Big Eric’s Bridge – Baraga County – Upper Peninsula Michigan

 

Big Eric's Bridge, artfully labelled, sits astride the wild and scenic Huron River.

A View of the Huron River from Big Eric’s Bridge. The spelling of “Erick” is incorrect.The “k” belongs in his last name not his first.

Big Eric’s Bridge – Huron River – Baraga County

A Point North

By Mikel B. Classen

A springtime bloom on a small cherry tree thrives along the Huron River.

The Wild and Scenic Huron River in the Spring is an exceptional time to be there.

Over the weekend I traveled over to L’anse to sell and sign books at the American Legion hall. While I was in the neighborhood I decided to drive north towards Aura and Skanee. My ultimate objective was to reach a wondrous remote place known as Big Eric’s Bridge.

This is an area I rarely get into, but this region of north country leads into the west end of the Huron Mountains. Between here and Big Bay is Michigan’s wilderness at its best. The problem with it is much of it is owned the legendary Huron Mountain Club. But what isn’t owned by them is worth the effort to experience what you can.

The huron River runs through rugged country in Baraga County

This is one of the couple of small falls that make up the river near the Big Eric’s Bridge State Forest Campground

Big Eric’s Bridge crosses the wild Huron River which contains 37 species of fish. Fishing here is amazing with trout the primary fish in the river. This is an anglers paradise and a pristine river.

As I pull in and hear the water rushing in the river, I feel like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Maybe Big Eric took some of the load. He seemed like that kind of guy. Yes, the bridge is named after a real person. There are some local stories but overall, not much is known about the guy.

The wildness at Big Eric's bridge is exemplified by the tumbling waters.

The Huron River’s rugged and wild waters tumble over cascades along its winding path.

Big Eric Erickson

Big Eric Erickson was a large Swede from Skanee, his birthplace and date are unknown. He spoke with a thick Swedish accent that could sometimes be the butt of a joke. Erickson took it well. Logging for the Ford Motor Company,  Big Eric earned the moniker of Paul Bunyan of Baraga County. Ford had a factory in Pequaming that manufactured parts for the fast growing automobile industry. Ford also had a sawmill in L’anse where Big Eric sold most of his wood.

Eric Erickson was over 6 feet tall and an even tempered individual. He was well liked and had an interesting way of looking at the world. In Richard Dorson’s, Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers, he describes Erickson like this: “He’s happy when losing money and grumbling when making it, if you meet him in the woods where he’s boss, he’s dressed up in oxfords, dress pants and a silk shirt. In town he dresses like a lumberjack, very ragged.”

Historical Picture of Eric Erickson's Logging Camp around 1920.

Big Eric’s logging camp around the 1920s. This would have been cold work. Photo courtesy Baraga County Historical Society.

Another tale surrounding Big Eric. He was checking out his cook’s food list. He came to loganberries. “Logging Berries – dat’s fine – order a carload of them.” He then came to New England Ham and crossed it out. “Isn’t American ham good enough for dese damn lumberjacks?”

He was known for helping people out when they needed it and was shrewd with his businesses. Eric was good to his workers often helping them when trouble reared its head. When Prohibition hit, Big Eric wasn’t affected much except for the behavior of his workmen.

A historical photo of the Big Eric's Bridge in 1930. Love the woman fishing.

The original Big Eric’s Bridge in 1930. The current one was built in 1992. Notice that the woman is using a fresh cut sapling for a fishing pole. Photo courtesy of the Baraga County Historical Society.

One day his men all left for a speakeasy or “blind pig” as they were called, and didn’t  return. After a few days, Big Eric went to the illegal saloon and with true sorrow etched on his face, asked the bartender, “Can you let me have these men for a few days?” He got his workmen back.

Later in life, he mused about owning a hotel where the only guests would be lumberjacks. Big Eric moved to Houghton and that’s the last we hear from him. The bridge that bears his name is a reminder of his legacy in the region. A finer place was never picked that bears his name.

Big Eric’s Bridge State Forest Campground

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) are a beautiful wildflower that grows in wet boggy areas.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) grow along the river bank. They are one of the first to bloom in the spring.

As I wander along the banks of the river taking photographs, one can’t help but feel the energy of the rushing water. It is spring and everything is coming to life. The leaves of the hardwoods are small and not fully grown. Above the river on a small ridge is a campground.

This area was logged at one time but it is difficult to tell. Many of the surrounding trees have grown to a spectacular height giving the feeling of old growth. Walking the road between the campsites is a walk among tall and thick hardwoods with a few pines thrown in.

Big Eric's Bridge in Michigan Upper Peninsula campground campsite.

One of the nice campsites at Big Eric’s Bridge State Forest campground.

There are 21 campsites here, all of them primitive. They have a table and fire ring at each site. Because of its remote location, all trash is carry out. If you bring it in, you bring it out. There are pit toilets and hand pumped water. If you are looking for camping with amenities, this is not your place.

Sitting at one of the picnic tables that overlook the Huron River, i realize how full of life the place was. Birds could be heard all around and the forest floor was just beginning its coverage. The first of the wildflowers were blooming and the Spring Beauties were just beginning to pop.  I love spring in the U.P.

It’s still early in the year and I feel a chill as the sun creeps to day’s end. I hate to go, but it has been a clear day so the night should get cold. The drive back out is a bit regretful. I really wish that i had had more time to spend at that little campground next to Big Eric’s Bridge.

The Huron River is Michigan’s wild and scenic rivers at it’s best. Cold and untamed it’s flow has created a region of wilderness that is evident throughout Baraga County. The watershed encompasses 61,000 acres and is partly shared with Marquette County.

A view down river as it flows to Lake Superior basin.

The river flows onward to Lake Superior and the Huron Bay.

It can be found off of US-41, exit at L’Anse. Turn right at the four-way stop in downtown L’anse and continue 20 miles on Skanee Road (paved). At the junction of Portice Road and Big Erick’s Road, go right on Big Erick’s Road. One mile (gravel) to the campground.

All writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen, copyright  2023
HIstorical pictures courtesy of Baraga County Historical Society
Big Eric's Bridge State Forest Campground Huron River waterfall

Another View of one of the small waterfalls tumbling across the rocks at Big Eric’s Bridge.

Beware! The Moose Are On The Loose – Upper Peninsula of Michigan

 

This young moose, still in velvet is foraging for food among the Cattails

It has been crazy spring here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as I write this there is a spring snowstorm pounding the western U.P.  The weather, 70 degrees one day, 32 the next, has much of the wildlife on the move across the peninsula. Particularly the moose. There have been several sightings most of which are in Marquette and Baraga Counties.

