Historical Photos – Early Great Lakes Ships

Historical Ships of the upper Great Lakes

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.

Whitefish Point, More Than A Lighthouse

Whitefish Point Fishing Village

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen

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 Photos – Homesteads of U.P. Settlers

Pictures of homesteads past – early – mid 1800s

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.

Searching For Wilwin

Locating a ghost town, Wilwin

By Mikel B. Classen – Photos by Mikel B. Classen

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 – Camping out in the U.P. 1880s style

Camping the hard way – 1880’s

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.

Fire on the Trail

Stopping a forest fire before it happens.

The burned ground surrounding the smoldering log.

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.

Historical Photos – U.P. Fishing

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?

Sometimes you just need a helping hand.

Historical Pictures – Mackinac National Park 1875-1895

When Mackinac Island was a National Park

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.

Little Lake Lost or What Happens When the Dam Breaks

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.

 

Historical Pictures – The First Soo Locks – The State Lock

The Soo Locks – The Early Years – 1855 – 1888

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.

For more information on the Soo Locks check out the Soo Locks Visitor Center: https://www.saultstemarie.com/member-detail/soo-locks-visitor-center/