History Gem – Sand Dunes: A Fragile Ecosystem

As I looked through the Gitche Gumee Museum’s archives, I came across an article about sand dunes, titled” Dunes: As fragile as the shifting sands, we all need to protect this unique resource.”  It was published Michigan Natural Resources magazine in May/June 1979.  As much as I love the Lake Superior beach, I must admit my favorite place in Grand Marais is the Grand Sable Dunes.

Grand Sable Dunes is approximately five square miles of rugged terrain.  The dunes intersect the Lake Superior shoreline with the Grand Sable Banks.  These banks are 300 feet above the lake, but there are sections in the dunes that are more than 400 feet higher than the bluff of the banks.

These dunes formed after the glaciers retreated around 10,000 years ago.  One of the post-glacial lakes prior to the current Lake Superior was Lake Nipissing.  The water level of Lake Nipissing rose, which caused the Grand Sable Banks to become unstable and erode. A dominant northwesterly wind blew and carried the sand from the bluff to pile up in the flat upland south of the Grand Sable Banks. This sand was “perched” on top of the upland, hence the name, “perched dune system.”

Information from the Michigan Natural Resources magazine is below.

“Dunes have wide appeal.  as direct evidence of the Ice age, dunes are of considerable interest to geologists.  Botanists and biologists also are fascinated by the surprising diversity and distribution of plant and animal species found in the dunes, and by the unique adaptations these life forms make to high temperatures and low moisture conditions.”

“With all these values inherent in our dunes, it’s obviously important that we take steps to preserve them.  The climatic and geologic conditions that created them no longer exist, so if the dunes are destroyed, they are not likely to ever regain their present size and extent.”

It is because of the fragile nature of the dunes that the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore does not allow any type of motorized vehicle in the area.  Most people respect this rule and do not drive their snowmobiles or four-wheelers up into the dunes.  If you should get caught, there are steep fines and the possibility of having your machine confiscated.  The amount of damage caused by violators is beyond what they can imagine.  The photo below shows a broken tree caused by a snowmobile.  There were more broken trees than we could count

So if you are in the Grand Marais area and decide to trek up into the dunes, please be respectful of this beautiful and fragile ecosystem.




History Gem – 1995 Grand Rapids Press Article about the Fish Tug, Shark

Background Information

Four years after the Niemies retired the Shark, she was sold to a fisherman in Cheboygan who was determined to catch sturgeon in Lake Huron. After two years with no success, he sold the tug to a pleasure boater in southwestern Michigan. Its ownership was transferred a couple of more times before it was used at least once more for commercial fishing in Lake Michigan.

After purchasing the museum, I decided to head down to southeastern Michigan to interview Arvi Niemi. During our conversation, he said that he thought the Shark was on display somewhere in South Haven. I drove another hour south and while doing some shopping, I asked the cashier if she knew of somewhere in South Haven that an old fish tug might be on display. She said: “You mean a boat?” She directed me to the Michigan Maritime Museum. When I introduced myself to the museum curator, Ken Pott, and showed him some pictures of the Niemies and their fish tugs, he got very excited and invited me to the museum library wherein he relayed his story.

Mr. Pott explained that in 1994 an article was published in the Inland Seas Journal about the Niemies and the three fish tugs they had built. Inspired by the article, he convinced the museum’s board to acquire and renovate an old fish tug. A couple of weeks later, as he was driving outside of South Haven he spotted an old fish tug next to a corn field. He stopped and asked the farmer about the tug. The farmer replied: “I don’t know much about her, but I think she was built in the Upper Peninsula. I only bought her so I could take out the Fordson motor, put that motor in my tractor — and now my tractor works just fine!”  After conducting some research, Mr. Pott discovered that this was indeed the same tug described in the recently published article. The farmer gave the tug to the museum. However, the museum never renovated her as it was decided instead to renovate a larger fish tug.

When I explained to Mr. Pott about reopening the Gitche Gumee Museum, the agreed to donate her so that the Shark could come home.  During the time that the Maritime Museum owned the Shark, a student from Western Michigan University studied her.  It was determined that the Shark was the last hand-made fish tug left intact in the Great Lakes Region.  A professional boat hauler was hired, who charged by the quarter mile for an 800-mile round trip.  We turned many heads as we traveled up the highway and over the Mackinaw Bridge on the long road home to Grand Marais.

