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Images of early Benzie County Michigan

Topics include The County Physically—Population Statistics—--first Settlers— Founding of Frankfort and Benzonia—Homestead—County's "declaration Op Independence"—County Seat Contentions— Frankfort Op Today and Yesterday—Thompsonville—Benzonia— Honor—Lake Ann.

Benzie is one of the counties bordering the northeastern shores of Lake Michigan which is prospering both as a commercial, a manufacturing and a fruit-raising section.

Its chief point of commerce and trade is Frankfort with its splendid harbor and its favorable transportation facilities by land and by water.

The county as a whole is traversed by the Ann Arbor, the Pere Marquette, the Empire & Southeastern Railroads and the Manitou & Northeastern Railroads, the last named cutting across its southeastern corner and through its central section.

Frankfort is the lake terminus of the Ann Arbor system which operates three fine ferries from this port to Menominee and Gladstone, in the Upper Peninsula, and Manitowoc and Kewaunee across the lake on the Wisconsin shore.

Thus Benzie County has a remarkably free outlet for all it may produce and Frankfort is becoming an important shipping point for quite a section of the Grand Traverse region.

 

The County Physically

Benzie County has an area of 197,760 acres, of which about 100,000 are available for cultivation and some 80,000 are already in farms.

The principal stream in the county is the Benzie or Betsie River, as it was originally called.

As has already been stated, the name originated in Aux Bee Scies, as the French called the river, which American sailors and settlers corrupted first into Betsie and then Benzie.

After flowing southwest it makes a loop in the northern part of Manistee county and then takes a general northwesterly course through Betsie Lake, its mouth forming the harbor at Frankfort.

Platte River, which drains the northern sections of the county, is the only other considerable stream.

Benzie County has fifty-nine lakes of sufficient size to be named, the largest ones being Crystal and Platte, in the northwestern townships not far from Lake Michigan.

As the land is abundantly watered, it is naturally a good dairy country, but as the soil is a warm, sandy and gravelly loam it is primarily adapted to the raising of such fruits as apples, peaches, plums and berries.

Benzie is also in what may be called the '"potato belt" of Northern Michigan. Poultry and bee-raising, especially on the shores of Platte Lake, are industries which are attracting considerable attention.

The original forest growth of Benzie county was hardwood mixed with pine, and included such varieties as hard and soft maple, white and black ash, white and black birch, oak, elm, beech, basswood, cedar, tamarack, hemlock and spruce.

This section has shared the general experience of Northern Michigan in the decline of its softwood manufactures, but its hardwood industry and trade are still considerable.

 

Population and Property Statistics

As a basis for a presentation of an outline history of the county the tabulated statement of the United States census bureau for 1890, 1900 and 1910 is presented herewith:

Benzie County Property and Population 1910

The total equalized assessment of real and personal property in Benzie County for 1911 was $4,967,751, as against $3,242,330 for 1910.

 

First Settlers

The first settler in Benzie county is said to have been Joseph Oliver, a Pennsylvanian who was a trapper and trader and located temporarily at the Manitou islands, Manistee and other places along Lake Michigan before he came to the mouth of the Betsie River and put up a rude log hut for his home, the first building erected on the present site of Frankfort.

This is believed to have been in 1850.

In the same year the government sent Orange Risdon to reexamine the surveys in this section.

He found Mr. Oliver, who had located fourteen acres on the south side of the river near where the Park House was afterward built, and bought his property.

Both he and his wife purchased large tracts both on the river and the lake; and fishers and trappers commenced to plant their homes in this locality.

 

Founding of Frankfort and Benzonia

Then a peculiar incident brought the Betsie River to the notice of the "outside" world.

George W. Tifft, a wealthy vessel owner of Buffalo, sent his vessel, commanded by Captain Snow of Chicago in the season of 1854.

The craft was caught in a terrible west gale abreast of this place and became unmanageable.

The boat was drifting towards the beach, which meant loss of crew, passengers and vessel.

Sighting the mouth of Betsie River through the trees and knowing his craft was fated anyway, Captain Snow ordered all sails hoisted and headed for the mouth of the river, taking chances of grounding the bar.

The water was fortunately sufficiently deep to float the craft and she sailed safely into the river, escaping the onslaught of the gale.

