Posts Tagged With: logging

Michigan Lumber Pikes

  railroad coverThe following article by Fred C. Olds appeared in the July 1953 issue of Railroad Magazine.  I thought it was a terrific article, although it does not really break new ground.  It also contained a number of photographs that I have not included here for the simple reason that the pages of the magazine, has discolored over the years, as newspaper quality paper tends to, and so would not reproduce well.  Instead, I have included photos in the Clare County Historical Society archives. 

I did not change the spelling or grammar used in the original article, and that includes any factual errors.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy Mr. Olds’ article and hope that Logging2since the magazine is no longer in print that I’m not violating any major copywrite laws. 

The racing crests of Michigan’s big rivers, with picturesque river hogs riding spring log drives, captured most of the glamour in Michigan’s lumbering history.  All but forgotten, less colorful but just as vital to the timber industry, was the role played by the logging railroad.  Pushing out into isolated forest cuttings, these little iron pikes early in the 20th Century criss-crossed the northern and central interior of lower Michigan into a web-like pattern of rails.

Their existence dependent upon the product they transported, most were doomed from the start for but a brief span of operation.  Mileage grew at a furious paces as rails opened new timber areas for the lumberjack harvest, but these little pikes withered almost as quickly on their iron vines when the logs were cut off.  There demise was often sudden and without ceremony.  Abandonment of the forest road simply meant piling its Logging19equipment, including locomotives on flatcars to be carried out over its own creaky rails for service in another sector or for another owner.

How and where did the logging railroad get its start in Michigan?

Records shows that by 1875 loggers had been busily chewing into the state’s extensive forests for 40 years.  Over this period commercial lumbering interests had steadily whittled their way northward, skirting the shores of Lake Huron and Michigan, penetrating inland along the larger rivers—the Grand, Tittabawasee, Saginaw, Au Sable, Muskegon, Manistee, Chippewa, Pere Marquette and their tributary streams—to strip out the lush stands of cork pine.  In those first years, water played the major role as a log hauler.  Timber (pine, that is) had to be readily accessible to a suitable stream for flotage or it was practically valueless.  It was this lack of water transportation, according to a claim set forth in an old issue of The Northern Lumberman that caused the nation’s first logging railroad to be built in Michigan’s Clare County in 1876.  Its builder was Winfield Scott Gerrish, who owned extensive pine holdings in Clare in the center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula about halfway between the Straits of Mackinac and the Ohio line.

Logging49A brief biography of Gerrish, carried in the A History of Northern Michigan, shows that he gave early promise as a timber operator.  Born in Maine, where his father Nathaniel was a lumberman, young Gerrish spent his boyhood and early manhood in Croton, Michigan; started driving logs at the age of 18, and when 25 made his first large logging contract.  It called for the timber to be banked on Doc & Tom Creek in the southwest part of Clare County in 1874 for flotage to mills in Muskegon via the Muskegon River.  Misfortune struck without warning, however.  The Doc & Tom shrank to a mere rivulet as the result of a spring drought, and Gerrish’s winter cut of logs was left high and dry on the banks.

Gerrish managed to float his cargo to mill by dint of hard work, but he conceded that small streams proved an unsure means of transporting his timber.  He obtained an interest in 12,000 acres of pine on the west side of Clare County between the headwaters of the Muskegon River and Lake George, but because of its remoteness (6 to 10 miles) from a good floating stream, not a tree had been cut in this tract.  Gerrish was not one to be easily discouraged.  The Northwestern Lumberman report noted that he considered pole roads and tramways to transport logs but tried neither method, believing both were impractical.  In stead, he found his solution in a most unlikely spot—hundreds of miles away, at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.  While on a visit there he saw a small Baldwin-build locomotive displayed in a machinery exhibit.  It gave him an idea.

If he couldn’t float his logs to the Muskegon River, why not haul them on this first leg of their journey by rail?  Figuring it was worth a try, he hurried home and hastily built the Lake George & Muskegon River Railroad, as he called it, which was splashing its valuable timber merchandise into the mighty Muskegon early in 1876.  The Northwestern Lumberman account calls this 6-mile pike, running from Lake George northwesterly to the river near the present village of Temple, the nation’s and perhaps the world’s first logging railroad.  Other railroads had penetrated timber areas before that time but Logging204conducted a general freight and passenger business.  The LG&MR was a strictly a log hauler, and as such is claimed to have been the first of its kind.

