Railroad Talk and Nature Walk is Over. Now Gangsters?

Group gathered to listen to Carl SchaafA couple of weeks ago, I went on a railroad talk and nature walk at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison. And for once, I didn’t go seeking solitude. In fact, for once, I would have been very disappointed had I been alone out in the woods. The reason: I was hosting a hike on behalf of the Clare County Historical Society and Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation. Thank goodness people showed. About 30 of them. The turnout was mostly the result of a press release that ran in the Clare County Review and Clare County Cleaver. Both papers were nice to print the piece I wrote. The Cleaver, in fact, ran it twice.

The people, ranging in age from around 6 to 81, turned out on a beautiful Saturday morning to walk the nature trails and former railroad beds that can be found on the MMCC property. One gentleman, Carl Schaaf, brought along a number of old logging items he had found and purchased and gave an impromptu lecture before the hike. He was very knowledgeable and I was grateful for the information he gave to group, myself included.

Trails and railroad beds at Mid_Michigan Community College in Harrison

Trails and old logging railroad beds at Mid-Michigan Community College

I scheduled the hike there because it’s one of the few places in the county a person can easily walk along a couple of old railroad grades. One grade appears to have been the site of a relatively major line that hauled passengers from Clare into Dodge City about 16 miles to the northeast and back. And the other…well, I frankly don’t know what is was for or when it was built. I assume it was an old logging railroad grade that ran either about the same time or maybe even earlier (or later) hauling timber out of the woods. While the grade between Clare and Dodge appears on maps and has the date the tracks were commissioned and decommissioned, this particular grade does not. This smaller grade starts near the larger one and then just peters out into what is now a field on the college property. I once took a metal detector out into the field but didn’t find anything of value, either monetarily, cultural or historical so I’m not sure the field had anything to do with the railroad.  While most of the two-mile hike was on the Old stumps. May be from logging era or may be from a 2nd cutting about 50 years ago. college’s level and mowed trails, I did veer off trail to a section that takes one out  along an elevated earthen trestle to some giant stumps. Only two of the walkers were unable to make that part of the hike.  (The college also features 10 miles of biking trails through the woods and, as I found, those are not mowed OR level.)

My plans are to do another event of a historical nature, although I’m not sure what this next one will be. I understand there is now a Scout camp near Lake George that once was the vacation home of the Purple Gang. It even has an underground tunnel that was used as an escape route. However, it particular history is one of which I know very little. I’ve heard tell that a number of gangsters came up to Clare County, some like the Purple Gang were out of Detroit, while others came by way of Chicago. Although they came from different directions, their goal was the same: To escape the heat. Not the high temperatures, although that may have been a factor, but to get away from the attention of the local constabulary (i.e. the cops and G-men). The only gangster story I know the one of the lawyer who was gunned down in the Doherty Hotel in downtown Clare in the late 1920s. It’s a story told in a serious of newspaper articles posted in a back hotel hallway.

So if anyone knows about the gangsters of Clare County, please let me know. I will trade you some Clare County railroad history for it. One last thing, the best time to do a railroad hike is in the spring. While we had a great time, seeing the railroad beds can sometimes be difficult in the high brush and when the mosquitoes are a’buzzin and a’bittin.

Note: This post was written before a movie about The Purple Gang in Clare County produced by was released in August 2012. The movie is supposed to be released on DVD copies should be available locally.

Categories: Michigan | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Railroad Talk and Nature Walk is Over. Now Gangsters?

  1. Geralyn Reed

    Hi we have recently purchased a 100 year old field stone house at 3144 E Wilson Rd north of Harrison. I am trying to find out some info on who owned it and what kind of folks they were. So far I have found that a R. Burns owned the property at one time and a Will Anderson owned it after that. I assume R. Burns built the house as we have had someone who is interested in the stone houses around here and told us it was built about 1910-1917. And then a geologist told us that some of the stones in the house were shipped in from other areas as all were not indigenous to this area. I would like to find out some info on both of these guys and what they meant to the community of Harrison and points north. It is located less than a tenth of a mile off of old 27. If you would like to come by and see the house please feel free. We are in the process of renovating it and hope to move in soon. If you have any info please let me know. Thanks, Sincerely, GR

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