Sightings near Republic have been reported with several seen along the highway. The one featured on this page was seen on 41 west of Michigamme. This area is not a surprise since that is where they were originally planted. In 1985 and ’87 Michigan planted moose north of Michigamme near the McCormick Wilderness Tract. I know because I was there. They were brought from Ontario with the help of the Safari Club International. 40 years later, we are currently seeing the results of this ambitious project. For more information about the original moose lifts I highly recommend the videos at the bottom.

One of the first moose released in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula in 1987.

Moose seem to have no fear and will cross a road at any given point and they were never taught to look both ways. There have been reports of moose car collisions. I can’t imagine having one of those monsters come flying into my windshield. They are quite tall and that is where they will land. This is a lot different than hitting a deer. A moose can easily weigh a thousand pounds.

When I encountered mine on April 29th, I was driving down U.S. 41 heading to Houghton when I saw cars pulled over along the side of the road on both sides. Thinking there might be wreck ahead I slowed down for safety. As I drove by, I saw the young bull moose in the pictures foraging in a small collection of cattails. He was doing his best to ignore the attention.

Deciding he was becoming too much of an attraction this moose decided to walk towards me.

Eventually he got fed up and began wandering up the road, right past me, at one point he was only 10 feet away. It was then he decided to go across the highway, walking. Fortunately he made it across without incident, but there were moments when he could have become road kill.

Moose like the tubers of cattails that grow under the water. They are quite a delicacy for them.

Though the moose have branched out across the Upper Peninsula, between Marquette and L’anse going north and south, is where the population is the heaviest. Some places in the U.P. are claiming to be the “moose capitol,” but where I’ve stated above, is where your best chances of seeing one is. Also where your best chances are of seeing one in the road and hitting it. There are estimated to be just under 500 moose in Marquette, Baraga and Iron Counties whereas  there are only about 100 in Chippewa, Luce and Alger Counties. Beware, the moose are on the loose and they are truly a sight to behold.

Moose on the Loose!

For more information check out these links: I highly recommend the videos at the bottom.

https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/education/michigan-species/mammals/moose/history-of-moose-in-michigan

https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/education/michigan-species/mammals/moose/faqs

Awesome moose sticking his tongue out at me as he walks by.

Reverend Abel Bingham’s Journey of Near Death – 1842 Lake Superior – Sault Ste. Marie to Grand Island Through Pictured Rocks

Reverend Abel Bingham Lost in Pictured Rocks – 1842

Author’s Note: Every once in a while I come across a first person account of the early days of the Upper Peninsula that takes a bit of my breath away. Some of these accounts are so vivid, that I leave the story original and in their own words. That is the case with this account of a journey from Sault Sainte Marie to Grand Island by Rev. Abel Bingham. Bingham is quite articulate and to try to paraphrase this would be wrong.

Portrait of Abel Bingham in his older years.

Rev. Abel Bingham, one of the early settlers of Sault Ste. Marie, a Baptist minister sent on a mission to spread his religious message to the Native Americans and anyone else that would listen. His fervor for his mission will nearly get him killed within the wilderness of Pictured Rocks.

Background: Abel (Abilone) Bingham was a Baptist minister  that lived in Sault Ste. Marie as one of its earliest settlers. He established a mission there and began a school for local Ojibwa natives. Bingham frequently traveled into the wilds of the U.P. preaching the bible to the different tribes. The Reverend helped create the first bible in the Ojibwa language. Abel and his wife, Hannah, were well known and well liked among the Sault community.

Abel Bingham arrived in the Sault in 1828 on a mission to convert and baptize the Ojibwa natives of Lake Superior. He was ordained as a Baptist minister. He had been a veteran of the war of 1812 and was shot in the head. Fortunately he lived and when the wound had healed he went back to the war.

He then spent time ministering to Native Americans in New York. Because of this experience, he was appointed by the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions as Missionary to the Ojibwa Indians of Lake Superior, then sent to Sault Ste. Marie. Bingham was instructed by the Board to “establish religious services and extend the benefits of the mission to all within reach of his influence.”

Bingham enthusiastically went to work as soon as he arrived. He set up a Christian school to educate the native children. He established a Baptist mission that held services for Native Americans and the European community. They would be separate sermons. For the first year, he left his family behind, but in 1829 he brought them to the Sault. On the first of April he set out on snowshoes through the woods to Mackinac so he could meet a ship. He returned in July with his wife and children.

Hannah Bingham wife of Abel Bingham ran the Indian School

Hannah Bingham, Rev. Abel Bingham’s wife. She kept the school and ministry running while Bingham was away on his missions.

His wife was reputed to be a good doctor and often attended to wounds and ailments that would crop up in the Ojibwa community. The couple had at least three daughters. They would all take over for the Reverand when he was away on his missions.

Bingham also began a campaign of intemperance and started a temperance society. This was aimed at both European and native people. The Sault it was noted, was full of vice and needed to find its way to righteousness.

Abel Bingham would frequently set out on expeditions at all times of the year in his efforts to bring the word of God to the Ojibwa. From the Sault to Marquette, Bingham would travel summer or winter to fulfill his directive. One year he did a 300 mile mission along the southern shore of Lake Superior. He was so determined that he worked with a man named John Tanner and Dr. James, a surgeon at Fort Brady, to create an Ojibwa version of the bible which Bingham would carry with him and distribute to the natives.

He knew many of the Ojibwa chiefs of the day including Shingwauk and Shingaba W’Osssin, Kawgayosh and Shegud son -in-law of Shingaba W’Ossin. Shegud would work with Bingham as a guide and interpreter replacing John Tanner.

A quick note here. John Tanner and Bingham would have a falling out that would devolve into Tanner losing his wife and child to Bingham who helped them get away from Tanner’s temper. Tanner, who was raised by an Ojibwa tribe, would later be accused of murdering the brother of Henry Schoolcraft, James Schoolcraft. He then disappeared without a trace.

