This photo of Marilla Griswold hangs at Griswold Auditorium, her legacy to the people of Allegan.

Marilla Griswold: Lumber baroness willed fortune to Allegan

Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

One hundred years ago the most generous woman in Allegan died.

Marilla (Milham) Griswold, 79, passed  away Feb. 20, 1918, after succumbing to a stroke. The city of Allegan was the benefactor of the bulk of the lumber baronesses will.

Marilla’s will, dated Oct. 23, 1917, left the City of Allegan $100,000, to erect a hall in her name. The will said she intended to erect said auditorium during her lifetime and she wanted YMCA rooms to be provided in the building.

She never got to see her legacy built, dying just four months after signing the will. She was buried in a very heavy bronze casket at Oakwood Cemetery at the monument her husband left $500 to build.

At the funeral, the Congregational Church was overflowing and people had to stand outside. A great many people gathered in the cemetery as well where the grave was amass with flowers.

“Among them were many families not so well known as some in Allegan, that were there to express some appreciation for the continuous generosity shown them by Mrs. Griswold. These people will be the ones who will miss her as much as anybody,” said the Allegan Gazette.

Marilla also gave $10,000 to the First Congregational Church, which allowed them to build the dining room and kitchen that today feeds more than 1,200 free meals to those in need each Thursday.

By the time the building was built, the Marilla Griswold Memorial Building fund stood at $164,848. The land on the corner of Hubbard and Chestnut Street downtown Allegan was to be where the hall should be built, as long as the land was less than the $6,500, which was the amount that had been proposed to her.  She stipulated that if it was more than that, new grounds were to be found and that’s what happened, one block further west on Hubbard and then the stock market crashed and the vision was scaled back.

Today, The 600-seat auditorium, with a stage lit up under the word of William Shakespeare; “All The World’s A Stage,” looks much the same as it did in 1929. While smaller than Marilla hoped, the facility has met her dream and original purpose of a setting for community functions.

It hosts a variety of events and activities throughout the year with performances ranging from concerts to plays to comedy shows. The historic landmark is also a great wedding venue.

While the “Marilla Room” is the meeting space for the city council and its boards and committees, which will be moving to the new city hall in 2019, the move will decrease activity there.

In 2017, rehabilitation of the exterior masonry was completed after receiving a State Historic Preservation Office grant. Now the city will be working on what kind of foundation it can provide the community inside its walls and how to fund it for the next chapter in Marilla’s legacy.


Here’s a sample of what 1918 dollars were worth in today’s money:

1918                        2018

$300,000            $5.4 million

$100,000            $1.8 million  

$10,000            $180,000

$5,000            $90,000

$500            $9,000

For the full story, pick up a copy of the Dec. 6 issue of The Allegan County News or subscribe to the e-edition.

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