Historical Fishing Pictures from the Upper Peninsula’s Past
Pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection
Native Americans fishing the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie.
Fishing has always been a part of basic human survival. Plain and simple, fish are great to eat. Around the world people use fish as a major source of their diet, but, the squirmy things are an awful lot of fun to catch. Fishing here in the U.P., like many places, is ingrained into the culture and as fishing moved from a necessity to a sport, it became even more so.
Fishermen line the Soo Locks as a ship locks through.
Fishing is one of those things that has never changed over the years. You can add all the technology you want to it, but when it comes down to basics, it’s still a stick, a string, and a worm.
When the smelt ran, everybody came out. Dip your net in and it was full of fish.
Of course there are different kinds of fishing, as the picture above illustrates. Smelt dipping was a spring rite of passage for many here in north country. The rivers would be lined with campfires, waiting for the smelt to run. When they finally did, the streams would be full.
Brook Trout fishing on a beaver pond on the backwaters of the Hurricane River. This guy is pretty dapper for being back here.
I’ve always been a fan of Brook Trout fishing. If you are doing it right, it is incredible excersize, but I have to admit that there is nothing as good as pan fried fresh caught Brook Trout.
Fishing the rapids at the St. Mary’s River has been a long tradition. These two are having a great time.
Fishing is a connection to our past. It is something we have in common with our ancestors going back to prehistoric times. It strikes a chord within us that gives a feeling of peace and when the day has success we feel excited and elated. Our fishing experiences stay with us forever. What can be better than that?
by Mikel B. Classen. Photos from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection
Mackinac Island view from the fort during the National Park era.
Every year Mackinac Island is inundated with tourists. The island in St. Ignace Bay has always been a focus of attention. After being the hub of the fur trade, the island saw a decline as fortunes dissapated in the early 1800s. Being on the shipping path of the Great Lakes kept it alive and cruise ships began hitting destinations throughout the lakes and one was Mackinac Island. People started coming just to see it. The natural beauty, the history, it all beaconed visitors to the region.
This is an engraving that shows a very early Mackinac Island.
Not long after the Civil War, a U.S. Senator from Mackinac Island, Thomas Ferry, realized how much potential Mackinac Island had and introduced a bill in 1874 to designate the island as a National Park! It passed. In 1875, Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law and Mackinac Island became the nation’s second National Park after Yellowstone.
What Mackinac Island is truly known for, relaxing and enjoying a day.
One of the interesting things about the bill is that it designated the fort an active facility, so, the Federal government retained the fort with full funding in case it was needed for war. Active duty military at the time would run drills on the fort grounds. Mackinac Island was now a bonafide destination for travellers. In 1895 the fort was decommissioned and the Federal Government was going to pull out. Then, Michigan Governor, John T. Rich, petitioned the Feds to turn over the fort and park to the State of Michigan which they did, making Mackinac Island our first Michigan State Park which is what it is now.
Another “View of the National Park” from the road looking back towards the fort.
All of the photos used in this come from a series called “Views of the National Park.” They came in both cabinet cards and stereoviews. These are examples of the few I was able to find over the years. The engraving came from a History of Mackinac Island published by the National Park. They merchandised the place quite a bit for the time.
This is the view of Mission Point during the National Park era. It still looks the same.
Discovering a ghost lake in Mackinac County, Michigan.
Writing and photos by Mikel B. Classen
I hit the road today, with no particular destination. That means I’m really susceptable to signs pointing to nearly anywhere. It happened in Mackinac County. The sign said “Brook Trout Pond Landing.” I really do stick my nose into just about anything, so I headed down the two-track the sign indicated.
This is my first view, that made me go “What Brook Trout Pond?”
I drove about a quarter mile and there was a cul-de-sac that was still a bit mucky from the early season. I could see a small stream running, so I treked down the hill to the water, expecting to see a trout pond of some size. Off to my right there was a large opening in the woods.
The valley of the lost trout pond, it must have been more like a lake.
Across the way is a vast plain of what once was a lake. Apparently, whoever made the sign was using the term “pond” loosely. It fascinated me to think that all of this, not long ago, was under water. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that somewhere out there a dam broke. Likely the entire expanse was at one time created by beavers damming up the small stream that now wound through the former lake bed.
At one time, keeping its head above water, this rise would have been an island in the lake.
As I looked across the still boggy lake bottom to the far side, I saw a small hill with live trees on it. It had been an island at one time. The ghost lake had been vast and would have been great to paddle. I could see lunch on the island. With a brook trout population spread out across this large a tract, this would have been teeming with waterfowl.
