History’s Gem of the Month: Reprint from the Douglas Houghton Expedition

Fall 2010

The following text was found in the Gitche Gumee Museum’s archive. There is a note attached that says it was taken from The Superior Sun (1929), which in turn took it from Geographical Reports of Douglas Houghton, published by the Michigan Historical Commission in 1928, but written in 1874 by Bela Hubbard.

“Among the pleasantest of all my reminiscences of travel is that of the exploration, in connection with the geological survey of Michigan, of the coasts of our upper peninsula in 1840.

The party for this expedition was composed of the State geologist Dr. Douglas Houghton; his two assistants, C.C. Douglas and myself, Fred Hubbard, in charge of instrumental observations; for a part of the way, H. Thielson, a civil engineer; and Charles W Penny, a young merchant from Detroit.

We left Detroit on the steamer Illinois, arriving at Mackinac on May 23rd. Here two boat crews were made up, consisting of six Canadians. These men belonged to that class so famous in the early days of the fur trade, and the French regime, now extinct, and known to history as “coureurs de bois.” They were of mixed blood, in some the French while in others the Indian predominated. Bred to the business, they would row without fatigue from daybreak until dark – twelve or fourteen hours – unload the boats, pitch the tents for the bourgeois, pile up the baggage, prepare the evening meal, and then creep silently under their blankets in the open air and enjoy the sound sleep that labor bestows.”

…”The beaches [of the southeastern shore of Lake Superior] terminate at a deep harbor called the Grand Marais. Steep cliffs are first observed rising from the water with a very uniform face, of about 200 feet in height, beyond which are visible dunes, rising still higher in the distance. On our approach the whole appeared like lofty hills enveloped in fog. This proved to be nothing less than clouds of sand which the winds were constantly sweeping toward the lake, and which formed a mist so dense as to conceal completely the real character of the coast.

On ascending these steep and wasting [sand dune] cliffs, a scene opens to view, which has no parallel except in the great deserts. For an extent of many miles nothing is visible but a waste of sand; not under the form of monotonous plain, but rising into lofty cones, sweeping in graceful curves, hurled into hollows and spread into long-extended valleys. Thrusting through the sand are several tops of half-buried pines, barkless, and worn dry and craggy by the drifting sands, while below the surface their [trunk] bodies appear to be in perfect preservation. To our imagination they seemed the time-worn columns of an antique temple, whose main structure has long ago tumbled into dust, or been buried like the ruins of Egypt, beneath the drift of many centuries.

At Grand Marais the surface sand is mostly packed quite hard, and may be trod as a solid floor. This, in many places, is strewed thickly with pebbles; the deep hollows presented vast beds of them. Among these are a great variety of precious stones common to the rocks of the country – agates, chalcedony, jasper, quartz of every shade of color and transparency, with hornstone, trap, and other minerals. All are worn smooth, and often beautifully polished by the sharp, drifting sands; many rich specimens were obtained. We were reminded of the valley of diamonds in the Arabian tales, which it was the fortune of Sinbad to discover, in scarcely less singular depository.

In the rear of this desert, a small and beautiful lake lies embosomed. From the diamond lake, issues a small stream (Old Grand Sable), which after making its way through the sand, reaches the clay that constitutes the base of these dunes, and tumbles a perfect cascade into the greater lake. This rivulet separates the dense maple forest which lies on the east from the cliffs of driven sand, which rise abruptly to a height that far overlooks the woodland, and are the commencement of the Grand and leafless sables.

The view on ascending these is most entrancing. On the one side stretches beneath, and far away, the verdant forests; while by a transition as sudden as it is opposite in character, on the other side every feature of the landscape seems as if buried beneath hills of snow. The desert surface might be likened to that of an angry ocean, only that the undulations are far more vast, and the wave crests more lofty than the billows of the sea in its wildest commotion.

Looking upward from one of these immense basins, where only the sand-wave meets the sky, the beholder is impressed with a sublimity of a novel kind, unmixed with the terror which attends a storm upon the Alps, or on the ocean. The [Grand Marais area} scene, wild and unique, may well claim this brief praise– though hitherto unsung and lacking the charm of historical association—is the consecration and the poet’s dream.”

History’s Gem of the Month: 1958 Detroit News Article about Axel Niemi

 August/September 2010

1958 Detroit News Article about Axel Niemi

When I work on the web page update, the last segment I always do is the History’s Gem of the Month. I have a couple of closets in my house jammed with museum archive materials. It is always fun to pull out a box and look through it to find something interesting.

