Correct Answer Paves Way for Brick Streets

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

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

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

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

Take a Walk on the History Side

Overview of the north Union Street bridge over the Boardman River taken from the tower of the Traverse City State bank. Steamer ”Puritan” on the bay, ca. 1910-20. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library, Local History Collection.

Walking Tours Ongoing from the Traverse Area Historical Society

You still have several opportunities to take in Traverse Area Historical Society’s now-famous tours! All tours are $10 per person, and all funds raised go to support local non-profit historical activities.

Downtown Walking Tours start at 10:30 am each Saturday through October 14th, with the exception of and July 29th (Film Festival). Participants should meet outside Horizon Books 15 minutes before the start time. Tours last approximately 1-1/2 hours. For additional information, call (231) 995-0313. Reservations not necessary, but please call for groups of over 5 people.

Walking tours of Oakwood Cemetery will be available at 6:00 PM every Sunday thru October 15. These tours focus on the unique history of the area and the early pioneers who founded the community we know today. Geared towards an adult audience, the tours will last about 1 ½ hours. Participants are encouraged to wear shoes suitable for hiking over uneven terrain. They should meet on the sidewalk outside the cemetery near the Eighth Street entrance, approximately 15 minutes prior to start time. For additional information, call (231) 941-8440. Reservations not necessary, but please call for groups of over 5 people.

Also, continue to enjoy the “virtual walking tour”of Downtown Traverse City by our own Richard Fidler, courtesy of the Society.

“Scene where Julia Curtis Was Killed, April 29th, 1895.” Image courtesy of the S.E. Wait Glass Plate Negative Collection, Traverse Area District Library.

Old Mission Gazette features story on Julia Curtis

Stephen Lewis, author of Murder on Old Mission and Murder Undone was recently featured in a wonderful digital magazine, the Old Mission Gazette, the brain-child of lifelong OM resident Jane Johnson Boursaw.  

Your editors enjoy the history found at Old Mission Gazette, and always look forward to the next edition. Boursaw has published a number of interviews with longtime residents, histories researched by herself and others, and she often reports on current events of a historic nature.

In regards to Julia Curtis (whom we’ve covered before, thanks to Lewis), hers is a harrowing true story that makes a compelling novel at Lewis’ deft pen. His works are for sale both at Amazon.com and Horizon Books locally.

The Rev. Charles E. Stebbins (pictured with his wife, Helen Stebbins, a Red Cross nurse) , was one of those men who put on a uniform to fight the Germans. He became Field Director of the American Red Cross, who was in charge of Camp Grant in Rockford, IL.

Benzie Area Historical Society & Museum continues World War I Exhibit, Events

The United States, after much debate,  entered WW1 in April 1917. The Benzie Area Historical Society has created a 2017 summer  exhibit at the museum, “Gone to the Colors,”  to mark the centennial of this event.   The exhibit focuses primarily on how Benzie County was affected,  on a number of the “local boys” who enlisted,  and  at “propaganda” in a variety of forms– popular music, posters, letters, etc. The exhibit runs through October 19; the Museum is open Tuesday – Sunday  1-5PM

In addition, BAHS is also sponsoring a number of WW1 commemorative  events honoring those who served in WW1:

  • (Tuesday, July 18) Crystal Lake East Cemetery, Frankfort
  • (Tuesday, July 25) Champion Hill Cemetery, Honor
  • (Thursday, August 10)  Lecture “It’s Not Our War”

“Fruitbasket Turnover”: Memories of a Multi-Family Move, 1949

by Carolyn J. Thayer

Editor’s Note: The author submitted this story as part of “Lifestory Center,” a memoir project spearheaded by Northwestern Michigan College’s Extended Education Services, funded by a grant from the Michigan Council for the Humanities, and archived by Traverse Area District Library. Grand Traverse Journal will be occasionally reprinting submissions to this collection, in an effort to call attention to this valuable resource. If our readers know any of the authors, we would love to contact them, so please let us know!

The following is a fun story about the Carmien Family and their unique nuclear living situation, submitted by Carolyn Thayer. Carolyn was the daughter of Willard and Irene Carmien:

The cars pulled to the side of the road in front of the group of houses, and the crowd was assembling. Someone asked, “What are they doing? Is it some kind of massive Spring-cleaning?” Someone else said, “It looks like they’re moving. But, all of them?” as they surveyed the furniture huddled in the yards of the three houses.

A few months earlier at a typical Carmien get-together, my mother, and dad, and several of Dad’s brothers and sisters were sitting around sipping beer and swapping jokes and stories. Some time during the reminiscing someone brought up the problem of housing.

Plat of the village of Benzonia in 1901. “Atlas of Benzie County, Michigan,” Knoxville, Tenn.: C. E. Ferris, [1901].
In 1939 or 1940, when I was less than two years old, my father and mother had purchased a Chicken-Hatchery in Benzonia, Michigan. It was located just South of Benzonia off of U.S. 31 on River Street, a quiet little street with a wooded area on one side and my dad’s property on the other. There was a one-story house, with brown asphalt siding, (always referred to as The Brown House), that we moved into. Also on the property were several buildings that were part of the chicken hatchery. Over the next several years, my dad and his brothers converted the largest one, a two-story building, into a house for my Grandmother Carmien and my dad’s youngest brother, Keith. (This house was always referred to as The Big House). When Keith married, once again the family rallied round and the smaller building (formerly known as The Wash House, but that’s another story), was converted into a small, one-bedroom house for Keith and his bride, Jean.

