A Trip to Hatton Cemetery–and a Once Booming Town

Hatton Cemetery signArletta Root didn’t live very long. Neither did her brother Joel.  Both siblings lie beneath fading tombstones in a small Clare County, Michigan cemetery on Mullet, about a quarter mile north of Hatton Road and two miles west of Old 27 in Hatton Township. One tombstone that perhaps should be there isn’t: One for the town of Hatton.

Root Graves

The Root family plot in Hatton Cemetery. The stone of Joel is the smaller one on the left. The stone on the right belongs to his sister, Arletta. No one lies under the large market that just has the family name.

Arletta died in 1905 at age 18. Joel, who died three years later, was three years younger when he passed away. According to the death certificates, Joel had been sick for nearly a decade before he succumbed.  I could not make out the cause of death but epilepsy is listed as a contributing factor.   Arletta’s death was attributed to what seems to read as “coagulation of brain,” which is some type of brain trauma. There was a contributing factor but I couldn’t make that out on the form.

Root marker

Marker of Joel Root. The names of the parents are on the side of the marker. Joel’s name, like the identical one for his sister, is on the top of the stone.

They were among 12 children of Chancey and Charity Root, who owned a 40-acre homestead in the township before moving to Franklin township to the north and east.

When the Roots moved they left behind two dead children and a dying, or perhaps  already, dead town.

Hatton was born of the logging era in Clare County.  It was not unique in that respect. Towns like Hatton grew where there were people, jobs and transportation, and disappeared when any or all of those disappeared. 

Hatton is the point where the green tracks converge on this map created by Mr. & Mrs.Vanderbrink. The track heading to the north goes to Harrison' the green track to the right goes through what is now Mid-Michigan Community College and then up to the logging community of Dodge, that was once a booming town with a large sawmill.

Hatton is the point where the green tracks converge on this map created by Mr. & Mrs.Vanderbrink. The track heading to the north goes to Harrison’ the green track to the right goes through what is now Mid-Michigan Community College and then up to the logging community of Dodge, that was once a booming town with a large sawmill.

According to local historian Forrest Meek, Hatton Township had one of the best pine forests in the county with trees that grew tall and straight.  Hatton also had the railroad junction where standard width tracks went north to Harrison and northeast to Dodge and smaller narrow gauge logging railroads came in to bring their load of logs to market.  It also was the site of a cattle stockyard, which was needed to help feed the growing number of shantyboys (lumberjacks) and workers associated with the surrounding logging industry, the railroads and numerous businesses that supported them both.    

Hatton was founded about 1880 when the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad pushed north of Clare into Harrison, the recently founded county seat about 11 miles to the north.  At its zenith, Hatton had about 200 residents, some of them farmers like the Roots.  It was a difficult life for most during that time, but especially for the farmer. The land may have been good for growing pine, but not for much else, consisting primarily of a thin layer of topsoil covering sand.  There were also the massive pine stumps that farmers had to contend with before they could built and plow.  

Within a decade, the pine was essentially gone.  And once the pine forests were cut and hauled away, the shantyboys moved further north. So did the businesses that supported them. Even many of the railroad tracks, whether standard gauge or narrow gauge, were pulled up and hauled away and rebuilt where population growth made economic sense.

Towns like Hatton withered and died. Fires often ravaged what was left.

hatton_Grades

The raised sections are remains of old railroad grades on the north end of Hatton Rd.

In 1910, a fire came through Hatton, taking all that neglect and the weather hadn’t destroyed.

Hatton_School

Old school house at Hatton and Mullet Roads.

Although there are a number of homes in the surrounding countryside, they have a Clare mailing address and Zip code. All that remains to show there ever was a town of Hatton, is the east-west road that goes through what was its center, a few barely visible railroad grades, and an old schoolhouse that dates from the early part of the 20th century.

And a cemetery on Mullet Road.

Categories: Clare County | 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

New Railroad Kiosk at Mid Michigan Community College

The following is a press release I wrote concerning a new kiosk installed on the grounds of the college’s Harrison campus, near an old railroad bed that is now part of a trail system.

Coming out on a rainy May morning to take part in the dedication of the kiosk were (l-r) Joe Bradley, Carron Nevill, Cindy Mussell and Andy Coulson. Cindy is with the Mid-Michigan College Foundation and the others are part of the Clare County Historical Society.

Coming out on a rainy May morning to take part in the dedication of the kiosk were (l-r) Joe Bradley, Carron Nevill, Cindy Mussell and Andy Coulson. Cindy is with the Mid-Michigan College Foundation and the others are part of the Clare County Historical Society.

A railroad once ran through it–Mid-Michigan Community College, that is. During the latter part of the 19th century, steam locomotives once regularly hauled men and materials from Clare into the then booming town of Dodge and back south carrying lumber destined for Midwest cities. Although the rails were pulled up when the lumber played out, the grade on which the trains ran can still be seen on Mid-Michigan’s Harrison campus and some of it has been incorporated into the college’s walking trails. But many who walk those trails may not know about the history under their feet–until now.

