Exploring the old Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad

April 3, 2024

A Manistee and Grand Rapids train in Manistee

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

Editor’s Note: On Saturday, June 1, the Mason County Historical Society will host Ghost Tour ’24: Trains, Towns, and Lumber Camps. This bus tour will explore the former Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad along with ghost towns and former lumber camps that existed along the route. Click here to learn more.

A special thanks to Mike Hankwitz for assistance with the research for this article. 

Even though Mason and Manistee counties are now only serviced by one railroad, there was a time when there were several tracks crossing through both counties and beyond. This is the story of the Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad (later known as the Michigan East and West Railroad). The tracks began in the City of Manistee and travelled in a southeasterly direction through northeastern Mason County and continued into Lake and Osceola counties before ending in Marion. Traces of the railroad are very prominent throughout Manistee, Filer City, northeastern Mason County, Lake County and Osceola County. Its remnants hide in plain site and pursuing it is like chasing a ghost train. You can almost see it and hear it when you explore its path.

This particular article will focus on the origins of the railroad, its length of service, those who were connected to the railroad in various ways and its service in Manistee and Mason counties. A future article may explore the railroad through Lake and Osceola counties.

Towns like Scottville were developed as a result of the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad.

The railroad that defined Mason County’s future was the standard gauge Flint & Pere Marquette Railway, which traveled east to west, almost in the center of the county, ending in Ludington, and thus becoming the terminus for the Ludington car ferry fleet. That railroad also spurred to the north from Walhalla to Manistee. The Flint & Pere Marquette was chartered in 1857 for the purpose of constructing an east-west railway line on a route, for which a federal land grant was offered, from Flint to Lake Michigan at Pere Marquette, later known as Ludington.

Construction began in 1859 in East Saginaw. The early promoters of the F&PM were George E. Dewey and E.H. Hazelton, both of Flint. Dewey served as president. In 1860, Eber Brock Ward of Detroit was elected as the president of the F&PM. Ward was a prominent industrialist who had interests in lumbering, ships and steel manufacturing. Ward is the subject of a 2022 book written by West Shore Community College Professor Michael Nagle, “The Forgotten Iron King of the Great Lakes: Eber Brock Ward, 1811-1875”.

In 1868, F&PM President Eber B. Ward began negotiating with James Ludington for a terminal site in Pere Marquette, which became the chartered city of Ludington in 1873 with frontage on Pere Marquette Lake. The F&PM had been considering a cross-lake route to Manitowoc, Wis. since 1859 because the trip around Lake Michigan was costly. At the time, the railroad had also considered placing the west terminus of the railroad in Pentwater.

James Ludington

James Ludington, who lived in Milwaukee, was the owner of the only lumber mill in the town he named after himself. He favored the completion of the railroad but he played hard ball in negotiating the terms, knowing that Ward intended to build mills to tap the lumber along the Pere Marquette River. Ludington feared the move would make Ward too big so he refused to sell a terminal site or mill sites at any price, hoping to convince Ward into selling some of his 70,000 acres of timber. Ward would not budge.

Eber Ward

In 1869, Ward had learned that Ludington’s logging crews had cut pine from his land, an act that may have been unintentional. He kept quiet until Ludington went to Detroit on business and then had him arrested and lodged in the Wayne County Jail on charges of trespassing and timber theft. He secured a judgement of $65,000 against Ludington, who was financially ruined. Ludington suffered a stroke and was forced to quit the business.

Ludington’s associates then formed the Pere Marquette Lumber Company and reached an amicable agreement with Ward in August 1869 for both the railway terminal and the mill sites.

The railroad was completed on Dec. 1, 1874, giving the F&PM 253 miles of main line. By 1877 the company had received 511,520.2 acres of federal land grants, of which over half – 275,741.69 acres – had been sold, contributing $2,369,729.21 to the railroad’s revenues.

The F&PM reached Ludington in 1874. Along its path, it helped to form and/or grow several towns that still exist to this day: Custer, Scottville, Fountain, and Free Soil. Several former settlements also existed along both routes of the railroad.

An agreement was reached in 1899 for the consolidation of the F&PM with the Chicago and West Michigan and the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Western with securities of the newly-organized exchanged for those of the constituent companies. The F&PM declared a special 2% dividend out of assets as part of the consolidation plan. The Pere Marquette Railroad was incorporated Nov. 1, 1899, and took over on Jan. 1, 1900.

Read more here.

SS Pere Marquette 19, built in 1903.

The Pere Marquette Railroad was later consolidated by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, which eventually morphed into the Chessie System, then CSX. The tracks are now owned and operated by Marquette Rail. For the remainder of this article, we will refer to this particular track as the Pere Marquette Railroad or PMRR when discussing it in historical context, since that timeframe matches the timeframe of the M&GR. When discussing it in modern terms, it will be referred to as the Marquette Railroad or MQT.

Beginnings of the Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad

In 1889 a group of Manistee and Ludington businessmen, all in the lumber industry, decided to get into the railroad business. Their idea was to build a railroad from Manistee to Grand Rapids that would haul their lumber and develop an untouched area of western Michigan after they cleared the forests. The Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad was incorporated on Nov. 18, 1889 with a capital of $1 million.

The stockholders were some of the biggest names in the lumber industry: Louis Sands, Ernst Nielsen Salling, Thomas J. Ramsdell, Henry W. Marsh, E.G. Filer, James Dempsey, Antoine E. Cartier, John Canfield, Frank W. Canfield, Charles J. Canfield, and Robert R. Blacker. You can find their biographies at the end of this article. Most of the investors were directly tied to the lumber industry and were connected with the Union Lumber and Salt Company and the Canfield Salt and Lumber Company, both of Manistee.

