AN OVERVIEW OF EARLY HISTORY - VILLAGE OF ELK RAPIDS & ELK RAPIDS TOWNSHIP
Until the early 1800s, Northern
Michigan was a vast, virtually
unbroken woodland inhabited exclusively by Native Americans
known as the Anishinabek. It
was a favorite country with the Indians and the Mound Builders.
First Building Project in
Elk Rapids: The history of Grand Traverse
County begins in the year 1839 with the advent of Protestant
missionaries and the United States surveyors. These were the
first intimations the Indians in this locality received of
rival ownership. In May, 1839, Rev. John Fleming and Rev.
Peter Dougherty arrived at the little cove, known as Mission
Harbor, and landed near where the wharf has since been
built. They had come by boat from Mackinac where they had
spent the previous v, inter and had now come to the Grand
Traverse Bay region for the purpose of establishing a
mission, having been sent to this country by the
Presbyterian Board of Missions. From Dr. Leach's sketch in
the Grand Traverse Herald we now quote as follows: "Of the
presence of man there were no signs visible, save a few bark
wigwams, in a narrow break in the fringe of forest, from one
of which a thin column of blue smoke curled lazily upward.
They found only one Indian at the village. He informed them
that the band were encamped at the mouth of the river (Elk
River) on the opposite side of the bay. The Indian made a
signal with a column of smoke which had the effect of
bringing over a canoe, full of young men, who came to
inquire who the strangers were and what was wanted. The next
day, a chief, with a number of men, came over. Messrs.
Fleming and Dougherty informed him that they had come, by
direction of their agent at Mackinac. and by permission of
their great father, the president, to establish a school
among them for the instruction of their children, and to
teach them a knowledge of the Savior. The reply was that the
head chief, with his men, would come in a few days, and then
they would give an answer. On the arrival of the head chief,
Aish-qua-gwon-a-ba, a council was held, for the purpose of
considering the proposal of the missionaries.
At its close, Messrs. Fleming and Dougherty were informed
that the Indians had decided to unite the bands living in
the vicinity, and locate near the river, on the east side of
the bay (Elk Rapids). If the missionaries would go with
them, they would show them the intended location of their
new villages and gardens, so that they could select a good
central site for their dwelling and school. About the 20th
of the month, the white men in their boat accompanied by a
fleet of Indian canoes, crossed the bay, landing at the
mouth of the river, where the village of Elk Rapids is now
situated. The Indians proposed to divide their settlement
into two villages. After looking over the ground, the
missionaries chose a location, something more than a quarter
of a mile from the river, on the south side.
The day after the missionaries landed at Elk River, the
Indians' came to their tent in great excitement, saying
there were white men in the country. They had seen a horse's
track which contained the impression of a shoe. Their ponies
were not shod. Shortly after, a white man came into the
camp. He proved to be a packman belonging to a company of
United States surveyors, who were at work on the east side
of Elk and Torch Lakes. He had lost his way and wanted a
guide to pilot him back to his company.
An Indian went with him several miles, returning in the
afternoon with the man's hatchet in his possession, having
taken it on the refusal of the latter to pay him for his
services. The next day the whole company of surveyors came
in and encamped for a short time at the river.
Immediately after deciding upon the location, Messrs.
Fleming and Dougherty commenced cutting logs for the
construction of a dwelling and school house. Hard work and
the discomforts of a wilderness, the latter of which were
doubly annoying to the inexperienced missionaries, filled up
the next few days. Among other evils from which they could
not escape, the sand flies were a terrible torment. Finally,
the body of the house was raised, the doors and windows
brought from Mackinac were put in their places, and the
gables and roofs were covered with sheets of cedar bark
purchased of the Indians.
Then an unexpected blow fell upon the devoted missionaries,
crushing the hopes and changing the life prospects of one,
and plunging both into deep sorrow. A messenger came from
Mackinac, with intelligence that Mr. Fleming's wife had
suddenly died at that place. The bereaved husband, with the
four men who had come with him, immediately embarked in
their boat for Mackinac. He never returned to the mission.
Mr. Dougherty was left alone. With the exception of the
surveyors at work somewhere in the interior, he was the only
white person in the country.
