Images are from my personal historical photos collection
Whalebacks were used to haul cargo across the Great Lakes.
Whaleback ships were a unique design that was adopted to ship ore across the Great Lakes and particularly Lake Superior. Their shape was designed to lessen the impact of turbulent surf. When fully loaded they looked more like a submarine than a surface ship. They were used mostly as a tow barge, schooners had mostly been used before this.
Whalebacks at the Soo Locks towing each other a common practice in ore shipping.
Whalebacks were fairly common throughout the early 20th century. 44 of them were built between 1887 and 1898. Most of them were built in Duluth, MN or Superior, WI as freighters for the iron range. None of them are left except one that is a museum ship in Superior, WI, the SS Meteor. (here is a link to the Whaleback Museum: https://superiorpublicmuseums.org/ss-meteor/)
Whalebacks taking on ore in Escanaba.
When loaded whalebacks were hard to see and were often run into by ships that couldn’t see them. Their hatches tended to leak and bend during stress which made them a hazard. The Whaleback is the forefather to the modern ore freighter that we commonly see now, like the neanderthal to the modern man.
Whaleback in the Soo Locks. A heavily loaded one can be seen behind it.
Garnet Lake Campground – Finding a Lost Past in Mackinac County
A Point North
Sunset over Garnet Lake on my first night. It was a fantastic evening. I saw it as a good omen.
I came here on a whim. I didn’t know what to expect. The sign, “Garnet Lake State Forest Campground” had an arrow pointing down a sideroad. Those are the kinds of things that arouse my curiosity when I am cruising the U.P. I had never heard of the place which added more incentive. What I found was a little known secret place revealed.
It was remote yet there were a few residences I passed on the way in. When I drove into the campground, there was only one other camper. I spotted a shoreline site which drew me in. Surrounded by pines and hardwoods, the campsite was comfortable and spacious.
The campsite at Garnet Lake as twilight sets in and the beginning of a glorious sunset.
What I saw before me was a beautiful little lake. Flat and serene, cattails along the edges, it was the quiet place I had been looking for. I pitched my tent near the shore and unloaded my kayak. The small lake was an ideal place to paddle. That would be tomorrow’s fun. In the meantime I set up my camera on a tripod. I was on the east end of the lake and had an ideal view of the upcoming sunset. Already the sky was beginning to tint. It was the beginning of what would be a spectacular sunset.
Morning mist on Garnet Lake rises and moves to the quiet breeze.
The campground here is nice, but basically primitive. Though you can camp here with camper or trailer, there are no hookups, so it needs to be self sufficient and functional off-grid. The entire time I was here, there were only two other campers.
When I arrived, I knew nothing about Garnet Lake and the immediately surrounding area. I thought it was just a remote campground, but I was about to find out exactly how wrong I was.
Kayaking Garnet Lake is not only fun but chances of seeing some wildlife is good. This is a beaver lodge I paddled past.
It all began with my Kayak. It was a beautiful day and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water. There was a light breeze which kept the bugs away on the water. I began to paddle and the water was very clear and the bottom could be seen easily. I paddled near the reeds where I had seen flashes of red moving through them. They were dragonflies, thousands of them, bright red and flying everywhere. They moved so quickly it was nearly impossible to get a picture of them. It made me wonder if these were the reason for the name “Garnet” lake.
The garnets of Garnet Lake. These red dragonflys flit and fly everywhere around the water.
I paddled out towards the deeper part of the lake. I kept looking at the bottom. It was so clear that everything was visible. As I paddled towards the west end, I started seeing trees on the bottom, large trees. Then I saw they’d been cut. The trees were saw logs. Garnet Lake had been at one time a sawmill pond. There could be no other conclusion. That meant that this had been a stream at one time and had been dammed to hold logs for a mill. I paddled to where it looked like there might be a stream outlet. I found it, but it was brushy, grown over and small, so I couldn’t take the kayak further. It was just too much of a mess, so I turned around and headed back to camp, but now I was really thinking about what my paddle on the lake had revealed.
Somewhere down that creek should be the ruins of an old sawmill, maybe even more, like a ghost town or logging camp. Being a historian, the more I thought about this more intrigued I became. It was time to take a hike.
The ruins of the old sawmill at Garnet ghost town.