This was the first vessel to enter Frankfort harbor.

Mr. Tifft, learning of the splendid location, determined to start a business opening here and bought all of the Risdon's lands and made other large purchases of government land in 1857.

George S. Frost of Detroit, Ranson Gardner and others purchased all of Tifft's interests and began the first actual settlement of Benzie County.

The light house at Point Betsie, four miles north of Frankfort, was built in 1856.

The light house keeper and his family together with three of four other families were the first residents of Frankfort and vicinity.

In the latter part of August and the following month of September, 1859, the Detroit colony organized by Messrs. Frost, Gardner and others of that city and under the direct management of Louis A. Doby and John H. Adams, arrived at the mouth of the Betsie River and prepared to make a permanent settlement.

A small steam sawmill was constructed that season, and soon afterward the "gang" began to improve the harbor.

The channel at that time was just in front of where the Park House was erected.

L. A. Doby had the contract for building the piers.

A boarding house was built and William H. Coggshall came from Glen Arbor to conduct it.

In the meantime another colony had planted itself between Betsie River and the inland end of Crystal Lake.

In the year 1857 Charles E. Bailey and John Bailey of Medina County, Ohio, and Chauncey T. Carrier of western New York, after hearing described in glowing terms the country around Grand Traverse Bay through an article written by Deacon Dame, decided that they would come to Northern Michigan and establish a Christian colony, believing this to be one of the best agencies for laying a foundation for good in the world.

As Mr. Carrier had business in Minnesota it was arranged that he should pursue his journey and that he should finally meet the Bailey brothers at the most northerly point in Grand Traverse Bay, though none of them knew its name or had any definite idea of its location.

As the time for the appointed meeting approached, Mr. Carrier landed at Northport while the Messrs. Bailey landed on one of the Manitous, whence they passed over to Glen Arbor in a small boat.

While they were making their way to Northport on foot, Mr. Carrier visited a location on the east side of Elk Lake in Antrim County which seemed to him to offer important advantages for the establishment of the proposed colony.

He induced his comrades to visit the place, it being stipulated, however, that before coming to a final decision the three should also examine a tract of country of which the Baileys had heard favorable reports lying between Traverse City and Glen Arbor.

The tract near Elk Lake not proving satisfactory to the Baileys, the party started in the direction of Glen Arbor.

On arriving there the explorers were so well pleased with the country they had seen that they resolved to return and make a temporary home at that place until a more suitable site for their colony could be definitely fixed upon.

However, it was thought best to first take a look at a tract in Missouri that seemed to offer similar advantages for their purpose.

C. E. Bailey and Mr. Carrier accordingly visited the northern part of that state, but returned fully convinced that all things considered the Grand Traverse country offered more and better facilities for their contemplated enterprise.

A decision having been reached Messrs. John and Horace C. Bailey and H. A. Wolcott with their families moved to Glen Arbor in the fall of 1857.

Mr. H. C. Bailey was not permitted to be a resident very long, for he died as a member of the new colony in June, 1858.

C. E. Bailey remained for the winter at Illinois where he was preaching and where he prepared the articles of association for the colony.

They are styled "Articles of Agreement and Plans for a Christian Colony and Institution of Learning, to be located in the Grand Traverse Bay Country, Northern Michigan."

Mr. Carrier never became a resident of the Grand Traverse country. At the breaking out of the Civil war he was living in Clinton County and gave his life as a Union soldier of the First Michigan Cavalry.

In the spring of 1858 a party of six set out on an exploring tour to fix upon a permanent site for the colony, including C. E. Bailey, John Bailey, H. A. Wolcott and Charles Burr, the last named having but recently arrived from Bellevue, Ohio.

The place finally selected as the central point of the colony and village site was one mile south and two miles east of the present Benzonia.

A minority of the party favored the site of the village which was afterward chosen.

The lands having been selected, Messrs. Burr and Wolcott were delegated to visit the United States land office and make the purchase.

In the spring of 1858, when the projectors of the colony arrived, there were a few white persons already in the county. There was a man at the light house, three families at the mouth of Betsie river and a man named Averill had a sawmill at Herring Creek.

Just how long these people had been in the county is not known and not important as the development of Benzie County began with the advent of the Frankfort and Benzonia colonies.

