Category Archives: History

Articles on local history for the Grand Traverse Region. Local histories reveal the social and cultural conditions that shaped a community. Articles in this feature can range from topics as diverse as the construction of transportation systems and buildings to the operation of businesses and social clubs.

Saboteurs, Toasters, and More from Cadillac

by Dr. Cliff Sjogren, local history author

Editor’s note: Typically, Grand Traverse Journal focuses on the five-county area surrounding the Bay. However, this article features our southern neighbor, Cadillac, located in Wexford County, a community that lived through the same growing pains as any in the Bay region. This is but one article in Mr. Sjogren’s new book, “Timber Town Tales,” a collection of 38 articles on Cadillac and Wexford County, originally published in 2014 in the Cadillac News.

Thanks to our area’s remarkable history, my retired life has been enriched immeasurably by my varied museum volunteer projects.

When we launched our website a few years ago through the Cadillac News web service, CNDigital Solution, I somewhat thoughtlessly agreed to handle viewers’ questions submitted to our website. Since then, I have responded to hundreds of inquiries from all over the U.S. and many foreign countries. Because the site is “name & place searchable,” many inquiries are from Sweden and other northern European countries seeking long-lost relatives.

Most foreign inquiries, however, come from Ireland. The Irish, too, have a Wexford County Museum and I rather enjoy responding to those who mistakenly find us as they seek information from our namesake county museum in Ireland.

Cadillac Chemical Company on Lake Cadillac's southeastern shore. The company provided wood alcohol to British and French armed forces during WWI. A mysterious fire was said to be caused by a German saboteur in 1916. Photo courtesy of Wexford County Historical Society.
Cadillac Chemical Company on Lake Cadillac’s southeastern shore. The company provided wood alcohol to British and French armed forces during WWI. A mysterious fire was said to be caused by a German saboteur in 1916. Photo courtesy of Wexford County Historical Society.

A few years ago, an Ann Arbor researcher emailed me about a German saboteur who set fires and destroyed chemical factories in several Michigan cities during World War I. He suspected that Cadillac was one of his targets. Having read and indexed the two celebrator issues of the Cadillac Evening News that included a historical chronology of thousands of news items dating from 1871, I responded that it was unlikely such an event took place in Cadillac. I added that if I had the approximate date of the event, I would “see what I could find.” Later, when I accessed our Cadillac Evening News index, I found the following 1916 chronology entry:

May 18- The Cadillac Chemical Co. group of buildings was destroyed by fire starting about noon. The company was making chemicals for war purposes and its product was in the greatest demand in the concern’s history at high prices. The loss is estimated at $50,000. Next day Charles T. Mitchell, president, said the plant would be rebuilt as soon as possible.

My researcher friend was delighted with our find that validated his supposition. No mention of the fire was included in a feature story about the chemical plant. The facility was located in the Cobbs and Mitchell complex about where a Pearl Street extension would end at Lake Cadillac on Holly Road. Their products included wood alcohol and acetate of lime, both used in teh manufacture of explosives. They also made pig iron from the charcoal residue. According to the inquirer, the company’s products were shipped to England and France for their military uses against the Germans prior to America’s entry into the war in 1917.

Another interesting inquiry concerned toasters.

“Did you know that your community is historically significant as a maker of toasters?” was the question. It was submitted by the editor of the Saturday Evening Toast (no joke!) who claimed that a small firm, the Cadillac Electric Manufacturing Company, was the second U.S. manufacturer of toasters. General Electric made the first toasters.

The small company, organized in Reed City, moved to 216 South Mitchell Street in Cadillac where it was incorporated on December 29, 1910. The short chronology entry included, “…they planned to manufacture a light electric stove.”

Cadillac Type C Combination Stove & Toaster, Circa 1911. Photo courtesy of
Cadillac Type C Combination Stove & Toaster, Circa 1911. Photo courtesy of Terry Vollmer, .

The toaster, depicted here, was a combination stove and toaster that was engineered to have the entire breakfast prepared for eating at the same time. One ad displays a man reading his morning paper and drinking coffee while his breakfast was being prepared beside him. Search “Cadillac Toaster” online and enjoy several views of a product created and manufactured in Cadillac and still displayed at toaster-collector conventions around the U.S. Unfortunately, we do not have this important historical product to display and we would be most appreciative if one were to be gifted to the Society.

Our very active website with its 150 hits a day continues to yield a number of historical events that might never have otherwise been revealed.


Cadillac Evening News celebratory editions are available in their entirety online through Central Michigan University’s Digital Newspaper Portal,

Cadillac Evening News Index is also available through Central Michigan University’s Digital Newspaper Portal,

Dr. Cliff Sjogren is a volunteer for the Wexford County Historical Society & Museum, and was highly involved with the newspaper digitization and indexing project recently undertaken by the Society. His book, Timber Town Tales, is his first book on local history, and is available for purchase at Horizon Books, Traverse City and Cadillac, as well as through the publisher, Cadillac Printing Company, Inc. ( All money generated by book sales beyond printing and mailing costs will be donated to the Society. Sjorgen enjoys history, Alpine skiing, and his hometown of Cadillac, Michigan, where he resides with Patricia, his wife of 62 years.

Advertisement courtesy of Terry Vollmer,
Advertisement courtesy of Terry Vollmer,

When the Aircraft Industry Almost Got Off the Ground in Traverse City: The Tale of Two Inventors

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

This story is about two very different Traverse City men, each with his own ambitions in the emerging world of manned flight.  Both had skills and talents to be successful, but for different reasons neither realized their aviation dreams.

Many direct quotes from newspaper articles have been included because their wording best expresses the attitudes and humor of the time.

It was 1909. The Wright Brothers were setting flight records repeatedly.  In St. Louis, Missouri, during various centennial celebrations, balloon races, dirigible exhibitions and aeroplane contests made national headlines.  In the small northern Michigan town of Traverse City a young man with a natural gift for mechanics and apparently innate engineering skills made aviation headlines, himself–at least locally.

In August 1909, Charles Albert Augustine, a twenty-one-year-old son of a tailor, along with a few friends, put together a 20-foot long bi-plane glider. The young man and his friend, Edwin E. Smith, made their maiden flight on October 17, 1909 from the top of a hill just south of town on the Ransom farm. Several men ran alongside, pushing the glider with its pilot until it caught air and rose up about 50 feet, gliding a full 600 feet and landing lightly again. They gave the glider several tries that day, but the flight that Smith piloted was the longest. After this successful flight, the achievement was eagerly covered in the paper.

