Becoming a Better Reader of Topography

I had a neat couple stop by the house last Sunday named Al and Gail (I am not including their last name since they have not given me permission to do so). This couple has wandered much of Clare County looking for–and frequently finding–old logging railroad beds that are fairly abundant in the county. They even put together a map (at left). The actual map is on display at the Clare County Historical Museum. The museum is open from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturdays now through October

I invited them to my home and property because I have what looks like foundations on my property and the remains of a possible road, and wanted a better idea of what it is I am looking at. By the way, when I say foundations, I mean rectangular dirt mounds, some of which contain square nails. There is no concrete or block on the site, which indicates the area was inhabited sometime around the end of the 19th century, which was the time logging camps were around.

Well, it was a wonderful visit. Not only do I know have a better idea of my land, but they also took me on a quick tour of the surrounding area and pointed out about 5-6 old railroad beds I didn’t even know existed although I pass by them nearly every day!

As to my property, Al pointed out that what I though was a creek bed was really a shallow man-made canal that allowed water to flow out of my pond. Back a 100 years ago or so, my pond was part of a large lake about a mile long. The canal was used in the winter by horse-drawn sleighs transporting logs from the forests that once surrounded my property.

Al also pointed out about six man-made structures on my property and speculated the site was probably the location of a small logging camp and then perhaps a family cabin stood there afterward, since there is the remains of a garden plot on the property. Eventually everything burned in a fire since the stumps that remain show burn marks and digging into the structures reveals some charred wood about a foot down. However, since nothing remains standing and time has eroded many of the individual sites, leaving only pits and mounds of dirt it’s hard to determine what was there, and what the buildings were used for.

So far, metal detecting has not turned up anything conclusive. One spoon and a couple of broken horseshoes, barrel hoops and lots of scraps of metal are among the things I’ve dug up.

However, Al’s conclusions help explain why I found the remains of a plow (for the garden) and a section of heavy sleigh runner (for hauling logs) buried in the muck of my pond. See my earlier posting for more information.

I’ll continue to investigate but perhaps not until fall. For now, the mosquitoes rule the site. Additionally, the vegetation is growing up making metal detecting more difficult. So I will return in the fall. In the meantime I will dream of hidden riches–or at least a hidden coin with a readable date. Whether I find of don’t find anything really doesn’t matter. The fact is, it’s all pretty cool.

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