One of the earliest documents relating to Clare County history forms the Farwell City Company. It was formed in 1870 as a joint stock company by prominent businessmen Gurdon Corning, Lorenzo Curtis, Edmund Hall, James Hay, Thomas Merrill, James Pearson, Erza Rust, and Ammi Wright. Theses businessmen, lumbermen, and mostly millionaires invested widely in many business ventures, of which Farwell was one. Several streets in Farwell are named for founding members of the company.
Farwell was once the largest and most important community in Clare County. As the first county seat, it was the beginning of county government and a hub of lumbering and business activity. Farwell was off to a prosperous beginning, and many businesses came to Farwell to serve lumber camps, settlers, and new farmers. This was interrupted in July 1877 when the courthouse burned in a suspicious fire. The cause of the fire was never determined, but it sparked controversy and debate that continues today.
A temporary courthouse was put in use, and the squabble began over where to locate a new one. The county seat was sought after as it brought jobs, business, and prominence to wherever it was located. Clare and Farwell both lobbied for the county seat. The Michigan legislature had passed a law that county courthouses must be as centrally located as possible. Though it was still a wilderness, the town of Harrison, in the middle of the county, was being planned as the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad was making its way north.
There are conflicting stories about influential lumbermen like Winfield Scott Gerrish paying his men in drink to go to the polls for keeping the county seat in Farwell. His logging railroad was nearing the Budd Lake area as he continued to clear lumber and profits from his Lake George & Muskegon River Railroad. This story was likely newspaper fodder to rally the farmers against lumbering and business interests by claiming men like Gerrish could influence their men …
Saturday would have been opening day of Little League in Harrison, Michigan. I'd have already sat through a month of freezing cold practices as the 1,783 sports season of my Mom life begins. The ski equipment and winter gear were just cleared out my car, but baseball equipment didn't replace them.
There is no Little League parade this year and no Spring sports season. No lining up to watch for the sea of color-coded kids walking to the fields to sing the National Anthem and hear the loud booming voice of league president Jim Neff yell, "PLAY BALL." He's really good at that.
I know most of the kids in the parade. I snap their pictures and wave. The parade is one of my favorite parts of baseball each year. The Veterans Honor Guard is always there to do the salute and raise the flag.
Though I've always been somewhat of a reluctant sports Mom the thought of telling our kids the season was canceled was difficult. Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to sit at the fields with my friends watching our kids.
Most parents feel the same way. Our social media accounts are popping up with memories of seasons past, opening days, great plays, and bittersweet defeats. It’s not fun to lose or sit in the freezing rain and a watch a game or a practice. But afterwards when your child says, “thanks for staying out there with me Mom” or buy ice cream to celebrate or sooth it feels like a rare parenting victory.
Not having a baseball season or any other sports season is painful for many. It’s one of the many reminders how quickly our lives have changed and the small and large things we are sacrificing. Sports was never very important to me until I had four boys to raise and watched them learn, work hard, and be coached to be better players and better people by playing sports.
We can live without playing a season of Little League and a great many …
Sometimes it can feel like a Reality TV show when I’m out reporting. It’s also fun to spend a little time in someone else’s world on their job. Last week I was able to witness the road commission set a bridge into place and then write about it for our readers.
I’m not quite like Mike Rowe on “Dirty Jobs.” I’m quite sure I don’t fit in on a construction site. I wore suede boots which I quickly switched to my son’s Muck-style boots that happened to be in the car. A plus when you have growing boys – you can share shoes if you dare to.
The big excitement of day as I mentioned in my article was a crane coming to set the bridge – the only piece of the job the road commission couldn’t do themselves. But cranes don’t show up and fly through the job. It’s a long set-up process, so I picked up my other son so I he could witness it, too, since high school is still virtual – a little hands-on learning instead of the virtual world our kids have been stuck in.
The crane arrived at 9:30 and was ready to move the bridge at noon. The pride and enthusiasm from road commission employees was evident over such a large project being completed. Everyone I talked to was friendly and happy to explain what was going on.
