Pictures courtesy of the Mikel Classen Collection of Historical Pictures
This is an early passenger steamer named “City of Traverse.” This view of the ship shows only ne lock and the river rapids can be seen beyond the ship.
Many old historical ship pictures were taken at the Soo Locks. The close-up vantage point for the bulky photo equipment made it a choice spot for ship photography in the early years.
Whalebacks in the Soo Locks with tugs.
Over the years there have been many kinds of ships that have sailed the Great Lakes. All of them served a valued purpose in their day, though some had some uniquely strange looks. Of course many of these at some point would wind up at the bottom of the lakes, casualties of unexpected storms.
This is a couple of schooners going through the Soo Locks.
From Sailing ships to coal fired steamers, a fascination remains of all of these different types of ships. To this day visitors flock to the Soo Locks for a glimpse of the great ships that still sail the lakes.
This early freighter is called the Zenith City. It would sink not long after this picture.
This is not a by-gone era but one that has evolved through the years. The lake ships of all kinds serve as vital a purpose now as they did in the past.
This picture is of an early wood fired side-wheeler. photos of these are few and far between.
While watching the ships of today, it is also fun to think about the ships of the past, smaller and more susceptible, battling the violent elements of the Great Lakes for their very survival. Some succeeded, many didn’t, ending in tragedy and a watery grave. Requiem for sailors of a different time and men with courage beyond most.
The old buildings at the Whitefish Point Harbor are remains of an era gone by and a village that once was.
Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, Michigan, is known for a lot of things, not the least of which is the shipwrecks like the Edmund Fitzgerald that made the point famous. The lighthouse, which was one of the first on Lake Superior, houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (For more on that, check out my book Points North). Whitefish Point also is the eastern boundary of the legendary Shipwreck Coast. All else seems to have gotten lost.
This is one of the old homesteads from Whitefish Point. One of the few remaining buildings.
Whitefish Point is actually one of the very early fishing villages on Lake Superior. As early as 1840, a small trading post and fish packing operation was set up by Peter Barbeau of Sault Ste. Marie. Barbeau had a general store where he would outfit hardy souls to establish posts along the shoreline on Lake Superior. They traded for furs and barrels of salted whitefish. Barbeau would then ship them out to places like Chicago and the east coast. Barbeau’s trading posts went as far as Minnesota. Whitefish Point was one he paid close attention to.
This old fishing boat sits next to the harbor another relic of the point’s past.
When the lighthouse was established in 1849, fishing here was going hard and heavy. Tons of barrel packed salted fish were being sent to the Sault every year from Whitefish Point. It was a very profitable enterprise. Occassionally the fish wouldn’t be packed right and the fish would spoil leaving Barbeau to smooth out relations and make amends.
This old band saw blade and belt are in the woods near Whitefish Point.
Though many have Whitefish Point’s beginnings at 1879, documents at the Sault plainly show that there was lots of activity here long before 1879, including some logging enterprises. Whitefish Point was used as a resupply point for the logging companies. There was a small population of approx. 60 people. There was a school and hotel. Also a general store and a post office was established. The population grew to 200.
The former Whitefish Point post office as it is today. It its earlier days it had a different front on the building.
One of the local commodities was cranberries. They grow wild in the region and eventually were cultivated. There were more than a dozen growers registered at Whitefish Point. There was a daily stagecoach that ran from there, south to Eckerman. It was a thriving community by all standards. But as time went on, it all faded.
Th Whitefish Point Lighthouse brings thousands of visitors to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum which is housed in the lighthouse buildings.
Because of the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the life saving station, the village’s decline was a slow one. Fishing dwindled to one commercial fishery, Brown’s, which still is in operation. Most of the small town’s remains have disappeared but much of the property associated with the village is in private hands and still occupied as residential. But if one looks carefully, on the east side of Whitefish Point Road, between the harbor and the former post office, hiding in the trees, a few of the remaining relics of Whitefish Point can be seen.
An old fishing boat has seen better days as it sits being buried by the sands of Superior.
