Articles in this feature are reprints from works in the public domain, typically anything published prior to 1924. Reprinting public domain articles both promotes the survival of these works for future generations and brings to light histories that have been forgotten. Articles are chosen that recall the history of the Grand Traverse Region.
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 details the warm welcome Traverse City residents would offer to any visitor to the region, long before the day of the derogatory term, “fudgie.”
It is a pleasure for the residents of this beautiful region to welcome you to our shore for a few weeks of rest and recuperation, and to see here the cozy little hotel nestled among the hills as a place of refuge from the cares and ills of the outside world.
We have all lived “out Side,” as we term it, and are better prepared to bid you a hearty welcome. Having found the door to our retreat, we ask you stay as long as you wish and help to make one among us, for our attractions are many.
As the summer advances and the weather grows intensely hot each incoming train is sure to be loaded with its wearied freight, all looking, as it were, where care, sickness, and the perplexing scenes of business life are left behind, if but for a few weeks.
It is a matter of interest to the idle spectator, as he stands at one of our depots and watches the unloading of a train that has just arrived. Here we see a strong, healthy man with his week delicate wife leaning upon his arm. Over there in an invalid chair is a child of uncertain age, he may be ten years old and he may be older, we can not tell. Tenderly does the fond mother bend over the little sufferer. The disease of an unhealthy climate, unknown to this country, have left their stamp upon that face so prematurely old. This is their first visit to a region where malaria and its associates are unknown. And still they come. There goes a man whose close application to business for the past ten years has left him but a shadow of what he once was. Now he is willing to leave it all behind if only he can regain his former health. He is fairly ashamed to let people see him shiver as he pulls his heavy woolen shawl about his shoulders. He feels for the first time a breath of our pure, invigorating atmosphere. Still they come.
See, now the train moves slowly back out of way, and for the first time in their lives they drink in the beautiful scenery. The beautiful bay which laps their very feet and reaches off to the northward as far as the eye can reach, has captured the attention of all, and, as by magic, a changed expression comes over the tired and care-worn faces.
Then it is all hurry and excitement, each looking after some earthly possessions which have been most jealously guarded during the long journey northward. They are all looking for temporary homes. Some have friends at the depot to meet them. Others find homes in private families for a short time, and still others have taken up quarters in our hotels, where they partake of the good things furnished by the genial hosts. Nearly every house in or about the city has opened its doors to some friend from the outside world. It is a pleasure to play the healer, where there is no call for quinine or the doctor’s tablets. Gladly we note the change that comes over their tired and careworn faces. How pleased we are to see them take on new hope and a new lease of life. We would say, “Sleep on, for you can sleep here. Eat on, as you will surely be taken with a coming appetite before you have been here many days.” Many enjoy taking sail during the afternoon, and they may be seen gliding hither and yon as they move about in their self-propelling craft far out over the sparkling water. Others enjoy a quiet drive about the city or a spin on the highway which reaches for miles on either side of the bay.
Then at close of day as the sun sinks behind the hills to the west of us, the scene changes, the wind goes down and there is no more use for the white sail, but as evening advances many are the little craft to be seen gliding about the water. Listen and you catch the sound of song, accompanied by mandolin and guitar as it floats shoreward. It is inspiring and helps to pass the time all too swiftly by. But the fun does not stop here. Many a good housewife has allowed her carpet to be lifted in the dining room. Tables and chairs disappear and the cottage organ, so well adapted to sacred melody, now rolls forth its music to the dizzy waltzers. Music, singing and rhetoric all have their respective places, and it is usually a late hour before the guests have discovered that it is time to retire.
But the morning hours on Traverse Bay are the most enchanting. Lulled to sleep by the repose of night the bay now appears like a sea of glass. Everything in the distance takes on a different aspect. The hills and trees appear like huge sentinels guarding the sleeping infant at their feet. Northport Point and Marion Island stand high up in the heavens as if to bid defiance to the storm king who may at this hour be abroad.
It is wonderful, wonderful and grand. Oh, what a scene for the brush of a painter. Man has done much towards making the place attractive, but nature alone has made it an Eden.
Introduction provided by Richard Fidler, GTJ Editor.
What follows is an account of professional wrestling and boxing arriving in Traverse City in 1908 from the Traverse City Evening Record. At that time, 150 pound wrestlers had a place in the sport!:
Frank Burns, champion welterweight wrestler of the south, won the contest with Joe Burns, champion welterweight wrestler of Detroit, in a pretty contest last night in the Grand opera house in two rounds. Times, 16 minutes and 55 seconds.
As the men stepped into the mat and touched hands, almost immediately they were locked in a full nelson, which Frank Burns gradually worked into a half nelson. This round lasted 14 minutes and 50 seconds. Frank Burns dropped to his knees and Joe Burns clinching him four times with his famous crotch and wrist hold, which, however, he was unable to continue, his opponent wriggling out of his grip. The men gradually worked to the edge of the mat and Referee Henry forced them to take the center of the mat each time, taking the same positions. Each man seemed to think the other one responsible for the working toward the mat, but they willingly obeyed the referee.