The first thing I pulled out this time is a 1958 Detroit News Pictorial Sunday Magazine, published on August 31, 1958. On Pages 10 and 11 there is the following article about Axel Niemi, the founder of the Gitche Gumee Museum. As is his usual fashion, he added his comments in the margins. Axel says that the second paragraph is a “big lie.” That is probably true on several fronts. One thing for sure is that Axel started to collect agates when he was a young boy, not after World War II as the article suggests. He started numbering and journaling agates during elementary school.

All That Glitters….
By Harry C. Sahs

If agates were gold nuggets, Axel A. Niemi would be the richest man in Michigan. Of all the “rock hounds” who have combed the storm-tossed beaches of Lake Superior for agates, probably none has found as many of the beautiful rocks as Niemi.

Known as the “agate king” of Grand Marais, Niemi has been an avid collector since he came home from two and a half years of Army service during World War Two. Although he had spent all his life where agates are relatively common, Niemi didn’t “get the fever” until he met an Australian in the South Pacific who carried a clear orange crysolite faceted agate.

Today, self-taught in the art of cutting, grinding, sanding, and polishing the semi-precious stones—and with a study course in gemology under his belt—Niemi’s “agate king” title goes undisputed.

The 40-year old collector believes he has found the second largest agate ever discovered in the United States. It is an almond-shaped translucent stone weighing five and a half pounds and valued at $200. Only the 10 ½ pound stone now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., surpasses Niemi’s find.

Best time for agate hunting, says Niemi, is immediately after a violent storm when deep waves churn the lake bottom and toss up new rocks on the beach. Even then, however, it’s no easy job to find the elusive agates. It takes time—and patience.

History’s Gem of the Month: Shipwrecks at Agate Beach

 July 2010

Shipwrecks at Agate Beach

In the museum’s archive I found the photo included below. It shows ships that went aground between Agate Beach and the breakwater that protects Grand Marais Bay.

On the back of the photograph, the following description was written:

On October 20, 1905 at nightfall the second mate of the Turret Crown steamer warned the captain that the storm was increasing in fury. All the day before leaving Sault Saint Marie, the Captain had been drinking. When in front of the Grand Marais, Michigan lighthouse the Captain asked the first mate what lighthouse it was. The captain turned to enter the harbor of refuge but entered on the port side of the pier. The second mate was right in mentioning that the ship would go aground. The captain’s excuse was that he believed the harbor to be Grand Marais, Minnesota. Later a wrecking tug assisted the Turret Crown to deeper water, after which she continued on to Duluth.

The Galatea, a lumber barge, also ran aground during the same storm just west of Grand Marais’ pier. The vessel was a wooden 3-masted schooner built by the F. Wheeler Company in Bay City, MI in 1882. She was 180 feet long, 33 feet wide and 12 feet high. She was driven so far ashore by the waves that the crew could step off onto solid ground by clambering over her stern. Even though salvagers dug a 900 foot channel to her, she was unsalvageable and broke up the following winter. Her sister ship, the, the Nirvana, was being towed by the propeller ship LL Barth. The Nirvana smashed into the pier and was sunk ¼ mile off shore. The crew was saved but the heavy seas pounded the Nirvana to bits. She later washed up east of the piers on the beach.

Research on the internet regarding the Turret Crown shows that the steamer was built in 1895 by the William Doxford and Sons Company in Sunderland, England. She was 258 feet long, 44 feet wide, and carried a gross tonnage of 1,827 pounds. She was used to carry goods by the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company. Apparently the problem in Grand Marais was not the only incident. On July 22, 1903 the Turret Crown collided with the wooden freighter Waverly near Harbor Beach, MI causing the freighter to sink. She also collided with the William C Mack on May 4, 1913 causing damage to both vessels. During World War I the Turret Crown was used in the Atlantic to transfer goods. After World Work I she was used along the Pacific coast. Below is a photo taken of the Turret Crown at a dock in Seward, Alaska.

The steamer returned to Great Lakes service in 1922. On October 7th of that year she ran aground again off Cove Island in Lake Huron. She was again salvaged and continued service. Her luck ran out on November 2, 1924 when she ran aground and was stranded at Meldrum Point on Manitoulin Island. The metal from her hull was later salvaged and used during World War II.

