Images of Alcona County Michigan describing the Physical Advantages, Population, The First Settlers, Leading Fishermen, Founders Of Harrisville, County Organization, Harrisville, Lincoln and Mikado.

Alcona is one of the picturesque counties of the Huron shore, whose greatest development has never extended far inland.

Her early settlers were drawn to her territory because of the promising fisheries along the shore, while the products of her western timber lands were largely rafted down Hubbard Lake or "Wolf creek into the Thunder Bay River and so on to Alpena, or down Pine and Au Sable rivers to Oscoda.

The eastern portions of the county are undulating and rolling, culminating on the Huron shore in high banks covered with grass and trees.

This natural feature is especially pleasing at Harrisville, the county seat, which overlooks the lake from a lofty green terrace.

Inland a few miles are the pretty little hamlets and railroad stations of Lincoln and Mikado, both also incorporated villages.

 

Physical Advantages

The southern portions of the county are more level than the other sections, and are watered by the Pine River and its branches, while the Au Sable intersects the western townships.

In the northwestern part of the county are the sources of Wolf creek, an affluent of the south branch of Thunder Bay River, which has its real source in the deep waters of Hubbard Lake in the northern portion of the county.

In a cluster of five lakes, sometimes called Twin lakes, about seven miles from Harrisville, rises Pine river.

But, although the lakes in Alcona County are quite numerous, Hubbard is the only one of notable size.

Early Image of Hubbard Lake - Alcona, County Michigan

It was named after a Mr. Hubbard, a popular member of the United States surveying party which first came into this country.

It is eight miles long by four miles broad, surrounded by a well-wooded country.

On the eastern shore, at an elevation commanding a bird's-eye view of the lake, there has long stood a weird monument of stone called the "Indian Worship."

It marks the spot where Se-don-i-ka-to, a chief of the Chippewa’s, was said to be buried.

It has long been held a sacred spot by the Indian hunter and trapper, and by white men, too, who brought offerings of beads and tobacco and left them there, until some vandal violated it, pulled down the monument and dug up the grave.

Although the country around Hubbard Lake is romantic, the shores of this beautiful body of water are being sprinkled with unique cottages.

It is plentifully stocked with whitefish and its waters teem with bass, pike, pickerel and perch, while the small streams which empty into it are noted for trout.

Another noted trout stream is Black river, which enters Lake Huron in the northeastern part of the county.

Its attraction for sportsmen and summer visitors has been largely responsible for the settlement and post office of Black River.

Alcona county is chiefly indebted to the Detroit & Mackinac Railway company for her transportation conveniences.

Its main line passes through Greenbush, Harrisville, Alcona, Black River and other Shore stations, and a branch enters the county a few miles west of the trunk and runs to Lincoln, while the Au Sable & Northwestern cuts across the southwestern portion of the county to the northern part of Oscoda.

The county presents a great variety of soil, from the rich, alluvial and sandy loam of the river valleys and lake regions, to the ordinary clay and gravel of the hill districts.

Up to date the main agricultural advances have been made in the growing of garden seeds, peas, potatoes, clover and apples.

Thousands of acres of hardwood and pine cuttings have, within a few years, been transformed into fine farms and orchards.

 

Alcona County Population

Alcona County Population as of 1910

The First Settlers

Thunder Bay Island was a wooding station for steamers and a resort of the fishermen of the Huron region for some time before actual settlement commenced along the shore of the mainland at Alpena, Devil's River and points further to the south.

Isaac Wilson, a "York state" man, came to Devil River, or Ossineke, in August, 1845, to run the tiny sawmill which had been built there the previous year by Birtch & Eldridge of Detroit.

He brought with him his wife and infant son, and his family was the first to make a home on the Huron shore between Thunder bay and Lower Saginaw bay.

During the year of his residence at Devil River, various fishermen received shelter from the lake storms at his hospitable little log house, and he became known and loved all through that region.

Among the fishermen of Thunder Bay Island who was not forced to seek port at Devil River was S. M. Holden, also a New Yorker; but his fishing boat, with himself, Robert McMullen and William Hill, in the month of September, 1846, was driven by a northwest gale to the high lands of Au Sable, afterward known as Springport, or South Harrisville, about a mile south of the present city.

At that locality, although Mr. Holden and his men found no friendly shelter, they did discover a tract abounding in excellent springs and large pine trees, the latter especially desirable for fish barrel staves.

"Believing that it might prove good fishing ground," says Charles P. Reynolds in his history of the county, "Mr. Holden resolved to occupy it.

Accordingly he at once moved his family with six months' provisions and lumber for a shanty - his family consisting of his wife, two children and Miss Caroline E. Kenyon, his wife's sister.

This sudden change of base was effected on a small trading vessel then plying between Lower Saginaw (now Bay City) and Thunder Bay Island.

"The steamboat 'Detroit,' sailed by Eber B. Ward, made weekly trips from Detroit to Mackinaw, carrying the United States mail.

