Michigan

Starting a Clare County Library

Timber BattlegroundClare County, Michigan has a rich history, but not one that has inspired a lot of writers to put pen to paper.  As opposed to counties in other sections of the state, like Wayne County,  Kent County or even Grand Traverse County, little has been written about Clare County.

Now that doesn’t mean the Clare County section of the library is bare.  Not in the least.  We have been blessed with a few wonderful historian/writers who have taken it upon themselves to craft some interesting books.  Forrest Meek, Roy Dodge and T. M. Sellers are three that come to mind.  Sadly, after them the pickings get a bit slim.  There are a few still publishing content, like former Judge Jon Ringelberg who is summarizing county court cases from the 1870’s to the present. And, of course, there is this blog (although this content won’t ever appear in a library),  but there’s not a lot more out there, of which I am aware.  Sure, there are books that contain a mention or two of something county related, or that talk about an incident that occurred in the county, but that is about all. 

On the bright side, the lack of books means it can be pretty easy to put together a library! Below are my choices for books that should be in every Clare history buff’s library. And no, I don’t have them all.  Not yet, anyway.

  • Michigan’s Timber Battleground by Forrest Meek
  • Heartland by Forrest Meek
  • Clare (Images of America) by Robert Knapp
  • Ticket to Hell, a Saga of Michigan’s Bad Men by Roy Dodge
  • Ghost Towns in Michigan by Roy Dodge
  • Michigan Rogues, Desperados & Cut-Throats by Tom Powers
  • Michigan Shadow Towns, A Study of Vanishing and Vibrant Villages by Gene Scott (Includes short mentions on Leota, Meredith and Temple)
  • Michigan Place Names: The History of the Founding and the Naming of More Than Five Thousand Past and Present Michigan by Walter Romig and Larry Massie
  • Spikehorn: The Life Story of John E. Meyer by T. M Sellers
  •  A Dictionary of Clare County Citizens Who Served Their Country (1996) by Forrest Meek.
  • Clare Remembered.  The First Hundred Years–An Introduction to the History of the Clare Area  (1979) by the Clare Area Centennial Committee

A couple more books are in the planning stages: One on the Leebove/Livingston murder in 1938 and an Images of America hook on Harrison. Both are due out in 2014.

So, what other books need to be added to this list?

Here’s a link to another site with books about Clare County and links to retailers: http://cliophilepress.com

Oh, one more thing: The lack of books and the wealth of things there are to write about (history and otherwise) means opportunity knocks.  I hope people answer it.

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

Meredith: Wonder of the North Woods (Back in 1884, Anyway)

Clare County map

1886 railroad map showing Meredith in NE corner of the county

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

Plat map of Meredith from about 1906

Plat map of Meredith from about 1906

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,
MEREDITH!
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
CORRIGAN HOUSE

1885_Meredith_Corrigan House_Depot-small

This map shows the location of the Corrigan House and Meredith Depot. The depot would have been on the south side of Meredith Grade. The accuracy of the map is assumed but cannot be verified.

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
BUSINESS ENTERPRISES
was prepared:
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
City bakery
Livery stable of _______ Frank
Searn & Co., hardware store and postoffice
__________ Maybee, general store
Millinery establishment
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 onceThis screen can be found in what was once the center of town. 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

County store at corner of M-18 and Meredith Grade Rd.

County store at corner of M-18 and Meredith Grade Rd.

depot.

Categories: Clare County, Gladwin, History, logging, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

An Embankment is NOT a Trestle

I have noted a number of impressive railroad beds in Clare County, Michigan that were built in the 1870s and 1880s when logging was a major industry and the economy was booming.   People were streaming into the county and lumber was being transported out and railroads were the travel method of choice. 

 One thing about trains. They don’t like hills or valleys.  The more level the ground, the easier it is for them to run and stop safely. According to a few websites such as railfan.net, most mainline railroads won’t exceed a 2% incline, although some logging railroads can go as much as 5-6%. Whatever the maximum incline allowed, the railroads hired crews–often immigrants–to do the hard work of constructing the beds, filling in low spots and digging out high spots.

cropped-gerrish-railroad11.jpgThere were a couple of methods railroads employed to creat a railroad bed in a valley or across water.  One way was to create a wooden trestle with logs that were simply laid in a criss-cross pattern. This kind of trestle could be quickly constructed and at low cost since the majority of the materals needed in the construction cou were all around them.   The photo at left shows one built by Gerrish for his logging railroad.

A second way was to build a regular trestle of logs and boards. While this type of construction may have been used in Clare County, no evidence remains that I am aware of, although evidence can be found in Gladwin County near House Lake Ste Forest Campground.

