Rats and Sparrows, Poplar and Ragweed: Traverse City versus Nature

Close to the railroad trestle across the Boardman River at Eighth Street, a large patch of ragweed grows tall, some plants reaching five feet high. It covers disturbed ground with a dense tangle of leaves and stems, never gracing the landscape with a hint of color. Not particular to good soil or poor, it grows wherever the soil has been disturbed, only reaching gigantic proportions under the best conditions. Though an annual, it comes up year after year unless attention is paid to its control.

Green ragweed, growing near Boardman River and Eighth Street, Traverse City, September 2017. Image courtesy of the author.

Ragweed will eventually go away as other plants move in to squeeze it out, but its retreat is often slow and uneven. Uprooting the plant gets rid of it for a scant year or two, but as long as the ground is bare of other plants, it will come back. The only real solution is to seed an area with something more desirable- grass or shrubs, for example. That, of course, involves a plan, disciplined labor, and money for seed. In the past Traverse City applied a simpler remedy: paying children to eradicate ragweed. While spreading wealth among the youth, it never quite did the job. Ragweed flourishes now as it always has.

With the building of the homes, railroads, farms, docks, and factories that replaced the great pine forests of the Traverse area came the pests that survive and thrive on the leavings of humankind: spilled grain from a mill, garbage left beside a house, a dump sited near residences, the river with its flowing cargo of waste and dead fish, horse manure that nourished clouds of floes. Rat and sparrows, locusts and flies- even unwanted plants like ragweed- arrived in our town and, like their fellow human immigrants, settled down to make decent homes for themselves. Seeing no future in the Old World, Norway rats fled to America, obtaining free transportation aboard boats shipping seed corn and food to the New World. Invited by certain misguided individuals who missed the birds of Europe, house sparrows were set free on the East Coast of the United States in 1852. It did not take them long to find Traverse City for it is noted in a Record-Eagle article of 1923 that a bounty of two cents was offered for every sparrow carcass brought in to the examiners.

Firearm control of animals was not confined to sparrows. Rats brought a richer reward than sparrows to young marksmen: ten cents per rat, the tail being sufficient evidence of a corpse. Of course, a wiser, and less violent approach would have been to make food unavailable to rodents and birds, but that simple idea would require time to take root in people’s consciousness. After all, shooting pests provides a certain satisfaction since success is easily measured by body counts, while eliminating food sources does not carry the same panache. Besides, the hunter’s instinct is never far from the surface in small towns of the American Middle West.

Undeserving of compassion, these hapless creatures were classified as “vermin” and were hated because they spread disease and filth about the city. More than the threat to public health they posed was the appearance of poverty and ugliness. They represented an insult to the civilization of a fine city: Traverse City, Michigan. To affronted townspeople, the only good sparrow was a dead sparrow; the only good rat was a dead rat.

The Record-Eagle joined the battle against vermin in 1924. Fresh from victories over the rat populations of Manistee and Muskegon, one Helen Caldwell became the field general for a local rat extermination campaign. Beneath a picture of Caldwell, the newspaper waxed poetic about the campaign:

Rodents and such were gathering fast,
When through the village street they passed
A youth [Caldwell] whose banner bore that strange device,
“Rat Poison!”

Straightaway unto Bill Hobbs she turned,
And he it was who firstly learned,
The power behind those magic words,
“Rat Poison!”

And he took her to the paper place,
Where the Record-Eagle entered the race
To shout and cry from the top of the page,
“Rat Poison!”

Then to the mayor she hied her way,
And with him also she had her say,
Which was and is and will be, too
“Rat Poison!”

The board of health sat on the case,
And a smile beamed over Doc Holliday’s face,
As he decreed for the city’s pests
“Rat Poison!”

Witherite, Barium carbonate, BaCO3; Hexham, Northumberland, U.K.; Collection of the Institute of Mineralogy, University Tübingen, 2009.

Barium carbonate was the poison of choice. It was to be mixed with meat, cheese, cereals and cake- even fresh fruit like bananas and cantaloupe (apparently, rat insisted on a smorgasbord of delicacies). Care would be taken to keep the poison bait away from pets (and children, one would presume). In case an accident should occur, the sufferer should ingest Rochelle or Epson salts as an emetic.

The mayor of Traverse City, James T. Milliken, issued a proclamation in support of the rat extermination program:

Inasmuch as every person in the city is supporting two rats at a cost of $1.82 each and inasmuch as this expense can be eliminated, it is with considerable enthusiasm that I endorse the rat extermination campaign which is now being waged in Traverse City.

In endorsing this campaign I also designate the dates from July 31 to August 9 as “Rat Killing Week” and urge every citizen, including every boy and every girl, to join this movement and make Traverse City a ratless city.

With such publicity, the campaign could not but succeed. A week into the campaign the Record-Eagle reported, “Traverse City’s rat population has decreased by leaps and bounds almost overnight, the rats in their poison throes, leaping and bounding out into the open air to die by the dozens.” The mayor’s call to the boys and girls had brought in ample evidence of rat slaughter: rat tails by the dozens were turned over to the local Rotary Club and prizes and rewards were distributed to the children. The sales of barium carbonate had gone through the roof at local druggists and there was heavy traffic in rat traps in hardware stores around the area. Everyone agreed that, if the City was not entirely “rat-free,” at lease a dent had been made in the rat population. Miss Caldwell would carve another notch in her belt as she left town.