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Unfortunately, a couple of years ago the Shark’s condition deteriorated.  I contacted several historical groups hoping to get some help in paying for a complete renovation.  I had already put thousands of dollars into the tug over more than a decade.  I could not find any funding and was left with no choice but to have the tug hauled away.

The article below appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on February 12, 1995.

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Maritime Museum Accepts Historic Fishing Tug

By Kristin Hay

A 33-foot boat built by a Finnish family that fished the waters of Lake Superior80 years ago has been donated to the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven.

The fishing tug, named “Shark,” was built, owned and operated by the Niemi family I Grand Marais, said Kenneth Pott, curator of the Michigan Maritime Museum.

“We are excited to acquire such a rare and well-preserved example of an early folk tradition of commercial fishing in Michigan,” Pott said.  “We are thankful that this boat survived the years and trials of its career and was donated to us.”

Along with the boat, the museum learned of the vessel’s colorful history from Axel Niemi of Ontonagon.  Niemi is the youngest of the four sons who worked in the family fishing business.

He said the Niemi family’s patriarch, Otto Niemi emigrated to Grand Marais in 1905 from Finland at the age of 21, landing a job working in the sawmills.  The mills shipped pine timbers to England while the pine forests lasted.

But after the mills closed in 1910, Otto Niemi built a rowboat, purchased a sailboat and later built two other larger boats, one of which was the Shark.

Niemi said it took the family about a year (1939 to 1940) to construct the Shark.  They fished the waters of Lake Superior [with the Shark] from 1941 to 1953.

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Pott called the boat “extremely well documented.”  All four sons are still living and are willing to share their stories about fishing on the Shark.

Many fishing tugs similar to the Shark were lost in storms that blow up frequently on Lake Superior, said Niemi, who recalled one memorable spring storm during which he watched his father battle 12-foot waves.

“My dad and my brother-in-law got caught in the storm,” Niemi said.  “The waves tossed the boat around like a surfboard.  A big swell twice the height of the boat picked it up and pushed the tug beyond the east side of the entrance of the pier.

“Each time the boat would disappear below the swells, you’d think the boat was gone.  My dad learned a lot about sailing on a hundred-ton stoop in Finland, so he was a good sailor.  He dove into the swells and kept coming through the trough of the sea,” Niemi remembered. 

Another boat out in the same storm wasn’t as lucky.  Two out of three fishermen aboard drowned when their boat filled with water, he said.

There were other storms, some worse, Niemi said, but they always managed to escape in time.  Whenever a storm started brewing, they’d pull up their nets and head for shore, he said.

The Niemi family fished for lake trout until 1953, when they hauled up their nets for the last time because the sea lamprey had killed off the trout. “The lamprey are still there and you can’t get rid of them,” Niemi said.  “Some fishermen believe they came in on the side of ore carriers that came through the St. Lawrence Seaway.”

After 1953, the Niemi family sold the shark to a buyer in Cheboygan, and it eventually wound up in St. Joseph.  Pott said it’s believed it may have been owned for a time by Michigan Indian fishermen.

Robert Trowbridge, a South Haven resident with maritime interests, acquired the tug and recently donated it to the museum, Pott said.

The boat will become part of an exhibit on traditions of commercial fishing in Michigan, Pott said.

Two other intermediate sized boats planned for the exhibit are the Mackinaw, a 19-foot sailing craft used in the early years of commercial fishing, and the Evelyn S., a sturdy, 50-foot wooden fishing tug which formed the backbone of commercial fishing fleets on the Great Lakes from the 1940s into the 1960s.

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Unfortunately, the Maritime Museum later acquired a different fish tug and renovated it instead of the Shark.  So the Shark sat on a dock until I came along in 1993.  Once the Shark was in place in the yard west of the museum, thousands of dollars were spent to fill in the gaps between the hull’s boards, do what we could to preserve the aged wood, build a cover over the hole cut on top of the Shark by the farmer who extracted the engine, and re-paint the tug.  A local youth group received a grant that included funds for community service projects.  The kids voted to help with the Shark’s renovation.  I wish she was still sitting outside the museum, but at least we were able to preserve the historic fish tug for more than twenty extra years.