Another way and the cheapest, was to simply use fill dirt from  the surrounding countryside to build low areas up to the elevation needed to build the track.  One can still see today evidence of where workers dug the fill they needed to build up the railroad bed.  In the northern section of the county, the work was relatively easy since much of the ground was sandy soil.  Of course, easy is a relative term.  The crews still had to deal with heat, mosquitoes, rocks, roots, accidents, long hours of back-breaking work, little pay and no benefits.

Earthen trestle at MMCCBecause much of Clare County is fairly level, most areas did not require a great deal of fill.  One of those spots that did is in Harrison where the builders had to construct a bed nearly 30 feet above the surrounding countryside.  How exactly this was done is not known, although one would think the fill was brought in by railcar and dumped and then the tracks extended upon the bed as work proceeded.

In other posts, I have called this type of work a “trestle,” since the term fit, to me at least. However, local historian Cody Beemer who also owns Beemer Sand &  Gravel Excavating in Harrison and knows about such things took issue (in a nice way) with my use of the word.  His comments sent me to the dictionary and the Internet, and (sigh) I found he was right. 

According to Wikipedia and other sources, trestles by their very nature contain piers to support whatever is above them.  And that means they need to be built of something other than earth. In the 18th and 19th centuries, wood and iron were the materials of choice.  In the 20th century steel was used and continues to be used today.

So what are these types of railroad beds called? For that answer, I turned to the National Railway Historical Society in Philadelphia. I sent them an email and received a quick response from L. J. Dean, a NRHS Library Volunteer who emailed me.  “If these are earthen structures higher than the surrounding country, the most commonly used term would be embankment,” he wrote.  “The term fill is also often used, but less likely to be familiar to the general public.”

Now embankment isn’t an exciting way to describe what we have in Clare County.  I would have preferred earthen trestle, but I DO try to be factual in what I write, so embankment it will be from now on, especially since embankment beats using the word fill in my book.

One more thing I learned from looking things up: The difference between a trestle and a bridge.

According to a railroader on a Yahoo answer site, (and I quote since I don’t honestly understand it all), “In typical bridge construction, you will have piers or bents that support the longitudinal, moment carrying members which are usually called beams, girders, joists or stringers depending on the layout and material used.  The piers and bents will typically be constructed only in the plane transverse to traffic and will not have connection from one substructure (pier) unit to the next.

“A railroad trestle will be comprised entirely of wood and one bent or pier will be dependent on the next with longitudinal and diagonal bracing to support the longitudinal loads.  There will be no clear spans between piers.  In other words, in a trestle, all of the piers work together while in typical bridge construction, each of the piers will carry load independently.”

So, now you know…well, sorta.

Categories: Clare County, Gladwin, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Discovering A Harrison Historical Treasure

Clare County, Michigan’s historical treasures never cease to surprise me, especially when it comes to the logging era.  For the longest time I thought the embankment on Monroe Road, just north of Mid-Michigan Community College  (MMCC) was one of the greatest feats of engineering of the early railroad era in the county*.  But just when I thought I’d seen it all, I learn something new and exciting.  This time from Cody Beemer (Beemer’s Sand & Gravel Excavating) who has a great love of history and a willingness to share it, and whose family has been here since the logging era.  Cody put me on to an even more impressive embankment that rises about 30 feet above the surrounding ground and about 800 feet long—right in the heart of Harrison.

The railroad bed for the line to Leota comes can be seen heading off the trestle to the left (northwest). The other bed once went to Meredith (northeast).

The railroad bed to Leota can be seen heading off to the left (northwest). The other rail bed once went to Meredith (northeast). Neither bed can now be followed as both soon are on private land and/or have been obliterated with time and development.

Another cool feature of the embankment is that one can easily see where the railroad bed split and one bed curves to the northeast when the track once ran to the town of Meredith.  Another bed runs to the northwest where the track ran to the town of Leota, both logging towns that are now small sleepy communities, with Leota best known for its nearby 56 miles of ATV and snowmobile trails.

RR Trail-bed

This is the trestle/trail looking south toward Budd Lake and Harrison. The lookout platform is on the right.

The embankment is found at the north end of the Hayes Township Civic Center and east of the VFW Hall on N. Clare Ave.  The old railroad bed to the south of the embankment that ran south across Township property and then ran along the west end of Budd Lake can no longer be followed, but one can easily pick up the short trail at the south end of the woods.  Hayes Township has built a wooden platform to give visitors a nice area to linger to watch the birds and other wildlife in the small pond below.

