Henry Ford In Harrison, Michigan


Ford Tractors undergoing testing in Harrison, MI

Industrialist Henry Ford was a lousy tipper, at least when he got his shoes shined in Harrison. And at least according to historian and author T.M. Sellers, who wrote the book on John “Spikehorn” Meyers and penned a number of articles on Clare County’s history. Sellers said that one time, while in town, Ford had his shoes shined at the barber shop that stood on the corner of Second and Main, paid Charles E. Amble the nickel cost of the shine but didn’t tip the boy.


1916 map of Greenwood Township showing Ford’s initial 640 acres (one square mile). 

Whether Ford’s tipping habits were unusual, his trips up to Harrison were not. After all, Ford owned more than 1,600 acres in Greenwood Township to the west. He first purchased 640 acres of stump-laden land in 1910 and then added to his landholdings in time. His initial use was to use the land once he removed the estimated 5,000 stumps (at $1.25 per stump) was to test the tractors he had started developing in 1906. One way they were tested was to plow land to raise crops such as potatoes, hay and wheat that could be then sold in the Detroit area. By the 1940s, Ford had added several hundred sheep and cattle and used some of the crops being raised to fatten the animals for shipment to market.
In the early day, Ford would sometimes make the drive to Harrison (or be driven), staying overnight in Saginaw since there were few roads. Ford would sometimes have a car shipped to Clare County by rail—a much faster way—and then he would drive the car once arriving in the county.

There are stories of Ford playing tennis with the Cornwells who also owned a large cattle


Cornwell Ranch near Harrison

ranch in the county and fishing with Bernie and Ike Hampton. Bernie owned the Ford dealership next to the barber shop in Harrison (now the Harrison Marketplace).

How often Ford came here or everyone he visited with is not recorded, and sadly no photos of Ford in Harrison has surfaced. What we do know is information obtained from Sellers and in an interview that was done with Howard Davis who worked on the farm from 1940 to 1944 and was interviewed in 1997. Davis said nine men worked at the Ford Farm in the summer and three in the winter and that workers were paid 40 cents per hour for a 10 hour day, although sometimes they worked 14 hours. There was no overtime, but the men could take time off for work in excess of 10 hours. Davis noted that the rate of pay he received during the 1940s was the same as workers had received back in 1918. He said he was satisfied since local farmers were paying their help only a dollar per day.

When asked if the Ford farm was he locals liked having the Ford farm in that he employed local people to work. There was a proposal at one time for Ford to buy stock in the Harrison Elevator to allow the building of a flour mill but for some reason that proposal never came to fruition.

Davis added that the locals had first laughed at Ford’s tractors saying they were too small, but over time, Ford’s tractors gained respect for the work they could do. There’s no word on whether Ford garnered the respect of that shoeshine boy after failing to tip him.

Note: The Ford Farm is now part of the Kitty Kurtis Inc. 

Another article on the Ford Farm: Henry’s Michigan Stump Farm by Ford R. Bryan


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Railroad History in Harrison

This is a revised version of an article that appears in Harrison’s 125th Anniversary History booklet written and edited by Angela Kellogg to celebrate the mid-Michigan city’s quasquicentennial that was celebrated in August 2016.  Copies are available for $10 from the Harrison District Library

In 1879, The Pere Marquette Railway pushed its tracks through to Harrison from Clare.  The railroad was a welcome and needed addition as it connected the growing town and county seat in the wilderness with big cities to the south, like Saginaw, Detroit, New York and Chicago.  These cities and others needed lumber and Clare County towns like Harrison had plenty.  The track was owned and operated by the Pere Marquette Railway, and like most railroads, it owned a 66-foot wide right-of-way, with the tracks down the middle.   Nothing could be developed within that area without permission of the railway and markers on both sides—made of wood at the beginning and later of concrete—marked the boundaries.


Harrison in the late 1880’s. Structures in distance are sawmills. Photo from the Harrison Public Library collection.

While the town of Harrison would become the city of Harrison and prosper, the Harrison rail line would not. Within a decade, the huge pines that had fueled the town and county’s growth, and generated much of the railroad’s revenue were gone.  Cut into boards and hauled south.  Although cutting and transporting ice from Budd Lake (to provide cooling for ice boxes before the days of refrigerators) would help preserve a rail line to Harrison for a while, fewer and fewer people rode the rails and less and less freight was sent by train.  After all, automobiles and trucks were quickly becoming the popular mode of transportation.

In 1944, within the lifetime of some residents who had seen the rails put down in Harrison, they were pulled up.  Over the intervening years, the railroad grade was leveled and the Harrison depot was moved (the Jack Pine Restaurant sits approximately where the depot once stood.  All evidence of a railroad in Harrison disappeared.

Well almost.marker-pmry

Within the city’s boundaries, a handful of small reminders of the railway still remain. They are the concrete Right-of-Way markers placed by the railroad.  Each one is approximately 24-inches tall and 11 of them can be found within the city limits.  All are triangular with the letters P.M.R.Y on one side and R-O-W on a second side.  The marker furthest to the south can be found near the  S & R Diner parking lot on First St (Old 27).  Others can be found other streets in town such as Oak and S. Lake.