A little sparring was indulged in during this round, which seemed to the spectators an attempt to each man to bring on an attack by the other. Watching his game and a chance to grapple his opponent. Although it is almost impossible in a well-matched team to foretell the outcome of a wrestling match, it looked at first as though Joe Burns might win with his wrist and crotch hold. Frank Burns, however, gradually worked his man into a half nelson, and assisted by a combined roll and barlock held him down to the floor and time was called.
End Came Soon.
After an intermission of 10 minutes the men again met, but this round was finished in 2 minutes and 5 seconds, Joe Burns showing fatigue and Frank Burns seemingly good for twice the work he had already accomplished. Frank had Joe in a half nelson and body hold, which he worked into a double nelson from the front, and gradually bore him to the mat, amid the loud applause of the spectators.
Referee Earl Henry, in introducing the wrestlers, stated that in professional wrestling no strangle holds were allowed and in the contest none were attempted. It was good clean sport throughout, and the contest was watched with intense interest, even the gallery gods being too much interested in the outcome to show any uneasiness or disorder whatever. There were times when the dropping of a pin could have been heard in the house.
Joe Was Heavier.
When interviewed after the contest for a Record reporter, Joe Burns stated that he was not in condition to win, although he had been sanguine of the outcome being in his favor had he been able to have worked his famous wrist and crotch hold on his opponent. Both men were weighted before stepping onto the mat. Frank Burns tipping the scales at 150 pounds and Joe weighing 162.5.
“My weight was against me, “ said Joe Burns. “My normal weight is 145, but I had not been able to reduce to normal weight. Consequently I tired easier than I would had I been to proper condition.”
When asked what the hold was that Frank had won from him the championship, he said: “I don’t know what he calls it. I have been in the business for 14 years and have never yet been in a grip like that.” When told that it was called a double nelson from the front, he acknowledged that it might have been that from the front, but he was not in a position to see what it was.
However he was well satisfied with Referee Henry and believed that everything was clear and above ground. He had no complaint to make whatever. Before the game he stated that he would either win or lose in 5 minutes as he realized his overweight would not permit him to continue the contest much longer.
Previous in the contest, Manager John Blacken read a letter from Ed Conley of Napoleon, Ohio, in which he challenged the winner of the Frank Burns-Joe Burns contest agreeing to throw the winner two falls in one hour for any amount of money they would put up. Conley stated that a traveling man had given him the names.
Two boxing contests were put on as preliminaries, the first being between Fred Gokeu, the “Cuban Wonder,” and Bluy Griffin, “The Stockyards Champion,” the Cuban Wonder winning the honors of this bout.
Gokey was not at all aggressive and was content to let the other fellow make the attacks, which he succeeded in staving off, giving Griff a bloody nose. Gokey was free and easy throughout the contest, and swatted his opponent apparently with little effort, but with effect.
The second contest was between Lou Harkness and Billy Floyd, in which the honors went to Harkness., Floyd receiving a bloody nose in this contest. Harkness had the advantage in being the taller of the two, but his opponent was adept in dodging , but could not escape the long arms of Harkness who landed a few on his nose, which bled profusely.
Both these contests were watched with interest by the spectators and their efforts were received with hearty applause.
As the wrestling match is the first professional match that has been carried off in this city for about 10 years, it was not expected that the interest manifested by those who were present is indicative of the character of the performance. The sporting blood of Traverse City received a quickening, and it is probable that this is the beginning of a revival of similar affairs. Frank Burns is planning to remain in the city this winter and no doubt there will be many such contests during the coming year.
A number of ladies in the audience last night watched the performance with interest, and had it been more generally known that ladies would be present, there would have been many more in attendance. There was nothing in the affair to offend the most refined tastes, and the few ladies who attended evinced as much pleasure as their gentlemen friend.
The two letters that follow come from the Arnell Engstrom collection of papers held in the archives of the Traverse Area District Library. The first was written by Henry C. Hull, son of Winton C. Hull, the President of the Oval Wood Dish Company, a firm that had only recently moved to Tupper Lake, New York, from Traverse City. He writes to Frederick H. Smith, a former associate of Oval Wood Dish, and now co-president of Hull and Smith, a corporation that specialized in logging and in land transactions related to logging. Henry C. Hull’s letter and Smith’s reply illuminate not only the nature of logging at the time, but also the character of both men.
April 14, 13
My Dear Mr Smith:-
I am taking a subject called Sociology at Olivet and we each have to write a Seminar upon a given subject and–strange as it may seem –have been given “The Lumberjack”–that is from a social standpoint. I have considerable data and collateral upon the subject, but I need a few points upon the subject yet–that is, a few to compare and a few for a foundation.
I am going to ask you to drop me a few answers to my questions which I feel sure that you can give me without any inconvenience of time to yourself.
What is the average wage of a man in your logging camps?
Are about 1/3—1/2 or ¾ of them married?
Are the majority of them good clean men (that is are they square and not sneaks)?
Of course they are more or less rough, crude but have the majority of them about an eighth grade education?
Do you pay by cash or checks?
Could you say that they are a good type of citizen as a whole or are they illiterates? Would you rather see them at the polls voting or a foreigner?