Map of Harrison showing location of trestleHere is some information on the two lines, according to Michigan Railroad Lines Volume 1 & 2 by Graydon Meints (MSU Press, 2005):

The Harrison to Meredith line was built in 1887 by the Saginaw and Clare Railroad that became part of the Flint & Pere Marquette in 1888 (and eventually the F&PM became just the Pere Marquette Railroad a year later) and ran 15 miles with stops at Arnold Lake, Hackley, Levington, Frost and Eyke along the way. The line was built as a cost-effective way to bring men and supplies into the Meredith area and pull the cut timber out.  The line didn’t end in Meredith but ran all the way to the Sugar Creek area in Gladwin County so timber could be hauled out both directions and lumber camps supplied.

Steam locomotive

Once the timber petered out by the mid-part of the decade the men and the money left the area and so did businesses and most of the remaining population.  The railroad was no longer viable so by 1896, the line between Meredith and Frost was abandoned and by 1916, the entire line back to Harrison was finally abandoned.  The Meredith Grade Road now covers a good portion of the old railroad bed.

The Harrison to Leota line was built by the F&PM and trains first plied the tracks in 1891 running the 8.8 miles to Leota and, according to the book, another 1.1 miles from there. According to historian Forrest Meek and other sources, the tracks to Meredith were torn up and used to build the line to Leota. The Harrison-Leota line was finally abandoned in 1922, although it’s difficult to know when the Harrison to Leota train last ran, but it was most likely years before the line was formally abandoned.

My hope for the Harrison embankment is to convince the Clare County Historical Society to pay for and Hayes Township allow for the mounting of a small marker on the wooden platform that was built on the embankment that will give visitors to the site a better understanding of what they are seeing, why it was there and to gain a better appreciation of Clare County surprising treasures.

Perhaps the wording on the marker might read:

This trail was once part of an earthen railroad embankment built in the 1880s when logging was the primary industry in Clare County. Trains ran upon this line to Meredith to the northeast and Leota to the northwest.  The point where the line diverged to those towns can be seen just 50 yards north of here.  By the mid-1890s the massive pines were gone and so were the lumberjacks and businesses that relied on the money logging generated.  Much of the line to Meredith was abandoned by 1896 and that to Leota was formally abandoned in 1922.    

* If you haven’t seen the embankment near MMCC, it is on the north end of the campus on Monroe Road and rises about 10 feet above the surrounding landscape.  Monroe Road cuts right through it but unless you know what you are seeing, you might drive right by it. Note: The post improperly calls the embankment a trestle.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Divorce in the Country

Attorney: The child that was born, at the time was it born dead?
Plaintiff: Yes, just at that moment, but if we had help it wouldn’t have been born dead.
A: What did your husband say he was going to do with the body of this child?
P: Feed it to the hogs.
A: Did you object?
P: I was too sick.

Transcript of divorce proceedings
Circuit Court for the County of Clare
Harrison, Michigan March 28, 1922
Honorable Ray Hart, Circuit Judge, presiding

Lizzie Pom
vs
Anson Pom

For some people, the “good old days” on the farm conjures up a vision of mom and pop working together to raise a passel of little ones, bringing in the crops, going to church every Sunday and fending off evil bankers, clouds of locusts and an occasional tornado or hailstorm.

And sure, there were wonderful marriages among country folks that lasted for decades, Imagesometimes out of love, sometimes mutual respect and often out of need. But life almost 100 years ago was not always idyllic. In fact, in some households, life was sheer hell. Take the Pom family that once lived in Hamilton Township in the northeast portion of Clare County. (Note: Even though this case is in the court records and can be found in the archives of the Clare County Historical Society, I have changed the names.)

In March 1922, Lizzie Pom addressed the court concerning a marriage she wished to end from Anson her husband of 10 years, a husband by the way, who had disappeared years earlier. This is the way it happened, according to the court proceedings:

A: What time of day was it that he left home?
P: It was in the afternoon sometime.
A: Did he tell you where he was going?
P: No sir. Well he had said he was going to leave home and get some money to pay off the mortgage on the place.
A: On this particular day, did he tell you where he was going?
P: No sir.
A: Did he take any clothes with him?
P: No sir.
A: Did he change his clothes before leaving?
P: Yes sir.
A: Where?
P: The boy came from school and the cows were out of the gate and Floyd didn’t see why he didn’t put the cattle in the barn and feed them, and I says, “he must be out in the barn or out to the neighbors. I haven’t seen him since meal time.” So Floyd put them in the barn and there Anse had changed his clothes and left his old clothes.
A: You found his working clothes there on the barn floor?
P: Yes sir and when we went upstairs afterwards to see if his new clothes were there, there, they were gone. He had taken them through the window because we found a window that had been closed, open.
A: Did you ever get any trace of your husband from that time on?
P: No sir.

