History’s Gem of the Month: The Story of Grand Marais, Part 1

 February 2010

Reprinted with permission from J. Carter.

While my friend, Renee Beaver-Stocking, was cleaning out a closet in a home that she is house sitting for this winter, she came across this high school paper written by James Carter in 1953. He later went on to not only own a newspaper in town, but he also published Voyageurs Harbor as well as a book about the Seney Stretch. The paper is 17 pages long, so we will publish it in multiple parts.


To The People of Grand Marais I Dedicate This Story of Our Town


As we look upon Grand Marais today, a peaceful, sleepy fishing village nestled around a picturesque harbor on Lake Superior, there is little to suggest to us it’s colorful past. There is little to tell us of the many famous voyagers who regularly stopped here to seek haven from lake storms; of the struggle of its early pioneers; of the lumber boom; or of the many colorful and somewhat tragic events that took place at this harbor.

As no account up to this time has ever been written of Grand Marais, and because there are virtually none of the original settlers remaining with us to give an account of early events, it has been difficult to write an accurate description of the early existence of the village.

The following is a brief account of the story of Grand Marais.

1744 to 1894

Grand Marais is a French name meaning Great Marsh. French explorers named the harbor “Le Grand Marais” early in the sixteenth century. This name first appeared on a French map printed by Charlevoix and Bellin of Paris, in 1744. The name apparently stuck with the region, and appeared on nearly all maps of the Great Lakes from that time on. Just where the “Great Marsh” was is not definitely known.

The first settlement at Grand Marais was begun shortly after the Civil War at what is now known as east Bay. It consisted of a group of log houses clustered on the bluffs on the south side of the bay. The little hamlet could boast of only a handful of residents. Isolated as the village was, being accessible in summer by lake schooner and in winter by snowshoe, its hardy pioneers managed to make a living by fishing and a little lumbering.

During the first two decades of its existence, Grand Marais grew very slowly. By 1883 the population numbered only about one hundred – although the village could now boast of a few substantial fishing craft and two small lumber mills. The following year, however, proved to be a rather eventful one for the little hamlet. It was during this year, 1884, that the United States officially made Grand Marais harbor a harbor of refuge; the village plat of East Grand Marais was laid out; and on March 21, the United States Post Office was established with Freeman C. Hogle appointed as postmaster.

At nearly this same time C. Coon began a sizable pine mill at East Bay. The lumber and timbers produced by this mill were shipped by water to Sault Sainte Marie.

The Bountiful supply of fish was also tapped on a fairly large scale. The Conable Fish Company started fishing out of the harbor with two steam-powered tugs and a few sail craft. Shortly after, the Buckeye Fish Company and the Booth Brothers began fishing operations at the village, as did the Endress Fish Company. White fish and trout were plentiful as were other less desired species. The fishing expanded and prospered. The fish were shipped by boat to Marquette, Sault Sainte Marie, and other lake ports.

Grand Marais now began to prosper. The location of the village had by this time moved considerably west of East Bay. New log homes were now being built in the vicinity of Carpenter Creek. It was here that Mr. Rush Beadon built the first frame structure in Grand Marais. It is at present the Ahlgrin residence. Mr. Beadon is also credited with opening the earliest business establishment, a general store.

As the town grew, it gradually expanded toward what is now West Town. Here the main business district started. Mrs. James Commings established the earliest hotel of the village, the “Wabash,” in this new location. The hotel was a huge log structure, to which was later added a still larger frame addition. Mrs. Commings claimed to be the first white woman in Grand Marais.

A few years later, Enos Petitpren began a grocery store in East Town near the present Ahlgrin residence. Mr. Walter Bell also began a general store in West Town, where the present Mannisto Tavern now stands.

The village was growing slowly but surely and in 1890 the official census gave Grand Marais a population of one hundred and seventy-seven. The boom was just ahead. The vast tracts of virgin white pine that lay to the east, south, and west of the village were soon to be cut. Lumbermen, who had depleted the pine forests in Lower Michigan, were soon to pull stakes and move to new fields: the Upper Peninsula and the West Coast.

The time had finally come for Grand Marais. In 1894, the Alger-Smith Logging Company extended its railroad, the Manistique Railway, from Seney to Grand Marais. The saying “the town came in with the railroad” was certainly true. During the winter of 1894, logging camps were established, docks built, and the town’s largest mill, a pine mill, was transported from East Tawas, Michigan, where it had been in operation a short time. It was set up again near the present Municipal Power Plant. The mill began operations in the spring of 1895.

Meanwhile, a passenger coach had been placed in service between Grand Marais and Seney and people flocked to this new lumber center of activity. By mid-summer, the former hamlet had mushroomed into a village of over one thousand inhabitants.

The years between 1894-1900 marked the greatest boom. Saloons reached the number of twenty-five, a large number of which were on the main street. Two newspapers were established – the Grand Marais Herald by A. De Lacy Wood in 1894, and the Grand Marais Leader by George Miles in 1896. Morse and Schneider moved their business establishment from Seney to Grand Marais shortly after the railroad came in, as did W.W. Hargrave (later Hargrave and Hill). Both establishments were leading places of business in the city. Churches were erected. The Catholic Church was the first to hold services in Grand Marais, being established here in 1894. It was followed by the Episcopal and Methodist in 1896, Presbyterian in 1898, Swedish Lutheran in 1900, and the Finnish Lutheran later in 1907. Aside from the establishments and churches already mentioned, Grand Marais had many places of business: three drug stores, two tailoring establishments, restaurant and bakery, jewelry store, two livery stables, three meat markets, two tonsorial [barber] parlors, two photographic galleries, at least a dozen boarding houses, three dry-goods stores, laundry, a number of general stores, dress-making parlor, three candy stores, and two blacksmith shops. The Grand Marais Exchange Bank was set up in the R.E. Schneider building, but never did open for business.

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