Correct Answer Paves Way for Brick Streets

Just look at this beautiful brick street paver, a product of Metropolitan Block from well over 100 years ago! Like the Nelsonville Pavers, which we featured in a mystery photo way back in August 2015, this paver was, until recently, part of the roadway of Traverse City.

Here’s your question for July 2017: What two streets in TC are paved with brick?

Thanks to readers Cathy and Larry, we’ve got our answer! “Brick pavers are still visible on Sixth Street (Division to Union) and Eighth Street (Division to Union).”

Those streets may not be paved with gold, but they are paved with a whole lot of character!

A Polar Bear Returns to Russia: World War I and Michigan, presented by the Benzie Area Historical Museum

by Andrew Bolander, Benzie Area Historian, Museum Volunteer
The experiences of the American North Russia Expeditionary Force during World War I are often overlooked. The units arrived in Archangel, Russia on September 5, 1918. From its inauspicious start, in which 175 soldiers were unable to disembark their troop transports as they were quarantined with the Spanish Flu, to its cold, bitter end, the Expedition was largely seen as a waste of manpower.(1)
Benzie Area Historical Museum, World War I Exhibit, will be on display during the Summer 2017 season.

Why the Americans were involved in the North Russian theater of operations was a convoluted diplomatic mess.  Their military purpose was to maintain an Allied presence on the Eastern front of the European conflict. After the Bolshevik Revolution (November 7, 1917), the Allies were weakened by the loss of Tsarist Russia. The Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918,  and the line of battle on Germany’s eastern border disappeared. So the American North Russia Expeditionary Force appeared in Archangel, Russia, to keep the Bolsheviks south and the Germans out of Murmansk. This adventure later became commonly known as the Polar Bear Expedition.

Although the Americans were specified not to be an offensive force, on September 6th the British command ordered a push south along the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Vologda. It was hailed as a victory, but it had created a front of 450 miles in length that the Allied forces struggled to defend for the next nine months. The Americans, who comprised the majority of the boots on the ground covering the area outside of the city of Archangel, numbered 5500 men. In comparison, the front between France and Germany was roughly 500 miles long with millions of soldiers trenched in on either side.
Benzie Area Historical Museum, World War I Exhibit, will be on display during the Summer 2017 season.

The notorious Russian Winter battled the American troops. President Wilson determined that the American soldiers in Russia would not be equipped with standard Army kit. No American flags were to be officially brought to Archangel and the soldiers did not wear the uniform of the United States Army.  Cold weather gear provided by the British Army was criminally inadequate. Soldiers bartered for improvements in the markets or looted the dead for fur lined hats, gloves, boots, and coats, which were suitable for the environment they were commanded to occupy.

Gilbert T. Shilson was a Lieutenant in Company “K” of the 339th Infantry, and despite this small sample of the trials he and his companions experienced he would willingly return to the same frozen countryside a decade later. Mr. Shilson, who was widely known as “Duke”, grew up in Traverse City and lived there until he joined the Army for World War I. His parents ran the Hotel Shilson that was on the corner of Lake Avenue and Union Street. The Boardman River House was opened by his grandparents and his grandfather, William Shilson, was the first miller in Traverse City. Duke was employed at the Record-Eagle as a reporter and Sporting Editor and later left Traverse City to work at the Detroit News.
Mr. Shilson was recognized by the French Government for his courage during the battle of Kodish, which took place at the end of December 1918:
“Fine Conduct during the battle of Kodish on December 30th & 31st, 1918. Facing an enemy ten times superior in number and under violent fire, he constantly maintained the spirit of his men. Being constantly at the most dangerous places of the fight, he succeeded, after a battle of fifteen hours, in repulsing the enemy. There were five men killed among which were one officer and twenty-nine wounded, out of a total number of sixty-five men.”
Gilbert T. Shilson, Governor Fred W. Green, and the rest of the Commission. Image courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.

In 1929, Michigan Governor Fred W. Green appointed a commission to locate and retrieve fallen American soldiers that remained in Russia when the troops were withdrawn. Shilson was appointed as its chairman. By July 1929 enough research and fundraising had been accomplished to send a team over to Russia and retrieve the fallen American soldiers. The Polar Bear Association dedicated the Polar Bear Monument on Memorial Day 1930.  Fifty-five bodies from Russian soil were interred at White Chapel Memorial Park in Troy, Michigan.

