Tag Archives: lumbering

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.

Who Founded Traverse City? 

Historians love it when they find a new source of information that sheds light upon a subject they are interested in.  So it was when, after idle searching on the internet, I came across Industrial Chicago, Volume 6, Logging Interests, a book that offered plentiful information about Perry Hannah, Albert T. Lay, and the Hannah Lay company, the firm responsible for the building of Traverse City.  Reading the book in the comfort of my home, I learned about the company not from the limited perspective of local history sources, but from Chicago-based ones.  In addition to information about the company itself, the narrator told anecdotes about founders of the company, Hannah and Lay, stories that had lain untold so far in the telling of our history.

Some information simply confirmed what we thought we knew.  Did the lumber taken from Northern Michigan help rebuild Chicago after the great fire of 1871, the fire allegedly started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow?  Indeed it did.  We are told that the Hannah and Lay yard lay south of the fire’s devastation.  The company was well positioned to supply lumber for the rebuilding process.

Exactly how profitable was Hannah Lay?  The reader of Industrial Chicago is given figures about board feet of lumber produced at mills of the Hannah Lay empire, but these are difficult to interpret.  How much is a billion board-feet after all?  A better indicator is this: In 1895, the year of publication of the book, the company owned the Chamber of Commerce building at the corner of LaSalle and Washington outright.  It was valued at the time at three million dollars, a sum in today’s money that would total closer to 35 million.  A postcard from the time shows its magnificence: fourteen floors with astounding ornaments—a palace, which has been replaced, sadly, by the Chicago Board of Trade building.

Perry Hannah.

What does Industrial Chicago tell us about the founders of the company?  About Perry Hannah, it revealed not much that we didn’t know.  I found it interesting that he obtained a Common School education probably consisting of ‘reading, ‘writing, and ‘rithmetic, before he moved to the Port Huron area with his father at the age of 13.  There he learned the art of rafting logs to be sent down the St. Claire river to sawmills to be sawn into lumber.  His roots were close to the working class, unlike his partner Albert T. Lay.

Lay was educated in private schools until the age of 16, presumably a more rigorous education than the public schools at the time.  His father was a legislator to the US House of Representatives for the state of New York.  Is this why young Lay’s signature appears bold and competent, in contrast to Hannah’s—that reading and writing were activities he had spent much time doing?  At first, he stayed in Traverse City to set the new mill near the mouth of the Boardman River to working properly, but five years after arriving at the rude settlement carved out there, he and Hannah resolved to change places.  Perry Hannah would stay in Traverse City and Lay would handle the Chicago operations.  Lay, perhaps because of his superior education, would be involved in the more intricate dealings with suppliers and major customers.

Tracy A. Lay.

Albert T. Lay’s early years in Traverse City have not been described by previous historians.  We know that in 1853 he ran against James Strang, the Mormon leader at Beaver Island, and lost that election to the Michigan legislature.  He oversaw the construction of a steam-powered sawmill at edge of Grand Traverse Bay.  He probably approved the building of the first Hannah Lay store, just 16 x 20 feet, the ledgers of which still remain at the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor. 

Lay named Traverse City.  In 1853, seeking a postal route for the settlement, he presented the name “Grand Traverse” before officials in Washington, D.C., later accepting their suggestion to strike out the “Grand.”  It would be Traverse City, the “City” element added later.

What does one do to found a city?  In the past, Harry Boardman and his son Horace were given credit for founding Traverse City.  They bought land here, built a sawmill in 1847, and began the production of lumber at that early date.  A hundred years later, in 1947, historians convinced city leaders that the centennial celebration should occur in that year.  The settlement began with Boardman’s acquisition of land and the subsequent logging of the trees on the property—no matter that the Boardmans never put down roots here.  They bought the land and sold it soon after. 

The whole question of who founded the City–and when–seems silly to Native Americans who had set up camps here from prehistoric times.  Still, there is something in a name.  Whoever names a place deserves credit for that act.  By that rule, Albert T. Lay founded the City.