Augustine had high hopes of starting an aeroplane manufacturing company.  However, he needed funding for his projects and had competition for financial support.  Another man with better connections to local businessmen was also making news with his invention–which threatened to overshadow that of the younger man.  Andrew Smith was seventeen years older than Augustine and had already established a reputation as a proficient inventor, although the extent of his training is unknown. In 1895, he had patented an oarlock mechanism for boats, making a good amount of money from it. By 1904, he had several patents, one for a diamond-shaped clothespin, and another for a machine to make them. His machine was used to open a clothespin factory in Muskegon, Michigan. Obviously mechanically talented, he is listed in the 1900 census as an inventor.

Andrew Smith's 16-cylinder engine trials on icy Grand Traverse Bay.
Andrew Smith’s 16-cylinder engine trials on icy Grand Traverse Bay.

In 1910, Smith was listed as a mechanical engineer at the Oval Wood Dish Co. His biggest venture yet was perfecting a 16-cylinder airplane engine. Working with the Traverse City Iron Works to build his engine, he had it ready to test in early 1911.  In February that year, he put together a contraption with the test engine attached to a sled and an eight-foot propeller. During the test runs on the ice of the bay, Smith experimented with different amounts of engine power:

Mr. Smith turned the power of all the cylinders on at one time as an experiment, but the heavy boat was practically lifted off the ice… the second test was made over the same course and under similar conditions with the exception that 12 passengers were carried. The added weight did not seem to make any difference as practically the same speed was made and the boat went over the course like an express train without mishap.

This experiment drew the interest of local businessmen, and Smith started gaining support from the community. Several men subscribed to incorporate the Smith Aeroplane Engine Company, which was capitalized at $100,000.  A publication called Aircraft dated March, 1911 noted the activity of the two men, “Andrew Smith and Charles Augustine are the prime movers towards the organization of a company at Traverse City, Mich., for the purpose of manufacturing aeroplanes and aero engines in that growing western town.”  There seems to have been some sort of partnership between the two men, but perhaps only a verbal agreement, not a contractual one.

Augustine’s biplane, as it appeared in a photograph published in the Grand Rapids Press, 1910. This is the first time this image has been shown to persons interested in local history, as this image is not available through the History Center.

A January 1910 Grand Rapids newspaper covered the exciting achievement of Augustine’s first flights the previous fall, including a photo of the builder and his biplane. The article mentioned the partnership with Smith but explained that they somehow ended their relationship, “Originally, Augustine was working in conjunction with a local machinist who promised to produce an eight-cylinder fifty horsepower gasoline engine… but Augustine and his machinist friend have had a split….”

In August, 1910, Augustine’s new plane was finished, but he was waiting for Smith to return from a business trip in New York. Augustine was to pilot his plane with the Smith engine and a newspaper reporter was to accompany him on the flight. The flight with the Smith engine never happened.  No documentation has been found to show that the Augustine airplane body and the Smith engine ever came together as a unit and flown. The following month, Augustine left for New York spending three months learning about planes, gaining experience with engines and working for an aeronautical society on Long Island.

After returning home, Augustine placed an ad in the wanted column of the paper asking for capital to purchase an engine for his monoplane, but few came to his aid. A supporter wrote a piece in the paper encouraging others to contribute:

In a January issue of the Grand Rapids Press we read that Traverse City people were electrified last year when Charles Augustine made his flights in a glider of his own construction. We wonder if they were so electrified that they still remained dazed and as they read the ad in home papers for financial aid to purchase an engine for this same young man for his new monoplane, do they fail to see in this an opportunity to aid one of Traverse City’s boys? What might mean very little to each one who might lend a hand might mean much to one who has spent all his spare time and all his earnings during the past few months working on this machine, which is nearing completion only lacking the engine. One man says he will give $25 toward it, are there twenty-four more men who will do likewise? This would set the young man on his feet and show to our sister cities that the Queen City of the North is still loyal to her boys.
–Owen Schoolcraft

Prospects for financing a fledgling aircraft company centered on Smith rather than Augustine. The Board of Trade created an aviation committee consisting of three local businessmen, and pledged whatever support they could to Andrew Smith and his engine-building venture. There was talk of starting a factory for production right in Traverse City.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1911, the Smith engine made mention in the paper with results of testing in Saginaw and Chicago, and word of an additional $1,000  being donated to the testing fund.

Augustine's monoplane never got off the ground, but reality never stopped famed postcard designer Orson W. Peck. Read more about him in the "Then and Now" feature of this month's Grand Traverse Journal!
Augustine’s monoplane never got off the ground, but reality never stopped famed postcard designer Orson W. Peck. Read more about him in the “Then and Now” feature of this month’s Grand Traverse Journal!

Meanwhile, Augustine was still perfecting his monoplane. Surprisingly, even with all the talk of the Smith engine, in September, a full eight months after his plea for financial aid, the latest Augustine aeroplane was finished but still without an engine. Newspaper accounts were supportive, “The machine is completed and a model in every respect, similar in size and design to many of the best aeroplanes now in use. Experts have judged this a perfect machine, but as yet Mr. Augustine has not been able to secure a suitable engine with which to operate it.” The plane was put on display at the local fair, a sensible move according to the paper, “This of itself will be a great attraction and as aerial navigation has now become firmly established, additional interest will be given to this exhibition.” It seems strange that with the glowing description of the quality of Augustine’s plane, he was not being taken seriously, and left without securing funds.

After the excitement of a nearby town holding an aviation exhibit at their fair, at the last minute Charles’ plane was rushed in and put on display in Traverse City. It seems his plane was only being used to bring more people into town for the fair. In the end, Augustine’s “perfect machine” never left the ground.

Meanwhile, an exhibition was planned to show off the improved and tested Smith engine. With the backing of prominent businessman Henry Hull, the Board of Trade made an agreement with Smith which stated he would pay for all advertising. Subscribers who donated were assured their money would be well spent and, if they were “in any way dissatisfied with the flights, they could have their money cheerfully refunded to them.”

Together, Smith and the Board organized an exhibition once Smith’s engine had been perfected and tested at an air strip in Chicago. Three days in late November, 1911 were set aside for the show.  The paper waxed enthusiastic about the exhibition and the prospects for airplane manufacture in the city:

Under the auspices of the Board of Trade, this machine will be brought to Traverse City and two days exhibition given. There is a two-fold object in this proposition- one is to give the people of this section of the state an opportunity to see a real air ship in action; another is to give a demonstration for the purpose of interesting local capital in this company for the purpose of manufacturing these engines in  this city…Taking these things into consideration, there is a great future for the aeroplane engine and the Traverse City product promises much for the future. This community now has an opportunity to assist in establishing what will probably become a large and valuable industry.