The Benzie Area Historical Museum will conduct a cemetery tour Tuesday, July 11th from 7 to 8 pm and will hold a remembrance ceremony at Mr. Walter Dundon’s grave. Currently the museum is maintaining a display on the Polar Bears as part of the World War I exhibit that will be open for the duration of this summer.
References:
(1) Harding, Warren G. (President) quoted in “American soldiers faced Red Army on Russian soil,” Army Times, September 16, 2002.

Transformations of Boardman Lake: A Place to Work, A Place to Play, A Place to Live

If we could take snapshots of Boardman Lake over the past 160 years, we would see not just one lake, but many of them, each serving a different purpose for the community.  In this collection of photographs taken from the Historical Society’s collection at the Traverse Area District Library, we can explore the transformations of this body of water over time right up to the present day.

Fisherman on Boardman Lake

The lake has always been fished, even before the arrival of white settlers.  One of the first accounts of ice fishing was presented in the Grand Traverse Herald nearly 150 years ago:

The Indians are now engaged in fishing for them [lake trout].  They cut a hole through the ice, cover it with evergreen boughs, throw in an artificial decoy fish attached to a line, throw themselves flat upon their faces, and, with spear in hand, watch the approach of the unsuspecting trout to the decoy, when, quick as lightning, the spear is thrust, and a ten or twenty pound trout is floundering on the ice.

Map showing Boardman Lake in relation to the city of Traverse City

The lake is not an artifact of dam building, but is a natural feature of the land.  It was drawn onto the earliest surveyors’ maps, though was somewhat smaller than it presently is today.  The Union Street dam, constructed in 1869, raised its level about three feet.  Because a river runs through it, plumb bobs don’t drop perpendicularly to the bottom to measure depth.  Perhaps that is why it was considered literally bottomless by early settlers.  In fact, at its deepest, it is only about 70 feet deep, though who can tell how much sedimentation has occurred since its depth was first measured?

The first transformation of the lake occurred with the advent of logging.  Logs were piled along the banks in winter to await the thaw.  When the ice had melted, they were rolled into the water to proceed downriver to the waiting sawmill at the river’s mouth on West Bay.  Located on the west side of the lake, this “rollaway” was one of many along northern Michigan rivers.

Rollaway for logs at Boardman Lake

 

Another view of logs at Boardman Lake. They will be sent downstream to the river’s mouth to be milled for lumber.

Next, industry transformed the lake.  The Oval Wood Dish Company was the largest factory to be located on the lake: in fact, during its existence, it was the largest employer in town, hiring more than 600 workers at its peak.  Besides oval wood dishes (used in packaging meats and other products), it made clothespins, wood flooring, and all kinds of items made from hardwood.  Because local hardwoods had mostly been logged off, it moved to the state of New York in 1917 in order to take advantage of forests in that state.  Other factories along the lake sawed wood for lumber, made chairs, fruit baskets, hardwood flooring, and, somewhat later, automobiles.  The Napolean auto company, located at the far north end, manufactured small cars and trucks for a few years in the 1920’s.  The industrial nature of the area was reinforced when the city determined that the sewage treatment plant would be located at the far north end, this facility constructed in 1931.

View of the Oval Wood Dish company, early 1900’s. The Eighth Street bridge can be seen in the distance.
The Fulghum factory, maker of hardwood flooring. In the twenties, the Napolean auto company would occupy this location.
The Beitner sawmill and chair factory was located at the north end of the lake.
A wagon load of fruit baskets manufactured by the Wells Higman company

 

Recent view of the Traverse City sewage treatment plant

At the same time industrialization was changing Boardman lake, townspeople began to see it as a place to play.  Poplar point was picnic area located well south of the present library.  It could be reached by launch on summer days in the early 1900’s, the boarding point being near the intersection of Boardman Avenue and Eighth Street.  In the winter, the lake froze solid, so that skaters could get out and enjoy the ice—which formed earlier than that on the Bay and was usually smoother, better for skating.  Bicycling, the rage in the 1890’s, still attracts hundreds of those using bike paths.  Hull Park has become a major recreation center for the area with its sailing club, children’s garden at the public library, picnic areas, and scenic spots perfect for fishing or contemplation. 