One story about the rude, uncivilized nature of the Traverse area tells about Lay and a judge friend from Manistee who had come north to visit the logging operation at the foot of Grand Traverse Bay.  The judge promptly identified a man in the sawmill crew as a run-away criminal wanted for the murder of his own daughter.  Quickly, he made Lay the deputy sheriff of the new region, and then named him deputy county clerk, deputy county treasurer, and deputy school inspector.  In short, Albert T. Lay temporarily held all the offices for the soon-to-be Grand Traverse county.  After the sawmill was stopped to secure men for a jury, the trial proceeded apace, the defendant declared guilty.  He was tied to a post at the mill (since there was no jail), and was sent downstate to serve a life sentence in prison there.  Justice was done with the aid of the young owner of the sawmill at the mouth of the Boardman.

In praising Lay, I do not want to disparage Perry Hannah’s contribution to Traverse City.  After all, he did stay at this ramshackle outpost for 47 years, keeping away from the enticements of a grand city—Chicago—only a day away by railroad or steamer.  He pushed to have the Northern Michigan Asylum located in Traverse City and personally guaranteed support to the Carnegie library, thereby assuring it would be built on Sixth Street, opposite his home.  He donated land to churches and generally treated people fairly and with generosity.  When Traverse City was a small settlement, he—and his company—ruled the town, but for all that, he was a benevolent despot.  We could have done much worse.

At the same time, we should not neglect the other founder of Traverse City, Albert T. Lay.  A small park on Union Street bears his name, but few persons remember what he did for the community.  There is no statue, as there is of Perry Hannah across Union street, though a plaque is mounted on a boulder that reads: Lay Park: To commemorate Albert Tracy Lay, pioneer lumberman, who, with Perry Hannah, in 1851 founded the first permanent settlement on the site of Traverse City.”  What elegant simplicity!  The two together founded the city.

Timber!: An excerpt from a novel by Harold Titus, published in 1922

Harold Titus was a noted writer and conservationist, born in 1888, died in 1967.  He wrote more than a dozen novels, among them “Timber,’ a work that expressed his lifelong interest in conservation.  Titus was a founding member of the Izaak Walton League, established in the same year as the book appeared.  He is buried in Oakwood cemetery in Traverse City.

In the following excerpt Helen Foraker, a character who speaks out for scientific management of forests, expresses her view (and Titus’s) of the importance of woodlands and the tragedy of their destruction.

“Less than fifty years ago this land was stripped of its pine; today it is maturing another crop.  The same could have been done with any other piece that grew good trees: Just keep the fire out and nature would have done much in time.  Fire, fire, fire, without end!  Every summer it eats across the plains country; every summer it does its damage on cutover lands in all the timber States.   It not only destroys trees, but it takes the seed bearers and the seeds that lie ready to sprout and the life of the soil itself.

timbertitlepage001“To exist as a nation, we must have forests; to have forests all we need to do for a beginning is to give this worthless land a chance.  We can speed up its work by helping—by keeping out fire, by planting trees by good forest practice.  Can’t you see all these Michigan plains growing pine again?  And in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New England, the South, and everywhere where hills and valleys have become blackened eyesores?  Don’t you see what it would mean to people, not only in cheaper homes and steel and railroads, but something else?  Fish and game and a chance to play as men were intended to play!  It is so simple to do; to show people that it is simple is such a task!”p. 125,6

“In the woods when a saw gang has cut into a tree until it commences to sag and snap they stand back and cry ‘Timber!’  It is the warning cry of the woods; it means that trees are coming down, that men within range should stand clear.  My father used to say that the cry of ‘Timber!’ was ringing in the country’s ears, that the loggers had given the warning, that the last of our trees were commencing to fall—but we haven’t heard!  Our ears are shut to the cry, our backs are turned and unless we look sharp we’ll be caught!” p.128

Excerpts taken from the 2nd printing of Timber. Copies of Timber are available for circulation through Traverse Area District Library. The book is also available free online through Hathi Digital Trust.

