DEWEY LAKE – The small free library and historic sign on Dewey Lake are more than just landmarks that intersect the past, present and future of the Dowagiac region. They are also part of the figurative spine that helps bind the pages of the Sebastian family book.
Through his love of history and heightened affection for the Sister Lakes area, Chicago resident Justin Sebastian has partnered with two local carpenters to preserve a slice of the area’s history and strengthen the bond of his family with their part-time home on Dewey Lake.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Chicago resident Justin Sebastian was forced to work from home. He describes his job, which involves using computers to perform high-intensity stock trading, as an extremely competitive and stressful environment where he’s stuck in an office without going out all day.
Rather than stay in Chicago to endure this, Sebastian and his family decided to move to their part-time residence in Silver Creek Township on Lake Dewey.
“Dowagiac and our house couldn’t be more opposite,” he said, “it’s exactly what we were looking for and what we needed.”
The home – which features 133ft of sandy lakeside on Garrett Road and a converted barn recreation lounge called “Junto” – is named Ashland’s Run, after a stray dog who became Sebastian’s family after the found on Ashland Avenue in Chicago. Ashland lived for over 16 years before dying in 2016.
“A ‘run’ when defined as a noun related to animals is a place where they can run free,” said Sebastian, who bought the house in 2018. “I like to think of Ashland’s Run as a place where my family and I can be free from our normal hectic lives.
The house also sits on land once owned by Henry Dewey, who is considered one of the first non-native settlers in the Dowagiac area.
Sebastian has documents from 1835, when the US government sold the land to Amos Dow, who then sold the property to a Jonathan “Duey” on May 13, 1836. On the same day, Jonathan Duey transferred the deed to Henry . Duey, whose name was replaced with the correct “Dewey” on later deed transfer documents. Jonathan was Henry’s son, according to “The Cass County History” of 1882.
As a self-proclaimed American history buff, Sebastian was thrilled by these facts and instinctively wanted to learn more about his property and the surrounding area.
“I was brought up in a house of science where knowledge was valued above all else,” he said. “Knowing and understanding our history and others allows us to learn from the mistakes and successes of others as well as to understand multiple viewpoints and cultures.”
The Beaver Gang
While working at Ashland’s Run in 2020, Sebastian and his wife, Nicole – a librarian before becoming a full-time mother – decided to bring a small part of their home neighborhood to Ashland’s Run by setting up a small library free – a neighborhood book exchange that is part of a non-profit organization in the public library system of the same name. More than 90,000 public book exchanges are registered with the organization.
Due to the uncertainty of COVID transmission at the time, Sebastian’s library was first used for a daily trivia game, placed in the library window by the family. Before too long, community members began putting books there, and it gradually became part of the Sister Lakes community.
From there, Sebastian wondered what else he could do to engage passers-by. He initially wanted to put up a statue or a telescope, but eventually decided to erect a sign with facts about the history of the area, with the help of a local woodworking duo and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. .
Tom Holt and Dan Ely, co-owners of Beaver Gang Woodcrafters, are both 1970s graduates of Dowagiac High School. They had previously helped Sebastian create a sign for his Junto room as a tribute to Benjamin Franklin’s 1770s club for the betterment of its members and their community.
“It was about bringing the community together,” Sebastian said of the Junto, adding that’s what he hoped the library and historic sign could be.
When Sebastian told the Beaver Gang about his sign idea and expressed his interest in the Potawatomi, Holt mentioned that he was close to Judy Winchester, who was a classmate of his and is now President of the Council of Elders. from Pokagon.
“It was so exciting,” Sebastian said. “It’s not even just about learning about the Pokagon Tribe of Potawatomi, but all about how they exist in the community here.”
Winchester put Holt in touch with Tribal Historical Preservation Officer Matthew Bussler, who helped the Beaver Gang and Sebastian provide facts about the tribe for one side of the panel.
“We never thought of doing it ourselves,” Ely said of including the facts about Pokagon. “We immediately knew we had to go through the tribe and ask them to pitch us what they would like to see on the sign.”
The completed panel reads like two pages of a book – the left side with facts about Lake Dewey and the Dowagiac region, and the right side with tribe-approved facts about Pokagon. The sides are bound with thick binding to signify the close ties between the Pokagon gang and Dowagiac, as well as the connection to the nearby library theme.
“It’s crazy once you start hearing the details of how this country shouldn’t have gotten away with it, and it did, largely dependent on Native Americans,” said Sebastian, the face lit up with excitement as he remembered the stories of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea. , as well as Daniel Boone’s involvement in the Civil War. “Looking back at American history and Native Americans and how they’ve been treated, I think any recognition we can give, we should. And they’re really part of the community here, which is so great. I just keep learning little by little.
“My Literally Happy Place”
When Sebastian discovered the Pokagon Band through this project, he used his passion and the opportunity to educate his children, ages 5 and 8, about the tribe.
“One day we were out and saw a tribal police car, and I pulled over to show the kids to try to explain to them what it was,” Sebastian said. “Most kids, especially city kids, would have no idea something like this existed. They don’t understand that they have their own sovereign police force, their own sovereign territory.
Sebastian’s enthusiasm for American history, combined with his wife’s work as a librarian, these two Dewey Lake projects are a fortuitous combination of passions they can pass on to their children at Ashland’s Run.
“This place is designed not just for my kids, but for kids in general,” Sebastian said. “It’s a fun place to come and have fun and learn. We live in the city, so it’s nice to learn things here. My two children love to read too.
Sebastian said now that he even learned some things from his daughter. She loves to read Ranger Rick and Highlights for Children, and taught him that sprinkling olive oil on a carved pumpkin will help keep it dehydrated and last a few weeks longer around Halloween time.
“It was in one of those magazines that she was reading,” Sebastian said. “These little things that you learn, it really comes full circle like that.”
Regarding the historical sign and the legacy he wants to leave, Sebastian said he just wanted to contribute to the dissemination of knowledge.
“Dowagiac is literally my happy place – I stop at exit 30 and my blood pressure just drops,” he said. “The entire property will be my heirloom when I leave for my children and their children, but it’s really about preserving the history of the Pokagon and the Dowagiac.”