Rats were not the only pestilence afflicting the City. In some years grasshoppers increased beyond the bounds of human tolerance, their numbers soaring as they fed in scrub land that replaced the pine and hardwood forests that occupied the land in the nineteenth century. Authorities did not mess around in doing them in: Arsenic was the designated poison. To this day, land close to the City is contaminated with arsenic residue, a substance deemed so toxic by the EPA that severe restrictions have been placed upon its use.

Animals seen as predators of game birds and sport fish were dealt with sternly. Crows in particular were targeted as a nuisance since they attached young ruffed grouse whenever opportunity presented itself. Consequently, in one year (1937) 2100 of them were killed by teams of marksmen composed of members of the local Dog and Sportsman Club. Mergansers, (diving ducks) were shot in large numbers on the Bay and inland lakes because of their appetite for fish. Even fish were not immune from human prejudices: it was reported that a half ton of dogfish (bowfin) were speared in Lake Leelanau in 1930. There were called “obnoxious” by the perpetrators, presumably because they were not good to eat and competed with more desirable fish for food.

Tree root destroying underground pipe. Image courtesy of A1 Sewer.

Animals were not alone in suffering punishment for getting in the way of human desires. Poplar trees were condemned within the City limits in the early twenties. Their crime? Their roots readily invaded sewage lines, sometimes causing unsanitary back-ups into people’s basements. Dr. A.G. Holliday, city health officer, insisted on strict enforcement of an existing anti-poplar ordinance after the City was forced to expend 200 to 500 dollars for the clearing of the roots from the sewers, an expense that would not be tolerated. It was noted in the paper that some citizens- in particular certain residents living on Sixth Street- would not suffer gladly this insult to their poplars. It is not known if their trees received a reprieve from the death penalty.

Casual observation about town nowadays reveals a plentiful growth of poplars of several varieties. Perhaps the vicious nature of the plant has cooled- or else city sewer system pipes are impervious to their probing roots. In any case, poplars have gained a small measure of respect- at least from some property owners.

Ragweed was another “planta non grata”. With its abundant pollen, it was known to cause hay fever, a problem back in the twenties as now. Northern Michigan was considered to be haven from the noxious weed. Hay fever sufferers flocked here in summer to find relief from the sneezing and runny nose they experienced in Illinois, Ohio, and Southern Michigan. In 1929 the City quickly went through its ragweed control budget of one hundred dollars in dealing out direct payments to children who would get ten cents for every hundred plants they brought in. Later, in the early fifties, movie tickets were distributed for armloads of ragweed which were carefully weighed to determine the number of tickets earned. On Occassion children who had allowed their plants to dry at home overnight were disappointed at the low weight totals of the wilted plants. It did not take long for them to understand that fresh ragweed weighed more.

The battle agains pests has hardly abated. In recent years Gypsy moths were subjected to airborne application of the bacterial spray Thuricide, that treatment saving the city’s ancient oaks and maples. Skunks invaded one city neighborhood shortly afterwards and began a miniature city of their own. Only a trapping program thwarted their plans for domination.

Invasive plants have marched into town, one species after another. Purple loosestrife was poised to cover every wetland until beetles were brought in to bring it under control. Baby’s breath, an escaped garden dweller, threatened to take over abandoned land especially by the railroad tracks. Autumn olive and buckthorn covered many acres inside and outside the city. Finally, an eight-foot high grass, Phragmites (aka, the common reed), has been recently sentenced to die through applications of topical poison. It cannot be allowed to take root upon the shores of lakes, river, and the Bay or else it will crowd out the natives.

There is a pattern of our responses to Nature’s assaults. At first, we call in the Army, Navy, and Air Force and give the battle all we’ve got. After time and expense, we back off, wondering if we cannot co-exist. Finally, we forget there ever was a problem and regard the pest as another somewhat disreputable member of the neighborhood. Maybe that should have been our approach from the beginning: acceptance of the pest’s right to exist, while denying it free rein to raise havoc. Respect within firmly set bounds. For that matter, it’s not a bad plan for humans. After all, we are an invasive species, too.

“Rats and Sparrows, Poplar and Ragweed: Traverse City versus Nature,” was originally published in Richard Fidler’s book, Gateways to Grand Traverse Past, recently republished under Mission Point Press in July 2017. Gateways is for sale at Horizon Books, Traverse City, and on Amazon.

“Shed” a little light on this Civic Center Building’s History

This building sits on the grounds of the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. What do you suppose this building was used for before 1974? Are there any unique features to this building that might give us a hint?

After a bit of back-and-forth with our knowledgeable audience, we know one thing for sure… and we’ll just have to speculate on the rest. This building was indeed a structure in use during the Grand Traverse County Fair at one time, the predecessor to the Northwest Michigan Fair. In the 1890s, what we now call the Civic Center was known as the “Driving Park.” Many sulky races were held here, then horse racing in general, followed by car racing and then the fairgrounds. This was a hopping spot!