Smith secured professional aviator Vandie Ludvik to fly the plane in the exhibition in Traverse City.  Ludvik had been testing Smith’s engine in various planes in other exhibitions around the Midwest, and a Curtiss bi-plane was chosen to use with the Smith engine. Ads were placed in the paper and tickets sold by the Board of Trade for 25 cents, and the 12th Street fairgrounds were chosen for the exhibition. The first two days’ weather was not good, and only one flight was taken on the second day, its outcome reported quite positively:

A large crowd witnessed the experiment on seventh street and when the machine was ready, it was followed to the Twelfth street grounds by hundreds of people.  After a run about 150 feet, the air craft gracefully rose about 30 feet going gradually higher as it encircled the field until it reached a height of about 50 or 60 feet, when a stiff air current partially toppled the machine, but the aviator with quick manipulations righted the craft and completed the circuit of the field at a height of about 30 or 40 feet, making a very good landing.  

On the third day, the conditions were better.

The trial was the best yet given… and the engine was in first-class condition. The aviator rose to a height of about 200 feet, encircling the grounds twice, in his flight sailed over the asylum grounds. When he landed, the rear wheel of the bi-plane struck a stump and was badly punctured… About 5,000 people…gathered on the twelfth street grounds to witness the scheduled exhibition of the Curtis bi-plane…the great throng of men, women and children, who covered the field could not be controlled…the crowd was so great that he was afraid that he could not pick out a suitable landing place without danger of injuring several people in alighting. Besides, there was a defect in the connecting rod of the frame work which was broken in the landing which prohibited another trial. Naturally the great crowd was very much disappointed.

According to a 1957 article by Al Barnes, after the initial flights, the test pilot “refused to make another flight” with the Smith engine “saying it was ‘no good.’”

There was still talk of gaining support for Charles Augustine and his inventions, but it seems to have not been enough to make a success for him. In December, 1911, after testing another invention called a hydroplane, a propeller-driven watercraft, he was still struggling to find financial support for his inventions.  The newspaper ruefully comments, “Some time ago Charlie made an appeal to certain parties for assistance in perfecting his aeroplane which he is sure would have succeeded in flying if he could have secured an engine powerful enough for this purpose. Although he failed to receive the assistance for which he asked he has not given up entirely because  of discouragement, but is still hammering away. It is too bad that Mr. Augustine does not receive the encouragement and necessary assistance of which he is deserving for he has proven by his work in the past, that he is endowed with the ingenuity of an inventor.”

A few days later, a local citizen also contributed and “Editorials by the People” letter which was published to, hopefully, encourage local businessmen to support Charles.  This letter sums up what some locals must have been feeling. The Board of Trade had supported Andrew Smith, but only because they thought there might be a benefit to the city if an engine factory could be established and bring more business to town. What Charles Augustine was doing did not appear to benefit the city.

Editor Record-Eagle: Selfishness seems to be the predominating spirit of the age; it blinds us to our own interests, to our neighbors’ interests, and to the interests of the city in general. We have the business men’s association, the grocers’ combine, labor unions, etc., each trying to get some advantage of the other, each trying to benefit the organization they represent at the expense of the others. We also have a board of trade composed of lawyers and business men to look after the city in general.  In seeing for something great, we sometimes overlook the great things. The prosperity of any city can only be obtained by the mutual working together of all of its inhabitants. In a recent issue of your paper I noticed these headlines, “Hydroplane a Success.” I say that a boy with the inventive ingenuity that Charles Augustine possesses ought not to go unrewarded, and that the Board of Trade could do nothing better for Traverse City than to back him with the means necessary to start a factory for the manufacture of aeroplanes, hydroplanes of any other kind of planes his inventive genius may bring forth. The time is near when the air will be filled with some kind of machines, and if Traverse City wants to receive the benefit, as other cities are now receiving from the manufacturer of automobiles, it had better get in line immediately.
— W.H. Henderson

Biography of Charles Augustine, working class inventor

Charles Augustine grew up among the working class and had the typical schooling available in Traverse City at the time, most likely an education that ended at the eighth grade. He earned his daily living as the projector operator at the Dreamland Theater on Front Street, a fitting job for someone who enjoyed how mechanical things worked. He also is listed as an electrician and a chauffeur in various city directories.

He obtained his mechanical education in a correspondence school, getting actual experience in automobile factories.  His skills permitted him to build a motorcycle when his finances were not good enough to purchase one.

The story was that he became interested in flying through a dare.  He took that dare and first started creating a dirigible, but the expense of the gas needed changed his focus to the biplane. Augustine had even gone to a flight school in Missouri and learned to pilot an aircraft with great skill.

He was obsessed with mechanical things because, not only did he build airplanes, he invented other modes of engine-driven transportation.  Late in 1910 he invented something called a motor sled, described as follows, “built like an iceboat, only much smaller, being, but eight feet long, it is a curious looking affair. The propellor seven feet long is located in front, on a raised frame, and connected by a chain to the engine. The engine is a three horsepower motor cycle engine, and drives the propellor at a rate of 250 revolutions per minute.”

On December 16, 1911 Charles tried out another new invention which was a watercraft he called a hydroplane.  The description given in the newspaper is similar to that of a modern airboat or fanboat:

The hydroplane consists of two hollow steel tubes which not only serve as floats but  are also necessary to retain craft’s equilibrium. It might be termed as a hydro-plane with the planes [wings] taken off, for the means used to propel it is in the shape of an aeroplane propeller about three feet in length, and driven by a four cylinder motor cycle engine. This odd yet practical and pleasure giving affair is the work of a local young man, Chas. Augustine, who is not only the owner of the first hydro-plane in this vicinity; but it will be remembered that he is the first one to have an aeroplane and a motor sled… The boat is capable of making eight of ten knots an hour, he having rode from Greilickville across the bay to the mouth of the river and up the river to Park street bridge in about twenty minutes…

In 1913, the newspaper noted his latest invention, a primitive automobile, “[Charles Augustine] appeared on the streets yesterday with his latest mechanical production. A motorcycle motor has been mounted on a small chassis supported by four bicycle wheels. The body of the car is built of unfinished lumber, but in spite of its odd appearance the vehicle negotiated the streets and hills about the city easily. The seating capacity is arranged to accommodate one person.”

As far as his personal life goes, he married Loretta Valleau on June 5, 1911, but  the marriage only lasted three years. Perhaps Charles spent too much time working on his inventions, which he was continually creating. A friend recalled that Augustine “could stick to one thing only long enough to make it work, and he would jump to another challenge.”