History’s Gem of the Month: Box of Rocks Gets Diploma

June 2010

Reprinted from recoilmag.com, July 2005 issue

Pinconning, Mich. — A historic collegiate achievement was realized Friday when a medium-sized cardboard box containing a half-dozen rocks received a Bachelors Degree of Science in Business and Marketing from University of Phoenix Online, a popular online college. “Congratulations! You’ve graduated!” the box of rocks was informed by e-mail following the completion of the course’s final exam. “Welcome to the exciting world of Business/Marketing! Click here to register for a Masters Degree from University of Phoenix Online, the nation’s leading University for working professionals.”

According to sources, the box of rocks had been able to obtain its degree online in only three years and without having to seek a leave of absence from its current job at a Pinconning residence, where for five years it has been solely responsible for stopping a porch’s screen door from opening all of the way.

The event marked a milestone for the inanimate object, which had previously received no formal education via public schooling or private vocational training. University of Phoenix public relations director Kyle Rise refused to disclose the cumulative grade point average earned by the box of rocks, but confirmed that it had indeed earned passing marks in all of the courses required to receive a diploma from the atypical school.

“That a box of rocks was able to earn its degree through the University of Phoenix’s online program is proof positive that anyone or anything – regardless of social class, cognitive ability or financial resources – can, through hard work and persistence, earn a college degree,” said Rise. Rise speculated that news of the box of rocks’ achievement could spark increased enrollment among demographics previously absent from the University’s student body, such as bags of hammers, telephone poles and other similar objects.

History’s Gem of the Month: The Story of Grand Marais, Part 3

 April/May 2010

Continued from March 2010, Part 2

Commercial fishing had by now reached its peak. In 1904, a record catch of 12,000 pounds of fish was brought in by the “William E.” of the Buckeye Fish Company. The supply of fish seemed inexhaustible.

The blueberry industry was important as a source of revenue for many people of Grand Marais. Families by the dozens camped on the pine plains near the town where the blueberries grew abundantly. Good prices were paid for the fruit; the main purchasing agent was the local railroad.

Between the years of 1894 and 1910 Grand Marais prospered as much as could be expected of a thriving lumber town. The population of the city reached three thousand. Homes and business places were painted and enlarged, sidewalks on the main streets which had been made of lumber were torn up and replaced with walks of cement, and trees were planted along the streets by civic-minded organizations and individuals … in a few short years this was all changed!

All was tranquil when, on May 20, 1910, out of the blue the death knell of Grand Marais was sounded. It came in the form of a posted notice to the effect that the Alger-Smith Company was about to definitely suspend all logging, sawmill, and railway operations. The reason given that the cut of pine had been completed, so the company was transferring its operations to northern Minnesota. Efforts were made to compel operation of the railway in order to preserve the town and remaining industries – all to no avail. The notice of suspension was given six months in advance. During that time the thriving community became nearly a ghost town. The cook, Curtis, and Miller Company was also forced to close because there was no way to transport timber from their mill to outside markets as railroad transportation would soon be not available. Many people moved to Duluth, Detroit, and the West Coast.

The fishing industry by this time became so unprofitable that this industry, or what was left of it, could not save the town.

Nearly all business houses closed doors, although the large Schneider and Hill stores stayed to serve the remaining population. The Grand Marais Herald, which had been published since 1894, closed its printing plant and moved its machinery to Munising on the last train out of town. The value of property hit a low mark – some large homes selling for as little as $500, other smaller houses were sold for as little as $50. Many people left with just what could be packed in a suitcase, left their homes and business places, and never returned. Grand Marais was nearly a ghost town for a few years following 1910, but slowly, very slowly, people returned to find some means of livelihood.

Soon after the railroad was removed in 1910, a road was built on the former railroad grade, from Seney to Haverstock’s Corner, and the following year was extended to the town. However, the township found itself unable to maintain and keep open the road during the winter months, so a collection was taken up and William Leighton, who was supervisor at the time, was sent to Lansing to ask the State to place the newly built road under its care. The State Commission consented, and in 1916 the road became Michigan Highway 77. The road was then improved, widened, and surfaced with gravel. [Note: research by museum staff at the state archive indicated that M77 was actually authorized in 1919, nine years after the railroad closed.]