I grabbed my camera, some water and snacks and headed around the lake. The first thing I came to was the railroad which was still being used, though I hadn’t seen or heard a train since my arrival. The tracks shined with little rust. I turned west towards where I knew the sawmill creek exited the lake. It wasn’t long before I saw how right I was. First was the ruins of the old mill, then the remains of the old town of Garnet, Michigan. I realized the railroad was paralleling a black-top highway which I hadn’t realized was there either. It was H-40 which runs between US-2 and M-28. Garnet is between Rexton another ghost town and Engadine. To get to the lake I had taken a backroad from US-2 and had completely missed Garnet, the ghost town. There were remnants of the old town still standing while a few of the houses were still occupied, though Garnet today has little resemblance to Garnet of the past.
Old homestead near the sawmill. This is another remnant of the days of the ghost town.
Originally called “Welch,” The town of Garnet at one time had around 500 residents. There was a sawmill which produced mostly shingles. A general store and hotel was there along with a harness maker. There was a saloon, a boarding house, school, and a doctor. They even had their own Justice of the Peace.
This is a historical photo pf the old post office of Garnet.
1897 is the first year Garnet appears on a census showing 500 residents. The population would decline beginning in 1910. In 1915 there was only 150 people left. By World War II, there were just a few houses and a sawmill operating there now making handles for axes, shovels and hammers. The sawmill operated until at least the late 1970’s but now is a crumbling ruin.
Hubie’s Place, not sure what that was, but it sounds like it was a good time.
The layout of the town is still visible and a couple of the old original buildings can be seen, some empty, a few still being lived in. As I walked, I was pleased with myself for having deduced the old town had been here from the clues from my paddling. If I had come in from the north, M-28, I would have seen the remains of the town first and knew it was there from the beginning. But I hadn’t and I felt I had solved a mystery, added an extra layer to my stay at Garnet Lake.
The crossing at the railroad and H-40 where the heart of Garnet was. A couple of homes still occupied can be seen.
Back at my campsite I was treated to another nice sunset. I would have to leave in the morning, but it had been an adventure of discovery. I would go back now and learn more about the little place named Garnet.
This is an old deserted mansion at the ghost town of Garnet.
Grand Portal facing west. Before there was a boat tour, a small craft was the only way to view them up close.
It seems that Pictured Rocks has always been an attraction throughout recorded history. The magnificent rock formations drew comment and admiration from the earliest explorers. People ventured into them braving Lake Superior for a just a look. Recently I found a few old stereoview pictures that were privately made. Many photographers at the time created stereoview prints for commercial reproduction. Those are most of what are found today. Occassionally, the more wealthy travellers would get personal stereoviews done as a vacation record. In other words early vacation photos.
Grand Portal facing east. This is a companion photo to the one above, both taken inside the Portal.
All of these pictures came dated 1892. Unfortunately I do not have the names of who these originally belonged to. Looking at the picture it can be seen that they had an exceptionally calm day for their sight-seeing. Unusual water for Lake Superior.
Chapel Rock and River, 1892. This is one of the major destinations of early sight-seers. It sill is to this day.
In the early days travellers would set out from William’s Landing on Grand Island for their Pictured Rocks expeditions. Often these were multi-day affairs with traditional campsites at Chapel Beach. There are campsites still there for modern-day hikers. Now it only takes a couple of hours to see the rocks. Back in 1892 it was much more of an adventure and took serious committment to arrive at the legendary Pictured Rocks.
Spray Falls in Pictured Rocks, 1892. This picture could be taken today. Very little has changed with Spray Falls over the years.
At last it’s here, the audiobook version of Lake Superior Tales. Read brilliantly by Rory Young, he captures the essence of these adventure stories. Hearing these tales adds another dimension to the short stories I created surrounding the unique history of Upper Michigan and the Great Lakes.
Here there are stories of pirates and lost treasure, humor and satire, and a look into the life that once was a part of the Lake Superior frontier. As a Michigan historian I’ve researched most aspects of Michigan History and that research has led me into many directions. I’m mostly known for my non-fiction. Sometimes that research inspires something fictional and a story is born. That is what makes up the pages of Lake Superior Tales, stories inspired by my wanderings and research.
For instance, “Cave of Gold,” the last story in the book, was written in a cabin in the Porcupine Mountains. It was raining and I was surrounded by a lot of mud. Hiking was out. So, I started thinking about hiking, the story starts out with a guy hiking in the woods in the 1800s. Then I thought, what if there was a dead man leaning against a tree? After that it wrote itself. Eventually the rain stopped and I went about hiking but the story was written.
