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History Column Dave Petersen

From Pere Marquette to Ludington, the rest of the story

Last week we re-published the first hand accounts of James E Danaher and some of his experiences of coming to the little village of Pere Marquette in 1866, it's early days before it was officially named Ludington. In his accounts he mentioned that the name change from Pere Marquette to Ludington came about because of a pledge from James Ludington to the city to have it changed. In his account it was 250.00 for a library but in reality it was a pledge of 5,000.00 that brought about the change.

This was not without controversy as the city was accused of selling it's birthright for a "mess of pottage". Some citizens were upset enough that the city fathers would sell out to big money for fast cash go about the task of trying to have the name changed back to Pere Marquette but that attempt failed and the name of Ludington remained.

Lets look a little closer at this though. Ludington had an interest in the property around the Pere Marquette Lake through George W. Ford who owned the mill started by Baird & Bean back in 1849. By 1859 James Ludington had taken ownership from Ford of the lands that comprise the City because Ford could not satisfy his debt with Ludington.

One of the early significant changes was the lease of the mill to Charles Mears in 1859 partly in exchange for changing the channel. As we have spoke about in earlier articles this accomplishment greatly helped the Village of Pere Marquette and James Ludington while in effect allowing Mears to cut his own throat financially and politically. The improved channel allowed the village to out distance Mear's little village of Lincoln (the county seat) in commerce and increased population growth.

By the time James Ludington took back control over his mill the Civil War was starting and for the next few years growth took a backseat to war. During this time though a new post office was establishd on July 1st 1864 bearing the name of Ludington. Could there be any doubt at that time where this was heading. James Ludington owned the land, the mill, the store and in 1867 platted the city and named the streets after himself, his family, associates and friends. Once he had taken control he set about making donations to assist citizens in making improvements in the area.

1867 also saw George Clayton coming to Ludington to begin a newspaper at Ludington's request. The Mason County Record, the forefather of the Ludington Daily News was a Republican paper but it's purpose was really to help form public opinion and work towards the goal of having the County Seat removed from the Village of Lincoln to the Village of Pere Marquette.

1869 saw some great problems and challenges for James Ludington, he was arrested in Detroit on a warrant on charges brought by EB Ward who owned large tracts of pinelands in Mason County and as President of the Flint & Pere Marquete Railroad was building the line to the Village of Pere Marquette. Ludington's crews had been cutting timber from some of his tracts and Ward did not act until Ludington was in Detroit on business.

As we have mentioned before Ward had been negotiating with Ludington for property for the terminus of the railroad and lands for his own plans for a mill. Now with Ludington's arrest, subsequent lawsuit, and judgment in Wards favor James Ludington's health failed and his holdings were all sold to a newly formed company called the Pere Marquette Lumber Company. Ward had his settlement, was able to ruin James Ludington and shortly afterwards the Pere Marquette Lumber Company "donated" the lands needed for the railroad and Ward ended up with land on the Pere Marquette Lake for his sawmills as well.

The improvements and other events set in motion by James Ludington continued to move forward in spite of his losses in health and finances. In 1873 James Ludington offered a cash donation if the city were to be renamed Ludington. Of the $5,000.00 half was to go for County buildings and half to the city for a library. In 1873 the County seat issue was voted to be moved from Lincoln to the City of Ludington. The city was also chartered and named Ludington. There is no record however that the city ever received it's half of the funds promised by Ludington.

As I have reviewed old papers and accounts it's obvious that while James Ludington didn't call this home, his efforts and provision of seed money to help residents create a community was crucial to the formation and development of our town. For his efforts in promoting and forming the community the City Fathers should have probably made the motion to name the town after James Ludington without financial incentive to do so.

James Ludington passed away in 1891 in Milwaukee.

If you have any stories or photographs you would like to share with our readers please feel free to contact me at 757-3240 or davep@blackcreekpress.com

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