It was then that motoring tourists discovered Grand Marais. The two-story “Pickle Barrel” house, an exact replica of a pickle barrel on a house-sized scale, was built for Mr. and Mrs. William Donahey of Chicago by Reid, Murcock, and Company in 1926. This was one of the first major attractions as it was widely publicized by the latter. Mr. Donahey, creator of the famous “Teenie Weenies,” was presented with this unique barrel house exactly as he had drawn the house for the Teenie Weenies in an illustration for that company at an earlier date.

Tourists found Woodland Park an ideal spot in which to camp. This beautiful tract of land had been presented to the town by the Gamble Estate to be used as a public park only, and could not be sold or used for any other purpose. The land was, as it is at the present time, covered with beautiful hardwoods and pine.

Perhaps the biggest attraction was the Grand Sable Dunes, highest in Michigan. The early French explorers were so attracted by these dunes that they placed them on their maps as “le Grand Saubles” (the Great Sands) as early as 1688. The settling of Longfellow’s famous poem “Hiawatha,” was supposedly on these dunes.

Grand Sable Lake proved very popular with the summer visitors. The lake was called, in the notes of an early surveyor, “the Diamond of the desert.” In recent years, a number of attractive summer cottages and tourist cabins have been built on the shores of the lake, which has afforded good fishing of perch, pike, and bass. [NOTE: Soon after the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was created by federal legislation in 1966, the houses and cabins on Sable Lake were removed.}

Not only did the tourist industry help to revive the village, but the commercial fishing was becoming profitable once again, and a number of tugs began to fish out of the harbor. By the 1930s fishing was again at its peak. Smith Brothers, Sellmen Fisheries, and the Endress and Masse Fish Company conducted fishing operations at this time. This latter company was the only business firm, other than Ostrander’s Drug Store, from the original concerns in Grand Marais. Other smaller tugs began fishing out of the harbor during this decade as well.

The cutting of timer was resumed, giving employment to a number of people. In 1927 a large modern brick school was constructed at a cost of $125,000. The building is one of the finest and best equipped in Michigan for a village of this size.

As Grand Marais is the first harbor west of the Soo Locks, it was rather important during World War Two. Soldiers were stationed near the village at Camp Fox, and the number of Coast Guards was increased at the United States Coast Guard Station.

After the war, Grand Marais prospered as did many small towns. In the period between 1945 and 1951, nearly thirty new homes and cottages were built within the village. In addition to this, new business places opened doors. The 1950 census gave Grand Marais a population of over six hundred. The town can now boast of its largest population since 1910.

The sport trolling industry has proved to be an important factor in attracting visitors to the village, as hundreds of people go trolling here each year. The sport trolling craft numbered sixteen in 1950.

Our large modern United States-Canadian airport and weather station has proved beneficial to the village in that it provides a number of people with permanent jobs, and it also affords a means of air transportation. This means is taken advantage of by many sport trollers throughout the summer season.

Rebuilding of the east pier is surely an asset to the village. The east pier was rebuilt with concrete and steel, and the west pier was repaired with rock and timbers, and a cost of $181,000 and $38,000 respectively. The use of nearly one-half million dollars has been okayed under the Rivers and Harbors bill, for the rebuilding and extending of the west pier although the funds have not as yet been appropriated.

Grand Marais is proud of its new, modern water system which has been recently laid at a cost of $125,000.

The recent raise of township taxes has made possible many improvements in the village and township. With the use of this tax money (approximately $8,000 annually) much will and has been accomplished in the way of improving Woodland Park, the village street lighting system, walks, and streets.

The future of Grand Marais appears to be rather promising, and one thing is certain – the village will never again be numbered as one of Michigan’s ghost towns.

I wish to thank the following people for their contributions.

  • Levi Meilleur
  • Mrs. Ray Meldrum
  • Arthur D. Wood (Munising)
  • Ray Barney
  • Henry Petitpren
  • John Masse
  • Miss Isabe McCell
  • Charles Mattson
  • Charles Newberg
  • Frank Lee
  • Mrs. Alfreda Mulligan
  • Vernon Maurer
  • Mrs. Joseph DesJardine
  • Louis Dowell
  • John Seymour
  • Axel Newberg
  • Mrs. John Peterson
  • Axel Niemi
  • Mr. Roy C. Hill

History’s Gem of the Month: The Story of Grand Marais, Part 2

 March 2010

Continued from February 2010, Part 1

The city had many fine civic clubs and organizations. Among these were the Kenningston Club and the Grand Marais Club. A fine opera house was built and it was frequented by many famous actors of the day. The Grand Marais Cornet Band was a favorite not only in Grand Marais but in the surrounding counties as well. The band was presented by the city with a fine bandstand, which stood near the Community Methodist Church. There were numerous unions for the local employees such as the Longshoremen and the Modern Woodmen of America. A unique club house, the interior of which was completely paneled in birch, was erected between the present Green Shingles and Goupille Service Station. Many memorable social events took place in this club house. The building caught fire and was totally destroyed along with many other establishments in the fire of 1905.