 

In January of 1842, Bingham set out for Grand Island a trip of about 150 miles along the Lake Superior Shoreline. There was a small band of Ojibwa residing on the Island that he regularly preached to. There was a theory at the time that if the natives weren’t regularly taught religion, they would fall back to their old ways and they would have to be reindoctrinated. He had with him as a guide and interpreter, Henry Shegud, a companion and interpreter who accompanied Bingham on many of his trips. Bingham’s  account of that journey follows:

“Spent two days with the Indians at Tahquamenon holding services as usual. Snow had fallen during our stay, making heavy travelling for the dogs, who could go but a short distance without stopping. Did not reach White Fish Point the first day; feared our provisions would give out and felt almost inclined to return. But next morning, after taking a portage across the Point which lessened the distance, we found the traveling better, took courage and pressed ahead. Third day, came to a beautiful bay, at the mouth of Grand Marie River, ninety miles from the Sault. Being rainy the ice was covered with water, through which we had to wade the whole distance across. Next morning, passed the Grand Sable or great sand banks, stretching along the shore some eight or nine miles, nearly perpendicular, and from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet in height. The curious stacks of ice that had been formed by the restless motion of the great Superior on one side and the huge banks on the other side, presented as grand and sublime a view as imagination could paint. The heavy surf from the broad lake rolled in with awful majesty and dashed with tremendous force against the massive rocks.

Native American Ojibwa village on Grand Island in Lake Superior

The rare picture of the Native American village on Grand Island. This was Abel Bingham’s objective when he left the Sault.

“After passing the Pictured Rocks, we ascended the ledge and camped in a small ravine. We were within twelve or fourteen miles of the island, but could pass no further on the ice or beach, the lake not being frozen at this point, so must take to the woods. The travelling was so rough and uneven we were obliged to leave our dog-train, oil-cloth, buffalo robe and oil-cloth overcoat, let the consequences be what they might, strapped our provisions on our backs and continued our march till we came upon a hunter’s camp, so recently deserted that the embers were still alive and found by our compass that we were lost. I felt much uneasiness and concern; took my Bible and read the 41st, 42d, and 43d Psalms, which were the first that presented themselves. The word both reproved and comforted me. Spent the Sabbath here and held divine service, preaching to an audience of one. Monday, retraced our steps, descended a ledge of rocks into a deep ravine and made two or three unsuccessful attempts to climb the opposite bank. If we could not find a pass up this precipice, we must return without visiting the island, which would be very unfortunate, as we were now limited to one meal a day. My interpreter cast off his pack and snowshoes, commenced climbing and in a few minutes, sang out, ‘Here is a place I think we can pass.’ This was a small protuberance somewhat resembling a man’s nose, with perpendicular rocks on both sides of great height. Here we descended the ledge by letting ourselves down from bush to bush and found ourselves on Lake Superior again, within three miles of the lodges. It was excessively cold, with a severe headwind, so that, with my ear-caps and handkerchief both tied over my ears, I froze one of them going that distance. At 2 o’clock, found ourselves comfortably seated in Wazawwadon’s lodge, who was expecting us Saturday. Mr. Williams, an American living on the island, received us with great kindness and fed up our dogs, which were nearly starved while going through the woods. He also furnished us with provisions and everything necessary for our return journey. While there, held meetings at the lodges and at Mr. William’s house. Arrived at home much fatiqued; was absent twenty-seven days; preached fourteen discourses, camped sixteen nights in the woods and was detained one day by severe weather.”

 

Bingham would call Sault Ste Marie home for many years. His mission would flourish but the grueling pace would take its toll. In 1853 he wrote “As the white population of our place has increased, the Indians have decreased; numbers by death, and others by withdrawing from the place and going to other parts. And when the number was considerably reduced at this place I commenced travelling among them to bear the gospel message to them; and for several years I travelled somewhat extensively, visiting them at their distant locations; in the winter on my snowshoes, and in the summer in my boat. As both these modes of traveling required much labor and caused much fatigue, the chills of 67 winters have so far enfeebled my system that for two years past I have traveled but little. Yet I remain at my station and keep up my school and my religious services both with the white population and Indians as in former years.”

In 1855, he would retire and close his missionary school. After attending the opening of the Soo Locks, he boarded a ship and sailed to Detroit and then traveled to Grand Rapids. The land on which his missionary school and his home stood was sold. The Chippewa County Courthouse now stands there.

William's Landing on Grand Island in Michigan is one of the oldest places on Lake Superior

William’s Landing, Grand Island. The Williams family began a trading post there near the small Native village that also occupied the Island.

For more information on this story follow these links:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/23169601

https://www.pccmonroe.org/audio/abel-bingham-missionary-to-the-seneca-and-ojibwa

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umich-bhl-851002?view=text

 

 

New Release! Faces, Places & Days Gone By, a Pictorial History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

My newest book, Faces, Places, & Days Gone By, is now available. The book contains over 100 historical pictures from my personal collection of Upper Peninsula images. The book is similar to what I’ve done over the years on this website with the historical pictures featured here. Each picture in the book features commentary and a look into Michigan’s past. Through the use of Stereoviews, cabinet cards, postcards and photo prints, there are photos from all corners the U.P.  I will be carrying copies at my upcoming events including this weekend in Escanaba. This is one you won’t want to be without and it is suitable for all ages.

To order click here: Amazon

Here are some early reviews of the new book:

“With his book Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, historian Mikel B. Classen has achieved a work of monumental importance. Drawing from his collection of archival photographs, Classen takes readers on a journey in time that gives rare insight into a vanished world.” —Sue Harrison, international bestselling author of The Midwife’s Touch

Mikel Classen’s Faces, Places, and Days Gone By provides a fascinating and nostalgic look at more than a century of Upper Michigan photography. From images of iron mines and logging to Sunday drives and palatial hotels, you are bound to be in awe of this chance to visit the past.” — Tyler R. Tichelaar, award-winning author of Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man

“Mikel Classen’s new book, Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, belongs in every library in Michigan. And when I say every library, I’m talking about every public, high school and college storehouse of knowledge.” — Michael Carrier, MA, New York University, author of the award-winning Jack Handler U.P. mystery series.

To order click here: Amazon

Rudyard Kipling Leaves His Mark on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Rudyard Kipling

Across its history, the Upper Peninsula has had many famous and distinguished visitors to the region. Like today, the U.P. has always been an attraction to visitors and tourists. From Mackinac Island to Pictured Rocks. From Copper Country to the resorts of Delta County, visitors have come to view the wonders for nearly 200 years. Great steamships and passenger railroads once traveled to and across the peninsula. Before highways, these were the only ways to travel.

In 1889, Rudyard Kipling embarked on a trip from New York to San Francisco. He would have been about 30 years old and early in his writing career.  He had a couple of very successful books  under his belt, including Soldiers Three which contained the monumental tale of Gunga Din. The Jungle Book would be released the next year.

