There may have been towns during Michigan’s lumbering era that had uglier reputations than Meredith, but I’ve not heard of any. While the town in the northeast corner of Clare County was created to serve the thousands of lumberjacks who worked in nearby camps with essentials like food and clothing; it flourished by providing those men with booze and women.
It was a town that lacked
for little—except maybe a church and a sheriff (the former burned and the town wouldn’t finance the latter). Meredith also had Jim Carr and Maggie Duncan, two of the worst human beings ever to set foot in Clare–or any county–for that matter. Carr and Duncan trafficked in every vice known to man including white slavery, robbery, arson and even murder. (I plan an article on them in an upcoming post.)
It’s hard given the town’s evil reputation that it was once called the “wonder of the north woods,” the “great city of the day” and “a marvel,” all these in an article in the Gladwin Record in March 1884. That’s when 18 visitors from Gladwin traveled into through what was then wilderness to visit the town.
The visitors returned with a glowing report. However, whatever good they saw in Meredith disappeared not long afterward, and remains long buried. But here is a look at the town as it was once seen. (Note: I left the grammar as it was in the original article that can be found on microfilm at the State of Michigan’s library in Lansing. Spaces or question marks show where I could not read the text.)
A Visit to the City in the Forest, the Wonder of the North Woods
In company with a jolly party of 18 people (babies included) the editor of the Record visited the far famed city of the north, known as Meredith, this week. Starting from our thriving village, passing through the settled country containing flourishing farms etc, for about 4 miles north on the Midland and Houghton Lake state road, we are amidst the monarchs of the forest.
Eleven miles farther we go without passing even the cabin of a settler—all to relieve the monotony being the camps of Rust, Eaton & Co, about midway, where 40 men are employed and huge rollways of logs are seen on the north branch of the Cedar near by. The trees were crested with flakes of “beautiful snow” which rendered the scene exceedingly picturesque. The timber passed is pine, hemlock and hardwood, in some parts being intermingled and in others pine or hemlock towering majestically on either hand. There are excellent openings for saw and shingle mills and a tannery in this locality would find an excellent outlook. A large part of the way is what is known as “stripped lands,” the pine timber having been cut. Where visible the soil seemed to be a good rich clay, and from the variety of growing timber we judge that the thousands of acres of wilderness are capable of being made into beautiful farms, and are many years pass we predict that the axe of the settler will resound throughout the forest where now deer and other fierce residents thereof roam.
But at length we arrive at the far-famed city afore mentioned,
And we are in the great city of the day. Behold its fine large hotel and numerous business houses where but a few short weeks since all was wilderness. Everything about Meredith is new, neat and thriving, except for her streets—and they still appear in their primeval state, brush, trees and logs appearing on all sides, but this difficulty will be overcome soon aster the season opens up. Our party put up at the
The large and excellently equipped hotel recently opened to the public by Thomas J. McClennan of Bay City, the found of the town. The house is furnished in a _________ that would do credit to a good sized city of several thousand people. The house is 40 feet by 105 feet, 3-stories high. On the first floor is the sitting room, office, washes room, bar room, dining room and kitchen. The second story has an elegantly furnished ladies’ sitting room and in the two upper stories we find 14 single bed rooms and 11 double rooms, besides rooms for help. Arthur Meyer, late of Alma, has charge of the house, and to him we are indebted for courtesies extended in showing us through the apartments. He is the “right man in the right place.” Our party partook of dinner, served in a sumptuous manner, which we pronounced a No. 1. To enumerate(?) this bill of fare would be difficult. We counted upwards of 40 at dinner, besides a greatly number who partook afterwards. Mr. Mayer informed us that the hotel was doing a flourishing business steadily. Although it was Sunday, the bar was open and liquor flowed freely as water being partaken of by large numbers of wayfarers(?) who had gathered from the surrounding camps. However, all was quiet and we failed to notice an uncivil act.
Our day was limited, in the time we took to look over the town, however, and with the assistance of our friend “Joe the barber” the following list of
S & C.C. R.R. depot
Reardor’s Bro’s, general store
Alex Rail restaurant
Billy Jose, Meat market
Roche & McKenna, drugstore
Hotel – Corrigan House
___________, Butcher Shop
McClennan & Stephens, billiard hall
Haiey & Covert, drug store, in which store upstairs is located:
Joe Hatfleld’s(?) barber shop
Dr. Tibbles’ office
Dr. Keating veterinary hospital and harness shop
These named being on one side of the street and the following on the other:
Alex. Andrews, grocery store
Livery stable of _______ Frank
Searn & Co., hardware store and postoffice
__________ Maybee, general store
Sandy Marshall, wagon shop
Clason(?) & Avery, livery
Besides the above, we notice quite a few dwellings and a number of buildings in the process of erection.
LOCATION AND FUTURE PROSPECTS
The village is located on the line of Gladwin County on section 13, town 20 north, range 11 west, and is the terminus of the Saginaw and Clare County railroad. It is 15 miles northeast of Harrison and about 15 miles northwesterly of this place. The village was platted in December last by T. J. McClennan, of Bay City, who has a stand of pine nearby, where he now has 40 men at work cutting and skidding. A large lumber district surrounds the village and so long as the lumbering continues so does a lively business from this point. Considering the rapid growth of the place, it is a marvel. We trust that it might continue to thrive and we see nothing to hinder if steps are taken to secure the permanent development of the country surrounding, with the aid of manufacturing enterprises and settlers.
The article turned out to be very wrong. By 1893, the town was in a fast decline. The lumber was all cut, Carr and Duncan were dead, and the railroad gone. In 1895, the post office closed and in 1896, a fire tore through the town destroying most of what remained.
There is little visible from Meredith’s past that would indicate that it once had nearly 2,000 part-time and 500 full-time residents, and was a big enough town to have such things as a roundhouse for trains, a city hall, an opera house that seated 700 and a three-story school. There are a couple of cemeteries, but they are on private property. The township hall was once an old church, and I’ve read that once the town burned, residents from other areas came to scavenge the bricks and rocks for their buildings.
There is a drive-in movie screen from a failed attempt at providing residents and visitors with entertainment and a nice corner store with a helpful clerk/owner. The store is not the remains of the railroad