Finding them can be an enjoyable adventure. marker-3However, it’s important to note that while most are visible from the street, all markers are on private property, so if you wish to see these traces of the past, please be respectful.

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Blowing Stuff Up in Clare County

The following article appeared on Page one of the Dec. 4, 1925 issue of The Clare Sentinel .   Apparently, farmers back then could be trusted with dynamite.  However, as the note at the end of the article reveals, there was a dark side and some people used it for the wrong reasons, even back then.


Orders Must be Placed Now for 5,000 Pounds to Complete Car.

Some few weeks ago it was learned from the Extension Department of the Michigan State College at Lansing that it would be possible for Clare county to obtain from the U. S. Government another car of the now- famous war-explosive “Pyrotol.”

A minimum car load is 20,000 pounds. Up to date orders have been placed for 15,000 pounds. Orders must be placed for the additional 5,000 pounds, before it will be possible to obtain the carload allotment. It has been stated that this will be the last opportunity for Clare county to obtain a carload of the explosive. While it is said that “Pyrotol” is more powerful than the strongest dynamite the price is only approximately one-third that of the latter explosive, Costing the farmer 9 1-2 cents per pound delivered at Clare; arid also while the supply lasts, there will be 100 caps given free with every two hundred pounds of “Pyrotol.”

Orders are being taken at the Citizens State Bank, or at the office of The Clare Realty Co. It is hoped that sufficient orders may be obtained within the; next few days to enable Mr. Bicknell to have car shipped this month.

If you have any stumps or boulders to blast, or have any need whatsoever for a powerful, reasonably-priced explosive now is the time to order.

Farmers residing in counties adjoining Clare are not barred from getting in on this and the price to them will be exactly the same.


Note:  According to Wikipedia, pyrotol was an explosive available for a time after World War I. It was reprocessed from military surplus.  Usually used in combination with dynamite, it created an incendiary blast. Since it was very inexpensive, it was often used by farmers to remove tree stumps and clear ditches.  The substance was known for being used to commit the Bath School bombing in 1927 and distribution of pyrotol for farm use was discontinued in 1928 due to exhaustion of the supply of surplus explosives.

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A Lake Dock that Rises into the Sky

coal dock photo

The Lake Coal Dock as seen from the west. A paved biking, walking and snowmobile trail is adjacent. Inside the trees to the left is the building and storage pit.

The biggest dock in the small resort town of Lake doesn’t extend into the water, but reaches into the sky. This dock is also made of concrete and stands on four relatively spindly legs that are long enough for a train to pass through them.  One can see this dock from a distance, as it stands some 75 feet above the surrounding flat terrain.  The structure is especially impressive if one is on the Pere Marquette State (Rail) Trail and headed either westward from Farwell or eastward from Evart toward Lake—formerly Lake Station—in southwest Clare County.

The structure is a coal dock and it sparks wonder in most who view it, especially those seeing it for the first time.  It’s also a piece of railroading history.

Coal docks, also called a coal towers or coal tipples, were once common and were built to supply coal to the many steam locomotives that once plied railroad tracks, not only in Michigan but around the country.  These docks were built either next to or directly over the tracks so that trains in need of fuel (used to heat their boilers) could stop briefly to reload. Coal would be fed by gravity into the coal cars and the train would then speed on.  Coal trains would supply the docks on a regular basis.  the black fuel would generally be unloaded and stored in an underground pit and then would be loaded into the dock using an elevator with a bucket or other apparatus.  These docks operated until diesel replaced coal as a fuel and these docks were no longer needed. The changeover started prior to the Second World War and then accelerated rapidly once the war was over. By the early 1950s, coal docks were dinosaurs and most were torn down.  In Michigan, only 17 survive. The coal dock in Lake is one of them—and its days may be numbered, as well.

Lake Station in 1930s

Photo of Lake Station taken about 1930. The coal dock is in the distance. The photo was taken from a water tower since dismantled. The  Lake railroad depot is in the white building in the center of the picture.

The Lake coal dock was built in 1929 and could hold five railcars worth of coal (approximately 250 tons) with more stored underground. The timing for building this dock is puzzling given the changes that were already taking place in railroading and the fact that steam locomotives had been plying this same track for decades; however, the tower might have been planned years earlier, but was delayed until Consumers Power—the local utility—could extend lines to Lake to supply electricity to the winch that would raise the coal buckets to the tower. Power finally came to Lake in the later part of the year, according to an article* in Aug. 16, 1929 issue of The Clare Sentinel.


The dock was engineered by Robert and Schaffer, a firm out of Chicago. Ralph Stewart, a Lake resident who has researched the tower, has sales materials  showing many of the coal and sand docks the firm designed and sold, although none shows the exact Lake coal dock. (Sand was used on tracks to provide traction in winter weather. However, there is no evidence the Lake tower included sand for trains.)

How exactly how this particular coal dock worked is unknown. While some metal connectors are still visible on the tower, the elevator and chutes are all gone.  Also gone are the engines that powered the elevator and all equipment that may have been in the building used by employees that is adjacent to the tower. It appears the elevator would have passed through one of the rooms.