My favorite story of the collection is called the “Wreck of the Marie Jenny.” ( an excert can be heard below). I had written a story called “Bullets Shine Silver in the Moonlight,” (Also in Lake Superior Tales) which focuses around a story about a pile of hidden gold bars from an old shipwreck called the Marie Jenny. I began wondering, how did the shipwreck get there in the first place? I was in the Keweenaw Peninsula in Calumet having a beer at Shutey’s Bar. There were two old guys talking and one was a ship’s captain. He kept saying over and over, “I gotta confess to ya,” and that was how the story was born.
Lake Superior Tales is very close to my heart and to hear it this way as an audiobook is a real treat for me. I hope everyone will enjoy it. Take a trip with me through my collection of short stories, Lake Superior Tales.
“It’s clear that Mikel B. Classen knows and loves the Lake Superior area of Michigan and brings it to life in a delightful way. If you want frequent laughs, unusual characters who jump off the page, and the fruit of a highly creative mind, you’ve got to read this little book.” (Bob Rich, author, Looking Through Water)
“Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a unique place in this world, and Mikel’s lovely little book, “Tales,” makes that clear. Mikel has long been recognized as a leading proponent of all the wonderful attributes of the Upper Peninsula, and currently he serves as the Managing Editor of the UP Reader. So, seeing him tackle this project does not surprise me. But what I did find exciting is the electricity he captures on every page, and the energy he uses to express it. My father was a lumberjack, moonshiner and “gunslinger” in the UP a century ago,” (Michael Carrier from Modern History Press)
Weekly historical photographs – Au Train Lake – U.P. camping in 1889
Camp setup at Autrain Lake 1889.
I recently purchased a small lot of old U.P. photos from the Marquette area. In it were these cabinet cards. Unlike most old photos I find, these were labeled and dated. The caption on the back reads: “The Palmer Camp, Au Train Lake, Michigan 1889.” I found a second picture which also read the same as above. I have now reunited them since they belong together. This last picture shows that very little has changed at Au Train Lake in 130 years. Still a destination for fun on the water, this same scene can be seen still today in Au Train reenacted by dozens of visitors every year.
Journey on the Tahquamenon River – An adventure in Paradise we can all share
A Point North
Paradise, Michigan is mostly known for being the home of Tahquamenon Falls and the gateway to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Most visitors check these two major attractions out and then head off to other parts of the U.P. The one thing that is overlooked is the mighty Tahquamenon River itself.
The Tahquamenon cuts through the woods and rock defining the Paradise region. Millions of gallons of water pass along its shores and it was used extensively for logging during the lumber boom. Now it is ideal for a days adventure on the water.
At the mouth of the Tahquamenon River there is a state park that is mostly overlooked. Nestled on the banks of the Tahquamenon, this campground has excellent access to the river. Located 3 miles south of Paradise, this place can be the base to an adventure you will never forget.
The marina and dock at the Tahquamenon River Mouth Campground. Lake Superior can be seen on the horizon.
There is approximately 11 miles of river between the lower Tahquamenon Falls and the mouth of the river at Lake Superior. There are campgrounds at both ends of this stretch, besides the Tahquamenon Mouth campground, there is the Lower Falls Campground. The river is all big and wide water and the Public Access Marina at the mouth can accomodate small to medium craft with motors. My personal preference is paddling but I will admit when I did it, I was not alone and we had a small motor on a canoe for going upstream against the current.
Morning on the Tahquamenon River. It doesn’t get more perfect than this.
Around the mouth of the river, the river is wide and moves slow. There is large regions of wetlands and marshes. Wildlife abounds here and opportunities for photographers are frequent all year. There is also great fishing through here though anywhere on the river is good for that sport.
I shot a picture of this merganzer as it swam past our canoe.
The trip upstream can take some time against the current. Which is why I suggest having a campsite at both parks. The other option is that there is a paddlers launch at the Lower Falls Campground. This only works for kayaks and canoes. There is no launch here for larger craft. But from here you will be paddling with the current. Drop in here, paddle to the mouth and your waiting campsite in just a few hours.
Lower Tahquamenon Falls – North Fall – The lower falls are split by a small island and fall in two separate falls
It must be noted that when near the falls the water is turbulent and can be unpredictable. This can also be said if you choose to launch from here, be aware the water is swift and deep.
Lower Tahquamenon Falls – South Fall – Though these falls don’t have the size of the famous Upper Falls, they have their own unique beauty.