Can you hold them to a contract, by that I mean that if you want a man to come out to your camps, and he says he will, do you expect him or have another to take his place if he don’t show up on the day you expect him?
Do any of these men carry insurance to your knowledge?
About what are your foreman paid or the foreman of the ones to which you lease your cut
Now these questions you can answer briefly and I am sure that I can get a good idea of what I am in doubt of from these answers. Understand I don’t want to inconvenience you but in doing this you will help me a great deal and I sure will appreciate it very much.
Hoping to hear from you at your convenience I am,
Henry C. Hull
Kindly excuse this type writing as I am only learning over again. HCH
April 16, 1913
Henry C. Hull,
I have your letter of the 14th and will try and answer your questions to the best of my knowledge.
The average wages of men in our logging camps are 30.00 per month.
About one-fourth of them are married. The majority of them are good, clean men.
I do not think they have an 8th grade education.
We pay mostly in checks.
They are a good type of citizens and I would rather see them at the polls than foreigners, as I figure they would be more enlightened to the situation.
You cannot hold them to a contract, but if you can get them to promise that they will come, in most cases they will, and after going to camp, if the food does not sit them or the foreman is rather hard on them, they may not stay long.
The men have been very unsteady this last year or two, and go from one camp to another all through the country.
The most of these men in the woods carry more or less insurance.
The foreman’s wages range from 60.00 to 80.00 per month.
There is considerable difference in camp life as present from that of a few years ago. The camps are built better, the food and beds are better, and in fact, everything has to be kept in pretty good shape in order to keep a crew of men now, where 8 or 10 years ago, almost anything went with them.
The older lumber jacks have most of them drifted away—some settled on farms. It is a younger class of men who are at present what we call lumber jacks. A great many of them are from farms and work in the woods in the winter and go back to the farms in the spring. As a rule, they are pretty fair sort of men. There are some tough ones as you would find in any lot of men you would get together.
I hope I have answered your questions to your satisfaction. If you have any others, write me and I will try to answer them.
Thirty dollars a month was an extremely low wage for the time. A male wage earner typically received about 600 dollars per year, that amount barely sufficient to pay bills.
As mentioned in the article, farmers would cut timber during the winter months when farm work was not as demanding.
In 1913 “foreigner” (immigrants) could vote in most states of the United States. By 1928 voting was forbidden in all of them.
The Oval Wood Dish Company, with which Frederick Smith was associated, bought hardwood logs for use in making oval wood dishes for serving meat, butter, and the like, and for manufacturing other products such as clothespins and hardwood flooring. The logging camps it maintained differed from earlier camps that were responsible for the cutting of the pines used in ordinary home construction. As mentioned in the article, times had changed in logging camps with a new breed of loggers and somewhat improved working conditions.
This article was discovered, copied, and notated by Julie Schopieray, regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal and author of the fantastic new biography, Jens C. Petersen: From Bricklayer to Architect. Copies of the book can be obtained from Horizon Books, Amazon, or directly from the author.
To every man who fights, grins and wins, this little story is respectfully dedicated.
Jens C. Petersen
State Bank Building
Traverse City, Mich.
The Boss is Reminiscent
Twenty-five years ago a cross-eyed woman by the name of Borden, taught our school in a little village, and not-withstanding the fact that the years have changed my focus on most things, when I close my eyes to-day, I can still see “Granny Borden,” as we young devils disrespectfully called her, and I realize now, as I could not then, that back of those crooked eyes there was a lot of straight thinking going on, and beneath that old fashioned, cheap, but scrupulously clean plaid waist there beat a warm and honest heart.
Tonight as the whistle blows and the boys and girls, singly, in pairs and in groups, trudged on their homeward way past our office window, there was one in the lot, possibly because her eyes were so hung that she could look around a corner and still see what was going on around her, who brought vividly and instantaneously to mind the old school house, the high platform, the long pine table, and back of it, book in one hand and ruler in the other, the school mistress, Miss Henrietta Borden, (that is the older and more respectful people called her “Miss”), but to the younger generation it was“Granny,” (especially when we had to stay after school).
I had my hands on the desk ready to close it for the night, but those cross-eyes, as they looked up at our office window, and at the same time up and down the street and over in the next block, brought forth memories which stay the hand and force me to sit down in the twilight, close my eyes and for a half an hour, and until Carrie telephoned that the soup was getting cold, I could hear the hum of bees outside the schoolhouse window. I could see “Fatty Matt” diving into his dinner pail for bread crusts, which he viciously threw at Almeda– a way Fatty had of conveying to the said Almeda that she had all the other girls in the room backed off the boards– and I also instinctively placed my hand under my coat as I felt the jab of the pin in the end of a stick, guided by the warty but unerring hand of “Tart.”
And what a delicious half hour that was, sketches and plans for houses, churches, government buildings, and even dinner could go to the dogs, at least they would have to wait for attention from me until my dream was finished.
In the hurry and rush of life, in the trying to keep what we have, and get more, did you ever sit down after banking hours, when you could not be notified of the note that was coming due tomorrow, in a place where no one could reach you from the outside, then from a cubbyhole in your memory bring forth a package, yellow with age, soiled with finger marks of youth, but containing a chapter of life’s history, around which each succeeding year ties a fresh bloom of “Lilies of the Valley and For-get-me-nots?”
