, tin pieces with holes to ward off all disease and regularly struck up a resounding cacophony, banging a horseshoe on a tin pan to call the good spirits to him.
His self-esteem does not appear to have suffered from being a bit of an outsider. He is quoted saying “he is the most wonderful person living, having single-handedly and alone destroyed nearly every spirit of darkness.”
From Federal Census records Delos Marvin was born about 1846. In 1860 he is listed living in DeWitt with his family. His father S.P. Marvin was a Probate Judge. The 1908 story recounts him living off a federal pension. Records indicate he may have served in the 3rd Regiment of the New York Light Artillery during the Civil War. His father was from New York.
The neighbors apparently were not too unnerved by Marvin’s antics. He was declared a “unique citizen” and that he “furnishes its [Dimondale] people with a great deal of harmless amusement with his quaint vagaries and wonderful flights of fancy.” The paper describes community support and his receiving “generous baskets of food from public suppers” and “many a glass of jelly and other dainties from the good housewives of the town.”
It is unclear when, but Marvin is reported to have at one time been a “well paid” newspaper reporter. His fate is equally murky. To date, the last known documentation places him in the Kent County Detention Hospital. In the 1920 Federal Census we find him there listed as a patient.
-Dave V., CADL Local History Librarian
State Republican (December 15, 1908)
History of Ingham and Eaton Counties by Samuel Durant
Past and Present of Eaton County by the Rev. Wolcott B. Williams
1860 U.S. Federal Census
1820 U.S. Federal Census
Civil War records M551 roll 8
Photograph from the Caterino Collection at the Capital Area District Libraries’ Special Collections