A turn into the Whitefish Point Harbor can be very rewarding. The harbor is shared by the State of Michigan and Brown’s Fisheries. There is a fence that divides the public land from the private. Brown’s Fisheries has old boats and buildings that date back to the early days of Whitefish Point and some of it can be seen from the parking lot of the Harbor. A couple of old fishing boats are beached on the shore and old storage barns are there too. It is a snapshot of not only Whitefish Point’s past but commercial fishing on the Great Lakes in general.
For a vision of the past, take a walk out towards the breakwall on the marina walkway. Go out as far as the last dock and turn around and look back. With the old fishing boats and storage buildings, the old dock, an image of the village of Whitefish Point appears, or a small part of it anyway.
The view of Brown’s Fisheries from the marina walkway showing what Whitefish Point would have looked like as a fishing village.
When visiting the lighthouse, it is good to note what was around it. A trip into the shipwreck museum leaves one with the idea that Whitefish Point is all about death and tragedy. It is so much more. It was a tiny place that provided food and lumber for the country in the harshest of conditions. It took people with tenacity and guts to face Lake Superior at its worst and create one of the earliest settlements. The village of Whitefish Point should be remembered alongside of its legendary lighthouse. It has its place in history too.
Historical pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection
Early engraving of a first homestead.
Pictures of early settlers trying to tame the wild country of Upper Michigan is always interesting to me. I don’t have many of these early settler pictures but I thought I could put up a few of my favorites. Some have focus issues as with many old cameras, but they are still glimpses into that rough and rugged past.
This is an old homestead that was near Marquette.
Some of these old picture show some form of home life. We are so used to modern conveniences and technology, seeing these old pictures shows just how rough life was. It is good that the days of mud, muck, and manure are past. Some things of the modern age are not over-rated, hot water, lawn mowers, garden tillers, all products of trying to ease this harsh life.
This was located near the Sault on the Michigan side. It is the home of an Ojibwa family.
Often we over-romanticize the past, casting aside the many realities of life on a homestead. Everyday was a chore laden struggle for survival.
This picture was from an old stereoview. This was another from somewhere near Marquette.
The brutal environment, the bugs, the dampness from the marshes, the endless preparation for the next winter, all made living from day to day, an amazing feat.
This is a picture from Manistique that shows an early family. Yes, that is a child sitting among the chickens.
I hope you enjoyed these little windows of settling the U.P.
I was armed with two antique maps and a full tank of gas. How was I to fail? I felt confident as I drove down H-40 which runs through Chippewa and Mackinac counties. It’s a back route that’s between U.S.-2 and M-28. Formerly, it was a railroad route which had a string of towns along its way. Most of them now are gone or shadows of what they once were. The railroad still runs along the highway. The place I was looking for was Wilwin.
The old railroad building that stands at the corner of Wilwin Road. Part of the loading platform is still seen.
About five miles west of Trout Lake are a couple of old buildings marking the entrance to Wilwin Road. The old buildings are the first things to attest to the fact that Wilwin was once there. A railroad siding once ran where Wilwin Road is now bringing lumber to the main railroad trunk from the sawmills of Wilwin.
This old storage building is another of the relics at the corner of Wilwin Road.
I turned up Wilwin Road. The maps were showing the town’s location a couple of miles and then left for a mile or so. Seemed simple enough. I drove passing a couple of houses. The trees started getting thicker and the road began to wind through the woods. I love doing these kinds of drives, but it was beginning to seem like I had gone too far. I should have come across something by now, a clearing or old remnants, but the trail went on and there was no evidence of anything resembling a town site. Now the road was turning to soft sand.
I looked at the road ahead and concluded that I had gone too far and had completely missed the location or maybe a side road that I’d missed. I wasn’t sure, but I knew if I went further, getting stuck was likely. I turned around. Backtracking, I found a turn missed. I started down that road. not far in I came across a burned patch of ground and a small log with smoke coming out of it. (More on that here.) After dousing it with water I went further down the trail and there it was, the site of Wilwin!
The entrance to the Wilwin Lodge, fenced. A large portion of the towns former location is now a Graymont Quarry.
