Pictures courtesy of the Mikel Classen Collection of Historical Pictures
This is an early passenger steamer named “City of Traverse.” This view of the ship shows only ne lock and the river rapids can be seen beyond the ship.
Many old historical ship pictures were taken at the Soo Locks. The close-up vantage point for the bulky photo equipment made it a choice spot for ship photography in the early years.
Whalebacks in the Soo Locks with tugs.
Over the years there have been many kinds of ships that have sailed the Great Lakes. All of them served a valued purpose in their day, though some had some uniquely strange looks. Of course many of these at some point would wind up at the bottom of the lakes, casualties of unexpected storms.
This is a couple of schooners going through the Soo Locks.
From Sailing ships to coal fired steamers, a fascination remains of all of these different types of ships. To this day visitors flock to the Soo Locks for a glimpse of the great ships that still sail the lakes.
This early freighter is called the Zenith City. It would sink not long after this picture.
This is not a by-gone era but one that has evolved through the years. The lake ships of all kinds serve as vital a purpose now as they did in the past.
This picture is of an early wood fired side-wheeler. photos of these are few and far between.
While watching the ships of today, it is also fun to think about the ships of the past, smaller and more susceptible, battling the violent elements of the Great Lakes for their very survival. Some succeeded, many didn’t, ending in tragedy and a watery grave. Requiem for sailors of a different time and men with courage beyond most.
The old buildings at the Whitefish Point Harbor are remains of an era gone by and a village that once was.
Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, Michigan, is known for a lot of things, not the least of which is the shipwrecks like the Edmund Fitzgerald that made the point famous. The lighthouse, which was one of the first on Lake Superior, houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (For more on that, check out my book Points North). Whitefish Point also is the eastern boundary of the legendary Shipwreck Coast. All else seems to have gotten lost.
This is one of the old homesteads from Whitefish Point. One of the few remaining buildings.
Whitefish Point is actually one of the very early fishing villages on Lake Superior. As early as 1840, a small trading post and fish packing operation was set up by Peter Barbeau of Sault Ste. Marie. Barbeau had a general store where he would outfit hardy souls to establish posts along the shoreline on Lake Superior. They traded for furs and barrels of salted whitefish. Barbeau would then ship them out to places like Chicago and the east coast. Barbeau’s trading posts went as far as Minnesota. Whitefish Point was one he paid close attention to.
This old fishing boat sits next to the harbor another relic of the point’s past.
When the lighthouse was established in 1849, fishing here was going hard and heavy. Tons of barrel packed salted fish were being sent to the Sault every year from Whitefish Point. It was a very profitable enterprise. Occassionally the fish wouldn’t be packed right and the fish would spoil leaving Barbeau to smooth out relations and make amends.
This old band saw blade and belt are in the woods near Whitefish Point.
Though many have Whitefish Point’s beginnings at 1879, documents at the Sault plainly show that there was lots of activity here long before 1879, including some logging enterprises. Whitefish Point was used as a resupply point for the logging companies. There was a small population of approx. 60 people. There was a school and hotel. Also a general store and a post office was established. The population grew to 200.
The former Whitefish Point post office as it is today. It its earlier days it had a different front on the building.
One of the local commodities was cranberries. They grow wild in the region and eventually were cultivated. There were more than a dozen growers registered at Whitefish Point. There was a daily stagecoach that ran from there, south to Eckerman. It was a thriving community by all standards. But as time went on, it all faded.
Th Whitefish Point Lighthouse brings thousands of visitors to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum which is housed in the lighthouse buildings.
Because of the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the life saving station, the village’s decline was a slow one. Fishing dwindled to one commercial fishery, Brown’s, which still is in operation. Most of the small town’s remains have disappeared but much of the property associated with the village is in private hands and still occupied as residential. But if one looks carefully, on the east side of Whitefish Point Road, between the harbor and the former post office, hiding in the trees, a few of the remaining relics of Whitefish Point can be seen.
An old fishing boat has seen better days as it sits being buried by the sands of Superior.
A turn into the Whitefish Point Harbor can be very rewarding. The harbor is shared by the State of Michigan and Brown’s Fisheries. There is a fence that divides the public land from the private. Brown’s Fisheries has old boats and buildings that date back to the early days of Whitefish Point and some of it can be seen from the parking lot of the Harbor. A couple of old fishing boats are beached on the shore and old storage barns are there too. It is a snapshot of not only Whitefish Point’s past but commercial fishing on the Great Lakes in general.