A leg of this journey brought Kipling through the U.P. on the Soo Line railroad. One of his early stops was at a budding logging town in Chippewa County. Though referred to as Pine River at the time, it had caused confusion because there was another place already in Michigan called Pine River. Instead, Soo Line General Manager named Fred Underwood, who was an avid Kipling fan, was travelling with him, suggested that the town be named after their illustrious passenger, so Pine River became Rudyard, the name it still bears today.

Proceeding east through Manistique and onwards past the Rapid River, Kipling stopped at another logging community. When he asked Underwood what the name of it was, he was told it didn’t have one yet. It would be dubbed Kipling.  The credit to applying Kipling’s name to the two towns goes to Underwood who had the right to name stops on the line in his position as General Manager. Many past historians have claimed there is no evidence that Kipling ever came through the U.P.  I disagree. When Kipling was informed by Underwood that the towns had been named after him he was quite flattered and requested pictures of both places.  “I write to beg you to send me a photograph if possible, of either Rudyard or Kipling or preferentially both.  I shall take a deep interest in their little welfares.”

Kipling dubbed them his “sons in Michigan.” He even included a poem which is reprinted below.

KIPLING’S MICHIGAN TWINS

“Wise is the child who knows his sire”
The ancient proverb ran
But wiser far the man who knows
How, where and when his offspring grows
For who the mischief would suppose
I’ve sons in Michigan?

Yet am I saved from midnight ills
That warp the soul of man
They do not make me walk the floor
Nor hammer on the doctor’s door
They deal in wheat and iron-ore
My sons in Michigan

Oh! Tourist in the Pullman car
(By Cook’s or Raymond’s plan)
Forgive a parent’s partial view
But may be you have children too
So let me introduce to you

My sons in Michigan

-Rudyard Kipling, poem reprinted from wikipedia

 

The poem itself mentions the view from the “Pullman Car.”

In 1922, after publishing a book of local history, the town of Rudyard sent Kipling a copy. He responded with a letter which seems to confirm his time in the Upper Peninsula. The letter sent to the town of Rudyard from Kipling in 1923 has Kipling recalling memories from his time spent in the U.P.!

““I have not been in Michigan since a trifle more than thirty years ago, and in those days big stretches of the State were hardly settled up, and the trade at the small stores in Schoolcraft county, if I recollect aright, was nearly all barter. There certainly did not seem to be any prospect of hay for export in those days and it is hard to realize that all the lumber round you must be cleared by now.” (15 January 1923: British Library).

Schoolcraft County is where most of his trip would have travelled between Rudyard and Kipling. This letter leaves little doubt he was in the U.P. 30 years previously. His description of the region is accurate and his mention specifically of Schoolcraft County leaves little doubt to his one time presence. His name lives on with the namesake communities that still exist today, though Kipling (the town) is but a shadow of itself.

More about Rudyard Kipling here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudyard_Kipling

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rudyard-Kipling

https://www.biography.com/authors-writers/rudyard-kipling

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1907/kipling/biographical/

 

A Historical Trip to Mackinac Island – 1893

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island in 1893. It still looks pretty much the same to this day.

I recently came across a group of pictures from a trip to Mackinac Island in 1893. They were very nicely dated and location labeled. That is where it stopped. No one in these pictures are named unfortunately.

Taking the trip across the Straits in 1893.

Like we still do today, taking a boat across the Straits to get to Mackinac Island is a fun adventure. The women on this trip don’t look that happy. I wonder how many pins they needed to keep those hats on.

Finding some leisure time on one of the cottage porches.

A relaxing afternoon on the porch, these ladies are ready to enjoy the Island lifestyle.  Dressed at the height of fashion, they seem ready for a Mackinac social event. Or maybe a walk around the Island. Possibly have a picnic.

Picnicking Victorian style.

No trip to Mackinac Island is complete without a picnic or two. Whether it is 1893 or now, it is or should be an important part of a visit. I love how the ladies in the picture are drinking out of china cups.

Arch Rock is an iconic limestone formation that has endured the weather as far back as memory goes.

Mackinac Island’s incredible beauty won it the distinction of being our second National Park and then Michigan’s first State Park. Arch Rock in 1893 looks much like the Arch Rock we see today. All across the island are beautiful rock formations that  are the stuff of legends out of the mists of time.

Another porch shot of this group of ladies on Mackinac Island

After a day of exploring, it’s time to relax back at the cottage. Easing back with a fresh breeze across the Straits, is always an exhilarating way to end a day or visit to the Island of Mackinac.

For more information about Mackinac Island, check out these links:

https://www.mackinacisland.org

https://mackinac.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mackinac_Island

Coming Soon! My New Book: Faces,Places and Days Gone By a Pictorial History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

The new cover for my book Faces, Places and Days Gone By, a Pictorial History of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

This new book will be released in the next few weeks. If you are a fan of the historical pictures I post on this site, this book is for you. I have opened up my collection of Upper Peninsula historical pictures to share with my readers over 100 rare glimpses into the U.P.’s past. Here’s what is already being said about the book:

Enjoy a Visual Trip to See How People Lived and Worked in the U.P. in
Centuries Past!

Classen’s pictorial history is the next best thing to a time machine, as we get a front-row seat in the worlds of shipping and shipwrecks, iron and copper mining, timber cutting, hunting and fishing and the everyday lives of ordinary folks of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula across more than 100 years. Faces, Places, and Days Gone By peers into our past through the lenses of those that lived and explored it. See what they saw as time passed and how the U.P. evolved into the wonderous place we know today.
From the author’s unique collection, witness newly restored images from long lost stereoviews, cabinet cards, postcards and lithograph engravings. Join us on a visual journey to relive some of those moments, and discover a unique heritage through those faces and places. From the Soo to Ironwood, from Copper Harbor to Mackinaw Island–you’ll never see the U.P. in quite the same way!

With his book Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, historian Mikel B. Classen has achieved a  work of monumental importance. Drawing from his collection of archival photographs, Classen takes readers on a journey in time that gives rare insight into a vanished world. — Sue Harrison, international bestselling author of The Midwife’s Touch.

Mikel Classen’s Faces, Places, and Days Gone By provides a fascinating and nostalgic look at more than a century of Upper Michigan photography. From images of iron mines and logging to Sunday drives and palatial hotels, you are bound to be in awe of this chance to visit the past. — Tyler R. Tichelaar, award-winning author of Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man

Mikel Classen’s new book, Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, belongs in every library in
Michigan. And when I say every library, I’m talking about every public, high school and college storehouse of knowledge. — Michael Carrier, MA, New York University, author of the award-winning Jack Handler U.P. mystery series

It is my hope that everyone will enjoy these images of days gone by as much as I do. This edition is volume 1 for what I hope to be a continuing series so that others might enjoy having this collection too.

