MANISTIQUE, Mich. (WJMN) — The lumber industry put Manistique on the map when a group of investors from New York discovered an abundance of some specific trees in the area in the mid-19th century.
“Around 1880, there was only like 400 or 500 people here,” Larry Peterson, president of the Schoolcraft County Historical Society, said. “The lumber industry, there was so much white pine and they built another sawmill. At one time, there was three sawmills here. …They made all kinds of lumber for sale but they also made sashes, shingles, you name it; if it could be made out of wood, they produced it.”
After a devastating fire in 1893, the 20th century brought many new industries and innovations to the area.
“During World War I, there was a bigger demand for all of these products,” Peterson said. “The chemical companies extracted acetone from the lumber and they actually used that as a form of ammunition (in the war); it was more of a smokeless ammunition. So they had government contracts, and there were 400 or 500 people working at the chemical company and of course the (Goodwillie Bros.) Box Factory, they had government contracts. So it was really a boom time during World War I.”
Following World War I, Manistique endured financial hardships and a flood that nearly wiped out the whole downtown.
“The one bright spot was that the paper mill was built and of course, they built the Siphon Bridge at that time and the flume along the Manistique River,” Peterson said. “The paper mill used mostly pulpwood, balsam and spruce, not the pine, and so that employed a lot of people.”
Like the paper mill, many pieces of Manistique history can still be seen today.
“The water tower was built in 1922 and it was basically Benjamin Gero, who had a newspaper here and he was a businessman, started out as a lumber scaler,” Peterson said. “He owned the first automobile in Manistique. He had the first automobile dealership here starting in 1901. He had his fingers in lots of different things. He became mayor in the 1920s. And when it came time to do something about Manistique’s water system, so he didn’t want to just have an old run-of- the-mill water tower. He wanted something special so he insisted on the brick water tower that we have today.”
The Schoolcraft County Historical Society has hundreds of interesting artifacts in its collection. Many agree that the ultimate historical find was the first edition of the Schoolcraft County Pioneer.
“Wright Clarke came into Manistique in 1880 and he had been employed at the Escanaba Iron Port and also the Marquette Mining Journal,” Peterson said. “When he came here from Escanaba, he started up a newspaper. The lumber company pretty much set him up with a newspaper office and he bought a printing press.”
Clarke published his first edition of the newspaper on April 29, 1880. The newspaper was published on cloth to increase durability and allow people to easily share the paper with others.
After almost 140 years, Peterson was contacted by a distant relative of Clarke’s from Connecticut saying she had many items related to Schoolcraft County history, including a first-edition copy of the Schoolcraft County Pioneer.
“When I got it, it was in a small 3×5 envelope all folded up and of course, I very carefully unfolded it and looked at it,” Peterson said. “I wrapped it up in acid-free paper and long story short, the newspaper ended up being sent to Washington D.C. It was sent to a cloth conservator, who washed it and put it in a box for display, that archival material. It’s beautiful.”
The Schoolcraft County Historical Society will be renovating the old Manistique Lumber Company warehouse in order to safely display all of its historical exhibits and artifacts. To raise the funds for the move and renovations, it is selling 12×12 and 12×24 granite tiles, which will be placed on the exterior wall of the museum as a memorial to loved ones or to a family business. To buy a tile, click here.
You can visit the Schoolcraft County Historical Society at its museum Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the Schoolcraft County Historical Society, click here.