Travel and tourism

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: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three Area Soldiers. One Epidemic. Three Graves.

Three young men—two from Clare County and one from adjacent Gladwin County–go off to World War I. We know little about the three other than two were cousins and enlisted close together. One of them had not even graduated from high school. The third who enlisted earlier was described as a “bright, cheerful lad.”

We can envision the excitement all three felt; the pride of their fathers; the worry of their mothers; and the envy of their friends who watched them leave on what was probably a grand adventure and ticket out of a quiet (and probably boring) rural environment.

And we can imagine the sorrow felt in the community when news came back of their deaths while in training.

Ervin Reed died September 1917 at Fort Wayne in Detroit. He had enlisted in the National Guards just two months earlier, on July 4th. James Garrity and Arthur Looker —cousins—enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1917. They died within a day of each other in January 1918 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois.

The official cause of death for all three was pneumonia. Their deaths were most likely due to the flu.

The three had enlisted during a time a deadly flu virus was raging across the globe. This great flu pandemic, (a pandemic is one that affects a wide area of the world) sickened more than a half a billion people worldwide and killed anywhere between 21 million and 100 million. More than 675,000 Americans died and deaths were especially high in young men, a group included soldiers. For whatever reason, the flu triggered a very strong response from the immune system that sometimes overwhelmed the body. Those with the strongest immune systems were especially vulnerable, the opposite of what one would think. An estimated 43,000 servicemen died of the flu. 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.

According to Navy Nurse Josie Brown, who served at the Naval Hospital there in 1918:

“The morgues were packed almost to the ceiling with bodies stacked one on top of another. The morticians worked day and night. You could never turn around without seeing a big red truck loaded with caskets for the train station so bodies could be sent home.

“We didn’t have the time to treat them. We didn’t take temperatures; we didn’t even have time to take blood pressure.

We would give them a little hot whisky toddy; that’s about all we had time to do. They would have terrific nosebleeds with it. Sometimes the blood would just shoot across the room. You had to get out of the way or someone’s nose would bleed all over you.”

The pandemic hit especially hard at military camps like Great Lakes where a large number of men were in close proximity to one another. Great Lakes was the largest Navy camp, with a population of 44,000. Although the worst of the pandemic had passed by the time Garrity and Looker came to Great Lakes, the presence of so many men packed close together and a continuing turnover of personnel meant the epidemic continued to take a toll.

Blog-cemeteryThere is little information about Fort Wayne, with its smaller force. However, its proximity to Detroit and the men to each other meant illness was a constant at the fort.

One would think Garrity and Looker  knew of the deaths of Reed, but enlisted anyway, perhaps choosing a different branch and location as a precaution. Newspaper articles said that Garrity and Looker had caught the measles beforehand and Reed had come down with appendicitis. Perhaps, those health conditions were enough to make the three more susceptible to the flu. We will never know.

Garrity and Reed are buried in the Garrity Cemetery in Clare County. Looker is interred in McClure Cemetery in Gladwin County. Markers and flags mark their graves.

This Memorial Day weekend (May 24, 2014), the Clare County Historical Society will conduct a clean up at the Garrity Cemetery and replace the flags. It’s the least we can do to honor these Clare County men. Gone need not be forgotten.

Click to  read obits for Clare County soldiers:

 

Reed

garrity

 

 

Categories: Cemetery, Clare County, Gladwin, History, Life, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hotel Doherty (Home to Leprechauns and Rest Stop for Travelers) Turns 90

Undated photo of the Hotel Doherty

Undated photo of the Hotel Doherty

The Hotel Doherty is 90. It opened in early April 1924 and was as modern for its time as a hotel could be, as the article below from the April 11 issue of The Clare Sentinel testifies. The Doherty sits on the NE corner of McEwan and Fifth in the city of Clare and the hotel keeps up with the times and demand but with an eye on its past. The Doherty recently added a banquet hall and outdoor dining area but had a brick especially made to match the brick in the original 1924 exterior.

The Doherty is also home to a bunch (or is it a tribe, flock, gaggle or herd) of Leprechauns.

