All posts by Amy Barritt

Amy Barritt, MSI, CA, is the Special Collections Librarian at Traverse Area District Library and President of the Women's History Project of Northwest Michigan. Amy has a passion for helping people find information. "Grand Traverse Journal" is her first foray in to library-sponsored self-publishing.

Bridge Built for a Pair of “Tender Feet,” 1941

Recently, a new patron asked me: What kinds of questions do you get at the Traverse Area District Library reference desk?

Sure, we get the usual readers advisory questions, and lots of questions on how to access our digital resources, and occasionally we get asked for advice on where to get dinner. But what really brings in the questions? When construction is happening. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking new construction, rehabilitation, or road repairs. There is nothing that piques our patrons’ curiosity than watching something get built.

So, what’s happening in Traverse City that the people are curious about? The revamp of the Murchie Bridge over the Boardman River on West Grand Traverse Bay has brought in the most interest, so let’s dive into a few of the most common questions!

Who is Murchie?

Robert Burns Murchie was a Traverse City native, born on October 25, 1894. He was the son of Mary Krouse (d. 1909) and James Murchie (d. 1936). He was a graduate of Traverse City High School, class of 1912, and he earned his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1917.  He served during World War I, and spent nine months in France, and upon his return, married Lulu A. Cole of Detroit. After practicing law from 1919 to 1934 in Detroit, Murchie moved back to Traverse City, where he was a senior member of the law firm of Murchie, Calcutt and Son- dee.

Why does he get his own bridge? Did he pay for it?

Although Murchie probably ponied up a few of his own dollars, he earned that bridge through his civic engagement. Among his many endeavors, he served as chairman of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce Shorefront Committee, responsible for the location and construction of Grandview Parkway.

In 1941, Murchie told the story of how he decided that Traverse City needed the Parkway, in an article published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. As a child, Lil’ Bobby wished to get to the beach on Grand Traverse Bay (newly reclaimed from industrial waste, thanks to the efforts of Con Foster and the community), but to do so, he had to pick his way across the Pennsylvania Railroad track. The track was littered with sharp little cinders, left behind by the trains.

His poor little feet! One day, a particular cinder lodged itself between his toes, and Lil’ Bobby exploded, “By golly, when I grow up I’m going to get this old railroad out of here and make a park for kids!”

When Murchie returned to Traverse City in 1934, he was struck anew by the beauty of the bay. Recalling his tender young feet so abused, he vowed that the railroad track would no longer plague beachgoers. After several years of work, plans were drawn for the Grandview Parkway, to the tune of $250,000.

So that’s it? He served on ONE committee? Big deal.

I didn’t know Murchie myself, so I will need to rely on his obituary to answer this one. Murchie was much more involved in Traverse City than just the Shorefront Committee. He served as president of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce in 1938, Traverse City Rotary Club in 1939-40, and Grand Traverse – Leelanau – Antrim Bar Association in 1961.

Hospital Drive at Traverse City Country Club, August 6, 1946. Men seated compromise the campaign Executive Committee. L to R: Ralph Thompson, H.W. Heidbreder, Matthew MacIntosh, Robert B. Murchie. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

He was co-chairman of a three-man committee responsible for the success of the original campaign for funds with which Munson Medical Center was organized and constructed independently of Traverse City State Hospital; and was chairman of the committees organized to promote the establishment of an Air Force jet base in this area.

He was a member of the board of directors of Traverse City State Bank for 22 years prior to retirement in 1964; a member of the American Legion: Veterans of Foreign Wars and a former judge advocate of the state department; a member of the American Bar Association, Grand Traverse – Leelanau- Antrim Bar Association; a life member of Traverse City Lodge 222, FAM; A member of Scottish Rite of Free Masonry Moslem Temple, Detroit; Traverse City Shrine Club; Traverse City Golf and Country Club; Traverse City Elks Club; and a charter member of the Knife and Fork Club. Murchie was the recipient of Traverse City’s Distinguished Service Award in 194B.

Hm, pretty busy guy! I guess he can have a bridge named after him.