It was Friday afternoon, our freshly dug worms were even now safely hid away in an old tomato can under the back porch, and, as tomorrow was a holiday, Percy and Tart would whistle under my window about four o’clock in the morning, and I would jump into my clothes, grab the piece of bread and butter mother had laid out for me the night before, shoulder my pole and hike across the fields and- – – but time flies. I must have another look at that Friday afternoon picture before I receive another hurry up call from home and am obliged to hide it away to be brought out, well, perhaps never, because I find less and less time for everything, except trying to keep from being run over.
Charles has just been called to the platform to speak his piece. By way of inspiration, he rubs a dirty leg with a stone bruised heel and still dirtier foot, and then by fits and starts he laboriously, and to the onlooker, it would seem by main strength, relieves himself or the old-time masterpiece, “The Curfew Shall not Ring tonight.” When he is through the boys snicker as loudly as they dare. “Granny raps vigorously for order, then at a nod from her, Amy our star soprano, sings four verses of “Pull for the Shore,” the whole school joining with her in the chorus.
When school is dismissed for the week, the boys yell, hoot, holler, turn somersaults, engage in an imitation fight or two, by way of showing off to the girls, old “Granny” turns the key in the door, and another one of life’s chapters has been unthinkingly, but nevertheless irrevocably written. Percy and Tart are daring me to go swimming, but out of the corner of my eye I am watching a little Miss with yellow braids, who has carelessly dropped away from her companions, just as I am trying to do from the boys. The other girls notice it and quietly smile and whisper to each other, but not in an obtrusive way to embarrass her. Percy and Tart also see what I am up to, but a smile or a nudge is not expressive enough for them, no, indeed. They all become particularly chummy, throwing their arms over each other’s shoulders and pointing their fingers at me, sing out at the top of their lungs, ‘Jens has got a girl, Jens is going home to cut out paper dolls with his girl,” and more of like effect, but I never faltered, those two yellow braids pulling me harder in the direction of the girl than the taunts and jeers of Percy and Tart could overcome, and I pictured to myself two boys who would, each in their turn, receive a nice licking before school opened Monday morning, and I marched over to little Miss Yellow Hair, and the shy but appreciative look I received not only blotted out Percy and Tart and their stinging words, but so blinded my eyes that my world narrowed itself down to a few trees, a path just wide enough for two, a slip of a girl and an awkward country boy. I wonder where she is now, it cannot be that she is married and has sons and daughters of her own, but why not? We were the same age, and look at my boy and girl, not quite so heavy around the waist but both of them growing to be as tall as their mother.
The years have come and the years have gone, as years have a way of doing, bring me their mixture of joys and sorrows, of successes and failures, but they have left their memories with me.
There are so many roads leading in so many different directions from that little school house that I have lost track of most of my boyhood friends. Some of them I can still place. Fatty Matt, who was, as I remember it, one of our brightest boys, and one for whom a brilliant future was predicted by the entire district, is tending bar I believe in Chicago. Joe, big hearted, warm hearted Joe, I believe died a few years ago in a little town out west. Willie, who was the prize pumpkin in the row, when it came to speaking pieces and showing off on the last day of school, was once Mayor of the little city, is in line for Governor and United States Senator, and will soon be a member of Congress and be helping to make our financial laws.
And what of me, well I am in the architectural business, yes, and successful too, at least from a worldly view point. I have one of the finest offices in the state of Michigan, have a nice force of draftsmen and designers and turn out the best work in our line in the country, but really it makes my heart ache when I think of the hills I had to climb and the many hard bumps I received before I reached a point where I dared speak of an assured success. When I left school at fifteen, of course I must work, so father secured me a job to work with him, learning the art of laying brick, and I put on a pair of overalls and went at it. I served my apprenticeship under a mighty good man. He was not the largest contractor in the country— he didn’t claim to be, but he did turn out honest work, and while the old gentleman is away out in sunny California, over sixty years old and still at it, and probably does not know that I am eulogizing him, I want to say that when he closes his eyes for the last time the world has lost at least one honest, competent and operative mason.
Finally, in one way and another, and I trust without crowding my neighbors into the ditch, I accumulated enough money to take a course of study in designing, then secured a nice job for a few years with one of the biggest architectural firms in the United States, in an office in the city of Chicago, attended night school and the University of Illinois, finally passing the examinations and accumulated enough to make a humble start in an office for myself. The proudest moment of my life was when I had my first sign placed on my office window. That was some time ago, and the office, while large enough to be noticed quite some locally, was small as compared with our present one. Of course at that time I did not have anything like the facilities that I have today for turning out quality and quantity, but it was mine— the thing I had been striving for had come to pass, and for a little while at least I was peacefully happy.
Perhaps I have not received more bumps than come to all of us. In the light of years I have come to believe that I needed them for my development, at any rate I got them, as you get yours. If we use them to our advantage, as I believe we may, well and good, otherwise they may lame us, keep us to the rear, and we go through life nursing our bruises. Just now there isn’t a sore spot on your Uncle J.C., not a single one, because taking everything into consideration, we have the best equipped office for the furnishing of plans for homes by mail in the United States, I realize that this is talking pretty loud, but it is a fact nevertheless.