After the departure of his comrade, Mr. Dougherty, with the
assistance of Peter Greensky, the interpreter, busied
himself with the work of finishing the house, and clearing
away the brush in the vicinity. Once or twice the cedar bark
of the roof took fire from the stove pipe, but fortunately
the accident was discovered before any serious damage was
done. The old chief Aish-qua-gwon-a-ba and his wife, perhaps
to show their friendliness and make it less lonely for the
missionary, came and stayed with him several days in his
About the 20th of June, Henry R.
Schoolcraft, Indian agent at Mackinac, arrived in small
vessel, accompanied by his interpreter, Robert Graverat, and
Isaac George as Indian blacksmith. From information received
at Mackinac, Mr. Schoolcraft had come impressed with the
notion that the harbor near the little island near the
peninsula (Bower's Harbor) would be a suitable point at
which to locate the blacksmith, carpenter, and farmer, that
by the terms of tile recent treaty, the government was
obliged to furnish for the benefit of the Indians.
Abandonment of the Elk
Rapids Indian Village & Mission: Looking over
the ground, and consulting the wishes of the Indians, he
finally came to the conclusion that Mission Harbor was a
more suitable place. Accordingly Mr. George was left to
commence operations, and Mr. Schoolcraft returned to
Mackinac. Soon after the departure of Mr. Schoolcraft,
Ah-go-sa, the chief at Mission Harbor, accompanied by the
principal men of his band, visited Mr. Dougherty, saying
that most of the Indians at that place were unwilling to
move over to the east side of the bay (Elk Rapids), and
offering to transport him and his goods across to Mission
Harbor, and furnish him a house to live in, if lie would
take up his residence with them. Convinced that, all things
considered, he harbor was a more eligible site for the
mission, Mr. Dougherty at once accepted the proposal.
Leaving what things were not needed for immediate use, and
loading the balance in Indian canoes, he was ferried across
the bay to the scene of his future labors-the place where
lie had first landed, not many weeks before, and which,
under the name of Old Mission, then become famous as a
center of development in the agricultural interests of
In the spring of 1840 the log house which had been built at
Elk Rapids the previous year was taken down, and the
materials were transported across the bay and used in the
construction of a school-house and wood-shed. Until the
Mission Church was built, a year or two after, the
school-house was used for holding religious services as well
as for school.
Arrivals In Elk Rapids
Township: In 1854, Rev. J. J. McLaughlin,
a resident of the area since 1851,
discovered the remains of a log house on the shore of Elk Lake,
about four rods south of the county line between Grand Traverse
and Antrim Counties. It had been built of cedar logs. Mr. McLaughlin reported
appearances that the logs had not been removed, but that the building had
settled down where it stood.
There was nothing left to show of what materials the roof had been
constructed of. The door-way was in the south end, and there had
been a stone chimney or fireplace in the northeast corner. That
it had been inhabited was evident from the coals found
in the fireplace.
That this structure was not the work of Indians was evident
from the fact that the fireplace was built of stones and was in the
corner of the building. If built by white men, and if, as Mr. McLaughlin thought,
time enough had elapsed for it to rot down previous to 1854, there must have
been white men on Elk Lake a
generation or two earlier than Mr. Dougherty's arrival at Old
Mission in 1839, for cedar timber does not rot readily. Who they were,
and why they were here, is a mystery It is very possible these first
settlers to our area were French fur traders
venturing well south of the fur trade centers which were already
in the Mackinaw Straits area.
FOUNDING PIONEER YEARS - 1846 - 1860
Abram S. Wadsworth:
first visited the Grand Traverse region in 1846, there is no doubt, but
as to his movements during the next few years accounts differ. As
nearly as can be ascertained, in 1846 Wadsworth came northward from
Portland, Ionia County, Michigan, coasting
in a small boat, and voyaging as far as the Pictured Rocks in Lake
Superior and thence to Mackinaw. From there he went by steamer
to Detroit, and thence returned home. The next spring, accompanied by
wife Martha, brother-in-law - Samuel Northam, and the
Wadsworth's three children - Fanny, Elizabeth & James.
They arrived at Old Mission, July 16, 1847.
