‘Anatomy of a Shingle Mill’ by Roy Dodge

Roy Dodge (1918 – 1978) was president of the Clare County (Michigan) Historical Society and an author of a number of books about Michigan, including “Ticket to Hell, A Sage of Michigan’s Bad Men” (out of print) and the three-volume “Ghost Towns of Michigan” series.  Dodge also wrote a number of articles about

The Old Clare County Courthouse.

The Old Clare County Courthouse.

Clare County. One of them was called “Anatomy of a Shingle Mill” and its origin goes back to a discovery of some papers when the old Clare County Courthouse in Harrison was torn down in 1968.

The paper is enlightening as to life back in the late 1870s and early 1880s when all of Clare County was booming because of the lumber industry. The paper tells the story of Philip (U.S. Census records show name as Phillip) Cory who came to the area with nothing but an old horse and made his fortune making wooden shingles. Whether he kept it isn’t clear in the papers and neither is where his brothers came from who are mentioned. However, these are just minor details to a picture of a county a century ago. I’ll let Dodge tell the story from here.

Anatomy of a Shingle Mill 1887 – 93

by Roy L. Dodge (1968)

The story of two brothers who came to northern Michigan to make their fortune during the logging days of the late 1800s came to light when the 85-year old Court House at Harrison, Mich. was torn down in 1965. A box of dusty, yellowed records consisting, of ledgers, contracts, canceled checks and letters, all laboriously written in various colored ink with a goose quill pen, revealed the following story.

Harrison in the late 1880's about the time Phillip Cory lived here. Structures in distance are sawmills around Budd Lake. Photo from the Harrison Public Library collection.

Harrison in the late 1880’s about the time Phillip Cory lived here. Structures in distance are sawmills around Budd Lake. Photo from the Harrison Public Library collection.

Philip Cory, address unknown, arrived at the company store of George B. Erenkbrook in the hamlet of Avondale, a few miles north of Evart in Osceola county, riding a tired old horse on the morning of Oct. 2, 1887 at the start of the winter logging season. His only possessions were the clothes on his back and his horse, which was of little value.

George Erenkbrook was a man experienced in every phase of the lumbering industry “from the stump up.”  He was in his middle fifties, almost old enough to be young Cory’s father, and had lumbering interest both in lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Erenkbrook was a partner in a shingle and sawmill located In Beechwood, Iron County, Michigan and owned his own mill and store at Avondale.

Cory explained to Erenkbrook that he intended to operate in the area as an independent logger, cutting his own shingle bolts, railroad ties, and any other type of timber in demand on a “piece work” basis.

His problem was that he was short on cash. Apparently he made a good impression on Erenkbrook, for upon leaving he was outfitted to begin his career as a woodsman and private contractor. He carried an invoice in his pocket for which he was billed for the following:

0ne cant hook, toe calks for his boots, files and rivets, two blocks of salt, axes, grub-hoe, swamp hook, neck yoke, sleigh bells, hammer, boring machine, one yoke of oxen, 3 pair wagon tongues, one sleigh, groceries and supplies totaling $36 and the “Diffarance”(sic) on a horse, $40.”

Cory worked hard and became a successful “jobber,” cutting logs and shingle bolts, which he sold to various mills in Missaukee and Osceola counties. He kept a meticulous record of all his expenditures, both business and personal, his stained and worn booklets disclose. Cory wasn’t satisfied with his lot as a common jobber, as later records reveal.

He soon traveled to other areas and began promoting a deal to set up his own mill.

During the next two years, his personal “Tally-book” lists expenditures for such items as one Turkey, strap and pack, $1.25. (Note: turkey was a pack in which lumberjacks carried their personal belongings.) One Rubber coat, $2.95; Shirt and Collar $1; roundtrip to Saginaw, $16.80.

During the month of July 1887, Cory bought a new straw hat for 75 cents; wrote a check for $5; bought another shirt for $1; “paid Mrs. Norman 75 cents for doing washing; and spent 50 cents attending two dances. His earnings for June and July totaled $177.50.

Philip Cory prospered during the winter logging season of 1887-1888. He also traveled extensively negotiating with companies in Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Muskegon for contracts to supply them with shingles and lumber products with intentions of setting up his own mill.