According to William Scott who grew up in Lake in the 1950s and played around the tower as a child, a railroad siding once ran directly under the coal tower; however, those tracks were taken up long ago.  Mr. Scott does not remember the elevator or other equipment being on the dock.  Although it’s only speculation, it does not appear the siding was used by trains to load up on coal, only to deliver it.  The tracks used by passenger and freight trains running between Saginaw and Ludington were removed in the 1990s and the grade turned into a rails to trails pathway within the last decade.

The land on which the coal dock sits is now owned by the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources.  The rail-trail itself, which runs approximately 60 miles between Midland to Reed City is popular with cyclists, runners and walkers in the spring, fall and summer and with snowmobilers in winter.  Unfortunately, the building appears to be a hangout for nearby youth and is littered with furniture and trash. Campfires appear to be a popular use of the rooms. The walls are also covered in spray-painted graffiti.  Because of the dock’s condition and its use (or misuse), one recent letter to the editor in the The Clare County Review called for the “crumbling structure” to be torn down.

That would be a shame.

To help make sure that does not happen, some members of the Clare County Historical Society have proposed working with those in Lake seeking to save the coal dock and buildings.  One idea involves getting permission from the DNR and Village of Lake this spring to clean up the area: cutting down the undergrowth that keeps the buildings hidden from view; picking up the trash; perhaps whitewashing the buildings to hide (at least temporarily) the graffiti; and blocking the entrances.

On a personal note, one of the things I like to do with visitors is to take them for a ride the Trail from Farwell toward Lake and back.  I don’t tell them about the coal dock, but I make sure I am nearby when they spot it for the first time.  I never fail to enjoy their puzzled expressions and their questions.  And invariably, they pick up the pace after they’ve spotted it to see just what it is.  Right now, there is nothing to tell them.  We hope to someday change that too with a state historic maker.  But first we want to make sure the Lake coal dock is around a long, long time.

Note: If you have any photos of the dock in operation, have additional information (or corrections to what I’ve posted here) or would like to get involved in this project, please contact me. I’m hoping this blog post is JUST a start.


* NEW COAL DOCK COMPLETED AT LAKE The ‘Pere Marquette railroad company have just completed a concrete coal dock at Lake Station that has a capacity of five cars of coal. It is reported that the dock as well as a new pumping station that is expected to be installed will be run by electricity as soon as the new Consumers Power Company’s line is completed to Lake.

Summary of Michigan Railroad History

Categories: biking, Clare County, History, Pere Marquette, railroads, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Looking at Old Clare County Newspapers Looking Back at Old Clare County, MI

Clare Sentinel front page graphicIt’s amazing the interesting things one can run across in old newspapers.  For example, I was conducting some research into Windover Lake in Clare County, Michigan and found two articles in the The Clare Sentinel looking at the county’s history during the logging era (1870-1880).  One entitled “Story of Pioneer Days” had to do with the town of Meredith in the northeast corner of the county, a place that was a ghost town when the article was written. Meredith is a town I’ve covered in the past.

Anyway, the articles were so interesting that I decided to reprint them here. Some of the items and people they mention are completely unfamiliar and so more research is needed. Just shows there is a lot of history in this county YET to be discovered and covered.

(Editor’s Note: Both articles spell Meredith as “Meridith.” Not sure the reason for the latter spelling. Historian Forrest Meek spelled the town as Meredith in both his books on the county and Angela Kellogg, Harrison Librarian and author of a book on the Harrison area says the plats all say Meredith.  In addition, the articles in the newsletters were all one paragraph. I have added paragraphs to make the articles easier to read online.)


Would that I were a novelist, is the wish that comes to this Etcher as he recounts the Rabbi’s reminiscences and reads the Sentinels’ “30 year ago” column. The scene Clare county, the subject matter the history of this locality the past 30 years. The characters good, bad and otherwise—Geo. J. Cummins fighting the ring at Farwell, the County Seat scrap, A. J. Doherty from sawdust shoveler to big politician, Jim Carr and his bawdy house at the present site of the old county poor house at Harrison, he defying the county, spending S20,000 to 830,000 and dying with his wife in a pitiable condition near Meridith. Meridith and Dodge vanished. The timber barons, the famous “highway orders” in Clare and Gladwin counties, timber stealing and appraising land, the lumber jacks at Meridith, Clare, Hatton, Farwell and Harrison. The famous Vernon funeral sermon, “You devil you rest in peace.” Joe Hudson cutting a hole in the woods— his bear scrap, the school at Leota in 1907, the famous political triumvirate. Editor Goodenough with a prison record, striving to be a man, the pine wealth denuded and rushed pass Clare a train load of logs every 15 minutes, yet with all the generous impulse, the kind heart of the people and the stalwart men who have come out of such environment— what a theme for a novel. The characters, composite perhaps, are all in the memory of the old residents, living today many of them, and only need concentrating to produce striking characters, and yet a true interpretation of development in this part of Michigan.

Clare Sentinel, Aug. 27, 1929  http://condor.cmich.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/claresent2/id/7137/rec/14



In this day of good roads, automobiles, tourists. accommodations of every kind, in fact everything is provided for the comfort annd welfare of the traveler, I often “wander how many of us pause a moment to consider what the pioneer clays meant to those who made It possible for us to enjoy so many miles of gravel and pavement today as well as modern modes of travel, etc. Many are yet living who will doubtless remember with happy, perhaps sad, or even tragic recollections, the place called “Meridith.”