He was known around town for his quirky nature. For over ten years, he kept a pet alligator which was sometimes put on display, and was known to have escaped from its tank more than once. The first recorded incident was in 1905. The three-foot reptile, which had been missing for two months, was discovered in a neighbor’s wet cellar by two men who were taken by surprise by the creature.  In 1916, it vanished from Augustine’s Front Street home and managed to find its way into West Bay.  By this time, the ‘gator was five feet long.  The newspaper was quick to make fun of the situation:

While the sharks were biting great holes in the Atlantic seaboard this summer and driving the bathers from the salty surf to their enameled bath tubs the swimmers in Grand Traverse bay cruised leisurely back and forth and thanked their lucky stars that the inland waters were free from the menace of of submarine attack. Little did they dream that a five foot alligator was no doubt then watching their every stroke simply waiting and watching for an especially plump morsel. But such must have been the case for yesterday afternoon after a desperate struggle two young gentlemen named Carver and Abbott captured and dragged ashore this self same alligator. While loitering along the beach near Sunset Park they noticed what they first considered to be a log floating idly near the shore. The log seemed to be propelled through the water and as this seemed to be a strange condition they investigated and discovered that it was not a wooden thing but something imbued with life. The fight and capture resulted. By the time that the monster was brought ashore the story had spread and there were crowds of people along the shore. The question of its disposal next arose and there was also much speculation as to which course the captive took to reach these waters from its southern home. About this time one of the spectators identified the alligator as belonging to Chas. Augustine of East Front street. Due inquiries brought out the fact that the alligator was a family pet and had escaped last week.

Augustine enjoyed performing in theatrical productions. In 1906, he played a villain in “A Hobo’s Triumph”, and somehow worked his pet alligator in the story! In 1908, he purchased the Elk Rapids Opera House, but it isn’t known if he had any success with it.

His flamboyant nature got him arrested numerous times for speeding on his motorcycle and driving without headlights. He loved his machines and their speed!

In 1914, Augustine married  Pearl Wells-Machado. His relationship with her seems to have been an on-and-off affair. They must have divorced since she was recorded as marrying another man in 1919, but was remarried to Augustine in 1925.

augustine-engineshowingHe entered the service during WW1 and shortly after contracted tuberculosis. His health plagued him for the rest of his life and he was in and out of hospitals from 1923 on, never fully recovering. Augustine died in 1933 at the age of 46 in a Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles, CA.

In his obituary, he was still remembered as the first to take flight in Traverse City some 24 years prior.

Charles Augustine, 46, pioneer motion picture operator and machinist of Traverse City died, in Los Angeles, Calif., Wednesday afternoon according to word received by friends in this city this morning. Mr. Augustine was a World War veteran and since his service had spent much of his time in veterans’ hospitals about the country, part of which was in the hospital at Camp Custer. For several years he had been in California in another hospital. About the time the Wright Brothers were starting work on their heavier than air machines, Charley Augustine was also experimenting with flying. He was intensely interested in aviation and only the condition of his health kept him from going more deeply into the development of the airplane. When motion pictures first came to Traverse City Mr. Augustine became interested in them, and then made picture projection his life work. This was interrupted by his service in the World War and his following hospitalization. Word of Mr. Augustine’s death came from Pearl Augustine, his widow who announced that burial will take place in Los Angeles.

Charles Augustine never fully received the support of the community.  The newspaper writes with apparent sympathy, “…handicapped by lack of experience, by lack of tools, by lack of material and by lack of money, Augustine, who is a natural mechanic … has been sure that he is right and so let none of the many obstacles discourage him.”

Unfortunately, these obstacles along with ill-health–and perhaps an inability to stay focused on any one thing for long–kept him from making a success in the aviation business. It seems sad to think that the local businessmen of Traverse City did not offer more support to encourage his talents. Was it public perception that caused the local businessmen to hold back on investing in Augustine? In 1910, at the height of  Smith and Augustine’s airplane and engine testing, the financial backers had to decide which inventor seemed to deserve their hard earned money. Would it be the mature man who already held a position as a mechanical engineer at a reputable company, and held several mechanical patents–or a working class twenty-one-year-old moving picture projector operator who made machines in a shed behind his parents’ house?  Who knows what Augustine could have accomplished if he’d had the resources to continue with his passion?

Brief Biography of Andrew Smith, inventor and patent-holder


Andrew Smith’s dream of an airplane engine company in Traverse City fell apart. In 1912 the company he started folded due to a lack of support for the project. This didn’t seem to diminish his spirit. He continued to successfully invent and patent his ideas through the 1930s.

By 1920, he had moved his family to Chicago where he was hired by the Halsam Products Company, a toy manufacturer. For that company, Smith invented a device to make toy blocks safer by rounding the edges: the company was well known for its “safety blocks.” Smith also invented a propelling device or shooter, and an improved game table.

He moved to Milwaukee around 1922, where he patented and manufactured an improved version of his 1894 oar lock.  In addition, he patented several automobile parts, including an oil pan, oiling system, clutch control, and a starter.  Never limited to one industry, he invented a machine to make blanks for paper poker chips and a machine to finish them. His chips were sold under the Thesco-Kirby-Cogeshall brand name.

It is believed Andrew Smith continued to live in Milwaukee until his death.

Julie Schopieray is a local historian and writer. She is currently working on a project concerning Jens C. Petersen, a Traverse City architect who practiced in this city from the early 1900s to 1918.

Early Beginnings in the Port Oneida Wilderness

by Tom Van Zoeren, Port Oneida historian

Ed. Note: The following is adapted from the “Images & Recollections from Port Oneida” series of books produced by Tom Van Zoeren in partnership with the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes. The books are based on oral histories and photos collected from natives of the farming community, which is now preserved as a Rural Historic District within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The books are available at area bookstores and through

The early beginnings of the Werner family in America are now misty—but around 1854 Frederick and Margretha Werner left their crowded, oppressive homeland of Hanover (now a part of Germany) and sailed to the New World with several small children. Arriving in New York, the Werners purchased 202 acres of Port Oneida land, sight-unseen, for 75 cents/acre. They then sailed up the Great Lakes to South Manitou Island to spend the winter. In the spring the young family crossed the Manitou Passage, climbed the steep shoreline bluff, and surveyed their piece of primeval forest. The land was rolling, and included a hilltop that looked over the surrounding lands and waters; but it also included some level ground that promised good crops. The Werners began the task of establishing a home in the wilderness, a half-mile down the coast from the only other white settlers in the area, Margretha’s brother Carsten Burfiend and his family.

 Frederick built a small log cabin in a sheltered spot near the bluff above the lake. He then began clearing the virgin forest for a farm. The details of their lives can only be imagined; but it’s told that the family lost three children to pneumonia during the first years in Port Oneida. During following years Margretha bore more children to total 14. Five did not survive childhood, and rest in the family graveyard overlooking the lake.

