Category Archives: Michigan History

A Vanished Company Town – New River Michigan


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All signs of this once thriving town have been erased by time and nature. It was located about a mile from Huron City and eight miles from Port Austin. From initial land grants in 1845 to J. Spikerman and Walter Hume this fishing village developed quickly. A sawmill was built in 1853 over New River Creek so sawdust was carried out into the lake. (Note…this contrasts to operations at Port Crescent which used sawdust and lumbering waste as a source of fuel) This ventured ended in failure in 1865. A grist mill came in 1856. By 1858 industrialists Howe & Clark employed up to 100 men and built docks for shipment of lumber.

In the creek at New River, fish were so plentiful that it was a common practice for early settlers to catch them in the Spring in huge nets. Often a year’s worth of fish could be put away in barrels and cured. Sturgeon was common and frequently caught.


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By 1870, Cooper, Creevy and Noble came and operated mills, established two salt wells; one was 1040 feet deep and the other was 1003 feet deep. These wells produced on an average of 150 barrels of salt a day. The salt was shipped to Detroit, Toledo and St. Louis. Near the mouth of the New River Creek there are still the foundation pilings driven in the ground where the salt blocks were located.


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The company owned almost the whole village. They owned the cooper shop and made their own barrels for transporting salt, the houses in which the workers lived, their own lumber mills, and blacksmith shop. The company built and maintained a boarding house. This town had a long dock where steamers regularly stopped for freight and passengers.

The salt block was discontinued in 1886 due to economic downturn of the late 1800’s, the low price of salt and the increasing costs of fuel, (likely coal as lumbering operations waned). Per Mr. James Kilpratrick a state Geologist who visited in 1937, New River had the finest grade of salt found in Michigan. One of the final acts of New River took place in 1895 at the Michigan Supreme Court. The case Noble vs. Thompson involved the debts and mortgage and taxes of the salt block at New River.

Today all that remains of New River is the cemetery.

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Wilderness Surveyor to Victorious General


In the mid 1800’s much of Michigan was wilderness. While many settlements were established on the shore, there was few government maps and almost no official documentation of water depth and shore topology.  Local knowledge from “fisherman and coastals” was depended on.  By the 1840’s the US Army was tasked with conducting the first accurate survey of Lake Huron from the St Mary’s River to the St Clair


George-meadeIn 1857, Captain George Meade relieved Lt. Col. James Kearney on the Lakes Survey mission of the Great Lakes. Meade had already established a successful assignments of building lighthouses and mapping the shoals and reefs of the Florida Keys. It’s shallow reefs have ravaged shipping since the Spanish plied the Caribbean in the 1500’s.

George Meade came to Michigan in 1857 to make the first survey of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. As a civil engineer of the US Army he “leveled the base line” The method was to use a series of triangulated line-of-site towers that based on angle could be accurately measured from point to point.

The line-of-sight signaling towers erected on Charity Island, Oak Point, Sand Point, Tawas Point, Point Au Barques, Forestville and others assisted in the survey measurement. These towers measured from 82 to 169 feet above the water level and were considered the highest artificial structures ever made for triangulation measurement in the United States. Measurement was done a survey instrument called a theodolite capturing the flashing mirror of a distant tower.


signal-tower-circa -1860Captain Meade needed a Prime Meridian point. He established a this at a base camp on located on Sand Point.  The jut of land extended out into  Saginaw Bay offering large line of site vantage point. Meade cleared an area and placed a marker while surveying to denoting the new Prime Meridian line for Saginaw Bay and all of Lake Huron. From the United States Land Survey Station, Sand Point, Saginaw Bay all “geodetic positions of all points of triangulation” were calculated. There is record of Latitude and Longitude observations and calculations made from Sand Point from July 2 through October 9th 1857. They calculated the longitude position of Sand Point Station Latitude at 43° 54’ 39” 79 N , Longitude 5h, 33m 22s.976 west of Greenwich at (conputed at 83° 20’ 44” .64 ) [ Note that the original longitude convention was added.  Page 1266 “Message of the President of the United States Communicated to the Two Houses of Congress”, 1858]

Completion of the survey of Lake Huron and extension of the surveys of Lake Michigan down to Grand and Little Traverse Bays were done under his command. Prior to Captain Meade’s command, Great Lakes’ water level readings were taken locally with temporary gauges; a uniform plane of reference had not been established. In 1858, based on his recommendation, instrumentation was set in place for the tabulation of records across the basin. In 1860, the first detailed report of Great Lakes was published.


meade-report-1859In 1861 when the war was declared between the North and the South Washington sent notice calling Captain Meade into active service as a brigadier general. The orders were delivered to Detroit as Meade was making preparations to return to Washington DC to take over a new Topographic group authorized by Congress. Local lore tells that notice of his assignment was delivered to the Sand Point Station from Port Austin as there was no Post Office in Caseville. Before he left the Great Lakes for the war he urged Congress to fund further survey work on Lake Michigan and Superior noting that economic growth and safety of the waterways could be achieved. General Meade won the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 which is considered the turning point of the war.