Education was by no means neglected in the midst of the boom. A frame high school and three elementary divisions were built, all four schools having a total enrollment of over nine hundred students.

New industries moved to the village at this prosperous time. A small cigar factory was begun by Thomas Regan. [NOTE: The cigar factory building is now the Gitche Gumee Museum.] His “closed Tuck” cigar was a favorite. The Walker Hardwood Veneer Plant, known as Birdseye Walker, was built where the village baseball diamond is now located. This plant was later turned into a stave factory. The large pine mill owned by the Alger-Smith Company was by no means idle. It was running twenty-four hours a day and turned out 150,000 feet of choice pine lumber during that time. The two band saws and the two circular saws of the mill were kept running constantly. The Cook, Curtis, and Miller Company built a large, modern hardwood mill which had a capacity of ten million feet of lumber annually. A shingle mill was also begun, and one of the earliest mills of the town, that of C. Coon, was sold to Charles Stone and continued operations.

The leading hotels of the town, such as the Wabash, Nettleton, Grand Marais, Carpenter House, and the Bay View, were doing a fine business. Grand Marais was then as now, a tourist and hunting center. As the passenger train made only one run into the village daily, many salesmen were required to stay overnight at the hotels. Hotel Nettleton was a favorite lodging place for these men because of the fine fish dinners served there by its proprietor, Bill Nettleton.

To comply with the needs of the people, the large three-story Bay View Hospital was moved at this time from Oscoda, Michigan, to Grand Marais and reassembled opposite the Community Methodist Church. Doctors Wier and Anderson were its proprietors and surgeons.

Grand Marais could boast, too, of an up-to-date water system. In the spring of 1896, water works had been laid at a cost of $25,000. Previous to that time, however, the town was dependent on Mr. Peter Beaulieu who had delivered water at a consumer cost of twenty-five cents a barrel. A few years later, the Alger-Smith Company enlarged its electric lighting plant, wired the town, and furnished current at a moderate cost.

By 1897 the town had begun to settle down. A description of Grand Marais in the Grand Marais Business Directory, published here by Doig and Wood in 1897, reads as follows:

Grand Marais is a flourishing young town of three thousand industrious inhabitants, nestled on the flats at the foot of a steep terrace surrounding Grand Marais Harbor, an inlet on the south shore of Lake Superior, one hundred miles west of Sault Sainte Marie and eighty miles east of Marquette, and connected by the Manistique Rail Road with the Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Rail Road at Seney, Michigan, the former company having its terminus, car shops, and load offices at this town. The great natural resources and advantages of the town were dormant until 1894, when the Marais Lumber Company purchased their property from the Grand Marais Mil Company, after which they enlarged, rebuilt, and refurnished with first class machinery, having one of the best saw mills in the upper Peninsula, with a cutting capacity of over 150,000 feet of timber per day, this company shipped forty million feet of choice lumber the past year. In addition to the car shops and large mill, Grand Marais had a shingle mill owned by George W. Cowell, a square timber mill, and Hale, Booth, and Company, and Endress Brothers deal extensively in fish, the three concerns employing upwards of two hundred men. The town has a large number of business houses, every business being represented by practical and experienced men who all work together for the interests of the people of their thriving young town. The land companies have been diligent in their efforts to advance the town, and sell property at reasonable rates and on easy terms, giving poor men a chance to make homes. The town has many nice business buildings, three churches, and the largest and best school building in the county, well furnished and the instructors are first class and up to date teachers. Besides being a lake town having a safe harbor, Grand Marais has first class railroad communications, having regular daily trains to Seney and return. Naturally Grand Marais is a resort town, giving first class fishing and hunting as well as some of the grandest scenery of the country within a few miles of town. In addition to the above natural advantages, this town is backed up by the largest tract of agricultural land in the Upper Peninsula, which is being sold to settlers at very reasonable rates and on easy terms.