This is the spring that fed the now ghost lake. It flows as it always has.
I turned around and headed back. I followed the creek up stream for a few yards and came to a small pocket of water. I looked around to see where the stream went and quickly realized I was at the beginning, the source of what had been everything around here, a wonderful fresh water spring. I looked back at the stream winding through the brown of the dry lake bottom, running clear and cold. If the probable beavers get to work on the dam break, maybe in a couple of years, this could all be back to what it was. That is how nature works after all.
The forest surrounding the ghost lake is thick and lush, but the ground is boggy and hard to walk through.
Pictures are from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection except portaging picture from sign.
The State Lock after construction in 1855. It shows how the Native Village was isolated along the St. Mary’s River.
The Soo Locks began in 1855. They were dug so that ships would no longer have to either shoot the St. Mary’s River Rapids, of have the ship portaged through the town of Sault Ste. Marie rolled on logs down what is now Portage Avenue.
This is taken from an interpretive sign down on Water Street in Sault Ste. Marie. This is the only picture I’ve found that depicts the ship portaging through the city.
The St. Mary’s Rapids, sometimes called Falls because there was a drop of 21 feet from the Lake Superior level to Lake Huron river level, was the greatest obstacle to shipping in the upper Great Lakes.
This was taken in 1854 as the State Lock is nearing completion. I believe this to be the earliest picture of the Soo Locks being dug.
The digging of the Locks was an ardous task. There was an attempt in 1839 to build a canal, but it failed miserably and the project was given up. In 1852, another attempt was made, this time sanctioned by the Federal Government and fully funded. Charles T. Harvey was chosen to head the project and he began work with around 400 men . Eventually it would increase to 1700, doubling the population of the Sault. A pump system had to be set up to keep the bottom dry enough to keep working. The route took them through the local Native burial ground! Not an auspicious start for the canal. It was completed in two years. It was a mammoth project.
The gates of the old State Lock. The windlass which opens and closes the gates can be seen in the foreground.
The building of the State Lock was an achievement of engineering that still functions in essentially the same way it did when it was originally built. Though no longer controlled by a hand cranked windlass, the system of rising and lowering the water remains the same. The brilliance and the perseverance of the construction cannot be overstated. Battling water, disease, (cholera outbreak) and weather, the men had to work at sunrise to sunset no matter the weather and when cholera hit, many died where they stood. The completed lock opened in 1855. Suddenly, all of the construction workers and those employed to portage ships through town, were now unemployed creating a local depression. Out of work men were everywhere.
This is taken from an old Stereoview card from 1856. The three mast schooner is locking up on its way to brave Lake Superior.
In 1881, an additional new lock was built named the Weitzel. Traffic was increasing and a new lock was imperative. The State lock would be rebuilt in 1896 as the 1st Poe Lock.
Tahquamenon Falls Train and Riverboat Tours – Alias “Toonerville Trolley and Tom Sawyer Riverboat Ride
Photos by Mikel B. Classen. Historical pictures courtesy of the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection.
The Toonerville Trolley waiting at the dock for the Riverboat Hiawatha.
As long as I can remember, the Toonerville Trolley and the Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours has been at Soo Junction 15 miles east of Newberry. There is a reason for that. The business is much older than I am. Since 1927, there has been a train and riverboat tour running from Soo Junction to the picturesque Tahquamenon Falls. This perennial U.P. attraction is nearly 100 years old!
Sailing on the Tahquamenon River is full of wonderful views of the river and the thick wilderness that surrounds it.
The train and riverboat tour has been a staple of tourists and locals over these many years and is continuing into the future. As a kid and an adult, I have enjoyed every minute of this excursion. The staying power of this method of getting to the Tahquamenon Falls, proves that I am not the only one.
One of the views of Tahquamenon Falls from the Riverboat Tours destination.
First, the Toonerville Trolley, a short track train that takes a rider through the Tahquamenon wilderness to the famed river. It is a 1/2 hour ride back to the Tahquamenon River and the waiting steamboat. The train ride is leisurely and fun. As the cars are pulled through the woods, there is a very good chance of seeing a bear. They throw food off the back of the train bringing them in, though both times I’ve taken the train in last few years, I haven’t seen one. I know many who have.
Early days of Toonerville Trolley around 1940. It looks much the same today.
