Music House Museum: History and Artisanship Always on Display

Phonographs on display at Music House Museum, October 2014.
Acoustic phonographs on display at Music House Museum, October 2014.

Acoustic phonographs and electrically amplified jukeboxes face each other from across the walkway of the Museum gallery, not unlike an alley scene straight out of “West Side Story”. If they had fingers, they would be snapping them menacingly in time with the beat projecting out of their horns and speakers, respectively. The heightened drama of this standoff, one audio technology superseded by another, shouldn’t be lost to visitors of the Music House Museum in Williamsburg, Michigan. Although the display is fantastic, it is hardly the most impressive sight to be seen and heard.

The Music House, a 30 plus year old non-profit museum, is home to one of the larger publicly accessible automated musical instrument collections in the United States, and it is sitting in your backyard. “Automated”, meaning that they are instruments that literally play themselves! Visitors are welcome to explore the vast collection of music reproduction technology found within the 1910 dairy barn and gallery that comprises the public space of the Music House Museum located on the remaining 7 acres of the Stiffler Family farm.

In addition to the instruments already named, you’ll find examples of early radios, 200 year old barrel organs and Turkish and Spanish barrel pianos, American reed pump organs,  two pipe organs, European fairground and dance organs, a Bavarian organ clock, Milton and Duo Art player  and reproducing pianos, several example cylinder and disc music boxes, a rare Lochmann Original 450 disc piano, European and American nickelodeons, and other examples of instruments “featuring mechanical music reproduction some of which predate electricity, Bruce Ahlich, Board Vice-President and Collections Committee Chairman states that  “an important aspect of the Music House Museum, unlike some similar venues, is that if the instrument was not originally electronically amplified or powered, it normally remains so in our collections”.

Estey pipe organ acquired in 1988 from St. Andrew's in Saginaw.
Estey pipe organ acquired in 1988 from St. Andrew’s in Saginaw.

Not only does Ahlich and  his Committee oversee collections maintenance and acquisition of new items, he is also an accomplished local organist who played the dedication recital on the Estey pipe organ acquired in 1988 from St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic church in Saginaw, now located on the raised deck at the Museum and used to demonstrate a Wagnerin organ roll player.  Much of the maintenance and minor restorations of the Museum’s collection of unique instruments takes place on-site in its Workshop.  Larger projects are usually contracted out to outside specialists who engage in that particular type of work.

“Our goal is always to seek to restore the instrument as close as possible, given available materials, to its original condition, which can be a time consuming and expensive proposition”, further states Ahlich.    “Electronic sound reproduction can never replace the experience of an acoustic instrument being played”.   

“We could put CD players with hidden amplifiers in the instruments at a lot less expense, but what kind of Museum would we be and what type of musical experience would our guests have”?   The Music House Museum prides itself in having a majority of the displayed instruments playable with the major instruments demonstrated on every tour to its patrons.

Not ready for inspection! Military chaplain's portable reed organ, World War II-era; Currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.
Not ready for inspection! Military chaplain’s portable reed organ, World War II-era; Currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.

Local restoration and repair of instruments is done in a workshop off to the side of the main building by hired and volunteer staff.   Among projects underway is work on the Museum’s Seeburg KT nickelodeon and restoration of an Estey chaplain’s portable reed organ probably used in World War II. The Workshop also stores other automated instruments waiting for funding to be restored.  The workshop construction was paid for by a Rotary Charities grant in the mid-90s, and the volunteers remain grateful for that and other bequests to the Museum. Without this kind of assistance, and funding from individual donors, the Music House could not be what it is, a truly unique museum of musical craftsmanship dedicated to the preservation and education about a type of music that lifts the soul and gives a window to the listener to the past.  Earnings for a Museum instrument purchase/repair endowment fund assist with restorations, but often do not cover their full costs.

Rare 1830s Bavarian Black Forest clock, currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.
Rare 1830s Bavarian Black Forest clock, currently undergoing restoration in the Workshop.