Not that we were looking to change the name, but we appreciate your support. So, here’s to Robert Burns Murchie, and his tender feet. May we all travel a little safer (and with better scenery), thanks to his work!

Care to learn more about the beautification of the Grand Traverse Bay waterfront? Check out Richard Fidler’s books, Glimpses of Grand Traverse Past: Reflections on a Local History, and Traverse City, Michigan, 1850-2013. Both of these titles are available for checkout at Traverse Area District Library.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Summer Tour(ist) Season is Near!

A couple of our area historical societies are offering tours this summer, and here’s the inside scoop!

The annual Adams Fly Festival at Kingsley Branch Library promises to be a hoot, as usual! Two tours to Mayfield Pond Park are highlights of this annual event. Come learn about the history of the Adams Fly, its creator Len Halladay, and about Mayfield, a “little piece of paradise” in southern Grand Traverse County. See you out there on June 3rd!

From the Traverse Area Historical Society, they will be bringing back their now-famous Oakwood Cemetery Tours, as well as tours of Downtown Traverse City, and (with perhaps a little help from our readers), possibly a tour of the Sixth Street Historic District. Stay tuned for dates, and in the meantime, enjoy a “virtual walking tour” of Downtown Traverse City by our own Richard Fidler, courtesy of the Society.

 

The Benzie Area Historical Museum has been marching toward the summer, with special displays going up about World War I. They have also reminded us that it is National Doughnut Day on June 2nd… what a yummy way to honor our veterans! In regards to tours,  the Museum is offering two, both in cooperation with Benzie Bus:

“Consider getting away from the beach and experience  an historical bus tour of Benzie County with knowledgeable local guides.  The tours last approximately 2 hours and are  available every Thursday and Friday from June 2 through September 1.  Plan to visit the Benzie Area Historical Museum too– either before or after your tour!

​There are two tours, each departing  from the Benzie Area Historical Museum.  One tour travels to Beulah, Legacy Art Park,  Thompsonville, Benzonia Cemetery  and the other explores the  Elberta and Frankfort areas.  Tickets are $15 per person; children eight and younger are free.  For more information about tour content, contact the BAHS museum 231 882-5538  or info@benziemuseum.org.

​For tour reservations contact Benzie Bus at 231 325-3000. “

Researchers “Fired Up” about Sanborn Maps

Collection available at the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, online.

Sanborn Maps, if you are a researcher in the fields of architecture, genealogy, or local history, are invaluable tools. Until recently, Traverse Area District Library only held a copy of the 1929 Traverse City Sanborn, a very small slice of the pie. As of May 25th, the Library of Congress has announced the digitization of their collection of maps, some 25,000, all originally published prior to 1900. Maps will be added monthly until 2020, making for a total of 500,000 Sanborns available in their digital collection. As of this publication, the Traverse City maps for 1884, 1890, 1893, and 1899 are all available.

A Sanborn Map was originally used to provide insurance assessment information to insurance underwriters. Lets say that you owned a wooden warehouse near the pier in Traverse City in 1890. In it is your whole life’s savings, amounting to $100,000 worth of product to ship out… and that product is quite flammable. You would want to insure it, right? But, there are no local insurance companies, and no insurance agent is traveling to so far a place as Traverse City for several months.

So, how can a company assess your property correctly and insure it for the amount you need? The company would rely on information found in the Sanborn Maps. The Sanborn would reveal where your property was within the city, what type of building it was, its composition, and size. They could also look at your neighbors as well. While the Sanborn might not say what is in each building, knowing who your neighbors were (a gas works, other warehouses, residences), would help the insurance agent make a quality guess on what to appraise your property at… and how risky you’re living!

How is this information useful for researchers today? Once you know how to read a Sanborn, the world of the past comes alive. Color coding and other indicators found on these maps tells the story of a town. When you boil down all the information, the Sanborn tells you one thing, which can be used for a myriad of uses: How did a city grow, both physically and financially?