Here was erected in a night so to speak, the busiest, most prosperous, but wildest little lumbering town in Central Michigan. It was located about sixteen miles north of Harrison and eighteen miles south of Houghton Lake. It was about forty years ago that the great pine forest was cut away to make the clearing where the town was to stand, and the first building erected was “The Meridith House,” a large hotel of which Bile Hall was proprietor. Another hotel was built called “The Corrigan,” being named for the Corrigan brothers who were trainmen on, the road which ran into Meridith at that time. Back one of these houses accommodated as high as two hundred men for dinner, averaging one hundred. Joe Black also owned a boarding house doing a good business.

I will name some of the places of business that you may have a fair idea of the property of the town at that time. There were three grocery stores, Rherdon’s general store, Well’s and Stone’s general store, two hardwares, three clothing stores, one, jewelry, three meat markets (one being owned by Sweeny Bros., since living in Mt. Pleasant), two blacksmith shops, one drug store, barber shop, post office, two livery barns doing a big business, skating rink, and dance hall and four or five saloons (which of course prospered greatly). A doctor they were also fortunate enough to have for Dr. Scott was a faithful friend to all.

There were a few things which there seemed to be little time for and some of these were real comfort, beauty, or any kind of religion. The town had been built for a year before there was time to stump the main street. During the three years which Meridith boomed, no church of any denomination was built. A few meetings were held in an old blacksmith shop by a traveling minister (the blacksmith being kind enough to loan his building for the services). Later Mr. Sweeny opened the doors of his home to those who wished to have church services there.

Most of the working class were French and Irish. Consequently many were the hard fought battles between the two nationalities. Although every one worked hard and sometimes under great difficulties, they had their amusements as well, dancing being the foremost of these. Billy Glasscoe did the fiddling and when there was no fiddling to do Billy did nothing at all. Joe Hatfield the barber played the banjo. Often the logging train took all who wished to go out to Well’s and Stone headquarters/ a distance of about twelve miles, to dances held there. Those who remember Meridith will miss the mention of another well known but horrible name, “Jim Carr’s Place.” From here both men and women agents were sent out to hire young girls to work in lumbering town boarding houses offering large wages as an extra inducement. They were brought here, where, when they entered, a heavy door closed behind them which they could never opened again. Their parents and friends knew nothing of them thereafter, it being as if the earth had opened up and completely swallowed them. A number of blood hounds were kept and one girl was killed in trying to make her escape. One and only one did succeed in getting away and reaching friends in Harrison, and she afterward told her story. Jim Carr died in an old blacksmith shop and later his wife died deserted and alone in an old building without friends or money.

One day last summer as I was driving through that part of the country I stopped at the spot where Meridith at one time stood and I thought how impossible it seemed that those waving fields of grain and green meadows were at one time a hustling prosperous town. There is but one little old building left to mark the spot, nothing else to tell us that this quiet, this lonely place had once been broken by the sound of the axe and saw cutting the large standing pine, the tramp of many hoofs, and the tread of busy feet.

Ellen Graham

Clare Sentinel, June 22, 1928  http://condor.cmich.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/claresent2/id/22586/rec/3

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A Face to a Name in a Graveyard

Jim Garrity went off to war.

Garrity family _EyersJim was a farm kid from rural Clare County, Michigan, a poor, sparsely populated county in mid Michigan. According to family history, Jim enlisted in the navy in Nov. 1917 joining his cousin Arthur Looker at the Naval Training Academy in Illinois.

Jim Garrity went off to war but never saw combat. He died barely two months later while in training of the Spanish flu, a pandemic that would kill an estimated 50 million to 100 million worldwide before disappearing. Many of the flu’s victims were young men, like Jim—and like Arthur who also died of the deadly virus one week earlier.

So instead of coming home proud veterans, Jim and Arthur came home in wooden boxes. Jim was buried in his family’s small cemetery on a knoll in Hamilton Township. Arthur was buried in Gladwin cemetery.

2013_August_Harrison_Gerrity Cemetery2So two sisters grieved their two sons. It was a tragic bond they now held with a third sister who had also lost her son from the flu the year before. Ervin Reed had been at Fort Wayne near Detroit. Reed too is buried in the small Garrity Cemetery.

Last year, Jim Garrity, Arthur Looker and Ervin Reed were just names. They became the subject of a blog post because I wanted to tell the story of their brief lives.  That post caught the attention of Marianne Eyer, a direct descendant of the Garrity’s, who lives in Marquette, Mich. She shared a photo of Jim; and suddenly a name I knew only in a graveyard had a face.

newsletter JamesA handsome face. The nearly century old photo of Jim is badly faded but shows a young broad-shouldered young man staring confidently into the camera.

We don’t know exactly why Jim Garrity went off to war, but according to Marianne, the story is that Jim was the only son in a farm household with four sisters. His father would not let him join the service so Jim convinced his mother to let him go. Perhaps the lure of far off places, the excitement of war despite its dangers, trumped life on the farm.

Did Jim’s father ever forgive his wife because she gave their only son her blessing to join the Navy? One wonders, after Jim died, whether his mother blamed herself because she did allow him to go.