He remained some time at Old Mission.
In the spring of 1848-1850, every unclear as to which year, Mr. Wadsworth
built a small log cabin near the present site of the town hall at
Elk Rapids village.
There, with Mr. Samuel K. Northam, his brother-in-law, assisted
by some Indians, he peeled a quantity of hemlock bark and shipped
it to Racine, Wis. About that time he was employed by the government in the
re-survey of lands, and with the funds arising from
his work and his bark, he erected a log house on his lands, and late in
the fall his family settled therein.
In 1851 the Wadsworth family moved to Connecticut and spent some
time in that state. Later they returned and spent some three
years more in Old Mission; thence they returned to Elk Rapids, and,
finally, after various changes in location (a store at Petobego), made Elk
home until moving later to Traverse City.
The spring of 1850, brought
Thomas Hill (Milton Township's 1st
Settler), Samuel Rogers,
James J. McLaughlin searching for work
and homesteads. Abram Wadsworth, with the help of James J. McLaughlin, began to make preparations for building
a mill on the east side of the Bay. It was designed
for a picket and lath-mill. The picket-mill did
not suit Mr. Wadsworth, so he had this mill overhauled and
turned it into a sawmill.
Wadsworth then sold this mill
to a man by the name of Norris. A second mill was scarcely completed,
when Mr. Wadsworth sold it to M. Craw & Co., of which firm Mr. Samuel Wirt Dexter was
the principal partner.
Abram Wadsworth left the Elk Rapids area late in
1851, moving with his family to Connecticut.
The original mill property defaulted the following year and
was again sold to James Rankin.
FIRST PERMANENT SETTERS:
In the spring of 1851, James McLaughlin was the first of the
earliest area residents to returned south and moved his family
(Lydia Case (2nd wife), and two sons Charles A. &
Robert both from his first wife Abigail who drowned in
1941) to Elk Rapids thus to become the first permanent and
lasting settler family to stay in the Elk Rapids area.
About the first of November, 1852, a cloud settled over the community, caused by
the death of Charles A., youngest son of James &
McLaughlin, a bright boy of thirteen.
His death was caused by his swallowing
a pin which he had bent for a fish hook. The grave
was made in a grove of pines, in a beautiful spot on the first terrace
above the bay. For several years afterward the place was used as a
burying ground by the inhabitants. The remains of the first occupants
were removed at a later date to Maple Grove Cemetery.
Note: Some renditions
of Elk Rapids history list Charles McLaughlin as being the
first white child born in Elk Rapids, but attached
historical materials indicate that Charles S. McLaughlin
was not born until August 11, 1862. Historical records
indicate that the older brother Charles A. McLaughlin,
age 13 years, was in fact the first recorded death in
November 1852. It is possible that Charles A. (born
1839) might be the first birth recorded in Kalamazoo, Mi.
not Elk Rapids. Logic would indicate there would have
been other births in Elk Rapids between 1850 -1862.
During the Fall of 1851 the wives and children of Amos Wood
(Edith Fraiser/daughter of William Day Frasier),
Alexander McVicar (Charlotte Wood) arrived. A
Mormon family named Barnes arrived but remained but a short time.
The Wood & McVicar families became the 2nd and 3rd earliest
settler families to permanently relocate and stay in the Elk
RAPIDS THE SETTLEMENT:
In 1851 lots for the Stevens (Village of Elk Rapids) were platted and the asking
price was $25 per lot. Abram Wadsworth
laid out lots in Elk Rapids and sold them for $25, James
McLaughlin buying two lots in trade for a bellows where the town hall is
Up until 1852 there were no cattle in the vicinity of Elk Rapids, except a yoke of
oxen at the lumber camp on Round lake. In July 1852, Mr.
McLaughlin went out to the south part of the state and drove in from
Allegan a pair of oxen and a cow. Of this trip James McLaughlin
says: "At Grand Rapids I was joined by William Slawson and
Stocking, each with a cow. From Grand Rapids they struck north and
unbroken wilderness, with only a section line to follow. The first day
out from the Rapids, Slawson's cow broke away and they lost her being the only
serious mishap they had, and after traveling thirteen
days they arrived at Elk Rapids. The town was thrown into quite
an excitement at the sound of a cow bell, these being the first that had
ever been heard in this region. Soon after this Alexander McVicar came up from
Canada, bringing with him his father's family and also two
cows, which made in all four cows and two yoke of oxen on
this side of the bay".