History’s Gem of the Month: 1932 Petition

April 2018

History Gem – 1932 Petition submitted by the Grand Marais Womens’ Club to the Burt Township Board

After the railroad closed in 1910, the population in Grand Marais declined from thousands of people down to just a few hundred. Since there were no roads yet, the only way to get to Grand Marais was by ship, during the non-winter months, or by an over-land stage. Finally, M77 was completed in the mid-1920s that made life in Grand Marais a bit better. Just when things were improving, the depression hit. Those living in Grand Marais had to be self-sufficient and survived by fishing, hunting, and gardening. Many families also had cows to supply their families with milk and meat. However, most families did not have yards big enough to coral their livestock, so the cows were allowed to roam around town. The free-roaming bovine created friction when they knocked down fences around gardens and consumed neighbor’s gardens.

The oldest club in town today is the Grand Marais Women’s Club. Back in 1932 women in this club took action and created a petition to try to remedy the situation. The text of the petition is below.

The Grand Marais Women’s Club
Grand Marais, Michigan
September 5, 1932

To Chairmen of the Township Board of Burt Township

We, the undersigned qualified voters submit the following petition to have all cattle, horses, mules and pigs kept off of the streets in the town of Grand Marais, and Burt Township.
We believe for the future of Grand Marais, that the above animals on the streets are detrimental to the town in general. Gardens have been destroyed, fences broken down, and complaints have been made by tourists that they were unable to sleep on account of the cow bells.
We believe by bringing more tourists to town we will not only increase employment but also increase the sale of milk products and farm produce, which will help the owners of said cows and keep the town in a sanitary condition.

Mrs. J. Spencer
Mrs. A. J. Goupille
Otto Newberg
Mrs. A. Newberg
Mrs. A. Mattson
Mrs. Joe DesJardin
Mrs. Edward Erickson
J Rainthir
Mrs. Jas H. Buckland
J.H. Buckland
Pearl Martin
Mrs. A. S. Tulloch
E. J. Spencer
Irene Endress
Herman Wood
Isabelle McCall
Mrs. Donald McCall
Mrs. J Plant
Joe Plant
Mrs. Chas Duval
Mrs. R. E. Schneider
Mr. R. E. Schneider
A Goupille
Mr. Torrzes
Mrs. Torrzes
Kathleen Richards
Bernice Bennett
Etta Barney
Pearl Masse
Agnes Petitpren
Henry J. Petripren
M Thoupsow
J Thoupsow
Denise Thompson
Grace Chilson
Marie Petitpren
Chas Goodman
Ambrose Graham
May Meldrum
Ray Meldrum
Clarence Nettleton
Violet Nettleton
Mrs. M. Propst
Manley Propst
Chas Propst
C. J. Power
Mrs. C. J. Power
Hilda Peterson
John Peterson
Mrs. Mary C Demsey
Fred Demsey
Mrs. Irene Rathburn
D. M. Rathburn
Mrs. Elizabeth McDonald
Mr. Robert McDonald
R. J. Cook
Marner Keating
G. S. Hill
F. G. Petripren
John A. Peterson
Oiva Erickson
John W. Williamson
Mrs. J. W. Williamson
Mrs. Jay Lee
Jay Lee
Mrs. E. J. Gross
E. Gross
J. E Sayen
Mrs. J. E. Sayen
Mrs. D. H. Pratt
Geo S. Denny
Fred W. Denny
Cecelia Cherrette
Mrs. Elizabeth Nettleton
Mr. G. E. Nettleton
Geo S. Butler
Mrs. Wood
Ora Endress
Margaret M. Soldenski
G. S. Tullock
Mrs. Larson
Mrs. Frank Vaudreid
Charles Dunol
Mr. Frank Vandersal
Mrs. Mary Petripren
Janice Thomas
H. T. Richards
B. J. Trudell
Jean Trudell
Vivian Trudell
Lily B. Waggoner
Allen Tweedy
Alice Tweedy
Mrs. Florence Butler
Paul Reynolds
Mrs. Eldon Reynolds
Mr. Jesse Jones
Mr. A. L. Phoenix
Mrs. Mae Phoenix

NOTE: The signatures on this petition were written in pencil. Although efforts were made to correctly interpret the handwriting, I apologize in advance for any errors.