Orson W. Peck postcard of Poplar Point, popular recreation area in the early 20th century
A launch on Boardman Lake, early 20th century

 

Skaters on Boardman Lake. Note the stacks of the Oval Wood Dish company in the background.
A woman bicyclist photographed at Boardman Lake at the turn of the twentieth century
Recent photograph of the Children’s Garden, located at the Traverse Area Public Library on Woodmere Avenue

 

Pedestrian walking bridge at the outlet to Boardman Lake, 2017

Before refrigeration had caught on—and even afterwards—ice was cut out of the lake to be preserved in sawdust until summer.  Up to the 1940’s it was sawn into blocks and kept in icehouses along the shore to wait the hot days of July.

Cutting ice on Boardman Lake
Ice house on the shore of the lake

Finally, in recent years the lake has become a place to live.  Condos and assisted living facilities stand on both the east and west side of the lake.  More such developments are planned along the edge of the lake along with a walking/bike path that circles the body of water entirely.  The lake is being transformed as we watch, and will, no doubt, transform itself again–as it always has.

Newly constructed condos on the West side of Boardman Lake
Assisted living facilities are found in several locations on the lake.

 

“Aisling”: Adventures in Sailing through the Manitou Passage, 2017

by Stewart A. McFerran, reporting from the deck of the Aisling

I found the old boat at a boatyard in Northport. The cradle had broken and the boat had fallen on its side. The hole in the hull had been patched but the rudder was still bent. I bought the C&C 29’ named Aisling for a song.

Headed toward points unknown. Image of the view of Lake Michigan from the deck of the “Aisling.” Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

Aisling is a Scottish word meaning dream or vision. Ace Welding was able to straighten the bent rudder shaft and we launched the Aisling in Northport. Andy Rockwood and Mark Graham were onboard for the inaugural trip from Northport to the South end of the West Grand Traverse Bay.

The pirate mooring I had near the Grand Traverse Yacht Club (GTYC) was ready. The anchors I place on the Bay bottom were attached to a float that could be picked up and tied to Aisling’s bow. All the boats in the mooring field would swing about to face the wind with Aisling. Only a few of those boats were tied to moorings that were surveyed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

With the Aisling at mooring we were ready to do battle with the fleet each Wednesday night. The GTYC has Wednesday night sailboat races. Boats are handicapped with a Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) rating. Large boats can race against small boats. GTYC sets up the buoys at the corners of the Bay and sets a starting line.  The start and first leg of the race is always upwind. I had a small sailboat as a youth but had never raced, it was a dream come true. (Ed. Note: For more on sailing in Northwest Michigan, read McFerran’s article on the Pabst Cup.)

Ned Lockwood helped me tune the Aisling’s sail rig and told me lots of stories. He had sailed in Connecticut as a youth. One day he was sailing with his brother and they came upon a guy in the water with his dog. His sailboat had tipped over due to the large sail he had. They righted his boat and taught him how to reef his sail. That was Albert Einstein with his dog. (True, as confirmed by Ned’s ex-wife).

With the help of Mike McDuffy, Ned and many others we sailed around the triangle course on West Bay and won some plaques in those races sponsored by the GTYC. I still have them.

I made the decision not to launch the Aisling and the boat sat under a tree for ten years, until this Spring. The tiller was delaminated and there was lichen growing in the cockpit. I used epoxy on the tiller, ammonia in the cabin and bleach on the deck.

The “Aisling” being lowered in the water, ready to set sail. Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

At the Irish Boat Shop in Charlevoix the Atomic 4 engine turned over and Peter Johnson, an Englishman with vast mechanical experience, agreed to crew. A crane lifted the mast in place and we loaded our gear on board and were off at 4:00 p.m, on a late weekend in June 2017. The Atomic overheated and we stopped before leaving Charlevoix.

I started the engine at 5:30 a.m. the next day and Pete popped his head out of the cabin and indicated his concerns about the engine. I explained that the Aisling was a sailboat and we only needed the Atomic to get under the draw bridge. He agreed to indulge my vision.

We winched up the mainsail and motored out the channel and turned off the engine. A fine breeze took us all the way to Leelanau. We passed the Cathead point and the Whaleback. There was a lull in the wind near Pyramid Point as the Crib Lighthouse appeared. We made a tack straight West toward South Manitou Island.

It was nice to be back in the Manitou Passage. I had spent a year there in the company of Ross Lang on the Joy fishing for whitefish as well as chubs. As I turned my head toward Port Oneida I had a vision of Lanie Burfeind passing with her skiff full of Coregonus nigrapinus.