I believe we can turn out more work of the right quality and at a lower cost than any other institution of its kind in existence. When you visit Traverse City, come up and see us. I will refrain from talking business unless you want to, but I will show you the prettiest little city your eyes ever feasted on. We have miles of paved streets and shady drives, thousands of well kept, happy homes, the finest trout streams and the prettiest little bay in the country, and last, but not least, it would give me pleasure to act as your host, and incidentally take you on a tour of inspection through the cases and files and equipment of what I know to be the most thoroughly up-to-date architect’s office anywhere.
I issue a large and expensive catalog, showing a few of the hundreds of different styles of houses we plan, and if you cannot possibly make a personal visit, write and I will mail you the catalog, also quote some prices for plans for your home which will be just as attractive to you as the plans represented.
I say again, “come if you can, but if you can’t come, write to me about plans for your new home.”
You can remember the place and I trust you will be able to remember the name.
Yours very truly,
JENS C. PETERSEN, Architect,
418 State Bank Building Traverse City, Mich.
NOTE– My book, the Cream of 1000 Plans, is an expensive catalog and cannot be sent free. If you will enclose 50 cents, coin of stamps, in your letter, I will credit you with this amount when you order your plans.
Jens C. Petersen came to Traverse City in 1884, at the age of eleven. Research shows that his parents lived in and were running a boarding house for construction workers, near the site of the Northern Michigan Asylum. The nearest school would have been the Union School between 7th & 8th Streets, where Central grade School is currently located. Petersen talks about his teacher, Miss Henrietta Borden but it’s unclear whether that was his teacher’s real name or if he changed it for the story. I haven’t yet found that there was a teacher in Traverse City by that name between 1884-1889 when Jens would have been in school, however there was a Harriet Borden who taught in Kalkaska for many years between 1880- 1915. It is possible she spent a term in Traverse City as Jens Petersen’s teacher.
He talks about “Willie” who was the prize pumpkin in the row, who goes on to be mayor and further into politics. It’s likely he’s speaking of William D. C. Germaine, locally known in later years, as “Wild Bill”. Germaine was three years older than Petersen, but would have been at the same school. He became mayor of Traverse City between 1908-1910 and again in 1912-1913. Unfortunately, Mr. Germaine did not become the successful man Petersen had envisioned in his 1911 writing– in 1912, Germaine was attempting to make a bid for Congress, but by 1913 was removed from office by the governor for extorting money from a local saloon keeper. Germaine was known locally to have trouble with “the bottle.” In 1916 he was arrested for attempted arson, after trying to burn down his his wife’s house after she filed for divorce. In 1923 he was arrested for bootlegging and arrested again in 1926 for prohibition violations. He died in 1943.
“Percy” would be Percy Holdsworth. He was a year younger than Jens but while Jens only completed the 8th grade, Holdsworth finished high school, graduating in 1892. He then attended the University of Michigan, attaining a degree in mechanical engineering in 1898. Holdsworth died in Chicago in 1925.
You can read more about the life and work of Jens Petersen in Jens C. Petersen: From Bricklayer to Architect. Copies of the book can be obtained from Horizon Books, Amazon, or directly from the author.
I wanted to see if the phrase “off the board” was a commonly used in 1911. The jury is still out, I did find it defined here. In the publishing world, it doesn’t look like it was a common phrase until in mid-1920s, atleast within the monographs scanned in the Google Books Project Ngram Viewer.
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.
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
I never seemed to make much of a hit
They always said I was too fat
And made fun of my clumsiness
How sensitive I was about it
And how much their light-hearted comments
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
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
And asking me why I don’t
Marry Mary Hillston now
Since her first husband’s died
And left her well-fixed.
Never will forget the things she said
About me that day,
I never did care
O.W. Johnson, the author of the following poem, was one of the Johnson Boys, sons of Johnson, all of whom were lumbermen. They may have all spent time in the woods, as O.W. mentions here, but the family made their money speculating and trading lumber, as opposed to cutting it themselves.
O.W.’s untitled poem is a humorous little ditty, written by an amateur poet (at least, we did not find anywhere that he had been published.) It was recently rediscovered among the working papers of the Johnson family in the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection by our good volunteer, Marlas Hanson, and we simply found it too fun not to publish!
Untitled Poem by O.W. Johnson
There was a well known lumberman who bought a Willys Knight
He thought his car was just about the only thing in sight.
And after work was finished and the stars were shining bright
He’d steal away from Sam’s Cafe into the Silent Night.
Now as I said before this man was just a lumberjack
And had a little office up along the railway track.
But now he was a city man, a guy who had the goods
Said he “With this new Willys Knight I’ll steer clear of the woods.”
He stood before the shining car and thought she was a dandy
Electric lights and left hand drive would make it pretty handy;
So on one fine October day he thought he would decide
To take a Traverse City friend out for a little ride.
The question was where would they go — Old Mission would be nice
Said W.E. “I think that we have both been out there twice,”
She turned and looked into his eyes and said, “I guess you’re right,
We did go to Old Mission, but it wasn’t in the Knight.”