Aerial image of the Civic Center, once known as the Driving Park. You can still see the racing track in this 1960s photograph, from the Al Barnes Collection at Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

“Providing for Paupers”: Annual Reports by the Superintendents of the Poor, 1885-1891

Before the government social services we know today (Social Security, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc.), how did we care for people in our society in need? Using the terminology of early reports that recently surfaced at the Traverse Area District Library’s local history collection–how did we care for  “paupers” and the “indigent”? These reports, annually filed by Grand Traverse County with the state of Michigan, date from 1885, 1886, and 1891.

The records are scant, but interesting, and would merit further study using nationwide statistics. But, for our purposes, we’ll present the reports as they are, whether or not we can draw definite conclusions about them. (1)

Two unidentified adults of Irish nationality, a man and a woman, were the sole “paupers” maintained in the Grand Traverse County Poorhouse in 1885 (and 30 other people were assisted in other institutions and in their homes). Other than where they hailed from, we know nothing about them, but get this: Under the reporting section for “Food,” the Superintendents said: “No regular routine has been adopted, but the usual food found upon the table of a good wholesome farm table.” A regular routine for feeding I think would be beneficial, but at least it was all “wholesome” (as a nation, we wouldn’t start counting calories regularly until Lulu Hunt Peters, whose 1918 book on diet, exercise, and health, promised all women they could get their ideal body image through counting. “Thin is in!”)

How wholesome was the food? We don’t know what was served, but of the $1,981.51 spent on the care of persons in the poorhouse, a whopping $1,489.87 was spent on food alone. DANG, that’s a chunk of budget! But was it enough? Considering a $460 yearly income for a family of five was considered just out of poverty, spending that much on 32 people for a year seems adequate, each being fed on about $43 a year (especially since most only received a little assistance for part of the year).(2)

What did care look like? The reports provide little detail, but they did differentiate between the costs of care provided to those living at the poorhouse and the costs associated with people living on their own, but requiring some extra assistance. Deaths or illness in a family were  common reasons people living on their own sought help.

For both groups, there are expense lines for staff, medical services, funerals, food, fuel, clothing, necessary supplies, furniture, hired labor, purchasing land for a poor farm, erecting new buildings, supplies for said farm, and paid transportation. The reports written by the superintendents are short and to the point. Under “Facilities for Bathing,” a category describing the poorhouse, the answer was “Not any.” Not even a jug in the corner? Harsh.

“What is that about a poor farm?,” you say? Indeed, farmland was purchased by the County in 1885 to operate a farm, with the resulting food stuffs either being consumed by the residents, or sold at fair market value. We don’t know if a profit was ever made, as those lines on the reports are blank all three years. The initial cost of the land was $300, acreage unspecified.

The population in 1886 was much more diverse than 1885, with seven people: three Americans, one English, one German, one French, one Swedish, one Canadian/Scotch, and one “Mulatto.” The Report makes it clear, the State wanted a count of “All in whom there appears a mixture of White and Negro,” whether that was self-reported or not, we will never know.  You could also have been Indian, or, if one qualified and wished to be more specific, Half-breed, by the State’s reckoning. Yikes.

A similar mix occupied the poorhouse in 1891. In that year, the total amount spent by Grand Traverse County on the care and support of the residents was $2,994.62, about half of which was spent on maintaining the poorhouse and farm ($851.76) and the salary of the poorhouse keeper ($645.60). Only $112.75 was spent on food, so here’s hoping the poor farm was producing some supplemental vittles!

Grand Traverse County was not the only provider in the area, either: Traverse City also provided for the poor in its jurisdiction, as far back as 1898. They may have been offering services prior to that year, but unfortunately we do not have the City Annual Reports dating earlier. Also, 1885 is the year the Traverse City State Hospital (then known as the Northern Michigan Asylum) opened its doors to its first 43 residents, and there is every real chance some of the locals that were formerly on the “poor rolls” were committed there. We also have newspaper articles advertising various fundraising events by a number of civic-minded groups and individuals, raising funds for the care of people in need. So, care for those in need was considered a “group effort” in young Grand Traverse County.

More information on the poorhouse and its operations can be found in the “Proceedings of the Grand Traverse County Board of Supervisors, Reports of County Officers and Official Canvass,” the oldest volume of which Traverse Area District Library has is 1904. That particular volume contains a number of interesting facts about medical care to the poor. At the meeting of April 12th, the name of Dr. August L. Rosenthal Thompson pops up, one of our favorite women of young Traverse City (Thompson appears briefly in the tales of our other early female physician, Sara T. Chase-Wilson.) Thompson visited Maude and James Wheeler of 428 Garfield Avenue, who suffered from Scarlet Fever and pseudo-diptheria a total of 44 times, charging the poorhouse $1 for each visit, and $3 for medicine, a total bill of $47.

Augusta Rosenthal-Thompson, first female physician of Traverse City, photograph taken from Richard Fidler’s “Who We Were, What We Did.”

