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Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Early sailor sees Pere Marquette Village grow

History Column Dave Petersen

In the August 28th 1927 edition of the Ludington Sunday Morning News William Carter related his story of seeing the village of Pere Marquette in 1861. " A lumber mill with it's crude dock, a cottage and a boarding house" comprised Ludington when Carter first sailed into what would become Ludington. When Carter arrived in 1861 on the two masted Schooner Brigham he related that there were only those three buildings.

The Brigham was owned by former Ludington Mayor Robert Caswell. In 1867 Captain Caswell brought up from Chicago to Ludington a Tug named the Cyclone for harbor towing. This tug owned jointly by Captain Caswell and James Ludington was built in Vermillion Ohio in 1866. After purchasing Ludington's share of the Tug Cyclone Caswell formed a partnership with Captain Amos Breinig and his Tug Aldrich [built 1868 in Milwaukee] which lasted until Caswell's death in 1889.

Carter related another story, one of George Caswell who had a pig pen on the point of the island (Finn Town) Around the point of the river the current was strong and one morning the current had undermined the pen and took the pigs and all. Carter said" The settlers never quit joking Caswell about this."

Quoting from the article Carter states" The Cottage I recall was situated on a point south of where the south carferry slip is now. I remember noticing that it was whitewashed and surrounded by a whitewashed picket fence. The Mill was located in the north end of the harbor and north of the north carferry slip. There was a dock in front of it running east and west. East and slightly north of the mill was the boarding house. I recollect that the boarding house as made of rough boards, which I do not believe were planed. The building was not even painted. The three buildings were the only things that looked like civilization."

" Water in the harbor was shallow, It was four feet deep. The schooners could sail into the harbor partly load up with lumber, then had to cage out. There were no tugs then. There was a beautiful stand of pine timber around the settlement in those days. Most of the timber cut at the mill went to Milwaukee and Chicago in schooners. Only the best pine timber was sold."

A man by the name of James Ludington owned most of the land at the site of the existing city. Ludington wanted to sell lots to the sailors. They gave him a laugh. They thought it would be quite a joke for them to buy land a such a place. But Ludington could for-see the future city.

As the lumber industry grew so the settlement grew. Soon there were two streets laid out, Ludington Avenue running east and west and James street running north and south. One going from the Lumber mill to either of these streets would have to walk through dense woods.

The first hardware and tin shop I recall was that operated by Tim Obrien the brother of the mother of M.B. Danaher. I received my Masters papers in 1873. I became mate of the William Krippen, a schooner and worked also on the Colin D Campbell owned by the Danaher and Melendy Company.

In 1879 I took charge of the Norman, a steam vessel owned by RG Peters of Manistee. In 1882 I supervised the building of the Steamer Marshall F Butters for Butters and Peters in Milwaukee. I became skipper of the Butters and after this was frequently in Ludington."

After four years on the Butters I went with Pardee and Cook Co. who had the lumber mill at the site of the Hamlin Dam. This Company built the William J Carter in Milwaukee naming it after me. I supervised her construction and sailed her seven years. In about 1893 I associated myself with W.P. Ketchem of Chicago, a lumber dealer. I supervised the building of his boat the W.P. Ketchem and a tow barge the George Bowen in Bay City. The Ketchem was owned by W.P. Ketchem A.E. Cartier, and others. In 1900 I became skipper of the Edward Dice, which traded salt from Manistee to Ludington and Milwaukee."

Can you imagine for a second having to walk through a dense forest in your travels from the Pere Marquette Lake to James Street? Or walking Ludington's dirt rut filled street in the 1870's? How often have we, like the sailors of the 1860's laughed about buying land way out there. Like carter said though James Ludington could see the future town, he knew it was a good investment eve if the sailors didn't at the time.

I remember when way out there meant the stretch where the current Kentucky Fried chicken currently is. When Orville Bromley opened the Patio (do you recall it?) Restaurant was located where the parking lot for KFC is now and was considered to be way out there as I am sure that Gibbs Restaurant was considered at first too also be off the beaten path.

If you have any stories or photos 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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