For the next three decades, the standard gauge railroad (4 feet, 8.5 inches width between the two rails) operated as a competitor to the PMRR until it was ultimately purchased by the PMRR.

A Nov. 15, 1889 article in the Manistee Times-Sentinel stated: ”The road is an assured fact, that the board of directors has been elected and Articles of Association have been accepted, and the names of the board of directors returned, the officers will be elected and work upon the road will be commended at once. If a general system of grading is not carried on the coming winter, contracts for cutting through the hills will probably be let, and a large gang of men furnished with work.

“The building of this road will be paying investment for Manistee. It will give employment to a large number of men in winter, when the mills are lying idle. It will assist in giving our city prestige as a railroad center, and bring capitalists here to invest their surplus wealth. It will be the main avenue of business between this city and Grand Rapids. It will greatly benefit the country through which it passes. In short it will benefit Manistee as no other railroad has, will or can.”

Construction of the railroad began in 1890. The Aug. 9, 1890 edition of the publication Timberman, reported:

“The Manistee & Grand Rapids road is getting along smoothly, and has about 10 miles of road graded and about three miles of steel laid, and with one locomotive and a lot of rolling stock on hand, as soon as they get their roadbed ballasted they will be in shape to deliver quite a lot of lumber from the mills that they connect with to the other lines leading out of here till such time as they get the balance of their road built.”

The Dec. 27, 1890 edition of the same publication reported that 300 men were building the railroad. At that point, they had about 30 miles of road graded and about 15 miles of track laid. Construction of the bridge over the Big Sable River in Free Soil Township was taking place as well.

In 1893, the railroad construction ended in Tustin, Osceola County, 55 miles from Manistee, and it met the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad. It also crossed the Chicago & West Michigan Railway in Peacock, Lake County, 31 miles from Manistee. It later reached Marion in 1907 — 72 miles from Manistee, where it met the Ann Arbor Railroad.

The M&GR’s initial cargo was limited to hauling logs. But, in 1896, H.W. Marsh, one of the railroad’s founding shareholders, was hired as traffic manager and the railroad began hauling general freight. In 1899 passenger service began.

According to a history of Meade Township, written by former township clerk Doris Reid (1916-2008), the railroad ran two freight trains each day.

In 1913, the company became insolvent and was reorganized by new owners as the Michigan East & West Railway. While the Michigan East & West expanded passenger service, the railroad was gone within a decade. It was later sold to the William T. Joyce Co. which decided to liquidate the property. In 1921 the right-of-way was sold to the Pere Marquette Railroad, which pulled up the tracks and ended operation.

Depot of the Manistee East and West Railroad

Discovering the M&GR

Over 100 years later, the railroad continues to hide in plane sight. On the northwest corner of Water and Pine streets in Manistee, just past the west end of River Street sits a two story red brick building that most recently was a funeral home. The building, now owned by a holding company of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, was built about 1914 and became the main depot of the Michigan East and West Railroad (MEW), the successor of the M&GR.

According to local railroad historian Mike Hankwitz of Hamlin Township, Mason County, the M&GR line originally started just to the west of the eventual depot.

The Water Street train depot was not only the passenger depot for the MEW railroad but also for the Manistee, Filer City & East Lake Railroad trolley system.

Modern view of the former Michigan East and West depot

After leaving the Manistee depot, the train traveled southwest crossing First Street just to the east of the Manistee waterworks. Three blocks west of the station, still along Water Street and just west of Cedar Street, you can see the right-of-way, as the City of Manistee’s east property line (the Manistee waterworks) is at a 45-degree angle. This is very easy to spot by the fence that sits on the property line.

The track then ran through what is now Mason Field (once part of the Manistee Armory’s property) and then alongside the sand ridge called Creeping Joe, crossing over modern Cherry Road just north of Bryant Street and then curving southerly and then easterly over the grounds of what is now the Manistee Golf & Country Club. A spur made its way north-northeast at this point and ended in what is now Lighthouse Park.

As the main line completed its turn, it then traveled slightly northeast south of Twelfth Street, through the property that is now Manistee High School and Middle School, crossing Twelfth Street just east of Maple Street. The tracks then travelled through the property that is now Manistee Catholic Central School. Here’s where things get exciting. When standing on Merkey Road, just past the culvert east of the Manistee Assembly of God’s driveway, you can look north and clearly see the railroad right-of-way, cleared to this day, by high tension electric lines overhead. The property is owned by Morton Salt, Inc., and likely has been owned by a salt company dating back to the beginning of the M&GR, which was owned by the lumber and salt barons.

To the north of modern Merkey Road, about halfway to Twelfth Street, a spur split northeast toward the salt mills. Again, this right-of-way still exists to this day and is owned by Morton Salt. It crosses US 31 just to the north of Care Center Drive and then crosses Twelfth Street at Koscuisko Street, then crosses at Engleman and Tenth streets, High and Ninth streets, and then curves north halfway between the block ending at the Morton Salt.

The main line then continued south parallel with modern US 31 (which wasn’t there when the railroad was built) and then turning east on a path one block south of 28th Street in Oak Hill (Madison Road). This was the first passenger stop of the train.

Its route through Filer City is now partially Filer City Road. The train’s second stop was located here. A late-19th century map shows a railroad track spur along Udell Street and possibly a station at the corner of what is now Filer City Road (which was the M&GR track) and Udell Street.