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Ship Building in Caseville


Caseville was considered a very large lumbering town in the late 1800’s with lumber yards, industrial size evaporators called salt blocks to process brine pumped from deep wells and even an iron works. Ship building was also an important industry. In 1861 Francais Crawford built a lake schooner. The “Frank Crawford was a large masted schooner that plied the waters all over the Great Lakes in the late 1800’s.

An entry from July 29, 1861 from the Buffalo Daily Courier noted:

A NEW VESSEL. — The new vessel built at Pigeon River, Saginaw Bay, of which we made mention a few weeks since in our columns, passed up yesterday to load at the above point with lumber for parties in Cleveland. She has an elegant fit out, fore and aft rig, neatly painted, and called the FRANK CRAWFORD. She is sailed by Captain Edward Gaffet, of Cleveland. — Detroit Tribune.

However, it seems that the vessel was noted with problems. Running aground, suffering a collision, losing a boom-jib and being sold. Her story finally culminated in 1882 on Lake Superior with this entry.

The schooner FRANK CRAWFORD, of Chicago, ashore at Portage Bay, has been abandoned to the underwriters. She measured 213 tons, was built at Pigeon River, by R. Calkins, in 1861, rated A 2, and was valued at $9,000. William Shaw & Brother, of Chicago, were the owners. – J.W. Hall Great Lakes Marine Scrapbook, No. 2, November, 1882

The oak trees that dominated the area were pronounced to be among the best for ship building. Other industrial shipping was produced including the “Perseverance” a large lumber barge holding up to 5000 linier feet of finished lumber. The barge was towed by tug but eventually wreaked in a storm near Port Huron.


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Later in 1872, the “Charlie Crawford” a three masted shallow draft scow freighter used to carry raw iron ore from the Upper Peninsula to Caseville’s Iron Works. The iron works were run about a year, and then due to the Long Depression (1873-1879), depressed iron prices and high fuel prices the operation ceased. The furnace stood vacant and idle for years. The red brick kiln was torn down and each brick was cleaned for reuse. Today some of these bricks can be seen in several buildings in Caseville. The Blue Water Inn is one of the most notable businesses where the original chimney bricks were used.

The Charlie Crawford also seemed to suffer its share of events. The Indianapolis News reported in November of 1879 that:

The schooner ashore at Port au Barques is supposed to be the Charlie Crawford, with her mizzen gone. She left Caseville on Saturday night.

The Port Huron Daily Times reported in October 1893:

The schooner CHARLIE CRAWFORD, ashore on the north side of Bois Blanc Island, will be salvaged.

There are no other mentions of the large schooner after 1893.


Featured image “Schooner” Wikipedia Commons

Oil painting “Off the Coast (Lake Superior)” 1886 Alexis Jean Fourier Minneapolis Institute of Art. Personal photo 


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The Bay Port Hotel


The history of Michigan’s Upper Thumb is one of boom and bust. In the late 1800’s the lumber industry created frontier  millionaires and whole towns sprung up around mills. New industry such as salt blocks sprang up next utilizing tons of debris from the saw mills as fuel. The Bay Port Hotel was an exception. Using rail as transport, guests could get to the calm waters of Wild Fowl Bay in a 1/2 a day yet still have all the amenities of a big city hotel.  The days of frontier resorts would soon end in the early 1900’s as lumbering ended in Michigan. This is a clip found in Caseville’s museum collection.

Pictured here is the famous Bay Port Hotel. It was nestled among the beautiful trees on the shore of Saginaw Bay at Bay Port (1886-1907) This hotel was state of the art in its day. Well planned and built of the finest materials having 117 heated rooms, six excellent cooks, hot and cold baths, bowling alleys, pools tables and an electric lighting system, Casino and barber shop.

The culinary arrangements were second to none in Michigan. The ventilation and lighting system, as well as the fire protection offered guests was the best of its time.

Was it Haunted

About year 1900 despondent young man committed suicide in one of the lower rooms by slashing by slashing his wrists and throat. Before he died the young man succeed in making bloody hand prints over of the beautiful walls of his room. Because it was difficult to cover up the stains this was locked up and not used again.

Not long after the tragic death of the young man, the Bay Port Hotel had the reputation of being haunted. Guests were positive that throughout the nights, they heard voices even claimed to have seen the ghosts of the young man and his betrothed, who had preceded him in death.

The “Cincinnati Club” that rented the entire hotel for some weeks each summer, left and found a new summer home. Sail boats which dotted the bay near the hotel, disappeared. Excursion trains from the big cities discontinued their daily trips to the thriving port. In short the fancy hotel no longer was paying investors.


Bay Port Hotel


W.H. Wallace purchased it and sold the contents ‘by auction sale, before tearing down the building in 1907. Today all that remains are the front steps in front of an empty lot. 


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Images from Caseville Historical Society and Bay Port Chamber of Commerce.

 

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