During the summer of 1858 Messrs. John and C. E. Bailey made several visits to the proposed site of the colony. A small boat was constructed that two men could carry, which was conveyed over the ridge that separates Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake and launched on the latter.

The vicinity of the purchase could then be reached from Glen Arbor by coasting along the shore of Lake Michigan to the portage over the ridge, crossing it and passing in the small boat up Crystal Lake to its eastern extremity.

Returning from one of these visits, they were once compelled by stress of weather to remain over Sunday near Point Betsie light house, when C. E. Bailey improved the opportunity to preach to a small audience in a fisherman's shanty.

Captain Emory and his son, of the peninsula, happening to be present, were among the hearers. The sermon was the first ever preached in Benzie County.

The lumber for the first house had to be transported from Glen Arbor to the mouth of the Betsie River in small boats, and thence up that stream to a point as near the intended location as practicable. Several days were spent in clearing the river of obstructions.

Becoming discouraged with the magnitude and difficulties of the work, Mr. Wolcott and the Baileys commenced explorations for an available land route for a portion of the way. While engaged in this project, they had occasion to pass over the tract on which the village has since been built and all became convinced, that, all things considered, it was a more suitable location for the central point of the colony than the one already selected.

A change was accordingly agreed upon, and the location of the future village, now Benzonia, was permanently fixed.

Late in October, 1858, final preparations were made for permanently locating the members of the colony, and a vessel was chartered to convey their goods from Glen Arbor to the mouth of the Betsie, the women and children being conveyed in a small boat.

It was eleven o'clock at night when they landed at the mouth of the Betsie where Frankfort now stands. This was nearly a year before the arrival of the Detroit colony, and there were only three Canadian French families to welcome them and shelter them for the night.

Two and a half days were consumed in ascending the river, and at noon of the third day they arrived at their future home.

Within the next five years the colony and village became quite a settlement, 1863 being especially fruitful of new comers; it is stated that sixty arrived within ten days during the early part of that year.

The Institution of Learning which was to be a chief part of the colonial enterprise had been chartered in December, 1862, and in June, 1863, was held the first meeting of the board of trustees of Grand Traverse College.

In November the first work on the college chapel was performed, but so many were the drawbacks that it was not dedicated until September, 1869.

The enterprise was still progressing but slowly when in March, 1874, the college building was entirely destroyed by fire.

Hard times interfered with its rebuilding and vigorous maintenance, although from it originated several churches and most worthy movements in the cause both of education and religion.

In other ways Benzonia had become established and was making progress. There had been a post office at Herring Creek, which had been moved thither in 1859 and in 1860 a Congregational church had been organized at the house of Rev. Charles E. Bailey.

 

Homestead

The first location of lands in what is now Homestead Township was made in 1862 by E. E. Kirkland, who immediately commenced erecting a house and making improvements. In 1863, quite a number, principally from Benzonia, located homesteads.

These included William Steele, D. Piper, William Weston. D. Spencer, A. T. and Morris Case, H. Averill. Hugh Marsh, Daniel Carter and George St. Clair.

The majority of the new comers settled in the southern part of what is now the township of Homestead, and the community took its name.

Homestead consisted only of a few families when the county of Benzie was laid off from Leelanau in February, 1863, and attached to Grand Traverse for civil and political purposes, while Frankfort and Benzonia were well along as villages.

In 1868, however, when the people were ready for an independent civil organization, these three settlements were about on a par.

At that time the territory to be organized embraced the townships of Almira, Benzonia, Crystal Lake, Gilmore, Homestead, Joyfield, Weldon and Colfax.

 

County's "Declaration of Independence"

In the fall of 1868 the question of a separate civil organization was agitated by the people of Old Benzie County, and on December 12th a mass-meeting was held at the school house in Frankfort to consider measures looking toward securing that object.

Resolutions were adopted that petitions be circulated and that Hon. W. H. C. Mitchell, who was the representative-elect from this district, be requested to lend his aid in securing the passage of a bill which would provide for county organization.

The result was the enactment of a law, approved March 30, 1869, which provided as follows:

"That the county of Benzie, consisting of the territory embraced by the present county of Benzie, be and the same is hereby organized into a separate county by the name of Benzie, and the inhabitants thereof shall be entitled to all the privileges, powers and immunities to which by law the inhabitants of other organized counties in this state are entitled.