Embarrassingly enough, I locked my keys in my car in all the excitement. And this isn’t the first time. The last time I was at Wilson State Park in the pouring rain. The time before that I was at the post office. All in 2020. Fox Wrecker always recues me, and I make the call of shame to my friend and insurance agent Dan Durga who takes care of it.
The upside was we had more time to hang out and watch the road commission on the job. I was impressed by their camaraderie. They even spared a hot dog from their lunch for my son (14-year-olds must eat every 15 minutes.)
This was one of their most exciting days on the road commission. I’m sure most days are the …
Menu cover from the Surrey House in Harrison from the early 1980s. The art is signed by local resident Thelma “Tem” Hubbell who was a popular commercial artist and beloved community member.
The Surrey House, as it notes here, was the Ohio Tavern and before that it was the Johnson House. Newspapers first mention the structure on April 23, 1880, “Shaver and McIntyre have the frame up for the new Johnson House.” A week later the newspaper reports, “Shaver and McIntyre are rushing the Johnson House and it will be ready to occupy in a few days.”
Often people ask for local history books and here is a great list of books to read if you are interested in Clare, Farwell, Harrison or Clare County history:
Clare by Robert Knapp (Arcadia Publishing, 2012) Pictorial history of Clare in the Images of America series.
Clare Remembered 1879-1979 by the Clare Area Centennial Committee (1978)
Cut and Run! Railroad Logging in Clare County by Dr. James S. Hannum M.D. (Hannum House Publications 2014)
Farwell by Angela Kellogg and Nick Loomis (Arcadia Publishing, 2016) Pictorial history of Farwell in the Images of America series.
Harrison by Angela Kellogg and Cody Beemer (Arcadia Publishing, 2014) Pictorial history of Harrison in the Images of America series.
Josiah Littlefield, Lumberman-Conservationist: An Autobiography
Michigan's Heartland by Forrest Meek
Michigan Timber Battleground by Forrest Meek
Mystery Man Gangster, Oil and Murder in Michigan by Robert Knapp (Cliophile Press 2014)
Sacred Buildings: Historic Clare Michigan Churches by Ken Lingaur (2018)
Small Town Citizen, Minion of the Mob: Sam Garfield's Two Lives Purple Gangsters, Meyer Lansky and Life in Clare, Michigan by Robert Knapp (Cliophile Press 2018)
Spikehorn The Life Story of John E. Meyer by T.M. Sellers (1994)
Ticket to Hell by Roy Dodge
Where They Lived by Ken Linguar
The Road to Marion Town by J. August Lithen
From Pine Forest to Market City: The History of Clare Michigan's Downtown by Ken Linguar
Clare County Murder 1871-2020 (2020) by Jon Ringelberg
For light reading here is some just-for-fun fiction about the Clare county area:
Harrison Town: Discovering God's Grace in Bears, Prayers and County Fair by Michael Newman (2011)
Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund (2012)
Do you know a book that should be added to the list? Please call or email our editor at 989-539-7496 or …
With great interest I’ve been following the finding and removal of the Thew Type O Steam Shovel from the bottom of the drained Wixom Lake near the Edenville dam. Not seen in 100 years, the shovel ironically helped create the lake that drained when the dam failed this past spring.
The steam shovel’s new home will be the Midland Antique Engine Association. They are optimistic and enthusiastic about restoring it back to working condition. It’s only one of a handful known to exist.
The YouTube channel of Jordan Mowbray has an interesting video detailing the process to get the steam shovel out of the lakebed. A lot of tedious hand digging and detaching the boiler from the steam shovel and a lot of volunteer hours went to getting the machine released from its former resting place. Heavy equipment that didn’t exist 100 years ago assisted in pulling the machine out. The river and lakebed are a tragically fascinating to site to see.
This treasure can be restored, and its old parts used as patterns to make new ones and the hope is it can be running again. Restoration is the end goal. The wheels were still turning as the steam shovel was hauled out of the dirt. There had been unsuccessful attempts to resurface the steam shovel in years passed but the catastrophic dam failure finally made it possible.
One of the things that comes up all the time, particularly when I speak to school groups, is the lore of trains in our lakes. Is there a train in Budd Lake? Almost every lake that was active during the logging era has a legend of a train or other sunken treasures.