Sometime during the Depression, an unknown painter made a deal with the owner or hotel manager to create a painting in the hotel bar in return for a free room. The painting, which is about 70 feet long and approximately three-feet high covers the upper portion of two full walls in the bar/restaurant and depicts the beer making process from harvesting the base materials to the drinking. The brewmasters are the little green creatures—probably used in keeping with the Irish character of the city that was named after County Clare in Ireland.

A.J. Dherty, son of the founder, talks about the painting of the laprechauns during a Depression Era art tour in 2012.

A.J. Doherty, son of the founder, talks about the painting of the laprechauns during a Depression Era art tour in 2012.

The leprechauns also were silent witnesses to one of the most famous murders in the state when Jack Livingstone shot Isaiah Leebove in cold blood in the restaurant in 1938. The murder is the topic of a new book by Robert Knapp called “Mystery Man, Gangsters, Oil, and Murder in Michigan.  Knapp is also the author of a history of the city of Clare, which contains a number of photos of the Doherty.

The Doherty was built by A. J. Doherty, a local businessman and politician that had the best interests of the city in all he did. Even now, the hotel remains in Doherty hands, being run by Dean Doherty, grandson of the founder. Although always popular, the Doherty was used by local businessmen in the first half of the 20th century, not only because of its location and quality, but because it had something few buildings in the area had at the time: a telephone.

For those who want to learn more about the building’s history, there is a nice display of documents and newspapers in the main hallway that lead to the hotel’s meeting rooms. Visitors are welcome to view the display and also step into the bar and dining area to view the painting. And wish everyone a “Happy Anniversary.”

Doherty Hotel Downtown Clare, Michigan

Hotel Doherty as it looks today in 
Clare, Michigan

The article below is from the April 11, 1924 edition of The Clare Sentinel

New Hotel Doherty Now Open to Public

CLARE’S NEW $150,00o FIREPROOF HOSTELRY

Front Page of The Clare Sentinel announcing the opening of the new hotel in Clare.

Front Page of The Clare Sentinel announcing the opening of the new hotel in Clare.

Mr. A. J. Doherty, former State Senator, one time member of the State Board of Agriculture and a former director of the Michigan State Fair, has completed the best hotel in this part of the state and it is now open to the public. The formal opening is the evening of May 12th when the Clare Chamber of Commerce are to give a complimentary banquet to Mr. and Mrs. Doherty, by which the citizens of Clare to show appreciation to one who has done so much for his “own home town.”

The banquet will have to be limited to 150 persons and will include some of Mr. and Mrs. Doherty’s friends from different parts the state and the members of the Chamber of Commerce of Clare. This is to be one of the most elaborate banquets ever held in this part of the state. No expense will be spared and all the plans are in keeping with this beautiful building which Mr. Doherty has built, not for the financial returns he expects to reap, but rather as a testimonial of his good will toward the community.

Three years ago the Clare Chamber of Commerce purchased the site on which had been located for many years the popular “Calkins House,” but which had been destroyed by fire. The consideration was $6,000 and they presented this site to Mr. Doherty with the understanding and agreement that he erect a hotel costing at least $60,000 on that

site.

Mr. Doherty has gone many times beyond that amount and erected a four-story steel, brick and terra cotta structure which is modern in every way and fireproof.  An Otis elevator, display rooms for traveling salesmen, complete laundry, billiard room cafeteria, which opened April first, dining room, ballroom, radio, ballroom, radio, mezzanine floor, room for two mercantile establishments and spacious quarters for the public library that have been donated by Mr. Doherty, are among the features housed under one roof.

The equipment throughout the structure are the latest and the best. The lighting fixtures are exceptionally tine. There are 60 guests rooms, each containing hot and cold running water, and several suites. Thirty-six of the single rooms afford either a tub or shower bath. The furniture is walnut and mahogany and blends neatly with the interior’s mahogany finish throughout the building. The main floors are of terrazzo. The corridors and the floors of the rooms are of _______and are covered with beautiful rugs. All dishes, towels and linen are stamped with the “Hotel Doherty” monogram. More than 100 guests can be accommodated at one time.

