Posts Tagged With: History

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:

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.


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

Clare County Michigan History in Photos

I added a video to You Tube, well, basically a slideshow that consists of old photos. Most of them show the cities of Clare, Harrison and Farwell. The show lasts about 6 minutes and music in the background. The photos are primarily from the collection Forrest Meek gave to Mid-Michigan Community College. Here’s the link to the show:

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 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 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.


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

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: , , , , | 8 Comments

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

A Railroad runs Through it

Last month, my wife and I went looking for narrow-gauge railroads in Clare County.  Well, narrow-gauge railroad beds, to be honest since the tracks and trains are long gone and have been for more than a century.

Clare county is a quiet county of some 32,000 residents in central Michigan.  But it wasn’t always so.  At one time, the ground shook with the fall of giant pines and the woods echoed with shouts of lumberjacks and the sound of trains hauling trees out of the woods to sawmills and then on to growing cities like Detroit and Chicago.

Preparing logs for transport

Narrow-gauge railroads were the transportation method of choice for hauling trees in many Michigan counties during that logging era.  Those trains could run wherever workers laid track and  carry heavy loads year around (something horses and carts couldn’t do).

Steam locomotive

And Clare county was perfect for narrow-gauge railroads as it is relatively flat, which made it relatively easy to lay track.   As a result, at one time Clare county had more miles of railroad track than any other in Michigan, wrote Roy Dodge in his book “Michigan Ghost Towns.”

Narrow-gauge railroads had another advantage:   The tracks could be pulled up and reused once the the valuable timber in an area was exhausted–something that eventually happened.   Then the workers, trains and track moved on leaving a barren landscape behind that slowly healed and the forests regrew.

Finding those former railroad beds now is a challenge since many of them lie deep in the woods with dense foliage around and on top of them.  What makes them noticeable is the fact that beds are often raised up above the surface of the surrounding land since workers had to make sure the ground on which the train tracks would be laid was somewhat flat.  In addition, hunters and hikers often have used them over the years to access the back country establishing trails or two-track roads.

It’s cool to find them and walk them.  Sometimes one even finds coal.  I’m hoping to someday find a rail spike, although that’s unlikely.  Most were taken to be reused and any that are left are buried under more than a century of soil and plants. Still, it’s a dream, kinda like the one in which I find some arrowheads and dinosaur bones (but not at the same time).

Take a trip to Clare County sometime and join in the search.  Late winter and spring are great times since the foliage hasn’t grown up and the mosquitoes aren’t yet looking to dine on man and beast.  But the country is pretty anytime of year.

See you on the trails, er railroad beds.

Categories: ecology, History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A bit of Holliday History. Part 1

aerial photo of Holliday PreserveThe William P. Holliday Forest & Wildlife Preserve is a 580-acre (give or take a few) passive recreation area in Westland, Michigan, a western suburb of Detroit.  The Preserve is a linear park that runs along Tonquish Creek (the green area at left).  It was established in 1964 by Arthur Richardson in honor of his uncle for whom the Preserve was named.

Now I have an interest in history and am a member of the Holliday Nature Preserve Association, a volunteer group that gives hikes, hosts clean-ups and works to improve the Preserve, so my interest is personal.  In addition, I edit our organization’s  newsletter and run its website.

The other day, I ran across several articles on the history of the Preserve.  Apparently Richardson, who was born in Michigan, but moved to New York where he died in 1938, established a trust that left much of his estate to Wayne County.  There was a catch however:  The county would need to establish a park in his Uncle William’s name and ensure it remained unspoiled so as to give people an idea of what Wayne County looked like in the mid-19th century.

The gift Richardson offered the county amounted to $1.445 million.  That was a lot of coin 50 years ago and county fathers took it, although they knew doing so would remove a large portion of Nankin Township (now the city of  Westland) from development.  Plus, although Westland is now one of the state’s largest cities, 50 years ago the area in question was heavily wooded and located in a township that had, at least then, a surplus of  undeveloped land.

It wasn’t until 1958 that the bequest became before the county’s Board of Supervisors, who approved it, and began to purchase land along the Tonquish Creek, a tributary of the Rouge River, for a Preserve.

Plans at the time called for six shelters, 70 camp stoves, nine council fires, 17 pedestrian bridges, six parking areas, 2.5 miles of service drives and 10 miles of nature trails.  It would take much of a decade for the land to be purchased or taken through the process of eminent domain, and the work completed, though plans were scaled back considerably by the time the Preserve was dedicated on July 2, 1964.

One interesting tidbit.  Apparently Richardson, who was born in the downriver city of Wyandotte, used to take hikes with his uncle in the woods and fields of Wayne County; however, it seems Richardson never visited Nankin Township and the area that would ultimately become the Preserve thanks to his generous donation.

Just as spending time enjoying nature with his uncle made a lasting on Richardson, the experiences visitors to the Preserve share with their children might do the same.   And we think Arthur Richardson would like that.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Missaukee Indian Mounds

Indian Mound

A view of one of the mounds built by the Hopewell Indians

We may not have cliff dwellings here in Michigan, but evidence of our Native American heritage can still be found deep in the heart of Michigan.

One of those places is Aetna Township in mid-Michigan’s Missaukee County, where several circular enclosures built by the Hopewell Indians can be found.

They date from around 600 – 700 years ago and their use is thought to have been ceremonial. The enclosures are not all that remarkable in appearance. They are about four feet higher than the surrounding country in most spots and several hundred feet in circumference. The enclosures really get to be remarkable when you realize  that building them required a lot of dirt to be moved-and all by hand.

The enclosures (and there are several of them at each site) are slowly eroding and trees have taken root on and around them. Their disintegration in some areas is being accelerated by dirt bikes and four-wheelers whose riders probably do not realize they are destroying Michigan’s pre-history.

I first became aware of these mounds in a small book called Mystic Michigan by Mark Jager, part of a series of inexpensive paperbacks featuring legends and fun facts about the state. I learned even more about them in a book my mother-in-law gave me one year called Weird Michigan that cataloged even more items in the realm of the strange but supposedly true. Once I knew of the mounds, I needed to see them.

Finding them wasn’t easy.

Maps, such as the one in the Michigan Atlas & Gazetteer , show  approximate locations. Books do the same. I finally decided the only way to find them was to take a hike. Or several. So last summer, that is exactly what I did.

And although several of the searches ended in dead ends in farm fields or private property, I did locate two mounds.

One is on University of Michigan property and (as I came to find out) easily accessible from Jennings and Gray Roads. The other though is deep in state land off of a two-track that goes east of of Kelly Road.

So to make things easier for the next person, here are the coordinates to both.

Mound 1
44  degrees 18′ 220” N
084 degrees 59′ 660″ W

Mound 2
44 degrees 17′ 980″ N
084 degrees 59′ 890″ W

I also went looking for some mounds located in Ogemaw county near the Rifle River this summer. No luck there, at least not yet. If anyone knows where those mounds are located, please let me know. I know how I plan to spend part of next summer.

That’s all for now, folks.

Categories: History, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

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