Among the trials of life on the Great Lakes frontier, early settlers faced raids by the renegade Mormon cult of King James Jesse Strang.  Jack Barratt, great-grandson of Margretha’s brother Carsten, told this tale: “The Mormons—when they were on the rampage—they arrived one day at Port Oneida; and my great-grandfather was gone, and only my great-grandmother and the children were home.  She took all of the kids upstairs, and there was a trapdoor—I remember this trapdoor at the head of the stairs that came down over the stairway—and she piled all the dressers and the beds and everything she could get on the door so they couldn’t come upstairs.  But they took food out of the kitchen and everything they wanted, and before they left, they slashed all the fishing nets that were out on the drying reels, and they took an ax and they put holes in the bottom of the boat.”

Of course, a wilderness pioneer has little means for precisely determining property lines, and after 15 years building a farmstead, the Werners were informed by their neighbor to the north, Thomas Kelderhouse, that their home was on the wrong side of the line. The Werners had to disassemble their hard-built home and farm, and relocate 1/4 mile southwest to the location seen here. There are no foundation remains left to mark the original home site. Great-grandson Charlie Miller believes it was constructed on a base of logs.

FWernersorighouse1904By the time of this earliest family photo, a half-century after arriving in Port Oneida, the Werners’ daughter Margaret had married, and her husband, John Miller, had taken over farm operations. Here they pose in front of their home; L-R, they are pioneer Frederick Werner; his son-in-law John Miller; daughter (Mr. Miller’s wife) Margaret; the Millers’ daughter Annie; their son Charlie; and John Miller’s son by a previous marriage, John. Pioneer Margretha had died five years earlier.

Like most Port Oneida men of his time, John Miller spent his winters working in the logging woods to earn precious cash. An accident there left him with a wooden leg on which to work his farm. Adding to the family’s difficulties, his wife suffered from mental illness. Grandson Charlie Miller recalls, “She liked to bite my sister’s arm. She got put away for a while. Twice she got put away at the state place in Traverse.”

The original log cabin on this site was eventually added onto and covered with clapboard siding, but remained within the walls of the one-story portion of the house seen here. The old house is gone now, but Charlie believes that the tree just peeking above the roof to the left of the larger spruces is the huge cedar that can still be seen south of the end of Miller Road, along the way to the old barn.

Van Zoeren is a retired Sleeping Bear Dunes Park Ranger, who now works to preserve Port Oneida history. All of the oral history interviews, their transcripts, and related photos that have been collected have been donated to the public domain and are available in digital form at the Glen Lake Library (Empire) or from Tom. He welcomes your questions, comments, and further Port Oneida information (via email at

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

by Richard Leary, Lake Ann historian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mission Table Restaurant of Bowers Harbor: A Splendid Building, But Not a Residence for a Ghost

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

Nestled in the pines on the Old Mission peninsula overlooking Bowers Harbor is a gem of 1920’s architecture that has gone unrecognized for its unique style and quality design.  Now called the Mission Table (formerly the Bowers Harbor Inn), the original farm residence was designed by a dynamic architectural firm from St. Paul, Minnesota in 1929.  The design team of Bentley-Worthen was made up of two talented architects. Percy Dwight Bentley (1885-1968) trained at the Armor Institute in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century.  His early work reflected the Prairie School style of Frank Lloyd Wright, though Bentley most likely never met the man.  He spent several years in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, designing many houses in the Prairie School style, but worked with period revival idioms as well.  Even without formal architectural training, Kenneth Worthen was already well known in St. Paul, having designed over one hundred buildings there by 1929 when he and Percy Bentley designed the Bowers Harbor home.  Starting his career in architecture around 1921, he had great success beginning at a very young age.  A compendium of St. Paul architecture, St. Paul’s Architecture: A History, notes, “Still barely twenty-one years old, he began to create some of the city’s most distinctive period-revival homes. He was so successful that within two years he was supported by a corps of some of the city’s finest draftsmen… Worthen became both specialist in and master of period-revival design for the midsize house… a position he would occupy for the duration of his nine-year St. Paul career.” (1)

Architectural drawing of the front elevation of Old Mission Table, ca. 1927.
Architectural drawing of the front elevation of Old Mission Table, ca. 1927.

The Bowers Harbor project was larger than most of Mr. Worthen’s homes. It was designed in what one architectural historian described as a stylized period house, typical of the design team’s work in the late 1920s. Paul Larson, co-author of St. Paul’s Architecture, described the house’s design in detail.  “The front elevation of the house looks all Bentley — clean lines, balanced fenestration, sharp color demarcations. But the details … look all Worthen — picturesque mix of materials, loads of historicisms. So it must have been a joint design effort.”   The home has many unique features and wonderful details in tile work inside and out. One feature is an elevator which was probably the first one installed in a residence in the entire region.  A Lion-like gargoyle at the peak of a stained-glass widow was a signature piece of Kenneth Worthen’s work– a detail he had used in other homes. Several stained glass windows add more creative flair to the home.  There are two large fireplaces, one on each end of the structure and three smaller ones in the upper bedrooms, each with unusual tile or stonework. The chimney of one fireplace is built of stone and irregularly placed bricks, typical in several of Kenneth Worthen’s St. Paul structures.   A stucco type wall, on one end of the home encloses a small courtyard, and is imbedded with colorful tiles, seashells, and stones collected by the owners. A large, graceful, curved iron hook once held a grand lantern near the front door. Cost to build the house was approximately $175,000, a sum well exceeding two million dollars in today’s money.

The partnership of Bentley-Worthen was brief, lasting about one year, with both men going on to do other projects.  The Bowers Harbor home may have been the last one Kenneth Worthen designed in the East before he relocated his family to California in the latter part of 1930, where he continued his career as a successful architect until his death in 1947.

Tile work on an original fireplace surround.

The Bowers Harbor home was built for Kenneth Worthen’s aunt, Jennie E. (Worthen) Stickney and her husband Charles F. Stickney.  In 1909, Jennie purchased the Chester and Anna Hartson farm which was established in the 1860s.  Wintering in St. Paul with Jennie’s sister Clara Mann, in Chicago with Charles’ sisters (or in warmer climate), the couple arrived in the spring, staying well into the fall. When their house was damaged by a fire in 1927, Jennie hired her nephew Kenneth to build a much larger home around the shell of the old farm house.  Here they entertained family, friends, and fellow businessmen.  Charles started in the shoe and boot manufacturing business as his father and grandfather had. He used his business skills to promote local farming, the business of harvesting, and food processing.  Partnering with J.C. Howe, he established the Howe & Stickney canning company in 1910.  The Bowers Harbor home was a working farm with the Stickneys hiring local men to run the farm and ladies to help in the house.  Jennie enjoyed creating jams, jellies, brandies and pies from the fruits harvested on their farm and made it a point to serve them whenever they entertained.