A fun piece currently being restored is a scarce Bavarian Black Forest floor cabinet organ clock, not yet ready for display that dates from the 1830s.   The principle challenge in this restoration project has been finding a suitable clock mechanism as the original had been long removed before it was received by the Museum.   The piece has stood silent for several decades on display in the Museum galleries.  An English clock mechanism has been found and will be installed by local and nationally known clock artisan, Nathan Bower, together with a new clock face this winter.  When reassembled, the clock will chime the hour and then trigger a small two-rank barrel pipe organ to play.   Ahlich states, “we are really looking forward to have this piece greet our visitors in the lobby when we reopen in for the 2015 season in May.” This project will cost approximately $2,500 to complete.

While the restored clock will be impressive, the original assembly was equally remarkable, as Bruce describes: “In slow winter months, a   village collective would develop between neighbors in the Bavarian region of modern Germany, and a cottage industry creating these intricate clocks was born. Each farmer or craftsman would work on his part; some would be responsible for the wood cabinet, others would build the clock, others craft the face and others build the organ and its mechanism, and finally a last person would assemble the whole clock together.” We might pride ourselves on being a do-it-yourself culture, but I’d say those Bavarian artisans have us beat without the benefit of electricity or computers.

A 1904 Lochmann Original 450 disc piano. The perforated disc pictured here, along with other mechanisms, plays the piano strings seen behind the disc.

That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate beautiful craftsmanship when we see it! Take the Lochmann Original 450 disc piano from 1904 on display in the Hurry Back Saloon, a section of the barn restored to appear as an old-timey watering hole and general store. This piece, among the rarest in the Museum’s collections, represents an innovative step in automated instruments and a natural evolution of the disc music box. Before, craftsmen would (expensively) create music boxes by inserting hundreds of pins individually on to metal cylinders; The pins would pluck pitched combs as the cylinder rotated, and the box would play the inscribed melody. The disc music box uses stamped steel discs to achieve the same effect at a much reduced price tag. The Lochmann Originals takes the next step by moving the technology to play a 44 note piano and 12 note chime mechanism.   These instruments were built for a relatively short period of time (less than a decade) and as such are scarce and rare to find in playing condition. They, together with other disc instruments,  were replaced by the player piano and the developing phonograph by 1908-10.    Also silent for many years, the Lochmann is now tuned and playing.     Bruce played a waltz for us using one of the original discs, to show how the hand cranked 150 lb. stone in the back of the cabinet   powered the disc movement to create the music.  Worth the 10 Pfennings this coin-operated machine would have cost you? You bet!

An admirable, if amateur, attempt to build an organ, ca. 1844. Pictured here are the cow-bone keys of that organ... notice anything missing?
An admirable, if amateur, attempt to build an organ, ca. 1844. Pictured here are the cow-bone keys of that organ… notice anything missing?

Not every piece in the Music House is a miracle of invention. Acquired by the Music House in the 1990s, stored for over a decade on the top shelves in the Workshop and finally rediscovered and reassembled and largely restored in the fall of 2013, the cabinet organ pictured here is a fantastic amateur effort to build a home pipe organ. How amateur? Well, the maker forgot to build a place to rest music on.

In addition to that revelation, Museum restorer (Jim Gruber) determined that whoever built the organ was likely a skilled European cabinet maker living in the Southern United States about the time of the Civil War. How did he get all that information from boxes of disassembled parts and cabinetry? The type of wood used to build the cabinet was grown in the South, tulip poplar and gumwood; the keys are made from cow bone, which also places its manufacture in the United States; the maker was not a professional organ builder, as scrap wood and leather was used throughout and the interior shows many efforts at reworking the placement of the organ in the cabinet.  Pages from an old atlas  were used to seal the bottom of the wind chest; the paper in question was taken from an atlas (Olney’s School Geography and Atlas), and have been dated to circa 1844 by the edition numbers found on them. Finally, the maker was likely European, as the notes inscribed on the pipes for their pitches and the cabinet measurements all fit European standards. Restorers and sleuths, the volunteers at the Music House display a variety of talents.

Grand Traverse Journal will feature the Music House again in the spring, when the 1913 Bruder Fair Organ “Columbia” will be back from Ohio, where it is currently undergoing a $12,000 professional restoration that could not be done in-house. A generous $5,000 matching gift, some Endowment monies and private donations have enabled to Museum to fund the project, as well as acquire some new music book stock by which to play it.   