“It’s erysipelas to me just where we drive,” said he
“There’s gasoline and oil enough to run to Tennessee,”
“It that’s the case” said she “I think we could run out to Empire,
I have the latest style in hats and wish to find a buyer.”
They dined and had a pleasant time, to leave it seemed a pity
But soon were on the winding road that leads to Traverse City,
The stars came twinkling out above, the occupants were merry
The purring of the engine showed the load it had to carry.
Upon a hill ahead of them two glaring head-lights shown
The steering-gear was turned at once into a safety zone,
The other car came coasting down and after it had passed
The Lumberjack exclaimed “Good-night, I think we must be fast.”
He pushed the throttle higher and the tires spun round and round
‘Twas 15 miles to Empire and 10 to Traverse town,
He heard a crushing, grinding sound that made him have his fears
But then he never dreamed that he had ripped and stripped the gears
He sat there thinking what to do and then began to scold
The lady said “I’ll stand it if I do not get too cold,”
The hint was plain enough alright, but Johnson was too sore
Said he “These damn Knight cars are punk I’ll not buy any more.”
The time was flying fast, and the moon was getting higher
The hero thought he’d warm her up by building her a fire
“Perhaps you wouldn’t be so cold if you’d sit on the hood,
Don’t be afraid I’m only going off to carry wood.
But wood was scarce expect a little just around the car
And Mr. Johnson didn’t like to carry things too far,
He hurried to a farm house and called up Mr. Dutt,
A Traverse City auto man, quite small around the gut.
And soon this brave mechanic was flying to the scene
He glided up to Johnson just like a submarine,
“What in Hell’s the matter?” Dutt yelled out as he stopped,
But Johnson was dumfounded and very nearly dropped.
“Holy Moses Johnson, I thought you were alone.”
“Never mind that Dutt, I want to get back home.”
“Have I hurt the car” said Mr. J. His eyes were full of tears.
“Oh no” smiled Dutt “not at all, you only stripped the gears.”
Before the government social services we know today (Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.), how did we care for people in our society in need? Using the terminology of early reports that recently surfaced at the Traverse Area District Library’s local history collection–how did we care for “paupers” and the “indigent”? These reports, annually filed by Grand Traverse County with the state of Michigan, date from 1885, 1886, and 1891.
The records are scant, but interesting, and would merit further study using nationwide statistics. But, for our purposes, we’ll present the reports as they are, whether or not we can draw definite conclusions about them. (1)
Two unidentified adults of Irish nationality, a man and a woman, were the sole “paupers” maintained in the Grand Traverse County Poorhouse in 1885 (and 30 other people were assisted in other institutions and in their homes). Other than where they hailed from, we know nothing about them, but get this: Under the reporting section for “Food,” the Superintendents said: “No regular routine has been adopted, but the usual food found upon the table of a good wholesome farm table.” A regular routine for feeding I think would be beneficial, but at least it was all “wholesome” (as a nation, we wouldn’t start counting calories regularly until Lulu Hunt Peters, whose 1918 book on diet, exercise, and health, promised all women they could get their ideal body image through counting. “Thin is in!”)
How wholesome was the food? We don’t know what was served, but of the $1,981.51 spent on the care of persons in the poorhouse, a whopping $1,489.87 was spent on food alone. DANG, that’s a chunk of budget! But was it enough? Considering a $460 yearly income for a family of five was considered just out of poverty, spending that much on 32 people for a year seems adequate, each being fed on about $43 a year (especially since most only received a little assistance for part of the year).(2)
What did care look like? The reports provide little detail, but they did differentiate between the costs of care provided to those living at the poorhouse and the costs associated with people living on their own, but requiring some extra assistance. Deaths or illness in a family were common reasons people living on their own sought help.
For both groups, there are expense lines for staff, medical services, funerals, food, fuel, clothing, necessary supplies, furniture, hired labor, purchasing land for a poor farm, erecting new buildings, supplies for said farm, and paid transportation. The reports written by the superintendents are short and to the point. Under “Facilities for Bathing,” a category describing the poorhouse, the answer was “Not any.” Not even a jug in the corner? Harsh.
“What is that about a poor farm?,” you say? Indeed, farmland was purchased by the County in 1885 to operate a farm, with the resulting food stuffs either being consumed by the residents, or sold at fair market value. We don’t know if a profit was ever made, as those lines on the reports are blank all three years. The initial cost of the land was $300, acreage unspecified.
The population in 1886 was much more diverse than 1885, with seven people: three Americans, one English, one German, one French, one Swedish, one Canadian/Scotch, and one “Mulatto.” The Report makes it clear, the State wanted a count of “All in whom there appears a mixture of White and Negro,” whether that was self-reported or not, we will never know. You could also have been Indian, or, if one qualified and wished to be more specific, Half-breed, by the State’s reckoning. Yikes.
A similar mix occupied the poorhouse in 1891. In that year, the total amount spent by Grand Traverse County on the care and support of the residents was $2,994.62, about half of which was spent on maintaining the poorhouse and farm ($851.76) and the salary of the poorhouse keeper ($645.60). Only $112.75 was spent on food, so here’s hoping the poor farm was producing some supplemental vittles!
