Clare County


A review of a new book by Jon H.Ringelberg

Thou shalt not kill: Exodus 20:13

It’s one of the 10 Commandments and even people who don’t read the Bible know of that one. Sadly, it’s also a commandment that has been broken since the dawn of time (like so many other commandments).

A new book by local historian, attorney, and former District Court Judge Jon H. Ringelberg shows that that this specific commandment has been broken in Clare County at least 69 times going back to 1877, not long after the county was founded, and that doesn’t even mention poor Rover, whose story is also covered within the book’s 222 pages. Appropriately titled Clare County Murders 1871-2020, large paperback book details every recorded manner of death that occurred within the county’s  borders including the who, what, when, where and why, and of course, the how (as one might imagine guns are the most frequent method but the reader learns of the other imaginative ways Clareites have found to eliminate those they despised).

Along the way the reader meets men like Owen Feeney whose death led to the naming of Deadman’s Lake near Farwell; a 12-year-old girl who killed a younger sibling due to jealousy; and a case in 1903 that could have been right out of a current episode of CSI as it includes a exhumation of a body to prove poisoning.

Of course, the most well-known murder in the County, that of Isaiah Leebove at the Doherty Hotel in 1938, is included, although Ringelberg gives readers just a summary of that murder, directing readers instead to the book Mystery Man, a biography of Leebove by Robert Knapp.

One of the interesting items that Ringelberg includes in his book is a look at what he calls the “speed of justice,” over last 150 years. He might of more accurately called it the “lack of speed of justice,” since the amount of time has more than doubled in most cases.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, murders have occurred in all but one county township: Hats off to you Summerfield. One more thing, be extra nice to people in the middle of August, that’s the month with the most murders and Ringelberg adds that most murders seem to happen in the middle of the month. Not sure what to make of all that, but it may be worth keeping in mind when the dog days of summer roll around next year.

Clare County Murders is available at Cops & Doughnuts in Clare, the Clare County Cleaver office in Harrison and through Amazon. Let’s just hope there’s no need for a revised edition of the book with even more murders, but with human nature being what it is that may be wishful thinking.

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


A review of Robert Knapp’s latest book on Michigan history

Yes, Al Capone DID visit Michigan. Just not a whole lot.

I want to know more about Joe Barnes. Was this resident of Clare County that author Robert Knapp talks about in his new book Gangsters Up North, Mobsters, Mafia and Racketeers in Michigan’s Vacationlands REALLY Al Capone’s chauffeur as he sometimes claimed to be? And did Barnes host Capone’s men at his Arthur Township property as has been alleged? Was Barnes really a gangster like so many others who came to Clare, men like Meyer Lansky, the Purple Gang’s Bernstein brothers, and sorta gangsters like Sam Garfield, Harry Bennett and Isaiah Leebove. I really want to know.

Robert Knapp

In this book, Knapp offers compelling evidence that Barnes was a gangster connected with Capone but stops short of confirming it. However, Barnes is just one many fascinating characters we meet. Knapp has unearthed plenty of stories as well as rumors about nationally known, honest-to-goodness gangsters in Northern Michigan, men such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Fred “Killer” Burke. The book also covers lesser known ones. In fact, it appears nearly every good size city in the Northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas had gangsters living there or at least visiting. It was amusing to learn how rumors have grown over time. For example, if a gangster did own a home, that home invariably had, according to locals, machine gun nests, guards, and secret tunnels (like the ones Henry Ford’s enforcer Harry Bennett supposedly had on his property in western Clare County). 

Clare County is well represented. While I won’t go as far as to say Clare, Michigan was Michigan’s “Gangster Central,” it did have more than its fair share of mobsters, as we learned in Knapp’s other books, Mystery Man about Isaiah Leebove, and Minion of the Mob about Sam Garfield. However, that said, neither Capone or Dillinger ever visited Clare.  However, Big Al’s little sister did live in Oscoda, Michigan for many years, and kept a photo of Al on her nightstand. She was Knapp reports, “a lifelong apologist for the family.”  

The story of Capone’s sister is only one of many things I learned from reading this book. I also learned how widespread gambling was and how many gangsters were involved. Even the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island offered gambling as a profitable although illegal pastime for its guests. It was also interesting to see how many cities and towns in Michigan had connections with gangsters. Even more interesting is to see the huge number that now claim to have had them!  

Of course, gangsters didn’t come to Michigan just to engage in illegal activities or hide out. They also came for the same reason people come now—to relax and enjoy the beauty this state has to offer and Knapp covers that topic as well. Oh, although Knapp doesn’t say it, there is absolutely NO evidence any gangster even came to Clare for its baked goods, not matter how good those sugary treats might be. 

