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Mason County Memories

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This is the first of a series of articles that will review events in context with the Sesquicentennial of Mason County. Some of the information will be very familiar to residents and those with historical ties to the area but I think it warrants a review in light of reaching the milestone of our 150th birthday. Mason County was named to honor Steven T Mason who at age 19 was appointed to be the Secretary of the Territory of Michigan and who was twice elected Governor after Michigan was admitted to the Union in 1837. Camp Danaher Ludington [ Pere Marquette] Mich. December 22nd 1867 A local lumberjack John Jameson writes to his friend to say that he is working in the Pinery 40 miles up the River from Ludington and that " It is almost like being out of the world to be here as it is nothing but woods, and the only company that we have is the howl of wolves, the leaping of deer and the smoke of Indian Wigwams. A few weeks ago an old Bruin visited our shanty and carried away a fine pig weighing 150 pounds but for all that it is far superior to watch making that is for the health of man" Lumbering, fishing, and trapping were the primary pursuits of the early settlers, followed by farming as the lands were cleared, and other industries and business as the population began to grow, but when Mason County was organized just a short 150 years ago it was a wilderness. Undoubtedly it had changed little since the days of Father Marquette and was populated by native villages, primarily Ottawa. By 1855 a handful of traders, lumbermen, farmers and settlers had come to work or homestead, including William Quevillion who first came through the area trapping and trading with the natives in 1835. For as harsh as the standards of living may seem to us here in the 21st century it was indeed a far cry from the life in "the city" or in the old countries of Europe where most of our early settlers had roots. John Jameson believed that life in the woods was far superior when it came to health and our early settlers apparently agreed. There were rewards for the families that could endure the hardships and carve a living out from the land. Travel was difficult overland and for the most part our roads and our highways during those times were our rivers and lakes and most of the commerce and settlements were directly connected to the waterways. A few blocks inland from Pere Marquette Lake was the forest, sawdust trails studded with stumps and swamp. Ludington Avenue near Harrison street in 1867 was still studded with old stumps that made passage difficult. Early records indicate that Joseph Wheeler purchased land on Pere Marquette Lake in 1840, John Harris 37 acres in Freesoil Mills in 1844, and Charles Mears, James Boyden, and Burr Caswell in 1847. Even though there were earlier white residents working in the area earlier then 1847, trapping, fishing, lumbering, making shingles etc Burr Caswell is recognized as the first actual white settler and Pere Marquette as the first settlement of Mason County. Caswell returned here in 1847 with his family aboard the Schooner Eagle with his wife Hannah and their four children. "The cattle were dropped overboard and swam to shore while the family was rowed to land in a small boat" Here Burr Caswell built his small home out of Driftwood and two years later built the first frame house in Mason County [now preserved at White Pine Village]. On January 3rd 1855 Mason, Manistee, and Oceana Counties were set out of Ottawa County by the legislature and Mason County consisting of 3 townships, Freesoil, Little Sable and Pere Marquette was officially organized on February 5th 1855. There were a whopping 41 votes cast in the first election April 2nd 1855. Burr Caswell being elected both as Judge of probate and Fish inspector. Daniel Holmes as Sheriff, George B Roys as clerk and register, E. G. Farnum as Treasurer, William Quevillion as Coroner, and John Sedan as Surveyor. Their first meeting was held at Little Sable on October 8th 1855, and the first order of business was to borrow 27.00 from Charles Mears. The treasury however was rapidly depleted as by the second meeting 24.00 was paid out to Richard Hatfield as bounty for three wolves he had taken. The County seat was determined to be located at the Burr Caswell farm at a Special Meeting held November 11th 1856 but even that was a short lived designation as Charles Mears had designs on having the County Seat removed to the Village of Lincoln. He succeeded in having the issue brought to a vote in 1860 and having the issued carried in his favor the County seat was moved to Lincoln Village in 1861. Please feel free to contact me if you have artifacts, stories or photographs that you would like to share with our readers. davep@blackcreekpress.com or 231-757-3240 article39-001 article39-002

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