Hurry, the Music House Museum closes January through April, so enjoy the sounds of the season any weekend in December! Decorated for the Christmas season, as docent Becky Gagnon says, “There is a magical feeling every time you walk in!”  The Museum is also open the week between Christmas and New Years from 10 am to 4 pm with continuous docent led tours.  A community open house with refreshments and reduced admission ticket prices is planned for Sunday December 21st 12 noon to 4 pm, where all of the instruments will be demonstrated on a rotating basis playing Christmas music if it is available for them.

Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. This article could not have happened without the generosity of Bruce Ahlich of the Music House Museum. Thanks Bruce!

What were women baking in 1905 Traverse City?

Traditions are comforting reminders that we have a shared past with those around us. Perhaps the favored traditions during the holiday season revolve around food: cooking the recipes of our grandmothers, gathering to eat at the tables of our forefathers.

Page 28 features a number of chocolate cakes, perfect for the cocoa-loving family member.

Your editors located this serendipitous find in the Nelson Room collections at Traverse Area District Library, and thought you might enjoy perusing the recipes and advertisements within: The Home Cook Book, a collection of recipes, mostly baked goods, collected from women all around Traverse City at the turn of the last century.

From the introduction:

The compiler of this book presents it with the confidence that brings to the housewives of Traverse City the most modern and strictly up-to-date recipes obtainable.

Reclaim fruitcake from stories of holiday terror by making a fresh loaf yourself, using one of the recipes found on page 29.
Reclaim fruitcake from stories of holiday terror by making a fresh loaf yourself, using one of the recipes found on page 29.

The recipes contained herein were contributed by the local housekeepers and have been tried and tested. To those who so kindly loaned their assistance in this way, the complier is deeply grateful and trusts that the book may in some measure compensate for the time and effort expended.

The Home Cook Book was compiled by Lewis W. Smith, Circulator for the Evening Record, “with recipes carefully arranged and classified by” Mrs. Lewis W. Smith and others. Although the cook book is undated, the Evening Record circulated between 1901 to 1910, so it was likely printed during that decade.

For the ambitious, layered caked recipes. Imagine baking one of these in a wood-heated oven...from page 37.
For the ambitious, layered caked recipes. Imagine baking one of these in a wood-heated oven…from page 37.

With sixty pages of recipes, all “the most modern and strictly up-to-date” from over 100 years ago, there’s bound to be a new treat for you and your family to try. The best way to keep alive traditions, and therefore history, is to use and pass them along to the next generation.

If you feel inspired, you can click on a page to enlarge it, read and test a recipe out, and send in your results to the Grand Traverse Journal (! We will be pleased to publish your photographs and descriptions in our January issue. Bake on!

For the Love of Spiders

In winter the animal world goes to sleep—or, at least becomes less apparent to us.  In particular, the world of small living things disappears, the world of insects, millipedes, centipedes—and spiders. 

The absence of spiders is particularly distressing.  They decorate my dwelling place inside and out during summer and fall.  In my youth I have been known to keep them as erstwhile pets, feeding them a disabled fly, perhaps, or some other insect.  Once, when I was in early adolescence, I kept a funnel-web weaver in my room, sustaining it with insect prey well into winter until my mother vacuumed it one day, not understanding my attachment to the animal.  The haiku poet Issa says,

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

We are of like mind.

I am hardly an expert in spiders: I encounter them separately as each enters my consciousness—by chance, not searching them out.  Some, like the funnel-web weaver can be identified by the shape of its web, a sheet of silk that tapers to a narrow opening where its inhabitant lives.  The orb weaver makes a gorgeous web with spokes and concentric circles.  I love the name of one of them, Argiope aurantia, a name that comes from one of the Greek naiads or water spirits.  She—and the inhabitants of webs are female—weaves a gorgeous structure out of the finest silk to capture whatever small thing blunders its way into the sticky strands, a story both horrifying and fascinating.  I confess as a child tearing of a leg of a grasshopper and feeding the twitching body to a yellow-bodied Argiope aurantia, poised in her web to bite and wrap up her prey.  Far from signaling the beginnings of major psychosis, it was just a small child’s introduction to life-and-death, an encounter that stays with me still.