While there isn’t a train in Budd Lake, there is logging era evidence all around us. I’ve also heard railroad tracks were run across Budd Lake. We know this isn’t true and that any tracks across or near Budd Lake are just fun stories. We know exactly where the tracks were in relation to the lake (near the Harrison Lumber Co. and power dock area where …
Clip from the front page of the Cleaver in 1945, one year before the Surrey House opened to the public and became a regional attraction.
Northern Michigan and Harrison in particular saw a booming post-war rise in tourism. While the same building now has drawings to retrofit into the Harrison District Library, the building remains largely unchanged. The name, owners, and the times may have changed but this building has been standing in Harrison since 1880.
Knowledge of local history can go a long way in finding and identifying photos. I found this photo in an online auction several years ago.
The photo is mislabeled by the seller as a post-mortem child. In fact is it Paul Weatherhead, asleep in a box in his uncles store downtown Harrison in about 1903. Unfortunately, I missed purchasing this photo online, but I was able to keep scans that I copied. It was labeled only with Paul's name and age on the reserve side.
Paul’s father was Fred Weatherhead, longtime Harrison resident, banker, real estate developer, and popular community leader. Paul’s mother was Mary Hughes Weatherhead and her brothers operated the Hughes Bros. Store on Main Street for over half a century.
After teaching and traveling abroad in his younger years, Paul made his home in Harrison most of his life. He was well known as a real estate agent that was heavily involved in the community. His family and their lives are well documented in the Cleaver and through family history collections at the Harrison District Library and the Clare County Historical Society and with many family members that remain in the area.
Post-mortem photography was an accepted memorial practice over a hundred years ago. There were few photos of a person and taking a photo of the deceased alone or posing with family members was common. It's easy to see why the seller of the photo would think young Weatherhead was deceased posed in such a way.
Paul didn’t die as a child but in 1989 at age 88 and is buried in the family plot at Maple Grove Cemetery in Harrison.
The year was eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, and it was the early part of April. It had been a winter of deep snowfall, but a sudden rise in temperature and a warm southwest wind had first settled it into a compact mass and then cut small spiral in it which the warm air was sticking the snow crystals back to their original composition of water, with the result that the bottom of the mass was slush.
The ice was breaking in the smaller streams that formed the headwaters of the Muskegon. The swamps were filling with water, the red willows, which fringe both streams and swamps were swelling their buds, and winter’s cold grip was at last broken.
It was early morning and small black clouds drifted across the face of the stars shutting off their gleams. Then they rekindled again, it resembled the snuffing out and relighting of a million candles.
At the edge of a small clearing surrounded by a dense forest, the moon, for a moment unobscured by clouds, threw a long, black and grotesque shadow up on the snow. It was that of a man, but its upper part seemed strangely out of proportion, as though he were a hunchback, or had some unnatural growth.
The contour shadow was not caused by any peculiarity of form in the person whose reflection it case, but by the fact that slung across his back from the top of his right shoulder and under his left arm was a grain sack tied together with a strong cord running across his breast.
The sack was well-filled, in it closely folded and tightly packed were heavy suits of blue mackinaw pants, red knit underwear, coarse woven checkered woolen shirts, six pairs of home knit lumberman’s socks, and some blue bandana handkerchiefs.
Except for his outer garments, this sack and its contents constituted his entire wardrobe, and with sixty dollars in his pickets were his only assets representing ten-years of life in the lumber woods.
The sack he called his ‘turkey’ and the money was his …
We only have a handful of newspapers that are pre-1930 due to a fire at the Cleaver office in 1926. Of those we do have one is from September 22, 1922. I often wonder why the surviving papers were kept and over the years drifted back to our office. This particular paper has written in the top left corner "the last paper papa read."
The subscription label reads "Amos Scrimger" We can safely assume he's the "papa" in question. Amos Judge Scrimger was a farmer in Frost township and passed away on Sept. 27, 1922 at only age 45. He was born in 1876 in Van Buren county. His cause of death is listed as an abscess of the lung from a neglected case of pneumonia. He is buried in the Evergreen cemetery in Frost township.