I turned my truck around at the entrance to the Wilwin Lodge, now apparently owned by Graymont, a Canadian cement company. To the south of the road was a large area where the town had one stood. There was nothing left. The old townsite had been cleaned up leaving next to no trace of Wilwin. I expect part of the old town is now Graymont property which is fenced in.
A small portion of Wilwin’s town site is visible along the trail near the gate.
The history of Wilwin is that of a logging town. Its history wasn’t long, but it was fast and furious. The beginning was around 1914 and was founded by a man named Frank Chesborough. The name Wilwin is a contraction of his two sons names William and Elwin. They raised a large sawmill and platted out a community. They bought a train and laid track intersecting with the main line. They built a boarding house along with a store. Single story homes were built to house the sawmill employees. A boardwalk connected it all. The town thrived, they were even selling the bark from the mill to a leather company.
The only signs left that part of a town was even here are the places where the ground is disrupted.
A huge lodge was built. It was reputed to be two storys with a balcony that stretched the length of the building, and full of leaded glass windows that contained nearly 2000 panes. It had a huge kitchen and a living room with fireplaces at both ends. Built by the Chesboroughs it was reputed to be the height of luxury at the time.
Then, in 1921, it was all over. Just seven years had gone by. The price of lumber fell and the costs at the Wilwin mill were too high. As quickly as it had begun, Wilwin was through. The houses were salvaged and removed. Some of them are still homes in Trout Lake and nearby Ozark. All of them and the boarding house were completely removed. The machinery for the sawmill was resold to a company in Dollar Bay in the Keweenaw. The mill itself was burned and then the debris removed. The lodge, as far as I know, still stands somewhere behind the fence put up by Graymont.
The black and white in this picture makes it easier to pick out the outline of where a building once stood.
It was time to head home. I had almost got lost and stuck, put out a potential forest fire and found what I was looking for. I was pleased with that. My day had been successful and eventful. That is always a good day.
Historical Photos from Mikel B. Classen Collection
This is a picture of some men camping out at a place that is still popular for camping to this day, Chapel Beach. Chapel Rock in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be seen in the background.
Going camping back in the late 1800s was a lot different than it is today. There was no Coleman Company, no L.L. Bean, no ergonomic backpacks. And hiking shoes, not a chance. The equipment was heavy and bulky while the wilderness was formidable. The wooden equipment chest in the picture above attests to that.
This group camp was taken north of Marquette at Partridge Island.
The hunting camp shown above was a major project to set up showing that group camping has always been popular. There are both men and women pictured here representing several couples on this particular foray into the woods. It doesn’t appear they are moving on anytime soon.
Individual tent setup along a stream. This was the simple basic way to go. With the stream in the background this looks like a fishing trip.
Even in the early days, the U.P. was recognized for its value as a recreation paradise and fishing and hunting became the staple of the region. People of note began particpating in the sport like Henry Ford and William Coleman. Innovations followed and equipment made specifically for the purpose of portable camping became available. These early campers were the pioneers of an entire industry that today is worth billions.
This is an unidentified camp near Lake Superior. The woodstove pipe coming out of the tent flap is classic.
One thing that is still true, an adventure into the woods is like no other. The wilderness calls many of us and in response we are rewarded with experiences of a lifetime. Whether it is a lake, a stream, a mountain or the deep woods, these places fill a place in our souls that can be filled no other way.
Historical Fishing Pictures from the Upper Peninsula’s Past
Pictures from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection
Native Americans fishing the St. Mary’s River near Sault Ste. Marie.
Fishing has always been a part of basic human survival. Plain and simple, fish are great to eat. Around the world people use fish as a major source of their diet, but, the squirmy things are an awful lot of fun to catch. Fishing here in the U.P., like many places, is ingrained into the culture and as fishing moved from a necessity to a sport, it became even more so.
Fishermen line the Soo Locks as a ship locks through.
Fishing is one of those things that has never changed over the years. You can add all the technology you want to it, but when it comes down to basics, it’s still a stick, a string, and a worm.