Grand Traverse County was not the only provider in the area, either: Traverse City also provided for the poor in its jurisdiction, as far back as 1898. They may have been offering services prior to that year, but unfortunately we do not have the City Annual Reports dating earlier. Also, 1885 is the year the Traverse City State Hospital (then known as the Northern Michigan Asylum) opened its doors to its first 43 residents, and there is every real chance some of the locals that were formerly on the “poor rolls” were committed there. We also have newspaper articles advertising various fundraising events by a number of civic-minded groups and individuals, raising funds for the care of people in need. So, care for those in need was considered a “group effort” in young Grand Traverse County.
More information on the poorhouse and its operations can be found in the “Proceedings of the Grand Traverse County Board of Supervisors, Reports of County Officers and Official Canvass,” the oldest volume of which Traverse Area District Library has is 1904. That particular volume contains a number of interesting facts about medical care to the poor. At the meeting of April 12th, the name of Dr. August L. Rosenthal Thompson pops up, one of our favorite women of young Traverse City (Thompson appears briefly in the tales of our other early female physician, Sara T. Chase-Wilson.) Thompson visited Maude and James Wheeler of 428 Garfield Avenue, who suffered from Scarlet Fever and pseudo-diptheria a total of 44 times, charging the poorhouse $1 for each visit, and $3 for medicine, a total bill of $47.
Dr. Holliday also presented a bill at the same meeting, which was at first disputed by the poorhouse supervisors, but ultimately paid in full. Perhaps in response to some ill-treatment (pun intended) Holliday had felt from that event, he and many other doctors, including Rosenthal-Thompson, submitted a “recommended” plan on October 17th: that the Board of Supervisors should take responsibility for decisions made by county employees under their direct supervision, and that, when they hire a doctor, they would ensure the service “would be paid for at a rate based upon either the usual rates charged by reputable physicians, or, if the body deemed advisable, upon a basis of a fixed tariff of rates compiled by and agreed up, by a joint committee representing your honorable body and the physicians of said county.” Holliday, et. al., must’ve felt quite put-out, or, as the kids today would say, “Bitter much, Doc?”
As another scholar in the field observed, responsibility for the poor in our community fell first to the family.(3) Only if the hardships were beyond the scope of the family, or in the case of tramps, there was likely no family at all, is when the state and local government would step in and provide care. Despite the apparent racism and classism built in to the reporting, overall it appears Grand Traverse County did at least and adequate job to help those in need in the 1880s.
Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. For more on Traverse City’s work with the poor, check out Richard Fidler’s Who We Were, What We Did.
(1) A brief digression: Let’s talk about the mindset of the persons providing the care to those who needed it. The nineteenth century was rife with doctors and do-gooders who saw the flaws in humanity as a product of moral failing (read more on this school of thought in the words of Dorothea Dix and other social reformers). In these reports, the handwritten notes indicate that there are people considered “deserving poor,” who were not held responsible for their lot in life, such as the deaf and disabled, the aged, etc. Then, there are the “paupers,” which included tramps, hobos, and other persons that were seen as “unwilling to work.”
(2) Hunter, Robert. Poverty. London: The Macmillan Company, 1904.
(3) Fidler, Richard. Who We Were, What We Did. Traverse City: Traverse Area Historical Society, 2009.
by Mary K. Buck (1849-1901), poet of renown from Traverse City
Mary K. Buck, whose poetry we’ve featured before, comes again to grace our pages with her thoughtful pen. Buck was a strong advocate for women and letters, and we think she would be pleased to be remembered in conjunction with Women’s Equality Day. A day often forgotten in women’s history, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on August 26th, when we remember the passing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Buck did not live to see the Woman’s Suffrage movement achieve its penultimate goal, but in her lifetime, she touched the lives of many Traverse City women looking to learn and achieve. She was one of the founders of the Ladies’ Library Association, she supported the authorship of many of her friends by editing their works, and she co-authored two books in her lifetime with journalist M.E.C. Bates.
This poem, The Ideal Woman, comes from her book, Songs of the Northland, published posthumously by her husband in 1902. What does this poem say about how women viewed each other at the turn of the last century? Clearly, the Suffragette and socialist cry of “sisterhood” extended even to remote Traverse City. It makes one wonder: What did those ladies talk about at the Ladies’ Library Association meetings?
The Ideal Woman
Who shall describe her, since each mind doth hold
Its own conception of that fair ideal
To which our longing tend? Or who shall say
Which type were best of those we most admire?
Each one, perhaps, shrines in her inmost heart
The image of some loved one who to her
Holds highest place on earth, yet it may be
To eyes more critical devoid of grace.
(It needs a loving knowledge to discern
The inner beauty ‘neath a surface plain.)
Yet though your thought and mine may differ wide,
Some points there are on which we shall agree-
Some attributes all true hearts must admire;
Then bear with me while I shall seek to show
The vision sweet that stands as my ideal:
A woman strong in body, fair of form,
And radiant with the vigor health bestows;
Her face is beautiful with that rare charm-
The loveliness that shines from starry souls;
A mind of broad and varied culture, keen
Of intellect and quick of sympathy;
But best of all a heart o’erfilled with love,
And charity embracing God’s wide world.