We also have the newspaper from October 6, 1992 with Scrimger's obit on the front page. It is one of only four newspapers we have from the 1920s. The Oct. 6 newspaper also mentions him in their neighborhood column for Frost twp., " Amos Scrimger passed away on Wednesday of last week. The community is deeply grieved." and also that, "Francis Beemer went to Clarence [in Redding township] Sunday to teach school for Miss Pansy Scrimger." Pansy was one of Scrimger's three daughters.
The Clare Courier reported his death in their Sept. 29, 1992 issue, "Mr. Amos Scrimger died Wednesday noon at his home in Frost Township from an abscess on the lungs."
Amos married Sarah Klingler in 1901 and they had three daughters: Pansy, Francis and Dorothy. Sarah does not appear to have remarried after Amos died and she passed away in 1963.
The only thing better than a year they take the census is the year they release census records from more than 70 years ago for research. As a genealogist and a history lover, the census is near and dear to my heart and my family tree.
I’ve looked at thousands of historical census records and I’m looking forward to the release of the 1950 census in April of 2022. The National Archives has a 72-year rule that records aren’t released to the general public until 72-years after the census is taken. When you participate in the 2020 census your information will not be public until 2092.
There is a funny mention of the census from 1880 in the Clare County Press, “The census takers are busily at their business, asking all sorts of questions. Don’t lie to a census taker, not for a hundred dollars.” Incidentally, the fine for lying to a census taker was $100!
Older census records providing good information relied on the handwriting and meticulousness of the census taker. Of course, if you are solving a genealogical mystery, the handwriting is bad and names questionable.
This year when you receive your invitation to complete the census you can do it online, by phone or by mail. I can only imagine this will please someone researching their family history a hundred years from now. Especially if they don’t have to rely on bad handwriting!
Census takers will still be out there counting the homeless and transient population, on college campuses, senior centers and in communities conducting quality checks to ensure accurate counts.
In the future we won’t be as elusive as our ancestors. Our lives are well documented now compared to a hundred or more years ago. I have hundreds of photos of my childhood, my grandparents had dozens or less and my children have thousands. My cell phone as 4,000 photos alone! But the census is important in other ways besides knowing whether great grandma could read and write. Census data …
As early as December of 1948 the Clare Sentinel and the Clare County Cleaver were reporting the development of Snowsnake Mountain by James D’Arcy, local real estate developer.
Snowsnake Mountain, a new northern Michigan winter sports center, is being established eight miles north and a half mile west, of Clare and now only awaits sufficient snowfall for its opening. A forty-two by twenty-four foot restaurant with glass front affords a beautiful view across the bowl to the skiing area and a twelve by twenty-four foot warming house for the comfort of guests and for waxing skiis is situated at the foot of the rope tow installed to help skiers up the mountain. Seven ski runs at different degrees of steepness will provide skiing for all types of skiers from beginners to experts and slopes are provided for beginners, intermediates and experts. Snowsnake Mountain is the closest ski area to Clare and southern Michigan, reducing travel distance of down state skiers by almost fifty miles, and night skiing under lights will be provided. The new skiing location lies four miles north of James Hill, north Michigan snow divide, and all runs and areas are laid on north and northwest slopes, assuring skiiers of continued skiing here during the season. The slopes have been bulldozed, removing all stumps and logs, to provide unobstructed courses. Snowsnake Mountain is being developed by James D’Arcy, well known realtor, who announces that the place is now open for inspection and will be open for skiing as soon as weather permits.”
In the winter of 1949, the Cleaver was running regular items about the activities at Snowsnake:
“A record crowd enjoyed the week end of favorable ski weather at Snowsnake Mountain. The slopes were well covered with the right kind of snow for the first time this winter. Tow machinery was continually kept busy.”
“A ski meet will be held at Snowsnake Mountain Saturday and Sunday …
A collection of three photos were recently shared with the Cleaver from the Welty Family, long time seasonal residents of Lake George. At times old photos have no back story and we are left to wonder what the scene is all about. In the case of these three images taken by Carl Wetly in Lake George the photography is so clear signs in the windows can be read and the rest of the story can be known.