John R. Bush: Traverse City’s own Paul Bunyan

by Julie Schopieray

Men at Betsie River, working with peavys to ensure logs are driven downriver. Image courtesy of the Bensley Collection, History Center of Traverse City.
Men at Betsie River, working with peavys to ensure logs are driven downriver. Image courtesy of the Bensley Collection, History Center of Traverse City.

By the turn of the 20th century, much of Michigan’s forests were depleted and large scale lumbering was over. The men who worked in the logging camps moved on and found other ways to support their families. One of these men was John R. Bush.  He was born in Ontario about 1865, son of Jesse and Maria Rosebush. Jesse was a Civil War veteran and moved between his home state of New York and Ontario, Canada, finally settling in Bay City, Michigan in the early 1880s.  He had his own drayage business delivering and hauling baggage and goods in his wagon, later becoming the “city scavenger” an appointed position where he used his hauling experience to pick up junk for the city.

“Johnny” Rosebush lived with his parents and six siblings in Bay City and in 1880, at the age of 15, was already working in the lumber camps where he likely gained skills as a log driver, riding logs down the rivers and breaking up log jams. It was a dangerous but exciting job requiring stamina, balance, courage and sure-footedness.

He was still working as a lumberman near Gladwin in 1886 when he married Maria “Mary” Hodgins. Over the years he dropped the “Rose” from his last name and started going by Bush.  

Their son Russell was born in Isabella county in 1889 where they lived until about 1897 when they took up residence in Traverse City. Bush started up a drayage and delivery service. One of his regular services was loading and delivering trunks and baggage for railroad and ship passengers.

His skills as a log rider did not go unnoticed.  By 1901, he started putting on exhibitions regularly during Fourth of July and Labor day celebrations, where he would demonstrate birling, the spinning of a log under his feet, and riding a log either standing and sitting, down the chute at the dam near the Union Street bridge. These events drew hundreds, even thousands of people.  One exhibition that was to take place on July 4th, 1902, was described in the paper:

When 9 o’clock came, an immense crowd had gathered to see John R. Bush do his fancy log riding above the grist mill dam and then shoot the chute. Cass street bridge and the banks were well filled… Union street bridge was crowded till traffic was blocked, the braces and timbers at the side and below held men as thick as black birds on a limb, the banks of the river on either side were lined with people, the chute had a goodly number of would-be spectators and even the telephone poles were occupied, one of them holding nine men, and below Union street there were probably 1,500 people more. In all it was estimated that at least 5,000 people were gathered to see the exhibition. – Traverse City Record-Eagle July, 5, 1902

Unfortunately, there was a mixup in communication and Bush did not show up. He had become ill, and word of his illness did not reach the organizing committee in time. Bush apologized, made good on his word and held another exhibition a week later. The July 17 performance was a success:

He mounted  a small log that would just nicely sustain his weight, did some fancy work near the Cass street bridge, took off both coat and overalls while on the log and finally, after putting these ashore, went through the chute. He started standing, straddled the log while going through the chute, and resumed his standing position while the log was still in swift motion through the chute. The log got crosswise in the current, making the feat still more difficult. – Traverse City Record-Eagle July 18, 1902

It seems Bush was not above taking a dare from a friend. In April of 1902, his friend Charles Germaine dared him with the following conditions:   to take a cedar pole only of a size Bush could carry and ride it down the river from Front St. bridge to the north Union St. bridge, and lighting a cigar during the ride. Germaine put up $5 against Bush’s $10 to see Bush do it. It can only be assumed that dares like this were concocted in one of the local taverns the night before!

Log driver with spiked shoes and hook, the tools of his trade. Image courtesy of National Film Board, Canada.
Log driver with spiked shoes and hook, the tools of his trade. Image courtesy of National Film Board, Canada.

There were many people who thought that the entire affair was a bluff… but in a very few minutes Bush appeared, and with him a crowd of men anxious to see him win his money or get a ducking, many of them did not care much which, so long as they were entertained… He took a pole, a cedar about 12 feet long and barely large enough to sustain him when he got it in the water, and carried it from his delivery wagon to the river… The wind was blowing so strongly that it was obviously out of the question to light a cigar, and it was harder to stay on the log, so the condition that Bush was to light the cigar was withdrawn. There were hundreds of people on the banks and bridge when the attempt was made…. He lay down on the log, and floated for a considerable distance…then he sat up, and later lay down again. When he passed under the Union street bridge he was greeted with applause. [Mr] Greenwald handed over the $15 that had been put in his hands. Germaine was a good loser, expressed no regret at parting with the five and said that Bush earned his money.

