Travel and tourism

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

I’m a Slow Reader (of Topography)

I have a bit of property east of Harrison, MI. As some of you may know, I have the remains of a couple of old buildings on my property. I have also found some artifacts while metal detecting around there. They include an axe handle, small railroad spike, broken horseshoes, metal straps for wooden barrels, bent square nails and even a broken piece of plow and what appears to be a broken section of railroad track.

One of the foundations I have I have known about for a couple of years; the second I found earlier this spring. Yesterday, I found one more, maybe two. I just don’t know for sure. Digging into one of them I found several bent wooden nails and some charred wood about a foot down. Maybe it was an outhouse since there is a rather large depression nearby. Maybe there is more to be found (bottles, trash) if I take time to dig there. I just don’t know for sure.

As far as I can tell, the dwellings, whatever they were use for, burned during one of the fires that roared across this property, 60 or even 100 years ago. I just don’t know for sure. I can estimate the time the buildings were constructed to the 1880s to 1900s or so. That’s because no one settled here until after 1880 and round nails came into widespread use around 1900 or so. In addition, there are a number of large trees on the property and in locations that make me believe that they grew after the area was abandoned. However, I just don’t know for sure.

This is a great time of year to be out and about the woods since the spring rains have washed some of last fall’s leaves off some of the higher mounds on my property. What I also noticed yesterday was what may be the outline an old road or railroad bed that cuts across the property near the foundations and parallel to an old stream bed. It’s a couple of hundred yards long.  What it is, I just don’t know for sure.

That’s because I am a slow reader of the land. I see the features but don’t “SEE” them. I don’t know what I am looking at when I am looking at them. That’s alfun but it’s also frustrating. What I need is someone who is good at this kind of thing and can tell me what I’m looking at and maybe where to do. And the clock is ticking because soon the sprouting vegetation will hide many of the features I’ve found for another year. Plus, a few mosquitoes have already started buzzing around and they take some of the fun out of wandering the property.

So if anyone knows how to read the land for signs of roads or foundations or knows of someone who can, please let me know. I want to know for sure.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, logging, metal detecting, Michigan, Travel and tourism | 18 Comments

Indian Artifacts in Utah and Michigan’s Indian History

Looking down on the plain and stream bed from the ridge. Stones in foreground were part of a dwelling.

My brother lives in Utah and each time I visit him I stop on some private land not far from his home and look for potsherds and arrowheads. The property was apparently home to a small community of Native Americans several centuries ago. It’s a nice piece of property with  a ridge and southern exposure. About 30 feet below the ridge is a small plain and stream bed. On the ridge are the remains of six or seven stone dwellings. Now the stones (about a foot in diameter) are scattered around the ridge or have slid down the slope.

I could spend hours looking for these artifacts. I find the time relaxing and, at the same time, thrilling. Relaxing since there is no time constraint. Thrilling since finding means I can hold something in my hand that was made 300, 400 maybe 500 years ago. Who made them, I wonder? Was it a man or woman? What were they thinking as they worked? Were they as relaxed as I am or were they worried about invaders, the weather or starvation? What was their life like? What ultimately happened to them as individuals and to the community they lived in? One can picture them sitting on the ridge in front of their dwellings looking down at the stream as they worked, turning clay into pots or flint to turn it into weapons or tools.

A look across the ridge.

I don’t keep what I find. I used to do so but now the fun is in the finding and holding, not the holding and keeping. So I pick the items up, look at them, then toss them aside and walk on. Plus, it’s not like the artifacts are rare. There are literally thousands of fragments lying around the two- or three-acre site, and most of what I find is not larger

Just a few of the items (potsherd and flint) found on the ridge or that are sliding down to the plain. Note the black paint on the one pot sherd. Only a few of the pieces show evidence of having been painted.

than a dollar coin, although sometimes I do find the remains of a clay pot several inches in diameter. Any complete or nearly complete pieces were probably scrounged by others over the intervening centuries. I leave the potsherds because there is little I can do with them. Additionally, leaving them means maybe others will be able to the same fun I have. Oh, and the property I am on may be open to visitors but that doesn’t mean what is on the site is anyone’s property to take, and I’m not about to push my luck and find out.