Gerrish, Edmund Hazelton and four associates of Hersey, Michigan, were listed as the road’s incorporators in a Special Report of the Michigan Railroad Commission.  On November 28th, 1881 the railroad was acquired by John L. Woods and on February 18th, 1882 by C. H. Hackley & Co., the last named for a large Muskegon firm which operated it as a forest road until its sale to the Toledo, Ann Arbor & Cadillac Railway (now part of the Ann Arbor Railway) between August 25th and December 20th, 1886.  Approximately four miles of the old LG&MR grade now carry Ann Arbor rails between Lake George and Temple.

It’s very lonesome country up there, particularly in the winter months.  Acres of stumps scare its ridges and valleys, a fading legacy from that long-lost pine kingdom.  Paralleling Highway 10 west from Clare for a few miles, the Ann Arbor rails turn northwest to skirt Lake George along its east rim, cutting a thin swath through the brushy second-growth timber and young spruce as it heads toward Temple, Cadillac and its Kale, Michigan terminus at Logging193Elberta.  Lake George is a bustling resort community in the summer, but the old gray depot has been closed for many years

Gerrish, after completing his logging short line, expanded his lumbering operations until his biographer described him as being at one time probably the world’s largest individual logger.  It is estimated that his highest individual contribution to the Muskegon River was 130,000,000 feet of timber in 1879.  Most of this was carried over his Lake George and Muskegon River Railroad—not a bad tonnage record for a little two-bit logging pike founded only three years before.

His new transportation idea gained quick favor among the state’s lumber kings.  It ushered in a new era, opening up hitherto unprofitable but heavily timbered pine and hardwood country.  It brought an unprecedented boom in Michigan railroad building.  Both broad and narrow-gage lines were pushed deeper into backwoods districts to take out timber.  For a few years a weird assortment of motive power echoed their whistle tones across the long plains and forested hills.  Saddle-tank dinkeys and Shay-geared sidewinders chuffed and clanked over hastily-built rails which meandered around hills and across swamps, their tenders and log cars bearing now all but forgotten titles.

Logging2Built for special purpose, log hauling, these railroad accomplished their chore efficiently and without delays.  A venture as utilitarian as the lumbermen’s favorite axiom, “Cut and get out,” no money was wasted on frills, deluxe equipment, or polished roadbed.  Swampers would first slash a rough path cross-country from the owner’s lumber tract to the nearest river if his logs were to be floated part of their journey by stream, or directly to his own mill, or to a rail junction where they could be transferred to an already established carrier to complete their trip.

Rails followed a path of least resistance, guided by the hastily scraped-up roadbed’s serpentine twisting and turning to take advantage of the land’s natural contours.  Hills and extensive swamps were skirted when possible, to avoid expensive fills and steep grades.  To cross a swamp, low log trestles were built to provide the track with a solid bottom instead of using earth fill, timber being cheaper than the cost of moving dirt.  Many of Michigan’s vacationland hunting and fishing trails still in use today were built over all or part of some timber rail line.

Motive power, based upon modern standards, would be considered mediocre.  Locomotives during the early period were bonnet stacks, burned slab Logging103wood for fuel, moved after dark to the feeble rays cast by oil headlamps, and hauled primitive four-wheel flatcars whose link-and-pin couplers exposed trainmen to an extra hazard.  Lightweight rails, sometimes strap iron screwed to a wood base and set insecurely upon the rough railbed, made the journey into the woods comparable to a sea voyage.

Back in the forests, the trees were chopped down, trimmed of their branches and their trunks cut into suitable lengths.  A log then was skidded through the brush by a team of horses or oxen to an opening where a set of big wheels could be driven over it.  The log (two of three logs if they were small) would then be lifted and carried to a rail-side decking ground where a jamming crew loaded the log lengths on railroad cars.  In winter the big wheels were supplanted by sleighs which carried the big piles of logs to the decking ground.

Loading cars of logs was described by Ferris E. Lewis in the December 1948 issue of Michigan History:  “Short wooden pins were first driven into iron brackets on the side of the flatcars to keep the logs from falling off.  Hooks, like ice tongs, each one at the end of a steel cable, were placed in the ends of a log.  A little team of horses with muscles as hard as knots, at the command of a teamster who drove them without reins, would raise the log and wing it over the flatcar where it would be lowered gently into place.  One by one the logs were loaded onto a car.  A pyramid pile, placed lengthwise of the car, was thus built at each end.  When a car was loaded, it would be moved away and a new one would take its place.

