Can you name the factory across the way on Boardman Lake?

This image is easily one of your editors’ favorites! Taken about 1910, here is Boardman Lake, taken from the northern end and looking south. In the photograph, we see a number of fun-loving Traverse City residents ice skating, playing hockey, and in general enjoying a perfect frozen lake with no piles of snow to contend with. Solve the mystery of this image: What is that large factory shown on the background on the left? Bonus question: What building now sits where that factory was?

Boardman Lake, ca. 1910. Image 718.000001.327, Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

“Lament of an Obese Bachelor,” Humorous Poetry from 1916

A treasure trove of humorous poetry written by students at Sault Ste. Marie High School for the Su Hi student newspaper was discovered in the Local History Collection of Traverse Area District Library by intrepid volunteer Marlas Hanson. Hanson has been working with the papers of the Johnson Family, who were lumbermen of Traverse City. Besides documenting the family business, consisting of securing lumber for the Michigan Paper Company, a paper mill in Muskegon, the collection also documents the courtship and marriage of W.B. Johnson and Earnestine Gunn. We believe Earnestine may have worked at Su Hi with the student newspaper, and that is why the Johnson family had these gems in their collection.

Unknown friend of Hanley Wilhelm. Image from a photograph album containing pictures of the area taken on touring trips Hanley Wilhelm and friends made before WWI (1913-1915). Hanley died of the flu during the war. Image from the Local History Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

When we look at black and white photographs of bygone eras, we have a tendency to think the people must have been as stiff and stodgy as they seem to be on film. Surviving documents, like this poem, prove otherwise. We wish we could give credit where credit is due, but alas, the poem is unsigned.

Lament of an Obese Bachelor

I’ve made ardent love
To a good many girls in my time
But somehow
I never seemed to make much of a hit
With them
They always said I was too fat
And made fun of my clumsiness
Little realizing
How sensitive I was about it
And how much their light-hearted comments
Hurt me.

I remember well the time I essayed
To carry Mary Hilliston across
The stepping stones in Grimes’ Creek,
She the while admiring my great strength,
When all of a sudden
In midstream
I slipped and fell dropping her
Into two feet
Of muddy water;
And how mad she was about it!
And the cutting things she said!
I’ve never really gotten over it.

I’m not so very old
Even now, only thirty-four
But I’ve lived so long here
In this same town
That they’ve come to regard me
As a permanent

They’re always asking me
About it
And asking me why I don’t
Marry Mary Hillston now
Since her first husband’s died
And left her well-fixed.

But I
Never will forget the things she said
About me that day,
I never did care
For widows.

Jack Robbins and the Tortured Landscape of the Boardman River Valley

Partial image of Jack Robbin’s copy of a 1915-1916 map of the Boardman River property owned by the Boardman River Electric Light & Power Company.

by S.A. McFerran, B.A. Environmental Studies, Antioch University

The new theology has borrowed, without credit, one of the fundamental planks in the old religion: despite his disclaimers, man stands at the center of the universe. It was made for him to use, and the best and wisest men are those who use it most lavishly. They destroy pine forests, dig copper from beneath the cold northern lakes, and run the open pits across the iron ranges, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves: creating wealth, in short by the act of destroying it, is one of the most baffling mysteries of the new gospel. ~Bruce Catton (1)

Boardman River Valley, November 2017. Image courtesy of the author.

From the front window of his farmhouse Jack Robbins has borne witness to the lavish use of the Boardman River. The Robbins farm is in the Boardman Valley on Cass road near the site of the Boardman dam.

Captain Harry Boardman first dammed the river for his mill before the turn of the last century, around 1847. Many subsequent dams have either washed out or been removed. The most recent dam removal is almost complete and is restoring the river to its natural state. The river restoration effort was aided by a historic map that Mr. Robbins had tucked away in his farmhouse.

Partial image of Jack Robbin’s copy of a 1915-1916 map of the Boardman River property owned by the Boardman River Electric Light & Power Company.

The map took two years to make (1915-1916) and was drawn on a special fabric by surveyor E.P. Waterman. The detail on the large map includes the location and elevation of bench marks that assisted in the removal of the original dam built  in 1894. The Sabin dam is also included on the map.