The harbor was a busy one—as many as forty-eight large craft have been counted in the harbor at one time. Passenger and freight steamers were making weekly runs between Grand Marais, Duluth, Marquette, and other lake ports. The United States Coast Guard established a life saving station at the harbor in 1899, with Benjamin Trudell in command.

To be continued……

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.

History’s Gem of the Month: Hints on Hunting and Finding Agates

 September 2009

While looking through the museum’s archives, I found this article drafted by the museum founder, Axel Niemi. I’m not sure if he ever published the article, but it is worthy of inclusion as this month’s history gem. I’ve also added a few pointers, so actually this is a joint article written by Axel and me.

Hints on Hunting and Finding Agates
By Axel Niemi and Karen Brzys

Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula (Alger, Luce, and Chippewa Counties) is home to unique agate and jasper rocks. For the past 30 years, the author has picked pretty objects called quartz family minerals. This article presents an interesting view on how you, too, can assemble a collection of unique quartz treasures.

This Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan is covered for the most part by enormous sand-gravel-clay deposits. Few areas have yielded so wide a variety of quartz minerals, as well as other rocks. Few areas also show such promise of steady and continuous yields. Each year, ice bergs break off shore, move around the lake, get pushed up onto distant beaches, collect rocks from that beach, break free only to get pushed by northwest winds to their final resting spot on the beaches in the Eastern Upper Peninsula to melt and dump their loads. After 8,000 years of this happening, our local beaches truly are a melting pot of all the rocks found around the lake, as well as a new supply of agates each year. This combined with the till deposits left by the glaciers makes our local beaches a rockhounders paradise.

Many friends have examined the multiple varieties of agate and related quartz minerals on display in my agate shop. After telling them they that the specimens had come from gravel-sand deposits within a few hour’s to a few minute’s ride, I have sometimes been called a liar. Yes, although my success has resulted from patience and many hours of searching, I admit to the difficulties encountered in hunting these all but camouflaged mineral stones.

The difficulty in finding these gravel deposited elusives, arises in keeping one’s mind on finding not one but any of the host of varieties of quartz minerals. The average picker would be quite happy to find a nice banded agate or red carnelian. After examining what I had picked and finding them beautiful, tourist friends say they had thrown oh so many good specimens away. This I have learned is unlikely. One of the faults of most beach combers is that they are ignorant of the existence of these quartz treasures, and they usually cannot tell the difference between the different types of quartz rocks. Another challenge to looking for quartz minerals is the tremendous amount of tiny powdery fractures that camouflage the true nature of the mineral. Finally, while on the beach you are challenged by the fact that very few agates are scattered amongst billions of other iron-bearing red rocks and want-a-be agates. To be successful, you must be prepared to pick up and examine all the possible quartz minerals, while trying to avoid being distracted by other pretty rocks.

Agate hunting is a real challenge to those with good eye sight, and not recommended for those with eye defects. Of course, those with eye problems may have to resort to sitting and digging, rather than walking erect – which usually allows you to examine a larger quantity of rocks. As more and more pickers hit the beach, the supply of agates and related quartz specimens will be impacted. However, the wave-water action as well as moving ice will continually move the piles of rocks, wear new material into view, or transport new rocks to the Grand Marais beaches each year.

The area that is best for looking for agates runs from Au Sable Point in Alger County, across the northern edge of Luce County, to Whitefish Point in Chippewa County. This stretch of beach contains some areas that have easy access by car, as well as some remote sections not often explored.

The tips on how to successfully find agates are listed below.