According to testimony, there’s had not been a happy marriage. Although the worst incident seemed to have been the time when Lizzie was pregnant and having a difficult pregnancy but Anson had refused to allow her to see a doctor. And on the night she gave birth and was very ill, he had still refused to even get up and it was only after she begged him to at least go to a neighbors for help that he had gone out at all. Even then, he stayed at the neighbor’s house until she had done all she could and the baby was dead and she had returned that Anson went back home.

At the time of the proceedings, Lizzie was probably in her late 40s or early 50s. This had been her second marriage. Her first had lasted 20 years and resulted in three children, two of which survived. Lizzie and her first husband had divorced and he had remarried within two weeks.  When asked the ages of her children by her first husband, Lizzie said she knew Floyd, who had been living with them at the time of Anson’s disappearance was now 21; however, she didn’t know the age of her daughter who was now married. And despite the problems associated with the first child in 1913, Anson and Lizzie had conceived a second that was born four months after Anson had left.  Her name was Myrtle. After Anson had left, Lizzie’s father- and mother-in-law had come to live on the farm, a farm they held title to. Lizzie had lived with them until they had both died. Now she was hoping to not only get divorced but take title to the farm, which included more than 70 acres.

Apparently, the Pom family had a penchant for running away. Anson had apparently run away two times before but never this long. And his brothers had both run away from their homes. One of them, Al, was gone seven or 10 years before returning.  Attempts had been made to locate Anson but no one had heard from him, not even his parent’s after he had disappeared from the barn.

The court talked to numerous witnesses and in the end, granted Lizzie’s wishes.

Note: My mother-in-law is a crack genealogist and I passed the transcript to her and asked if she might be able to find out what happened to the Lizzie afterward. She not only did that, but found out about Anson as well, including the fact that he was institutionalized for a time–something that was not too surprising considering the testimony.

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

The Gerald Mast WPA Murals: Clare, Michigan

In 1938, four murals by Grand Rapids painter, mural painter, mosaicist, and educator Gerald Mast (1928-1972) were installed in the Clare, Michigan High School (now its middle school) auditorium, as part of the Works Project Administration art project. Each of the four panels that make up the mural are approximately 20-feet high and 8-feet wide. The panels were installed after being painted at the Detroit Institute of Arts, wrapped about stovepipe and transported by flatbed truck the 170-or-so odd miles to Clare.

Dayton Spence, an art restoration specialist and historian of 19th, 20th and 21st century American art, came to Clare in 1988 to clean and restore the murals. Dr. Thomas Moline was superintendent of Clare Public Schools at that time and on Sept. 8, 2012, Dr. Moline returned to Clare from his home in Illinois to take part in a fundraiser and Depression-era art tour sponsored by the Clare County Arts Council. Standing in the auditorium with the murals to his right, Dr Moline gave those in attendance the keynote address–as well as a history lesson.

According to Dr. Moline, the Mast Murals are some of the largest WPA murals in existence composed by a single artist and are snapshots in time. “They represent what was important to the Clare community and surrounding area at a time when the nation was wrestling with the effects of the Great Depression and the subject of the murals was chosen by Mast and the community.”

Moving from the back of the auditorium to the front (left to right in the photos) the murals illustrate agriculture, peacetime activities, science & education and the emerging gas & oil industry.

From picture to picture, the look on the people’s faces was the same, said Moline. No one seems to be smiling. Why is it that all, even the giants on both sides, look so somber and as if staring off into space? The following is taken mostly verbatim from Dr. Moline’s talk and based on his conversations with Dayton Spence and Moline’s own research:

“Many WPA works of art chronicle the effects of the Great Depression upon the people living through those years. During that period there was great debate about the actual effects of a capitalist democracy.

“There are two periods in the history of the United States that shook our nation’s foundation due to internal events. The most notable was our nations’ Civil War. The second was the Great Depression.

An emerging middle class that was gaining momentum in the 1920’s was leveled during the Great Depression. A great tide of resentment rose up against government by a nation that felt they should have been far better protected. Resentment formed even faster against the ‘capitalists’ who were viewed as being financially capable of weathering the Depression.

“As unemployment rose, as families lost homes, as individuals’ educations were squandered, a major debate took place within large cities and regions about the form and operation of government that would better serve and protect ‘the people.’ Variant forms of socialism and even communism were openly debated within a nation that was searching hard for answers to remedy economic and service delivery problems. In the 1930s, capitalism and the free market economy also became suspect for their perceived ability to make some rich while many laborers worked for subsistence wages.