After Filer City, its route went into the woods at a point around 750 feet north of the intersection of Preuss and Linke roads, turning to the east running parallel to Preuss Road for a few hundred feet. After a mile, it turned to the east-southeast.

Beyond this point, in Stronach Township, is where it crossed the PMRR. This was known as Marsh depot, named after Henry W. Marsh, the railroad’s traffic manager and a shareholder. This was the third stop of the M&GR. This was also likely the stop where passengers could switch over to the PM&F with destinations to Free Soil, Fountain, Walhalla, Custer, Scottville, Ludington, Baldwin, and other points across the center of the state, ending in Flint.

Marsh Road, Manistee County

A Feb. 26, 1890 article on the front page of the Grand Rapids Evening Ledger reported that the railroad crossing board in Lansing had approved a request from the M&GR to build an overhead crossing of the F&PM with clear head room of 20 feet. This did not seem to come to fruition based on the terrain where the M&GR most likely crossed the F&PM. Instead, it looks like the M&GR crossed the F&PM at an angle before making its way into Filer City.

The M&GR ran a close parallel course to the F&PM/PMRR until Kremisfort Road where it bent to the southeast and made its trek due southeast. It continued to run a parallel course with its competitor for about three more miles.

Though the Marsh depot is long gone, a road still exists in honor of H.W. Marsh. That road can be accessed from the Mason-Manistee counties line at County Line Road, and travels northwest through a segment of the Manistee National Forest, eventually running alongside the modern MQT tracks. Marsh Road is the former location of the M&GR and continues to the county line where it crosses into Mason County. The road continues for a short distance, remaining on national forest property. There is a portion that crosses over private property before re-entering national forest land and then ending. On the Manistee County side the road is named, but it is not officially named on the Mason County side. The road appears to be a national forest road but does not have a Manistee National Forest four-digit designation. Typically county-owned roads are named while MNF roads are numbered.

Roads like Marsh Road are obvious remnants of the railroad, that still exist today. Further, evidence of the railroad’s existence is clear through most of Mason County by just looking at a plat map, with several parcels in Free Soil, Meade and Sheridan townships having 45-degree angled boundaries. Satellite or lidar imaging also show the route. From an airplane, several thousand feet in the air, the route can be seen clear in the winter all through Mason County. From the ground, some places aren’t as obvious — until you look closely.

One such area is located in Section 4 of Free Soil Township near Custer Road. The railroad crossed Custer Road about 4,100 feet (three quarters of a mile) south of County Line Road. The west side of the road is private property. On the east side is national forest. After entering the woods it becomes obvious where the railroad was. Initially, there is an embankment built up both sides for about 75-100 feet. Then, the landscape changes to form a build-up with ditches on both sides. This was clearly the railroad.

Traveling a little further southeast is what was known as Hoags, near Hoags Lake. According to the 1904 Standard Atlas of Mason County, Michigan (plat book), in Free Soil Township Section 3, there was a 20-acre parcel of land that sat on the northwest side of the tracks. This parcel is located about a quarter mile north of modern Hoague Road and it is likely where the Hoags depot sat.

Turning the corner, heading south on Stephens Road a few hundred feet, the right-of-way is very obvious looking northeast and southwest. This is probably one of the most highly visible signs of the former railroad along the entire route, with the exception of areas that are now roads. Ridges, almost clear of tree growth, are located on both sides of the road.

Many of the numbered roads within the Manistee National Forest originated as narrow gauge railroad right-of-ways, used to transport fallen lumber. These railroads were limited in their lifespans as they were removed once the lumber in that area was clear. These are certainly worth a separate study. But, seeing the remnants of a standard gauge railroad through the national forest is a much rarer sight. Southeast of Hoags Lake is Manistee National Forest (FS) road 5037. This road is accessible from FS 8760 (Koenig Road), east of Stephens Road. The road travels at a 45 degree angle, southeast and northwest. From FS 8760, it heads northwest for about a half mile and then southeast for about another 1.5 miles, crossing Stark Road and ending at Hasenbank Road.

From viewing maps, FS 5037 appears to be the site of the former railroad. But, on-the-ground assessment makes it very obvious that the railroad actually rain alongside this present-day road. This is obvious by the embankment that runs the course of the road and ends at Hasenbank Road.

Grove of trees that mark the railroad line on the Bruce and Sue Hasenbank Farm, Meade Twp.

At Hasenbank Road, the route continues on national forest land and then enters private property. This area is also the site of the railroad’s crossing over the Big Sable River. There is very little evidence that the railroad crossed the river at this point, with the exception of the narrow embankment heading southeast away from the river.

Building the railroad bridge across the river was no small task. According to Bruce Hasenbank, who has lived in that area his entire life, a house was built a short distance away at what is now the northeast corner of Schoenherr and Bennett roads, on the Meade Township side of Schoenherr Road. Bruce and his wife, Sue, lived in the house for several years, and raised their family there, before building a new house on the banks of the Big Sable River a little further north.

Operating the house was the McArthur family. According to the 1904 Standard Atlas of Mason County, Michigan plat book, Duncan McArthur owned the 80 acres that the house sat on. The McArthurs continued to own the property into the late 1970s.

Brothers Alex and Duncan McArthur were born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the sons of Donald (1819-1863) and Catherine (1816-1904) McArthur. Alex was born in 1846 and Duncan was born in 1848. They immigrated to the United States in 1869.