The photo shows a small crowd gathered for the auction of E.R.M. Austin’s store. Ad is from the Clare Sentinel. Presumably, the auctioneer is Thomas Groves. Groves was a night officer for the City of Clare for many years and later ran a gas station and conducted auctions. Many of his auctions are documented in Clare county newspapers during the 1920s and 30s.
The photos of the auction give an informative view of Lake George as it was in 1927.
History often presents seemingly impossible to answer questions. W. J., a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, visited the logging camp of Winfield Scott Gerrish in 1878 and his report was published in the Clare County Press on June 21, 1878. In the report W.J. notes as to Gerrish’s logging railroad from Lake George to the Muskegon River that “The main road [RR] has . . . a telephone line running its whole length . . . .” For years this writer has wondered if Gerrish really had a telephone line as opposed to a telegraph line. Then in October, 2019, an article was in the Wall Street Journal about Thomas Alva Edison and the proverbial ‘light bulb’ went on in that the article mentioned Alexander Graham Bell, credited with ‘inventing’ the telephone. The pun is totally intended in that in 1879 Edison presumably ‘invented’ the light bulb. Research followed –
March 7, 1876 – Patent issued for ‘telephone’ to Bell [Wikipedia]
June, 1876 -Bell demonstrates telephone at Centennial Exposition
Summer, 1876 – Gerrish visits Centennial Exposition [Boomer, October- November, December 1996, Muskegon Heritage Assoc. Newsletter]
November 30, 1876 – Farwell Register on November 30, 1876, reports Gerrish & Hazelton “building a railroad on the Muskegon river, running back [to the East] to their timber” and a locomotive being “forwarded to Evart.” [Grand Rapids Eagle, March 29, 1878]
July 9, 1877 -- Bell Telephone Company founded [Wikipedia]
December 29, 1877 – reported 9.3 miles of track on Lake George & Muskegon Railroad [L GAZ, December 29, 1877]
February 15, 1878 – reported that 2 newspaper reporters (one from Cadillac and the other from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania) walked 14 miles …
"Spikehorn" Comes Home
(Obituary from the Shepherd Argus)
Spikehorn Meyer came home Tuesday to Shepherd, MI when he was buried in the Salt River Cemetery following services which were held at the Stephenson Funeral Home in Clare.
He passed away at the Gladwin Nursing Home at the age of 89, where he had been cared for the past eighteen months.
Spikehorn, as he was known far and near, was born John A. Meyer July 15, 1870 in Stark County, Ohio, and came to Shepherd in 1876 with his parents to farm two miles north of Shepherd.
He grew up in this community and for some time operated a deer park before moving to Clare County, where he had a bear den and deer park since the early thirties on US-27 near Harrison.
Spikehorn worked as a farmer, guide, woodsman, hunter, trapper and lumberjack and many were the tales he told of the early days, some of which had pretty much of a Paul Bunyon flavor. He chose to dress in pioneer costume with buckskin jacket and always wore a 1ong flowing beard and long hair according to the memories of those who knew him. He long claimed to be in his eighties and by his appearance, looked it, but was only 89 when he died Saturday.
He was quite a hand to invent and manufacture machines. Among them was a sugar beet lifter, tile and chairs, and one especially remembered by local residents was a logging tractor which proved to be so heavy it could scarcely remove itself, engines in those days not being so powerful.
He advertised his bear den as the only bear den in the world where visitors were allowed to shake hands with the bears and as a result he faced law suits from visitors who were mauled by his bears. He was also taken into court by the Conservation Department for failure to get a permit to keep bears and was consistently criticizing the department.
In 1948 Spikehorn was campaigning for state representative to the legislature from the Clare Isabella District and ran afoul of the law when he distributed defamatory …
Linen postcards from the 1930s and 1940s was something I had largely overlooked in collecting and researching Clare County. So many are available and at an inexpensive price they didn't seem that important. Most are not actual local scenes but generic lake and landscape tourist scenes. Since they weren't actual local images I hadn't collected or researched them.