Among those who
during 1852, were Michael Gay, John Lake,
Jared Stocking and John B. Spencer,
with their families. Michael Gay & John Lake being lumber
sawyers were already residents of Traverse City prior to
moving to Elk Rapids. The this first white child born in
Traverse City being his offspring.
In 1853, Alexander McVicar returned to Canada and
brought his wife's family to Elk Rapids - Enoch Wood,
with wife Matilda (Curtis), & his father-in-law
Wiliam Day Frasier arrived in Elk Rapids.
pioneer Michigan lumberman
began his Elk Rapids business in 1853, under the name - J Rankin & Sons.
Rankin purchased an existing sawmill from William Wadsworth
and did a large and thriving business in partnership
with his sons, William and John operating the mill from
1853 until the
panic of 1857. Rankin operating at that time
two mills in Elk Rapids. Jared Stocking opened
and operated the first
hotel in Elk Rapids.
ANTRIM COUNTY RECORDS: On
April 25, 1853 in a meeting at the
Wadsworth home, the
Township of Antrim
(later renamed Meguzee/Meegisee
- an Indian word meaning Eagle, and finally
Township) was officially
established. The Township of Antrim was part of Grand
Traverse County at this time. At this first town
meeting 13 votes were cast by John S. Barker,
John B. Spencer, Jarret
Stocking, Enoch Wood, William H. Chase, Amos Wood, M. W.
Slawson, James J. McLaughlin, Jerome
B. Stocking, Samuel K. Northam, Orselas
Evans, Charles G. Walker and William
SCHOOL AND POST
OFFICE: The school district was organized in May of 1853
with George W. Ladd as district teacher. Mr.
Ladd lived on Old Mission Peninsula and boated to the
classroom. The original school house stood a few rods
from the red brick school that was later built. Also, this same year the
Office of Stevens, Michigan was established with
Theron Bostwick as the first postmaster.
The office was held successively by H. H. Noble, E. L. Sprague, S. W. Stacy,
Cuthbert Parkinson, George A. Dyer and
C. J. Holbrook
(PM-1883). When the post office was opened in 1853 the
State wished the name of the town returned to Stevens,
John Palmer Brand arrived in the Elk Rapids
settlement in late 1853, where Amos
Wadsworth had started a lumber mill in operation,
the other settlers of the town, at the time
being Thomas Hill,
Samuel Rogers, Amos Wood, Alexander McVicar, and James McLaughlin, who kept the
first boarding house in the place. In 1857, Mr. Brand went
to work for James Rankin who had purchased the sawmill from A.S. Wadsworth. Brand purchased property and platted
additional lots for the settlement. After a period of
time, John Brand was employed by
Henry Noble, foreman and general manager of Mr.
Craw & Company's large lumber and mercantile as a bookkeeper.
The Elk Rapids "Brand Street" was named for J.P. Brand.
Arriving in 1853 were the
families of - John Denahy, E. L.Sprague,
J. W. Arnold, David F. Parks,
(Milton Twp) and Hiram Robinson. The clearings of farmers began to dot the shores
of Elk lake.
The year 1855 brought
John Milton Goddard
to homestead on property south of Elk
Rapids, Mr. Goddard was originally
a map maker and then a farmer, Goddard's Point on
Elk Lake carries his name.
EARLY PIONEER YEARS - 1861 - 1870
Elk Rapids received its first decided impetus as a business place
when Henry Horbart Noble located there in September, 1856, as an employee
of M. Craw & Company. He came from Washtenaw county, and in the fall of 1856
when his employers dissolved partnership he associated
Samuel Wirt Dexter in the establishment of the
firm of Dexter & Noble. For several years after 1861 their
lumbering and mercantile operations monopolized the business
of Elk Rapids.
Village of Elk Rapids was then known as
Stevens, Michigan until it was
changed in 1858 to its present name.
Stevens, Michigan was the first town in the county of Antrim.