However, what if I were to find a complete bowl or a complete arrowhead on the site? What then? Would I put it back–or would I keep it?  Do I have ethics but only to a degree? Am I like the women in the joke who, when asked by a man if she would have sex with him for a million dollars, thinks about it before saying yes. When asked by the same man if she would do the act for a dollar instantly answers no and then asks in disgust, “What do you think I am?” To which the questioner responds, “We’ve already determined that’ now we are just quibbling over price.”

In Michigan, our Indian history is not so obvious and not as abundant. I’ve always wanted to find evidence of early Indians but never have. That’s not surprising. First of all, mid-Michigan didn’t have the large number of Indian communities that one finds in the desert southwest, and the remains of any communities we had are either buried many feet below ground or have been plowed over.

In Clare County, for example, there is little evidence of permanent communities. Archeological studies have found sites but most were temporary in nature and most have disappeared over the intervening centuries. Same with Indian mounds. There are still a few mounds in Missaukee County but none in Clare that I am aware of.

And so I continue to search for artifacts in both states. The finding is easier in Utah but obviously, Michigan is closer. While I hope to find a complete pot or arrowhead in either state maybe it’s best I don’t. After all, I enjoy the thrill of the find.However, maybe it’s best I don’t have to find out what I am.

Categories: Clare County, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Mirror on the Tombstone

TombstoneEvery once in a while in my readings I stumble across a place I just have to see. That’s what happened when I was reading through a Clare County genealogy site on MIgenweb.net. There was a story by a man named Roy L. Dodge who was one of the premiere historians in the county about 50 years ago and wrote such books as Michigan Ghost Towns and Ticket to Hell: A Saga of Michigan Bad Boys, (I’m still looking to get a copy of the latter).

Anyway, Mr. Dodge has written a story about a tombstone with a mirror created by Oliver Gosine. It’s a great story and I just had to find that tombstone since no photos accompanied the story. So one fall day, I trudged out to Harrison’s Maple Grove Cemetery and wandered the rows to photograph it. It wasn’t hard since the tombstone is a  tall one.  Sadly, as in Mr. Dodge’s time, there’s is not much left of the mirror. Vandals broke it years ago. I was tempted to install a new one since Oliver Gosine, the man who built the tombstone and hauled it to the cemetery, installed the mirror for a reason.

So read on. And after you read Mr Dodge’s story below that can be found on Clare County Reminiscences, tell me what you think about installing a new mirror.

         UNIQUE OBELISK MARKS HARRISON MAN’S GRAVE

by Roy L. Dodge

TombstoneMany gravestones, especially those more than 50 years old, bear epitaphs, fancy engravings, and were made in many unusual designs.  But, the seven-foot high tombstone of Oliver Gosine who made his own monument in 1925, and lived to be nearly 101 years old, is probably the only tombstone embellished with a plate glass mirror.  “Who knows, but what I may want to come up and take a look at myself once in awhile?”, he said in answer to people who paused to watch him work during the two years it took to make it.

Working in his spare time he selected stones about the size of a golf ball until he gathered enough to make the tall obelisk.  While the cement was still wet he fastened a seven-by-nine inch beveled mirror on the stone at eye level.  When the work was completed to his satisfaction, Gosine loaded the monument on a flat wheelbarrow and wheeled it a half mile to the cemetery near the North Harrison city limits and placed it on his grave-to-be.

Gosine was one of the longest-lived of Harrison’s pioneers.  Born in Montreal, of French descent, Gosine came to the Saginaw Valley when a young man to work in the lumber camps.  “I took a train for a new town called Harrison where zey said I could find work.  When I got off zee train, it was night.”, he said in his soft French accent.  “I took  only a few  steps and fell head first into a pile of brush from trees cut to make a street”, he related in later years.

Gosine, spelled Gatien in French, worked in lumber camps around Harrison until 1891 when the Wilson brothers made him foreman of the ice-cutting crew on Budd Lake.  He was paid the then unbelievable wage of $4.00 a day, more than four times the prevailing rate at that time.

