Digging and Metal Detecting in Clare County

I have a small parcel west of Harrison back in the woods. When my now ex-wife and I bought it 10 years ago or so, we put a 1/4 mile trail that winds along the edge of a small shallow pond and through the woods that cover much of the property.

Not long after that our neighbor who we let walk the trails mentioned that she could see the outline of a dirt foundation next to the trail and about 100 feet from the pond. The foundation, for lack of a better term, was a a raised sand rectangle measuring about 16×20 feet. Trees up to 6-inches in diameter grew on and in the rectangle showing it had been there for a long time.

However, it was a sign of human habitation (loggers, Indians, hunters) and got me excited so I dug through a couple of sections of the foundation looking for nails, wood or other signs of former walls. Sadly, nothing so I figured it must have just made to channel the rain outside of a large tent and probably made by hunters that might have frequented the site in the past when the pond was a lake and a nearby empty stream bed that runs through my property was once an active stream. Other than a few rusted tin cans I found nothing of value or interest. So I left it well enough alone until this fall.

Some friends were coming up for the weekend so I took a rake and raked the interior of the foundation clean of leaves and debris, took a chain saw and cut out many of the trees and shrubs and dug out my metal detector.I was determined to figure out what the foundation was and whether there was anything of value in there.

The answers: I don’t know and no. That weekend we set to work detecting and digging. Inside we found junk including two broken horseshoes (different styles) a conventional belt buckle, some hardware and broken pieces of tin. That means I still don’t know what it was or what it was used for. Why it showed signs of people AND horses is beyond me. The neatest thing was a railroad spike. It was not a large spike that one associates with the railroad. This one was about 6 inches long and an inch in diameter. I had seen these spikes before and was told they were used to construct narrow gauge railroads. Once the railroad was no longer needed, the tracks were pulled up and the rails, couples, spikes and more were reused in order to save money. Apparently, the spike I found was left behind and might indicate that a logging railroad line DID in fact run across my property at one time.

items dug up in pond on my propertyHowever, those finds were not the end of the story. Much of my pond evaporates by fall and the mucky ground is hard enough to stand on, so we took the metal detector out and set to work. It didn’t take long to find three items of interest: An axe head, a foot-long section of what appears to be a narrow-gauge railroad track and a piece of plow.

Now I am more confused than ever. I know for a fact the property was lumbered–all the county was since it contained huge forests of white pine. The logging explains the axe head (although why someone would pitch a totally good axe into the lake/pond is beyond me. But what about the section of track and the spike found earlier? Was there a narrow-gauge railroad that ran along the creek on my property? I now have some evidence to support that fact. Other evidence includes a line indicating a railroad that appears on a map created by two members of the Clare County Historical Society. (Clare County had more logging railroads then any other county in Michigan, according to historian Roy Dodge who wrote the book, “Ghost Towns in Michigan.” But why the horseshoes and the foundation? And what about the plow? There is no evidence this area was ever farmed.

But the rains came and filled the pond and winter has arrived freezing both the pond and the ground, that means any further explorations must wait until spring.

As for my three major finds from the pond, I donated them to the Clare County Historical Society. They may use them in their displays in their museum at the corner of Surry and Eberhart roads. The museum is closed now but reopens in the spring. And maybe by then I will have found even MORE stuff to donate.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Digging and Metal Detecting in Clare County

  1. launchpad26

    I came across your story while I was researching your area for my family genealogy. My Great Great Grandfather worked the railroad for many years and he and his wife moved about to different railroad towns for some reason. One of the towns was Meredith Michigan, very close to you, as we just learned by a birth record of one of their children. This would have been in Feb 1889 that we know they were there for sure. My Grandfather worked for the F & P,M railroad but it apears that he worked with others as well since Meredith, Ottawa Lake and Standish were all towns they lived before returning to Flint and that particular RR did not go to those towns as I understand. We will continue to find more clues and perhaps have something to share with you. I drove from Ann Arbor to your area today in blinding wet snow in hopes I might find something but not a good day to drive around the area. Thanks for sharing your story. Brian

    • Thanks for your comment. From what I understand there are more railroad beds in Clare County than anyplace in Michigan. I just walked one the other day and will write about it soon. Was also in Meredith this summer looking to see what remains in that town. I wrote about that in a blog entry called “Death of a Cemetery.” Thanks for offering to share what you learn. I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. There is a book called “Michigan’s Timber Battleground” by Forrest Meek. It is all about Clare County history and deals extensively about the logging era and railroads here.Take care and have a great holiday. Marty