When Mr. and Mrs. Doherty came to Clare from New York State in 1878, they had very little money. He engaged in the mercantile business in rather a small way and purchased a home for which he was to pay $750. Of this amount he was able to pay $250 down and the balance he paid in installments. He succeeded in business and in 1901 he was elected to the State Senate from the 28th district, and in 1903 he was re-elected and again in 1905. Sometime later he was appointed a member of the State Board of Agriculture to succeed C. J. Monroe, of South Haven. He took an active interest in the affairs of the Michigan State Fair while he was a director. In the senate he was known as “Bellwether” Doherty for his possession of great political sagacity and the added fact that he led the senate roll call, considerations which gave him much influence. He has built eight business blocks and many residences in Clare and has stood ready at any time to do anything to advance the best interests of his town. Residents of Clare are free in their assertions that for its size, there is no better hotel in the state.

Dining at the Doherty:
Chicken Dinner 75c Sunday, April 13, 1924
1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

  • Chicken Soup
  • Celery
  • Sliced Tomatoes
  • Chicken Pie
  • California Asparagus Tips on Toast
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Waldorf Salad
  • Apple Pie, Lemon Pie,  Plum Pudding
  • American Cream Cheese
  • White Cream Bread,  Graham Gems
  • Coffee, Tea, Milk
Categories: Clare County, History, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Amish in Clare County

Amish3If you were to guess the decade the Amish established a presence in Clare County, what would be your answer?

  • Maybe the 1890s after the lumberjacks had left and farmers moved in?
  • Or the 1930s during the Great Depression when farmers moved to new areas looking for inexpensive farmland and new opportunities?
  • Perhaps after WWII when suburbs began to sprout in rural areas once containing the Amish, hiking the cost of farmlands beyond what young Amish couples could afford? 
  • The 1980s, because it took them that long to travel that far north by horse and buggy?  

The answer IS the 1980s, but not due to any reason related to horses or buggies.

Amish 1Although Amish have been in Michigan since 1895, and there were even Amish settlements in mid-Michigan that did not proper (Coleman, 1911-1913), it wasn’t until 1980 that Amish settlements started in Clare and Gladwin counties.  Although it’s not known exactly what brought the families from Ohio, a local history book called “Amish Society,” by John Hochstettler, a member of the Amish community,  mentions two reasons for the Amish coming to mid-Michigan,  including the fact it was becoming difficult for younger Amish to purchase farms in traditional Amish communities and there were  some unspecified conflicts with church ministers among some congregation members.

 Whatever the reasons, the first Amish resident in Clare County, according to the community’s local history, was Roy J. Yoder from Holmes County, Ohio.  Before coming to Clare, Yoder had investigated Michigan’s thumb area then came to mid-Michigan looking at various properties in Gladwin county before settling on land northeast of Clare.  In the spring of the following year, a second family moved to the immediate area and other families followed, beginning what is now the Clare Settlement.

Growth continued until, by 2010, there were four communities near the City of Clare, each with its own church and school, and led by its own bishop.  The Amish continue to move north with families now located both east and west of Harrison.  Currently, there are about 1,000 Amish living in the county.  (Amish tour and shopping)

About the same time, the first Amish settlement near Clare was being established, another group of Amish from Hardin County, Ohio purchased farms in Gladwin County and a large community developed in the Gladwin and Beaverton areas.Amish map

There are approximately 13,000 Amish in Michigan residing in 38 separate communities and 98 church settlements.  (Michigan’s Amish  population increased 115 percent between 1991 and 2010.) Because the Amish have no churches, instead meeting in homes, an individual community has to be small enough so meetings at homes are practical, yet large enough to be viable.  A church community has approximately 30 families (120-200 people) headed by (usually) a bishop, two preachers and a deacon.  The school has one or two teachers serving the students of that community who attend grades 1-8, which is all the schooling required by the Amish.  Community is paramount in both orders and its members operate under the Orndung, or consensus of the community.