"At the township meeting to be held in the several townships in said county on the first Monday in April next, there shall be an election of all the county officers to which by law the said county may be entitled, whose term of office shall expire on the first day of January, A. D. 1871, and when their successors shall have been elected and qualified.

"The county canvassers under the provisions of this act shall meet on the second Tuesday succeeding the day of election, as herein appointed, in the village of Benzonia, in said county, at the house of John Bailey, or at such other place as may be agreed upon and provided by said board, and organized by appointing one of their number chairman and another secretary, and shall thereupon proceed to discharge all the duties of a board of county canvassers as in other cases of the election of county officers, as prescribed by the general law.

"The location of the county seat of said county shall be determined by the vote of the electors of said county at a special election which is hereby appointed to be held by the several townships of said county on the first Monday in July next.

There shall be written on the ballots then polled by the qualified electors of said county one of the names of the following places, to wit: Frankfort, Benzonia, and the southeast quarter of the northeast quarter of section 28, township 26 north, of range 14 west (Homestead), and that the one which shall receive a majority of all the votes cast at such elections shall be the county seat of the county of Benzie: Provided, That in case no one of said places shall at said election be designated such county seat in the manner aforesaid, another election shall be held on the first Monday of October next, in the same places, at which the said electors shall designate b}majority vote one of the two above named places, which shall have received the highest number of votes at said July election, to be the county seat of said county of Benzie.

"The said county of Benzie when so organized, shall be attached to the thirteenth judicial circuit, and the judge of said circuit shall hold two courts therein each year."

 

County Seat Contentions

According to this enabling act, the election for determining the location of the county seat was held on the first Monday of July, 1869.

As therein specified if one of the places received a majority of all the votes, it was to be the county seat; if no place received a majority then another election was to be held on the first Monday of the following October, at which the electors should designate by a majority vote one of the two places which should have received the highest number of votes at the July election.

At the first election the vote stood for Benzonia, 75, Homestead, 237, and Frankfort, 194. As there was no choice the second election was held in October, resulting in favor of Frankfort by 301 to 265 for Benzonia, Homestead having withdrawn.

The first county officers had been chosen at the spring election of April, 1869.

Addison P. Wheelock had been elected sheriff;

Roland O. Crispen, county treasurer;

Theodore C. Walker, county clerk and register of deeds;

Digby B. Butler, judge of probate;

James B. Delbridge, prosecuting attorney;

William J. Young, circuit court commissioner;

George E. Steele, county surveyor;

A. E. Walker, superintendent of schools;

Dr. A. J. Slyfield and L. Kinny, coroners.

On the 22d of April the first board of supervisors convened at the school house at Benzonia and elected Silas F. Judson, of Benzonia Township as chairman.

The second meeting of the board, held after the county seat had been fixed at Frankfort, was held on the 11th of October, 1869, at Victory Saterlee's hotel (a two story frame building, corner of Third and Main streets) and afterwards adjourned to a two story frame building, prepared for county purposes, situated on the corner of Main and Second streets.

It was originally erected by Doaby brothers and was for years designated "the old court house building."

In this building was also held the first term of circuit court for the county, over which Hon. Jonathan G. Ramsdell presided.

At the annual township meeting in 1872 the total number of votes cast for "removal of the county seat" sustained Frankfort, but on account of some irregularity in the election proceedings of Crystal lake township resulted in the cancellation of the ballots cast from that section and the result was removal to Benzonia.

Despite protests and court proceedings the latter remained the county seat until 1895.

As a result of the balloting at the annual township meeting of April, 1895, Frankfort again resumed the county seat honors, taking possession of commodious buildings and grounds prepared by the township of Crystal Lake.

The seat of justice remained at Frankfort until it was transferred to Honor in the northern part of Homestead Township near the geographical center of the county.

 

Frankfort of Today and Yesterday

Frankfort lost the fight for the county seat in 1872, but went right along on its sturdy way, and in October. 1873, petitioned the circuit court to have the question of incorporating as a village under the general law of 1873 submitted to a vote of the electors at a special meeting to be held in December following.

There were at that time said to be 684 inhabitants, and the territory to be incorporated covered 1,240 acres.