After the logging days when most of the lumberjacks moved to the Upper Peninsula or to other states to work in the timber, Gosine stayed on in Harrison. In later years he worked as a handyman for businessmen and at one time, in the 1920’s, he had a fruit and vegetable stand near his home at the corner of present day US-27 and Main Street.

When he was in his 90’s he would point proudly at the sixty-foot high maple trees along Main Street and say “I planted those trees when they were just leetle fellows”.

In 1927, two years after he completed his tombstone, Gosine and Oliver Beemer were interviewed by a news reporter from Detroit which resulted in the only published history of the logging days when Harrison was “The Toughest Town in Michigan” according to the resulting story.

Photo copies of the full page story with photos of Gosine and Beemer, who were both the same age and in their 80’s at the time, hang in several bars and prominent places in Harrison today.

Gosine, who was a practical joker and a fixture around town until he was 100 years old, embellished the story of the rough-tough early days in Harrison for the newsmen.  “One time I see zee sheriff try to arrest as man in Harrison and it took him and seven deputies to take him to jail,” Gosine told the reporter.  “One time I walk down the street and in 10 minutes see twelve and one-half fights!” The reporter asked him what the half-fight was about.  “Oh, it was nothing.  One fellow said take a swing at me and I hit him first.  That was only one-half a fight.”

Gosine always wore a long, handlebar mustache, of which he was very proud.  He was small and wiry and had a great sense of humor.  “When I die I want to be sure my hair and mustache are combed. Maybe I want to look at myself sometime”, he answered when people asked him why he put a mirror on his tombstone.  He died in January of 1946, just short of his 101st birthday and is buried with the mirror.

Several years ago the mirror was broken, probably by vandals, but enough remains to reflect the sun shining through the overhanging branches of a huge pine tree on a bright day.  The tree was only a seedling when Gosine got off the train in Harrison.

 

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Biking at Mid-Michigan Community College

Maple tree in fall on Mid-Michigan bike trailThere are four miles of great hiking trails at Mid-Michigan Community College‘s Harrison campus. I’ve walked all of them at one time or another during all seasons. One of the trails even follows an old railroad bed for a time where steam locomotives once ran regularly from Clare through logging towns (and now ghost towns) such as  Hatton, Mannsiding and Mostetler up to the present day community of Dodge hauling lumberman and their families and taking back timber for the growing cities of the Midwest.

But until this week I never took the biking trails. And I missed out. Like their brother hiking trails, these pass through some wonderful stands of maple, beech and pine and are uncrowded. However, unlike the hiking trails that are relatively level and 12-feet wide, these biking trails are very narrow and transverse the hills around the campus.

I enjoyed the ride. However, it showed me just how out of shape I am. It took me two days to cover it all and I must admit I walked a portion of it. These middle-aged legs and my cheap little bike just wouldn’t take me up all the hills. And in some cases I was afraid to ride down ’em. I am proud that I didn’t break any bones and I am not too sore (except maybe my bottom).

This fall is a great time to be out there. Temperatures are mild, the trees are exploding in color, the trails are dry and the bugs are non-existent.

So it you are able, grab a bike and a helmet, tuck in those elbows (the trees in spots are very close together) and go for a ride. You might even see me…well, on the hiking trails. When it comes to riding, I think I will stick to the Pere-Marquette Rail Trail that now runs from Midland nearly to Reed City. Maybe I’m a wimp but I prefer my trails for my two-wheeler to be broad and flat.

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

Gas Prices–All Over the Board

I took a trip to Metro Detroit yesterday (Sept.25, 2011) from Harrison and enjoyed the changing colors and the scenery. What I didn’t enjoy (or understand) were the differences in gas prices I encountered along the way. I found them to be $3.56 in Beaverton; $3.26 in Flint; $3.68 near Highland and $3.46 in Livonia.