It’s likely that Catherine immigrated with her sons since her husband had passed away. Further, a 1934 Ludington Daily News article, “J.F. Whitaker Recalls Life in Lumber Camp,” by G. Pearl Darr, discusses the McArthur family and their involvements in the lumber camps of Free Soil.

The article interviewed J. Fremont Whitaker, then 78-years-old, who discussed working in the lumber camps in Free Soil Township in 1871 when he was 15-years-old. Whitaker worked for Malcolm Campbell who had a contract with Charles Mears.

Darr described the location of the camp: “The camp was located on the south bank of Sable river, three miles east, a mile north and 60 rods up the river from what was then known as Preston corners, the crossroads just west of the present village of Freesoil.”

The location was basically the location of where the G&RR would eventually cross the Big Sable River.

Though the article discusses events that took place about 20 years before the building of the railroad, it sets the picture of the early pioneers who lived in that area. Before the railroad bridge, there were other bridges built over the river.

“Mr. Whitaker located the sties of the old rollways, the ancient bridge built in 1870 which slanted from the south side to the north, the second bridge built across the Sable. He found the spot where he daily led the camp cow, or a horse or an ox if left in the barn, down to the river to drink.

Charles Mears, 1856

“Mr. Whitaker found some prickly ash shrubs, the bark of which used to be brewed as a medicinal tea and which puckers the mouth when chewed. This grows only along the Sable, being found along no other river bank in Mason county, according to Mr. Whitaker.

“He recalled names of some of the 40 men who were members of Campbell’s crew. These were Harry Gray, 16; Frank Hainer, Charles and William McGee, Jim Prendergast, Henry Trouten, Hiram Preston, James Howe, Alex and Duncan McArthur, Tom Brown, Tim Shields, Charles Fagan, Sam Jensen, Bill Tory, Eugene Sullivan, Bill Avery, James and Jack Dolan, Charles Eichlor, and E. Gumbo. Tom Barnes was the blacksmith and George Colyer, father of the present Mason county sheriff, was the camp carpenter.

“In 1870 there was an unbroken pine forest, with neither road nor bridge, nor thought of the village of Freesoil. The forest was alive with big game, bears, wolves, deer and foxes.

“Some of the camp crew set mink traps Sundays. They would trade the furs in Manistee for whiskey.

“Malcolm Campbell’s lumbering operations were on both sides of the river on what is now the Harry Hasenbank farm on the north side and the Donald McArthur farm on the south, so he built a bridge across.

“Campbell knew his business as a lumberman, but bad luck dogged his footsteps as the second year his wife, a sister of Duncan McArthur, died in camp. The third year he became too venturesome while helping break the rollway. The logs gave way and he was carried down and crushed to death.

“The McArthur brothers and their mother, who had charge of the cook shanty, then took over the logging equipment and finished the contract. Later they took over another contract of Pardee, Cook & Co. which had bought out C.E. Mears timber holdings at Hamlin and all along the river. This made it necessary for them to build a new camp three and a half miles east of the old one on the north side.”

Historical documents about Campbell’s death contradict Whitaker’s account. Campbell’s death certificate states he died of inflammation of the kidney on Dec. 21, 1905.

The Dec. 27, 1905 Ludington Chronicle published Campbell’s obituary without details of his death. But, the Dec. 28, 1905 Ludington Record Appeal provided more details:

“Malcolm Campbell died at his home one mile south of town (Fountain) last Thursday at 2 p.m. Mr. Campbell had been sick for weeks with pneumonia and he was also a sufferer from kidney trouble.”

Neither the death certificate or the obituaries mention a lumber camp accident, which was discussed by Whitaker to have taken place about 35 years earlier.

As the railroad crossed Schoenherr Road it entered Meade Township. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, much of the land in this area was owned by Warren Cartier, son of Antoine Cartier, who was a shareholder of the railroad. Naturally, the Cartier land was used for harvesting lumber. Today, many properties that hosted the railroad right-of-way are now owned by members of the Hasenbank family.

Wilhehm (1858-1942) -and Johanna (Luedman, 1859-1948) Hasenbank were the first Hasenbanks to settle in Free Soil Township (later divided into Meade Township as well). Both Wilhehm and Johanna were born in Germany; Wilhehm came from the Province of Pomerania, now the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in northern Germany, while Johanna came Brandenburg, a state in northeastern Germany.

Both Wilhehm and Johanna immigrated to the United States in 1881 and were married in Chicago on Nov. 6, 1881. Within a year, they moved to East Lake in Manistee County, Michigan. By the late 1880s, the Hasenbanks had settled in Free Soil Township along modern Schoenherr Road near the Big Sable River.

Their first born child, Charles William (1882-1908) died at the age of 21 in a sawmill accident. Another reference has his name listed as Karl August Albert.

Fourth born son, Otto (1886-1972) was a section foreman for the Michigan East & West Railroad (the successor of the M&G RR). According to Hasenbank family records published in the Mason County Historical Society’s Mason County 1980 history book, he worked on the railroad until it ceased to exist.

The descendants of Wilhehm and Johanna Hasenbank still live in Free Soil and Meade townships. Many are active leaders of those communities.

The abandoned M&G RR enters into Meade Township on Hasenbank land, crossing over land farmed by Bruce and Susan Hasenbank. A grove of trees sits on both sides of the right-of-way with a very clear opening heading in a 45-degree angle.

“Nothing has ever grown in this area,” Bruce Hasenbank said while standing out in the grove of trees. “The cows use it to move between fields.” Just a short distance northwest Bruce said he has attempted to put up fences over the last several decades. His attempts have often been met with remnants of track buried deep in the ground, clear evidence that the train once past over this land.