The petition bore 685 names and was granted.

The proposition carried and Frankfort became an incorporated village.

Not long after, however, the law of 1873 was declared unconstitutional and the charter became null and void.

The village obtained its present charter in 1885.

The pioneer churches and schools of Frankfort were established about at the same time. In 1866 Jacob Voorheis settled in the town as the agent of the local land company.

He also kept a hotel and a small store, and in the spring of 1867 invited all the neighbors to his place for an old-fashioned praise meeting.

There were held the first religious exercises, from which developed a Bible class and Sunday school.

In January, 1868, a Congregational church was organized.

Frankfort has now not only a Congregational church, but religious organizations representative of the Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and Adventist elements.

In the same month and year School District No. 2 of Crystal Lake was organized and included in its territory the village of Frankfort.

The district was bounded on the south by Benzie Lake and river, east by Benzonia, west by Lake Michigan and north by Platte Township.

The first school had been taught during the winter of 1867-8 by W. H. Marsh in a small building temporarily fitted up for that purpose and which stood on Water street between Third and Fourth.

The winter term of 1869, however, was taught in a building especially erected for school purposes - a $2,000 frame, twenty-five by fifty feet in size.

It would be an object lesson in the thorough and generous methods of modern education to place this crude little building beside the fine $25,000 Central School, with its up-to-date arrangement and equipment, which is representative of the prevailing village system.

Frankfort is a pretty, substantial village of about sixteen hundred people, with modern electric light and water plants and good systems for the distribution of both these necessities of life - good light and pure water.

As an open port provided with a splendid harbor, natural and improved, and abundant means of communication, transportation and shipment, Frankfort is an important agent in the commercial development of Northern Michigan.

Frankfort's harbor is eighteen feet deep and her light house and life-saving station add to her reputation as a leading lake port.

Her shipments include fruits, vegetables and hardwood lumber, and her lumber and flour mills represent the chief part of her industrial activities.

Elberta, formerly South Frankfort, is a village of about seven hundred people and lies on the south shore of the harbor.

It was platted in 1867 and was at one time quite a prosperous iron manufacturing town. The Frankfort Iron Furnace Company which opened its $200,000 plant in July, 1870, gave the village an industrial standing for many years, and South Frankfort with its large furnace, its extensive docks and bustling activity seemed destined for large things.

But like other ventures of the kind in this far northern region, this one was "ahead of the times" and had to be abandoned.

South Frankfort was incorporated as a village in 1894.

Of late years it has become the solid center of a fine fruit country which has been especially prolific of peaches.

Of all the varieties raised the Elberta has become most widely known.

So, although the village has a lumber and a shingle mill, and is one of the thriving stations on the Ann Arbor Railroad, its future depends more upon the development of the surrounding country horticultural and agriculturally than in any other respect.

In the spring of 1911 a bill passed the legislature changing the name of the village from South Frankfort to Elberta, this action being afterward approved by popular local vote.

 

Thompsonville

This village, the second in size in Benzie County, is situated on the Betsie River in the southeastern part of the county at the junction of the Ann Arbor and Pere Marquette Railroads, and lies in both Colfax and Weldon townships.

Its first settlers located in 1890 and it was incorporated in 1892; so it is comparatively a present-day village, and, considering its age, has grown more rapidly than its sister corporations.

Thompsonville is a village which is well lighted by electricity and supplied with good water through an adequate plant and system.

It has graded and thoroughly organized schools and is the headquarters of the Weldon Township Library of several hundred volumes.

The Congregationalists and Methodists have well-supported churches.

The surrounding country being a fertile fruit and vegetable country, Thompsonville gets the benefit of a good trade thereby and reciprocates by providing good banking facilities.

 

Benzonia

The village of Benzonia, the old county seat, was incorporated in 1891.

It is a place of some six hundred inhabitants and its railway station is known as Beulah, a mile distant, on the Ann Arbor Railroad.

It enjoys a fair trade with the adjacent country, has a good bank and weekly paper, two churches (Congregational and Methodist), and its old-time standing as the seat of the Grand Traverse College and an influential center of education is recalled by the Benzonia Academy, a Congregational institution of promise.