  1. Walk and look, scanning the rock piles as thoroughly as possible.
  2. Look closely at every stone. You never know which one is the agate treasure.
  3. Practice, practice, practice. At first, your neck, leg, and back muscles will be sore and tired. The more you look for agates, the more your body will be up to the task.
  4. Read books and acquire samples of agates so that you know what you are looking for.
  5. Look near the very edge of the water. The water will help accentuate the banding.
  6. Also look in the dry rock. When dry, the shiny waxy luster and the conchoidal fractures will be more apparent.
  7. If you have hip boots or are willing to walk in the water, it is possible to spot agates – but the water must be calm. Also, agates are denser than other rocks and sometimes they tend to work their way below the surface of the rock piles located out in the water.
  8. If there are multiple rows of rocks on the beach, left over from surf with various wave heights, look for the related gold cherts and red jaspers. They are also microcrystalline quartz with the same density as agates. Thus, as the waves return back down the slope, agates, cherts, and jaspers will “fall out” of the wave at the same time.
  9. Look where others have not looked. The farthest you walk from road access the better.
  10. Be the first on the beach after a storm. This is when the gravel is moved around exposing new material.
  11. Do not cover too much territory too fast. It is better to look over one section carefully. Nothing pays off better than careful looking. Sometimes I’ll even walk over the same section 3-4 times, only to be rewarded by finding an agate that was previously missed.
  12. Concentrate on picking up only agates and other quartz rocks. Avoid the pretty rock syndrome. Let’s say you pick up 500 rocks in an afternoon of looking. If 400 of those are just pretty rocks that are obviously not agates, then you have only a 1 in 100 chance of finding an agate. If all 500 of the rocks you pick up are agates or want-a-be agates, you have a much higher chance of being successful.
  13. When you see an agate candidate – you must pick it up; even if your back tells you that you don’t want to bend down. Of course, the use of an agate scoop can also help. For what ever reason, the obvious banded sections of specimens are very often facing down, out of view. Thus, if you don’t pick up the rock, you may miss that it is an agate.
  14. Most agates have some apparent banding showing, or have some translucency. Usually if you are not sure it is an agate – it is not.
  15. Use proper protection for your eyes, such as a Visor cap. Although some may have success wearing sunglasses, I find that it is harder to spot agates while doing so.
  16. Use a bright flashlight, or carefully use the sun, to check specimens with backlighting. Sometimes backlighting will expose banding that you cannot otherwise see.
  17. Walk toward the sun (east in the morning and west in the evening). The translucency of agates will cause them to “glow” at you.

Some of the mineral treasures you can find on the beach, in addition to banded agate, include: red jasper, banded jasper, gold silicified fossils, banded chert, red translucent carnelian, water-level onyx agates, eye agates, sagenite agates, moss agates, tube agates, and shadow agates. You can also find some red, pink, and green unakite, limestone fossils, and feldspar.

Happy Rockhounding!

History’s Gem of the Month: Ship Travel on Lake Superior

August 2009

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, ship travel on Lake Superior was at its heyday. To help rescue ships that suffered the wrath of Lake Superior’s storms, the United States Lifesaving Service operated five stations along the southeastern section of the lake’s shoreline. Due to all the accidents, this section is often referred to as the “Shipwreck Coast.” There were stations in: Grand Marais, Deer Park, Two-Heart River, Crisp Point, and Vermillion Point.

The Grand Marais station was located at the west entrance to the harbor. It was built and placed into service in 1899. When it was completed, the station was considered one of the best in all of the Great Lakes. The station had 2 surf boats, a 34-foot self-righting life boat, and a full complement of beach apparatus.

Over the years of service, the crew from Grand Marais made hundreds of rescues. By 1935, 700 cases of assistance had taken place. The most spectacular rescue occurred on November 14, 1919. The Lifesaving crew, along with 4 civilians (Joseph Graham, Ambrose Graham, Ora Endress, and James MacDonald) set out to rescue the crew of the stranded steamer H.E. Runnels. The weather worked against them with blizzard conditions and monstrous waves. The rescue was complicated by ice covering the decks of the steamer. Although some of the rescuers were washed out of the lifesaving boat, no lives were lost. The crew members were awarded a Gold Lifesaving Medal including John O. Anderson, Alfred E. Kristofferson, Leon E. Alford, George Olsen, Glen Wells, Edward J. Spencer, Russell Martin, William Campbell and Joseph G. McShea.

The original lifesaving station was replaced with a new Coast Guard Station in 1940. Although it is still standing, it is now a ranger station for the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

History’s Gem of the Month: History of M77

 July 2009

When I dismantled the display of Axel’s Numbered Agates, I also took down some of the memorabilia that was above the rock shelves. Below is a photo taken by W.H. Hadley of Royal Oak, MI. It shows the original museum sometime around the late 1960s. Notice that there is a large tree to the west of the museum, which is no longer there. Also there is a different house to the east of the museum. On the top of the frame, Axel labeled the photo: Gitche Gumee Agate Shop, Mineral and Historical Museum.

The second photo included this month is one of Axel walking in the July 4th parade. The picture is a little out of focus, but it is still a kick to remember Axel in that coat. As many of you may remember, he always wore the 1895 bear coat in the parade. I have honored that tradition many years. I haven’t decided if I am going to do so this year. I’ll wait to see what the weather is like.