Dr. Holliday also presented a bill at the same meeting, which was at first disputed by the poorhouse supervisors, but ultimately paid in full. Perhaps in response to some ill-treatment (pun intended) Holliday had felt from that event, he and many other doctors, including Rosenthal-Thompson, submitted a “recommended” plan on October 17th: that the Board of Supervisors should take responsibility for decisions made by  county employees under their direct supervision, and that, when they hire a doctor, they would ensure the service “would be paid for at a rate based upon either the usual rates charged by reputable physicians, or, if the body deemed advisable, upon a basis of a fixed tariff of rates compiled by and agreed up, by a joint committee representing your honorable body and the physicians of said county.” Holliday, et. al., must’ve felt  quite put-out, or, as the kids today would say, “Bitter much, Doc?”

As another scholar in the field observed, responsibility for the poor in our community fell first to the family.(3) Only if the hardships were beyond the scope of the family, or in the case of tramps, there was likely no family at all, is when the state and local government would step in and provide care. Despite the  apparent racism and classism built in to the reporting, overall it appears Grand Traverse County did at least and adequate job to help those in need in the 1880s.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. For more on Traverse City’s work with the poor, check out Richard Fidler’s Who We Were, What We Did.

(1) A brief digression: Let’s talk about the mindset of the persons providing the care to those who needed it. The nineteenth century was rife with doctors and do-gooders who saw the flaws in humanity as a product of moral failing (read more on this school of thought in the words of Dorothea Dix and other social reformers). In these reports, the handwritten notes indicate that there are people considered “deserving poor,” who were not held responsible for their lot in life, such as the deaf and disabled, the aged, etc. Then, there are the “paupers,” which included tramps, hobos, and other persons that were seen as “unwilling to work.”

(2) Hunter, Robert. Poverty. London: The Macmillan Company,  1904.

(3) Fidler, Richard. Who We Were, What We Did. Traverse City: Traverse Area Historical Society, 2009.

Last of the Tourist Homes Identified!

Here is an example of the original Airbnb, the Tourist Home! Do you know where this last “tourist home” is located in Traverse City?”

Bonus question: Do you know of other “tourist homes” in the area?

Congratulations (again) to Larry! You’ve won a free virtual stay at the Tourist Home of your choice, just close your eyes and imagine the splendor!

From Larry: “740 South Union Street, NW corner of Union and Eleventh Street. I don’t know if your second question relates to current Tourist Homes or prior. If the latter: ‘Southworth’s Tourist Home’ was at 116 S. Boardman Avenue, in at least the 50s and 60s.”

Midge Swarms

We have all seen them, but we haven’t given them names: a swarm of tiny insects flying in a crowded formation often looking like a column.  Certainly, it is much taller than wide, its width usually not more than a foot or two at most, its height often taller than we are.  Our fear is that the insects will bite us, or, at the very least, we might inhale them.  Unlike birds and bats, we do not relish them either for flavor or for nourishment.  We steer clear of them and go about our business.

Magnified photograph of midge emerging from chrysalis. Image courtesy of http://www.abundantnature.com/

Midge swarms form in summer and early fall.  The insects comprising them do not bite, though that passivity is often not enough to keep humans from spraying poisons on them.  They transform from aquatic larvae, tiny forms resembling segmented worms, ready to mate upon emerging from their pupal cases, but not ready to eat since they do not possess the required mouthparts.  So it is they do not harm us.

Most members of the swarm are male: they seek to mate with females that pass through the mass of flying insects.  Upon being fertilized, the female will set about to lay eggs in the waters of ponds and ditches.  Several broods are produced during the year with the last overwintering in mud underneath the ice.

“Midge Swarm near Cass Street Bridge,” Richard Fidler, pen and ink drawing.

According to Donald W. Stokes, author of A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, midge swarms are often found close to water, often above prominent features called “swarm markers.”  These can be patches of light or dark on the ground, or high points such as the upthrust branches of a shrub or tree—or even the top of your own head!  A shiny black piece of plastic will attract a certain species, if one wishes to try an experiment.

Swarms may form in the morning, evening, or even mid-day, depending on the species.  Considering that the insects do not live for more than a couple of days, the observer cannot count on a week of entertainment.  New broods, though, will prolong the joy of avid midge watchers.

Stokes notes that, in a wind, the midges face in one direction and move forward to the limit of the swarm marker and back, the effect making it look like the entire swarm is dancing.  The resulting shimmy captures the interest of naturalists everywhere.  Unsurprisingly—given their awareness of nature, the Japanese haiku poets have written about the swarms (which they call “mosquito (or midge)) columns:

Across the mosquito columns
Hangs the floating bridge
Of my dreams.
–Kikaku

The mosquito columns,
Big and thick
As of a palace
–Shiki

The Capitol
Is visible through a hole
In the pillar of mosquitoes
–Issa

(translations courtesy of R. H. Blythe)

The poets often portray the fleeting lives of mosquitoes (midges) as emblematic of the fleeting existence of things we imagine to be great and eternal, things like palaces and the Capitol (Kyoto).  That is what we should take away from our experiences with midge swarms: the beauty and wonder of ephemeral things that live out lives unnoticed by us all.