When the smelt ran, everybody came out. Dip your net in and it was full of fish.
Of course there are different kinds of fishing, as the picture above illustrates. Smelt dipping was a spring rite of passage for many here in north country. The rivers would be lined with campfires, waiting for the smelt to run. When they finally did, the streams would be full.
Brook Trout fishing on a beaver pond on the backwaters of the Hurricane River. This guy is pretty dapper for being back here.
I’ve always been a fan of Brook Trout fishing. If you are doing it right, it is incredible excersize, but I have to admit that there is nothing as good as pan fried fresh caught Brook Trout.
Fishing the rapids at the St. Mary’s River has been a long tradition. These two are having a great time.
Fishing is a connection to our past. It is something we have in common with our ancestors going back to prehistoric times. It strikes a chord within us that gives a feeling of peace and when the day has success we feel excited and elated. Our fishing experiences stay with us forever. What can be better than that?
by Mikel B. Classen. Photos from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection
Mackinac Island view from the fort during the National Park era.
Every year Mackinac Island is inundated with tourists. The island in St. Ignace Bay has always been a focus of attention. After being the hub of the fur trade, the island saw a decline as fortunes dissapated in the early 1800s. Being on the shipping path of the Great Lakes kept it alive and cruise ships began hitting destinations throughout the lakes and one was Mackinac Island. People started coming just to see it. The natural beauty, the history, it all beaconed visitors to the region.
This is an engraving that shows a very early Mackinac Island.
Not long after the Civil War, a U.S. Senator from Mackinac Island, Thomas Ferry, realized how much potential Mackinac Island had and introduced a bill in 1874 to designate the island as a National Park! It passed. In 1875, Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law and Mackinac Island became the nation’s second National Park after Yellowstone.
What Mackinac Island is truly known for, relaxing and enjoying a day.
One of the interesting things about the bill is that it designated the fort an active facility, so, the Federal government retained the fort with full funding in case it was needed for war. Active duty military at the time would run drills on the fort grounds. Mackinac Island was now a bonafide destination for travellers. In 1895 the fort was decommissioned and the Federal Government was going to pull out. Then, Michigan Governor, John T. Rich, petitioned the Feds to turn over the fort and park to the State of Michigan which they did, making Mackinac Island our first Michigan State Park which is what it is now.
Another “View of the National Park” from the road looking back towards the fort.
All of the photos used in this come from a series called “Views of the National Park.” They came in both cabinet cards and stereoviews. These are examples of the few I was able to find over the years. The engraving came from a History of Mackinac Island published by the National Park. They merchandised the place quite a bit for the time.
This is the view of Mission Point during the National Park era. It still looks the same.
Pictures are from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection except portaging picture from sign.
The State Lock after construction in 1855. It shows how the Native Village was isolated along the St. Mary’s River.
The Soo Locks began in 1855. They were dug so that ships would no longer have to either shoot the St. Mary’s River Rapids, of have the ship portaged through the town of Sault Ste. Marie rolled on logs down what is now Portage Avenue.
This is taken from an interpretive sign down on Water Street in Sault Ste. Marie. This is the only picture I’ve found that depicts the ship portaging through the city.
The St. Mary’s Rapids, sometimes called Falls because there was a drop of 21 feet from the Lake Superior level to Lake Huron river level, was the greatest obstacle to shipping in the upper Great Lakes.
This was taken in 1854 as the State Lock is nearing completion. I believe this to be the earliest picture of the Soo Locks being dug.
The digging of the Locks was an ardous task. There was an attempt in 1839 to build a canal, but it failed miserably and the project was given up. In 1852, another attempt was made, this time sanctioned by the Federal Government and fully funded. Charles T. Harvey was chosen to head the project and he began work with around 400 men . Eventually it would increase to 1700, doubling the population of the Sault. A pump system had to be set up to keep the bottom dry enough to keep working. The route took them through the local Native burial ground! Not an auspicious start for the canal. It was completed in two years. It was a mammoth project.
The gates of the old State Lock. The windlass which opens and closes the gates can be seen in the foreground.
