Abe Nelson’s lumber jack, blacksmithing legacy continues at White Pine Village

July 26, 2023

Abe Nelson in his workshop. Photo from the archives of Mason County Historical Society.

Abe Nelson’s lumber jack, blacksmithing legacy continues at White Pine Village

This Mason County history feature is presented by Mason County Historical Society in partnership with Mason County Press in celebration of the Ludington Sesquicentennial (1873-2023). 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

LUDINGTON — Two facilities at Historic White Pine Village pay tribute to Abe Nelson, a Mason County pioneer who spent his entire career working, mostly as a blacksmith, in two of Mason County’s biggest industries: lumbering and the railroad. 

Abe Nelson with some of his collection.

Nelson started as a lumberjack and then became a lumber camp blacksmith before working as a railroad blacksmith. After his retirement, he began collecting lumbering paraphernalia and making models of lumbering tools, buildings and equipment. His collection was so extensive that he had a private museum behind in his house at 5963 E. Ludington Avenue (US 10, located about where Pizza Hut now stands) where he would open to school groups and give personal tours. He willed his collection to the Mason County Historical Society, which was one of the reasons the historical society started White Pine Village. The other reason, as stated by the late Rose Hawley, was the preservation of the Burr Caswell house, Mason County’s oldest house, built in 1847, on the site that is now the village. 

Abraham Necoli Nelson was born on Dec. 4, 1880 in Solem, Norway, the son of Isaac and Gunild “Mary” (Abrahamson) Nelson. The Nelsons moved to Mason County in 1884, when Abe was 4 years old. Isaac had already arrived in the United States and had obtained work at a lumber camp owned by Eber Ward, located northeast of Branch. When the family arrived, they lived in the camp and lived there until it was time for Abe and his sister, Mary, to go to school. They then moved to Danaher Street in Ludington. When Abe was 10, the family moved to Victory Township. 

“There, he drove the oxen and hauled logs for the burning as his father cleared the land for farming,” a Dec. 5, 1953 article in the Ludington Daily News stated.

A younger Abe Nelson.

Nelson attended Victory Township schools Diamond and Townhall. 

At the age of 16, he followed in his father’s footsteps and began working in the Stearns Salt & Lumber Co. lumber camps, starting out felling trees, peeling hemlock logs and cutting ties. His first job was   peeling hemlock logs. The peeled bark was used in tanneries. He also served as a blacksmith apprentice to his father. His first assignment was the Stearns camp in Carr Settlement. He later worked in camps in Fountain, until 1907.

“I worked at every job in the woods except cook before I became a blacksmith,” Nelson said.  

He began working as a blacksmith about 1904. He later followed the logging industry up to Mancelona and Kalkaska before returning to Ludington to work for the Pere Marquette Railway, which later became part of the C&O Railway. He spent 20 years in the lumber camps. 

Nelson retired from C&O in 1951 at the age of 71. 

On July 2, 1912, he married Edna Billings of Victory Township in Detroit. They had six children: Ella (Oct. 22, 1913 to May 18, 1982, married to Frank Cormany); Conrad (Dec. 6, 1915 to Nov. 8, 1982); Howard (Jan. 6, 1918 to Jan. 11, 1989); Clyde Abraham (July 26, 1919 to Dec. 17, 1937); Margaret (June 8, 1921 to May 21, 2012) and Myrtle (March 23, 1924 to Aug. 6, 2015, married to Lewis Wahr). 

The Abe Nelson Museum at Historic White Pine Village.

Edna (born on April 30 1884) died on March 8, 1933 at the age of 49. On May 23, 1934, at the age of 50, Nelson married Marguerite Cormany (born Aug. 1879 in Canada, 53. 

Marguerite had been married previously to Lewis Cormany (1860-1931). She passed away in 1951.

Abe Nelson died on July 8, 1974 at the age of 93. He willed his massive collection of lumber-era memorabilia and replicas to the Mason County Historical Society. The society built a museum to hold Nelson’s collection at what is now called Historic White Pine Village (it was known as Pioneer Village when it opened in 1976). 

The interior of the Abe Nelson Museum.

 

 

 

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