South Manitou Island Lighthouse, from the deck of the “Aisling.” Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

We passed the South Manitou Lighthouse as the Aisling headed West straight for Point Betsie. With Platte Bay on our left the wind died at sunset. Pete tinkered with the Atomic. It was dark when we passed the Point Betsie Lighthouse and 1:00 a.m. when we were near the Frankfort harbor.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, from the deck of the “Aisling.” Image courtesy of the author, June 2017.

Like Albert Einstein I had too much sail up when the squall hit, but I had no dog. The Aisling was knocked down and skidded across the water with Pete and I hanging on. Aisling spun about a few times after righting herself.  We got the sails down and the Atomic would not start. With the sails back up the wind  shifted 180 degrees and was now coming from the East. Aisling tacked through the channel and we lowered the sails and drifted into the dock at 2:30 a.m.

I plan to live on the Aisling this Summer. No telling when the dream will be complete.

Cigar for the Winner of our June Mystery!

Where is this building, stamped, “Traverse City Cigar Box Company 1920?”

We expect all our readers will get this one, so here’s some extra credit: What do you know about the cigar industry in Traverse City? When did it flourish? How many companies and employees were there? What kinds of people worked for the industry?

You might not win a cigar for your answer, but you’ll certainly go down as a legend amongst Grand Traverse Journal readers!

Congratulations to reader Margaret, who gets a virtual stogie for her answer!:

“When the lumber industry collapsed during 1920 and the Oval Dish Company closed down, they had been the largest employer but moved out of state. This is when the Cigar Factory flourished. Employees were unskilled workers, especially women who lived in the area and provided steady employment. Every man smoked cigars!! There were 10 companies in TC during that time. Yuck. Where did I find this info? The Historical Archives from TADL.”

For those who weren’t able to identify the building, it is now called “The Box,” and sits at the northeast corner of Boardman and Eighth Streets.

Godzilla vs. Spongilla: A Contrast in Life Styles

A sponge is the antithesis of a super hero.  It stays in place, sifting out plankton (microscopic algae and animals) from the water that passes through its body.  Its body is not of great interest, lacking appendages altogether, not even possessing tentacles that might enwrap evildoers and others that would do it harm.  Its personality is not engaging, either, since it does not have a brain. 

To get its food, it has many small openings that take in its tiny prey, and a few larger ones that expel the water it has cleansed.  The pumping system that carries on the circulation is primitive: cells with tiny whip-like appendages (flagella) line passageways, setting up the current.  There are no robust hearts in sponges.

A simple animal reproduces simply.  In some species of sponge, balls of cells (gemmules) form in mid- to late summer that can break off from the parent animal and grow into a new sponge somewhere else.  This asexual form of reproduction is perhaps the most common means of making new sponges.   However, sperms and eggs can be made inside its body, those fertilizing each other in a display that has nothing to do with affection.  You wonder, without courtship, without males showing off what they’ve got, what is the point of reproduction like that?

Sponges do have a skeleton of sorts, however.  In the ocean, some of them have a soft one made up of spongin, a substance that becomes flexible and absorbent upon being rehydrated.  Those sponges have been used for hundreds of years in the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere for scrubbing everything from floors to human bodies.  Mostly replaced by plastic substitutes, they are occasionally used today.

Many years ago I took a course in invertebrates at the University of Michigan’s Biological Station at Pellston, Michigan, and was surprised to learn that we have a freshwater sponge that inhabits our lakes: Spongilla lacustris (a few other species can be found here, too).  As I observed it, its body most often was in the form of a greenish blob attached to sticks or pondweed–the green color, I found out, came from algae inhabiting the animal.  It was not at all gooey or gelatinous, but felt rough to the touch and a bit like glassy bits stuck together when dried.  Unlike its ocean brethren with its spongin, it had a skeleton made of crystal-like tiny elements made of silica, the same stuff that comprises most of our sand in Northern Michigan.

At least one animal appreciates Spongilla–but not for its appearance or life habits.  Spongilla fly larvae feed on it with zest, later pupating to become small flies we are certain to ignore among the multitude of other flies that hatch in lakes and ponds.  No life form–not even the sponge–is too humble to escape predators.