The building of the State Lock was an achievement of engineering that still functions in essentially the same way it did when it was originally built. Though no longer controlled by a hand cranked windlass, the system of rising and lowering the water remains the same. The brilliance and the perseverance of the construction cannot be overstated. Battling water, disease, (cholera outbreak) and weather, the men had to work at sunrise to sunset no matter the weather and when cholera hit, many died where they stood. The completed lock opened in 1855. Suddenly, all of the construction workers and those employed to portage ships through town, were now unemployed creating a local depression. Out of work men were everywhere.
This is taken from an old Stereoview card from 1856. The three mast schooner is locking up on its way to brave Lake Superior.
In 1881, an additional new lock was built named the Weitzel. Traffic was increasing and a new lock was imperative. The State lock would be rebuilt in 1896 as the 1st Poe Lock.
Tahquamenon Falls Train and Riverboat Tours – Alias “Toonerville Trolley and Tom Sawyer Riverboat Ride
Photos by Mikel B. Classen. Historical pictures courtesy of the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection.
The Toonerville Trolley waiting at the dock for the Riverboat Hiawatha.
As long as I can remember, the Toonerville Trolley and the Tahquamenon Falls Riverboat Tours has been at Soo Junction 15 miles east of Newberry. There is a reason for that. The business is much older than I am. Since 1927, there has been a train and riverboat tour running from Soo Junction to the picturesque Tahquamenon Falls. This perennial U.P. attraction is nearly 100 years old!
Sailing on the Tahquamenon River is full of wonderful views of the river and the thick wilderness that surrounds it.
The train and riverboat tour has been a staple of tourists and locals over these many years and is continuing into the future. As a kid and an adult, I have enjoyed every minute of this excursion. The staying power of this method of getting to the Tahquamenon Falls, proves that I am not the only one.
One of the views of Tahquamenon Falls from the Riverboat Tours destination.
First, the Toonerville Trolley, a short track train that takes a rider through the Tahquamenon wilderness to the famed river. It is a 1/2 hour ride back to the Tahquamenon River and the waiting steamboat. The train ride is leisurely and fun. As the cars are pulled through the woods, there is a very good chance of seeing a bear. They throw food off the back of the train bringing them in, though both times I’ve taken the train in last few years, I haven’t seen one. I know many who have.
Early days of Toonerville Trolley around 1940. It looks much the same today.
This little train started as a spur around the turn of the century and was used for hauling lumber from the Tahquamenon River which was a major thoroughfare for logging. There was a sawmill set up on the shore in the spot where the train meets the riverboat. The mill ran until about 1925 when it was permanently shut down. A man by the name of Joe Beach, who was a conservation officer, used to run daily river patrols of the Tahquamenon River from Newberry. It was a 14 hour trip to the Falls and back. Since the only way to access the Falls was by river, the State Park that most use today didn’t exist, Beach was often asked to take people with him so they could see this wonder of nature. An idea was born. He would start a tour business, but he would need to shorten the time on the water.
The train in the early 1960’s
He remembered the short line at Soo Junction and was able to lease the line which was not being used any more. He created a contraption that would run the rails out of an old Ford Model T. It ran the rails back into old sawmill location where now a small boat was waiting to take passengers to the Falls. As business flourished and the number of passengers increased, they decided to install a narrow gauge railroad which were quite common for logging and mining. In 1933, they laid the narrow tracks inside the wide tracks and the Toonerville Trolley was born. The name Toonerville trolley came from a popular cartoon strip called Toonerville Folks, many of the passengers referred to it as a Toonerville Trolley and the name stuck.
The Riverboat “Tahquamenon.” This was the flagship of the Tahquamenon River Tours – 1940
Riding the riverboat is an awesome experience. Not only does it take you to the falls and a view you can’t get from Tahquamenon Falls State Park, but the ride is pleasant and comfortable. The trip is narrated by the Captain pointing out not only points of historical interest, but tales from the past wild days of the Tahquamenon and even points out any wildlife that is being encountered by the boat. The Tahquamenon River abounds with wildlife, especially water birds.