“The Story of the Old Wooden Cross”: a Leelanau County Tale

This story was passed on to Lloyd “Allie” Westcott by his grandmother, Mrs. Charles (or John) Fisher. The recorder was Roy H. Steffens, a local historian operating largely in the 1960s and 1970s, known especially for his interest in Civil War and Spanish American War soldiers and grave sites. A manuscript copy of this story was found among Steffens’ papers in the Local History Collection at Traverse Area District Library. Steffens and Westcott restored the cross and fence described later in this story, in 1968.

“Summer in Northern Michigan,” by teh Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad Company, image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The lake was fairly calm that day and a couple men from the settlement of Glen Arbor were down by the lake when they noticed this small rowboat with a white sheet for a makeshift sail not far out from the shore. Word got back to the settlement of this boat with two people aboard. In a short time most of the people from the settlement gathered at the beach to welcome some strangers or newcomers to their settlement.

It was discovered that there was two people aboard the small boat, a man and a woman. There seemed to be some reluctance on the part of the couple aboard the boat to communicate with the people on shore or land their boat, not knowing where they were or if the people were friendly. It was known by the couple in the boat that there was animosity among the people on mainland and those that were from King Strang’s cult.

However in due time thru conversation the barrier of fear soon was overcome and the boat landed. The couple made themselves known as Mr. and Mrs. Fields and they had come from Beaver Island. They had explained they escaped from the island in the darkness of night as they wanted to get away from the tyranny that King Strand held over his people. They asked that they may stay a short while to rest up from their tedious trip as they wanted to get passage on steamer (propeller) that plied the Lakes to Chicago or some other port.

The men helped to unload their meager belongings from the boat and all proceeded to the settlement. The Fields knew of the consequences they might suffer from the hands of King Strang’s ruthless men should they be found. It was decided to push the empty boat out in the lake to drift so if found it might be presumed that those in it had drowned or met with some other misfortune.

After unloading the boat all the people along with Mr. and Mrs. Fields proceeded up to the settlement. The local people realizing their plight vowed they would not reveal their names, their whereabouts or that they had been there. A John Dorsey that had a sailboat he used to bring in supplies from Frankfort agreed that when the Fields were ready he would take them to South Manitou Island where they might get passage on a steamer that would stop there. South Manitou was a port of call for the steamers to load up with cord wood which was used for fuel.

Fields’ original cross and fence, in 1968. Image courtesy of Roy Steffens.

It was imminent that Mrs. Fields was about to give birth to a child and her time would be shortcoming. The women of the settlement prevailed up on them that they should stay with them until after the child was born. In a short time her time came and she gave birth to twins. Sadly enough though she should die from childbirth as well as the two babies.

Mr. Fields secured some lumber and constructed a coffin in which was placed his wife with a child in each arm. A grave was dug on the small hill in which the coffin was placed. The people of the settlement all gathered for this sad event and she was given a Christian burial.

Restored cross and fence, by Westcott and Steffens, 1968. Image courtesy of Roy Steffens.

Mr. Fields constructed a large wooden cross out of cedar which he placed on the hill. The large cross thru time had weathered badly and became broken. He also made a picket fence to surround the grave which weathered away due to time. A not of interest is that the picket fence was put together with iron cut nails. Also he placed at the head of the grave a smaller beautifully carved cross.

After completing his work Mr. Fields sought passage on a steamer to leave and never returned as far as anyone knows.

Iron-cut nails removed from the original fence around the Fields’ grave. Text and nails courtesy of Roy Steffens.

The grave marker and picket fence described in this tale are found in Fisher Cemetery, Glen Arbor, Michigan. As James Strang ruled on Beaver Island from late 1850 until his murder in 1856, for this story to have any veracity, it must have taken place during these years, dating the graves of Mrs. Fields and her children to about the same time. This very dramatic story is widely known and repeated, but little corroborating evidence has ever come to light. Richard Fidler, editor of Grand Traverse Journal, published this piece way back in November 2015, concerning the Strang murder.

New Organization works to save Leelanau County Poor Farm Barn, and More from your Societies

Newly Formed Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society Granted 501(c)3 Status, Works to Save Leelanau Poor Farm Barn

From email correspondence:

“Our newly formed Leelanau County Historic Preservation Society (LCHPS) has been granted a nonprofit 501(c) (3) status. Board Officer/Directors are: Steve Stier, President; Barbara Siepker, Vice-President; Laurel Jeris, Secretary; Frank Siepker, Treasurer.

We are to now ready to accept donations and pledges. This effort will further assure the County Commissioners that we are able to take on and complete the barn rehabilitation project. We have attached a form you may download, for you to let us know what financial support we can count on.

We are ready to present a partnership proposal to the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at their August 8th 9 am Executive Committee meeting. Steve Stier has gathered estimates for barn rehabilitation work and we will report on these numbers. The needed work on the barn can be done in planned stages as funding becomes available.