The feat created so much excitement that the log Bush rode on was put on display in front of Miller’s Drug Store.  A few days later, a local artist drew a cartoon of Bush on the log quoted him “declaring it was easy and that he would go over Niagara Falls on a log some day.”

The log-riding exhibitions made by John Bush became an annual event. In 1905 he put on a show at the Labor Day celebrations.:

Old grist mill dam, looking east on Boardman River. Image courtesy of History Center of Traverse City.
Old grist mill dam, looking east on Boardman River. Image courtesy of History Center of Traverse City.

Union street bridge was lined with people to see John Bush do his log rolling act as the impression had gotten out that he was going down the chute. His exhibition, however, was given above the chute and consisted of birling and a number of fancy tricks with a log. Bush has lost none of his old time skill and his feats were given liberal applause. Mr. Bush was willing to go through the chute, but the Hannah & Lay company refused to allow the boom to be opened on account of the presence of a large amount of driftwood…

Beginning in 1900 Bush was known to take any opportunity to show off his skills in Traverse City. In August that year, an old part of the dam at the flour mill was being torn down and a good flow of water was coming over.  Rival drayman Mark Craw decided  he would ride a canoe over the old dam to show off in front of the people waiting for a delayed train at the station near the dam. John Bush wanted to do the same with a log, but could not find one at the time.  

Bush and Craw were not friends. In fact their rivalry went back quite some time and ended in a bad way.  In 1910, during an altercation over parking their rigs at a railroad station, Craw lost his temper and lashed Bush across the face with his horse whip. Bush brought charges against Craw and won his case in a trial.  Craw went on to become  the Humane Officer for the city as well as game warden.

John and his wife Mary had only one son. After Mary died unexpectedly in 1903, John was married again in 1905 to  Maud McClellan, who was 20 years younger than himself.    They had no children together.  John died in Detroit  on June 21, 1917, from “exhaustion from acute mania”  after a two-month stay at the  Eloise Infirmary.  His brief obituary stated that he was a well-liked and kind man. He was only about 52 when he died.

John R. Bush, for many years hack driver and baggageman in this city, passed away at the home of his son in Detroit, on Thursday, June 21 and was buried June 23 at Detroit. Mr. Bush was well known all over the city and it has been said, and very truly, of him, that anyone going the same way Johnnie Bush was, never had to walk, even if they didn’t have the price of a ride. He had been in failing health for about two months. He will be greatly missed throughout the city. – Traverse City Press June 29, 1917

Please watch this charming video and remember John R. Bush and the many other sure-footed and courageous men who drove logs down the rivers of Northern Michigan:

Julie Schopieray is a local researcher, author, and regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.

“Cutting the Last Pine”: A Romantic Vision of the End of the Lumber Era, 1911

"Like shadows they have passed the dreams of long ago." Image from "Life Pictures," portrait of author Scott Woodward and unknown figure.
“Like shadows they have passed the dreams of long ago.” Image from “Life Pictures,” portrait of author Scott Woodward and unknown figure.

Scott Woodward (1853-1919) was a local author and publisher living in Traverse City at the turn of the last century. His work is firmly in the realm of realism, but it is often difficult to discern if his writings are autobiographical in nature, or if he’s just good at spinning a highly believable yarn.  Woodward’s style is deftly described by George W. Kent, editor of Traverse City Daily Eagle circa 1910: “In his early life this author differed from his fellows in that his imagination was most vivid and he turned his visions, as some called them, into realities and wove them into his paintings of life in various phrases about him, taken from his peculiar viewpoint.”