In later years, steam jammers replaced horse power, particularly among the larger operators.  These were the conditions and the equipment used along one of the nation’s last frontiers to attack the final great stand of pine and hardwood timber remaining in MichLogging7igan as the 19th century came to a close.

Besides increasing production, these railroads revolutionized the industry by making logging a year-around business.  Owners found they no longer were dependent upon proper river levels for their log transportation, and cutting could continue around the calendar instead of just during the winter months.  Some figures proving this accomplishment are cited in the book Lumber and Forestry Industry of the Northwest, for just three railroads—the Grand Rapids & Indiana, Flint and Pere Marquette, and Manistee & Grand Rapids. Each of these conducted a general freight and passenger business, although primarily engaged in timber hauling during the years cited.

Mills along the Grand Rapids & Indiana (now part of the Pennsylvania Railroad) manufactured 367,000,000 feet of lumber and 404,000,000 shingles in 1886, while the total output along this road, from construction to the first mill in 1865 to 1898, is estimated at 6,000,000,000 feet of lumber.  Timber production on the old Flint & Pere Marquette (now part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway) totaled 5,000,000,000 between 1876 and 1896.  The Manistee & Grand Rapids (later renamed the Michigan East & West and eventually abandoned) place 500,000,000 feet of pine and 1,000,000,000 feet of hardwood timber into Manistee sawmills for cutting in 1891.  In the Cadillac region up near Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, it was not uncommon for a pine tree to yield three logs, each of which would reach across car sills set 30 to 33 feet apart.

Another distinction claimed by the Cadillac region in the logging transportation was the invention there of the narrow-gage Shay logging locomotive in 1873 or 1874, by Ephraim Shay.  Slow but powerful, the Shay-engine had vertical pistons to operate the driving cranks, working a shaft geered to the motive wheels.

An account carried in The Cadillac Evening News said that Shay developed his locomotive to pull log cars from northwest of Cadillac to his sawmill at Haring.  First made in Cadillac, its patents were later sold to the Lima Machine Works in Ohio, which manufactured it for use all over the world.

There is not a logging railroad, operating as such, remaining in the lower peninsula.  In fact, their names even escape the memory of all but old timers.  Logging108Mention the Lake County Railroad and among railroaders you would likely draw only blank looks.  Or the Cadillac & Northwestern, Louis Sands’ Road, Nesson Lumber Company, Cody & Moore, Bear Lake & Eastern, or the Canfield Road—recalling only a few.

The logging railroad gave rise to few legends.  It could not match the glamour attached to sawmill towns which grew and flourished beside tis tracks, nor could it furnish the rough color provided by the swift rivers with their tension-packed spring drives.  Its mark upon the timber country, once painted briefly in bold outline, today has virtually disappeared.  Traces, of course, can still be found in the old crumbling grades, winding unevenly across grassy plains and ridges pointing toward some distant banking ground.  The old names, with some searching, can be found buried in official reports listing rail mergers and abandonment.  But that about ends it.  That and some faded photos, dim with age, gathering dust in old picture albums.

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

Putting a Face to History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: , , , , | 2 Comments

Railroad Spikes, Plates and UFOs (Unidentified Found Objects)

Rusty railroad spikes and plates for tieing rails togetherI’ve been out metal detecting the last week along some old logging railroad beds in Clare County and found a few railroad spikes, bolts and broken plates used to tie rails together. The objects were about 4 – 6 inches deep and were apparently left when the rails were torn up after the trees were logged and hauled away. Pulling up the rails and reusing the materials was a common practice from what I heard since saving money was important and leaving rails out in the middle of nowhere as a waste of it.

Image of old railroad engine and trestleFrom what I’ve read, Clare County may have the most old logging railroad beds in the state so there were a lot of rails to pull up and reuse. The large number of RR beds is not surprising considering it was the first logging railroad in the country when Winfield Scott Gerrish built a railroad into woods to help haul out the timber. Although the initial investment was high (around $300 a mile), it made it easier to get out the lumber. Gerrish’s fellow lumberman laughed at his venture when he first started but when they saw the huge return in his investment…well, they couldn’t build their own railroads fast enough.