We look forward to hearing from you. We will report back to you soon on our progress. We are confident that a partnership with the County can be accomplished, thereby saving and rehabilitating the Poor Farm Barn. We appreciate your being a part of this partnership and will soon be notifying you of additional areas of volunteer assistance needed.”

Download a Donation form HERE

Read more about the rescue effort in the Detroit Free Press

Traverse Area Historical Society Continues Tours

Last call for last summer hurrahs! Traverse Area Historical Society is wrapping up their tour season in mid-October, but take advantage of the good weather (while you can!):

Downtown Walking Tours start at 10:30 am on each Saturday through October 14th. 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, starting on Sunday, June 18th, 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.

Leelanau Historical Society Celebrates its 60th Year!

Traverse City, Leelanau & Manistique Railroad nearing Northport, 1880s.

From their website: “The Leelanau Historical Society was launched in 1957 by a group of residents dedicated to collecting and preserving Leelanau’s history. Leland, first established in 1853 and later the county seat, seemed the natural location for the Society. When the old county jail became available in 1959, the museum found its first home. Through generous donations and grants, a new museum was built in 1985 and expanded in 2005 and 2015.

Today, the collections and archives contain more than 14,000 items. Visitors to the museum learn about Leelanau life and maritime history from exhibits, educational programs and publications. Recipient of the 2014 State History Award for Outstanding Local Society, LHS continues to collect, document and preserve items relating to Leelanau history.”

Congrats to one of our favorite institutions! Check out their new website and awesome events (including a day trip to the Manitou Islands in early September), http://www.leelanauhistory.org/

Monthly Meeting of the Grand Traverse Genealogical Society on Using Court Records

Grand Traverse County Courthouse, undated. From the Grand Traverse County website.

The September Meeting will be held Thursday September 21st at 1:00pm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 3746 Veterans Drive, Traverse City. The guest speakers will be  Jessica Harden from the State of Michigan Archives. She will speak on “Using Court Records in Genealogical Research” A number of records are kept in the county courthouse because this was the place of business. While the legalese is not the most pleasant reading, probate and court records document the lives of our ancestors. Court records include information about adoption, debt, divorce, naturalization, lawsuits, guardianships and appointments. Probate records are records related to the death of ancestor and the distribution of their estate. These records often include wills, inventories, accounts, bonds, etc.

History of the Wilhelm Family (Part II): Anthony J. and Kate Wilhelm, Wilhelm Dry Goods

By Robert D. Wilhelm

Part I in this series was published in the November 2016 issue of Grand Traverse Journal.

Edited by Julie Schopieray and Richard Fidler

[Editors note: This is a transcription of a manuscript Bob Wilhelm wrote over a long period of time, with updates ending in 1986. Some spelling and punctuation has been changed, and transcriber’s notes for clarity are in brackets]

CHAPTER 14: 116 East Eighth Street

When A.J. [Wilhelm] and Kate [Smith]were married in 1896, they lived above the store overlooking Union and Eighth streets. Five years earlier A.J. had purchased lots 33, 34 and the west 8 feet of Block 6 across from the store on East Eighth Street from A.V. Friederich for $700. A.J. and John Kyselka designed the house to be built on the site. Built of local pine, hemlock and birch, A.J. personally selected all the materials. The total cost for the home and the barn in the backyard was $3,000. A.J. lived in the home until his death in 1939. The Lyle Wilhelm family occupied the residence until 1974 when it was sold for use as the Northwestern Michigan Halfway House.  In 1984 this home was joined with the former A.V. Friedrich residence, and in 1985 the merged buildings became the Dakoske Hall.

CHAPTER 15: Wilhelm Brothers, 1900

Depending on the time of the year, the store employed as many as twelve people. The clerks never made change. A cashier handled all the money. Overhead conveyor belts moved all bills and money to the central location. A bell indicated that the canister was coming or going. Kate Wilhelm handled all business records.

Early each morning it would be necessary to start the wood burning furnace and activate the steam boiler. Hardwoods, usually maple or oak, were cut in four foot sections. A large double door led to the basement where the wood was stored in the summer from floor to ceiling. Outside behind the store were other wood piles.

Advertisement from Wilhelm Brothers’ Dry Goods, from the Grand Traverse Herald, 21 March 1895.

The building was illuminated by smelly kerosene lamps. At the back of the building was a double door leading to the main floor. The  freight–which was shipped by boat or railroad–was delivered by Sam Ile’s horse and wagon. Towards the back of the newer section of the building was an eight-foot-wide staircase leading to the second floor. Carpets, rugs, and linoleum were sold upstairs.  There was no elevator; everything had to be carried by hand up and down the stairs. On the street level, men’s and women’s clothing, dry goods and household goods were sold.