Bruce grew up across the road on the Free Soil Township side. Beginning in the 1970s he began purchasing land on the Meade Township side from his dad.

The railroad then crossed Bennett Road just southwest of the intersection with Budzynski Road. The next crossing was the settlement of Elmton, which is at modern Free Soil Road, just west of Larson Road and across from the Meade Township Hall. During the passenger service years, this was a train stop featuring an old passenger car as the depot. Not much is known about the origins of the name Elmton or how much of a settlement existed in the area.

Elmton depot

The 1904 plat book shows that Henry (1846-1926) and Jane (Doyle, 1848-1919) Howell owned 160 acres of land which included the modern Elmton. Their house, according to the plat book, was the only residence within a mile of the depot.

Henry Howell was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England on Feb. 26, 1846. His wife, Jane, was born in Ireland on June 28, 1848.

Henry enlisted in the 94th New York Volunteers, Co. G, on Feb. 8, 1864 and served until July 18, 1865, according to the 1890 U.S. Census. He moved to Mason County sometime between 1880 and 1900, according to census records. He was also listed in census records as a farmer. By 1920, the Howells had moved to a rented home at 604 E. Foster St. in Ludington.

A school, Meade Township District No. 2, also known as the New School, was located on the Howell property’s southwestern border, at the modern northeast intersection of Free Soil and Budzynski roads. That school closed in 1919 and was annexed with the newly-built Meade Township District No. 1, the Howell School, located also on the north side of Free Soil Road, a mile east near Larson Road. The Howell school closed in 1941. Today, much of the land is owned by Timothy Hasenbank.

In 1904, the land across the street from Elmton depot, which is now the Meade Township Hall, was owned by Warren Cartier, as was much of the land in that area.

As the M&GR made its way southeast, it connected with a spur of the Manistee & Luther Railroad near the modern intersection of Reid and Sauble roads. This land is owned presently by Meade Township and borders Manistee National Forest land. Just beyond this intersection is where the railroad entered Sheridan Township.

At the end of Campbell Road, about a mile north of Millerton Road, is a unique ecosystem. Once known as Burley Lake, this marsh land, fed by the Big Sable River, is more commonly known by locals as Bear Swamp (though that is not an official name). According to the 1904 plat book, Burley Lake was once larger than Ford Lake and almost equal in size as Round Lake. In the mid-20th century, this dried up lake created the perfect situation for a muck farm, which grew peppermint and various vegetables.

The author’s maternal grandparents once operated this farm from the mid-1950s until the 1970s.

Burley Road, Sheridan Township, Mason County

Burley Road runs northwest from Masten Road and is the only county-owned road in Mason County that runs on the old M&GR right-of-way. It’s a short road that eventually narrows and turns into a national forest road. A little further down the tracks from Burley Road is the ghost town of Millerton, located near the intersection of Manales and Landon roads.

Today, only a few houses exist in what used to be a prosperous little town. In 1898, Samuel Dodge Squire, who came to Fountain in 1881 as Fountain’s first station agent, purchased a sawmill owned by Frank Young, in Fountain, and moved it to Millerton. He operated the sawmill until 1906 when he sold it to S.E. Bortz.

Millerton also was home of a pickle salting station owned by Lutz and Schramm Pickle Company. After the Michigan East and West Railroad was purchased by the Pere Marquette Railway, and train service discontinued on that line in about 1921, the building and vats were moved to Fountain and added to the company station there. A few years later, the railroad line through Millerton was torn up.

Millerton is also the the site of the railroad’s second river crossing in Mason County. Here, it crossed the Little Sable River, the southern branch of the Big Sable River, which begins about 2 miles northwest of that location, as the crow flies.

From Millerton, the railroad traveled about another half mile southeast and then, just before the Mason-Lake counties line, headed due east, just north of modern Millerton Road, which turns into 3 Mile Road in Lake County.

The railroad would then continue through Lake County and into Osceola County, ending in Tustin.

The men who owned the M&GR Railroad

Louis Sands

Louis Sands (1826-1905), was born in Södermanland, Sweden, the son of Lars and Inga (Svanstedt) Olofsson, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1854. His birth name was Lars Larson, but upon arriving in Boston on Aug. 4, 1854, his name became Louis Sands, possibly a mistake made by an immigration officer. According to the “History of Manistee, Mason, and Oceana” (published by H.R. Page & Co. of Chicago in 1882) he “came almost directly to Manistee and went to work in the woods.” That book will be referred to as the “History of…” from here on out.

The following year, he took logging contracts for Canfield Lumber Co. and then began to work his way to the top of the industry.

On Aug. 2, 1857 he married Caroline Richard (1842-1863). They had two children, Frankie L. Sands (1859-1862) and Charles Albert Sands (1862-1932). Following Caroline’s death, Sands married Isabella Marshall (1841-1913) on Sept. 28, 1865. They had five children, Martha Waite (1866-1942), Charlotte B. Smith (1868-1966), Sara Tuttle (1870-1955), Florence May Kinney (1872-1950), and Louis Marshall Sands (1875-1941).

“Mr. Sands worked his way along until 1864, when he bought an interest in the sawmill firm of Green Bros,” his biography in the “History of…” states. “He remained a member of that firm for two years, and then went to logging. In 1869-70 he built what is now the old Peters mill, at Eastlake, which he afterwards sold to Mr. R.G. Peters.”