She was the first steamboat that visited Alcona County for business, calling for Mr. Holden's fish in the fall of 1846; - the old boat foundered off Point Au Banks in deep water.

Mr. Holden was successful in his new fishing station and permanently located at the High Banks, and is therefore entitled to all the honors of being the first actual settler in Alcona County proper."

 

Leading Fishermen

Mr. Holden added cooperage to his fishing business, the abundance, of pine around Springport suggesting the enterprise, which furnished employment to a number of men who became settlers and assisted to develop the country.

The prosperous outlook at High Banks soon attracted other fishermen; among others, Crosier Davison, an Englishman, who had resided at Birmingham, near Detroit.

In the fall of 1848 Mr. Davison came to Greenbush, then known as the Sliding Banks of the Au Sable River.

He extended his operations up the shore, not only in fishing, but in the auxiliaries of the industry, such as making nets, building docks and manufacturing barrels.

William Hill, a Canadian, had located at the Cove, now Alcona.

His business was also extensive and he was known along the shore as the Commodore of the Cove.

Messrs. Holden, Davison and Hill were the leaders in the industries which made permanent settlements in what is now Alcona County.

The Harris’s were of a somewhat later day.

 

Founders of Harrisville

In 1854 Messrs. Holden and Davison located and purchased the pine lands and valuable mill privilege at Harrisville, built a small water mill and commenced the first manufacture of lumber in Alcona County, which Mr. Holden superintended personally.

Mr. Davison closed up the fish business that he might center his investments in pine lands, whose rapidly increasing value offered better inducements to him than either fishing or making lumber.

Already the land hunters were swarming on every stream, and many were the races to the land office to secure choice tracts.

Messrs. Holden & Davison sold out their mill to Harris & Sons of the state of New York, the new firm consisting of Benjamin Harris and his sons Levi O. and Henry H., of East Bloomfield, Ontario County, who were both millwrights and carpenters.

The new company had within themselves the elements of success - integrity of character, genius and capital, and with such eminent qualifications their success was assured.

The mechanical genius of Levi O. Harris was soon apparent in transforming the water mill of one saw into a steam gang and siding mill, by using water and steam as motive powers; also by connecting the reservoir ponds for storing logs with plank shutes for running them to the mill with cheapness and dispatch.

In every department of their business admirable labor saving inventions were the admiration of all beholders.

The village and township were named after this enterprising firm, and a post office was established with L. O. Harris as postmaster, which was kept at their store - the first and only one, until 1866, in the county.

At the death of their father, the sons continued the business with unflagging energy.

They built docks and purchased an interest in the propeller "Genessee Chief," which made weekly trips between Detroit and Saginaw, always calling at Harrisville — a great convenience to the people.

They cleared a farm on section 10 and encouraged settlers who had ventured into agricultural pursuits with many acts of kindness.

To all they were kind, social and genial, and entered into the sports and amusements of the settlers with an interest that endeared them to the people, to whom Levi O. frequently stood as physician, surgeon and dentist, as well as legal advisor, often ministering to the necessities of the sick and needy.

Devoting all their energies to the manufacture of lumber - and both unmarried - it is not very surprising that they did not seek to develop the country.

Why should they clear cedar swamps, pull stumps, lay out streets or make turnpike roads, in such a wilderness, for others?

Their business was the manufactory of their pine exclusively, intending when that was accomplished to enjoy the proceeds elsewhere.

In 1866 the Harris brothers sold out their extensive business.

Levi O. married and went into banking at Buffalo, New York, and Henry H. continued the lumber business in Chicago, where he had opened a yard in the interest of the company.

At this time the Harris’s departed from their "village;" the cedar swamps that bordered the shore of Lake Huron at Harrisville reached to the water's edge in a dense mass, and the village was a mere notch cut into it.

The roads ran in zig-zag courses like cow paths in the woods: the large mud holes were corduroyed with logs, but the smaller ones were left to be shunned or waded through as best suited the convenience and taste of travelers, who seldom had any choice in the matter.

Good roads were made in winter to draw logs to the mill, or to accommodate the few outside lumbering parties.

A scattering few had commenced to clear farms and found homes, and were nobly battling in the woods back of the swamps and sand hills.

A state road had been surveyed and cut out from Au Sable to Alpena, but it made a detour west of the village and was practically of little benefit to anyone in the township.

A shabby excuse for a town road ran along the shore connecting its sparse settlements on which the entire highway traffic of the county had scarcely made a mark, as many of the settlers carried their pork and flour on' their backs.

The mill and docks, with the store, boarding house and a few rough board houses with stove pipes for lightning rods, was the "Up-Town" of the village of Harrisville.

"Down Town" was down the shore among the pine stumps and through the land where the Exchange hotel greeted the travelers and ministered to man and beast.

The population consisted principally of the hands, mostly single men from Canada and a few fishermen and lumbermen, according to the weather and the season.