The following is one entry in Woodward’s Life Pictures in Poetry and Prose, originally published in 1911, and tells the story of the felling of the last tree in a once-wide stand of pines. So romantic is the notion, that readers may be skeptical of his actual presence at the moment described, but the detail and memory cited gives one reason to believe his tale rings true.

“CUTTING THE LAST PINE.

The last pine- the lonely monarch in the midst of 2,000,000 feet of hardwood timber- is down. Its fall was one of the most pathetic sights I have ever had occasion to witness.

Through the courtesy of Frank Lahym, the lumberman, I found myself on a cold, frosty morning headed for camp. It was my good fortune to receive an invitation to be present at the cutting of the last pine to be found anywhere in the woods for miles around.

Great is the power of imagination, and before I was aware of it I was again among the scenes of thirty years ago.

THE SCENE CHANGES.

I was once more riding beneath the evergreens that hung low from the great load of snow they were supporting. In the distance I could here [sic] the steady “clip, clip” of the woodsman’s ax and the sharp ring of the saw, while away in the distance came the familiar warning, “Timber! Timber!” to all who might be in danger from the falling trees.

Again the scene changed with me and I stood beside the skidway and saw the great pines being loaded on sleighs with their 12-foot bunks. Log on top of log was being piled up on the sleighs until it looked like a veritable rollway for each team to take out.

The last log is rolled up into position, the familiar “chain over” is given and answered. The load is securely bound and then we start down the iced road to the river- I awake from my dream.

There is a jerk and a jolt and we find ourselves up-standing. One sleigh is fouled on the roots of a young sapling that some road monkey has unwittingly cut four inches too high.

Thus vanishes the dream of ’78 and with it the great rollway, the logging sleighs with their 12-foot bunks, the graded road which was kept in shape by the sprinkler over night, the overhanging trees that always had a weird and ghostlike appearance when clothed in their mantle of snow, and, last of all, the great banking ground where still flows the waters of the Manistee.

THE DINNER HORN CALLS.

We consign them all to the memories of thirty years ago, when I, too, was a unit in that great industry that will never return. We reach camp just as the great dinner horn is calling from labor to refreshments, and the lumber jacks come steaming in from their cutting of hardwood.

But it has changed, all changed. We sit down to a table loaded with roast beef, bread and butter, potatoes and coffee, capped out with pie and cookies. Ye gods, but what must one of our boys of ’78 have thought had he sat down to such a meal. However, we bolt it down while I think of the days when men sat around a fire in the woods and ate their beans and hard bread with good old “New Orleans” for dressing, and were satisfied. Had a man kicked on that he would have been hooted out of camp and compelled to take the hay road between two days.

In the midst of two million feet of hardwood in town 26 north of range 11 west stood one of the most beautiful cork pines that ever grew, three feet six on the sump, and where cut made five fourteen, one twelve and one sixteen-feet logs. When scaled by Doyle’s it measured a bit better than 3,000 feet. We had cut larger trees in ’78, as well as smaller ones, but none better. I counted the rings on the stump and came to the conclusion that this one pine had stood alone as a landmark, or sentinel, defying the storm and wind for better than 200 years, and had even escaped in days past the vandalism of the timber thieves.

"Logs headed for Case & Croster Mill, Kingsley, 1908." Image courtesy of Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection,  fw03003, Kingsley Branch Library.
“Logs headed for Case & Croster Mill, Kingsley, 1908.” Image courtesy of Floyd Webster Historical Photograph Collection, fw03003, Kingsley Branch Library.

I loved the pine, not for its intrinsic value alone, but for the memory it awakened. However, the time had come to cut and fell this last monarch. The hardwood was being cut around it. Huge piles of tops and brush were in every direction. It might survive until some future day in the hot summer, when some unthinking halfwit would drop a match in the dry tinder of the slashing. The prospect would be similar to that already seen in sections of Wexford, Roscommon, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse and many other counties.

After getting several good pictures of the landscape and the tree from various positions, I watched it being cut and skidded ready for the hauling.

Then, as the day was advancing, I was called to the sleigh for our return trip to the city. Strange it may seem. No one but an old lumberman can understand when I say I was both glad as well as sorry, to be present at the cutting of the last pine.”