In 1878, Sands purchased the Tyson & Sweet property mills. He additionally owned two shingle mills in Manistee. At one time Sands owned pine lands in eight counties in Michigan along with more acreage in Wisconsin.

Sands died on Aug. 24, 1905 at the age of 79. He is buried in section L of Oak Grove Cemetery in Manistee.

T.J. Ramsdell

Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, was born on July 29, 1833, in Plymouth, Wayne County, New York, the son of Gannett and Anna (Perrin) Ramsdell. Ramsdell came to Manistee in 1860. “Late one winter’s afternoon, nearly 23 years ago, a young man about 27 years of age drove up to the little cluster of buildings near the Canfield mill, at the mouth of the (Manistee) river, and inquired for accommodations for himself and horse, both of which were well worn with the toil of a long, hard journey,” according to the “History of…” book. “The load of law books which his sleigh contained indicated the advent of a lawyer into this region, that hitherto had known neither law nor lawyer.” In other words, he was the first attorney to come to Manistee.

Ramsdell had four brothers, William A. Ramsdell, and Dyer E. Ramsdell, both farmers, and Judge Jonathan Gannett Ramsdell, who presided over court in Traverse City.

Ramsdell graduated from Plymouth Seminary in 1856. In 1858, he gradated from National Law School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and was admitted to practice law in New York state. Later that year, he came to Michigan. After practicing the Michigan bar, he practiced law in Lansing working as a Michigan Supreme Court clerk in 1859.

“One day, while in conversation with Chief Justice Martin, of the supreme bench, that gentleman, who had become interested in Mr. Ramsdell, advised him to go up on the east shore and open an office at Manistee, at the same time offering to make a selection of books for him” the “History of…” book states. “The advice was adopted, and with his law books in a sleigh and a young horse, he set out from Lansing to make the journey through the woods. There was no highway this side of Whitehall (highway meaning barely a two-track road) — only a blaze trail. It was a tedious journey.”

Ramsdell opened an office in a shanty near the Canfield mill. “There was a good many men here at that time, who needed the assistance of a lawyer, especially to draw contracts and other papers. There were plenty of retainers offered him, but at that time he made it a rule never to accept a retainer, but hold himself free to take any cause.”

In the fall of 1860, Ramsdell was elected to the state legislature and served one term. He also served a term as Manistee County treasurer and several terms as prosecuting attorney.

On Sept. 7, 1861, he married Nettie L. Stanton (1842-1923), a native of Wayne County, who had come to Manistee to teach.

In 1865, Ramsdell built a house on the corner of Second and Cedar streets in Manistee. In 1876, they built a new home.

The Ramsdells had 11 children, Nettie Ramsdell, John Ramsdell, Lewis Stanton Ramsdell, Winnogene Scott, Seegrid Ruth Campbell, Hellen Elisabeth Dempsey, Frederic Winthrop Ramsdell, Thomas Ellis Ramsdell, Robert R. Ramsdell, Carl Gannett Ramsdell, and Eveline Ramsdell.

In 1867, Ramsdell and his partner, E.E. Benedict, established the law firm of Ramsdell & Benedict.

“Mr. Ramsdell’s financial success has also been such as to place him upon the list of the wealthy men of Manistee,” the “History of…” states. “He has acquired large property interests both in the city and county. The brick block at the corner of River and Oak streets was built by him in 1879, and the one next to it on Oak Street he built in 1880. He has been connected with the banking business of Manistee ever since that business was first started. He is the father of the First National Bank, and has always been its president. He started the first hardware store in Manistee and was instrumental in the establishment of the first newspaper. As contractor he built the Central School building at a time and under circumstances when the undertaking was one of great magnitude. There were no local improvements, especially for many years, that he did not have an active part in advancing, and so his history is a part of the history of the city and county of Manistee.”

Ramsdell’s legacy continues today with the theatre he built, now known as the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts and the corner of Maple and First streets.

Ramsdell died on April 22, 1917 at the age of 83. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Manistee.

Henry Whitney Marsh was born on Feb. 8, 1847 in Racine, Wis., the son of Henry L. (1822-1852) and Clarissa Ellis (Whitney, 1825-1897) Marsh. His father, Henry L., was a merchant in Racine and also engaged in the lumber business, according to a published genealogy of the Marsh family. Henry L. died of cholera in Lasalle, Ill. in 1852 at the age of 30.

He came to Manistee sometime around 1870. On Nov. 13, 1877, he married Caroline “Carrie” Edna Ramsdell, first cousin once removed to T.J. Ramsdell (Caroline’s father, Jonathon was T.J.’s first cousin. Her grandfather, Gideon Ramsdell and T.J.’s father, Gannett, were brothers.

Henry and Caroline had six children, Jessica Edna Marsh (1878-1947), Clara Belle Marsh (1882-1983), Bertha B. Marsh (1883-1937), Henry Lawrence Marsh (1884-1974), Irene W. Marsh (1886-1977) and Lyda Ramsdell Marsh (1891-1948).

Marsh’s obituary, published in the Detroit Free Press, described him as former president of the Canfield Lumber Co. and part owner of the Union Lumber Co. and Wolverine Co., he built the Manistee and Grand Rapids Railroad, served as an officer for many years with the road and also built the third narrow gauge railroad in the United States.

Marsh died on Aug. 11, 1933 in Manistee at the age of 86. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Antoine E Cartier

Antoine E. Cartier was born on April 16, 1836, the son of John Baptis (1790-1846) and Rosalie (Courchesne, 1795-1878) Cartier in Maskinonge, Mauricie Region, Quebec, Canada. Cartier came to the U.S. in 1857. After a stint in Chicago, he moved to Manistee where he was “first engaged at driving and assorting logs both at Manistee and Ludington,” according to the “History of Manistee, Mason, and Oceana.”