Thanks for a new kiosk on school grounds dedicated on May 10, tourists and residents will now have the opportunity to learn more about Clare’s fascinating past while getting some exercise. The kiosk is a joint project of the college, Clare County Historical Society and Friends of Clare County Parks & Recreation.

“We’re always looking for a way to encourage people to take advantage of our trails, so when the Clare Historical Society and Friends approached us about a joint venture, we quickly agreed,” said Matt Miller, VP of Student and Community Relations. “We’ve got beautiful scenery around and above us, now we’re giving people a reason to better appreciate what’s under their feet.”

Map of the college. Green lines represent remnants of old railroad beds on college property.

Map of the college. Green lines represent remnants of old railroad beds on college property.

According to Joe Bradley, CCHS President, Clare County has more than 300 miles of railroad grades, which puts the county near the top in mileage in the state. And while most of the railroads were narrow gauged temporary railroads that existed only to haul trees out of a section of forest, a number of them were standard gauge tracks like these that had full size trains. “Once the trees were all cut the economy tanked so the railroads just pulled up stakes—literally—and rails and moved out. Now only the grades remain.” Bradley added that most of the grades are deep in the woods on state land or on private lands. Only a few are easy to walk with this being one of them. “We’re happy to partner with the college and Friends on this venture. We see it as another way to tell the exciting story of Clare’s history,” Bradley said.

Clare County map

This 1886 map shows some of the major railroad lines in the county. The railroad bed through the college grounds is near the “R” in Clare.

Gerry Schmiedeke said his group got involved because Friends sees this as another way to get residents active and promote the many recreational opportunities the county has available. “Many just think of the Pere Marquette rail-trail [the trail runs through the southern portion of ClareCounty] as only rail-oriented pathway in the county. Now we have two completely different experiences to offer,” Schmedieke said. “And as funding in the public sector dries up, public private partnerships in support of parks and recreation become more important.”

So whether you interest in railroading, history or just a quiet walk in the woods, MMCC is the place for you. And stop by the new kiosk before you head out to see the maps, photos and to read about the history. The Railroad kiosk is located just inside the gate at the south (Mannsiding) entrance to the college.

Mid Michigan Community College provides post-secondary education and services to enable students to succeed in a global society and also seeks to partners with its community for the benefit of its members. Learn more at midmich.edu or on its Facebook page.

The Clare County Historical Society has a museum complex at the corner of Dover and Eberhart roads that is open every Saturday through Oct. from 1 – 4 p.m.  Learn more at clarecountyhistory.org to on its Facebook page.

Friends of ClareCountyParks and Recreation is an independent non-profit agency that works closely with Clare County Parks & Recreation Commission to improve recreational resources throughout the county. Learn more at clarecountyrecreation.org or on its Facebook page.

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

Starting a Clare County Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clare County map

1886 railroad map showing Meredith in NE corner of the county

There may have been towns during Michigan’s lumbering era that had uglier reputations than Meredith, but I’ve not heard of any.  While the town in the northeast corner of Clare County was created to serve the thousands of lumberjacks who worked in nearby camps with essentials like food and clothing; it flourished by providing those men with booze and women.

It was a town that lacked

Plat map of Meredith from about 1906

Plat map of Meredith from about 1906

for little—except maybe a church and a sheriff (the former burned and the town wouldn’t finance the latter).  Meredith also had Jim Carr and Maggie Duncan, two of the worst human beings ever to set foot in Clare–or any county–for that matter. Carr and Duncan trafficked in every vice known to man including white slavery, robbery, arson and even murder.  (I plan an article on them in an upcoming post.)

It’s hard given the town’s evil reputation that it was once called the “wonder of the north woods,” the “great city of the day” and “a marvel,” all these in an article in the Gladwin Record in March 1884.  That’s when 18 visitors from Gladwin traveled into through what was then wilderness to visit the town.

The visitors returned with a glowing report.  However, whatever good they saw in Meredith disappeared not long afterward, and remains long buried. But here is a look at the town as it was once seen.  (Note: I left the grammar as it was in the original article that can be found on microfilm at the State of Michigan’s library in Lansing.   Spaces or question marks show where I could not read the text.)

A Visit to the City in the Forest, the Wonder of the North Woods

In company with a jolly party of 18 people (babies included) the editor of the Record visited the far famed city of the north, known as Meredith, this week.  Starting from our thriving village, passing through the settled country containing flourishing farms etc, for about 4 miles north on the Midland and Houghton Lake state road, we are amidst the monarchs of the forest.

Eleven miles farther we go without passing even the cabin of a settler—all to relieve the monotony being the camps of Rust, Eaton & Co, about midway, where 40 men are employed and huge rollways of logs are seen on the north branch of the Cedar near by.  The trees were crested with flakes of “beautiful snow” which rendered the scene exceedingly picturesque.  The timber passed is pine, hemlock and hardwood, in some parts being intermingled and in others pine or hemlock towering majestically on either hand.  There are excellent openings for saw and shingle mills and a tannery in this locality would find an excellent outlook.  A large part of the way is what is known as “stripped lands,” the pine timber having been cut. Where visible the soil seemed to be a good rich clay, and from the variety of growing timber we judge that the thousands of acres of wilderness are capable of being made into beautiful farms, and are many years pass we predict that the axe of the settler will resound throughout the forest where now deer and other fierce residents thereof roam.