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History’s Gem of the Month: Article about Seagull (Lost) Island, Grand Marais Bay

December 2017

This morning I went through some of the Gitche Gumee Museum’s archives and came across a newspaper article about the island that used to be on the outside edge of Grand Marais Bay. The island had different names including Seagull Island, Gull Island, and Lost Island.

In the late 1960s my sister and I were the last to walk on the island, which at that time was a narrow spit of sand around 60 feet long. We had rented a canoe from the museum founder, Axel Niemi, and canoed down the old Sucker River to East Bay, carried the canoe across the peninsula by Lonesome Point, and canoed over to the island before returning to the marina. The next day after our canoe ride there was a huge storm. When the waves subsided, the island was no longer. And yes, as the article describes, the seagulls made sure we did not stay on the island very long.

Before getting to the article, here are a series of photos and diagrams of the harbor. This first image shows the harbor configuration in 1870. Although it appears there is a gap allowing access to the bay, the gap was too shallow to allow ships to access the west bay. Then a ship sunk near this gap to further obstruct shipping traffic. Thus, the original settlement of Grand Marais was on East Bay. Eventually the channel was dug on the west side of west bay to allow access to the larger bay.

The photo below from 1897 shows Gull Island. The picture was taken from the end of the peninsula (Coast Guard Point).

The diagram below shows changes to the bay over time.

The photo below was also taken from the end of Coast Guard Point. It was taken sometime during the late 1950s or early 1960s.

NOTE: The article below was cut out of a newspaper, but Axel did not write the date or the name of the newspaper on the clipping.

This Island Really is ‘for the birds’ By Harry C. Sahs

No Matter who holds the deed, gulls “own” the 4.7 acre spit of land the villagers of Grand Marais, Mich., call Gull Island. Thousands of herring seagulls make the island their home, “repelling” visitors with dive-bombing attacks and incessant screams.

Gull Island protects the tiny harbor at Grand Marais from the full fury of Lake Superior. It is adjacent to the rock-bound harbor and breakwater entrance guarded by a U.S. Coast Guard station.

George L. Jacobites of Highland Park, and Edmund Warren, of Miami, Fla., hold the deed, but the gulls hold the land. “It would take a shooting war to force eviction,” said Jacobites. “They’re sticklers for rights,” he said.

Federal law protects the gulls. Harming them could mean a $500 fine, six months in jail or both.

Togetherness is a striking trait of the gulls, who leave the island just ahead of the severest cold and ice and return early in the spring, when Gull Island’s bird population is especially inhospitable to trespassers.

Downy nestlings change their color several times the first year before becoming predominantly white. But one thing they never change is their possessive feeling about gull Island.

It’s their home.

History’s Gem of the Month: Jonas Hill Letters

July 2017

When I researched the history book I wrote two years ago, Superior Land and the Story of Grand Marais, Michigan, one of my tasks was to search through the museum archive and other resources. I have a fourth cousin in Finland (Rauno Sarja) with whom I have been corresponding for several years. Rane found me on the internet due to the posting of a picture of my great-grandfather, Jonas Hill. Jonas was a sibling to Rane’s grandparent. A couple of years ago Rane sent me some letters he found that were written by my great-grandfather. They were written in Finnish, so Rane was kind enough to translate them.

My great-grandfather was born in Finland in 1871 and immigrated to the United States around the turn of last century. He resided in Grand Marais, other than a short time when he lived in Washington State, until his death in 1950. A picture of my great-grandfather and his family is below. Jonas is holding my grandmother. The photo was taken around 1908.

The difficult times livings in Grand Marais during the first few decades of the 1900s are explained in this series of letters between my great-grandfather, Jonas Hill, and our relatives in Finland. The first letter discusses the birth of my grandmother.