So although the tracks are gone the beds remain and underneath them are a few treasures. It’s interesting to hold in one’s hand a spike that was last handled by some unknown logger more than 125 years ago. It’s also interesting to take a walk in the woods and stumble on a bed out in the woods. They are quite common once one knows what to look for.

Unidentified found objects on an old logging railroad bedAnyway, among the items I found were a couple of UFOs–unknown found objects–I call them.  The items are shown at left (click photo to enlarge) and are about an inch long. I originally thought they might be bullets but their shape is awfully strange for a bullet in that they would not be very aerodynamic. The bottoms, by the way, are flat but have a small circle in the center. If anyone knows what they are, please let me know. My plans are to donate the items to the Clare County Historical Museum for their display on the logging era. I also plan to hold a talk sometime this summer on logging railroads on one of the old railroad beds at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison. railroads and the logging era. (More information on that coming soon.)

While I am asking questions, I’d also be interested in finding out what the rules are about metal detecting on state land in Michigan. I found information on the DNR site about metal detecting in state parks but nothing so far about state land. While I know walking the rail beds is legal on state land I’m not sure about metal detecting, and want to know before I go.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, metal detecting, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Digging and Metal Detecting in Clare County

I have a small parcel west of Harrison back in the woods. When my now ex-wife and I bought it 10 years ago or so, we put a 1/4 mile trail that winds along the edge of a small shallow pond and through the woods that cover much of the property.

Not long after that our neighbor who we let walk the trails mentioned that she could see the outline of a dirt foundation next to the trail and about 100 feet from the pond. The foundation, for lack of a better term, was a a raised sand rectangle measuring about 16×20 feet. Trees up to 6-inches in diameter grew on and in the rectangle showing it had been there for a long time.

However, it was a sign of human habitation (loggers, Indians, hunters) and got me excited so I dug through a couple of sections of the foundation looking for nails, wood or other signs of former walls. Sadly, nothing so I figured it must have just made to channel the rain outside of a large tent and probably made by hunters that might have frequented the site in the past when the pond was a lake and a nearby empty stream bed that runs through my property was once an active stream. Other than a few rusted tin cans I found nothing of value or interest. So I left it well enough alone until this fall.

Some friends were coming up for the weekend so I took a rake and raked the interior of the foundation clean of leaves and debris, took a chain saw and cut out many of the trees and shrubs and dug out my metal detector.I was determined to figure out what the foundation was and whether there was anything of value in there.

The answers: I don’t know and no. That weekend we set to work detecting and digging. Inside we found junk including two broken horseshoes (different styles) a conventional belt buckle, some hardware and broken pieces of tin. That means I still don’t know what it was or what it was used for. Why it showed signs of people AND horses is beyond me. The neatest thing was a railroad spike. It was not a large spike that one associates with the railroad. This one was about 6 inches long and an inch in diameter. I had seen these spikes before and was told they were used to construct narrow gauge railroads. Once the railroad was no longer needed, the tracks were pulled up and the rails, couples, spikes and more were reused in order to save money. Apparently, the spike I found was left behind and might indicate that a logging railroad line DID in fact run across my property at one time.

items dug up in pond on my propertyHowever, those finds were not the end of the story. Much of my pond evaporates by fall and the mucky ground is hard enough to stand on, so we took the metal detector out and set to work. It didn’t take long to find three items of interest: An axe head, a foot-long section of what appears to be a narrow-gauge railroad track and a piece of plow.

Now I am more confused than ever. I know for a fact the property was lumbered–all the county was since it contained huge forests of white pine. The logging explains the axe head (although why someone would pitch a totally good axe into the lake/pond is beyond me. But what about the section of track and the spike found earlier? Was there a narrow-gauge railroad that ran along the creek on my property? I now have some evidence to support that fact. Other evidence includes a line indicating a railroad that appears on a map created by two members of the Clare County Historical Society. (Clare County had more logging railroads then any other county in Michigan, according to historian Roy Dodge who wrote the book, “Ghost Towns in Michigan.” But why the horseshoes and the foundation? And what about the plow? There is no evidence this area was ever farmed.

But the rains came and filled the pond and winter has arrived freezing both the pond and the ground, that means any further explorations must wait until spring.

As for my three major finds from the pond, I donated them to the Clare County Historical Society. They may use them in their displays in their museum at the corner of Surry and Eberhart roads. The museum is closed now but reopens in the spring. And maybe by then I will have found even MORE stuff to donate.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan | Tags: , , , | 12 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: , , , , | 12 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

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