Cadillac Michigan in 1882 looking southwest

Michigan is a part of that almost unknown quantity designated at the beginning of the last century as the Northwest Territory. In 1805 a part of this great territory 11 as set off and given the name of "Michigan Territory." 'The lines describing this territory were not the same as those now defining the boundaries of the state of Michigan, for it is said that owing to some dispute as to the southern boundary line, congress, to appease the desire of the Michigan representatives for more land, "threw in'' the portion of the state now known as the Upper Peninsula, which has proven to be the repository of untold mineral wealth, placing Michigan well in the front rank of mineral producing states of the Union.
Owing to the fact that in those days all inland transportation and travel was by wagon until stage coach, settlements remote from the lake shore were for many years very few and were usually found along such rivers as were navigable and these grew very slowly. The lack of transportation facilities was not the only retarding element in the settlement of the state. The ague had full sway throughout nearly the whole southern part of the state, and it soon became known everywhere that to go to Michigan meant to be shaken with the ague for a year or more, with accompanying doctor and drug hills, and there is little doubt that the fear of the ague diverted many of those who were constantly joining in the "westward march of empire" from the fertile lands of Michigan to more distant homes in the still newer "West."* In this age of rapid transit and rapid development when villages and even cities spring up almost in a day, it looks strange that it should have taken over thirty years for the territory of Michigan to have arrived at the age of
* "West” was the designation by eastern people to all the country lying west of the state of New York. The author well remembers that when his grandfather moved from Cattaraugus county, New York, to Oakland county. Michigan, they called it going way out west."
Statehood; but when we go back to that period and in our mind's eye see conditions as they then existed we almost wonder that enough people could have been induced to find homes within the bounds of the state to entitle it to admission into the Union.
In June, 1836, congress passed an enabling act to admit Michigan to the Union, but there were certain conditions contained in the act which had to be complied with on the part of the state. In due course of time these stipulations were carried out and on January 26, 1837, a supplemental act was passed by congress by which Michigan was declared to be "one of the United States of America, and admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever."
At that time there it as not a mile of railroad in Michigan except what was known as the Erie & Kalamazoo, which had been built from the town of Port Lawrence (which name was later changed to Toledo) to Adrian, a distance of twenty-three miles. This was what was known in those days as a "strap" railroad, the rails being made of wood and covered with a wide bar or strap of wrought iron. The cars on this line had been drawn by horses up to within six days of the time Michigan became a state, but on January 20, 1837, the owners of this line put on a steam locomotive, which was the first locomotive ever used in the state.
Previous to this time there had been much talk about railroads, and as early as 1830 a company was organized to build what was to be called the Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad. The name was changed later to the Michigan Central.
After the company had expanded about one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars and within two months after the state had started in to do business for itself, an act was passed by the legislature authorizing the purchase of this road by the state and providing for its early completion. The work was taken hold of on the part of the state, money being raised on state bonds to pay for the work, and within a year from its birth the state had completed its railroad from Detroit to Dearborn, a distance of ten miles. At this rate it would have taken twenty years and more to have completed the road, but the state kept on issuing its bonds and trying to build its railroad until finally it was forced to call a halt, as the continual process of issuing bonds had so injured the credit of the state that an issue of fifty thousand dollars of bonds were sold in New York in 1845 for eighteen cents on the dollar. This condition of things created a strong desire on the part of the state to sell its "elephant," and negotiations were forthwith authorized with that end in view.
After many months of delay the sale was at last made, and on September 23, 1846, the road passed into the hands of the Michigan Central Railroad Company. So anxious had been the state to get the road off its hands that the company drove a remarkably good bargain, one which has caused the state a good deal of annoyance since.
During this time the state had had a somewhat similar experience with the Michigan Southern Railroad, now known as the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad. The state had paid out nearly a million dollars in the construction of this road, and upon its sale to the Southern Michigan
Railroad Company, in December, 1846, it could only realize five hundred thousand dollars from its investment.