Wolf spiders terrify us with their size—with legs extended they barely fit in a teacup—their furry bodies, and their speed as they flee from us or go after prey.  Similar to them are fishing spiders, one of which, the Dark Fishing Spider is the largest spider in North America, its body more than an inch long.  It journeys far from water, often winding up in cabins and homes near the water.  It feeds upon full grown crickets and small children (just joking). A naturalist friend of mine recently emailed me an image of one she caught in her home close to West Grand Traverse Bay.  With compassion, she merely let it go outside her home rather than crushing it with her heel. 

Then there are the jumping spiders, nervous creatures with two great eyes in the front of its head, looking more like us that all the others.  They build no webs at all, preferring to wander about in search of prey, dragging a silk thread behind them.  With so much to say about them, they deserve a separate article in the Grand Traverse Journal.

Cellar spider with prey. Image courtesy of Tom Blackwell through a Creative Commons license on Flickr.
Cellar spider with prey. Image courtesy of Tom Blackwell through a Creative Commons license on Flickr.

Finally, there are the cellar spiders, the most common ones we see around the house.  With long legs and narrow bodies, they are sometimes erroneously called “daddy long legs spiders”, a term that signifies the harvestmen, not a spider at all.  They hang upside down in its poorly crafted web, a “cobweb” waiting for prey.  My favorite spider book, Spiders of the North Woods, tells me that when disturbed, they may shake their bodies, making them appear as a blur.  I will have to test that out.

Are spiders dangerous?  Not for the most part.  The Black Widow does have a poisonous bite and I have seen them around here.  A bite would sicken the victim but not kill him/her.  Other spiders hurt if they bite, but most of them cannot even penetrate the skin.  Many wounds attributed to spiders were caused by other vermin, fleas, ticks, or insects. 

We need to show them respect, especially in the winter when we see few wild living things close to the house.  Maybe we can let the cellar spiders live out the cold months—at least as long as they stay in the cellar.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.

Tied to a desk in the near past solved!

Not all history is ancient. In the early adoption of the world wide web by the masses, internet cafes and cyberstations, like the one pictured here, were popular places to flock for a quick coffee and email check. Now that we’re no longer tied to desks and hardwired internet connections, these locations are now relics of the past, even though “the past” was only 15 years ago.

Do you recall where this “cyberstation” is? Please feel free to share a fond memory as well!

Congratulations to reader K. Berst for correctly identifying the location of the cyberstation! With widespread wifi access and personal devices that connect to the Internet, we don’t bother to advertise cyberstations anymore…

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

Growing up Wilhelm: Childhood memories of life on the farm

by Claribel (Wilhelm) Dugal Putnam (1893-1987)

These memoirs were written to Claribel’s granddaughter, Virginia LeClaire, in 1977.  Claribel died May 27, 1987 at the age of 94.  She is buried next to her husband and daughter in Oakwood Catholic Cemetery.

I was born May 15, 1893 on the family farm in Grand Traverse County.  My father, Joseph Emanuel Wilhelm, was several years older than my mother, Rose Zimmerman.  He had made himself very well-to-do in the wholesale lumber business prior to their marriage.  He built the farm house in Garfield township and took my mother there as his bride in 1885.  It was called “Pleasant Valley Farm” and was located on U.S. 37 South near McRae Hill.  (There is a trailer park there today.)

Pictured in the elegant farm home are siblings Claribel (the author) and her brother William Wilhelm.
Pictured in the elegant farm home are siblings Claribel (the author) and her brother William Wilhelm.

The house was rather elegant for the times with a vestibule facing the driveway, parlor, sitting room with a curved alcove of windows facing the flower gardens, large dining room, kitchen, summer kitchen, huge pantry, and five bedrooms.  A rear entrance led to a large wood-covered space.  Across this space was a three part building which housed a room for storing wood for the kitchen stove, the milk room where milk was separated for cream, and the ice house where in February the men cut blocks of ice from nearby Silver Lake and packed them with sawdust for summer use.  A hired man put one block in the ice box each morning and it was one of my duties to see that the pan under the ice box was emptied once each day – otherwise it would run over on the floor.  Occasionally I forgot and suffered the consequences!  There was a large bell outside of the back door, near the windmill, mounted on a large wooden pole.  It was used to call the men from the fields for dinner and supper.