During a six-month period, he purchased a new suit of clothes for $30; tie and coat, $3.50; pair of dress shoes, $2; and made several trips. In Saginaw, he spent $23.50 for train fare, hotel and entertainment. He also made a “Trip north,” $54.  A shirt, handkerchief and soap cost him $3.60. He spent $1 for medicine, made a trip to Six Lakes, cost $6; and railroad fare to Grand Rapids, $8. Total earning from June to December (1888), $343.82.

By the spring of 1889, Philip Cory had the groundwork laid for the big venture of his lifetime. He again visited Mr. Erenkbrook of Avondale who had outfitted him two years earlier to work in the woods, only this time Cory had a signed contract with the C. C. Follner & Co of Grand Rapids, Michigan to “Purchase the cut of Cory & Co. Shingle Mill at Hamilton Township, Michigan (ClareCounty) from July 1889 until two million are cut.”

This contract included specifications for various grades of White Pine and Cedar shingles to be “Well made from good sound timber, evenly jointed and smoothly sawed, free from shaky or rotten wood,” and “To be branded at the mill with C. C. Follner & Co. brand.” The contract also called for shingles to be piled and under cover, “As fast as cut at Mostettler’s Switch near Hatton Station.”

Mr. Erenkbrook, apparently pleased with the business acumen displayed by young Cory, put up a sum of money to organize the firm of “Cory Bros. & Co.,” with himself as chief stockholder, although his name didn’t appear on the first letterheads and invoices that Cory ordered from the printers.

Upon the assurances of Erenkbrook that a substantial sum would be deposited to the Cory Co. account at the L. Saviers Bank in Harrison, Mr. Cory made another trip, this one to Bailey, at that time a booming lumbering town in Muskegon County. There he visited a Mr. Jerome Bitely who had abandoned a steam operated shingle mill near Harrison and had moved to greener pastures.

Cory made an agreement with Bitely whereby he was to take possession of the machinery located in ClareCounty and move it to Dodge City in Hamilton Township. Cory made a deposit on the mill, giving his note due one year from date for a balance of $3,000. His next visit was to the L. J. Calkins’s Co., Dealer in Lumberman’s Supplies, of Harrison where he purchased the following materials:

  • 10,700 ft. of Mud Sills
  • 1-M posts
  • 1,500 ft. beams
  • 1,300 ft. rafters
  • 4,300 ft. sheathing
  • 2,300 ft. roof boards,
  • 1-M ft. of Engine Board
  • 23 hundred thousand shingles
  • 14 windows
  • 3,500 ft. of timbers for engine bed
  • 2 sets of skylight
  • 1,300 ft.Cedar beams
  • 6 doors at $1.50 each
  • 3,600 ft. flooring
  • 50 barrel water tank
  • 1,200 ft. bridge trusses
  • $12 for nails
  • labor for moving and setting up machinery. $500

Total Outlay: $1,134.85

Cory's sawmill might have looked something like the sawmill in this photo from the Harrison Public Library collection.

Cory’s sawmill might have looked something like the sawmill in this photo from the Harrison Public Library collection.

During the next two years, things went well for the Cory Brothers, Philip, James and David. During the season of 1890, the Cory Mill grossed nearly $4,000 with expenditures of $2,500, which included their own wages as well as that of 50 mill workers and payment to private jobbers. It also included the payment of $12 paid to William H. Bryan of Gladwin, Grant Township. For that amount, Bryan agreed to sell to Cory Bros. all the Basswood, Ash, Oak, Hemlock and Pine lumber on lying, standing or being on a certain designated forty acres. “Said Wm. H. Bryan agrees to except (sic) and does hereby except (sic) $12 paid to him in hand today at Cory Bros. store for all the above described timber,” signed and dated March 8, 1889. (Note: Above document executed with red pencil on a jagged scrap of tablet paper.)

An idea of the cost of living during the years 1887 – 92 is shown in bills rendered to the company during this period. Some examples are as follows: Felts and rubbers (favorite footware of lumbermen), $3.50; shirts and drawers, $2.50; Pisas Cough Syrup, 10 cents per bottle; whiskey, 50 cents a pint. The blacksmith charged $1.20 for shoeing horses. Overalls were 75 cents a pair.

Horses brought premium prices and were considered more important than men. Cheap labor was plentiful while horses were scarce. Good teams ranged from $400 to $675 a span. A pair of calked drive shoes (for the front feet) cost $3 installed. An entry of Feb. 1889, reveals that one man and his wagon team were paid only $24 for eight days work. Wagons sold for $30. A set of heavy work harness for $12.