“Dayton Spence related that WPA artists purposely injected the look of disassociation in their subjects to generate a feeling of questioning within the viewer…There seems an expression of loss in the faces in the Mast Murals,…or maybe a sense of being let down. Or is it a sense of looking out of the present situation…to something…beyond?

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts, completed in 1933, have the same faces, the same expressions, the same staring off to the beyond. The message was very much the same as conveyed in the Mast Murals, except that one can also discern in Rivera’s work a critical treatment of the “capitalists” who appeared to be running the show. That criticism was not well received by those with large holdings in the automobile industry, some of whom supported an unsuccessful campaign to whitewash the Detroit Industry Murals out of existence. Rivera’s influence definitely shows in Mast’s art.”

Spence estimated each panel could demand a price (based on what the offshore consortiums were willing to pay) of approximately $5 million–or $20 million for the set of four. The federal government made it again clear in 1999, in a letter to then Clare Public Schools Superintendent, William Courliss, that the art belongs to the people of the United States and remains bequeathed to Clare Public Schools and its community, and shall not be offered for sale. (In fact, the Federal Government is making a concerted effort to recover WPA art.)

Moline ended his talk by commending the Clare County Arts Council for the important work they are doing to care, maintain and preserve the Gerald Mast Murals stating, “They are an historic treasure that will rise in national prominence with each passing year.”

Arrangements can be made to view the murals during the school year by contacting the Clare Middle School at (989) 386-9979.

Along with the Mast Murals, there is also another piece of WPA art on the school grounds, an 8-foot high statue called “Pioneer Mother,” by Samual Cashwan. It is deteriorating due to time and exposure to the elements, and in serious need of restoration. Unlike the Mast Murals, the statue has never been stabilized much less restored, Costs for work on the statue could run as high as $20,000.

Even the Mast Murals should be attended to every 20 years. Doing the math, that means an expert in restoration should have been called in 2008 to examine them; however, because of lack of funding that did not occur–and there are no plans to work on them any time soon. Although heavy drapes were installed on auditorium windows at one time to slow the murals’ deterioration due to sunlight little else has been done to protect them.

Mail Comes to Clare Painting in the Clare Post Office. Clare also has two other depression-era works of art of note. One, a mural called “The Mail comes to Clare”  is at the Clare post office and can be viewed during open hours. There is also a light-hearted mural that shows leprechauns making beer that covers approximately 70-feet of the wall in the restaurant of the Doherty Hotel. This mural can be viewed at any time. A. J. Doherty, owner of the Dhoerty Hotel in Clare, discusses the painting on the making of beer that covers the walls of his restaurant and bar.

Note: The information in this post on the Mast Murals is based on Dr. Moline’s talk of Sept. 8, 2012. Following his talk, Dr. Moline generously passed along his address and I am endebted to him for doing so. I hope my changes did not materially alter what was a highly educational and entertaining address. I hope to post an unedited copy of his address soon. 

Photos by Marty Johnson. Close-ups of the Mast Murals come from postcards sold by the Clare County Arts Council. Membership is $10/year. If you would like to help preserve the murals of the statute of the Pioneer Mother or wish to contribute toward work on the Mast Murals, please contact the Arts Council at clarecountyartscouncil@hotmail.com. Tell them “Marty” sent you!

Categories: Clare County, General, History, logging, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Spikehorn’s Rabbit

It’s a mighty big bunny. Big enough to have a saddle and stirrups and big enough to hold most adults. But then this rabbit is associated with Spikehorn, a.k.a. John Meyers, Clare County, Michigan’s most famous (and eccentric resident) so it’s not surprising that this particular critter is not your usual run-of-the-mill rascally rabbit.

Every summer, from sometime in the 1950s to the early 70s the rabbit could be found in front of the Spikehorn place. Then it left Clare County until it was tracked down and purchased by Tom Sellers, author of the book, “Spikehorn, The Life Story of John E. Meyers.” The story of the rabbit’s recovery appeared in a story in the Clare County Cleaver in 2000 and appears at the end of this post.

The rabbit was really owned by Earl Heslet, who made his living selling instant

Earl Haslet astride his rabbit at Spikehorn’s Bear Den and Wildlife Park in Harrison in an undated photo taken from Seller’s book.

sepia-toned pictures to tourists in the days before Polaroid photos and looooong before digital photographs and the Internet made sharing of photos instantaneous. The rabbit was once white but between sun and dust from the road and dirt from the kids, the rabbit eventually turned brown was dyed the latter color.