Over one hundred years later Mr. Robbins shared the map with the Army Corps of Engineers Manager Alec Higgins (2). The map was used to locate the historic channel of the Boardman River while the 1931 dam was removed this year.

Jack Robbins bought his farm in 1951 and fished the deep holes above the Boardman dam until October 1961 when the Keystone dam washed out and filled in the holes with sediment. He showed me the location of the original Boardman River Electric Light and Power dam from his front window. His map reveals the points of interest such as the grade of a carriage road that lead to a wooden bridge just across from his farm.

Photographic postcard of Boardman River Light & Power Plant Dam under construction, 1894. Image from the Local History Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

In November 1894 Boardman River Electric Light and Power completed construction of its first dam and turned on the electricity. This original dam was just downstream and twenty feet lower than the Boardman dam that was just removed. The powerhouse was right across the road from the Robbins farm.

Boardman River Electric Light and Power Company. Crew working on the Cass Street dam, 1903.

More power was needed and so the Sabin dam was built in 1907. The Keystone dam was built in 1909. In 1921 the Brown Bridge dam was built. The Boardman dam was rebuilt in 1931. Each of these actions represent major disruptions to the ecology of the Boardman River. Dams were also built on the upper reaches of the Boardman river in Kalkaska, South Boardman and Mayfield’s Swainston Creek. (3)

The dam on Swainston Creek washed out in 1961. That large slug of floodwater washed out the Keystone dam during a rainstorm. Jack Robbins remembers this event well and has stories to tell about how the dam operators attempted to avoid disaster.

Boardman River Valley. Image courtesy of the author, November 2017.

9.5 million dollars was spent in 1979 to renovate the dams on the Boardman River. It will cost $2,834,535.60 to remove the Boardman and Sabin dams, return the river to its original channel and restore the banks. (4)

River restoration is an art and a science. River restoration is taking place in watersheds across the country and represents a change in the “new gospel”. It would be approved by Bruce Catton. Mr. Robbins is well aware of the environmental destruction that has taken place in the Boardman Valley which began in the logging era, and he approves of the Boardman River restoration project.

Stewart. A. McFerran teaches a class on the Natural History of Michigan Rivers at NMC and is a frequent contributor to the Grand Traverse JournalMany of his contributions, including this piece, are written as a direct result of interviewing people with stories to tell.


  1. Catton, Bruce. Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood.
  2. Higgins, Alec. Email interview with the author.
  3. Grand Traverse County Historical Society. Currents of the Boardman. 
  4. FINAL CONCEPT DESIGN REPORT, Boardman and Sabin Dam Removals, BOARDMAN RIVER DAMS IMPLEMENTATION TEAM December 2014; 301 S. Livingston St., Suite 200, Madison, WI 53703 | 608-441-0342 |; 10850 Traverse Highway, Suite 3365, Traverse City MI 49684 | 231-922-4290 |

December events to feed your love of history!

History of the Protestant Reformation on December 7th

The Protestant Reformation was a major turning point in Western history, affecting not just religious but also social, political, educational and economic development. Policies and mores made popular then still shape our daily lives. We mark the 500th Anniversary of the onset of the Reformation this year, but the history leading up to and after that is just as fascinating.  What was going on in the Medieval Church to prompt Martin Luther’s radical uprising? And why were Protestant leaders like John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and Luther so successful in changing the world? Join Rev. Jonathan Williams for this engaging lecture on what is seen as one of the most far-reaching events in world history.

The event will be held at Traverse Area District Library, Main Library, 610 Woodmere Ave., Traverse City, MI 49686, on Thursday, December 7th, from 7-8:30 pm.

 Jonathan Williams, MDV currently serves as Associate Pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Big Rapids. Williams received his Masters of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary (LCMS) at Fort Wayne. He also carries a Masters in Library Science and has previously worked as a public librarian.