Elk Rapids was
the county seat until 1879 when the county started to
The population of the entire Antrim
County in 1860 was 179 (including the attached territory),
and in 1864 - 882.
In 1864 the first
newspaper - the Traverse Bay Eagle, was established.
The population of the
County in 1864 was 882.
1865 mention was made of the village as follows:
"Elk Rapids is a village of about 300 inhabitants. Here reside all the
county officers. In 1864
Samuel W. Dexter & Henry Noble built saw mills, a lumber yard, grist mill
and a boat dock on
The village by this time contained several
saw-mills and lumbering establishments, a
dock in Grand Traverse Bay which will
admit of any propeller receiving and discharging freight, a grist-mill, and also
a good run of burrstones all owned by the Dexter & Noble
Company. Also in the village at this time was one
hotel ("The Cottage" owned by E.W. Filer), one store, one grocery, one blacksmith shop, one school, and
two organized churches, the Methodist and Congregationalist.
There were no doctors or lawyers in the area. The
primary shipping exports from the village were
lumber, lath, shingles, wood, bark, &
YEARS - 1871 - 1880
the first number of the
Elk Rapids Eagle was published by Elvin L. Sprague. It was a three column folio, the
size of the page being 10x18 inches. The Elk Rapids advertisers
in the first number were as follows: Dexter & Noble, dealers in
lumber, lath and shingles, dry goods; groceries and provisions;
James P. Brand, notary public; S. Edwin Wait, architect and
builder; George Goodhue, manufacturer of boots and shoes; Lemuel R. Smith, who
offered 8,000 apple trees for sale; and Ada R.
Sprague, milliner. It was also mentioned that a dock would
be completed at Elk Rapids during the following season.
The Eagle was afterward removed to Traverse City and under publication of Mr.
In June, 1866, the following notice of local improvement was
made in the local paper.
"Messrs. Dexter & Noble have commenced excavating for a
new store, which is to be completed this season.. The building is
to be 82 feet wide by 100 feet long, two stores high, and stone or brick
basement. 1866 also
Mr. Edwin S. Noble, a brother of Henry Horbart Noble, came here
from Albion, Mich., where he had been engaged in the mercantile
business. He was born in Dexter, Mich., in 1838, and in 1860 engaged in the
mercantile business at Albion. Upon coming to Elk
Rapids Edwin S. Noble entered the employ of Dexter & Noble, and continued
in that capacity until 1869, when he became a member of the
By 1867 The
town library contains over 200 carefully selected books and there were now seven
saloons and seven churches.
Chapter #275 F & A.M. was established with meetings held in
the court house. In the spring of 1870 the lodge
fitted up a new hall in the upper story of Mr. Cooper's
building. The room was 20x85 feet in
size, and its finishing and furnishing was greatly admired at the
time, and was thought to compare favorably with anything of the kind in northern
1870 - Among the arriving Settlers were:
Fitch Rorberts Wiliams,
an attorney, George E. Steele & Archibald K. Dougherty.
1871, brought the first Medical Doctor to Elk Rapids,
George H. Bailey, MD worked in partnership with
Richard W. Bagot until 1881 when he opened his own medical
practice with pharmacy.
The Elk Rapids Progress was established in 1872 by Elvin L.Sprague, who sold it to H. E. Gemberling, and
then Mr. Gemberling to B.F. Davis. The editors have been Fitch R. Williams, James Parkinson,
E. L. Sprague, Giles Daubeny, H.E. Gemberling and B. F. Davis. The Progress
was first published as a six-column folio, was changed
to a five-column quarto, and then back again to its original size
and form. It was independent in politics and is printed entirely at
1872 - Flour Mill Opened:
The next important improvement made by the Dexter & Noble Company was
the building of a large flour-mill in 1872. The mill was 40x60 feet on the ground, three and a half
stories high with a stone basement ten feet high, and cost at the
start $25,000. In the winter of 1884 it was changed to a roller
mill with a capacity of one hundred and twenty-five barrels in
1873 - Elk Rapids
Iron Company (located on the east side of Elk River
above the rapids), with
Henry Horbart Noble in charge of the operative
and executive affairs. Mr. Dexter became
the owner of extensive landed and timber
interests in northern Michigan, and in association with Henry Horbart
large sawmills and conducted extensive lumbering enterprises in
Antrim and adjacent
counties, while the firm also established a
large general store in Elk Rapids,
town they were numbered among the founders.