While these ventures in railroad building were not a source of profit to the state in a financial way, they attracted public attention to Michigan, and the people along their lines, no doubt, came into the enjoyment of railroad privileges much earlier than they would have done had railroad building been  confined to private enterprise.
With the building of railroads came new settlers in increased numbers, until at the time of the adoption of the present constitution in 1850, the census reports show a population of three hundred and ninety-five thousand and seventy-one, as compared with about one hundred and eighteen thousand when the state was admitted. This growth, however, had been confined almost entirely to that portion o f the state lying south of the center line of the Lower Peninsula.
Many of the northern counties not even township lines had been surveyed when the territory became a state in 1837.  It is not strange, therefore, that the whole of this northern end of the Lower Peninsula should have been looked upon by those living in the southern counties as a valueless wilderness.
At that time there were the remnants of several tribes of Indians living in what now constitutes the counties of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse and Leelenau, and as early as May, 1839, two evangelical missionaries located at what is now known as Old Mission, in
Grand Traverse County, with the purpose in view of teaching and Christianizing the Indians. They were well received and their work bore good fruit. Three years later the result of the work of the missionaries was shown by a desire on the part of the Indians to raise something more than corn for food, consequently a barrel of wheat was brought by them from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and sown under instructions of the missionaries.
This was probably the first wheat sown in northern Michigan, certainly the first of which we can find any authentic record.
Little by little civilization kept encroaching upon savagery and more white people were getting a knowledge of the natural advantages offered by this hitherto unknown part of the state, and in the year 1847 a hardy home seeker by the name of Boardman took up his residence where Traverse City now stands. He built the first house that was put up 011 the present site of Traverse City, and fro111 him the river, emptying into the bay at that point, and the lake a short distance up the river, received their name. He also built a small saw-mill, operated by water power on a creek which enters Boardman River about a mile from its mouth. when this mill was erected there was not another saw-mill within a hundred miles in any direction.
In 1851 the firm of Hannah, Lay & Company located at what is now known as Traverse City and started upon a business career which proved wonderfully successful.
Mr. Hannah had previously visited that locality and ascertained by personal examination the great quantity of pine timber along the Boardman river, and, having had considerable experience in the lumber business, saw at once that there was a grand opening for a lucrative business. The firm bought a large quantity of pine land that cost them only one dollar and a quarter per acre. They started in a moderate way, for in those days markets were limited, prices were low, and transportation facilities were confined exclusively to sailing vessels on the lakes and it took from six to nine days to land a small cargo of lumber in Chicago from Traverse Bay. Their first saw-mill was the one heretofore mentioned as having been built by Mr. Boardman and which they purchased of him. This was what was known as a "muley mill," having but one upright saw, which under the most favorable circumstances would not cut more than two and a half or three thousand feet of lumber in twelve hours. This proved to be altogether too slow a process even for those slow times and accordingly, in the spring of 1852, they commenced the construction of the first steam saw-mill ever built in northern Michigan.
Having already cleared out the Boardman River far enough to reach the first or nearest of their pine lands, they were in position to do what was then considered a "big lumber business."
The advent of Hannah, Lay & Company was the dawning of the morning" in the settlement and development of the whole Grand Traverse region.
They furnished work for all applicants. They supplied the wants of all newcomers, and by their liberal and honorable dealings did much to encourage those seeking homes. But the home seekers were not numerous for the first few years. The vast unbroken forest that stretched back from the little opening made at Traverse City to a seemingly unlimited distance was not very inviting to those who had lived in an old settled country. So the 'fifties passed by and the total population in Grand Traverse county (Indians excepted) was twelve hundred and eighty-six. This included the people who were connected with the mill, the boarding house, the lumber camps and those who had been bold enough to strike out into the forests to make homes for themselves.
Then  came the great, cruel war, and for four weary, woeful years hundreds of thousands of "the flower of manhood" had to face far more dangers and difficulties than a Michigan wilderness offered, and the thoughts of seeking new homes in the “west" gave way to thoughts of how to economize and  care for the little ones at home while the husbands and fathers were fighting the battles for the Union on southern fields, languishing in pestilential prison pens, or sleeping the last long sleep in unknown graves in the blood-stained "sunny South." But in spite of all this strife and carnage in one section of our country there was still a steady increase in the population of Grand Traverse Bay, the census of 1864 showing two thousand and twenty-six, or an increase of only seven hundred and forty in four years. In the spring of 1865 the war ended and thousands upon thousands of the boys in blue returned to their former homes. The spirit of adventure aroused by army service would not permit many of the returning soldiers to settle down to the humdrum routine to which they had been accustomed before enlisting, and the westward stream of adventurous homeseekers grew into a mighty river and such a growth and development as the new states and territories of the west witnessed in the next ten years has never had a parallel in the history of the world. One important factor in this great stride of advancement was the building of the trans-continental railroad. This, in addition to the passage of tile homestead law, giving every head of a family one hundred and sixty acres of land, by the payment of a nominal sum and living on the land for five years, soon peopled a vast area of country which otherwise would have continued to remain in its primeval state for ail infinite length of time.
This great western movement of population came at a time when northern Michigan was ripe to receive it, and the tide surged back from the shores of the great lakes, and particularly from Travers Bay until the bounds of one county were too limited to receive and contain it, and it soon began to
lap over into adjacent counties as if determined at the time had come when the giant forests which for centuries had held full sway throughout this whole section of the state should yield its scepter to man, the lord of creation, and henceforth administer to his desires and demands.

This book was written in 1903 by John H. Wheeler and rewritten by Judge Peterson. The first edition of the book can be obtained for free ag Google Books online and the Peterson book is available at the Amazon link to the right of this page.

Wexford County Historical Society