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Mason County Memories

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Epworth, having been formed in 1894 has been a part of the Mason County Community for 111 years. Located originally in northern Pere Marquette Township it is nestled between Lincoln Lake and Lake Michigan. The 1904 Mason County Plat Book shows that in addition to the area we now associate with Epworth Heights that extends into southern Hamlin Township the wooded area of Cartier Park on Lincoln River was also platted for roads and lots for cottages. That section of land to the north of the City Cemetery and between Grant St [ Lakeshore Drive] and Charles St. [Rath Avenue] included plans for a couple hundred lots for cottages, streets with names such as Bowman Avenue, Parson's Highway, and Cottage Grove Avenue. Small park areas were also included in the plans and were to be named Nicholson, Floyd, Laufman and Baldwin Parks as example. Once the Epworth Assembly received full title to the property in 1909 the 73 Acres between Grant and Charles Street were traded with Anton Cartier for 73 Acres north of the Lincoln River. In 1892 the area comprising Epworth was thought to be a great location for what was hoped to be "The" Midwest tourist Mecca called Lincoln Heights. Its virtues were extolled during the 1892 Ludington the Beautiful Campaign. The interest in developing it at that time did not materialize nor did the power plants and factories that were to line the banks of Lincoln Lake. The Citizens Development Company in conjunction with the Flint and Pere Marquette railroad offered the Epworth League Assembly of Big Rapids area 240 acres of land and 21,000.00 dollars to develop a community that would provide spiritual and cultural programs for the people of Ludington. The Epworth League was organized in May of 1889 in Cleveland Ohio as the official young people's society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The agreement that was eventually signed on May 6th 1894 stated that the newly formed Epworth League Training Assembly was to provide programs for a minimal two week period each year for fifteen years. The next two months was a flurry of activity at the new Epworth site and during this short span of time the Hotel, Auditorium, and classrooms were built. An Observatory was also built on the top of Mount Epworth and electricity, and water as well were also brought in. Amazingly the first meeting at Epworth took place that same summer starting on the eighteenth of July just a short ten weeks after the contract was signed. The Chautauqua programs proved popular and continued to grow each year until discontinued here in 1924. In the 1930's The Great Depression all but ended the popular Chautauqua circuit nationwide. Chautauqua Lake New York hosted the first programs in 1874 and these were designed to train Sunday School Teachers. They quickly grew, changed and spread across the country with performers and lecturer's traveling the summer circuits to bring cultural events to small town America in an effort to "provide information, enlighten and inspire others". There were many speakers and performers traveling the circuit including William Jennings Bryan who came here in 1918. Transportation quickly became an issue and the following year [1895] the Dummy Train was built and provided dependable transportation to the resort. The "engine" of the train was built inside of a passenger coach and it was quite unusual in appearance. A short stubby looking enclosed coach pulling two or three open air coaches through the woods to the Epworth Station. It didn't look like a real train, it appeared as a "Dummy Train". In 1902 Justin Stearns purchased the Epworth League Railway and re-organized and renamed it the Ludington and Northern Railway. Logging trains used the tracks to haul timber for Cartier Lumber Company, and the tracks wee also extended to the Middle Bayou to provide additional passenger service to resorts on Hamlin Lake. Passenger service was discontinued in 1919 but trains continued to use the tracks and last used the tracks to haul sand. Those coming for the summer programs in 1894 originally stayed in the Hotel, rented tents or commuted from nearby Ludington. Epworth continued to grow and in an effort to help make ends meet and raise some additional funds it was decided to lease lots for the building of cottages to members for five dollars per year. By 1909 the number of cottages had grown to a little more then 100 and other improvements had also taken place. Epworth Heights has evolved and grown over the past 111 years. It includes a little more then 200 cottages, tennis courts, community buildings, a Marina, and a golf course. The summer population can exceed two thousand souls and its history is intertwined with the history and growth of Mason County and the Ludington area. Picture -41-001 Epworth and Lincoln Lake in the background Picture-41-002 The Dummy Train shown operating under the Ludington and Northern Railway.

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