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.

Rails and Rivers – Tahquamenon Falls Train and Riverboat Tours

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.

For more information on the Tahquamenon Falls Train and Boat Tours click here: https://www.trainandboattours.com/

One of the many exmples of wildlife on the Tahquamenon River. I shot this from the deck of the Hiawatha Riverboat.

Garnet Lake – Garnet Ghost Town – A Paddle to the Past

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.

Historical Photographs – A trip through Pictured Rocks – 1892

A boat trip into Pictured Rocks in 1892

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.

Historical Photographs – Au Train Lake 1889 – Alger County Michigan – Upper Peninsula

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.

Women playing in the water – Au Train Lake 1889

Journey on the Tahquamenon River

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/

Eagle soaring over the Tahquamenon River.