CHAPTER 16: A.J.—NATURAL FOODS AND ARTESIAN WATERS

Stomach disorders dating back to his youth caused A.J to develop an interest in the natural foods philosophy espoused by the Kelloggs at Battle Creek Sanitarium. Although there was no scientific evidence at the time, he became interested in the water conditions in the streets and the relation to disease. Dirty water mixed with manure was [thought to be] a breeding ground for typhoid and small pox. These diseases ran rampant through the community, but escaped the Wilhelm family. Raw sewage was dumped into the Boardman River and flowed into West Grand Traverse Bay. Untreated water was pumped through the mains into the homes.  Diseases killed many children in their early years of life. Particularly disturbing to A.J. was the family of his friend and neighbors Prokop and Antonia Kyselka. Five children died young: Antonia B. (1869-1869), Antonia (1872-1872), Edward (1873-1875), Julius (1879-1883), and Emma (1890-1890).

One of the links to the death of the young was, when breast feeding stopped at an early age, the children were not immune to the diseases in the contaminated water and raw milk. Milk stored in unsanitary conditions resulted in undulant fever.

An artesian well is one that has its water constantly flowing. There were many people in the community who thought that artesian water was poisonous. In 1895 A.J. had a four-inch pipe drilled behind the store to a depth of 382 feet. The clear, clean water was a constant 42 degrees. The fountain was purchased from J.W. Fiske, NO 21 &23 Barklay Street, New York. Enough pressure was generated to provide water to the second floor of the store. Well water went to the home across the street. He had water running through the icebox instead of ice purchased from a local iceman. Water was also provided for the homes of Prokop Kyselka, A.V. Friedrich, and John Wilhelm. For many years people from all over the south side came with their jugs to get their water.

Other south side wells were also drilled: in front of St. Francis Church in 1916 and on Pine Street next to Central School.

Wilhelm Bros. Dry Goods store, when the artesian well still ran strong. Gardner, Wait, Petrie, and Ehrenberger are in the picture but not identified.

As years passed, the flow of the well began to diminish. The water supply was cut off to all but the store and the family home. By 1955 the flow was no more than a trickle. The Record-Eagle on October 12 reported, “ The old Wilhelm well is gone…A year ago efforts were made to revive the dwindling flow of water, but to no avail. Several feet of rock had been forced up  the four inch pipe and the only cure would be to drill an entirely new well. Thus the old well without mourners, or fanfare was removed.”  [Editor’s note: The artesian well described here can be seen every year at the Buckley Old Engine Show].

Red meat was unknown at the Wilhelm dinner table. Chicken and fish were accepted and on special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey was served. A cow was kept in the barn behind the house and a neighborhood boy would take all the neighborhood cows to the outskirts of town for grazing each day. When the cow “dried out” it would be traded for another.  A.J. referred to the milk as “home-made” because the whole milk was drunk right from the cow without being processed. Cream would rise to the top and was excellent for whipping. Butter was purchased from the Wheelocks because A. J. was pleased by the sanitary conditions of their farm. He refused to purchase food products if he was dissatisfied by the lack of cleanliness.

A favorite meal of the family was a high-protein meatloaf made from roasted peanuts. Honey was used instead of sugar. Nuts of all kinds were purchased in large quantities from Butler Brothers in Chicago. Peanuts were purchased to make peanut butter. A flat grinder made the peanuts finer and it was mixed with pure butter. Postum, made with roasted chicory and barley or wheat, was used instead of coffee. Vegetables were always served. Mary Smith (Mrs. Alec Rennie) recalled when she was in high school “Auntie Kate” always had a kettle of lima beans on the stove for her boys and her niece for lunch. Scalloped potatoes was another favorite. Bananas were purchased by the stalk and oranges by the crate from Peter Menegari at wholesale prices.

When A.J. wanted a watermelon, he would send one of the boys down to Front Street to the “I-talians”. His final instruction was to let Mr. Corsilla personally pick one out because he always picked one of the best quality.

A.J.  purchased ten acres of land at the top of the hill on Silver Lake Road (across from the Junior High School [now, West Middle School]). Except for a small ramshackle shed and a well without a pump, the land was barren. He bought the land to have fresh fruits and vegetables for the family. It would also keep the boys busy and out of trouble. George and Lyle disliked the work. Ralph hated it. The boys could sell all the produce not needed by the family. Markets, usually Beemish and Nicholson, on the 500 block of South Union Street would purchase the surplus fruits and vegetables. A savings account was set up by their father at the First National Bank for each of the boys and all the farm profits were deposited. Lyle kept his money until 1929 when he sold his savings to a bank officer. The money was used to help purchase a home from the Emanuel Wilhelm estate at 425 W. Eighth street. The house was similar to A.J.’s home at 116 East Eighth. Two weeks after the sale, the bank declared insolvency. Ralph and George lost their savings in the “Great Depression”.

Every morning after finishing chores around the house, A.J. and the boys would mount the wagon, slowly pulled by the retired racehorse “Jack” and go to the farm.

A.J. was mild-mannered and never used profanity except when he was behind the plow horse and the boys learned “every word of interest”.  It is doubtful if Kate ever knew of his farm vocabulary. With the exception of “Paris Green” (copper sulfate) used to kill potato bugs, sprays were not used. Corn, potatoes, red, black and yellow raspberries were grown. A grape arbor was assembled. Apple, cherry, pear, and peach trees were planted. One of the early lessons learned by the boys was never to plant cucumbers and melons too closely together.