As they aged and their health began to decline, the Stickneys hired a personal nurse to care for them. Jennie suffered from diabetes, heart disease and–in her last years–possible early stages of dementia. Their nurse and her children lived with them in Bowers Harbor in the summers and  accompanied them wherever they spent the winter.  Mrs. Stickney died in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Pantlind Hotel in March 1947, where they had a suite for the winter.  Mr. Stickney, though confined to a wheelchair, continued to enjoy their Bowers Harbor home for two more years until his death at Munson Hospital in Traverse City, in August 1949.

Colorful floor tile work.

Numerous newspaper articles beginning in the 1970s report that the Stickney summer house is “haunted,” claiming that Mr. Stickney died first and that Mrs. Stickney took her own life in the house. These claims concerning the Stickneys’ deaths are unsupported by historical research. Another story has it that Mr. Stickney had an affair and donated all of his wealth to a caregiver, causing a jealous Mrs. Stickney to hang herself in an elevator shaft in the house. Whether or not Mr. Stickney had an affair, Mrs. Stickney did not hang herself in an elevator shaft in the house!

The legends associated with the house vary, but are all unsupported by evidence. The bare truth holds less intrigue than tales of vast lumber wealth, infidelity, vanity and suicide that have spread locally over recent years. The real story is about two elderly people who needed help from their widowed nurse, a person to whom Mr. Stickney did leave his worldly possessions, but only out of respect and gratitude. With no children of his own, Charles felt his nurse was a perfect recipient of what was left of his estate. She had two children to raise and the Stickneys had come to care about the entire family. Others connected to the Stickneys and left out of the will may have felt entitled to some of the estate, that bitterness leading to jealous rumors about an alleged indiscretion between Charles and his caregiver. However the false stories started, they are nothing more than rumors and unsupported gossip.

Tile work on the exterior of the structure mimics the colorful tile inlays found on the interior floors.

It is widely reported by former owners, employees and visitors, that there is something unusual about the house. Some claim to have experienced phenomena pointing to Mrs. Stickney’s ghostly presence, often referring to her as “Genevieve.”  Birth, marriage, will and passport documentation proves that her name was never Genevieve, but Jennie. The only document with the name Genevieve is her death certificate, signed by a physician who did not personally know her.  He could have assumed Jennie was short for Genevieve, or, in her state of dementia, she might have started calling herself by that name.  For 80 years she went by the name of Jennie, her given name.

Perhaps the  “ghost” experienced by many at Bowers Harbor is not Jennie at all.  It could be Chester, Anna, Nida Hartson, who all passed away in the old farm house before the Stickneys arrived.  Or, more likely, there is no ghost at all.  If it is Jennie, however, it can only be because she lingered about her dearly loved, beautiful, unusual home–her one permanent residence, designed by her only nephew, the sole surviving child of any of her siblings.

The fabricated myths need to be dropped. Perhaps if they do, Jennie’s “ghost”—the twisted memory of an honorable woman–can finally be put to rest. It is a shame that Mrs. Stickney, a woman with no one to defend her legacy, has had her life story so completely tarnished.  Throughout the last few decades, the ghost stories have been a lure to bring people into the restaurant–as a glance at the Mission Table website reveals.

Unique details, such as the stained glass windows, sets the Stickney home apart from other local residences.
Unique details, such as the stained glass windows, sets the Stickney home apart from other local residences.

Mrs. Stickney deserves redemption.  It is the hope of the author that with the real story told, the house itself will be a new reason to draw customers. When people can finally look at the house—its true history and its glorious design–with new eyes, when they can study the quirky, exceptional details of its architecture, and when they forget the ghost legend, this splendid building will become recognized and respected for the showpiece of 1920s architecture it is.

(1) Thank you to Donald Aucutt, architectural historian, who has studied the work of Percy Dwight Bentley, as well as other Midwest architects of this period.

Julie Schopieray is a local historian and writer. Julie is currently working on a project concerning Jens C. Petersen, a Traverse City architect who practiced in this city from the early 1900s to 1918.

The Tonic of Wildness

by Annie Spence, first-time contributor to GTJ

“All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods

waldenbeach4 copy
Walden with his father Mike Spence at the Old Bathing Beach in Elk Rapids, Michigan.

My husband and I chose the name Walden for our expected son, a tribute to both nature and literature from Henry David Thoreau’s masterwork, Walden, or Life in the Woods. What better aspects of character could we hope to instill in our child than those of simplicity, self-reliance and reverence for the natural world? And for our boy with such a purposeful name we of course planned the most simple and natural of births and, of course, ended up with the exact opposite.

Our namesake of simplicity, self-reliance, and the natural world came to us by way of an emergency surgery, a team of doctors, and all the miracles of new science. Walden was born in early September and after a week tucked into a plastic pod in ICU with tubes attached to his chest, legs and perfectly round little head, we brought him home. By the time we’d bumbled through the haze of his first six weeks, winter had crept in. We’d only taken him on a handful of strolls through our hometown of Elk Rapids and now we’d be sentenced to Life in the House until spring. We stayed bundled inside and read The Fledgling by Jane Langton (another tribute to Thoreau) and when forced to go outdoors, baited by promises of holiday gifts or hot cocoa, our aim was to get our sweet fragile son from car to door and back again with the least amount of exposure to the elements. Not wind nor snow nor hail could penetrate the layers of Walden’s pilled hand-me-down snowsuit, topped with several layers of homemade blankets.

waldenbeach2 copyBy March, the whole family was more than ready to get outside and “blow the stink off”. We started small, with stroller walks on any day that poked up above 30 degrees. By May we had graduated to sitting on a blanket outside and by the time Walden learned to crawl and sit up, it was time to help Mom and Dad pull weeds in the raspberry patch. I worried that after so many months inside, our little one would have grown soft from the comforts of a temperature-controlled cozy home filled with toys and pillows and music. To my delight, though, Walden took to the outdoors like a true-blue naturalist. He could sit outside for hours (hours! a baby!) watching us do yardwork or mowing the lawn with our new self-propelled lawn mower. Seeing sunlight filtering through tree leaves put him into a trance.

It was almost summer and finally (finally!) time for the beach.

Finally (finally!) time for the beach.