Our basement was full of wood for the hot-air furnace.  The wood was cut from our own woods each fall.  However, there was no plumbing and no electricity.  On a shelf in the kitchen were eight kerosene lamps.  Each day we filled them with oil, trimmed the wicks, and washed the glass globes.  In addition, there was a lamp over the dining room table, one in the sitting room, and a table lamp in the parlor, all of which had to be cared for regularly.  Of course, we had the necessary little house “out back.”  It was there, surrounded by lilac bushes.  There were two grownup seats and one little low one for small folks.  We had the usual accessory: the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

In the kitchen, we had an iron sink with a pump which we used to obtain water for cleaning and washing.  The drinking water had to be brought in from outside where we had the windmill and another pump.  The first windmill was a wooden structure and I remember when it was replaced with a steel frame.  We were so very proud of it.  On one kitchen wall was a bench for the pails of drinking water.  Hired men kept these filled.

Rose (Zimmerman) Wilhelm and daughter Claribel at the family farm, ca. 1915.
Rose (Zimmerman) Wilhelm and daughter Claribel at the family farm, ca. 1915.

Although there was a table in the kitchen, we always ate our meals in the big dining room.  My mother was a fine cook and housekeeper.  She never had a loaf of baker’s bread in the house.  She made bread twice weekly and every day she baked goodies.  She had learned from the Wilhelms how to make their famous kolaches and we were never without pies, cookies, donuts, and cakes all made, of course, from scratch.

Claribel's parents, Joseph Emanuel Wilhelm and Rose Zimmerman.
Claribel’s parents, Joseph Emanuel Wilhelm and Rose Zimmerman, ca. 1885.

My mother was unusually kind and good natured with an over abundance of patience, so we children were never punished severely.  I can’t remember that I ever was spanked or slapped and I wasn’t a model child by any means.  I remember my father only as a sick man in a big chair.  During his final days, we were sent to our Zimmerman grandparents to stay.  One Sunday, Uncle George Fritz decided to take us home for a visit.  As we drove over McRae Hill, we met Dr. Julius Wilhelm with his horse and carriage.  “It’s all over” he said.  Of course, we wanted to know what was over.  Uncle George told us: “Your mother will tell you when you see her.”

Mother wished to keep the farm for my brother William, so her four brothers found a good man to act as superintendent.  That good man was William Henry Gravell.  He was a bachelor, and eventually he and Rose were married.  I was only six when my natural father had died in 1900, and “Grandpa Gravell” was wonderful to us all.

I remember when Rural Free Delivery came our way.  Our first mailman was a bachelor, Mr. Gilbert, who drove a horse and buggy.  We were always sitting by the mailbox, on a post, waiting for him.  We had mail every day except holidays and Sundays.  Our first telephone was really an event.  It was on a slab of oak and we had to “ring for central.” There were several families on a line – sometimes as many as ten. We never had a radio, that came after I was married, but we did have an Edison phonograph with cylinder disks.  We thought it was wonderful, and it was!  I remember the first automobile I ever saw.  One day I was out in the yard and I saw a car enclosed in glass!  I rushed in to tell mother and she said that it just couldn’t be.  When the weekly newspaper came out, it told of a wealthy Chicago man who had driven through town on his way to his summer home in Petoskey.  It described the car as being enclosed in glass and was called a “sedan.”

Claribel, Olive and William, children of Joseph and Rose Wilhelm.
Claribel, Mabel, and William, children of Joseph and Rose Wilhelm.

We tapped the maple trees in the spring and had maple sugar parties.  The juice had to be boiled on the cook stove for a long time, then we dropped it on a cake of ice and it hardened, making it like candy.  Every Sunday in nice weather we made a five gallon freezer of ice cream.  It was so good – made of real cream, beaten eggs, sugar, and vanilla.  The freezer was packed in layers of ice and salt and the melted water ran out of a hole on the side of the freezer, so it had to be made outdoors.  We took turns rotating the paddles until the ice cream had turned solid.  Once a year, in late fall, we made sauerkraut.  We used wash tubs with large cutters to slice the cabbage, put it in a barrel close to the hot-air furnace, and then left it to “work.”  When it was thoroughly “ripened” mother put it in glass jars.

