Posts Tagged With: Mid-Michigan Community College

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

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

Heading to Bed (a Railroad Bed) in Clare County, Michigan

A Walk Along an Old Railroad Bed

The remains of an old railroad bed from the 1870s on state land off Mostetler Rd.

I went for a long walk a couple of weeks ago (before the winter snow) on state land, along a path that was once the bed of an old railroad track that ran from Hatton to Dodge City, a distance of about 11 miles.

Hatton is now a ghost town and driver’s driving down Hatton Rd. south of the town of Harrison, a small town in mid-Michigan Clare County will find little evidence it ever existed. Dodge, on the other hand is now a quiet community with cottages nestled around small lakes.

There is little at either site to suggest they were once vibrant logging communities with post office, homes, businesses and more supporting the railroad and workers from nearby logging camps.

This map shows many of the stops trains in Clare County would make. The PM-LH2 route shown in this map is not correct in this writer's opinion. The track shown here did not go to the logging camp of Mostetler and then to Dodge. What is shown on the map is a railroad spur off that went to Mostetler. The main PM-LH2 track went in a relatively straight line from east of Hatton up to Dodge.

The location of the bed I walked is off the south side of Mostetler Road (also called Mosteller) across from Michigan Moto Mania and located a couple of miles east of Harrison.

Mostetler is an east-west gravel road that passes private and public land filled with scrub pines, oaks and cedar, and dotted with occasional homes.

The road is named for a former logging camp/town Mosteller that existed for about five years in the 1870’s when this area’s massive white pines were cut and hauled south to build homes in growing cities like Detroit, Saginaw, Flint and even Chicago.None of the trees remain and even the stumps, some that measured nearly 5-feet across have decayed in the intervening years.

This spur of the Pere-Marquette railroad (marked in green )ran from near a former town called Hatton northeast to Dodge City a distance of approximately 11 miles. Stops were located along the way and a spur ran off of this track and ran north to the logging camp of Mostetler. The red dot is the location of Mid-Michigan Community College. The blue dot shows the location of the path this writer took.

While the tracks, pilings and all evidence of the trains are gone, the bed is still relatively easy to find in most areas, especially in the fall and winter after the frost has killed the vegetation (not to mention the mosquitoes). Like all rail beds, this one runs straights and is relatively level since trains needed a grade in the order of 1 or 2 percent to safely haul the heavy logs. It is easy to see where workers raised the rail bed in areas or sunk it in others to keep the rail bed level.

In many spots the railroad bed was built up to ensure a level path for the train but in a few areas the road bed was sunk down a few feet to provide a level grade.

The walk I took headed south and I passed small creeks and downed trees. The walk also took me near to Mostetler Creek that begins in the Dodge City area, crosses Mostetler Road and then flows through state land before disappearing by the time it reaches M-61 to the south.

This site is popular with hunters in the fall since the roadbed makes for easy walking. At the same time, hikers may have a difficult time in the summer since the land near the road is swampy for the first couple of hundred years. However, once further in the woods, the land is dry and sandy and quite peaceful.

If you want to see a railroad bed in Clare County, this is a nice one to see. And maybe if you stand still and close your eyes you might even hear a faint whistle of a train long gone.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Michigan, recreation | Tags: , , , | 15 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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