The following sketch by Professor George R. Cotton, its principal, is self-explanatory: "Benzonia College succeeded Grand Traverse College in April, 1891, at which time the buildings, property and traditions of the earlier institution were transferred to the later one.

Benzonia College, in its turn, was changed to Benzonia Academy in June, 1900, under which title it has continued to the present time.

"As stated. Benzonia Academy is the legal successor to Benzonia College, an institution founded by a body of devoted men and women from Oberlin and vicinity who came to this region in 1858 for the purpose of establishing a 'Little Oberlin,' a village that should have a church and school as centers of its community life and should be to the Grand Traverse country what Oberlin had been to the whole Northwest.

This entire region was then a dense wilderness and developed slowly, over a third of a century elapsing before the coming of a railroad.

Besides the rugged qualities of the true pioneer, these were men and women of good parts and no little culture.

Many of them were college trained, some were Christian ministers and missionaries and one had been a college president.

Throughout the hardships and privations of their wilderness life they held true to their ideals.

The institution they established had varying fortunes and was sustained by great sacrifice, but its influence was felt through the surrounding counties and Benzonia became known as a ‘city set upon a hill.’

Before the full title of settlement flowed into the Traverse region, Olivet had become a flourishing institution and it was felt there was hardly place for two Congregational colleges in Michigan.

Accordingly, in 1900, Benzonia College was changed to an Academy.

It succeeded not only to the plant and property of the college, but to its traditions and ideals.

Another generation has taken the place of the pioneers, but their spirit and vision are still cherished and the church and the school are still the centers around which the life of the community revolves.

"After the change from College to Academy had been fairly made, a vigorous growth was secured. The alumni of the academy already constitute a respectable list.

Its student constituency comes from constantly widening sources.

Its diploma admits to the University of Michigan and leading colleges of the west.

In spite of a destructive fire over two years ago, its buildings and equipment are better than ever.

Its friends are to be found in almost every Congregational Church of the State.

It is coming to be seen that the academy has an important place in the educational field."

 

Honor

Honor, the present seat of justice for Benzie County, was first located in November, 1894, by E. T. Henry, at that time foreman for the Guelph Patent Cask Company and George Briggs of Wolverine, Cheboygan County.

The land upon which it stands was bought of Robert Buckans.

About the first of April, 1895, E. T. Henry arrived on the grounds with a crew of men and a small portable sawmill and began to clear a place for a set of camps, which were successfully conducted for several years by Charles H. Giles, who finally retired to his farm in Cheboygan County.

L. F. Lane, who was the first to start a general store, moved his stock from Lake Ann.

Then came the Case Mercantile Company, J. L. Crane and others.

But the real foundation of the town was laid by the Guelph Patent Cask Company, of Wolverine, which spent considerable money in erecting its plants, clearing lands and manufacturing its specialties.

In the fall of 1896 a $2,500 school house was completed and church services commenced about the same time.

The name Honor was given the town in compliment to the baby daughter of J. A. Gifford, general manager of the Guelph Patent Cask Company.

The village was made the county seat by popular vote in April, 1908.

It has about six hundred people; is on the Platte River and a station on the Manistee & Northeastern and the Pere Marquette Railroads.

The surrounding country is productive of fruits, seeds, vegetables, etc., and Honor is benefited accordingly; this advantage being supplemented by the steady business which comes to the village as the county seat.

Soon after the removal of the county seat from Frankfort to Honor, in 1908, the principal business men of the latter, formed the Honor Public Building Association, purchased the cement building now occupied as a court house (formerly the Methodist Church), and erected a modern jail together with sheriff's residence, also of cement, at a cost of nearly $6,000.

Both said buildings are today rented by the county for official and judicial purposes.

Benzie County Courthouse Honor Michigan

The Seymour & Peck Company, successors to the Guelph Patent Cask Company, manufacturers of lumber and veneer, have timber enough, it is estimated, to keep the plant running for about ten years.

The plant furnishes employment for about ninety men during the summer months and nearly that number during the winter months, the larger portion of the veneer being shipped to Chicago, where the firm manufactures it into boxes, crates and similar articles.

 

Lake Ann

This little village of about two hundred people is in the northeastern part of the county and is a station on the Manistee & Northeastern Railroad on the body of water from which it was named.

It has a good graded school, two churches and has been incorporated as a village since 1893.

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