This little train started as a spur around the turn of the century and was used for hauling lumber from the Tahquamenon River which was a major thoroughfare for logging. There was a sawmill set up on the shore in the spot where the train meets the riverboat. The mill ran until about 1925 when it was permanently shut down. A man by the name of Joe Beach, who was a conservation officer, used to run daily river patrols of the Tahquamenon River from Newberry. It was a 14 hour trip to the Falls and back. Since the only way to access the Falls was by river, the State Park that most use today didn’t exist, Beach was often asked to take people with him so they could see this wonder of nature. An idea was born. He would start a tour business, but he would need to shorten the time on the water.
The train in the early 1960’s
He remembered the short line at Soo Junction and was able to lease the line which was not being used any more. He created a contraption that would run the rails out of an old Ford Model T. It ran the rails back into old sawmill location where now a small boat was waiting to take passengers to the Falls. As business flourished and the number of passengers increased, they decided to install a narrow gauge railroad which were quite common for logging and mining. In 1933, they laid the narrow tracks inside the wide tracks and the Toonerville Trolley was born. The name Toonerville trolley came from a popular cartoon strip called Toonerville Folks, many of the passengers referred to it as a Toonerville Trolley and the name stuck.
The Riverboat “Tahquamenon.” This was the flagship of the Tahquamenon River Tours – 1940
Riding the riverboat is an awesome experience. Not only does it take you to the falls and a view you can’t get from Tahquamenon Falls State Park, but the ride is pleasant and comfortable. The trip is narrated by the Captain pointing out not only points of historical interest, but tales from the past wild days of the Tahquamenon and even points out any wildlife that is being encountered by the boat. The Tahquamenon River abounds with wildlife, especially water birds.
The Paul Bunyan, the smaller of the two ships, the pair would pass on the river running two tours in a day.
The riverboat ride continues a tradition that began with Joe Beach, but continues on in the same tradition. At first, the riverboat was only a barge and a tug, but they could take nearly 100 passengers. In 1937, they had a large boat built that would be dubbed the Tahquamenon. It had a capacity of 400 people and included a dance floor and a jukebox. The trip had been shortened by 5 hours and was still a 9 hour trip. In 1940 another boat, the Paul Bunyan, was built and could carry 200 passengers. They were able to run two tours a day with as many as 700 people. It was quite an operation and it ran that way until 1963. The ships were wearing thin, literally, their hulls had worn out. It was time for something new and it came in the form of the Hiawatha. A newer faster ship that could cut the trip to 6 ½ hours. The Hiawatha is still running today.
The Riverboat Hiawatha, the ship that is currently in use on the Tahquamenon River.
It is a comfortable and fun ship. My ride up and down the Tahquamenon was enjoyable. On board there is bathrooms and refreshments. A small grill provides food and munchies for a reasonable price along with beer and wine coolers. The cheeseburgers off this grill are great. (You can bring a pack lunch with you if you want, but why, when the food is great.) There are times I think about taking this just for that reason, but there is so much more. When you arrive at the riverboat dock at Tahquamenon Falls, there is a 5/8 mile hike to where the falls are. (It is NOT handicap accessible.) It is through the woods, up and down a couple of stairwells and you are at the falls. You are on the opposite side of the river from the State Park so the view is very different. You stand there next to the roaring falls feeling the mist and hearing the wild rushing of the water. It is easy to understand why Tahquamenon is called the Niagara Falls of the U.P.
The 5/8 mile hiking trail back to Tahquamenon Falls. Incredible scenery walking this and the woods smell is overwhelming.
This is a worthwhile adventure for the entire family. Currently you can just take the train trip and take advantage of the picnic area on the banks of the Tahquamenon River and then ride the train back. Personally I like to do the whole thing, the train and the riverboat, but since the boat trip is 21 miles and takes 6 ½ hours, it should be considered an all day affair. The train ride is 35 minutes one way. The prices are reasonable and this is the only way, other than personal craft, to see the Tahquamenon River upstream from the falls.
The hike back to the Falls is worth it. This is the view of Tahquamenon Falls as seen on the tour.
There is a reason this trip has lasted this many years, the Tahquamenon is a beautiful river and most of this trip has the appearance of Tahquamenon 100 years ago. It is easy to imagine the Native Americans paddling the river before logging took place. It was a main travel route for them. Taking this boat on an upriver cruise is a tradition that has spanned generations, a tradition that is still carried on. I highly recommend this most wonderful of U.P. attractions.
The docking site at Tahquamenon Falls. The Hiawatha waits after the walk to the Falls. I was grateful they served cold beer, the perfect after hike refreshment.