Such was Harrisville as it appeared to an eye-witness in the month of July, 1866.

 

County Organized

In the year 1868, it was determined to effect the organization of the county and a committee consisting of Geo. L. Colwell, Edward Chapelle and L. R. Dorr, of Harrisville, William Conklin, of Greenbush, and E. R. Hayes, of Alcona, were appointed to secure that object at the forthcoming session of the legislature.

Robert White was selected to attend the legislature, and as a member of the Third house to attend to the interests of the proposed county.

After much delay that object was effected, and the county of Alcona and the township of Greenbush were both organized. Harrisville was, of course, named as the seat of justice.

The first election of county officers was held at the old schoolhouse, April 5, 1869, and resulted in the choice of;

George W. LaChapelle for sheriff;

Edward Chapelle for treasurer;

George Rutson for clerk;

George Hamilton for register of deeds;

J. P. Merchant for circuit court commissioner

and Reuben Z. Roberts for prosecuting attorney and judge of probate.

The first meeting of the board of supervisors was held at the office of the county clerk, May 8, 1869, and there were present, Lawrence R. Dorr supervisor of Harrisville; Elijah R. Haynes, of Alcona; and William Conklin, of Greenbush.

Mr. Dorr was elected chairman for the ensuing year.

George Rutson was appointed assessor of the unorganized territory of Alcona county, and Messrs. Dorr and Conklin were constituted a committee to select a site for county buildings.

At the same time it was ordered that bonds be issued to the amount of $3,000 for the purpose of constructing a courthouse.

The proposition was submitted to a vote of the electors of the several townships, at an election held August 31, 1869, and the result was as follows:

Alcona cast fourteen votes, all in favor of the loan;

Harrisville polled forty-nine, of which forty-eight were for the loan and one against;

Greenbush cast six votes, all for the loan.

An additional loan of $3,000 was afterward voted, at an election in April, 1870.

The following June the work was commenced under the superintendence of Joseph Van Buskirk, the supervisor of Harrisville township, on a lot presented to the county by Messrs. Weston, Colwell & Company.

The plan of this building was drafted by H. G. Rothwell, which, with the schoolhouse, which were "admitted by competent judges to be in good taste and ornaments to the village."

In the meantime the successors of the Harris brothers in the lumber business, Weston, Colwell & company, commenced to improve the roads of the vicinity, build new docks and breakwaters and do other things to advance their interests, but which had the obvious effect of furthering the development of Harrisville and the surrounding country.

This was also the period when the settlers awoke to the agricultural possibilities of the region.

A few farmers had made good in raising crops of fine potatoes and other roots and had also met with encouraging results in the raising of forage and some kinds of grain.

Most of the farm clearings were just west of Harrisville. In September, 1866, the first meetings to encourage agriculture were held in the old schoolhouse and were numerously attended.

Out of these gatherings developed the Alcona County Agricultural society in 1872, the first officers of which were elected at the courthouse in the following year.

Fair grounds were afterward purchased at Harrisville and suitable buildings erected, and today the county seat is the center not only of the judicial and civil affairs of the county, but of its agricultural interests, which have supplanted those of lumber and fish.

 

Harrisville

The land composing the site of Harrisville passed from Harris Brothers to Weston, Colwell & Company, in 1866, when the former transferred their property and left the country.

After the organization of the county in 1868, the site increased in value and in 1870 the property was surveyed and platted by H. G. Rothwell.

The lumber company donated the courthouse square and, as stated, Mr. Rothwell drew the plans for the county buildings and completed them in 1870.

Harrisville was incorporated as a village in 1887 and as a city in 1905.

It is a neat little place of about five hundred people, situated on the main line of the Detroit & Mackinac Railway, lighted by electricity and provided with other modern conveniences.

As the county seat it has a good local trade and is now the center of a country of developing farms, fruit lands and live-stock ranches.

Dairying is also a coming industry, and in the raising of garden seeds Alcona County is up to the high grade of northeastern Michigan.

A good creamery and large seed house at Harrisville are evidences of the growth of both industries. At the county seat are also a roller flour mill, but slight evidence that it was ever a lumber town of considerable importance.

In the vicinity are a number of trout streams that furnish plenty of sport in the open season and as the location of the little city is high and attractive, Harrisville is becoming the center of not a little summer travel and trade.

 

Lincoln and Mikado

These are both stations on a branch of the Detroit & Mackinac railway, which runs a few miles west of the main line.

They are also villages, incorporated in 1907.

Lincoln, formerly West Harrisville and about seven miles west of the county seat, was settled in 1885.

It is still a very small settlement, having a bank, a grist and sawmill, and being the medium of a fair trade with the adjacent country.

Two churches are located at this point.

Mikado is twelve miles southwest of Harrisville and comprises a bank, several general stores, a cluster of residences and three or four churches.

It is sustained by a good country and an industrious farming community.

Written by Perry F. Powers in 1912 in the book "A History of Northern Michigan".