I make that trip on a fairly regular basis and the cheapest gas prices seem to be in the Saginaw-Flint corridor along I-75. Not sure why. One would think gas would be cheaper in the Detroit area but it is not, at least not in the stations I saw. Makes no sense to me, but then few things in this world do. For example, just read an article in the Detroit Free Press Sunday on how much of a premium air travelers pay who take Delta Air Lines out of Detroit Metro compared to those who fly from Lansing, Flint, K-zoo or even Pellston to Detroit, connect at Detroit Metro and then on to Asia. The differences can total in the thousands of dollars. It’s the free market at work, supply and demand and the effects of competition, I supposed mixed in with a little greed.

Anyway, it’s frustrating and it hurts at the wallet but there’s not much one can do to avoid the high prices but stay home. And while I like my home in Harrison I’m not yet ready to do that, so I climb into my car, belly up to the gas pump and pay (and sometimes save 5 cents a gallon by using my Meijer credit card). Oh, and I don’t fly to Asia. That I can’t afford to do at any price.

Categories: Economy, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lost on the Green Pine Lake Pathway

Green Pine Lake mapI got lost on the Green Pine Lakes Pathway in Clare County, Michigan. Twice. Heck, I got lost just trying to find the place.

Now getting lost is not a big deal for me. I can get lost on my way to the my bathroom. That’s why, when I go on a hike,  I generally go where there is a broad path and a well-marked trail. None of that “take the path least traveled” crap for me. Give me well-traveled anytime. And deserted. I hate to run into people when I walk, but that’s a different topic…

Anyway, my walk that day stated out well, well–it did once I found the right spot. My first attempt to find the pathway had taken me to the State Forest Camp ground at Mud Lake. It’s a pretty lake and nice campground and the Green Pine pathway does connect to the campground. However, the connector path is several miles long and several miles from where I wanted to be. Luckily, there was a nice map of the trail created as an Eagle Scout project. So, after reviewing the map I climbed back into my dirty Ford Freestyle and finally found the right parking lot on M-115, and within sight of Lake George Road. I parked I grabbed my camera, cursed myself for forgetting water and headed off down the trail  An identical map by the same Scout was located down the path so I oriented myself and began to walk the level path.

It’s a pretty trail and the first section was easy to navigate. Trees had blue paint and blue medal markers on them and since there was nobody around but me, I was having a grand time. Then I got to the second loop around Green Pine Lake and things started to go awry.  The trail narrowed and about the time I got to a couple off-kilter wooden bridges almost impassable due to vegetation, the markers had disappeared. That left me to flounder about in the dense woods. Although normally when I Obscured Bridgeflounder about in the woods I worry about my bleached bones being found years later, I wasn’t too worried in this case since the sun was out and I could navigate (somewhat) using that. I also had my cell phone with me.

Eventually, the missing blue paint was replaced by red paint and I followed that out to a dirt road and walked the road until it intersected with Lake George Rd. I walked Lake George Rd. for a while and when I figured I was parallel with the part of the Green Pine trail that would take me back to my car I headed cross-country to intersect it. Dumb move given my lack of navigational abilities and woodland skills.

Anyway, once back in the dense woods I mistook a couple of deer trails for the path, wandered/floundered through the remains of a lake bed, through some heavy brush, found evidence of some long-ago beavers and, after 30 minutes, ended up back on Lake George Rd. not far from where I had gone in. At that point, I threw in the towel and walked the road to my car and headed home without incident.

It was a good walk but I wouldn’t do it again and I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do that second loop around Green Pine Lake. I DO plan to go back in the near future and walk the first loop. I think I can do that one. Only this time I will take water, a compass and a map. One can only cheat death so many times.

Pike LakeJune 2012 Update: I received a comment from Mark who has a Hiking Michigan-North/Central Region blog. He walked the trail just recently and also posted an entry about his experience.

Categories: Clare County, Michigan, Travel and tourism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Death of a Cemetery

“At the end of the fight is a tombstone,
white with the name of the deceased…”
The Naulahks
Rudyard Kimpling

Meredith, Michigan cemeteryIn Meredith, Michigan lies a cemetery, or more correctly, a former cemetery.  Like the town itself, little remains to mark what once may have been the burying ground for those whose lives ended in this town in the northeast corner of Clare County.

