History’s Gem of the Month: Vintage Grand Marais Photos

June 2015

This past winter one of my projects was to dive into a closet that has not seen the light of day for 17 years. The closed contained Grand Marais historical items. Back in 1998 I had gone through all the artifacts and organized them into categories. Some of the items were not conducive for being incorporated into museum displays. Other items were duplicates. One of the things I forgot that I have is a collection of large format film negatives of Grand Marais from a century ago. I also had dozens of vintage prints and post cards.

The film negatives intrigued me. I researched on the Internet the available methods of converting old film negatives into positive images and was excited to find out there are new scanners that do this automatically. I have wanted a high quality scanner for the past few years (since one that I had stopped working), so I decided to purchase one of these new types of scanners. Not only was I able to use the new scanner to convert the film negatives to positive JPEG images, but I also scanned all the vintage prints and post cards. Some of the images are included in this update.

The first picture below shows how many trees there were in Woodland Park a century ago. When the largest lumber company pulled up stakes and left Grand Marais in 1910, it donated three prime parcels of land to Burt Township. A campground was established in two of these lots; a baseball field was left intact on the third lot. Today, the recreation center, ice arena, basketball court, and tennis courts are on this third lot. During the last few years Burt Township has cut a lot of the trees down in Woodland Park. In fact, my son now calls it “woodless park.”

Prior to 1893 Grand Marais had very few residents. Everything changed in 1893 when a large lumber company located in Seney, MI decided to move its entire operation to Grand Marais. This company already had a short-line railroad from Seney half way to Grand Marais, so they extended the railroad the remaining 15 miles. In Grand Marais they constructed different railroad stations. The first photo below shows the passenger train that stopped at the head of Grand Marais Bay where the picnic shelter is now located. The second photo below shows a local dog sled team with the train in the background. Dog teams were commonly used by Grand Marais residents to get around during the winter. The third photo shows the railroad warehouse, which was located along the bay. This building no longer exists.

This next photo shows the Marais Lumber Company that was located where the marina is now situated. The trees cut west of town were dragged to the Log Slide and pushed down a chute to Lake Superior. Then they were corralled in a boom and floated seven miles east to Grand Marais. Trees cut east of town were transported by several short line railroads, none of which survive to today.

A century ago Grand Marais was a much larger town. The official census documented over 2,000 residents, but the actual number was probably a lot higher since there were many hundreds of transients that worked in the lumber camps. The photo below shows Main Street.

With the increase in commerce not only in Grand Marais, but throughout the Lake Superior region, the U.S. government established a series of lifesaving stations including one in Grand Marais that was located at the end of what is now called Coast Guard Point. A picture of the original lifesaving station is below. The next image shows the first lifesaving boat, led by Captain Trudell. How would you like to head out into a Lake Superior storm with this type of boat?

Although the lifesaving station was very competent, these brave men could not prevent shipwrecks – but could save the crews of the doomed vessels. The southern shore of Lake Superior is called “the graveyard coast.” Hundreds of ships sunk between Whitefish Point and Marquette, including dozens in the Grand Marais area. The photos below show ships that sunk just outside Grand Marais harbor in a fierce storm. This storm took out the Galatea and the Turret Crown. More information is included in the History Gem posting from July 2010 about these shipwrecks (see archive at the bottom of this page).

Although the lumber companies thought they had an almost unlimited supply of lumber in the Grand Marais area, it took less than 20 years for them to clear cut the surrounding country side. In 1910 the larger mills shut down. The mill owned by Alger and Smith moved their entire operation to Minnesota. Although railroad service was shut down immediately, since the lumber company took their train with them, innovative residents of Grand Marais were able to use the tracks for a few years by fashioning track-compatible coaches pulled by horses. By 1914 the lumber company finished taking its train tracks, too. For the next five years Grand Marais was a very isolated town. The only way to get to Grand Marais was by boat in the warmer months or by dog sled in the winter months. The photos below shows the temporary Seney stage.

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