Grand Marais, Michigan, December 6, 1907

Well hereby I declare that the incorruptible laws of causes and consequences have increased our family with a daughter on October 18, a grace day in 1909. The name was suggested by a soul better than I — it is Anni Elviira. I hope she will be the beauty of the Promised Land.

Then I found myself to be in bed massaging my bones for three weeks, dead foot fever as they call it. I tried to fix myself, first by means of liquor and pills, which are used in these kinds of health situations. But my pharmaceutical skills were not adequate and I had to rely on medical assistance from a doctor. He willingly gave it proper treatment twice a day for the next week, so I was able to be cured. What a great burden this illness added to my fatherly concerns.

According to recent data there are over 500,000 people unemployed with more lockouts happening every day. Workers must consider if they think with their brains or with their intestines. During our lifetime they care about us very little — only trample and oppress us. Oh well, the situation will not get better by crying. One must open his eyes and start to do something about it.

Grand Marais, Michigan, February 25, 1946

I declare that I live yet, although I am already rotten old at 75 years. I guess nowadays there are only a few people alive who I knew years ago.

It has been difficult here [due to the war] — you need to have a ration card to get what you need. The government is giving me just enough old-age assistance so that I can get my daily bread.

Grand Marais, Michigan, March 5, 1946

My life has been multi-staged and one could write quite a novel about it. Wartime has not been the worst years here. There has been a lot of complaining, but compared to what is happening in other countries complaining here in the U.S. has been almost pointless.

Grand Marais Michigan, April 30, 1946

I thank you for your letter. Receiving it was a moment of joy – the first for me in a long time. I have been in poor health for a few weeks now and couldn’t do much. Old age is causing trouble for me. Also, a lot of younger people have been sick lately, too. It has been an unusually cold spring so far, it is causing troubles for us. This little village has no doctor and it is a bad thing.

The power of money in this country is devilish. The government does not share it with those of us who live in these small villages. Unfortunately, the people here don’t care to put pressure on the authorities. We have only about 100 elders in town now plus the children, but there has not been cooperation in this community for a long time. It is so hard to even get the most basic of goods here nowadays.

So to survive we must take advantage of Mother Nature’s breadbasket and grow what we need during the summer. Because of my age I haven’t been able to work for the last six years. Another issue has been that even if according the law I was entitled to have bread money from the state once I was 65 years old, they delayed giving me that money until I was nearly 68.

Here we have started a collection to send items to Finland. Some used clothes have already been sent. It is tough, though, because now when people are able to earn more money, it seems that the government takes it away. We are taxed so much that you have only empty pockets left. Only those who have no money to begin with have been left in peace. The rich have made a lot of money and now they want to start a new war. I still cannot say if they will succeed but everything is going in that direction.

In my life there have been so many chapters. Now when I’m alone in this cottage my thoughts tend to often return to my homeland in Finland, which I haven’t forgotten. There are no longer many Finns remaining here in Grand Marais as they have all passed away. I’m one of the oldest surviving Finns in town. The younger generation cannot speak Finnish, and they don’t want to learn Finnish — I think this is wrong!

I’m still living and taking care of myself. Although I don’t earn a wage anymore, I try to do something every day. Winter has not been too bad this year, but I am looking forward to the summer breeze when this old pal will hopefully revive a little.

A picture of my great-grandfather’s home is below. The house is located to the west of the Lutheran Church on Brazel Street.

History’s Gem of the Month: Logging Era Photos

March 2017

When I researched the history book I wrote last year, Superior Land and the Story of Grand Marais, Michigan, one of my tasks was to locate relevant photos. Thankfully, the museum archives contained many dozens of film negatives and pictures. I also acquired some photos from the State Historical Library in Lansing. Finally, I was able to find a few photos from other sources.

Although logging began in the Grand Marais area in the 1880s, logging activity didn’t intensify until the forests located down state were depleted and when the railroad was built to connect Grand Marais to Seney. Today there are only around 350 full-year residents in Grand Marais. During the peak of the logging era, there were officially more than 2,000 residents. However, the actual population was probably much higher since the census did not always count transients who worked in the logging camps, nor did the census always count Native Americans.