Though both of these campgrounds are public along with many acres along the river, but, there are many places along the river that is private and should be respected. I truly enjoyed my trip up and down the river. Many parts of the river have the look and feel of the deep primordial wilderness that once dominated the Upper Peninsula. It is easy to picture the Natives and the Voyageurs paddling the river when the lands were still undisturbed. There was a small trading post and settlement at the mouth of the river long ago. The Native Americans used the Tahquamenon as a main route for trading and travel. They portaged the falls.
Fishing the Tahquamenon offshore from the Mouth Campground
The Tahquamenon River is a nice low key adventure that most ages can enjoy. It should be mentioned that there are rental cabins at the Tahquamenon Mouth Campground and at the Lower Falls. I’ve rented these cabins and they are nice, worth every penny after a long day on the river. For more information on the area: http://www.paradisemichigan.org/
The Lake Superior Transit Company – Luxury Cruising the Great Lakes
S.S. India. One of the cruise ships of the Lake Superior Transit Company, one of several.
These are a couple of old pictures I received for my historical pictures collection. Unfortunately, I have been able to find out very little about this company or these ships. In 1878, they were already in heavy operation across all of the Great Lakes as this lineup of ships from a travel brochure shows. “Lake Superior Transit Company Line of Steamers: India, China, Winslow, Atlantic, Idaho, Nyack, St. Louis, Arctic, Pacific, Japan. (those are ship names, not destinations.) From the Ports of Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Detroit, Port Huron, Sault St. Marie, Marquette, Houghton & Hancock (Portage Lake), Duluth.” They were part of a fleet of luxury cruise liners for “high society.” They sailed from the late 1800’s through to the early 1900’s. They consisted of fine dining, formal staff, and exquisite drinks. The picture below illustrates one of the luxury dining rooms on board of one of their ships. A passenger could sail from Detroit to Duluth for $25 or $40 round trip. The fare was good for three months for round trip. This was the way to see the Great Lakes in the height of fashion.
Lake Superior Transit Company Postcard from one of the ships.
Sunset over Lac La Belle after a long evening of paddling. The air is still, the water is glass.
Lac La Belle/ Bete Grise – Keweenaw County – Michigan
A Point North
By Mikel B. Classen
The Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan is a rough and rugged place. It is full of ghost towns, abandoned mines, lighthouses, waterfalls, and remarkable beauty. The discovery of copper there, turned it into a thriving region that made millionaires and then paupers of the same men. Communities were carved out of the Lake Superior wilderness and then died as quickly as they rose. Like many places in Copper Country, Lac La Belle rose as a community during the days of the copper rush.
But, long before the copper rush, the mineral had been mined and sought after. For thousands of years the natives had mined the soft metal, pulling it from the ground with their bare hands and then pounding it into ornaments and weapons. This early “copper culture” mined millions of tons throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale. Near Lac La Belle, one of the largest archaeological finds of “copper culture” artifacts was discovered. Like those that came later, the copper of the Keweenaw was a commodity for the natives that gave them wealth and stature.
Lac, La Belle Marina. It is a public access for Lac La Belle and Lake Superior for the area.
Lac La Belle was dubbed “beautiful lake” by the early French trappers and lies south east of Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Bay side of the peninsula. It is as far north as one can go on the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The name “beautiful lake” still fits. Lac La Belle was probably long ago a part of Lake Superior because it sits so close the Beta Grise bay shoreline. It is overlooked by Mount Bohemia, one of the tallest of the Keweenaw mountains. Today the mountain supports a ski resort but over a century ago it supported much more.
A very grey Bete Grise bay on a very grey Lake Superior Day.
Bete Grise means “Grey Beast” and was supposedly given because of sightings of a strange unidentifiable grey creature that roamed the area. Another explanation for the name is that the Natives burned the blueberry bogs and the smoke hung over the lake and looked like a grey beast. My personal feelings are that it was given the name because on some days, Lake Superior can take on a dark grey look that can be frightening. I suspect that the “beast” is Lake Superior. Another legend of Bete Grise is that the sand at the beach here, “sings.” It is from a legend of a Native woman that lost her husband to Lake Superior and the noise from the sand is her calling to him. It is a kind of squeaking sound that the sand makes when you hit it hard with your hands or feet. I have noticed this phenomena along other parts of Lake Superior including Grand Sable Dunes and always thought it was pretty cool that you could make the sand squeak.
Lac La Belle is located on the east or “lee” side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The west side, which includes Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor, could see rough weather on a regular basis. It made it hard to ship copper from these ports due to Lake Superior’s unpredictability. Lac La Belle was connected to Lake Superior and Bete Grise bay by the Siby River, which no longer exists. A canal was dug and what used to be the river is now the Mendota Canal. It was an ideal port for shipping the riches of the Keweenaw.