For a vision of the past, take a walk out towards the breakwall on the marina walkway. Go out as far as the last dock and turn around and look back. With the old fishing boats and storage buildings, the old dock, an image of the village of Whitefish Point appears, or a small part of it anyway.
The view of Brown’s Fisheries from the marina walkway showing what Whitefish Point would have looked like as a fishing village.
When visiting the lighthouse, it is good to note what was around it. A trip into the shipwreck museum leaves one with the idea that Whitefish Point is all about death and tragedy. It is so much more. It was a tiny place that provided food and lumber for the country in the harshest of conditions. It took people with tenacity and guts to face Lake Superior at its worst and create one of the earliest settlements. The village of Whitefish Point should be remembered alongside of its legendary lighthouse. It has its place in history too.
Historical pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection
Early engraving of a first homestead.
Pictures of early settlers trying to tame the wild country of Upper Michigan is always interesting to me. I don’t have many of these early settler pictures but I thought I could put up a few of my favorites. Some have focus issues as with many old cameras, but they are still glimpses into that rough and rugged past.
This is an old homestead that was near Marquette.
Some of these old picture show some form of home life. We are so used to modern conveniences and technology, seeing these old pictures shows just how rough life was. It is good that the days of mud, muck, and manure are past. Some things of the modern age are not over-rated, hot water, lawn mowers, garden tillers, all products of trying to ease this harsh life.
This was located near the Sault on the Michigan side. It is the home of an Ojibwa family.
Often we over-romanticize the past, casting aside the many realities of life on a homestead. Everyday was a chore laden struggle for survival.
This picture was from an old stereoview. This was another from somewhere near Marquette.
The brutal environment, the bugs, the dampness from the marshes, the endless preparation for the next winter, all made living from day to day, an amazing feat.
This is a picture from Manistique that shows an early family. Yes, that is a child sitting among the chickens.
I hope you enjoyed these little windows of settling the U.P.
I was armed with two antique maps and a full tank of gas. How was I to fail? I felt confident as I drove down H-40 which runs through Chippewa and Mackinac counties. It’s a back route that’s between U.S.-2 and M-28. Formerly, it was a railroad route which had a string of towns along its way. Most of them now are gone or shadows of what they once were. The railroad still runs along the highway. The place I was looking for was Wilwin.
The old railroad building that stands at the corner of Wilwin Road. Part of the loading platform is still seen.
About five miles west of Trout Lake are a couple of old buildings marking the entrance to Wilwin Road. The old buildings are the first things to attest to the fact that Wilwin was once there. A railroad siding once ran where Wilwin Road is now bringing lumber to the main railroad trunk from the sawmills of Wilwin.
This old storage building is another of the relics at the corner of Wilwin Road.
I turned up Wilwin Road. The maps were showing the town’s location a couple of miles and then left for a mile or so. Seemed simple enough. I drove passing a couple of houses. The trees started getting thicker and the road began to wind through the woods. I love doing these kinds of drives, but it was beginning to seem like I had gone too far. I should have come across something by now, a clearing or old remnants, but the trail went on and there was no evidence of anything resembling a town site. Now the road was turning to soft sand.
I looked at the road ahead and concluded that I had gone too far and had completely missed the location or maybe a side road that I’d missed. I wasn’t sure, but I knew if I went further, getting stuck was likely. I turned around. Backtracking, I found a turn missed. I started down that road. not far in I came across a burned patch of ground and a small log with smoke coming out of it. (More on that here.) After dousing it with water I went further down the trail and there it was, the site of Wilwin!
The entrance to the Wilwin Lodge, fenced. A large portion of the towns former location is now a Graymont Quarry.
I turned my truck around at the entrance to the Wilwin Lodge, now apparently owned by Graymont, a Canadian cement company. To the south of the road was a large area where the town had one stood. There was nothing left. The old townsite had been cleaned up leaving next to no trace of Wilwin. I expect part of the old town is now Graymont property which is fenced in.
A small portion of Wilwin’s town site is visible along the trail near the gate.
The history of Wilwin is that of a logging town. Its history wasn’t long, but it was fast and furious. The beginning was around 1914 and was founded by a man named Frank Chesborough. The name Wilwin is a contraction of his two sons names William and Elwin. They raised a large sawmill and platted out a community. They bought a train and laid track intersecting with the main line. They built a boarding house along with a store. Single story homes were built to house the sawmill employees. A boardwalk connected it all. The town thrived, they were even selling the bark from the mill to a leather company.