Family history also says Jim’s sister Hazel insisted Jim be given his high school diploma, although even at 20 he had not graduated. He was smart, his report card from 1916 shows that fact; he just didn’t like school—and maybe farming. Maybe he felt he was destined for bigger things than tilling the soil. We will never know.

Newsletter - graveBecause Jim Garrity went off to war.

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2.5 Billion Years of Clare History (or 40 Miles)

Note: This is the second of two posts dealing with the geologic history of Clare County, Michigan, USA.

Eras visually

This stair-step chart shows the various eras of time with Precambian (purple) representing the greatest stretch of time (4.6 billion to 570 million years). The sediments that underlay our county were laid down during the Paleozoic era (red). The dinosaur era doesn’t really get started until the Triassic era at about 245 million years ago (green). We’re in the yellow era.

If you like warm, you should have lived in Clare County, Michigan about 360 million years ago (about 5.6 miles away on our long yardstick in which 1,000 years equals 1 inch and we are at one end). Back then, our county (all of North America as a matter of fact), was nearer to the equator. That’s when the continents were one big happy lump and before the tectonic plates, including the one on which we ride separated, with ours moving slowly but steadily north until it arrived at its present location. It’s still moving and will probably be someplace even colder in the future, but don’t run out and buy a new coat just yet. You may not need it for another 360 million years.

As to our county, it wasn’t in its present condition when it did arrive here. That’s because the glaciers that shaped it and put down all the debris (glacial till) that formed our hills, valleys, plains and such were still far in the future (see Part 1 of this blog post).

However, we were in a valley back then, well it was—and is—more of a basin and it bears the name the “Michigan Basin.” We lie near the middle of the basin and the bedrock that is the underlying formation, is nearly 16,000 feet below us. The basin is deepest in the middle of our state and then gradually tilts upward the surface forming a rim. The basin covers an area of about 119,000 square miles and is visible in various areas including parts of the western Upper Peninsula.  The bedrock, which forms the basin, is made of igneous rock meaning that it was molten at one time.  The formation of the Michigan Basin goes back about 2.5 billion years (or 40 miles on our really long yardstick) when geologic pressures deep underground caused the rock to be twisted into its present shape.

Types of bedrock in Michigan. The Michigan Basin is clearly visible.

Types of bedrock in Michigan. The Michigan Basin is clearly visible.

There is not 16,000 feet of glacial till between us and the bedrock though.  That’s because many times in the distant past–long before the glaciers–Clare County was under water. Salt water and lots of times. According to an article from Michigan State University on the Michigan Basin, inland seas covered Michigan during what was termed the Devonian period, a period of about 60 million years that started about 450 million years ago (that’s only 7 miles away on our yardstick). The Devonian period was pre-dinosaur, by the way with most of earth’s creatures living in the oceans (although there were spiders, millipedes and insects scurrying about on the land, which might explain why the ocean’s inhabitants were slow to move out of the water and up onto the land).

At times the seas were clear supporting a variety of shellfish; at other times the seas were muddy with great quantities of silt and decaying vegetation. At other times, the seas contained minerals or were more like huge swamps.

The sediments of each sea compacted to rock (sedimentary). As each layer of sediment was laid down, the basin became shallower. Such things as Clare County oil fields and Saginaw County coal and salt mines, and Alpena County’s limestone quarries, are testament to those ancient seas and the sediment they left behind. Core samples taking during drilling is one way we’ve learned what lies beneath.

The various layers of sediment with the names corresponding to the stair-step chart above.

The various layers of sediment with the names corresponding to the stair-step chart above.

The glaciers wiped out any record of the dinosaurs. Our records kind of ends with the Pennsylanian era, although, as the graphic at left shows, we do have a few areas of Jurassic rocks. But no dinosaurs.

There are other fossils, though.  Petoskey stones, which are fossilized coral, are the most widely known and are the official Michigan State Fossil. Although we don’t have an abundance of these fossils in our county, the glaciers did drop some in their wake.  There are also a large number of others from the Devonian seas that can be found. These include both plants and marine animals, with the latter including clams, corals, crinoids, trilobites, fish and more. (An interesting day can be spent around a quarry or roadside just what the glaciers dropped.  There is almost always an assortment of beautiful stones and interesting fossils to be found–if one looks close enough.  Be courteous of private property, however.)

There’s also traces of gold and silver in Clare County.  Sorry, no veins of gold, just trace amounts that were scoured off gold-bearing rocks in Canada and maybe the Upper Peninsula and dropped here. Of course, there’s always the chance that the glaciers dropped some golf ball-sized nugget somewhere in the county just waiting to be discovered. We can only hope.

Oh, one more thing, among the rocks in Clare County there might be a meteorite or two. None has ever been reported in this county, but one was found two were found not too far away. One in Reed City found in 1895 and one in Kalkaska in the late 1940s. Both found by farmers working their fields.

cartoon2So, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what cool things this county has in store just waiting to be discovered.

(Writer’s Note: Please let me know if any of my information is not clear or in error. I like geology and wanted to keep this brief and easy to read but I also want it correct.)


Categories: Clare County, geology, History, Michigan | 3 Comments

1.8 Million Years of Clare History (or 150 feet)

Note: This is the first of two posts dealing with the geologic history of Clare County, Michigan, USA.