Loading copper in the Keweenaw. This gives some idea of the amount that was being removed from the Peninsula. Though this wasn’t taken in Lac La Belle, it IS from Copper Country and Illustrates what Lac La Belle looked like at the time.
As early as the 1860’s Lac La Belle was looked at as an alternative harbor by the Mendota Mining Company which was mining copper and silver a few miles to the north. When it was dug, the lake became a hub of activity as a railroad was built connecting the area to mining throughout the Keweenaw. A smelting and stamp mill was built at the base of Mt. Bohemia and Lac La Belle soon filled with ships waiting to pick up loads of copper and lumber. Traffic was heavy enough that by 1870 a lighthouse had been established at the Canal mouth on Lake Superior marking the entrance to the harbor of refuge. The Mendota/ Bete Grise Lighthouse, it’s known by both names, still stands today. By the 1880s the region was thriving.
This is how the Mendota Lighthouse and and canal looked in its heyday. It still stands today with with a very different view.
Though mines were working in the surrounding hills, Lac La Belle was quietly being discovered for another reason. Fishing. The lake was teeming with perch, bass, pike, and walleye. Around the turn of the century, sportsmen became regular visitors to the area and as the mines played out and slowly died, Lac La Belle transformed. It became a place for sportsmen and tourists. Resorts grew up at the base of Mount Bohemia along the lake shore. It remains so today.
The tiny hidden community of Lac La Belle, is located in one of the most picturesque places in the Keweenaw peninsula. Nestled in the valleys of Mt. Bohemia and Mt. Houghton, the lake reaches towards Lake Superior. A channel allows the lake to flow out past the iconic Mendota Lighthouse located at Bete Grise harbor. Because there is no campground at Lac La Belle, few of the countless visitors to Copper Harbor venture down to this windswept point and see the eastern shore of the Keweenaw and of Lake Superior.
Outdoor Recreation Level: Expert. This pulled into the Gas pump at the Bear Belly Inn at Lac La Belle. I was impressed.
The small resorts surrounding the lake, some over a century old, are amazing places to stay. With private cabins and boat rentals, these places can provide a vacation that is comfortable and pleasant. I’ve found from experience, staying in these small resorts can be much less expensive than staying in a motel and in some cases less than a campground. Their comforts, most of them are fully functional cabins with baths, showers and dinettes, are those of a small home.
This is the cabin I stayin while in Lac La Belle. It’s a great place to come back to after a long day.
Haven Falls runs through the heart of the small community and is surrounded by a small but beautiful park. This little stop should be a part of any trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula. If nothing else, a picnic next to a waterfall and a lake is something you don’t get everywhere.
Haven Falls has a nice little park surrounding it that is an ideal place for a picnic.
Many of the resorts rent kayaks and boats. Lac La Belle is an incredible place to paddle. With both Mt. Bohemia and Mt. Houghton overlooking the lake, it is a sight only found in the Keweenaw. Through the canal and past the Mendota Lighthouse into Lake Superior is a memorable paddle. (Caution: the convergence into Lake Superior can be treacherous.) When I paddled it, there was little breeze and a calm sunny day. It was idyllic. I found myself periodically just floating, taking it all in.
Paddling Lac La Belle with Mt. Bohemia in the background.
When I got back into shore, I went to the Bear Belly Inn, next to where I was staying and had a cheeseburger and a beer. While I was in the area, I ate here a lot. An excellent place to eat and relax, it also sports a store and has gas. You can rent a boat or kayak here.
This is the interior to the Bear Belly Inn. Great food and beer here, especially their egg rolls.
The old railroad grades of the mining days are now ATV trails that crisscross through the peninsula taking riders into the depths of the Keweenaw wilderness through ghost towns and old mining ruins.
Instead of mining, Mt. Bohemia now supports a ski hill, resort, and an excellent restaurant. There is also a public beach along the Lake Superior shoreline. A drive to the end of the road, there is only one, will take you to the canal and face to face with the Mendota lighthouse on the other side.
The Mendota / Bete Grise Lighthouse as it appears today. Nearly enshrouded by pines it is now private property.
Lac La Belle has always been a favorite place of mine in the Keweenaw. The drive on the eastern shore of the Keweenaw, known as the Gay/Lac La Belle Road, is rarely traveled and reveals some of the nicest Lake Superior scenery of any drive. This tiny hidden place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the overlooked gems of Lake Superior.