Below are some photos from the logging era.

History’s Gem of the Month: Grand Marais Poems

June 2016

While searching through my archives to look for something to include as a “history gem,” I came across these three poems about Grand Marais.

Grand Marais by Esther Miller

On the shores of Lake Superior,
lies a special little town.
Inhabitants are very few,
but to me of great renown.
It brings back precious memories,
of my young and frivolous days.
School and teen days delving onward,
through every sort of phase.

I can see that stately lighthouse,
at the end of that rocky pier,
beckoning to ships that are lost in the night
Ships from both far and near.
I can visualize that harbor,
lit up by the vessels therein,
whose men await the storm to abate,
to get home to their kith and kin.

My ears still hear that great fog horn,
the lonesomest sound in the world.
But to many a weary traveler,
it’s like a banner unfurled.
I think of the times I have trod that beach,
when the lake was gentle and mild.
Picked up agates among the stones,
Oh! For the thoughts of a child.

The school overlooking that harbor
has memories too great to be told.
My childhood days so wonderful,
are treasures now that I’m old.
My friends are scattered here and there,
I often wonder if they
sometimes sit and dream like me
of places where we used to play.

The hills we used to slide on,
bob sleds we tugged up and down.
Over the snow banks and ridges,
then right through the heart of town.
in those days no cars were a threat.
We went merrily on our way,
singing at the top of our lungs
as we all went down in the sleigh.

We had such fun at dances.
He held me close to his heart.
not like the dances of today,
cavorting three feet apart.
Two steps, three steps and waltzes,
were more our cup of tea,
But of course – that was way back when,
this generation cannot see.

If I were to go home tomorrow,
I’d probably look in vain,
to find the things I’ve dreamed about,
things are never the same.
But I can keep on dreaming,
of the times that used to be,
and that in my book of memories
is good enough for me.

At Grand Marais by Roland A Beens

I hear the surging breakers roar,
along a far-off northern shore;
To fling their cascades crowned with spray
upon the sands at Grand Marais.
While towering birches, beaches, pine
stand guard along the rock-rimmed line
to Sable Point Light’s friendly ray,
leagues to the west of Grand Marais.

There dreams oft come and vanish too,
like gulls that veer above the blue.
Dreams of another tide that roars,
and breaks against grim, concrete shores—
of city canyons, dark and deep,
men toil to a hurried beat,
and never glimpse, where, far away,
one’s dreams come true at Grand Marais.

Custom soon comes with good and truce,
to draw me from these carefree days,
and lash me to life’s treadmill too,
Far from those sparkling waters blue,
but when the harness galls and sears,
and city life its ugly talons rears.
I’ll have my dreams to light the way
to Sable Light and Grand Marais.

Ode to Grand Marais by Sylvia Truhn (1963)

Oh, lovely Grand Marais, there is no place so fair
as you—a precious gem in setting rare;
when Lake Superior’s waves swirl in your bay,
and scenic wonders usher in each day.
I first laid my eyes on you in days of yore,
and lost my heart to you for evermore.

The years passed slowly, often sad and blue,
until that rapturous day when I return to you.
Since then I’ve walked for miles the sandy beach at dawn,
to watch the sun dispel the fog or kiss a startled fawn;
and in the eve with mirrored lake reflecting rainbow dyes.
I’ve stood among the gulls and heard their haunting cries.

When Spring drifts in on soft, caressing air,
the friendly frogs have sung their serenades beside my lair.
But that charmed season which enchants me more than all
Is crisp, sun-sparked, and artist frost’s be-painted Fall.
Then I have climbed the dunes to view the land,
the indigo of Sable Lake midst green and gold and red and sand.

When Winter winds blast snow across the ice-stilled bay at night,
I love to go exploring the drifted solitude in pale moon-light.
Whatever season comes your way, dear, captivating Grand Marais,
some glorious sight lends magic to each day;
and through the dark your flashing lighthouse beam,
comes dancing through my window pane to brighten every dream.

The only boon I ask of life is but to spend my days
among your priceless beauties, in sunlight and in haze,
and welcome every whim of weather that knocks upon my door,
and capture whiffs of your pure air forevermore.