Map showing where Clare County is in MichiganEver take a good look at our county?  Its rolling landscape, many bodies of water (20 Lakes in 20 Minutes), numerous gravel and sand pits, the fact that the south end of the county is hundreds of feet lower than the north end.  Ever wonder why it looks the way it does? Why it has so many rocks? So many lakes? And oil?

It’s a fascinating story.

What we now call Clare County has been around for more than 4 billion years and has physically traveled a long way and has seen volcanos and oceans.  Only recently–in the last 11,000 years of so–has it been in the form we now know it.  If you think of time as a yardstick*–a really long yardstick in this example–with every 1,000 years being an inch and us at one end, Clare County has existed in its present form for about 11 inches, while the land far underneath and around has been in existence for about 66 miles or so. As I said, a really long yardstick. But more on that later.

And while the land has been around for more than 4 billion years, you won’t find any dinosaur bones. Now there is always a remote chance you will find the remains of a mastodon and woolly mammoth in the county (a tooth most likely since those tend to survive because they don’t decay as easily, no pun intended), any traces of dinosaurs were scrubbed way by glaciers and/or buried several thousand feet and under tons and tons (and tons) of glacial till, which is debris from a glacier.

Circles indicate where a remain of a mastodon has been found.

Circles indicate where the remains of a mastodon were found. Most discoveries have been where swamps once existed. The theory is that the animals may have fallen through a mat of vegetation trying to feed, were quickly swallowed by mud and were preserved.

If you do find a mastodon or mammoth (and it more likely to be the former since they have been found in Michigan more often), yours will be the first. That’s because while mastodon fossils have been found in most surrounding counties and mammoth fossils in a few counties, neither has been found in this county. And yes, there is a difference between the two herbivores but no, they are not dinosaurs. Real dinosaurs like your t-rex and triceratops have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years (3 miles on our yardstick), while these elephant-sized, mammals (the largest that we know of in our state) last trod our mitten-shaped peninsula 6,000 to 8,000 years ago (6-8 yardstick inches away), according to scientists who study that kind of stuff.

I learned this from a paper by Margaret Anne Skeels of The University of Michigan, entitled The Mastodons and Mammoths of Michigan, presented back in 1961. And if a mammoth or mastodon remain has been found in the last 54 years, I can’t find evidence of the discovery.

Ms Skeels also wrote that we don’t really know why these critters became extinct, but that it was most likely due to a warming climate.  The same warming that caused the glaciers to retreat to the arctic. While there is evidence that Indians of the Southwest hunted mastodons, we have no evidence that Indians in our state hunted them or were at all responsible for their extinction.

However, let me rewind a bit and talk more about glaciers and ice ages.  I will cover our really distant past (oceans, the equator, formation of oil deposits and more) in Part 2.

graphic showing the lobes of a glacier

The retreat of last of the four glaciers that covered Clare County. Each glacier sculpted our county and dropped tons of sediment (glacial till), in its wake.

Scientists believe there were at least four glaciers that covered all of Michigan and much of North America over many hundreds of thousands of years, complete with warm periods in-between when the glaciers receded. These ice ages and resulting glaciers were known as the Nebraskan, Kansan, Illinoisan, and the Wisconsinan. Why the earth cooled enough that glaciers from the arctic region expanded to cover all of Michigan and a good part of North America is unknown but it may have to do with long-term variations in the orbit of the earth (Milankovitch Cycles).

And whether we are currently in one of the those “in-between periods” is also unknown; however, it is known that  starting about 1.8 million years ago (150 feet away on our yardstick), at the start of what is known as the Quaternary period, it got cold and it stayed cold and that ice sheets covered all 83 Michigan counties including ours.  The height of those glaciers has been is estimated to be 10,000 feet or more, and the tremendous weight and pressure of the ice compressed the earth as it gouged and shaped the landscape.

While these  glaciers advanced, they captured and transported with it everything in its path from huge boulders to rocks, stones and gravel. That means many of the rocks you see or that farmers have to contend with when they plow, may have come from hundreds of miles to the north where it was transported by the final glacier.

Map showing glacial moraines.

Black lines show the many moraines in our state. The Saginaw Bay region is without moraines because it was until relatively recently (geologically speaking) under water and its moraines have been eroded by wave action or low areas filled in with sand and debris.

The glaciers’ movements weren’t constant and the advances and retreats occurred over 10s of thousands of years (the last glacial age lasted more than 100,000 years). When the Wisconsinan glacier finally retreat for the last time–which means the glacier was melting faster than it was advancing–all the geologic junk contained in the ice was dropped in irregular piles, creating the landscape we now see. Where the glacier was in one place for a longer period of time (decades perhaps) hilly areas developed called moraines.

There are many moraines in Michigan and one rather large one divides our county roughly in half. Its southernmost boundary is quite visible as one drives on Old-27 near Adams Road with James Hill as one of the landmarks (see photo below).  In this general area the Saginaw lob of that final glacier rubbed up against the Lake Michigan lobe with both dropping glacial till in the form of rocks, sand and gravel, and gushing huge quantities of meltwater. To the south of the moraine and several hundred feet lower in elevation are Clare and Farwell. Atop the moraine are the communities of Harrison, Temple and Leota.  There is more to the story than just a difference in elevation. The soils are different with that to the south being less sandy and more fertile (see Soil story below).