Meredith was once home to nearly 2,000 people and sported a three-story school, an opera house, a roundhouse for the numerous trains that rolled into town and saloons to help slake the thirst of the lumberjacks that came to the area in the mid- to late-1880s to cut the massive pines that once grew here. Now, Meredith is home to perhaps 300 hardy souls who enjoy the solitude this town offers.

Marker of Ebbie Coffill in Meredith, Michigan cemeteryFor nearly 20 years this town prospered, grew and was the home of not only lumberjacks but storekeepers, laborers, and railroad men and their families.It prospered. But once the lumber was cut, the jobs, like the trees that brought people to this north woods town, disappeared.

And so did the people.  They too left to find new jobs, taking with them memories and leaving behind the graves of loved ones like Edna Ross, who died  in 1885 at the age of 10 and was buried in one of two local cemeteries.

Now, Edna’s stone is one of two that can be seen in one of those cemeteries. The other visible tombstone lies some 40 paces away and belongs to a Ebbie Coffill, age unknown. Between the stones, trees grow and weeds flourish over ground where families and friends once mourned the passing of loved ones.

Rumor has it that stones that once marked many of the other graves. Unmarked stones the size of pillows that the families picked out to mark the site where their loved ones would lies for all eternity or until the resurrection, while they, the living, would moved on in search of jobs and better lives.

Did they know that someday, the cemetery would fall into private hands and that a the future landowner would sell those stones to a landscaper and placed as an attractive marker in someone’s yard? That someday, no one would ever know that a mother, father, son or daughter was buried under that spot. That nothing would be left to mark their passing or no one remember their lives.

How many cemeteries are there like that in Clare county? Or in Michigan? No one knows. And they may always remain hidden unless a shovel or a piece of excavating equipment disturbs them as the living go about their lives.

Although the fact the cemetery is gone may be sad for us the living, the fact the cemetery is gone may not matter to the dead. They are gone from this world and may not care. And if they don’t, should we?

Categories: Clare County, History, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

Small city, Great art

515 Art Gallery building in Clare, MichiganOn Saturday, July 23, I attended a “Block pARTy” at the 515 Art Gallery in Clare, Michigan. Now, I didn’t expect much, after all, Clare may be a nice city, but it’s in mid-Michigan for goodness sake, where art is usually found in the quilts the Amish hang from clotheslines on street corners to sell to tourists.

What I saw this weekend blew me away. And in an art gallery run by high school students, no less. The artwork was wonderful, mostly by area artists. All have talent.

I was especially taken by the paper sculptures of Jane Cloutier and would like to take home her piece entitled “Sumacs on a Rock Pile.” It’s wonderful with a badger and rabbit tossed in for good measure. According to the gallery brochure, Jane is a computer programmer. Left-brained AND right-brained. Go figure.

Then there is Judy Thurston’s “Begonias and Pears” watercolor, one of several of her works on display.  It too is a wonderful piece of art.  Judy teaches art at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, just down the road a piece.

Ryan Taylor is a potter. I would say he is serious about his art, yet doesn’t take himself seriously. There’s something appealing about his work and this from a person who is not really big on pots. I especially liked his piece entitled “Composite Floor Vase.” It’s big, but I have just the place for it.

One of the things I found most appealing about the gallery is the works are reasonably priced. The paper sculpture I liked is only $200.  Of course, it’s probably best I hold off purchasing anything until I get a job.  Then I can support the arts and boost the local economy.

The gallery is housed in an old brick building next door to  a very nice coffee house and sandwich shoppe called Coffee Talk and down the street  Cops and Doughnuts.

The Block pARTy was run by nine high school students from Clare who also run the gallery. According to the gallery’s website, they not only learn about the arts but also receive first-hand experience in running a business. How cool is that?  The pARTy was well-attended. I hope it did well and the art is sold. Well, all except for the pieces I like. I hope those will stay on the walls until I get a job. Or hit the lottery.

By the way, 515 Art Gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays  from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Stop by. You will be amazed at what you will see. I was.