The only signs left that part of a town was even here are the places where the ground is disrupted.
A huge lodge was built. It was reputed to be two storys with a balcony that stretched the length of the building, and full of leaded glass windows that contained nearly 2000 panes. It had a huge kitchen and a living room with fireplaces at both ends. Built by the Chesboroughs it was reputed to be the height of luxury at the time.
Then, in 1921, it was all over. Just seven years had gone by. The price of lumber fell and the costs at the Wilwin mill were too high. As quickly as it had begun, Wilwin was through. The houses were salvaged and removed. Some of them are still homes in Trout Lake and nearby Ozark. All of them and the boarding house were completely removed. The machinery for the sawmill was resold to a company in Dollar Bay in the Keweenaw. The mill itself was burned and then the debris removed. The lodge, as far as I know, still stands somewhere behind the fence put up by Graymont.
The black and white in this picture makes it easier to pick out the outline of where a building once stood.
It was time to head home. I had almost got lost and stuck, put out a potential forest fire and found what I was looking for. I was pleased with that. My day had been successful and eventful. That is always a good day.
Historical Photos from Mikel B. Classen Collection
This is a picture of some men camping out at a place that is still popular for camping to this day, Chapel Beach. Chapel Rock in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be seen in the background.
Going camping back in the late 1800s was a lot different than it is today. There was no Coleman Company, no L.L. Bean, no ergonomic backpacks. And hiking shoes, not a chance. The equipment was heavy and bulky while the wilderness was formidable. The wooden equipment chest in the picture above attests to that.
This group camp was taken north of Marquette at Partridge Island.
The hunting camp shown above was a major project to set up showing that group camping has always been popular. There are both men and women pictured here representing several couples on this particular foray into the woods. It doesn’t appear they are moving on anytime soon.
Individual tent setup along a stream. This was the simple basic way to go. With the stream in the background this looks like a fishing trip.
Even in the early days, the U.P. was recognized for its value as a recreation paradise and fishing and hunting became the staple of the region. People of note began particpating in the sport like Henry Ford and William Coleman. Innovations followed and equipment made specifically for the purpose of portable camping became available. These early campers were the pioneers of an entire industry that today is worth billions.
This is an unidentified camp near Lake Superior. The woodstove pipe coming out of the tent flap is classic.
One thing that is still true, an adventure into the woods is like no other. The wilderness calls many of us and in response we are rewarded with experiences of a lifetime. Whether it is a lake, a stream, a mountain or the deep woods, these places fill a place in our souls that can be filled no other way.
I want to write about something I saw yesterday while driving through the woods near Trout Lake, here in the U.P. I was driving a backroad, surprise, surprise, looking for an old ghost town called Wilwin (more on that here). As I was driving the old two-track road, I could smell smoke. The wind was blowing hard, about 30-35 mph, and it was difficult to be sure where it was from. As I drove on I came across a stretch of burned ground and a small log that was smoking. Something had started the dry leaves on fire and burned a section of ground. The leaves were no longer burning, but a small log had some coals in it that was being fanned by the wind.
Smoke can be seen coming from the log as the high wind fanned the coals inside.
The log seemed to be the real threat as none of the burned leaf material in the surrounding area was showing signs of fire. Inside my truck I usually carry a gallon jug of water in case I get stuck somewhere and need to ride things out waiting for Search and Rescue. Right now it seemed fortuitous that I had it. As can be seen above, the smoke was coming from the underside of the log. I flipped it over and it was cupped from a hollow, and full of coals. I dumped the gallon of water over it making sure to hit everything that as glowing. It steamed up and I let it set for a few minutes. I still saw a little plume of steam/smoke and decided it needed a little more. On my way out of the Sault, I had stopped and picked up a large iced tea which was still sitting on my console. It was abut 2/3 full and still had some ice left. I poured that over the last hot spot and spread the ice out so it would melt where the fire had been. There was nothing after that. After a wait, I got back in the truck and moved on in search of the ghost town.
This is the scorched roadside that had started to take off. The smoldering log wasn’t willing to give up the fight.
Fortunately this fire was small and I was able to deal with it, but it very easily could have been worse. We need to be mindful of how volatile the underbrush can be and how easily fires can start. Though I couldn’t find what initially started this, I suspect it was something someone was smoking. With the high winds we frequently have, this is a recipe for disaster and tragedy. Carelessness is rarely forgiven in the wilderness.
Moral of story: Always carry water in your vehicle (Iced tea doesn’t hurt either). You never know when you’ll need it.