Posts Tagged With: Michigan history

Changing my Blog Title

I’ve changed my blog title from “The Moving Finger” to “The Moving Finger in Mid-Michigan” with the tagline “Random musings of Michigan, its History and More.” The title and tagline are more reflective of what I have been writing about since most of my blog entries deal with mid-Michigan, especially Clare and Gladwin counties and history of the area. The name change and addition of tags should help people better find my blog. At least that’s the idea.

And yes, I am still looking for a job (my former tagline mentioned that my musings were done while in search of a job); however, I want people to know that I find the history of this section of the state to be fascinating and this blog is one way for me to share that love.

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

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

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

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: , , , , , | 30 Comments

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