By Lauren Hager
Originally Published on August 15th, 2018.
Does being morally right always coincide with what is legal, that is, fine print legal? As a ten-year-old kid growing up in a Lapeer County farming community, I was exposed to a real-life lesson on this subject.
This lesson revolved around a rather large Fort just a couple of miles from our family farm. No, this wasn’t on the scale of Fort Gratiot or Fort Mackinac, but it was impressive.
So how did this come about? Was the army involved? What were they trying to defend? Why was there a real fort in Michigan’s thumb area in the early 50s?
Let me explain as best as I can. After all, as a kid, I did not understand all the background information. I do know that the fort was BIG NEWS in our farming community. And I also recollect that Paul and Chris Ziegenhardt were two bachelor brothers who successfully and proudly farmed a few miles south of Marlette on M-53.
According to a 1952 issue of Life Magazine, back in 1935 the Farmer’s Mutual Fire Insurance Association went bankrupt and hundreds of dismayed Lapeer County farmers found that according to the fine print in their contracts, they were liable for the company’s $90,000 debts. Five hundred of them banded together to fight payment. The case was eventually decided by the Michigan Supreme Court.
Most of the farmers gave in and paid their share of the debt, but not the prosperous Ziegenhardts who owed $274.10. They stubbornly refused to pay what they considered to be an unfair debt.
Insurance company receivers got a judgment on their property and in 1948 sold it to auction to a wealthy widow from Lapeer for considerably less than its actual value. To say that the brothers were angry would be an understatement! There was no way they were going to allow Grace White to take possession of their property, their home, or their livelihood.
Scores of neighboring farmers agreed. Perhaps to make a symbolic statement, or maybe as a practical matter, they gathered together, not for a typical barn-raising, but a fort-raising. The result was a rather elaborate fortress that took most of the front lawn. Heavily armed neighbors manned the fort to protect the brothers’ property. Someone painted the poignant message, “SORRY GRACE!” in bold white letters on the structure.
There was no love lost on Grace White who was trying to make a financial killing on the two hard-working farmers who were standing up for what they believed to be sound principals. In the end, what they thought was morally right did not coincide with what was legal, that is fine print legal.
Early one morning, before Paul and Chris were up to start their daily farm chores, several State Police cars drove in their driveway, single-file, and took away the bachelor brothers in their nightclothes.
I never did know what finally became of Paul and Chris Ziegenhardt. Did they live out their days in poverty? Did Grace White end up making a huge financial profit on the transaction? I’m not sure, but I do know that the area farmers certainly believe Paul and Chris were correct in their conviction in spite of what the legal system decided.
Lauren Hager, a long-time special education teacher for the Port Huron Area School District, has served his community in a variety of ways.
He was elected to three terms on the Port Huron City Council in the 1990s. He represented much of St. Clair County in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1999 to 2004. While a state representative, he chaired the Family and Children Service Committee where he was considered a passionate and forceful advocate for abused and neglected children.
Hager is a proud graduate of Michigan State University where he earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees. Lauren and his wife, Carol have two children and four grandchildren.
Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to, “Like” us on Facebook!
Disclaimer: Blue Water Healthy Living is an online magazine located in Port Huron, Michigan. Our purpose is to promote healthy living by showcasing the Blue Water Area, its people, issues and surroundings. This online magazine is devoted to providing healthy living related stories, local happenings, and commentary. Often inspiring and uplifting, our stories come from our heart and soul to promote the enjoyment of a more fulfilling Blue Water Area lifestyle. The material on this web site is provided for informational and amusement purposes only and is not to be confused with any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of Blue Water Healthy Living.