Tag Archives: Boardman Lake

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

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

Fisherman on Boardman Lake

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

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

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

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

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

Rollaway for logs at Boardman Lake


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

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

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


Recent view of the Traverse City sewage treatment plant

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

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


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


Pedestrian walking bridge at the outlet to Boardman Lake, 2017

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

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

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

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


Skewered Tree Theories, but No Answers, For March Mystery

Two iron loops are buried in the wood of this White Oak, located on the shores of Boardman Lake, on the Highland Assisted Living Center grounds. We speculate that the tree, given its current size, was already very large a hundred years ago, especially since White Oaks grow so slowly . What were they used for? We will give you our hypothesis next month!

One theory is that the hardware was attached to a line that ran across Boardman Lake and connected to another post on the west side. The line was used to confine logs for release to the mill, further downstream, at the mouth of the Boardman. It’s only a theory!

Another theory is that the hardware was part of a pulley system, and either logs or barges were pulled out of Boardman Lake at that spot. The location is close enough to railroad tracks that it’s plausible this was a loading area.

One thing is for certain, the white oak is old enough to have been a large tree, even a hundred years ago! The hardware is so deeply embedded in the wood, obviously having been inserted in a much earlier time, and could have supported a lot of weight.

Poplar Point: Where Traverse City Residents Once Played

by Julie Schopieray, local historian and writer

Poplar Point, from a Google Earth overhead image captured in 2014. Image capture courtesy of the author.
Poplar Point, from a Google Earth overhead image captured in 2014. Image capture courtesy of the author.

From the late 1890s through the 1920s, a  lovely, pine-covered parcel of land on the east side of Boardman Lake was the most popular picnic spot in the Traverse City area. Poplar Point was located about half way down the length of the lake near what was then a sparsely inhabited area called Boonville, just west of what is now Woodmere Avenue, between Carver and Boon streets.

Picture postcard courtesy of the author.
Picture postcard courtesy of the author.

Poplar Point was a perfect spot for people to enjoy a day on the lake. Being  a much smaller body of water, Boardman Lake was a safer option than the bay for swimming or enjoying small  watercraft– rowboats, sailboats and even human-powered paddle boats. The small point jutting into the lake was an isolated spot to sail, row or drive to and made for a perfect picnic site. Although it didn’t have what you’d call a bathing beach, it had a small dock for boats to pull up to or for someone to fish from.

Photograph postcard courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City.
Photograph postcard courtesy of the History Center of Traverse City.

In the 1890s, picnickers could reach Poplar Point by horse and buggy, their own boat, or by hiring John Boon’s steam launch Ada which would take passengers from the Cass Street bridge to Poplar Point. The Ada sank in the river in 1897, but a few years later another entrepreneur, a boat builder named Arthur R. McManus, built a  30-foot launch  and named it Elf. McManus lived at 406 E. 8th St., about where Boardman Ave. ends at 8th Street.  Right out his back door was the Boardman River where he built a dock. In the summer of 1907, McManus started daily boat service with the Elf plying both the lake and river. He also had boats for hire and would deliver fishermen to their favorite spots along the lake.  Fare to Poplar Point and back was ten cents.

Advertisement for McManus' "Elf", from the Traverse City "Evening Record", recorded by the author.
Advertisement for McManus’ “Elf”, from the Traverse City “Evening Record”, recorded by the author.

During the summer and warm fall months, Poplar Point was where church groups, clubs, and families gathered for outings, and where businesses held their employee picnics. In the 1890s, a baseball field was established on the flat land above the picnic grounds, and many a summer day was spent by people enjoying a friendly game of baseball between teams made up of employees from the various businesses in town– Oval Wood Dish, T.C. Canning, Hannah & Lay,  and the Refrigerator plant. Other teams that regularly played at the point were the East Side Hustlers, the Peach Basket Makers (of the basket factory), the Bulldogs, Pierce’s Corn Huskers, and Layfayette’s Colts.  In addition, teams came in from outlying towns like Acme, Almira and Fouch to play against the locals.  Other activities included challenging games of tug-of war, three-legged races and egg races. A small pavilion provided a place to dance and sometimes a band would be brought in to play for an event.

julie-elfIn a 1957 article, Record Eagle writer Jay Smith reminisced about picnics at Poplar Point:

Most of the picnickers went to Poplar Point with their own horses and buggies, and they tethered their nags to the trees up on the flat and carried the picnic baskets down the steep slope to the picnic ground. Then there were buses which took loads from down town to the picnic grounds for a dime each way.

In another article, Smith remembers the Elf:

julie-boardmanIf you really wanted a thrilling boat ride, you should have taken a trip on the Elf. The Elf was a naptha launch which carried passengers from the east end of East Eighth street bridge to Poplar Point and back. Its home port was the dock in back of Art McManus’ house at the east end of the bridge…The Elf carried about twenty passengers or less and had a canopy top…The Elf tore along at a speed of four of five miles per hour and the trip each way took a half hour. It was a busy ship when there were baseball games at the point or Sunday school picnics.

McManus ran the Elf at least through 1910 (no newspaper mention of the boat after that year), and continued his boat livery business for several years after. Perhaps by that time, demand for the boat transportation was starting to diminish, though picnics at the point were still common.  By the late 1920s, popularity of the point had faded, although it is believed the picnic grounds continued to be used by locals until the Parts Manufacturing established its plant on the land in 1939.

During his boatbuilding career, McManus worked with another skilled boat builder, Claude E. Finch. About 1906, boat making had become a small industry in town, with several companies already established to fill a need for locals who desired a boat to enjoy on the lake, bay and river.  The partnership of McManus & Finch dissolved in 1906 when Finch became ill with tuberculosis and could no longer work. Both men had established reputations as the builders of quality boats, even though other boat builders were doing business on a larger scale than McManus–among them, Victor Montague, Irving Murray and Chris Thielgard [Telgard].

McManus was well known in town as the popular operator of a popcorn stand on the corner of Front St. and Cass St. during the summer months.  He passed away in early 1918,  at the age of 63. Just four years later, his wife  Anna was tragically killed when she walked into path of an oncoming train just two blocks from her home.

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