Slow in her censure, ready with her praise.
Seeing the good, yet steadfast ‘gainst all wrong.
Demanding justice for another’s rights,
But modest in her claims for self alone.
Her dress? That which doth best become her and
Her circumstances; so, seeing her, we say,
“How well she looks,” and not “How fine her dress.”
Sweet piety is hers and doth pervade
Unconsciously each act. A trust in God
And faith in holy things befit her well.
For as a lovely flower without perfume
May please the eye but disappoints the heart,
So woman without piety must lack
The crowning grace.
“Old-fashioned,” do you say?
Ah, it may be, for women there have been
In every age so gracious, pure and good
That loyal hearts do homage to them still;
And on Time’s roll of honor they shall stand
For ages yet to come. “Old-Fashioned” these!
Though high or lowly be her lot, she rules,
A queen in her own realm, or court, or cot.
When public duties call she shuns them not,
But best fulfills her mission in her home-
A wise and tender mother, loving wife-
“Her husband’s heart doth safely trust in her,”
So Solomon described her, long ago.
A faithful friend who will no trust betray-
Her friendship is a boon one well may crave.
Not perfect quite- some sweet faults still remain
To link her with our common human needs,-
But gentle, gracious, lovable and true.
O, brave “New Woman,” standing calm, serene,
To watch the dawn of the new century,
Wilt thou fulfill for us the grand Ideal?
The power is in they hands to choose and mold
They destiny at will. What shall it be?
The heritage of countless years is thine-
The toil and travail of thy sisterhood.
That which they sought with tears, almost with blood,
Is freely thine if thou wilt take and use-
The open door to Learning, Science, Art;
The right to think, to labor, to achieve!
Use then thy power with humble, rev’rent heart,
And give the world its noblest womanhood.
From Michigan in Literature, Andrews, Clarence, 1992:
An unusual entry is Mary K. Buck’s Songs of the Northland (1902), published posthumously. Mrs. Buck (1849-1901) was born Marjanka Knizek in Bohemia and came to Traverse City, Michigan, at the end of the Civil War. She attended college, became a schoolteacher and a contributor to several nationally circulated magazines. She also collaborated with Mrs. M. E. C. Bates on a volume of northern Michigan stories, Along Traverse Shores.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sanborn Maps, if you are a researcher in the fields of architecture, genealogy, or local history, are invaluable tools. Until recently, Traverse Area District Library only held a copy of the 1929 Traverse City Sanborn, a very small slice of the pie. As of May 25th, the Library of Congress has announced the digitization of their collection of maps, some 25,000, all originally published prior to 1900. Maps will be added monthly until 2020, making for a total of 500,000 Sanborns available in their digital collection. As of this publication, the Traverse City maps for 1884, 1890, 1893, and 1899 are all available.
A Sanborn Map was originally used to provide insurance assessment information to insurance underwriters. Lets say that you owned a wooden warehouse near the pier in Traverse City in 1890. In it is your whole life’s savings, amounting to $100,000 worth of product to ship out… and that product is quite flammable. You would want to insure it, right? But, there are no local insurance companies, and no insurance agent is traveling to so far a place as Traverse City for several months.
So, how can a company assess your property correctly and insure it for the amount you need? The company would rely on information found in the Sanborn Maps. The Sanborn would reveal where your property was within the city, what type of building it was, its composition, and size. They could also look at your neighbors as well. While the Sanborn might not say what is in each building, knowing who your neighbors were (a gas works, other warehouses, residences), would help the insurance agent make a quality guess on what to appraise your property at… and how risky you’re living!
How is this information useful for researchers today? Once you know how to read a Sanborn, the world of the past comes alive. Color coding and other indicators found on these maps tells the story of a town. When you boil down all the information, the Sanborn tells you one thing, which can be used for a myriad of uses: How did a city grow, both physically and financially?
How does a map answer that type of question? Look to our previous example of 1890s Traverse City. From the Sanborn, we can tell that the city had a significant collection of warehouse buildings near the waterfront, indicating that it was a port city that relied on trade. The large swaths of the city colored in red indicates the predominance of brick-built structures, indicating a lot of sustained growth in the area. How fun would it be to compare the same area, year after year, through the Sanborns? Get the whole family together for that kind of fun!
In addition to these sweeping generalizations, you can also use them to find the businesses owned by your ancestors. As you can guess, there are a number of businesses owned by persons with Bohemian (or Czechoslovakian) names near Randolph and Second Streets. So, even if your family did not own a business, this could be a clue that you should be looking in the general vicinity for your family, if they are of Bohemian descent.
Another hidden gem in a Sanborn are the names and widths of streets. For any researcher who has had to rely on census records or city directories to try and figure out where a relative lived, especially if street have been renamed or moved since then, this information is no small treat!
Before now, these maps were only available by traveling great distances to larger libraries, or by paying for very pricy access online through private companies. Every day, your library (whether here in Traverse City or the Library of Congress), is hard at work getting the information you need, in a way that you prefer. We live in amazing times!
Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.
Locally-produced digital magazine featuring nature and local history from the Grand Traverse Region.