Michigan has two orders of Amish: The Old Order  and New Order. Neither allows the driving of cars but the two orders differ on allowable technology (i.e., cell phones, power lawnmowers) and church discipline, with the New Order being more lenient.  There may also be some differences in the Orndung from community to community but because communities want to be in communion with one another and can risk being shunned by neighboring communities, the Orndung changes slowly and usually in conjunction with other neighboring communities.

Speaking of shunning, in their late teenage years Amish young people make a decision whether to be baptized into the Amish community.  Approximately 25 percent of all Amish either do not join the order or leave it after joining.  Those who choose not to become Amish are not banned or shunned.  They are welcome to visit the community and their family and friends can talk to them.  Shunning is reserved for those Amish who take the vows to be members of the community and then break those vows.  It is this process that helps keep the community strong and single-minded.

The Amish pay property taxes and income taxes.  If self-employed, they do not have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.  However, if they work for an employer, they do have to pay those taxes, even though the Amish do not use either of those social programs.

2010_Feb_Harrison_Amish_buggy

Amish FAQs

The Amish in Michigan, by Gertrude Enders Huntington (2001, Michigan State University Press)

Categories: Clare County, Gladwin, Harrison, Home life, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Putting a Face to History

Charity and Chancy Root1 (2)One of the amazing things about historical research is that it can get personal.  That’s personal as in meeting people and not just learning facts and figures.  Another amazing thing is how one bit of research can branch off and head in another totally unintended yet fulfilling direction.

Take the Root family of Hatton, Michigan. T hey were the subject of a blog post a couple of weeks ago that sought to connect the now dead Clare County town of Hatton and two Root children buried in the township cemetery.  The two died several years apart before the turn of the 20th century during a time when Hatton itself was dying.  The town died because the lumber industry that had sparked its birth and life was over and most of the town’s 200 residents had moved on, including Chancey and Charity Root, parents of the two deceased children.

I visited the kids’ graves earlier this year and became curious why the parents were not buried near their children in the family plot.  A huge stone with the word “Root” carved on it seemed to indicate would be the final resting place of the entire Root family.

In the course of my research, I contacted Virginia Braun, my mother-in-law and a gifted genealogist to see if she could tell me what happened to the two elder Roots.  She immediately wrote back recommending I visit “Find A Grave (findagrave.com).  It was there she had found the Roots’ finally resting place in a cemetery in nearby Gladwin County.  Even better, she found photos and a family contact.

So I emailed that contact who was also the source of the Root family material.  The contact, Ken,  wrote back immediately, providing death certificates for the two Root children along with additional photos of the parents, Chancey and Charity Root some of which are shown below.  (It also appears Chancey was married before but not sure if that union resulted in children or how long it lasted.)

Chancy and Charity Root- editedFrom a few of the photos I saw, Chancey looked happy or at least (as in the photo at left) had a gleam in his eye. None of the photos shows his wife smiling. Not sure why.  For sure, a woman’s life had to be hard, especially she was generally tasked with all the housechores, and they had to be many given she was raising and cooking for what might have been a family of 12.   Adding to her sadness was the fact that at least two of their children died at young ages.

During our emails back and forth, Ken did ask something of me:  He wanted to know if I could find out any information on a Delbert Root and whether a tombstone in the Hatton cemetery inscribed with the letters DEL might be the gravestone of Delbert.

DEL tombstoneI again turned to my mother-in-law who found a Delbert on the 1910 census when he was 16 and still living at home, which was now in the northeast corner of Clare County, near Gladwin County. Virginia also told me about Rootsweb  (www.rootsweb.ancestry.com),  part of Ancestry.com, saying that was another wonderful free source.   (The fact that both the family and the Website share the same name is a coincidence.)

She added that she did not find a Social Security death record for Delbert.  “Looks like he didn’t marry and no one filed for his death benefit,” she wrote.  So it’s possible he died young.  Because the stone in the photo is not in the Root family plot, I doubt the grave belonged to Delbert Root, but until evidence is found elsewhere, it’s difficult to say where Delbert is and who DEL was.