Many linen cards were made by Curt Teich & Co, Inc. . Since these cards were mass produced and there are so many of them a high percentage are mailed and contain a lot of genealogical and first-person information of the subject. If the card is mailed the postmark date can provide information and luckyily with a large company like Curt Teich & Co, Inc. they had their own system of coding and dating postcards. (https://www.newberry.org/sites/default/files/researchguide-attachments/Teich_Postcard_Dating_Guide_2016.pdf )
I was particulary gratefull to be able to date the linen Teich card that is stamped on the back SPIKE HORN CREEK CAMP BEAR DEN. The card is from the 1930s so we can see what ol' Spikehorn was up to and how he represented his busienss during this time. The scene with this stamp on the back is an inland water scene and probably a set of cards he bought for resale were that were not personalized. This particular card was produced in 1934 and of course it could have been for sale for many years at Spikehorn's tourist camp.
Purchasing and studying some of these inexpensive pieces of local history, while not direct images of Clare county, are still important pieces of our history.
The Editor of the Cleaver, Angela Kellogg, was featured in the March 2019 issue of the Michigan Press Association newsletter, the Guardian.
Clare County’s first township was not Grant, Sheridan, nor Surrey Township, it was Three Lakes Township. According to Forrest Meek in Michigan’s Timber Battleground (1976) in “January of 1869, unknown to the [Michigan] Legislature . . . Joseph Bucher, William Crawford and James Green met and organized a township called ‘Three Lakes’ in Clare County.” The Isabella County Board of Supervisors approved the detachment and thereafter, Joseph Bucher was appointed Supervisor. The new township continued for about one year. Unfortunately the Michigan Legislature had detached eastern Clare County from Isabella County in March of 1869, thereby nullifying the detachment of the Isabella County Board of Supervisors. The real Grant Township was established by a detachment by the Midland County Board of Supervisors and that detachment allowed for the organization of Grant and Sheridan Townships in March of 1870. One year later Surrey Township was organized. The entity known as Three Lakes Township included what is today Grant Township (except 40 acres), Hatton Township, Hayes Township, and Frost Township (except 6 Sections). Clare County historian Tom Sellers located the Justice Docket of the Township of Three Lakes and it is presently preserved at the Clare County Historical Museum. It does not contain the ‘official minutes’ of Three Lakes Township, but it does contain the Justice of the Peace docket reports of Grant Township beginning with the case of T.H. Hinchman & Sons v Wright E. Fierst and Henry Travidick, July 19, 1871, E.D. Wheaton, Justice of the Peace. This writer suspects that the Justice Docket was ordered by the officials of Three Lakes Township and by the time it arrived, Three Lakes Township did not exist and so the Justice Docket was utilized for another purpose. In any event, the Three Lakes Township Justice Docket is not a lost piece of Clare County history, it just isn’t what one would …
Ernest Merrill may be the most photographed man in early Harrison history. Viewing so many photos of Harrison it became easy to spot Ernest Merrill in each photograph. The same jaunty hat, side posture and every so slight smirk was instantly recognizable. He appears in some photographs so removed from the scene that if there was Photoshop in the early 1900’s it may have been used to plop him in the back ground. This became a fun hide and seek as Cody Beemer and myself began to write and edit the book Harrison, published in 2014.
Imagine my surprise one day running across a wedding announcement of Ernest’s daughter Beverly. I see Bev on a regular basis at the library and the Trowbridge family has donated many historical items to the Library.
Ernest was born in Meredith, Michigan to John and Emma Merrill. John was a rail road man and his sons Charlie and Ernest followed in his footsteps. Ernest attended Harrison schools and went to work at a young age. He may have worked at the Heading mill in Harrison as he is featured in several photographs and we know he went on to work for the Flint and Pere Marquette R.R.
In 1923 Ernest’s brother Charles Merrill was killed in a railroad accident. A Pere Marquette R.R. passenger train derailed and overturned near Midland and killed Charlie and the engineer of the train Thomas Kelley of Saginaw. Kelley died at the scene and Charlie Merrill died on the train taking him to the Saginaw hospital after he had received treatment at the Dow hospital in Midland. The official cause of death on his death certificate is “nervous shock due to scalding in R.R. accident.”
Charles was already a widower having lost his young wife just three years before in 1920. Charles was buried with his wife in Saint Henry’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Isabella County.