Like Knapp’s other books, Gangsters Up North is well researched and an easy read. Although it deals with a serious topic, there is even a story in it about a gangster’s kidnapping that will make you smile if not laugh out loud. Gangsters Up North is currently available online and locally in Clare County

BTW, if you have the real scoop on Joe Barnes, let me know. Please don’t make me send a gangster or mob enforcer after you.

Note: Knapp is also the author of several other books on Clare County’s history and it’s association with gangsters. They are:

  • Minion of the Mob, Sam Garfield’s Two Lives
  • Mystery Man, Gangsters, Oil and Murder in Michigan (Isaiah Leebove)
  • Clare, Michigan, 1865-1940 (Images of America Series)
Categories: Clare County, gangsters, Harrison, History, Michigan, Purple Gang | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Great Flu Pandemic in a Small Michigan County

Jim GarrityB&W-small

James Garrity in an undated photo.

James Garrity was a Clare County farm boy, the only boy in a family of four sisters.  He was 19 years old when he convinced his mother, over the objections of his father, to join the Navy.  James  wanted to join his cousin, Arthur Looker, a Gladwin county resident, who had just joined the Navy.  That was in Nov. 1917.  In Jan. 1918, Arthur died of the flu at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois.  Jim Garrity died the next day.  Both men were brought home by train for burial.  Jim’s obituary described him as bright and cheery with a host of friends.  It added that he was to have graduated from Harrison High School the following June.

Their deaths occurred before what is no called “the Great Flu Pandemic” had even gotten started.  Peaking in the winter of 1918, this worldwide event would  sicken more than a half a billion people, killing between 21 million and 100 million of them.  In the U.S., about 28% of the population (then at 105 million) became infected, and 500,000 to 675,000 died.  Deaths were especially high in young men, the group that included soldiers like Garrity and Looker.  The flu became pneumonia and the buildup of fluid in their lungs, something Covid-19 does now, is what ultimately caused death.  However, with this particular flu strain, it was those with the strongest immune systems who were especially vulnerable.  As a result an estimated 43,000 American servicemen died, more than were killed by German bullets.  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, which was the cause put on many death certificates of that period.

The Dec. 5, 1918 issue of The Clare Sentinel contained an article about Earl Green, a sailor from the small Clare community of Mann Siding, who told of how, while stationed in Boston, “he helped roll up 200 boys [soldiers] in sheets and carry them out onto the docks to be buried.”

Garrity was not the only Clare County resident killed by the flu. In total, 22 out of Clare’s 450 soldiers and sailors died from the flu, according to local historian Forrest Meek, author of Michigan’s Heartland, a history of Clare County from 1900 to 1918. Meek also writes that at least 59 county deaths were directly related to the flu (see listing from the book at end of this article). Clare County had only about 8,300 people at the time.

The Clare Sentinel during that period is filled with mentions of families and individuals coming down with the flu, battling the flu, recovering from the flu, or dying of it.  There were also numerous mentions of church and school closures, sometimes for weeks at a time.

cough small

Public Service Announcement from October 24, 1918

Public service announcements warned of the dangers of coughing and sneezing in public and advertisements hawked products to those stuck indoors .  In Michigan’s Heartland, Meek writes that doctors of the community worked overtime during the outbreak.  Meek said that Dr. William Clute of Clare, hardly left his car for days.  He had a chauffeur who took him on his calls and “those few moments constituted his night’s quota of slumber.”  Meek wonders whether the fact Dr. Clute died at age 53 was partially due to his having worked so long and hard during this epidemic.  

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Advertisement in The Clare Sentinel from Nov. 14, 1918

Unlike now, there wasn’t a shelter in place requirement but then there wasn’t much of a need.  Clare County was not a vacation destination at that time, there were no freeways and few good roads of any kind.  Although people could travel by train within a state and across the country, travel internationally, other than war related travel, was rare.  It was not  until after the Second World War that regular international flights began to take place.  During WWI, that meant what happened in China and other countries, including health problems, tended to stay in those countries. Of course, soldiers returning from foreign battlefields and lands could carry diseases back with them.  But eventually the flu disappeared and Clare County, Michigan, and the world returned to normal.

James Garrity was buried in a small cemetery in Hamilton Township.  A marker and an American flag mark his grave.  His is a story more than a century old, but also a story that’s still relevant today.

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Listing of flu deaths as compiled by Forrest Meek in his book, Michigan’s Heartland



Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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: , , , , , , , | 3 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



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

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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.

Categories: Cemetery, Clare County, Harrison, History | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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