One day a pig got out of Ben Barnes’ pen and started exploring the Wilhelm gardens. The boys chased the pig until the animal dropped dead. A.J. went over to the Barnes’ farm and paid for the dead animal.

Around noon each day the four would return back to town. The usually slow moving “jack” would once again remember his days as a race horse.

With all boys all in their teens, the farm was sold to the Thayers in 1915.

Traverse Area District Library does not have photographs of Anthony J., Kate, Lyle, Ralph or George Wilhelm. Any assistance in filling in this gap in our collection is appreciated! Please get in touch with librarian Amy, abarritt@tadl.org

“The Ideal Woman,” by Mary K. Buck, 1849-1901

by Mary K. Buck (1849-1901), poet of renown from Traverse City

Mary K. Buck, whose poetry we’ve featured before,  comes again to grace our pages with her thoughtful pen. Buck was a strong advocate for women and letters, and we think she would be pleased to be remembered in conjunction with Women’s Equality Day. A day often forgotten in women’s history, Women’s Equality Day is celebrated on August 26th, when we remember the passing of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Ladies’ Library Association, pre-1892. Mary K. Buck is on the far left, back row.

Buck did not live to see the Woman’s Suffrage movement achieve its penultimate goal, but in her lifetime, she touched the lives of many Traverse City women looking to learn and achieve. She was one of the founders of the Ladies’ Library Association, she supported the authorship of many of her friends by editing their works, and she co-authored two books in her lifetime with journalist M.E.C. Bates.

This poem, The Ideal Woman, comes from her book, Songs of the Northland, published posthumously by her husband in 1902. What does this poem say about how women viewed each other at the turn of the last century? Clearly, the Suffragette and socialist cry of “sisterhood” extended even to remote Traverse City. It makes one wonder: What did those ladies talk about at the Ladies’ Library Association meetings?

The Ideal Woman

Who shall describe her, since each mind doth hold
Its own conception of that fair ideal
To which our longing tend? Or who shall say
Which type were best of those we most admire?
Each one, perhaps, shrines in her inmost heart
The image of some loved one who to her
Holds highest place on earth, yet it may be
To eyes more critical devoid of grace.
(It needs a loving knowledge to discern
The inner beauty ‘neath a surface plain.)

Yet though your thought and mine may differ wide,
Some points there are on which we shall agree-
Some attributes all true hearts must admire;
Then bear with me while I shall seek to show
The vision sweet that stands as my ideal:
A woman strong in body, fair of form,
And radiant with the vigor health bestows;
Her face is beautiful with that rare charm-
The loveliness that shines from starry souls;
A mind of broad and varied culture, keen
Of intellect and quick of sympathy;
But best of all a heart o’erfilled with love,
And charity embracing God’s wide world.
Slow in her censure, ready with her praise.
Seeing the good, yet steadfast ‘gainst all wrong.
Demanding justice for another’s rights,
But modest in her claims for self alone.
Her dress? That which doth best become her and
Her circumstances; so, seeing her, we say,
“How well she looks,” and not “How fine her dress.”
Sweet piety is hers and doth pervade
Unconsciously each act. A trust in God
And faith in holy things befit her well.
For as a lovely flower without perfume
May please the eye but disappoints the heart,
So woman without piety must lack
The crowning grace.

“Old-fashioned,” do you say?
Ah, it may be, for women there have been
In every age so gracious, pure and good
That loyal hearts do homage to them still;
And on Time’s roll of honor they shall stand
For ages yet to come. “Old-Fashioned” these!

Though high or lowly be her lot, she rules,
A queen in her own realm, or court, or cot.
When public duties call she shuns them not,
But best fulfills her mission in her home-
A wise and tender mother, loving wife-
“Her husband’s heart doth safely trust in her,”
So Solomon described her, long ago.
A faithful friend who will no trust betray-
Her friendship is a boon one well may crave.
Not perfect quite- some sweet faults still remain
To link her with our common human needs,-
But gentle, gracious, lovable and true.
O, brave “New Woman,” standing calm, serene,
To watch the dawn of the new century,
Wilt thou fulfill for us the grand Ideal?
The power is in they hands to choose and mold
They destiny at will. What shall it be?
The heritage of countless years is thine-
The toil and travail of thy sisterhood.
That which they sought with tears, almost with blood,
Is freely thine if thou wilt take and use-
The open door to Learning, Science, Art;
The right to think, to labor, to achieve!
Use then thy power with humble, rev’rent heart,
And give the world its noblest womanhood.

Mary K. Buck, portrait, undated.

From Michigan in Literature, Andrews, Clarence, 1992:

An unusual entry is Mary K. Buck’s Songs of the Northland (1902), published posthumously.  Mrs. Buck (1849-1901) was born Marjanka Knizek in Bohemia and came to Traverse City, Michigan, at the end of the Civil War.  She attended college, became a schoolteacher and a contributor to several nationally circulated magazines.  She also collaborated with Mrs. M. E. C. Bates on a volume of northern Michigan stories, Along Traverse Shores.