Grand Sable Falls and Dunes – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Grand Marais, MI

Grand Sable Falls in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Marais. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

Grand Sable Falls is located on the eastern end of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Though it is not the largest waterfall in the park, it’s beauty makes it one of the park’s premier sights. The falls are located a mile west of Grand Marais off H-58, a well marked parking lot is the trail head. The walk to the falls is short and not difficult. The 168 steps to the bottom provide different views of the falls on the way down and from here can be seen this 75 foot cascade in its entirety. The stream is surrounded by hardwoods of Maple and Aspen adding to the falls’ ever changing look with the seasons. This is an incredible autumn destination. During the Summer, look closely, Trillium and Lady Slippers can be spotted in the forest.

Trillium in Black & White. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

This has always been a special place and marks the beginning of the massive Grand Sable Sand dunes. A small walk from the bottom of the falls to the beach, just a few yards, awaits one of the most spectacular views on all of Lake Superior.  Standing there looking up at the immense sand dunes that stretch in an arc to Au Sable Point 15 miles away, is a moment worth walking to. As a suggestion, walk the shore back to Grand Marais from here. It’s a great alternative to the stair climb.

Lady Slippers are one of the wildflower wonders of the U.P.  Photograph by Mikel B. Classen.

The eastern end of Pictured Rocks gets much less traffic than the west end at Munising. Grand Sable Falls is one of the overlooked attractions at the National Park. Missing this is a big mistake. This is a must-see for any trip into Grand Marais.

Historical Picture of Grand Sable Falls with visitors. Today, there are stairs. People and photographer unknown. From Mikel B Classen historical pictures collection

Special Note: This attraction is located within the National Park. It was announced that the National Park Service (NPS) would be instituting fees or requiring passes for park visitors beginning this year. At this moment it is unclear what that will be and how this will affect visitors to Sable Falls. I advise stopping into the NPS visitor’s center first to learn what the requirements are if any. Access has always been free and open before.

Where Grand Sable Creek meets Grand Sable Dunes at the shore of Lake Superior. Photograph by Mikel B. Classen

Historical Houghton’s Ambassador Restaurant – Houghton – Michigan

The outside of the Ambassador, like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, quiet and unassuming on the outside, but step through the door and a different and unexpected world is revealed.

Houghton, Michigan in the Keweenaw Peninsula is easily one of the truly  historical cities in Michigan if not the midwest. Just driving down the streets takes one back 130 years. If it wasn’t for the cars, there wouldn’t be much difference. Many of the buildings are over a century old and still stand, used for businesses to this day.

Inside, many of the old buildings, the interiors have been modernized, but one is a marvelous step back into time. The Ambassador Restaurant is worth going to, simply to see the inside. It is colorful and antique while providing wonderful views. It is a place where the old town still lingers.

When walking into the Ambassador the colored lights and murals give a sense of wonder when coming through the door.

Built in 1898, the brick building is one block east of the Houghton Lift Bridge. From the outside, it almost seems like just any other place, but when you open the door, you step into a showcase of stained glass, murals, and woodwork. The back wall is lined with windows that provide expansive views of the Portage Canal, the Houghton Lift Bridge, and the city of Hancock, topped by the Quincy Mine hoist protruding into the skyline.

The back wall of the Ambassador is mostly window. The Houghton Lift Bridge can be seen through the window and the Jail Guard panel of the 3rd mural can be seen.

Though stained glass decorates the Ambassador throughout, it is the murals that adorn the walls and ceiling that capture the attention. The murals were originally painted as large oils on canvas and were commissioned by Joseph Bosch owner of the Bosch Breweries which were located in Houghton and Lake Linden. They were painted by a Mr. Rohrbeck and hung in the Bosch Brewery for several years. Eventually they came down and were hung in a bar that was east of the Ambassador called the Giltedge Bar.  Prohibition struck and the murals were taken down and stored away. The Ambassador was a known speakeasy during Prohibition called Hole in the Wall.

This is the first mural which appears above the bar. The gnomes are brewing their beer.

When prohibition was repealed, saloons reopened or at least brought cocktails out of the closet, and began remodeling and redecorating  the bars around town where the murals were rediscovered. Their next home was the Ambassador where they are now. The date of this is unsure, but it is believed it was in the 40s during a remodel.

This is the second mural that is across from the bar. The party is rolling and the drinking is heavy. Below it some of the stained glass windows are visible.

If looked at in the proper order, they tell a story. The first depicts gnomes brewing beer. They are stirring it up in a large cauldron like a witches brew. The second mural has the gnomes drinking the beer and partying hardy. The third shows them the morning after, hungover and spent, wiped out by their night drinking. A guard is outside so their drunk has ended with the lot of them locked up. This last mural has three separate panels and covers most of the west wall  in the dining room. The artwork is superb and it is done with an obvious sense of humor.

This is the third mural which adorns the dining room wall. It is actually three panels, but it is so big i could only fit the middle one into a picture. The jailer panel can be seen in another picture.

The Ambassador is a restaurant that has also won some accolades. Back in the 60’s they developed their own pizza recipe and has since won a place in Pizza Magazine’s Pizza Hall of Fame. Personally, I never knew there was such a thing. But hey, who am I to argue, the food is excellent and not overpriced.

The bar back wall, the Portage Canal can be seen through the windows as well as more of the stained glass above them.

Never been here? That needs to be fixed. Any trip to the Houghton area and Copper Country, should include a stop here. It is a taste of “old” U.P. that is so much more than just a meal. I stop here and have a beer just to look at the place. It never gets old.

There’s even a poem about the Ambassador:

COME FILL A BUMPER

On or about nineteen hundred and two, Mr. Rohrbeck was given a job to do.
With brushes in hand and gnomes in his head, he created the masterpiece on the wall above.
First home for the paintings was the old Giltedge Bar, east of here, but not too far.
Streets were of dirt, sidewalks of wood, hitching posts for horses, business was good.
Beer for a nickel, whiskey for a dime, sandwiches a quarter any old time.
Prohibition was next, and became the law, the Ambassador, a speakeasy, called “Hole in the Wall”
Paintings were rolled and stored away, for twelve long years in the dust they lay.
At last came nineteen thirty-three, the law was repealed and Bacchus was free.
Saloons and taverns opened their doors, folks danced, sang, and drank spirits once more.
The old bar was hauled out of its storage place, and the paintings were hung on the walls they now grace.
The artist, long gone, would be proud if he knew, that folks still enjoy them as much as they do.