According to Sellers’ book, Spikehorn allowed Heslet to use his property without charge to take photos of children astride the rabbit. By the time Heslet and the rabbit arrived on the scene, Spikehorn’s bears were no longer chained out front, so he needed a “hook” to bring people to his establishment. And while attracting tourists with a bunny (regardless of size) instead of a bear might have been a big step down for Spikehorn, he was enough of a businessman to know the huge rabbit brought in travelers and they, in turn while stopped, would spend money at his store (receipts in the summer could run as high as $2,000 a month!)

Melvin Brewer son of Spikehorn Park manager Wayne Brewer on the Spikehorn rabbit. Junior Crane is in the back. Photo taken from Spikehorn book by Tom Sellers.

Once Spikehorn’s place closed in the early 1970’s, Heslet packed up his bunny, hopped into his vehicle and out of town for good—until the rabbit’s recovery by Sellers. Now, the rabbit can be seen most Saturdays at the Clare County Museum at the corner of Dover and Eberhart Roads. This year, it even made a special guest appearance at the CCHS exhibit at the 2012 Clare County Fair.

Maybe someday, the rabbit will be restored to its former glory and kids can once again have their photos taken astride it. Well, maybe not restored completely, even today a white rabbit won’t stay white for long.

Spikehorn Saddled Rabbit Recovered
Article from the Clare County Cleaver
April 6, 2000 issue–

“He’s back. Back home in Clare County. The famous, fuzzy giant, saddled rabbit that for years welcomed visitors to Spikehorn’s Bear Den and Wildlife Park has finally returned.

Thousands of tourists made sure to have their picture taken astride this plaster-of-Paris creation that was recently rescued by Tom Sellers, author of the best-selling biography “Spikehorn, The Life Story of John E. Meyers.”

It seems the bunny has been quite popular since he left Harrison 30 years ago. He’s appeared in Vasser’s Centennial Parade, the Caro Pumpkin Festival and on the front lawn of a flea market 20 miles east of Saginaw, where he has wintered the manager’s garage.

“I was selling junk out front here, oh, had to be over 30 years ago, when this here feller pulled up and asked if I’d sell his rabbit,” said the long-eared creature’s keeper. “I told him that was plain impossible ‘cause my German shepherd would eat him!” recalled the elderly proprietor.  “Next thing I know he’s back with the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen–and wearing a saddle to boot!”
The rabbit was originally owned by photographer Earl Heslet, who made his living selling instant “While-U-Wait” sepia-toned pictures to tourists here and in Texas during the winter. He sold out, camera and all, shortly after Spikehorn’s Bear Den closed at the beginning of the season in 1970.

Heslet’s wooden, black-hooded view camera is now a museum piece in Saginaw’s Castle Museum.

The Spikehorn rabbit will go on display as the centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Clare County Historical Society’s Clare County Museum in Dover, five miles north of Clare. The museum will open for the 2000 season in early May.”

**End of Article**

Photos of Spikehorn

Spikehorn video

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Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: | 3 Comments

Gerrish and His Logging Railroad (Part 2)

…Or how to Decimate a County in Under a Decade

Here is an excerpt of an article from the June 1878 issue of the Clare County (Michigan) Press concerning Winfield Scott Gerrish and his logging railroad that was mentioned in a previous post. Note: Red line indicates approximately location of railroad.

“But the object of my present raid into Clare County…to visit Gerrish’s lumber camp, near Lake George, said to be the headquarters of the most extensive lumber operations conducted by any single individual in the known world. The principle camp is about 15 miles northwest of Farwell, and to make that distance at this season of the year over a road, which scatters all over the country and has no bottom to speak of, requires both physical and mental ability of no mean order.

Luckily our little party…secured a span of ponies, somewhat larger than rat terriers, and a light single-seated buggy, which afforded ample room for one to ride comfortably in the middle and one to walk comfortably on each side.

Both buggy and ponies, however, deceived their looks and passed over, around, and through mud holes safely, which might have swallowed a heavier outfit from sight, and we reached our destination in safety, without getting more than a mile or two out of the way at any one time.

One would suppose there should be no difficulty in following a road through the woods over which a locomotive has passed in search of a railroad, as there did over this January last, but when he reflects that the winding path has branches for every hill and camp, and that a man might travel for hours–or possibly all day–on the wrong road without meeting any one to set him right, the probability of a stranger finding any given camp the same day he strikes out for it will be seen to be very small. We were especially fortunate in reaching the headquarters camp in time for a good square dinner, which was served up in a manner that would do credit to many a hotel.

The camp was started in 1870, and with its cluster of log shanties, blacksmith shop, railroad buildings, etc., it looks very much like a busy and permanent village, The little lumber railroad which passes through it and is the pioneer railroad of that kind, is now about 13 miles long and strikes the Muskegon River about 18 miles above Evart and about 40 miles below Houghton Lake.