History’s Gem of the Month: Gitchee Agomowin

November 2015

I have hundreds of documents in the museum’s archives, all saved by the museum founder (Axel Niemi) and his family. One of the items I have is a copy of The Alger Echo, a newspaper published by James Carter. The following article was included in the Fall 1969 issue, Vol I, No 9.

Gitchee Agomowin

In early times, man stayed close to the shore when traveling on Lake Superior; Their light crafts were no match for the lake in its angry moods. Indians and early French knew well the sheltered spot they both called Great Bay or Great Harbor – “Gitchee Agomowin” in the Chippewa language, and Grand Marais in French.

Use of the harbor on the long stretch of shelter-less coast began centuries before recorded history. Activity there was noted in earliest French accounts, and it was mentioned frequently by most travelers from that time on.

Grand Marais Harbor 1903

After a sharp decline in 1910 following the abandonment of the Manistique Railway, Grand Marais settled into a small but stable village where fishing and lumbering and later, tourism, provided a livelihood for this historic and beautiful community.

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.

History’s Gem of the Month: Michigan’s Mystic Dunes;Where Wily Paw-Puk-Keewis DancedBy Arthur W. Stace Date and source unknown

February 2015

NOTE: I found this newspaper article in the Gitche Gumee Museum’s archive. At the beginning of the article, it states that this is number 27 in a series of touring articles dealing with the Dunes of Michigan.

Four score years ago Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gave to the reading world his rhythmic “Hiawatha,” epic of th Northland Indians. Ever since that time children and grown-ups of the English speaking world have read in succeeding generation of the “Dunes of Nagow Wudjoo,” where Pau-Puk-Keewis, the mischief maker “whom the people called the “Storm Fool” danced at Hiawath’s wedding to Minnehaha, Laughing Water.

“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
On the dunes of Nagow Wudjoo
By the shinning Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the lodge of Pau-Puk-Keewis.
It was he who in his frenzy
Whirled those drifting sands together,
On the dunes of Nagow Wudjoo,
When among the guests assembled
He so merrily and madly
Danced at Hiawatha’s wedding,
Danced the Beggars’ Dance to please them.”

How many Michigan children and how many Michigan grown-ups, reading the “Song of Hiawatha” have known that the “Dunes of Nagow Wudjoo, by the Shining Big-Sea-Water” are the dunes on the Grand Marais shore of Lake Superior in their own home state?

How many tourists speeding along M-28 and Us-2, main east and west arteries of travel in the Upper Peninsula – and mistakenly thinking that in so doing they are really seeing the Upper Peninsula – know that 25 miles north of M-28 and 42 miles north of US-2 are massed some of the most astonishing, most breath-taking dunes on the North American Continent?

Lonely, Remote Shore

The reason that the “dunes of Nagow Wudjoo” are little known in spite of the immortal and international publicity given them by Longfellow is that they are on a remote, deserted coast of Lake Superior, unfrequented by present-day travelers.

They were, perhaps, better known to the travelers of Indian days, of missionary days, of trader days, of pioneer days than to the far more numerous tourists of today because in those far-off times the principal means of transportation was by water. The canoes of the Indians, the barges of the traders, the sailing craft and steamboats of explorers and pioneers passed along the shore. The these tourists of primeval Michigan the towering dunes atop the bluff extending from Grand Marais harbor to Au Sable Point were outstanding landmarks. They were in sharp contrast to the steep, jagged cliffs of the Pictured Rocks, their immediate scenic neighbors on the shore to the west.

The dunes impressed themselves on the minds of the Indians. They impressed themselves on Henry Schoolcraft, explorer, student and collector of Indian lore. It was from Schoolcraft’s writings that Longfellow is said to have derived the descriptions and the legends he embodied in word music in “Hiawatha.”

The “dunes of Nagoe Wudjou” were on a lonely shore in Hiawatha’s time, in Schoolcraft’s time. They are on a lonely shore today. The exploring tourist may reach then by way of Highway M-77 to Grand Marais, thence by a local road to Grand Sable Lake two miles to the west.

NOTE: The photo in the article was quite faded without contrast, so I substituted my own photographs.