 

Poem above taken from the Ambassador’s website. For more information about the Ambassador Restaurant, go to their website at https://theambassadorhoughton.com/

This mural is a small one near the door at the entrance to the restaurant.

Vintage Motorcycle Photos from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

An early motorcyclist cruises through Manistique. I love the early biker clothing and the bike looks like an Indian.

I don’t have many of these, unfortunately. It is a very rare thing when I come across early vintage pictures of motorcycles here in the Upper Peninsula. As a biker, I personally enjoy early pictures like these and consider them a treasure when I find them. I currently have two which are quite fun. I thought I’d post them so everyone can get a smile.

The top picture was taken in Manistique and I believe the motorcycle is an Indian. I can’t positively identify it, so if someone can confirm this, I would appreciate it. This was taken as a postcard which has no date.

In the second picture there is a young girl wishing she could go for a spin on a vintage Harley Davidson. The name on the tank is clearly visible. This is from an album of vintage photos from Ishpeming. This little gem is a favorite of mine. We have all had that look on our faces the moment we sat on a motorcycle.

 

An Ishpeming girl tries an early Harley on for size. Looks like a pretty good fit. I’ll always wonder if she ever got to take it out.

I thought these would be fun since summer is upon us and the time of year to enjoy our motorcycles is now. Ride safely and be careful out there.

Video – Mikel Classen talks about his U.P. Notable Book – Points North

This is a recent video of me talking about my book Points North. It is a bit rough because my zoom hookup was sketchy. I did this for the U.P. Notable Books Club that is administered through the Crystal Falls, Michigan Library.  It gets into a lot of the background on the book and some of the stories from the writing of this kind of book. People in this video are Myself, Evelyn Gathu, Crystal Falls Librarian and Victor Volkman, President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association, UPPAA.

To know more about UPPAA and the U.P. Notable Books go here: http://uppaa.org

A Walk Among Giants – Estivant Pines – Copper Harbor – Michigan

We all like to take a walk in the woods. Trees towering over our heads and the wonderful smell of pine needles as the sun fights through the dense leaves creating the dappled light of the deep forest, is unlike anything else. Then add in some of the oldest trees in the Midwest, the legendary White Pines that were sought to near extinction by the lumbering companies. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is such a place.

The Keweenaw Peninsula has no shortage of trees, their presence is everywhere their roots can gain a hold. Tall pines and oaks line the ridges and valleys throughout. Though breathtaking in their own right, 150 years ago much of the forest was removed for the progress of man and very little of the original forest remains. What we see now is the offsprings of the original wilderness. But, in a tract of land near Copper Harbor, Michigan, a small part of that original wilderness remains.

The Estivant Pines is one of the last stands of old growth pines left in the State of Michigan. Deep within the 500 acre tract which is administered by the Michigan Nature Association, are the much sought after towering old White Pines. There is a double loop trail that winds beneath these monsters of the wilderness making this walk in the woods unforgettable.

The first trail loop is 1 mile long and is called the Cathedral Grove loop. This hike goes through hardwoods and then meanders through 500 year old giant White Pines. Some of them are 125 feet tall. It is hard to comprehend the majesty of these trees until one is standing beneath them, looking up seemingly touching the sky.

The second loop, the Bertha Daubendiek Memorial Loop is 1.2 miles long. Bertha was the founder of the Michigan Nature Association. Pine, maple and oak grow along this trail with one of the pines having germinated as far back as 1695. Hiking both trails is about 2.5 miles, none of which is very rough. There are some ups and downs, but not overly strenuous.

Other attractions of the Estivant Pines is over 85 identified species of birds make the tract their home. This place is a bird watchers paradise. Also, this is a hiking only trail so meeting vehicles on the trail such as bicycles, isn’t happening here. There has been a recent boom in bicycling in Copper Harbor and many of the trails around the area are now multi-use.

To get to the Estivant Pines, drive to Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Copper Harbor, turn on 2nd street. This road will turn into Manganese Road. Follow this for 1.2 miles. On the left just out of Copper Harbor is Manganese Falls, it is well worth checking out. Turn left on Clark Mine Road. Public access to Lake Manganese is to the right, a beautiful spring fed lake, also worth checking out. Continue on Clark Mine Road for approximately 1.2 miles and turn right on Burma Road. Another half mile and you are at the parking area for the Estivant Pines.

This tract of land was originally owned by Edward Estivant who was from Paris, France. It was originally 2400 acres when Estivant purchased it. He eventually sold it to the Calumet Hecla Mining Company in 1947. Then in 1968 it went to the Universal Oil Company who purchased the land for logging and proceeded to cut 300 acres of it. The Michigan Nature Association stepped in and bought 200 acres of the remaining old growth in hopes of preserving a small portion of it. Local citizens worked with them to raise funds and organized a “Save the Pines” campaign. Even local school kids fund raised. In 1973 the Estivant pines was created. Since then more of the tract has been purchased and over 500 acres of the original 2400 is now in the hands of the Michigan nature Association.

The Estivant Pines is open to hiking and snowshoeing. This is a day use area, so there is no overnight camping of any kind. There is no cost to hike other than time. It is a worthwhile experience to walk among these old giants and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked while in the Copper Harbor area.

For more information, here are some websites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estivant_Pines

https://www.michigan.org/property/estivant-pines-nature-sanctuary

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/estivant-pines-loop

My book Points North reviewed by Midwest Book Review

I received a note that pointed me to a review of my book Points North. It was from the Midwest Book Review and written by Carolyn Wilhelm. I really thought it was nice so I wanted to share it here.

Oh, this book helped me reminisce about the days when I could do primitive camping, hear loons, see wildlife, go canoeing, and enjoy the outdoors with relative privacy. It covers history, fishing, boating, hiking, walking, camping, with detailed location information in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.). How many camping spots, a few or many? Tents only, or are recreational vehicles allowed? Are canoes or motorboats allowed? Is the fishing good? Is the park or camping area away from roads and noise? Where should a family go for a good day trip? What animals are usually seen around the campsites? Is it a good location for photographers? Where do the seniors stay? Are there accessible trails for those who need them? Where can people who want a grueling climb and a sense of accomplishment find a spot for that type of exercise?

Details like this are usually only known by locals. This illustrated travel guide lets us in on these secrets not usually shared to have the best vacation possible for a single day or longer. Classen must have spent many years experiencing all the U.P. offers and kindly shares this off the beaten path information.