Misfortune struck the Cory mill on May 10, 1891 when it burned down to the ground. They were sued for unpaid bills, notes due and overdrawn checking accounts of banking accounts on banks in Grand Rapids, bay City and East Saginaw.

Mr. Erenkbrook of Avondale sold his interests there and moved to Beechwood, near Iron Mountain in the U. P.  From there he wrote letters to friends asking them to keep tabs on the movements of the Cory brothers. He hired Henry Hart, a Midland attorney, to list their debts and assets and with a court order in an attempt to recover his interest in the enterprise.

Jerome Bitely of Bailey, Michigan, demanded, in no uncertain terms evidenced in a three-page letter with no punctuation marks, that he was about to attach the land upon which the burned out mill was located to satisfy the balance owed him for the original machinery. His letter read in part: “if you and Company had don as you ought it would have pade for it selfs several times over before this time…”

In the final accounting by attorney Hart, it was determined that the company’s assets amounted to nearly $12,000. This included $2,000 owed by the C. C. Follmer & Co. of Grand Rapids for singles and lumber ready for shipment on Mostettler’s Siding several miles from the burned out mill. Another $2,000 was owed to the company store. Other assets were horses, wagons and machinery not burned. A balance of $4,965.80 was left after debts to be divided between owners and debtors.

Mr. Bitely wrote his bill for machinery off as profit and loss. Cory hired A. W. Scoville, Attorney at Law, of Marion, Mich. to collect bills due him from the firm of Desmond Brothers of that town. Erenkbrook was forced to pay a $500 note due to C. H. Rose of Evart. Philip Cory, the former protégé of Erenkbrook, was allegedly overdrawn nearly $2,000 on various bank accounts where the firm conducted their business.

In a final letter postmarked Creston, Iowa, May 11, 1893 to Mr. P. Cory, Harrison, Mich. the firm of Maxwell & Winters , Lawyers, notified him that “On this day we have sent a draft for $436.30 to your attorney, Wm. H. Brown, drawn on Anchor Insurance Co. for your loss incurred when your shingle mill burned.”

Cory then rebuilt the mill and operated under the name of Cory & Hudson-Dealer in Shingles and Pine Lumber, Dodge City, Michigan.  

There are some related incidents connected with the Cory Shingle Mill lawsuit, that although not proven definitely, court records and evidence point toward the following facts:

  • On or about the same date as the lawsuit, Mr. Mostettler who owned the storage sheds and the railroad siding where the Cory mill output was stored, committed suicide. Old timers in the Harrison area tell different stories of the incident, including Mr. Mostettler having had an affair with another woman, whereupon his wife shot him. But Mrs. Winifred Coveart, now 75, of Clare, Michigan, who lived at Dodge, said that Mr. Mostettler lost all of his money or was “tricked” out of it by some businessmen. He became despondent and one morning while his wife was out pumping a pail of water she heard a gun shot, ran in the house, and Mostettler laid on the bed, fully clothed and had shot himself in the head with a shotgun.  Mostettler Rd., at the south city limits of Harrison, running east and west, was named after the above Mr. Mostettler.
  • Philip Cory refers in his notes and accounts that certain items were purchased for “Mother.” Apparently he was not married. However, in Clare county marriage records, a David E. Cory (one of his brothers) married Foslenia Hall on Sept. 18, 1889 at Coleman, Mich.

##

Editor’s Note: According to 1880 census records, Phillip (or Philip) Cory was born in 1852 in Ohio. That means he was about 30 when he came to Clare County. His father was Wyman Cory, born in England and mother was Sarah Kiger, born in Virginia. Philip married a woman named Ettie D. (although census records show a total of three different women as his wife over the decades) and had six children living in his home in 1900.  in that year, Cory and his family had moved to Mansfield, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, near the Wisconsin border. His children at the time were shown as: William, 18, John 16, Claude 13, James P. 11, Olga 5, Clare 4.

By 1910, he and his family had moved to Skagit, Washington. Phillip died July 22, 1919 at the age of approximately 67 years, and is buried near there.

In all the records, Cory described himself as a shingle manufacturer so it’s probable the family moved to follow the lumber industry and moved on once the lumber played out.

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Categories: Clare County, Economy, Harrison, History, logging | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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