“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods

In the hottest days of August last year, at nine months pregnant, there were days my only solace was wading in the bay at The Old Bathing Beach on the north end of Elk Rapids. It was the only place I could feel both cool and weightless, big belly up and watching the sun set.

The Old Bathing Beach* is one of four public beaches in Elk Rapids, a public spot fitted snugly next to a private stretch reserved for condos. It’s either not known by many tourists or not preferred. This year especially, since the water levels have risen, there is sometimes only a blanket’s worth of smooth bare sand to stake claim to. The rest of the area is covered in slender and sinuous dune grass. Often we’re three of only four or five people nearby and we like it that way. The combination of wind and waves are sometimes loud enough that it won’t do you much good to try and hold a conversation. The three of us are prompted by natural forces to be still.

“I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.”
“I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.”

Taking Walden here has brought a sense of peace to our hectic lives. We daily feel the familiar tugs of conflicting work schedules, night wakings, late bills and last minute out-of-town visitors and often find ourselves living what feels like the opposite of Thoreau’s declaration, “Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!” and “as long as possible, live free and uncommitted.” Still, at the end of the day we are a bike ride away from a quiet spot where baby and I can sit and make comb marks in the sand while my husband kayaks. On our way back, we hear locals and visitors laughing and enjoying the long warm days (getting shorter, minute by minute and so, that much sweeter). We come home and for at least a day after can feel the grit of strayed sand under our feet and are reminded of our remarkable luck.

As the weather turns cooler again and The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts more snow and frigid temperatures, as we blow out Walden’s first birthday candle, and unpack our sweaters  and hats when it seems like we only just put them away, our small family will try and sometimes fail to remember Thoreau’s advice to “live in each season as it passes”.

*: I have inquired about the history of the Old Bathing Beach, but haven’t found any such information. If you have any knowledge this area, please consider submitting to Grand Traverse Journal about it!

Annie Spence, when not being mother and wife in her wonderful little family, serves as a reference librarian at the Traverse Area District Library, Woodmere Branch. She is a recent transplant to Elk Rapids, and finds “up north living” very appealing.

Leading Ladies of Traverse City Exhibit Announced

The History Center of Traverse City is excited to announce Fall 2014 “Legends of the Grand Traverse Region”: “Leading Ladies of Traverse City.”  Exhibits will reveal the history of three 19th- and 20th-century womens’ organizations:  The Traverse City Woman’s Club, the Ladies Library Association and the Friendly Garden Club.

Well into the twentieth century many professional fields were closed to women.   Across the country, women of talent and expertise found other ways to influence their communities, and Traverse City was no different. Locally, women participated in  public service organizations, such as the groups featured as this fall’s “Legends.”

Legends’ “Leading Ladies of Traverse City”   will debut on Wednesday, Sept. 17th, and run through October 18th. Information on our Grand Opening Celebration,  Thursday, Sept. 25th, will be forthcoming.

Hannah St. Mary’s: the Treasure

Hannah St. Mary’s has a story no one besides a few select people know. This is that story.

It all started when the first settlers came to Hannah. Around 1850 Perry Hannah, A.T. Lay, and James Morgan came and bought a sawmill along the Boardman River and started a business. Then in 1857 Congress passed a grant allowing funds to build a railroad in Michigan from Grand Rapids to Traverse Bay. In 1862, George Nickerson and his family came and urged other families to join them.  In 1872, with the railroad finally finished, settlers came from all over for the cheap land and the plentiful amount of timber.

Later, after the railroad was built, they decided that they needed a church, building and completing it in 1885.  However, the church did not have any altar fixtures in it until around 1896 when they bought their altar. It cost $81.84.  It probably does not seem like much to us, but back then it was a large sum of money.

As always, horrible things seem to constantly plague good people; this church was no exception. In the late 1800s or early 1900s robbers on horseback stole everything from their altar.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is where this story begins…

This is the account told to me by Eugene and Jim Johnson. In 1982 on Easter Sunday Eugene Johnson took his eight-year-old son Jim fishing on Fish Lake.  It was a slightly chilly, foggy day but you could still fish. They also took Jims’ metal detector to fiddle around with later.

At long last, after continually failing to tempt the fish to bite, they pulled out the metal detector. They started in the parking lot, just finding small things such as pennies and other small coins. But as time passed, they wandered on down into the more swampy area of the woods past the campground, and over a bank when suddenly the metal detector was almost off the scale.

When they looked down they saw something that resembled metal. They set the detector down and gently started digging. Soon they discovered that the first piece of metal was the base of a tarnished candlestick. They kept digging as the fog danced around them.  Soon Jim found a potato sack; When it finally left its grave, it was revealed that it was chock-full of more candlesticks and vessels.  As they dug even deeper, they started uncovering more candelabras–and discovered the piece that explained what all the others were, a large cross.

Exterior of St. Mary of Hannah in 2014, a Catholic church in Grand Traverse County, south of Chum's Corners and west of Kingsley on M1-13. Photo credit to GTJ editors.
Exterior of St. Mary of Hannah in 2014, a Catholic church in Grand Traverse County, south of Chum’s Corners and west of Kingsley on M1-13. Photo credit to GTJ editors.

Eugene, once having been an altar boy, recognized the cross as one that might grace an altar. The question was where had these treasures come from? Eugene had never heard of a robbery of a church in the area. But they couldn’t just leave these gorgeous treasures alone could they?

They packed the pieces off and went home to ponder their questions in a safer setting. When they arrived home and explained the situation to Eugene’s wife, Vicky, she suggested, “Why don’t you take it to our pastor, Father Murphy?”

They did just that. After explaining their predicament once again, Father Murphy agreed that the artifacts were in fact like the ones put on a Catholic Church altar. However, while the tarnished silver artifacts were found, none of the gold artifacts that would grace an altar were found.

Father Murphy suggested that he take the items in question and in the meantime he would look through old church files and see if he could find out the story behind the artifacts.

Later that day or the next, Father Murphy called up Eugene and said, “Have I got a story for you.” He then proceeded to tell them that in the late 1800s or early 1900s the Hannah St. Mary’s Church had been robbed on horseback. The number of bandits and who they were are an unsolved mystery to this day.

Pretty amazing story huh? Sadly the story never reached the news. The artifacts were put on display in the church rectory; Diane Gray, a Church secretary,  remembers seeing some tarnished altar pieces in the office.  However, today they are probably stuck in some dusty boxes, shoved into an even dustier basement where their history will never see the light.