Washing was always and only done on Monday.  We did the washing on the back platform in summer and in the kitchen in winter.  We had tin tubs, used washboards, and boiled everything except colored clothes.  We also starched many things, including ruffled petticoats, and then hung them on a clothes reel to dry.  Ironing was a big task in those days.  Irons came in groups of three different sizes.  There was a handle that clamped over the tops of the irons.  You used an iron until it got cold and then you went to the wood stove and exchanged it for a hot one.

Gathering eggs and bringing the cows up to the barn to be milked each night was a job for sister Mabel and myself.  We took turns, but when the hens were “setting” in the spring, they were very angry when we reached in for the eggs and would peck at our hands.  It hurt and I cried, so Mabel did the full job in “setting time” and I took the dog and rounded up the cattle.  

Saturday was bath day.  Children had to bathe in the afternoon so the grownups could have the kitchen for their baths at night.  We had a round tub and you stood up unless you were small enough to sit down.  Hot water came from the reservoir on the side of the kitchen stove.  When you used any water from this hot water tank, you must replace it so it would be warm for the next bather.  Daily baths were something of which we had never heard.

Billy the horse; driving is Jane Shilson, riding with Mabel Wilhelm, Olive Lackey, Claribel Wilhelm and unknown woman.
Billy the horse; driving is Jane Shilson, riding with Mabel Wilhelm (left), Olive Lackey, Claribel Wilhelm (center) and unknown woman.

I couldn’t tell you about life on the farm without telling you about our driving horse, Billy.  We raised farm horses, but a driving horse was “something else.”  We had a rubber-tired open carriage which was the latest word in elegance, but we used this only for Sundays and trips to the city to exchange our butter and eggs into groceries.  For every day fun we had a two seated sort of light wagon which held a lot of youngsters.  When we came to McRae Hill, Billy would stop and we would walk up the hill.  When he got to the top, he would stop and wait for us to get back in the wagon.  We loved that horse!  When he got old and sick, Grandpa Gravell decided he should be taken out of his misery.  The only way at that time was to shoot him.  He couldn’t bring himself to do it, so he hired a neighbor.  When the day came, he was so afraid that the man wouldn’t kill Billy instantly, that he did it himself.  We all had a bad day that day.

It was a mile walk to the one-room school house.  Grandpa Gravell took us in wintertime with the horses and sled, but in good weather we walked.  There were eight grades and one teacher.  Often the teacher boarded at our house.  We carried our lunch in a tin pail.  There was a wood burning stove for heat and of course, “rest rooms” were outside.  At recess time we played “Anti-I-Over the Woodshed”and had lots of fun.  A pail of water with a dipper was at the front door.  We had never heard of “germs”!

When we finished eight grades of country school, we were required to take an examination at the court house in Traverse City.  It was a written exam and if I live to 100, I will never forget how frightened I was.  You needed to pass this test in order to progress in your education.  My poor older brother William had gone through all of this.  In fall he drove a horse into the city to start his freshman year of high school.  He came home on Friday night feeling badly and we thought it was because he was so scared of a new school.  However, on Saturday he was feeling worse.  Sunday he went into a diabetic coma and died that night.  He was 14.  William was a good big brother to me.  I remember one time when I picked the raisins out of the middle of my mother’s cookies.  She said I had to eat all of the cookies.  I didn’t like them so I sneaked them out to William and he ate every single one of them for me.

Claribel Zerlina (Wilhelm) Dugal.
Claribel Zerlina (Wilhelm) Dugal.

I want you to know that my experiences on the farm were all pleasant ones.  I had a wonderful time as a child and it has been a pleasure to think of many of those happy days as I have written them down for you.  No wonder I have lived to a ripe old age when I got such a good start on the farm home.