It was begun in September 1870; the first locomotive arrived November of that year, the second in November 1877, and the third in January 1878, The first two were “poled” up the Muskegon on rafts from Evart, and the last was run through the woods from Farwell, feats in engineering, which the old-fashioned lumberman ridiculed as impossible. The main road has four switches, two train dispatchers, and a telephone running its whole length, by which the engineers receive their orders at each switch, and the trains are run with the regularity of clockwork.

Each locomotive draws thirteen cars, and is kept running night and day, the three trains putting into the river 24 loads every 24 hours, or about 400,000 feet a day. Three men run each train, three remain on the river bank to unload, and 16 to 18 remain at the skidways to load, Each crew is on duty 12 hours, when it is relieved by a second crew for twelve hours, and so they alternate the season through, no train being delayed for meals or any other purpose. Over 50,000,000 feet have been put into the river over tills road this season, and from present appearances the cars will be kept running all summer.

This road has several branches which are run off to one side or the other, as the convenience of skidding and loading logs requires, while the main branch is being steadily extended. By fall, it will probably have reached the old State road, about six miles north of Farwell, when the depot of supplies will be moved to that point, and the plank road, which already runs nearly half way out from the village, will be extended to the proposed depot. This will lessen the cost of supplying the camps, which is now very great, to about one-third or one quarter what it has been. How much farther the road will be extended remains to be seen.

Mr. Gerrish already owns some 11 or 12 sections in the township, and is steadily adding to their number. There is doubtless standing pine enough within range of the road to keep it running a dozen years yet.*  There are a work in the camps about 400 men and 70 teams. During the winter there were nearly 700 men and about 225 teams. The sales of logs and lumber from the logs put in the past winter and spring, and those now on the skids, to be put in this summer, have aggregated $105,000. This is exclusive of Mr. Gerrish’s operations at Houghton Lake, where, in company with John L. Woods, of Cleveland, he has put in some 14,000,000 feet this season, and will put in 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 feet more. He also has other camps and investments in the lumber business, including a large steam sawmill at Muskegon, but the figures above given are enough to vindicate his title of being the largest operator in the business.

And here I should like to introduce the blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, athletic young man, still on the sunny side of 30, who employs so many men and so much capital in a precarious business so successfully, but personal allusions are distasteful and I forbear. Scott Gerrish has spent his life in lumber camps, and there is no part of the work which he cannot do as well himself as the employee who does it under his direction. Many stories are told of his remarkable industry and physical endurance; how he threw the champion wrestler of the camps at collar-and-elbow election day; how, after an arduous day’s work he is accustomed to sleep in his cutter at night while his horse draws him from one camp to another, and how, without overcoat or mittens, he rather enjoys weather cold enough to freeze the horns off a cast-iron ox. He has evidently an iron constitution and a capacity for both physical and mental work found in but few.”

* The writer of the article, as well as Gerrish and others, vastly underestimated the time it would take to cut the pines and other valuable timber. Basically, the county was bare within a decade and the county was soon to go into an economic decline.

Categories: Clare County, History, logging, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: | Leave a comment

Gerrish and His Logging Railroad (Part 1 )

…Or How to Decimate a County in a Decade

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFellow Clare County Historical Society member Jon Ringelberg sent me a June 1878 article from The Clare County Press concerning Winfield Scott Gerrish, the first lumberman to purchase a railroad (locomotive, car assemblies, track, spikes, etc.) and bring them into Clare County for the express purpose of hauling timber out of the woods. Others had used trains before for that purpose, but not in Clare County. An excerpt of the article appears in the post following this one.

One of the things that makes this such a wonderful article is that it is a first-person account written and only a year or so after Gerrish brought his logging railroad to Clare County. And at a time the county was getting ready to experience an explosive building boom and population growth.

Gerrish got the idea of using a train while visiting the Centennial Exposition (World’s Fair) in Philadelphia in 1876. In one of the halls he saw a locomotive that ran on a narrow-gauge track, and thought it would be a good way to get cut timber out of his holdings that were located far from any river. (Rivers were needed at the time as they were really the only good way to transport logs to market or to major railroads.)

Whether Gerrish knew others had used a train for a similar purpose is not known. What is known is that the train arrived at the opportune time for Gerrish who was on the verge of bankruptcy. He was finding that the cost of cutting and transporting his timber holdings was higher than the revenue he was receiving.

Another factor was that the Pere Marquette railroad was laying track through the county at the time, from southeast toward the northwest. This meant it was now far easier to bring men and supplies into the county and to haul timber out of it.