Carolyn Wilhelm, Reviewer
Wise Owl Factory LLC
https://www.thewiseowlfactory.com

Points North is an award winning book; Best Independent Publication 2020 – Historical Society of Michigan, U.P. Notable Book – Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association; that details 40 different destinations across all areas of the U.P. To purchase Points North, click here.

Red Jacket / Calumet – Faces of the U.P.’s Past – 03/28/22

In my collection of old photos, I occasionally come across portrait style pictures, Unfortunately many of these are unidentified and we don’t know who these individuals are.  Maybe somewhere along the way, someone may know who these individuals are. The first picture was a lucky one because we have part of the name for these three ladies. The back of the photo says “These ladies probably were Lypsinmaas.” of all of the pictures on this page, it is the only one that has some form of identification.

What this does do, is give us a look into the faces that walked the streets of Red Jacket / Calumet in the 1880s and 90s. Walking along the streets one could easily encounter any one of these folks going about their daily business. The second picture is completely unknown though by looking at their faces, it appears that they are related. My guess would be brothers but it is impossible to be sure. It does illustrate the importance of labeling photographs  of families. We don’t normally think of ourselves as historical but as time moves on all things become historical by their representations of days and people gone by.

The next picture, which is a typical Red Jacket couple, seem to be economically reasonably well off. If nothing else we know they are probably wearing their “Sunday best.” Most of the locals worked in the copper mines where the companies paid low wages and worked long endless days of hard labor. The early days of living on the Keweenaw were hard and cold, yet Red Jacket / Calumet thrived with art and culture. A dozen nationalities converged on the region all in pursuit of wealth from the copper deposits. Cornish, Irish, Italians, Finns, Swedes, and Slavs, all became the backbone of the copper community of the Keweenaw.

Like many communities, there were those that put on uniforms. Our fourth picture shows an unknown soldier from Red Jacket / Calumet. (For those that are unaware, Red Jacket is the original name of the town of Calumet. Calumet was the original name of Laurium. In the 1920s, they moved the name of Calumet to Red Jacket and Calumet became Laurium.) Not being an expert of the military, I’m not sure what this uniform is from. I believe he has a bayonet holder on his belt. It is his English style bobby hat he has next to him that has me guessing. It would be really great to put a name to this guy. Actually it would be really great to put a name to any of these pictures.

As I stated earlier, these are all people that one would have met on the streets during daily life. This last picture shows a pair of unknown women that still seem to have an old world connection. The embroidery on the dress of the woman on the right seems Scandinavian or Slavic. It is hard to tell if they are related. These pictures are around 150 years old. They depict the faces of those that came to one of the harshest places on Earth to establish their places in the American Dream. These are the pioneers of the Upper Peninsula. These are the faces of the U.P.’s past.

Pictures courtesy of the Mikel B. Classen Collection of Historical Pictures

O-Kun-de-Kun Waterfall – Ontonagon County – Bruce Crossing – Michigan

Across the Upper Peninsula there are dozens of waterfalls, all worth seeing, all spread across the peninsula giving virtually every county their own. Waterfalls are a staple of the U.P. scenery and bring countless sightseers to the area annually. O-Kun-de-Kun Falls in Ontonagon County is not only one of those “must see” U.P. Waterfalls, it is one of the easiest to access.

O-Kun-de-Kun falls is located approx. eight miles north of Bruce Crossing on U.S. 45. There is a parking lot located on the east side of the road where the trail head begins. Don’t blink, you’ll miss it. The hike back to the falls is only a little over a mile on a trail that is very well made and is a portion of the North Country Trail. Maintenance of this trail is ongoing and is an easy hike. The 1.3 miles goes quickly and the walk is over before one realizes it.

As a hiker approaches the falls it is important to know there are two sets of falls. There is an upper and a lower set of cataracts. The upper falls will be the first one along the trail. It is well below the trail and is not easy to get to. There is a foot trail, but it is steep.

This is the O-Kun-de-Kun upper falls. Not easy to get to, but worth a look just the same.

Though very beautiful to see, the upper falls isn’t what the trail actually leads to. It is the lower falls that most come to see. Following the trail further will get you there. The trail follows the Baltimore River for a few more hundred yards. The lower falls will be on the right, they are impossible to miss.

O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls, a close look shows a photographer behind the falls shooting a picture.

The lower falls is the easiest to reach and it is large enough to go behind. There are no fences, just a great place to see a waterfall. If by some chance the falls are missed by a hiker, there is a suspension bridge that crosses the river. This is the point of going too far and are past the falls. The bridge does provide a beautiful view of the lower falls and is an excellent place to get pictures from.

The suspension bridge across the Baltimore River. This was taken from the top of the O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls.

O-Kun-de-Kun waterfall is one of the premier sights of the Upper Peninsula. Named after an Ojibwa chief, there are few hikes with easier access than this one. Though it isn’t the largest water fall in Michigan, it is one that has its own character and beauty.

For more information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ottawa/recarea/?recid=12359

https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/michigan/o-kun-de-kun-falls-loop

O-Kun-de-Kun lower falls on a nice summer day.

 

Bayliss Library – Sault Ste. Marie – Michigan – Historical Display

The display I created in the entrance case at Bayliss Library

For those of you that like the history that I post, must realize I have a sizable collection of Upper Peninsula historical items. Many of these are pictures that often are posted here, but I do have other items as well as some picture haven’t made it here yet.

2022 Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country

Here’s a chance to check some of these items out. In conjunction with the Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country, at Bayliss Library here in the Sault, I have displayed some Copper Country history in the glass case at the entrance of Bayliss Library.

Stereoview pictures of the Italian hall Disaster in Calumet, shipwreck and local scenes.

These will be on display throughout the month of February. If you are in the Sault, stop by the library and take a look.

The General Store in Eagle Harbor, Michigan

This is one of the only times I’ve put some of these in front of the public. For more information on Bayliss Library, go here: https://www.sdl.michlibrary.org/our-locations-and-hours/bayliss-public-library

Pictures of shipping copper during the copper boom.

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 – 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 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.

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.

 

Lake Superior Transit Company – Luxury Cruises Lost To Time

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.

The Rise and Fall of Lac La Belle, the Hidden Gem of Copper Country

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.

For more information on Lac La Belle and the opportunities it offers go here: https://www.keweenaw.info/keweenaw-peninsula/lac-la-belle/

The evening sunset colors the sky around Mt. Bohemia which watches over the lake below.

How Christmas, Michigan Got Its Name

It’s always Christmas in Christmas. A true tale of the U.P.

The old Christmas sign. It was removed a couple of years ago.