They also erected a
gristmill in this
place and promoted many other enterprises
which aided materially in bringing about
the growth and material advancement of this
section. They were associated with Wilbur F. Storey, a well known founder
of the Chicago Times, in the organization
of the Elk Rapids Iron Company,
furnaces here were erected in 1873, being
the largest charcoal furnaces in the United
States. This enterprise was inaugurated in
order to utilize the hard wood timber in this
section, where the pine timber had been practically exhausted.
Mr. Story was later succeeded by N.K. Fairbank, another
prominent citizen of Chicago, and Edwin S. Noble, sold his
interest to Mr. N.K. Fairbank, in 1891. The furnace was
forty-eight feet high, twelve feet wide
and was blown by an engine 60x72 with an 18x72 steam cylinder.
The school building of red bring was a building of
which a much larger village might have justly felt proud.
The Ames Street school
was built in 1874 at a cost of $10,600, and at the school meeting
in the fall of 1878 the school was divided into grades.
School District Report
for the month ending May 80, 1884:
Entire number enrolled:
High school..................................... 43
Second intermediate........................ 84
First intermediate............................. 57
East primary................................... 83
South primary................................. 16
Average daily attendance:
High school..................................... 30
Second intermediate........................ 25
First intermediate............................. 50
South primary.................................. 13
East primary.................................... 21
AREA SETTLERS - 1881 - 1900
1878 COUNTY SEAT MOVED TO BELLAIRE
As the country developed and the eastern part of the county became settled, the
question of removing the county seat to a more central point than Elk Rapids was
agitated. In October, 1878, there were
thirteen organized townships in the county, and at the meeting of the
board of supervisors held that month it was voted to remove the county
seat to the "south fractional half of the southwest fractional quarter
of section 19, in town 30 north, range 7 west."
The question was voted upon at the spring election. The whole
number of votes cast was 1,020, of which 574 were for removal and
446 against- removal. The vote of the several towns was a follows:
|Banks, 35 for, 75 against
||Central Lake, 35 for, 35 against
||Custer, 71 for;
Echo, 90 for;
||Elk Rapids, 6 for and 145 against;
Forest Home, 43 for and 3 against
||Helena, 66 for
and 4 against;
Jordan, 29 for and 34 against
||Kearney, 60 for
and 1 against
Mancelona, 74 for and 1 against
||Milton, 12 for
and 122 against
Torch Lake, 1 for and 28 against
Dec. 31, 1880, the
Bangor Chemical Co. was organized with
the following officers: President, N. K. Fairbank; vice-president,
F. H. Head; treasurer, H. H. Noble; secretary, E. S. Noble; general manager, H.
N. Pierce. The works cost $100,000 and were
put in operation in November, 1881.
The various enterprises of this firm gave employment to an
average of 350 men at Elk Rapids. They had three tugs and
twenty-one barges employed in their wood business, the steam propeller " Leland"
on Lake Michigan, and the side wheel steamer
Queen of the Lakes."
The Lake View House Hotel was also the property of Dexter & Noble,
having been purchased by them in 1878 and rebuilt. Elk Rapids had now
become a resort for tourists, and particularly those in pursuit of
the sport of fishing. In the vicinity of Elk Rapids were the finest
trout streams in the country, while at the mouth of the Elk River
bass fishing was exceptionally fine.
1888 RIVER STREET
The town hall was a public buildings of
which a much larger village might have justly felt proud.
The Township Hall is a handsome brick building erected in 1888.
The location of the village is decidedly picturesque and attractive, and the
people appear to be proud of their surroundings
and liberal in matters of local interest.
1897 - Spring &
Amerson Mercantile Company opened by
Spring & H.S. Amerson in 1897.
cement plant was erected in 1890 and later moved to
Elk Rapids was incorporated as a
Village in 1900.
By 1910 the hardwoods had
been logged off and the industry died out.
Population sank to 684 during the depression in