History of Buckley Old Engine Show on December 14th

In 1967, a group of fellows, in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, stopped just talking about their old engines and antique equipment and decided to do something. They set a date; gathered up their old engines and equipment; and met at Joe Rebman’s farm to run them. The word quickly got out and many others gathered to watch. They all had such a good time that it was decided they should organize a non-profit club and make it an annual event. The club was named the Northwest Michigan Engine & Thresher Club and over time the annual event became known as the Buckley Old Engine Show.

Today, each year the The Northwest Michigan Engine & Thresher Club puts on The Buckley Old Engine Show in Buckley, Michigan. With tens of thousands of attendees each year, the show pulls in vendors, enthusiasts, members and children. With a variety of events and demonstrations, there’s something for everyone!

Join us as members of the club show and tell their amazing history of this annual event through time.  Their book, just published in August will be available for purchase, perfect Christmas gift for your history buff or tractor aficionado.

The event will be held at Traverse Area District Library, Main Library, 610 Woodmere Ave., Traverse City, MI 49686, on Thursday, December 14th, from 6:30-8 pm.

Benzie Area Historical Museum presents program on the Irish Winter Solstice, December 14th

Sunrise on the winter solstice 2010, looking over Cavan Upper toward Bohanboy/Killygordon. Image copyright Sian Lindsey, licensed for reuse cc by-sa 2.0,

Misty Sheehan, director of the Benzie Area Historical Museum, will present a program titled “An Irish Winter Solstice” on Thursday, December 14 at 4:00 PM at the Benzie Area Historical Museum.
Ireland has had a tradition of concern for the seasons of the sun beginning 5000 years ago.  All are welcome to come learn a little prehistory!

Festival of Trains chugs along for another great year!

One of our favorite holiday traditions is a trip to the Festival of Trains! The Northern Michigan Railroad Club, City of Traverse City,
and the Great Lakes Children’s Museum present this awesome event, full of model trains decked out for the holidays! Come join the fun and support local charities at the same time. The event takes place at the former Carnegie Library, 322 Sixth Street, Traverse City, MI.

Daily Schedule:
Event runs December 14th-31st
Monday – Saturday 10am – 6pm
Sunday 12pm – 4pm
Special Hours:
December 24th and 31st 10 am – 2 pm
Closed December 25th

$5 (4 and under free)
$30 Festival Pass – unlimited visits/household
(includes 2 adults and up to 3 children)

Swap Meet December 16th and 17th 10 am – 6 pm
Visit Santa December 16th and 23rd 2 pm – 6 pm

The Sedentary Lives of Moss Animals

I knew from my friend’s lively cry that something big was afoot: “There is some kind of colonial animal living over here!”

She was knowledgeable about outdoor creatures, so I had little reason to doubt her unlikely comment.  I came running over to where she was pointing.

“There, there, at the lip of the spillway—can you see it?”  She was pointing at something twelve feet from where I stood on the concrete abutment above the dam that released water from Lake Dubonet to the Platt River system below.  “No, I can’t see—it’s too dark!

“Just look.  It’s perched on the edge of the spillway.”

My eyes were getting used to the shade cast by the abutment.  “I see it!” I proclaimed, “and I think I know what it is,” I replied with a bit of hesitation in my voice.  “It’s a freshwater sponge!  I haven’t seen one in years.  Let me get a picture of it.”

I worked myself down, as close as I could to where the thing was growing.  It looked like a mass of gelatin, as large as a loaf of bread, without any recognizable appendages, without a head or a tail.  Colonial animals, indeed!  What else could it be?

Image courtesy of the author.

I took a couple of photographs with my camera held down as close as I could get it to the creature.  The flash went off, so dark it was down there.  I include the view in this article along with one taken by someone else, someone with an easier animal to photograph.

When I got home, I immediately began to have doubts about my identification.  Freshwater sponges are not gelatinous, for one thing.  They are rough to the touch, and generally green.  I thought about my Invertebrate Biology course I had taken so many years ago—and I remembered.  I emailed my friend: “It’s not a freshwater sponge.  It’s a bryozoan, a moss animal!” Not having seen the species for nearly forty years, it was easy to see how I could have misidentified it.