Categories: Clare County, Economy, Life, Michigan, Travel and tourism | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Comments on the Clare County Historical Tour

Twelve signs have been erected in Clare County, Michigan denoting historical places or celebrating events that took place within county boundaries.The sites are promoted a local Chamber of Commerce. I was told that the sites were chosen by Clare County Parks & Recreation, the Clare County Historical Society and Central Michigan University’s history department. Most of the markers are related to lumbering that took place in the later part of the 19th century. During that period lumberjacks came by the thousands to mid- and upper-Michigan to cut the towering virgin pines that grew to feed the growing hunger for boards and shingles in cities throughout the state and Midwest. These included cities like Chicago that was rebuilding after its massive fire in 1875.

People became rich during that era. Not the lumberjacks who cut the trees and moved the logs, but those who owned the land, ran the railroads and the mills–and perhaps those owned the bars where the loggers drank away their earnings.

I took a trip across the county in July to locate the historical sites to see if I could find the landmark signs and to see what I thought of them. In the end, I visited all 12 sites although I found only 10 markers. I am not sure if some of the sites on the tour should remain since nothing remains at the sites of an historical nature. However, perhaps landmarks, like art, is in the eye of the beholder.

Below is my take on the 12 sites along with directions, links and information that doesn’t appear in the Chamber tour that history buffs may find helpful.  And although I may not agree with all the sites chosen, I still invite you to take the tour. It does make for pleasant afternoon drive.

1) Leota:  (Jonesville Rd., ½ mile north of Muskegon Rd.) Leota was a major logging town on the Muskegon River. Loggers brought their logs to the river  where they were floated downstream to sawmills. I could not find the marker in the area, which is now an ORV trail parking lot. In the lumbering era, the site was reportedly used as a railway roll-off for timber being moved out of nearby forests into the river for transport to mills downstream. Although the Chamber tour states the bridge on the site was used by the railroad, it was part of the Old State Road built in the 1930’s.

2) Merideth: (M-18, 3-miles north of Arnold Lake Rd. in the northeast corner of the county.) This site of intersecting railways was once a bustling lumber town. In 1885, 500 people lived in the town that sported several saloons, three hotels, an Opera House, jail, rail depot, roundhouse and three-story school. One of Merideth’s most infamous residents was saloonkeeper Jim Carr who is said to have trafficked in vices of all kinds including murder. It is said that when he died, seven ministers refused to officiate at his funeral and he was not allowed burial in the local cemetery. Not much of a historical nature remains in town. There is a screen from a drive-in theater that closed in the ’80s and a general store made of stone that may or may not be on the site of the former train depot. According to the book Michigan’s Ghost Towns, the theater stands where most of the former town once stood. The old town cemetery is unmarked and on private property.

3) Surrey House: (125 E. Beech, Harrison) Originally called the Ohio Tavern when constructed around 1880, the Surrey originally had an attached livery. Rumor has it that the second story was used as a house of ill repute during its saloon days. It is also rumored to be haunted by the non-violent spirit of a boy.  The building was remodeled into a hotel in the 1940’s and has been used most recently as a restaurant and bar. It is currently closed.

4) Spikehorn’s “Bear and Deer Park”: (Corner of M-61 and Business US-27, Harrison) John “Spikehorn” Meyers was one of Harrison’s most colorful characters. With his long white hair and full white beard, he was part showman, part naturalist, part politician and full-time foe of Michigan’s conservation officers with whom he fought legal battles because of his possession of wild animals.  Spikehorn opened his park around 1930 as a tourist attraction and would hand-feed the bears and, along with his friend Red Eagle, would regale tourists with stories of their adventures in the woods.  The park burned in the 1950’s. The photo depicts the site before the fire. Currently, part of the stone foundation is visible.

5) Campbell: (1901 E. Main, Temple) Now called Temple, this town, platted in 1899, was originally named after Mary Campbell who donated land for it along the Ann Arbor Railroad that ran past her property. Once home to 400, Campbell/Temple’s buildings included two hotels, a train depot, several saloons and grocery stores, sawmills and a two-story town hall.  This was another Clare town that declined when the timber played out. The final blow was when the railroad ended passenger traffic shortly after WWII.  Now a quiet village, it is home to Duggan’s Canoe Livery and a man who must love birdhouses (photo).