The year was now 1949 and, as the party progressed, I heard my Uncle Keith say, “It is really getting tight for us in our little house since Barbara has been born. We really need more room.” And then my dad said, “We could use more room, too. I don’t know where we are going to put Nancy when she can’t be in our room anymore.” Sine we had moved into The Brown House my brother Jim, two years younger than me, and my sister, Nancy, ten years younger than me, had been born. Our house had one regular size bedroom, where our parents slept, with a crib for my baby sister, Nancy, and a tiny room, much like a walk-in closet, where my brother and I slept. This room was just large enough for a small closet and a six-year crib. My brother slept in the six-year crib, though he was eight years old, and I, at the age of ten slept on a bunk my dad had built on top of the crib. I usually slept curled up as my feet stuck out the end of the bed if I straightened out.

My Aunt and Uncle, living in the small house, were likewise, feeling cramped. Grandma was now living alone in the Big House which had one bedroom downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs.

Close-up of the two country blocks that comprised River Street in Benzonia, 1901.

I was ten years old at the time and I never knew who came up with the idea. They merely said, “Why don’t we swap houses?” Now you would have to know our family to appreciate how this idea was received. The suggestion was hailed with much laughter, after which everyone interjected a few of their own ideas into the discussion. “We’ll all leave our curtains,” from the women, and “I know where I can get a handtruck” from the men. Each suggestion was greeted with more laughter. As if anyone would ever do such a preposterous act!

In the days that followed, however, the idea began to sound more sensible. My Dad owned all three houses so there was no problem there. Grandma was willing to move into the small house, as she didn’t need all the room she had in the big house. There was much fun made over the possibilities. As the subject was explored, the excitement grew. It was finally decided; in the Spring we would move. All of us. All at once. The same day.

As I remember, it was a weekend in April or May of 1949. By now there had been more get-togethers (a favorite pastime of our close-knit family) and strategy had been mapped out as to how to accomplish this undertaking. The troops were marshalled and all available hands were ready and eager to begin. The houses were close enough together, forming a circle with a common driveway, that taking furniture by truck was not feasible. what was so neat, though, was that everyone was moving clockwise into the next house. The smaller two houses were on a small knoll, so the fewer steps carrying heavy furniture the better. So they started at the Big House, carrying one piece of furniture up the hill to the small house where it was set on the lawn. Next, they carried a piece of furniture from there to the lawn of the Brown House, then a piece from the Brown House to the Big House. Thus it went all one day and into the next. We kids scurried from place to place carrying small items and boxes of precious possessions. I remember carrying my own treasures, (my toys and clothing), and table lamps, bedding, and kitchen items. It was fun for me, too, to help grandma move all of her small items into her new home. In the process some furniture and possessions were exchanged making it unnecessary to move everything.

Benzonia, ca. 1890, long before the Good Roads Movement made an impact on the area. This road may have been a predecessor to US 31.

It was a beautiful weekend, and the word spread quickly in our small town. Soon cars began to stop along our road and the main highway and a crowd began to gather to watch the residents of “Carmienville” and their latest scheme. Finally, the last piece of furniture was moved and the items sitting out on the lawn were in each house. All that was left was the settling in.

For me, it was a wonderful move! As much as I loved the Brown House, I was so ready to exchange my top bunk on the six-year crib, where my feet stuck out the end, for that big twin bed my Uncle Bruce gave me, and the little closet-sized room, I had had for the past nine years, for the huge bedroom I was to share with my two sisters (another sister was born four years later). My brother had the small bedroom on the landing upstairs, and my folks had a bedroom on the main floor which was more private for them. I remember climbing into bed the first night after the move and stretching out on that “Hollywood” mattress on that “big” twin-size bed with it’s own headboard and looking around at my huge bedroom with the sloping ceiling and thinking how fortunate I was.

Grandma settled in quickly into her cozy little home, and my Aunt and Uncle could spread their wings for awhile. They later built another house in the circle of “Carmienville” and welcomed three more daughters into their family. Sometime later, my dad’s sister, Mabel, and her husband, Dale, moved into the next house down the road and “Carmienville” expanded to five houses.

Through the years, when the family congregated, sooner or later someone would say, “Remember the time we all moved at once?” and it was named “The Fruitbasket Turnover.”

As a child of ten, I was blessed to be a part of a family who were so close and loved to be together, who were always conscious of each other’s needs and always there for each other through thick and thin. We laughed together, cried together, worked together, and played together. I felt secure in my family and extended family.

Mock Orange, image courtesy of Lazaregagnidze, WIkimedia Commons.

Now, fifty years later, I marvel at the speed and alacrity with which each family was willing to move for the general good. Though no one left the immediate vicinity, my mother left her gardens, she had so lovingly attended, to her sister-in-law and brother-in-law for them to enjoy. As time went on, the Hollyhocks and Mock Orange bloomed anew around our new home.

Though I had ten years of memories invested in the Brown House, I also came to have many years of memories of the Big House and , years later, as a young bride I was to live again, for a year, in the Brown House.

Through the years, I’ve never forgotten the Spring of 1949 and the “Fruitbasket Turnover!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fisherman on Boardman Lake

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

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

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

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

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

Rollaway for logs at Boardman Lake

 

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

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

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

 

Recent view of the Traverse City sewage treatment plant

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

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

 

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

 

Pedestrian walking bridge at the outlet to Boardman Lake, 2017

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cigar for the Winner of our June Mystery!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godzilla vs. Spongilla: A Contrast in Life Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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