Bryozoans are sedentary creatures made up of individuals with scores of tentacles, all of them connected to a horseshoe-shaped structure called a lopophore.  They are not related to corals—which do not have a lopophore—but extract food from the water the same way they do: filtering out living organisms.  This they do by movements of their tentacles and the cilia (moving hairs) upon them.

Fluted Bryozoan in Monterey, California. Image courtesy of Ed Bierman, through Wikimedia Commons:

Like sponges and corals, they encrust various substrates—wood, rock, old tires, even water intakes–scarcely moving during their lives.  The species my friend had found, Pectinatella magnifica, is known to move as a young colony, at the rate of two centimeters per day.  Its possibilities for adventure are clearly limited by its sluggishness.

“Bryozoan” translates from the Greek as “moss animal.”  In both freshwater and salt water, some species form mats somewhat reminiscent of a bank of moss, though they are rarely colored green.  The species I photographed, genus Pectinatella, secretes a gelatinous outer body that looks like an unappetizing jam one might put on bread.  No one would be tempted to do so, however, given its unprepossessing appearance.

However they might offend our mammalian standards for beauty, bryozoans choose attractive ponds and streams to live in: they prefer unpolluted water, water uncontaminated by mud, debris, or pollutants brought in by humans.  Just as lichens point to unpolluted air, bryozoans indicate clean water. 

The life cycle of Bryozoans lacks the drama of sperm from one colony actively seeking out eggs in another.  Generally, sperm cells from one colony fertilize eggs from the same: a larva grows from the fertilized egg, and is eventually released into the water, often as the colony dies at the end of the summer season.

No one brags about the bryozoan he has captured.  No one raves about how good they taste.  No one tells of the sport they had in catching their first bryozoan.  They live uninteresting lives unaffected by the major currents of a world dominated by other organisms.  Does that make them less interesting to those of us who know them?  Not at all.   

Life Before the ‘Fridge: Stories of Ice from Josephine Hasse

Ms. Josephine Hasse, a reader of Grand Traverse Journal, was kind enough to write in with a few reminiscences that we are glad to publish. Thank you for sharing your past, Josephine! She turned 96 years-young this past October.

Aerial view of Cherry Growers, Inc., and the Cherry Growers’ wharf on West Bay in Traverse City, 1947. Image from the Local History Collection of Traverse Area District Library.

“My father lived in Traverse City since he was a small child, and I learned much from him. He worked where the Maritime building is now and it was Cherry Growers. He was an engineer and kept the ice machines running.

Since there weren’t ice machines that made ice in people’s homes, people would bring meat that they bought from farmers and had it butchered into family-sized packages. Then they were put into ‘cold storage’ in bins and when families wanted meat he would let them in to get what they wanted.

Workers harvesting ice on Boardman Lake, ca. 1900. Image from the Local History Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

Down the street where the Holiday Inn is there was a huge barn and it was full of sawdust. Men would cut ice from the Bay in large pieces and they would haul it there by horse and sleigh. They would stack it up with sawdust between the layers.

Then with horse and wagon they would go down the streets and sell the ice to people who had Ice Boxes. Homeowners had signs that said 25 lbs. or 50 lbs. and you put it in the front window so the people selling ice would bring in the amount you wanted and filled the Ice Box. It was fun watching for them to come.”

Fenton Street Mystery Solved!

Newspaper clipping from the Traverse City Record-Eagle, undated.

Why are Al Hoeflin (left) and Mr. & Mrs. Lane Fenton staring at these street signs in Kingsley in 1960? If you guessed that they are members of a signage admiration society, try again! Here’s your hint: What is unique about the sign that appears above “Fenton St?”

So what’s so important about these street signs? Kingsley was once two separate villages, Paradise and Kingsley Station… and each had their own Main Street! So, when the two eventually merged (sometime between 1900 and 1908), good ol’ Kingsley had two Main Streets. (The merger apparently involved much bitterness on at least one side, but the man who platted Paradise, Myron S. Brownson, did get to name the township and had a major street in Kingsley named after him.)

By 1908, the village began to distinguish between the two as North and South Main Streets. In 1960, the village finally had enough of the whole business, and renamed the street after a third-generation village family, the Fentons.