Seymour Avenue and a strange love story

Horatio Seymour is seen in a photo taken about 1900. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Place names are the best windows into local history. The mundane hides outrageous stories.

A family that once occupied the upper echelon of high society in Marquette is remembered with a short road that runs north from West Washington Street to West Ridge Street. Seymour Avenue is named for Horatio Seymour Jr. who cofounded the prestigious Huron Mountain Club along with J.M. Longyear.

Horatio Seymour Jr. himself was named for his famous uncle who served as New York’s governor in the 1850s and 1860s. The elder Horatio Seymour was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in the 1868 election, which he lost to celebrated Union Army general Ulysses Grant. Presidential candidate Seymour campaigned in this 1868 election on an explicitly racist platform opposing Reconstruction.

The younger Horatio Seymour came to Marquette in 1882 to work as land agent for the Michigan Iron & Land Company, one of the most sophisticated firms to invest in acreage in the Upper Peninsula. He was trained as a civil engineer and came to the Marquette Iron Range after a stint working on the Erie Canal.

His wife Abigail, daughter of a prominent Cincinnati judge named Alexander Johnson and descendent of John Adams, considered Marquette far too remote from civilization for a family of their station. Although Horatio Seymour Jr. interacted with J.M. Longyear in his land business, partnered with him in the early 1890s to form the Huron Mountain Club catering to prominent members from around the Midwest, and participated in local government, the Seymour family felt aloof from other people in Marquette.

Baby Marie and her mother, Mary Seymour St. Arnauld, are pictured in the spring of 1903. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Longyear’s daughter, Abby Roberts recalled that the Seymour children would on occasion peer over the fence and explain that they were not permitted to mix with the neighborhood kids. For her part, Abby never understood what the fuss was about, as the Seymour children, a boy named Horatio and a girl named Mary, didn’t seem particularly interesting at the time.

The Seymour children were sent to boarding schools in the east so that they could develop social connections their parents felt were more fitting for their genteel offspring. They returned to Marquette summers. While here they mainly spent time at their camp, called Cove Cottage, at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain.

While at camp, the children were looked after by Henry “Santinaw” St. Arnauld, a well-known local woodsman, son of a French-Canadian fur trapper and a French-Native American mother. Bearded, burly, and reportedly illiterate, Santinaw taught the Seymour children Native American lore and to appreciate the biological richness of Marquette County. Santinaw was in his fifties when he cared for the Seymour kids. He was a widower with three grown children of his own.

In what became one of the great local scandals of its day, Mary Seymour and Santinaw boarded a train to elope in 1901, the romance apparently being Mary’s idea. Her father, Horatio Seymour Jr., heard of the plan and dragged his 20-year-old daughter off the train. Despite her father’s vociferous protestations, Mary insisted that she loved Santinaw and wed her much older groom, who at the time was about sixty years old, though he did not know his exact age. Mary’s elitist, upper-class parents were completely shocked by this development.

They sold their home to Louis G. Kaufman and moved back to New York. This strange love affair between a genteel young woman and an older, part-Native American woodsman was so salacious that it was reported in The New York Times.

The unlikely pair had a daughter named Marie in 1902 and kept a home on Seventh Street in Marquette. In 1905, Mary’s mother Abigail visited Marquette and successfully implored her to leave Santinaw, who was away from home, and return to New York where her small daughter could receive a top-quality eastern education. Little Marie grew up without learning from her father’s Native American family traditions.

Mary enjoyed an interesting academic career, presumably inspired what she had learned from Santinaw about natural lore in the Upper Peninsula. She studied plant biology at McGill University and Syracuse University. She worked for a time at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

In 1929 or 1930, Mary received word that her estranged husband Santinaw, now in his late eighties, was gravely ill. She returned to the Upper Peninsula to be with him in his last days. Santinaw died in 1932, reportedly uttering the final words “Of the woods I can say much, but of my heart…” before falling silent in death.

Mary remained with friends in Marquette for a few years before moving back east. Before she left the Upper Peninsula, she brought a book of poems to the caretaker of the cabin where she had learned from and fell in love with Santinaw. The book was The Box of God, a plaintive poem by Lew Sarett about how so many Native Americans were compelled to forgo learning their parents’ cultural knowledge in order suit societal expectations.