How does a map answer that type of question? Look to our previous example of 1890s Traverse City. From the Sanborn, we can tell that the city had a significant collection of warehouse buildings near the waterfront, indicating that it was a port city that relied on trade. The large swaths of the city colored in red indicates the predominance of brick-built structures, indicating a lot of sustained growth in the area.  How fun would it be to compare the same area, year after year, through the Sanborns? Get the whole family together for that kind of fun!

In addition to these sweeping generalizations, you can also use them to find the businesses owned by your ancestors. As you can guess, there are a number of businesses owned by persons with Bohemian (or Czechoslovakian) names near Randolph and Second Streets. So, even if your family did not own a business, this could be a clue that you should be looking in the general vicinity for your family, if they are of Bohemian descent.

Another hidden gem in a Sanborn are the names and widths of streets. For any researcher who has had to rely on census records or city directories to try and figure out where a relative lived, especially if street have been renamed or moved since then, this information is no small treat!

Before now, these maps were only available by traveling great distances to larger libraries, or by paying for very pricy access online through private companies. Every day, your library (whether here in Traverse City or the Library of Congress), is hard at work getting the information you need, in a way that you prefer. We live in amazing times!

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Accident rings a “Bell” with former Mayfield Resident

These images of an automobile accident in Mayfield were taken by newspaperman Al Barnes. Recently, a reader of Grand Traverse Journal stumbled across these images while looking at our digital images collection (which you can look at here), and remembered something interesting, linking Michigan Bell Telephone to the scene.

What is the connection?

Here’s a hint: this accident took place in 1964!

So, what’s the connection? Reader cancunblu01 recalls the day clearly: ‘I was living in Mayfield then and I remember this, Michigan Bell was on strike, Traverse City was long distance so we couldn’t call for an ambulance. Claude Smith of Smith Funeral Home in Kingsley drove victims to Traverse City in his hearse!”

Does anyone else remember the Michigan Bell Strike of 1964?

Silos Contained Memories (and Animal Feed)

Silos on Front Street in Traverse City, Michigan.

This image, published by the Traverse City Record-Eagle in December 1971 and taken by photographer John Hawkins, shows a pretty bizarre sight: Feed silos on Front Street? Do you remember where they were? Bonus points if you remember the name of the store or company they belonged to, or what was in them!

Congratulations to reader Larry, who got in the first correct answer!: “‘Ralston Purina Company’, 416 W. Front street, immediately east of today’s ‘Folgarelli’s’.” Good memory, Larry!

Here’s a great story about Ralston’s from reader Gary: “The ones I remember weren’t exactly on Front St., but rather at 116 Gillis St. behind where the Northern Angler is now. I bought my feed there in the mid 1970s. There was a Purina dealer there named J. S. McDonald. I bought a feed mixture from him that included waste from pie maker, Chef Pierre. What a glorious smell it gave my barn. How much nicer it was to go into the barn and smell Dutch Apple Pie instead of calf dung.”

We’d have to agree, Gary! Thanks to all our readers for reading and contributing. Each memory preserved in the Journal is another memory not likely to be forgotten!

How does this Auto Accident relate to Michigan Bell?

These images of an automobile accident in Mayfield were taken by newspaperman Al Barnes. Recently, a reader of Grand Traverse Journal stumbled across these images while looking at our digital images collection (which you can look at here), and remembered something interesting, linking Michigan Bell Telephone to the scene.

What is the connection?

Here’s a hint: this accident took place in 1964!

The Demise of the Campbell House, 1929

Recently uncovered in our local history files here at Traverse Area District Library were three photographs and a handful of typed memos, that tell the story of the end of the Campbell House. You may know it better as the Park Place Hotel, the name Perry Hannah and A. Tracy Lay graced the building with after they purchased the property in 1878.

The Campbell House was announced as open for business in the Grand Traverse Herald on November 20, 1873, by proprietor Henry D. Campbell. The imposing  three-story wooden structure dwarfed most of the surrounding buildings. You might be surprised to hear that the House sat at the southeast corner of State and Park Streets, “fronting State Street on the north and Park Place on the west,” 80 feet by 82 feet respectively. How is that possible? Before the Park Place was built at its current location, Park Street (or Park Place, the names were used interchangeably) extended through to Washington Street.