As for Chancey and Charity, may they rest in peace.  Delbert?  The search continues.   And who knows who might help me this time around and where that help may come from?

Categories: Clare County, History, Home life, Life, logging, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hard Work to Make the Green Pine Lake Pathway Enjoyable

This press release was written on behalf of the Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation and a group called Hiking Michigan.  It concerns a state pathway in western Clare County that was quite overgrown.  In fact, I got lost on the pathway a couple of years ago and blogged about it.  That post caught the attention of Mark Wilson who is the director of the North/Central branch of Hiking Michigan.  He contacted me and put him in touch with Friends and the two groups worked together since Friends was looking for a way to get more people interested in the pathway. And who says good can’t come out of blogging? 

Hard Work to Make the Green Pine Lake Pathway Enjoyable

Beavers may have a different priority

Green Pine Trail MapThe Green Pine Lake Pathway is one of Clare County’s hidden treasures. The Pathway—really three loops and one connector trail—is located in Freeman Township in the western part of the county. Two of the loops are accessible from a parking lot on the south side of M-115, just west of Lake Station Ave., while the connector trail leads to a state forest campground and nature trail on Big Mud Lake (off Brown Road near Garfield).

In the past, the overgrown trails and lack of markings have posed big challenges to those who have ventured to walk either location. Now, thanks to the hard work of numerous volunteers during the last weekend in April, visitors can focus more on the beauty of their surroundings, and less on determining which direction the trails go.

According to Gerry Schmiedicke, president of Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation, a local non-profit that seeks to improve and promote the county’s parks and recreational opportunities, his group wanted to get the word out about the wonderful hiking experience residents and visitors along would find. However, “Friends” did not want to promote the Pathway until the trails looked better and people could use them safely. The group’s small number of members meant it could not accomplish all the tasks by themselves. (While increasing numbers is something the Friends group is working to change, the trail work needed tackling ASAP.)

Enter the North/Central Branch of Hiking Michigan, an organization that encourages and invites people to explore and better the natural environments while enjoying the camaraderie of like-minded outdoor people.  “Their Director, Mark Wilson, contacted us and said the group was interested in re-marking and clearing the trails,” Schmiedicke said. “We were happy to partner with them on this project and much appreciate the hard work of everyone who turned out.”

“The three trails that make up the Pathway have a lot of potential to attract visitors,” Wilson said talking about what attracted his group to the project. “The small 2.5-mile loop off the parking lot that skirts Pike Lake offers a nice little day hike and the trail is now well defined. The same is true for the nature trail at the Mud Lake State Forest Campground. And those looking for more of a challenge should enjoy the hike from the parking lot at M-115 to Mud Lake via the east leg of the trail that loops around Green Pine Lake.”

Green Pine Lake CleaningWhile Wilson credits the volunteers and staff from the DNR for the work done so far, more work remains. A few of the bridges and boardwalks need work; and signage is needed at a few intersections. (The signage, an Eagle Scout project, is currently being restored.) “We hope to complete those tasks at second work project this summer,” said Wilson.  There’s one project he admits might not get done—at least not for a while because of a beaver dam that has flooded a portion of the 5-mile long southern loop.  But Wilson isn’t going to complain, saying that we just need to remember we are visitors here while the beaver call Green Pine Lakes their home. “Plus,” he adds, “There are plenty of other trails for those of us who like terrain that’s a bit on the drier side.”

A parking lot on the south side of M-115 just west of Lake Station Road provides plenty of parking to access to trail with its two lakes. To learn more about Hiking Michigan, go to www.hikingmichigan.com.  For Hiking Michigan’s free downloadable map of the trail, go to www.hikingmichigan.com/PDFinfo/GreenPineLake.pdf.

Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation invites you to their annual Gateway Event on June 1, 2013 to help raise funds to improve recreation in Clare County. Learn more at clarecountyrecreation.org.

Categories: Clare County, ecology, General, Michigan, recreation, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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: , , , , , , , , | 3 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: | 1 Comment

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