Our lakes were included in the glacial formation, both the Great Lakes and our inland lands.  Many of the inland lakes were the result of great blocks of ice being dropped by the glacier, then being buried under tremendous amount of debris left by ice. Once the glaciers melted, the ice blocks too slowly melted under the glacial till leaving depressions filled with water in their wake.  How big were the ice blocks? Well, think Houghton Lake and closer to home, Budd Lake.

The glacial till is thick. According to S. G.Berquist, in his The Glacial History and Development of Michigan, the average depth of glacial deposits over the bedrock in the state is 300 feet. In other places, like in the western end of the Upper Peninsula, the bedrock remains visible and minerals such as iron and copper can be found because the glacier was not powerful enough to erode them.

Photo taken atop the glacial moraine.

View looking south atop the glacial moraine at James Hill (Adams and Old 27).

Because the till left by the glacier are mixed, the deposits in many areas of our state are unstratified, that is mixed and lacking in layers. However, because the vast amount of meltwater issuing from the retreating glaciers carried sediment with it as it flowed, that water often sorted the till into various sizes such as cobble, gravel, pebble, sand, silt and clay, according to Berquist. That’s why we find sand pits, gravel pits and the like in our county and around our state.

So, the next time you take a drive or a walk, look around you and marvel at what God, nature and time has wrought.  Then pick up a rock and look at it carefully and take time to appreciate it.  After all, it traveled a long way to get to you.

cartoon(Writer’s Note: Please let me know if any of my information is not clear or in error. I like geology and wanted to keep this brief and easy to read but I also want it accurate.)

Want to learn more about Michigan’s glaciers? Here are some resources:

* The yardstick idea comes from Geologic  Time Line Helper on the Dept. of Environmental Quality website. (www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/GIMDL-GTLH-GEN_307780_7.pdf)


The book the Soil Survey of Clare County, Michigan, published by the United States Dept. of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service (1978) graphically illustrates the soil types found in the county. Below is a map of the county and accompanying legend.

The approximate location of the glacial moraine (running northeast to southwest) can be discerned in the map below in the soil shown in yellow.  The legend descriptions of the soils in the northern section of the county generally include sandy in their definitions, while the soil to the south (designated by a 4) does not include that term.  Soil to the south of the moraine is generally more fertile.  One reason is that the lower elevations to the south were under water for an extended period of time when the glaciers receded due to the elevated levels of the Great Lakes and the forerunner to Saginaw Bay.


Colors show the various soil types found in the county. The soil to the south is more fertile owing to the fact the land below the glacier moraine was underwater following the glacier and gained additional nutrients. The red circle at the center shows the general location of James Hill.

soil survey map with the county's various soil types


Categories: Clare County, ecology, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Old Photo IDs and Journalism 101

Jim Carr

Maggie Carr -maybe

Who were these people? Were they two of the vilest people to ever call Michigan home or were they someone’s sweet great- great-uncle and great-great-aunt?

Up until a few months ago I thought they were the former.  I believed they were Jim Carr and Maggie Duncan.  Both lived during the lumbering era of the 1880s when Clare County was in the midst of a short-lived economic boom brought about by the lumbering of the county’s many forests.  Carr owned the Devil’s Ranch Stockade, a combination saloon and whorehouse in that small mid-Michigan community located in the small community of Harrison.  Carr ran the saloon while—at least it seems from the arrest records–Duncan handled the prostitutes.

Gross bookIn fact I was so sure I included those two photos in blog post entitled “Jim and Maggie: Disreputable, Despicable and Clare County’s Own.,” which provided a summary of the lives and their crimes.  I was confident in my identification because those same photos appeared in two books: Frankie and the Barons by Carr Photos (5)Stuart Gross, and Michigan Rogues, Desperadoes, Cut-Throats by Tom Powers.

Then Angela Kellogg tossed the proverbial monkey wrench into things.

In 2013, Kellogg, a Harrison librarian, was working with Cody Beemer on a book about Harrison.  Because the book would primarily use photographs to tell the county’s history, Kellogg intended to use the two photos.  However, she first wanted to ensure the two photos were actually of Carr and Duncan.  She didn’t doubt that photos of the two existed, or at least had once existed.  It’s likely both would have taken time away from their criminal enterprises to sit for a portrait with the local photographer.  Many people did back then either to share or for the novelty of it.

These are the photos identified as Carr and Duncan as they appear in the Power's book. They photos are identical to the ones in the Gross book.

These are the photos identified as Carr and Duncan as they appear in the Power’s book. They photos are identical to the ones in the Gross book.

So it was likely there had been photos of Carr and Duncan taken, but if they still existed neither Kellogg or Beemer had ever seen them, and Kellogg was not going to include any photo she could not positively identify.

It’s a Journalism 101 rule writers of history too often forget: “If your mother says she loves you, get proof.”

So Kellogg sought to contact the two authors to get that proof.  Powers quickly responded saying he copied the photos from the book by Gross but had not confirmed the identity of the two figures.  (I can’t blame the man since it was the same thing I had done when I wrote my Carr/Duncan post.)