Thank you to Virginia LeClaire, local author and historian, for providing her grandmother’s memories for all of us to share. LeClaire is author of the popular local work, “The Traverse City State Hospital Training School for Nurses,” available at local retailers and She is currently working on a history of the Federated Women’s Clubs of Traverse City.

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.

Tied to a desk in the near past

Not all history is ancient. In the early adoption of the world wide web by the masses, internet cafes and cyberstations, like the one pictured here, were popular places to flock for a quick coffee and email check. Now that we’re no longer tied to desks and hardwired internet connections, these locations are now relics of the past, even though “the past” was only 15 years ago.

Do you recall where this “cyberstation” is? Please feel free to share a fond memory as well!



Where Wind Polishes and Erodes: Lag Gravels and Ventifact Fields Along the Great Lakes

Some years ago I took a summer geology course from Central Michigan University at its Beaver Island Biological Station.  The professor, an enthusiastic geologist named Richard Dietrich, introduced me to such wonders as vugs, banded gneiss, rhyolite porphyry, and ventifacts.  While much of the knowledge gained about these topics has inexplicably evaporated into thin air, I do recall ventifacts in some detail, perhaps because I have identified several ventifact fields locally.

Students of Latin may know the meaning of “ventifact” from the word itself.  It is derived from the word ventus, wind, from which we get “vent” and “ventilation”. A ventifact is an object, often a stone, which has been shaped by the wind.  A ventifact field, sometimes called a “lag gravel”, is a place where such things are found–often in dry sandy places like a desert or the surface of the planet Mars.

Beach area with all the qualities required to create a ventifact field.

Lag gravels are associated with sandy beaches liberally mixed with stones, but not every such beach is a lag gravel.  The beach must be exposed to long fetch of prevailing winds, not protected by nearby bluffs or foredunes.   It also should be protected from invasions of humans piloting vehicles at the shore or bearing beach paraphernalia: Frisbees, beach balls, volleyball nets, and all other such sources of amusement.  Ventifacts are only found where human traffic is at a minimum.

How is a ventifact field different from an ordinary beach?  The simplest way to tell is by looking at the stones in relation to the sand: Are they embedded or perched?  Perched stones stand up on the surface, the surrounding sand having been blown away.  The stones themselves, upon careful observation with a magnifier, display the characteristics of wind-driven abrasion: a high polish on exposed surfaces of those made of hard minerals like granite and a pitted, eroded surface on those composed of softer rock.

Lag gravel lying undisturbed, at a ventifact field in the Grand Traverse Region.
Lag gravel lying undisturbed, at a ventifact field in the Grand Traverse Region.

Polished stones shine in the sunlight on surfaces exposed to the wind, the surface resting on the ground showing no such luster even if washed and dried.  Fossils stand out in relief as the softer stone around them wore down: Petoskey stones are especially striking, not requiring the usual hand polishing required to bring out their design.  Best of all (for me) are the sedimentary rocks like siltstone or shale which, under ten power magnification, look like miniature scenes from eroded places out west like the Badlands of North Dakota or rocky areas of New Mexico.  Mixed in with the rocks are occasional pieces of weathered glass or slag from old iron smelting operations.  They frequently find a place upon windowsills or within boxes people keep to remember their experiences.  Artifacts like these connect us with those who lived here long ago.

How does the wind polish and erode ventifacts?  At first it was thought that blowing sand did the job, but on closer inspection, it turned out that wind-driven dust (derived from sand) played the most important role.  It takes a mighty wind to lift sand, but less to blow dust.  Stones can be polished even on days of lighter winds.

I won’t tell you exactly where ventifact fields are because I do not want to increase human traffic in these precious places, but I will tell you this: Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore has them.  So does one isolated beach along Grand Traverse Bay.  If you go out looking for one, remember to look for a broad beach with perched stones—and the stones do not have to be large—they can be only pebble-sized.  Be sure to bring your magnifier, at least ten power.  To see the fossils in relief, the shiny surfaces, and eroded landscapes you will need at least that magnification.  If you find a ventifact field, be guarded as to whom you tell.  There are places endangered for their geology as well as for their biology.  We need to protect them, too.

Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal. He enjoys a long hike to undisturbed beaches, and leaves them the same way.