The all-wooden structure “succeeded to progress of the age,” according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle, who reported on the the demise of the original building on September 6, 1929. By the memos found, we know that the Hotel staff, including a moving gang of 20 men, were able to remove all the furniture before noon on September 5th, beating the scheduled evacuation date of September 9th by three days. The wrecking crew wasted no time, and began demolition the same day (right about 7 p.m.) that the building was evacuated.

The Park Place Hotel as we know it, with its 1930s Art Deco construction, was finished and open for business in June 1930. In the meantime, business continued as usual for the staff. How was that possible? There was no building, right?

Few probably remember The Annex, which was located basically where the Park Place’s covered parking structure is today, and served as the “offsite location” of the Park Place Hotel. The Hannah & Lay Company originally constructed the Annex when business outgrew the original structure. When the portion of the building that was the Campbell House still stood, the two buildings were linked by an overhead, covered walkway that extended across Park Street. It operated as a complete hotel for guests, and was lightly remodeled to create additional space for an office, lounge, and a coffee shop and grill.

The Annex Coffee Shop was such a success that the Park Place continued to operate at that location for another year, even after the new Park Place Hotel building was finished. As the Park Place itself described the Annex, it was “very convenient for Luncheon when downtown or an afternoon game is on… Or perhaps Sunday dinner when you are dressed up and look so nice.” Classy!

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal, and special collections librarian at Traverse Area District Library. Thanks go to Marlas Hanson for re-discovering these gems on the Campbell House!

Discover Something New at May Events for History

Betty Driscoll to address Grand Traverse Genealogical Society on Discovering Records Related to Traverse City State Hospital

The May Meeting will be held Thursday May 18th at 1:00pm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 3746 Veterans Drive, Traverse City.

The guest speaker is Betty Driscoll, who will be speaking on “Voices from the asylum.” Her current project is compiling the records from the Traverse City State Hospital.

The event is free of charge, and open to the public, no reservations are required.

For more information contact: Melanie Olsen 231-275-6671 or olsen@lakenpineslodge.com

Maddie Lundy on “Les Biederman and the History of Radio in Traverse City”, Traverse Area Historical Society

TAHS has one more spring program to be presented on Sunday, May 21st in the McGuire Room at the Traverse Area District Library. It will start at 1:00 p.m., with light refreshments being served following the program.

May 21st: “Les Biederman and the History of Radio in Traverse City,” given by local historian Maddie Lundy!

Also, check out our latest newsletter for a letter from the President, an update on the Archives, and a sneak peek of our Summer Tour line-up!

Civil War Nurses  by Pam Toler, Benzie Area Historical Museum

Pam Toler will address the Benzie Area Historical Museum on Thursday, May 11th at 7PM at  Mills Community House, on the lives of women Civil War Nurses. Toler is the author of Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War, written to accompany the PBS series of the same name.

Event is free and open to the public, and co-sponsored by the Benzie Women’s History Project.

 

Skewered Tree Theories, but No Answers, For March Mystery

Two iron loops are buried in the wood of this White Oak, located on the shores of Boardman Lake, on the Highland Assisted Living Center grounds. We speculate that the tree, given its current size, was already very large a hundred years ago, especially since White Oaks grow so slowly . What were they used for? We will give you our hypothesis next month!

One theory is that the hardware was attached to a line that ran across Boardman Lake and connected to another post on the west side. The line was used to confine logs for release to the mill, further downstream, at the mouth of the Boardman. It’s only a theory!

Another theory is that the hardware was part of a pulley system, and either logs or barges were pulled out of Boardman Lake at that spot. The location is close enough to railroad tracks that it’s plausible this was a loading area.

One thing is for certain, the white oak is old enough to have been a large tree, even a hundred years ago! The hardware is so deeply embedded in the wood, obviously having been inserted in a much earlier time, and could have supported a lot of weight.