That left Gross.  Unfortunately getting that proof proved difficult since Gross had died in 1996.  Undeterred, Kellogg contacted the book publisher Gross had used and was directed to a woman who worked there now and had been an intern when Gross was putting the finishing touches on his “Frankie” book.  She remembered rather lengthy discussions on the topic of the two photos and told Kellogg that Gross felt very strongly the two photos were the infamous pair and so pushed for their publication.  However, Kellogg’s source did not remember any real evidence that Gross had to back up his assertion.

Harrison bookWhy Gross was so insistent is not known.  he must have had some evidence, even circumstantial.  However, whatever evidence he produced had been enough so that his argument carried the day; the two photos became Carr and Duncan.

But not in Kellogg and Beemer’s book.  The story of Carr and Duncan is told but no photos of them are included.  Journalism 101.

Then the question still remains: Who were these people? Are they Carr and Duncan or are they someone’s kindly old relative long deceased who may now have hundreds of heirs.

If you know, please let Angie Kellogg at the Harrison District Library know, respond to this post, or send an email to the Clare County Historical Society.  Maybe someone still has the archives of Stuart Gross.  Maybe somewhere in there is the evidence that had convinced Gross.

In the meantime, be vigilant. You already know you have to take what you read on the Internet with a grain of salt.  Maybe an entire salt shaker.  It might also be worth exercising that same note of caution with what you read in books, especially if they rely heavily on the research of others.  As this story shows, not everything you read is necessarily accurate.  At the same time, please note that the remaining information on Carr and Duncan that appears in the Gross and Power books appears to be historically accurate, although both seem to rely on the research of others and on old newspaper accounts.

Note: Kellogg and Beemer’s book on Harrison (with 100% verified information) is available by contacting Kellogg at the above link.

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

Three Area Soldiers. One Epidemic. Three Graves.

Three young men—two from Clare County and one from adjacent Gladwin County–go off to World War I. We know little about the three other than two were cousins and enlisted close together. One of them had not even graduated from high school. The third who enlisted earlier was described as a “bright, cheerful lad.”

We can envision the excitement all three felt; the pride of their fathers; the worry of their mothers; and the envy of their friends who watched them leave on what was probably a grand adventure and ticket out of a quiet (and probably boring) rural environment.

And we can imagine the sorrow felt in the community when news came back of their deaths while in training.

Ervin Reed died September 1917 at Fort Wayne in Detroit. He had enlisted in the National Guards just two months earlier, on July 4th. James Garrity and Arthur Looker —cousins—enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1917. They died within a day of each other in January 1918 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois.

The official cause of death for all three was pneumonia. Their deaths were most likely due to the flu.

The three had enlisted during a time a deadly flu virus was raging across the globe. This great flu pandemic, (a pandemic is one that affects a wide area of the world) sickened more than a half a billion people worldwide and killed anywhere between 21 million and 100 million. More than 675,000 Americans died and deaths were especially high in young men, a group included soldiers. For whatever reason, the flu triggered a very strong response from the immune system that sometimes overwhelmed the body. Those with the strongest immune systems were especially vulnerable, the opposite of what one would think. An estimated 43,000 servicemen died of the flu. Roughly 1 in 4 military personnel came down with the virus, and of those who did, 1 in 5 died. Death often came quickly, sometimes even within hours of the first symptoms. Congestion brought on by the flu built up quickly in lungs, resulting in pneumonia.

According to Navy Nurse Josie Brown, who served at the Naval Hospital there in 1918:

“The morgues were packed almost to the ceiling with bodies stacked one on top of another. The morticians worked day and night. You could never turn around without seeing a big red truck loaded with caskets for the train station so bodies could be sent home.

“We didn’t have the time to treat them. We didn’t take temperatures; we didn’t even have time to take blood pressure.

We would give them a little hot whisky toddy; that’s about all we had time to do. They would have terrific nosebleeds with it. Sometimes the blood would just shoot across the room. You had to get out of the way or someone’s nose would bleed all over you.”

The pandemic hit especially hard at military camps like Great Lakes where a large number of men were in close proximity to one another. Great Lakes was the largest Navy camp, with a population of 44,000. Although the worst of the pandemic had passed by the time Garrity and Looker came to Great Lakes, the presence of so many men packed close together and a continuing turnover of personnel meant the epidemic continued to take a toll.

Blog-cemeteryThere is little information about Fort Wayne, with its smaller force. However, its proximity to Detroit and the men to each other meant illness was a constant at the fort.

One would think Garrity and Looker  knew of the deaths of Reed, but enlisted anyway, perhaps choosing a different branch and location as a precaution. Newspaper articles said that Garrity and Looker had caught the measles beforehand and Reed had come down with appendicitis. Perhaps, those health conditions were enough to make the three more susceptible to the flu. We will never know.

Garrity and Reed are buried in the Garrity Cemetery in Clare County. Looker is interred in McClure Cemetery in Gladwin County. Markers and flags mark their graves.

This Memorial Day weekend (May 24, 2014), the Clare County Historical Society will conduct a clean up at the Garrity Cemetery and replace the flags. It’s the least we can do to honor these Clare County men. Gone need not be forgotten.

Click to  read obits for Clare County soldiers:






Categories: Cemetery, Clare County, Gladwin, History, Life, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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