Woodward, Scott. “Cutting of the Last Pine.” Life in Pictures in Prose and Verse. Traverse City: Scott Woodward, 1911. 133-136.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. Beautiful pieces of prose and poetry reside unexplored in the rare books collection in the Nelson Room of Traverse Area District Library, and she invites you to come and find yourself a long-lost treasure.

Remembering the Golden Age of Railroads: The Manistee and North Eastern Railroad and its Grand Traverse connections

by Richard Leary, Lake Ann historian

The Manistee and North Eastern Railroad (M. & N. E.  R. R.) played a large role in the formation of many towns along its route. It served the Grand Traverse region for nearly a half century, hauling logs, lumber, produce and people. For many years, 1892 to 1934, it connected Traverse City to Manistee and numerous towns in between.

The Manistee and North Eastern Railroad was organized in January 1887 at a meeting at the Buckley and Douglas Lumber Company in Manistee, Michigan. William Douglas and Edward Buckley were the principals behind the railroad. The M. and N.E. was to extend 75 miles from Manistee to Traverse City. The primary purpose of the railroad was to bring logs and lumber from northwestern Michigan to the big Buckley and Douglas saw mills in Manistee.

Construction started in spring of 1888 and had reached Onekama when the railroad opened for freight business in October 1888. Track laying continued northward, reaching Kaleva and Lemon Lake by April 1889 and Nesson City by September that year. Tracks were extended to Interlochen by June 1890.

At first there was no passenger service; the railroad, as planned, only hauled logs. The first passenger train on the M. & N.E. ran on January 6, 1889 as far as Bear Creek, a distance of 20 miles. The M & N E added a second engine in 1889, using it on the passenger service.

According to writer Margie Fromm, the train was: …impressive, with its green and red plush interior and newly painted wine exterior. The train consisted of the locomotive, one coach, and combination smoking and baggage car. Additional coaches were soon added.

The tracks reached Lake Ann in October 1890. Passenger service as well as log and freight hauling to Lake Ann started that year.  In many ways, the village of Lake Ann was typical of the interaction of the M & NE Railroad and the towns along its route. In some cases a town was created by the railroad but in all cases the towns grew with the coming of the rails.

The first passenger station was near Ransom Creek. A dispute with the Ransoms over excess timber cutting beside the railroad right of way resulted in the station being moved to Lake Ann.

The first depot in Lake Ann was quite rustic. A new station was soon built, just south of the main street, Maple Avenue, opening in May 1892. The station had a waiting room for passengers at one end, an office for the railroad agent and ticket window in the center, and a baggage and freight room and loading dock at the opposite end.

Overall, Buckley and Douglas built a first class railroad. At that time, most logging railroads were narrow gauge but Buckley and Douglas began with standard gauge tracks. In addition to quality passenger cars and depots, they used some of the heaviest rail then in use.

The Manistee Daily, in May 1899, described the railroad as follows: The Manistee & North Eastern is something unique in its way, as it is believed to be the only one of anything like its size, standard gauge, thoroughly built and equipped and operated after the manner of the larger lines with freight and passenger trains, express, mail, train dispatchers, own telegraph lines, etc.

To that Edward Buckley added, One [coach] is a first-class, 60-foot car that is equal to the best of the Chicago and West Michigan.

The large volume of timber available in the Lake Ann area delayed the expansion of the railroad. The tracks were not extended to Traverse City until June 1892.

Because the railroad terminated in Lake Ann for about two years, a turntable was built at the end of the line on the north side of the village. This allowed the engine to be turned around before making the return trip south. It was completed in December 1891.

Benzie Banner, Dec. 10, 1891:  The turn table is now in working order at the lake, and the awkwardness of running the trains backward is no longer a necessity.

The turntable was small, just long enough for the small locomotives. It was no doubt turned by human power; one man could do this by pushing a bar that extended beyond the end of the turntable.

It may have been removed when the M&NE tracks reached Traverse City in 1892 as it would no longer have been needed to turn locomotives.