The Paul Bunyan, the smaller of the two ships, the pair would pass on the river running two tours in a day.
The riverboat ride continues a tradition that began with Joe Beach, but continues on in the same tradition. At first, the riverboat was only a barge and a tug, but they could take nearly 100 passengers. In 1937, they had a large boat built that would be dubbed the Tahquamenon. It had a capacity of 400 people and included a dance floor and a jukebox. The trip had been shortened by 5 hours and was still a 9 hour trip. In 1940 another boat, the Paul Bunyan, was built and could carry 200 passengers. They were able to run two tours a day with as many as 700 people. It was quite an operation and it ran that way until 1963. The ships were wearing thin, literally, their hulls had worn out. It was time for something new and it came in the form of the Hiawatha. A newer faster ship that could cut the trip to 6 ½ hours. The Hiawatha is still running today.
The Riverboat Hiawatha, the ship that is currently in use on the Tahquamenon River.
It is a comfortable and fun ship. My ride up and down the Tahquamenon was enjoyable. On board there is bathrooms and refreshments. A small grill provides food and munchies for a reasonable price along with beer and wine coolers. The cheeseburgers off this grill are great. (You can bring a pack lunch with you if you want, but why, when the food is great.) There are times I think about taking this just for that reason, but there is so much more. When you arrive at the riverboat dock at Tahquamenon Falls, there is a 5/8 mile hike to where the falls are. (It is NOT handicap accessible.) It is through the woods, up and down a couple of stairwells and you are at the falls. You are on the opposite side of the river from the State Park so the view is very different. You stand there next to the roaring falls feeling the mist and hearing the wild rushing of the water. It is easy to understand why Tahquamenon is called the Niagara Falls of the U.P.
The 5/8 mile hiking trail back to Tahquamenon Falls. Incredible scenery walking this and the woods smell is overwhelming.
This is a worthwhile adventure for the entire family. Currently you can just take the train trip and take advantage of the picnic area on the banks of the Tahquamenon River and then ride the train back. Personally I like to do the whole thing, the train and the riverboat, but since the boat trip is 21 miles and takes 6 ½ hours, it should be considered an all day affair. The train ride is 35 minutes one way. The prices are reasonable and this is the only way, other than personal craft, to see the Tahquamenon River upstream from the falls.
The hike back to the Falls is worth it. This is the view of Tahquamenon Falls as seen on the tour.
There is a reason this trip has lasted this many years, the Tahquamenon is a beautiful river and most of this trip has the appearance of Tahquamenon 100 years ago. It is easy to imagine the Native Americans paddling the river before logging took place. It was a main travel route for them. Taking this boat on an upriver cruise is a tradition that has spanned generations, a tradition that is still carried on. I highly recommend this most wonderful of U.P. attractions.
The docking site at Tahquamenon Falls. The Hiawatha waits after the walk to the Falls. I was grateful they served cold beer, the perfect after hike refreshment.
Images are from my personal historical photos collection
Whalebacks were used to haul cargo across the Great Lakes.
Whaleback ships were a unique design that was adopted to ship ore across the Great Lakes and particularly Lake Superior. Their shape was designed to lessen the impact of turbulent surf. When fully loaded they looked more like a submarine than a surface ship. They were used mostly as a tow barge, schooners had mostly been used before this.
Whalebacks at the Soo Locks towing each other a common practice in ore shipping.
Whalebacks were fairly common throughout the early 20th century. 44 of them were built between 1887 and 1898. Most of them were built in Duluth, MN or Superior, WI as freighters for the iron range. None of them are left except one that is a museum ship in Superior, WI, the SS Meteor. (here is a link to the Whaleback Museum: https://superiorpublicmuseums.org/ss-meteor/)
Whalebacks taking on ore in Escanaba.
When loaded whalebacks were hard to see and were often run into by ships that couldn’t see them. Their hatches tended to leak and bend during stress which made them a hazard. The Whaleback is the forefather to the modern ore freighter that we commonly see now, like the neanderthal to the modern man.
Whaleback in the Soo Locks. A heavily loaded one can be seen behind it.