6) Gerrish Railroad Plaque: (Roadside County Park on S. Clare Rd., south of Mannsiding Rd., between Clare and Harrison) Clare county probably has more miles of old railroad grades than any county in the state and that is in no small part due to Winfield Scott Gerrish, who introduced the first logging railroad in Clare County in January 1877. (Note: This post originally and incorrectly stated that Scott’s logging railroad was the first un the world. Gerrish got his idea after seeing a locomotive made for just such a use at a exposition in the eastern states. He bought two locomotives and had them brought to Michigan.)  Called the Lake George & Muskegon Railroad, his train revolutionized the logging industry that, up to that time, relied on horses or water to move cut timber out of the woods. Even taking into consideration the time and expense needed to build the railbeds and lay down the track, the railroads proved extremely profitable as they cut expenses associated with moving timber out of the woods. A plaque commemorating Gerrish can also be found in the nearby community of  Lake George.

7) Cornwell Ranch: (Cornwell Ave. ½ mile south of Mannsiding Rd. and east of S. Clare Rd.) A key employer in the early era of this county, this ranch had a major influence on the development of surrounding communities. Many of the buildings on the ranch, as well as portions of the fence line are built of fieldstones and cobblestones found in abundance in the glacial moraine just to the south.

8) Depression Era Mural: (Doherty Hotel, McEwan St, Clare) Painted by Jay McHugh in 1932 this mural that is approximately 4-feet high and 75-feet long depicts leprechauns making beer. McHugh painted the mural in return for room and board. Articles in the lobby tell the story of the murals and the history of the hotel.

9) Depression Era Murals:
a. Treasury Art (Clare Post Office, Fifth St., Clare) Entitled “The Mail Comes to Clare County,”  this mural was produced under a Treasury Section of Fine Arts program similar to those down by the Works Project Administration. More than 50 post offices in Michigan have murals. The mural in Clare can be seen during regular postal business hours.
b. WPA Art: (Clare Middle School, 209 E. State St. Clare)  A mural, by Grand Rapids artist Gerald Mast fills one wall of the auditorium and celebrates farm life.  It can be viewed by appointment. Call 989-386-9979 to arrange a tour. A second piece of art, an 8-foot tall sculpture entitled “Pioneer Mother” by Samuel Cashwan stands in front of the school.

10) Clare County Museum Complex: (Everhart and Dover Rds., five miles north of Clare and one miles east of S. Clare Rd.) The former town of Dover is now the site of the Clare County Historical Museum complex that contains a museum with displays highlighting county history, the original Dover school built in 1876 and a log cabin used by Louie and Emma Ott to raise their 18 children. It was moved to museum grounds from within the county in 2000. The buildings are open Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. from May through September.

11) Farwell Historical Museum: (221 Main, Farwell) The museum highlights the history of Farwell, which once served as the county seat. The town was established in 1870 along the line of the Pere Marquette Railroad and named for Samuel Farwell,  a resident of Utica, New York and contractor for public works in the state.  However, Farwell was also a major stockholder in the Flint Pere Marquette Railway Company that eventually came through town.  It’s possible that Farwell was so named to curry favor with the railroad and ensure the town became a major stop.   The museum is open Saturdays during the summer. The town also has a wonderful Queen Anne style house built in 1895 by George and Martha Hitchcock that stands at the corner of Michigan and Superior.

12) Wilson State Park: (Shore of Budd Lake, Harrison) William Wilson of Wilson Brothers Lumber Company that had owned much of the land around Harrison and ran a sawmill on the banks of Budd Lake, deeded 40 acres to the City of Harrison to be used as a park. The park was given to the state in 1922 and became a state park in 1927. In 1939, the Civilian Conservation Corp constructed the main park building, which is still used today. They also built a stone residence with rock from nearby counties.  The park is located right in Harrison and has  modern campsites, a beach and is adjacent to the county fairgrounds. More info.

Note: All photos, except for the Spikehorn photo were taken by the author. The Spikehorn photo is from the collection of Forrest Meek and can be found in the Mid Michigan Community College library. Please contact the author if you find any of the information in this tour to be in error or know of any other historical sites in the county you believe deserve recognition.

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

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