In 1860, he married Eliza Ann Ayers (1842-1920) in Manistee. They had nine children, Rosalia Cartier (1861-1933), Louis Albert Cartier (1863-1924), Warren Antoine Cartier (1866-1934), Ida Jane Cartier (1867-1962), George Robinson Cartier (1869-1944), Dezera Ephraim Cartier (1871-1949), William E. Cartier (1873-1918), Charles Earnest Cartier (1875-1959), and Eliza Cartier (1891-1891).

In 1877, Cartier moved to Ludington and the following year purchased an interest in the business that eventually became Cartier & Filer, which included a sawmill and store. He additionally was a partner in the shingle business of Danaher & Cartier and was a member of Dempsey, Cartier & Co. in Manistee. Cartier was Ludington mayor from 1880-1881. The name Cartier is still prominent in Mason County, particularly Ludington, and the family still has local ties. Antoine Cartier’s house still exists as the Ludington House Bed and Breakfast, 501 E. Ludington Ave. His son Warren’s house was located across the street and today operates as the Cartier Mansion Bed and Breakfast.

Cartier died on March 1, 1910 in Ludington. 

Ernst Nielsen Salling, known as E.N. Salling was born on March 15, 1843 in Viborg, Denmark, the son of Christian Anderson (1800-?) and Else Catherine (Dyrberg, 1806-?) Salling.

Ernst Salling

At the age of 13, he began working as a clerk in a mercantile establishment owned by his brother.

After working in Chicago for a stint, he came to Manistee on April 3, 1863 and went to work as a laborer in Michael Engelman’s sawmill. When the mill closed down in the fall, Salling was transferred to Engelman’s store and the following year was promoted to foreman at the mill, serving in that role until 1868.

After five years in the U.S. he had saved enough money to begin investing in pine timber in partnership with Rasmus Hansen. From 1868 to 1871 he was manager of the Engelman vessel property consisting of five steamers carrying passengers and freight on Lake Michigan. In 1871, in partnership with Michael Engelman, he purchased the Waterman and Wing sawmill. The following year, Simeon Babcock joined the firm and lumber yards were opened in Chicago and Milwaukee.

On Oct. 15, 1867, he married Marion Johnston (1850-1882) in Manistee. Marion was the daughter of William Miengun, a Mackinac Island lawyer, and Susan (Davenport) Johnston. During the 1870s the family home was located on the corner of Pine and Fifth streets in Manistee.

Their children included Ernest Johnston Salling (1870-1889), Susan Hawes (1872-1931), Lillias Burden (1874-1945), Virginia Jane Kanouse (1876-1910), Jennie Maria Salling (1877-1910) and Olga Andrietta Cornwell (1879-1964), and Nelson Salling (1882-1882).

Marion Salling died on Aug. 26, 1882. Two years later, Ernst married Lotta Wheeling.

In 1879, Salling sold his interests in the lumber firm to his partners and took an extended vacation to Denmark, his native country. When he returned he formed a new company, Salling, Hansen and Company with Rasmus Hansen. The business operated mills in Manistee and Grayling.

Salling owned extensive amounts of land, harvesting pine, in the Upper Peninsula, and Washington Territory.

Salling died on July 25, 1909 in Manistee and is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Manistee.

Elihu Golden (E.G.) Filer was born on Dec. 4, 1840 in Jefferson County, New York, the son of Delos Louis (1817-1879) and Juliette (Golden, 1816-1864) Filer.

E.G. Filer

Filer served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War from 1862 to 1864. He was a corporal in the Michigan 20th Infantry.

In order to write about E.G. Filer, it’s necessary to write about his father, Delos who moved to Manistee in 1853 from Racine, Wis. Delos had worked for the Canfields in Racine, Wis. and essentially transferred to Manistee.

In 1866, he established D.L. Filer & Sons with sons Elihu Golden and Delos Warren. They purchased 2,500 acres of land, known as the Norton lands, extending south from Manistee Lake, which became Filer City.

Delos L. Filer eventually bought out James Ludington’s interest in the Pere Marquette Lumber Co. in Pere Marquette (later Ludington), moving there in 1869 (Ludington was incorporated in 1873).

E.G. Filer was also the president of Manistee County Savings Bank, director of Michigan Trust Co., and treasurer of the Manistee and Grand Rapids Railway.

He married Julia Agnes (1840-1912) on Dec. 23, 1865 in Racine, Wis.

Filer was appointed as Filer City post master on March 10, 1868 and served until April 12, 1871.

E.G. Filer died on April 13, 1921 in Chicago. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Manistee.

James Dempsey was born on April 10, 1832 in County Roscommon, Ireland in 1832, the son of Lawrence and Mary (Ward) Dempsey.

James Dempsey

When he was 11 years old, he came to the U.S., immigrating to Pennsylvania. When he was 22, he moved to Manistee where he worked as a lumber jack for a year, working for John Canfield. Working his way up, he eventually went into business with Antoine Cartier, forming Dempsey & Canfield. He eventually purchased the entire company and renamed it Manistee Lumber Co. and served as its president.

He was also senior member of Dempsey, Simpson & Co. which had mills on the east side of Manistee Lake. He also owned Dempsey Tug Line, which was started in 1880.