            Christmas belongs to the Upper Peninsula. It’s all ours. Not the holiday.. the town… Christmas, Michigan. It’s been ours for eighty years and it always will be. Christmas (the town) is where Christmas (the holiday) is on display  all year ’round and all the trappings of the season are never all taken down, because, in Christmas (the town), Christmas (the holiday), brings visitors there all year to investigate the place that is named for the most celebrated holiday in the world.

            If one were setting out to name a town after this particular holiday, there is no better location for it. Christmas looks the part… not only from a man-made aspect, but from a geographical standpoint as well.

            Upon entering Christmas, especially during the winter, it looks like a vision of the North Pole. Christmas is three miles west of Munising in the middle of a snow belt. Since it is also on the Lake Superior shoreline, winter weather conditions can get very severe. Although it isn’t really the North Pole, it certainly could be an outpost.

            In the center of town there are reproductions of Santa and Mrs. Claus with a large north pole post beside them. Businesses reflect the spirit of the communities name and follow along with the theme- such as Mrs.. Klaus’ cabins and Foggy’s Bar that features the “Reindeer Room”.

            Christmas is a quiet place but there is still plenty to do. There is a Cross-country ski trail and snowmobile trail for winter activities as well as two nightspots and a casino. There are several motels and resorts that offer cabins for visitors. In the warmer seasons, there is everything to do that can be found in a lakeshore town including a nice park and Bay Furnace campgrounds. A newer business is the Paddler’s Village, a camping/ yurt experience on Lake Superior for paddler’s. Tourism is a staple income for the area and Christmas is no exception. It is an excellent destination point with a novel theme.

            Before Christmas was Christmas, it was known as the Bay Furnace and designated the town of Onota. Beginning in 1869, there were immense furnace structures along the shore of Lake Superior where they would smelt iron from the Ishpeming iron range. There was a1400 foot dock for the ships to moor to as the came and went with the smelted iron. Over 50 kilns would be in operation at Bay Furnace’s peak. Thousands of tons of Pig iron were smelted in these furnaces.

Bay Furnace today restored in the Bay Furnace campground

            In 1870 the town received a post office, designated “Onota.” The town would see a population of 500 by the time it peaked in 1877. It was during that summer, when a dry spell made the surrounding woods volatile. A fire began that burned for several days and at one point it swept down on Onota destroying it and all of the kilns. It was the end of Onota, or so it seemed, the name was moved 15 miles to the west to Onota township. Bay Furnace remained all but forgotten. The Bay Furnace company had been going bankrupt before the fire and the demise of the Bay Furnace operations seems to be a blessing in disquise.

               Christmas (the town) came into being a little over eighty years ago in 1939 when a local individual decided to start a Christmas product oriented factory and call it “Christmas Industries.” Julius Thorson, a retired state conservation officer, bought the land and had the property registered under his business name of Christmas at the Alger County Records Office. The section always appeared in the plat books under the name of “Christmas” so the area simply retained the name.

            The industry was short lived and burned down the next year and was never rebuilt, but the name stayed on the plat maps. From there the name stuck with the small community. Thorson had originally planned to establish an elaborate tourist complex on the land he had purchased, but the factory was the only part of the plan that materialized.

            At the same time, a beaver farmer named Walter Giedrojc had a profitable farming venture going on. During prohibition, he augmented his furry occupation by bootlegging bathtub booze on the side, selling it out of the back door of his home. When prohibition ended, he went legitimate and converted his home into a tavern and named it “Beaver Park.” the building still functions as a tavern (and restaurant) now known as Foggy’s.

            Development of Christmas (the town) as a resort area was brought about by a John Borbot and his sister Evelyn when they dismantled a nightclub in Dollarville in 1939 and reconstructed it at Christmas (the town). and called it the Knotty Klub. It was officially the first business in town and was followed by motels, gift shops, two grocery stores, restaurant, and another bar.

            For tourists, the town of Christmas became another destination point just down the road from Pictured Rocks. The Christmas (the holiday) name and theme has drawn people to it time and time again, to enjoy the ambiance the little town offered that reminded visitors that every day could be Christmas (the holiday). The idea has worked well throughout the past 80 years, although it had its ups and downs.                                      

In July of 1966, Christmas (the town) received a postal substation which officially designated it as a town. When the substation opened on July 8, there was a rush from stamp collectors from all over the world to get first-day cancellations on stamps from Christmas. That November, when the postal service issued its five-cent Christmas (the holiday) stamp, there was a big ceremony with local politicians attending and an official dedication of the post office was held. The Christmas (the holiday) stamp with the Christmas (the town) cancellation was quite a collectors item.

            When it was determined that Christmas would actually become a town, a controversy arose over who had actually named the area. Was it actually Julius Thorson, or was it George Mitchell, the man who was also behind Christmas Industries? George Mitchell was involved with Thorson in the ill-fated project. His actual role in the business has been obscured by time, but it has been determined that he was either the money behind the project or the man Thorson hired to run it. Different accounts state different opinions.

            When the Christmas stamp was issued with the first Christmas cancellation, Mitchell, who was a stamp collector and dealer in Homestead, Florida, perpetuated the rumor by claiming, in Florida, that he had named the town “Christmas.” He told his story to one of the Florida newspapers and word filtered north of his claims. It started a debate between local Alger county individuals and historians over who actually registered the name to the Christmas plat.

            Finally, in a letter sent by Mitchell, he conceded that the name had been registered by Thorson and the controversy died down. To this day, though, the first stamp issued in Christmas is quite a collectors item and the publicity that Mitchell received and his dealership surely didn’t hurt his sales in Florida.

            Getting a letter or card cancelled in the town of Christmas at this time of year has become a big tradition and every year, thousands of people receive mail containing one of these stamps. Even local businesses offer personalized letters from Santa with, of course, the now famous Christmas seal of authenticity

            The people who live in Christmas (the town) celebrate the holiday Christmas, just like anyone else-with their family and friends, but the holiday is never far from their thoughts. It is a tradition that is capitalized on all year, and that isn’t at all bad. Many people try to keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year long and the people of Christmas certainly have a head start.

            With their statues, businesses, street names (like Santa Claus Lane etc.), and their sense of fun, it’s always Christmas in Christmas and it’s right here in the U.P. It is a small charismatic little place that, even if you don’t stop, leaves you with a smile and some thoughts about this special holiday, no matter what time of year you visit or pass through there. In Christmas the town, it’s Christmas the holiday, all year long.

Christmas, Michigan Lighthouse.