Initially a siding was built in Lake Ann to serve the Habbler saw mill located on the lake shore. Later, as logging declined, agriculture became important. Potatoes, in particular, grew well in the sandy soil and became a major crop. Potatoes were brought by wagon to Lake Ann where they were sorted and loaded into boxcars.

Lake Ann, ca. mid-1890s. Railroad operations depended on the close proximity of storage units for goods and equipment.
Lake Ann business district between 1902 and 1910. Railroad operations depended on the close proximity of storage units for goods and equipment.

Several sheds were located beside the M&NE tracks on the north side of the village. A large potato shed was most important. Photographs of the village, taken from the school hill, show boxcars beside the sheds.

According to the Twenty-first Annual Report of the Railroad Commission (1893), the M&NE rolling stock included nine locomotives, five passenger cars, two express and baggage cars, four box cars, 225 platform (logging) cars, four conductors’ cars and one other car.

In 1910 the Manistee and North Eastern Railroad was at its peak. It owned 355 miles of track, 15 steam locomotives, 2 snow plows and numerous other pieces of equipment.

Over the years, a number of branches were laid from the main line. A major line was extended north from Hatch’s Crossing to Northport and another from Solon to Provemont (now Lake Leelanau). A branch extended west from Platte River Junction (just south of Lake Ann) to Empire Junction. The last and longest, in 1910, ran from Kaleva to Grayling. It extended the life of the railroad by opening a large new area of prime timber.

For several years, two passenger trains were operated daily in each direction, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. By 1921, only one train was run in each direction.

At its peak in 1915, the M & NE carried 190,000 passengers. The coming of the automobile reduced the need for passenger service between towns. Ridership declined along with freight traffic, leading to the inevitable end of the Manistee and North Eastern Railroad.

As logging declined in the region, the volume of freight declined and the M & N E, like many railroads during World War I, fell on hard times.  In 1931, the Pere Marquette Railroad took control of the renamed Manistee and Northeastern Railway.

Gradually, segments of tracks were abandoned and service discontinued. By July 1934 the last freight train departed Lake Ann. The tracks between Kaleva and Solon were abandoned in 1934. The station in Traverse City was closed later that year and the railroad’s offices moved to those of the Pere Marquette Railroad.

The M & NE tracks were removed by October 1934. The Lake Ann depot was torn down about 1935 to make room for the new town hall.

New Lake Ann depot, ca. 1892.
New Lake Ann depot, ca. 1892.

Even though one could hop in an automobile and drive from town to town on a developing system of roads, the railroad was not far from people’s minds.  I suspect many people missed the excursion trains to Traverse City or Manistee, the shopping jaunts by the ladies, the business trips into the city by groups of men, or the fall hunting trains. The railroad was more than hauling lumber or produce: it could be a social occasion in its own right. In many ways the Manistee and North Eastern was missed by the people along its former route.

Even now, segments of the right of way can be followed by those willing to explore the fields and woods of the Grand Traverse region. There, one can reflect and imagine the sounds and smells of the steam locomotives of long ago.

For more detailed information – and some anecdotes – see the following references:

Only Memories Remain of the M & N E RR,  Margie Fromm. Originally printed in the Preview Community Weekly. Vol. 9, no. 36, Jan. 14, 1985.  Reprinted in various Railroad Guide and Depot Tours published by the Benzie County Museum.

The History of the Manistee & Northeastern Railroad Company, Peter Schettek, Sr. of Cedar, Michigan. Undated typescript at Traverse Area District Library, Woodmere branch.

Lake Ann and the Manistee and North Eastern Railroad, Helen White and Art Thompson., Benzie Heritage, vol. 1 no. 4, fall 1982,  Benzie County Historical Museum.

The Manistee & North Eastern Railroad,  Manistee Daily, May 1899. Available on the Internet.

The Manistee & Northeastern Railroad: The Life and Death of a Railroad, Donald Stroup, Historical Society of Michigan, 1964

Richard Leary is an active volunteer at the Almira Historical Museum in Lake Ann. Leary is passionate about exploring and documenting the history of Almira Township, and finds inspiration equally in studying written records and in traversing the fields.