Dempsey served as the city of Manistee’s second postmaster beginning in 1862. He also served as mayor for one term.

He married Mary Theresa Mullen (1841-1906) in 1861. They had 12 children, which included Lawrence Thomas Dempsey (1862-1923), Helen Mary Clancy (1863-1940), Emily Margaret Murphy (1865-1941), James Ward Dempsey (1867-1916), Henriette Fitzgerald (1868-1946), Cecilia Rose Duncan (1870-1956), Estella Josephine Nessen (1872-1946), Louis Cornelius Dempsey (1874-1927), John Joseph Dempsey (1876-1945), Francis Michael Dempsey (1878-1931), Neal Dempsey (1880-1960), and Walter M. Dempsey (1883-1886).

Dempsey died on Aug. 5, 1919 in Manistee. He is buried in Mount Carmel Catholic Cemetery in Manistee.

John H. Canfield was born on May 17, 1830 in Sandisfield, Berkshire Co., Mass. the son of Roswell and Marion (Hammond) Canfield. In 1841 his father came to Racine, Wis. and the following year was joined by his family.

John Canfield

In 1848, his father began the erection of a sawmill near the mouth of the Manistee River. In 1849, at the age of 18, John Canfield came to Manistee to take over his father’s business.

For several years the mill was known as Canfield Brothers and then became Canfield & Wheeler.

John Canfield purchased a lot of his land in 1851, east of his mill.

In 1854 he married Helen M. Beach (1834-1860) in New Marlborough, Mass. Their children included Nellie Celeste Canfield (1855-1946), Caroline Canfield Thorsen (1858-1942) and Ida Canfield Frost (1860-1944).

After Helen’s death, John married Frances Virginia Wheeler (1836-1904) in Joliet, Ill. in 1864. Their children included, Francis Wheeler Canfield (1865-1899), Charles John Canfield (1868-1953), Margaret Canfield (1869-1959) and Margaret “Daisy” Canfield (1869-1959).

John provided the funds to build Manistee’s first hospital and also the Congregational Church, which still exists.

He operated the mill with his sons, Frank and Charles.

John Canfield died at the age of 69 on Dec. 2, 1899 in Manistee. He is buried in section B of Oak Grove Cemetery.

Francis “Frank” Wheeler Canfield was born on Jan. 18, 1866 in Manistee, the son of John (1830-1899) and Francis (Wheeler, 1865-1899) Canfield.

Frank Canfield

On Jan. 9, 1890, he married Harriet C. “Hattie” Winn (1871-1931) in Thomas County, Georgia. Their children included Helen Winn Boynton (1891-1928), Margaret Canfield Peck (1893-1970) and John Canfield (1896-?).

According to his death certificate, Frank Canfield died of cerebral meningitis on March 12, 1899 at the age of 38. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Manistee. Frank died nine months before his father.

After Frank’s death, Harriet married Leon Augustus Wolters on Jan. 7, 1904 in Manistee.

Charles John Canfield was born on April 1, 1868, the son of John (1830-1899) and Francis (Wheeler, 1865-1899) Canfield.

Charles married Belle Gardner (1870-1943) on Dec. 31, 1890 in Manistee. They had two children, Doris Canfield (1895-1993) and John C. Canfield (1901-1907).

After he and Belle divorced, Charles married Kathleen Winn (1875-?) of Thomasville, Georgia, on Oct. 16, 1907 in Atlanta, Georgia. They had three children, Charles Winn Canfield (1909-1959), Frances Winn Canfield (1915-1960) and Kate Winn Canfield (1915-?).

On April 16, 1910, Belle Canfield married George Otis Nye in Onekama.

Charles died on June 5, 1953 in Chicago. He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.

Robert R. Blacker was born Oct. 31, 1845 in Brantford, Ontario, the son of Edward (1807-1894) and Margaret (Tomlinson, 1808-1889) Blacker.

Robert Blacker

Blacker left home when he was 19 years old and emigrated to Michigan where he initially spent two years in Buchanan and then relocated to Manistee. He was a lumber inspector until 1877 and then built a sawmill and engaged in the manufacturing of shingles.

In 1879 he helped build Davies, Blacker & Co. mill, which was, at one time, considered the largest lumber and shingle mill in Michigan.

Blacker was one of the founders and a director of First National Bank of Manistee. In the spring of 1880 he was elected as an alderman of Manistee’s ninth ward.

On Feb. 2, 1872, he married Harriet L. “Hattie” Williams (1847-1896) in Buchanan, Berrien County. They had one child, Alice Marie Simpson Blacker (1878-1927). Following Hattie’s death, Robert married Nellie C. Canfield (1855-1946) on Feb. 22, 1900 in Grand Rapids.

Blacker died on Sept. 16, 1931 in Los Angeles, Calif.

End of the line.

The Manistee & Grand Rapids Railroad was an ambitious endeavor by a group of successful businessmen. In the end, however, its route wasn’t as practical as its nearby competition. Further, the vision of those businessmen to develop their harvested forests didn’t turn out quite like they had hoped either. However, while they may not have deemed their attempt at developing the land a success, today much of that land is now part of the Manistee National Forest, which will remain preserved for many generations.

Additional thanks to Ron Muszynski for being my exploration companion; my brother, Tom, for flying me over the route of the old railroad in his Cessna 172; Bernita Hurd for her extensive knowledge of the Free Soil area; Bruce Hasenbank for showing me the site of the old bridge and touring his land and Allison Scarbrough for editing the article. 

Portions of this article were written as a result of research at the Mason County Historical Society. 




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