I am sorry to say that though many questions have been asked, no one can remember this story and that has made it hard to gather facts, though I am ecstatic that, due to research questions, more people know this fascinating story. I have spent several hours at the Traverse Area District Library looking at newspapers but have not found any mention of the robbery of any churches except for an attempted robbery of the St. Francis church in 1905.  I did discover that the early history of the town was filled with robberies and murders. I spent quite a bit of time talking to members of the church whose families belonged to the church for a long time such as Margret Lewis, Messrs. Ray and Jay Weber and former parish secretaries such as Diane Gray and Terry Javin. I also spoke with Sue Zenner the daughter of Julia Harrand who wrote a book on the history of Hannah St. Mary, and interviewed Eugene and Jim Johnson who were the ones who found the treasure.

Hannah Carr is a student at Kingsley Area Schools, who is passionate about writing and research, although she prefers writing mysteries to nonfiction. Carr was one of the winners of the 2014 Floyd Milton Webster Prize for History (Kingsley), Young Adults, for this article. She plans to be responsible with her Prize winnings, and the Editors look forward to her entry next year.

History Center Visitors show Local History Makes a Difference

The History Center of Traverse City is a collaborator of the Grand Traverse Journal. Located in the former Carnegie Library on Sixth Street in Traverse City, the HCTC has a wealth of resources available for research on the history of people and communities around the Grand Traverse Region. Visit their website and digital archives:

Harts Camp in 1910, a logging site in southern Grand Traverse County.
Harts Camp in 1910, a logging site in southern Grand Traverse County.

Recently something happened at the HCTC Archives that should remind us all as to why what local historians do is important.  I was privileged to witness a wonderful transformation.  A young woman came into the History Center Archives with her grandfather.  They wanted to see anything we had on their home town, which is situated a few miles outside of Traverse City.  I was able to show them 20 – 30 historic photographs, a file of clippings and articles, and a small book on the town’s history,  written by a high school class in the 1950s.

When he first came in, the grandfather had seemed disinterested, disengaged, and frankly, not very focussed.  But not for long! As he and his granddaughter spent time in the Research Room, a wonderful transformation occurred.  As he pointed out things in the photos he began to smile.  As he read parts of the town’s history out loud, and added his own memories to the story, they both began to laugh. By the end of their visit the grandfather was excited, happy and they were both obviously having a very good time.

Farm in southern Grand Traverse County, turn of the previous century. Image donated to HCTC.
Farm in southern Grand Traverse County, turn of the previous century. Image donated to HCTC.

And the story doesn’t end there.  A couple of weeks later they came back, this time with three more family members. The grandfather asked me to pull the same materials as the last time, and the family spent nearly two hours sharing and reminiscing.  Not only that, but they brought in over 20 photos, scans of which are now part of the HCTC archives.

At its best, this is what local history does.  It ties our families to their past., and together.  It creates community bonds and shows us how we must work together to move successfully into the future.

Peg Siciliano is the archivist at the History Center of Traverse City; she has worked as an archivist through various incarnations of the HCTC since the 1980s. To see more of Peg’s work, visit her at the HCTC archives, or view the digital archives online:

Kingsley Branch Library Celebrates 100 Years

A wonderful library is the crowning jewel of any town. Just ask the residents of Kingsley, the bustling village located in Paradise Township in southern Grand Traverse County. The Kingsley Branch Library (KBL) is celebrating 100 years of service to the community in 2014, and they will be doing it in style!

Join the Kingsley librarians for period costumes and candy at the Kingsley Heritage Days Parade on Saturday, July 19th. Then, visit the KBL on July 31st at 3:00pm for the Local History and Genealogy Room Grand Opening! In addition to viewing an exhibit on the history of the KBL, a talk on the development of the local history room will be given and refreshments served. If you have items, photographs or papers that you think add to the history of Kingsley and need to be preserved, please come to this event and hear more about donating to the local history room!

The First State Bank of Kingsley, the short building in the middle of the block of downtown pictured here, became the Kingsley Library in 1939.
The First State Bank of Kingsley, the short building in the middle of the block of downtown pictured here, became the Kingsley Library in 1939.

How do you start a library with no room, budget or experience? It helps to have a group of civic-minded women around, if you look at the history of the KBL.

In the summer of 1913, a lyceum was invited to speak to the residents of Kingsley by a group of prominent men from the community. Lyceums were very popular in this region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; these were organizations that sponsored public programs and entertainments. If you had been in Kalkaska in 1920, the Chautauqua Lyceum would have treated you to a rendition of the famous comic opera, “Chimes of the Normandie,” as well as a lecture by Roland A. Nichols on “A Man Worth While”.

As lyceums were scheduled well in advance, the men who invited the lyceum plum forgot it, and nothing was prepared when the cast arrived. Fortunately for those men, their wives took up the challenge, and before the train pulled in with the cast in residence, those women had whipped the meeting space into shape, and the residents into a frenzy of anticipation.

The women so enjoyed the camaraderie and opportunity to perform a civic duty that they began meeting regularly, and in 1914 the Kingsley Woman’s Civic Club (KWCC) was founded. Their first order of duty: to develop and make a library available to the public.

Eunice Stinson (standing left) acted as the Kingsley Librarian from 1914 to 1939. Pictured here with her husband, Postmaster Ambrose Burnside Stinson (standing right), children Harold, Rhea and Bernice Stinson, with friend Floyd McDonald on bottom.
Eunice Stinson (standing left) acted as the Kingsley Librarian from 1914 to 1939. Pictured here with her husband, Postmaster Ambrose Burnside Stinson (standing right), children Harold, Rhea and Bernice Stinson, with friend Floyd McDonald on bottom.

Headed by Mrs. Eunice Stinson , “this group of women, 15 strong,” as they were later described in an article celebrating the KWCC’s fortieth anniversary, took to the project immediately. The “unnamed” men who failed to organize for the lyceum likely found their home libraries ransacked, as funds in the club were limited to yearly dues.

Using an all-volunteer staff, the library of fifty books was open for four hours on both Friday and Saturday, and although the collection and open hours would fluctuate over the years, the librarian stayed the same. Eunice Stinson remained librarian from 1914 to 1939; her daughter-in-law Nell Stinson took up the post and remained librarian until the mid-1960s. The switch from Stinson to Stinson came at the same time the KWCC purchased the former First State Bank of Kingsley building, which they used as both club rooms and library.

Want to know more? See you at the Grand Opening July 31st at 3:00pm!

All sources for this article are available at many branches in the Traverse Area District Library for your reading pleasure:
Kalkaska Genealogical Society. “Big Trout Black Gold”. ed. Dawn Triplett, 2002.
Kingsley Woman’s Civic Club Records, 1910s-1987 (only at KBL).
Images courtesy of Traverse Area District Library:

The Kingsley Branch Library, yesterday and today.
The Kingsley Branch Library, yesterday and today.