Spongilla is very particular about where it lives: it must have the cleanest, purest water around.  For that reason, it is considered to be an indicator of pristine, unpolluted lakes.  Far from being a pestilence, freshwater sponges are a gift.  We should not condemn them for what they are not—gifted superheroes of the animal world.  They are not delicious, not cute, not pretty, but they do constitute a component of our most treasured biological communities, the clear lakes that grace our landscape in Northern Michigan.  Let us rejoice in their presence here.

Michigan’s Lumber Pikes

Editor’s Note: This text comes to us courtesy of the July 1953 issue of Railroad Magazine,  and republished with permission from Mr. EuDaly of White River Productions. A copy was recently donated to the Local History Collection by Mr. Allan Pratt. This particular article will be of interest to railroad historians of Northern Michigan, but also to those who hike or camp in the area, as many of former lumber pikes have, over time, become part of our trails. This article also answers a number of questions brought in by the curious.

by Fred C. Olds

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 in a web-like pattern of rail.

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 pace 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. Their demise was often sudden and without ceremony. Abandonment of a forest road simply meant piling its equipment, 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 show that by 1875 loggers had been busily chewing into the state’s extensive forests for over 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 Northwestern 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.

Image of W.S. Gerrish from “Portraits and Biographical Album of Osceola County Michigan,” Chapman Brothers, 1884. Made available online by the Bentley Historical Library.

A brief biography of Gerrish, carried in 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 beanked 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. Instead, he found his solution in a most unlikely spot — hundred of miles away, at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. While on a visit there he saw a small Baldwin-built locomotive displayed in a machinery exhibit. It gave him an idea.

If he couldn’t gloat his logs to the Muskegon River, why not haul them on the first leg of their journey by rail? Figuring that it was worth a try, he hurried home and hastily built the Lake George and 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 conducted a general greight and passenger business. The LG&MR was 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 a large Muskegon firm which operated it as a forest road until its sale in the Toledo, Ann Arbor & Cadillac Railway (now part of the Ann Arbor Railroad) 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 scar 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 yopung sprice as it heads toward Temple, Casillac and its Lake Michigan terminus at Elberta. 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, espanded his lumbering operations until his biographer described himas being at one time probably the world’s largest indicidual 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 & Muskegon River Railroad — not a bad tonnage record for a little two-bit logging pike founded only three years before.

When we received this image from the Traverse Area Historical Society, the following description accompanied it, “Tee-boilered flute-dome, 2-truck shay dumping logs.” Puzzling for non-railroaders! Now we know, the engine was a Shay, with a tee boiler as opposed to a vertical or some other construction. This method of rolling the logs down to the stream is a prime example of “Cut and get out.” Image from the Local History Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

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-gauge 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.

Built for a special purpose , log hauling, these railroads 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 an owner’s timber 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 wore bonnet stacks, burned slab wood 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 rail, sometimes strap iron screwed to a wood base and set insecurely upon the rough roadbed, 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 or 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.

Image and caption from “Michigan’s Lumber Pikes,” in “Railroad Magazine,” July 1953, page 67.

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 swing 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 equipment used along one of the nation’s last frontiers to attack the final great stand of pine and hardwood timber remaining in Michigan as the 19th Century came to a close.

Besides increasing production, these railroads revolutionized the industry by making logging a year-round 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 & Pere Marquette, and Manistee & Grand Rapids. Each of the these [sic] 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 of 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 feet between 1876 and 1896. The Manistee & Grand Rapids (later named the Michigan East & West and eventually abandoned) placed 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.

Is this road near Beulah, Michigan, a remnant of a narrow gauge railroad? We deem it likely, given the name, and the winding nature of the road itself.

Another distinction claimed by the Cadillac region in logging transportation was the invention there of the narrow-gage [sic} Shay logging locomotive in 1873 and 1874 by Ephraim Shay. Slow but powerful, the Shay-engine had vertical pistons to operate the driving cranks, working a shaft geered [sic] 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. Mention the Lake Count Railroad and among railroaders you would likely draw only blank looks. Or the Cadillac & Northeastern, 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 its 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 abandonments. But that about ends it. That and some faded photos, dim with age, gathering dust in old picture albums.

Editor’s Note: A more recent article on the subject, authored by Carl Jay Bajema, was published in the April 1991 issue of Forest & Conservation History, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), pp. 76-83. “The First Logging Railroads in the Great Lakes Region” is available online, made available by Grand Valley State University: http://www.gvsu.edu/anthropology/adc/files/document/1DB0E4E0-DCDC-7956-473CC7989F113C65.pdf

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. “