Other area lumbermen initially scoffed at this train idea; however, they were just as quick to follow Gerrish when they found he was getting rich. Why did he make money? The railroad allowed Gerrish to cut and transport lumber year around instead of just during the winter months. That meant a steady and continuous revenue stream all year long.

Using trains allowed Gerrish to cut and haul logs from wherever he could lay track. And he was able to get them from woods to market in under a week, a marvelous feat at the time. Of course, there was an initial expense and delay before a train could run, since the locomotive had to be brought in, a railroad bed built, ties and track laid, and rail cars built. However, this work was generally done quickly and, in the case of the tracks, without regard to quality, since they were temporary, having to last just a couple of years, at best.

Map showing logging railroad beds

Many of the railroads that once covered Clare County. Green is used for major rail lines. Other colors show the beds of some of the narrow-gauge logging railroads. Map courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbrink.

So the logging trains came in and the trees came out. In his book, Michigan Ghost Towns, author Roy Dodge estimated that there were more than 300 miles of logging railroads in the county and traces of many can still be found.

So what did Gerrish and his railroad mean to Clare County? Within a decade, Clare County went from being a peaceful, quiet and beautiful tree-covered county to one filled with giant stumps, scarred landscape with farmers trying to scratch out a future in what remained. However, for one short period in history, thanks in part to W.Scott Gerrish and his railroad, Clare County WAS a bustling, exciting place to be.

Note: Some articles (including the Gerrish link above) claim Gerrish was the first in the world to build a logging railroad. He was not. They were used in other states including Michigan decades before.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, Michigan | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Every Picture Tells a Story–Some Are Incomplete

History is boring.

At least some teachers make it so by turning history class into a forced memorization of dates, names and places. So do parents. One of my closest friends refuses to visit a museum because, as a child (an only child), she was forced to endure day after day of museum visits during vacations. But history is much more than static displays. It’s the story of individuals told through their stories, their writings and their photos. Sometimes we are fascinated by what they tell us—and sometimes by what they do NOT tell us.

A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at the Clare County Historical Museum and looking through the photographs in its files. A few caught my attention and I wanted to share them along with a few thoughts.

Take the photo at left. What happened to the woman’s face at the upper right. Did a liquid accidentally fall on her (and only her) and did someone, in trying to remove it, ruin the photo or (as is more likely) was her face intentionally removed intentionally out of spite or hate. And if the latter, what did she do? There are four men in the photo and four women in the photo. Was she the wife of one of the men and was she guilty some horrible crime or greatly embarrassed him or the owner of the photo. Maybe committing adultery? We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

Old photo of two womenAnd then there is the photo of these two women. The one with the glasses and tie is attractive and has an air of authority about her. I see her as a manager of some type and proud of her role. Where did she work? And if she was a manager, did she only manage other women or men too? (Not sure if women in the 1890s were ever allowed to manage men.) Was she married? If so, when (and if) she had children did her work career come to an abrupt end and did she spend the rest of her days cooking and cleaning and raising children? Perhaps the other woman was her sister. Although well-dressed, she doesn’t have that professional “air” about her.  Was she more conventional? And if the two were sisters, were they close?  We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

Photo of two boys And here we have two boys. Brothers most likely, and maybe forced by their parents to get dressed up in their Sunday finest to have their photos taken. Maybe the first photos ever. Where they fidgety like many boys when it comes to photos? (And in those days one had to be verrrrry still during photos since shutter speeds were slow.) Were they the good boys they appear to be, or hellraisers? Once the photo was over did they tear off those (wool) clothes as fast as can be, or was dressing up natural to them? Who were they and what happened to them? We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

LumberjacksFinally, we have this photo of this group of men all fixed up. Maybe they were lumberjacks just arrived in town from a logging camp and had money in their pockets, and stopped for a photo before they cut loose.

Why lumberjacks? Look closely at the boots on one of the men. The hobnails help identify them.  (The protruding spikes easily dug into the bark making it easier for lumberjacks to walk on logs without slipping.)Hobnail boots

Maybe he wore the boots because they were the only footwear he owned. (One pities the woman who had to dance with him!) I figure after the photo the men left to hit the bars, gambling establishments and local “sporting” houses. How old were they at the time, and did they all survive to become old men?  Doubtful as the life of a lumberjack was a hard and dangerous one. Maybe they got into a fight (a favorite occupation of lumbermen) that night and one of them never made it back to camp, ending up instead in a pine box in a long forgotten graveyard. Or they were on their way to church.  We may never know but the photo intrigues me.

And with photos like this telling stories and asking questions, history, at least to me, will never be boring.

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

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