  2. MistysHusbandusingheremail

    All the logs were moved with horses to the railroad.Every logging camp had a blacksmith shop and an area to shoe/reshoe te horses.Every Blacksmith would have had his stock of steel to work with just as every welder today has his welding stock.Steel or iron would have been kept from any source like broken plows, old axe heads,used spikes,pieces of rail.
    Other buildings were around also to prepare food,to feed the lumberjacks,to house the men…look for more buildings,wouldnt have foundations dug,just area roughly level and logs set on top of dirt,at least 2 more….and look for 4 by 4 hole…would be the privy where the bottles ended up.

    • Thanks for the information. Much appreciated and it would explain some of the stuff I’ve found. I have also thought about the outhouse and would love to locate it! No sign of other building foundations, just the one I’ve found so far, but I may be missing them. I have not gotten good at reading the terrain. There is evidence of an old road on my neighbor’s property but it ends near the foundation I found. It’s possible my property was the track terminus and logs were loaded there and that’s why there was a blacksmith shop in that area, even if it wasn’t a logging camp (like Mostetler to the west, Mannsiding to the southwest or Dodge City up the road. I will keep at the researching as I find this kind of thing to be fascinating! And I understand winter is a good time to find things since the vegetation is brown and down.

  3. Mistyshusbandusingheremail

    Mostetler,the common accepted misspelling of Mosteller was actually a siding,where a railroad would come out of an area of the best timber and terminate at a siding,being the railroad pulled alongside the mainline to unload railcar to railcar or sometimes get the loaded cars picked up by another train heading south.often a little town would spring up and fade away when the rails were pulled as fast as the timber was depleted.Mannsiding was actually a siding owned by a man…with the last name of Mann.Mann’s siding.the camps would be at the opposite end of the railroad spur away from the siding.So if not a logging camp at least a loading area.The grade that ran through Mostetler then dodge city actually maintained North a mile into section 7 of Hamilton twp. then curved back west then southwest into section 13 of Hayes twp.terminating into a slight hill with the sides and back 3 feet higher than the grade.A perfect loading area,roll the logs level onto the cars instead of up.better yet,its on my property! So I understand your enthusiasm.

  4. It makes a lot of sense that the loggers would have found it easier to load logs either down onto a train car or at least have the car level with the surrounding land. I envy the fact you have so much history on your property. I try to stay off private lands when I walk although I did go to the town of Mosteller that is on private land. At the same time I didn’t want to give the location of the camp in my blog out of respect for the landowners. (I was taken there on a tour there once by Tom Sellers. He had permission at the time to take members of the Clare County Historical Society.)

    By the way, do you have any more information on Mann? Someone was asking me about the person the siding was named for. There isn’t any information on Mann in my book “Michigan Place Names.”
    Thanks.

  5. Had the book”Michigan ghost towns ” but its misplaced at the moment.when I find it I can tell you more. Whats left of the town of Mosteller?
    You can walk on my land I have two grades,one the end of the line through mosteller and dodge,and the other is the end of a spur line that headed to the section of the meredith grade referred to as the Hamilton grade today.

  6. I have the book on Michigan Ghost Towns. Forgot to look in there to see if there is anything about Mann. I’ll take a look at my plat books and maps to better understand the area you are talking about. Thanks for your continuing comments.

  7. Pingback: Becoming a Better Reader of Topography | The Moving Finger in Mid-Michigan

  8. Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too. This type of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve included you guys to blogroll.

  9. Michael Miedzianowski

    I live in surrey township in the Hill Haven subdivision and found some rail road track and spikes in my back yard , I did some research and there was a rail road that went thru my property back in the mid 1800’s . I am looking forward to searching more since the weather has broke its amazing the history our county holds and I will inform you of anymore fines and or we could get together and do a search sometime .

    • Thanks for your comment. And yes, there are a ton of railroad grades in the county, both logging and regular. There’s a new book called Cut and Run about logging railroads in the county. And there is a map at the Clare County Museum that shows many of the grades in the county. It would be interesting to know whether the grade on your property was part of a passenger/freight line or a logging grade. Please let us know what you find and if you ever want to give me a tour. Marty

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