But at length we arrive at the far-famed city afore mentioned,
MEREDITH!
And we are in the great city of the day.  Behold its fine large hotel and numerous business houses where but a few short weeks since all was wilderness.  Everything about Meredith is new, neat and thriving, except for her streets—and they still appear in their primeval state, brush, trees and logs appearing on all sides, but this difficulty will be overcome soon aster the season opens up.  Our party put up at the
CORRIGAN HOUSE

1885_Meredith_Corrigan House_Depot-small

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

The large and excellently equipped hotel recently opened to the public by Thomas J. McClennan of Bay City, the found of the town.  The house is furnished in a _________ that would do credit to a good sized city of several thousand people.  The house is 40 feet by 105 feet, 3-stories high. On the first floor is the sitting room, office, washes room, bar room, dining room and kitchen.  The second story has an elegantly furnished ladies’ sitting room and in the two upper stories we find 14 single bed rooms and 11 double rooms, besides rooms for help.  Arthur Meyer, late of Alma, has charge of the house, and to him we are indebted for courtesies extended in showing us through the apartments.  He is the “right man in the right place.” Our party partook of dinner, served in a sumptuous manner, which we pronounced a No. 1. To enumerate(?) this bill of fare would be difficult.  We counted upwards of 40 at dinner, besides a greatly number who partook afterwards. Mr. Mayer informed us that the hotel was doing a flourishing business steadily.  Although it was Sunday, the bar was open and liquor flowed freely as water being partaken of by large numbers of wayfarers(?) who had gathered from the surrounding camps. However, all was quiet and we failed to notice an uncivil act.

Our day was limited, in the time we took to look over the town, however, and with the assistance of our friend “Joe the barber” the following list of
BUSINESS ENTERPRISES
was prepared:
S & C.C. R.R. depot
Reardor’s Bro’s, general store
Alex Rail restaurant
Billy Jose, Meat market
Roche & McKenna, drugstore
Hotel – Corrigan House
___________, Butcher Shop
McClennan & Stephens, billiard hall
Haiey & Covert, drug store, in which store upstairs is located:
Joe Hatfleld’s(?) barber shop
Dr. Tibbles’ office
Dr. Keating veterinary hospital and harness shop

These named being on one side of the street and the following on the other:
Alex. Andrews, grocery store
City bakery
Livery stable of _______ Frank
Searn & Co., hardware store and postoffice
__________ Maybee, general store
Millinery establishment
Sandy Marshall, wagon shop
Clason(?) & Avery, livery

Besides the above, we notice quite a few dwellings and a number of buildings in the process of erection.
LOCATION AND FUTURE PROSPECTS
The village is located on the line of Gladwin County on section 13, town 20 north, range 11 west, and is the terminus of the Saginaw and Clare County railroad.  It is 15 miles northeast of Harrison and about 15 miles northwesterly of this place.  The village was platted in December last by T. J. McClennan, of Bay City, who has a stand of pine nearby, where he now has 40 men at work cutting and skidding.  A large lumber district surrounds the village and so long as the lumbering continues so does a lively business from this point. Considering the rapid growth of the place, it is a marvel.  We trust that it might continue to thrive and we see nothing to hinder if steps are taken to secure the permanent development of the country surrounding, with the aid of manufacturing enterprises and settlers.

The article turned out to be very wrong.  By 1893, the town was in a fast decline.  The lumber was all cut, Carr and Duncan were dead, and the railroad gone.  In 1895, the post office closed and in 1896, a fire tore through the town destroying most of what remained.

There is little visible from Meredith’s past that would indicate that it onceThis screen can be found in what was once the center of town. had nearly 2,000 part-time and 500 full-time residents, and was a big enough town to have such things as a roundhouse for trains, a city hall, an opera house that seated 700 and a three-story school.  There are a couple of cemeteries, but they are on private property.  The township hall was once an old church, and I’ve read that once the town burned, residents from other areas came to scavenge the bricks and rocks for their buildings.

There is a drive-in movie screen from a failed attempt at providing residents and visitors with entertainment and a nice corner store with a helpful clerk/owner.  The store is not the remains of the railroad

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

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

depot.

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

An Embankment is NOT a Trestle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, now you know…well, sorta.

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

Discovering A Harrison Historical Treasure

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

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

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

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

RR Trail-bed

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

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

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

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

Steam locomotive

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

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

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

Perhaps the wording on the marker might read:

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

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

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

Going For the Jugular

We may think of newspaper stories meant more to thrill than to inform as something from the latter part of the 20th century, but, as the story below illustrates, papers haven’t been shy about going for the jugular for a very long time (no pun intended). This story was published in a Michigan newspaper in 1896. I ran across it while searching for some information on Clare County.

old article on explosion

Categories: General, History | Leave a comment

A Divorce in the Country

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

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

Lizzie Pom
vs
Anson Pom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gerald Mast WPA Murals: Clare, Michigan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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