Content of the Images of Iosco County Michigan; Census Figures Revised By Fire - Industrial Transformation - Rivers And Lakes - History Of Au Sabine - Oscoda Village - The Au Sable-Oscoda Fire - Tawas City - East Tawas - Whittemore.
On Tuesday, July 21, 1911, when adjacent forest fires swept away Oscoda and An Sable, those flourishing twin communities at the mouth of the Au Sable river, one of the notable conflagrations of Northern Michigan and the country had to be recorded in history.
Of Au Sable City, not a business house remained and only a few small houses hanging on its outskirts.
Oscoda's fate was hardly less pitiful; a church, a schoolhouse and a few substantial buildings were left here, and, what was better, a strong spirit of hope and determination.
At this writing (September, 1911), Au Sable is virtually a deserted city of ruins; Oscoda’s old site shows a number of new buildings rising, and her former merchants and manufacturers are revisiting the place and some of them arranging to rebuild.
But the general result of that terrible fire is to necessitate the reconstruction of Iosco county as to its present status; for where, on the 10th of July, 1911, there was a busy, prosperous community of nearly two thousand people (for Oscoda and Au Sable were really one), on the following day was a square mile or more of flaming and smoking ruins, with half a dozen families mourning the loss of dear ones.
At the present time the combined population of the two places will not exceed two hundred.
From the figures of the United States census office compiled in 1910, and of the county authorities, adopted by the board of supervisors on June 26, 1911, should therefore be eliminated the facts relating to Au Sable and Oscoda which are now "past history" in the most forceful sense of the term.
The figures as to the changes in the population of Iosco County illustrate the effects of her decline in the lumbering and fishing industries, with the cutting away of the forests along the Au Sable, the Tawas and the Au Gres rivers and the almost equal depleting of the waters of the upper Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.
The forests and the fisheries have gone, or at least declined to the diminishing point, and agriculture has not advanced with sufficient rapidity to regain the lost ground.
Like other sections of Northern Michigan, however, which formerly bore dense timber growths, Iosco county has the vitality and durability of soil which will eventually make her territory richly productive in grain, grasses, fruit, vegetables and live stock.
Material progress has already been made in the raising of potatoes, sugar beets and apples, and in the various lines of dairying.
With this growth has come a considerable trade in agricultural implements.
The manufacture of lumber in the county was almost paralyzed with the burning of Oscoda and Au Sable, although there are still several mills and factories at East Tawas and Tawas City.
Salt is still an important article of manufacture and shipment, and has been such for some forty years.
The first wells were sunk at East Tawas for Grant & Son, about 1877, and much of the brine was carried in later years to Oscoda and Au Sable where it was manufactured into salt.
Thus it became a county industry.
But the importance both of lumber and of salt in the early development of this section of northeastern Michigan has already been set forth in the general chapter devoted to these industries.
Rivers and Lakes
Iosco County is bountifully supplied with both lakes and rivers.
The broad and picturesque Au Sable takes its course through its northern districts.
A popular and ideal trip for tourists and fishermen is to follow the river from Grayling, Crawford County, to its mouth at Oscoda, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles.
The Au Sable & Northwestern railway is within sight of its banks for much of the distance, during which it passes across the northeastern corner of the county.
At times the river runs between banks two hundred feet high and at one stretch, for two miles or more, it takes a straight course through low meadow lands.
Rainbow trout are the greatest attraction for anglers in the Au Sable River.
There are few rivers in Michigan which can furnish greater or more constant power than the Au Sable, and some twelve miles above its mouth at the Big Bend, there is now in process of development a great hydro-electric project.
The enterprise, which is being pushed by the Commonwealth Power company of Jackson, Michigan, involves the construction of four or five massive dams at that point and a great plant designed to distribute power and electric light, over a great conducting system, to numerous southern cities including Saginaw, Lansing and Jackson.
So there is much more to that stream than its attractions, great though they are.
Van Ettan Lake is less than two miles from the mouth of the Au Sable River.
It is about four and a half miles long and a mile wide, incloses a pretty little island and its wooded shores are dotted with rustic bungalows.
At Long Lake station, in the northwestern part of the county, southwest of Au Sable river and on the Rose City division of the Detroit & Mackinac railway, is situated the national camping grounds of the Christian churches, or Disciples of Christ.
The two hundred acres comprising the grounds not only front Long Lake on three sides, but embrace seven tiny lakes.
But the ideal lakes in the county are known as the Tawas chain, and are reached by good roads from East Tawas.
During the season of 1903 a party of hunters decided they should have a clubhouse to which they could go for fall shooting in November, also during the summer months, at any time, for rest, recuperation, fishing and a care-free life.
The land surrounding the head of Indian Lake, nine miles from East Tawas, was purchased and a large log club house erected; this spot is at the head of a group of eight lakes.
Later, members purchased land and put up cottages and bungalows; today every foot of land on the lakes is held by private individuals.
A short distance southeast of the city limits of East Tawas, on the shores of Tawas Bay, is the finely improved health and pleasure resort owned by the Detroit & Mackinac railway known as Tawas Beach.
It is a beautiful and diversified tract of woods, cottages, hotels, bathing beaches, pavilions, tennis courts and all the up-to-date conveniences and luxuries attending out-of-door rest and recreation - all attractions within walking distance, which are also accessible by a branch of the Detroit & Mackinac road.
Tawas City is beautifully situated on the opposite, or western side of the bay, which is the main water indentation of Iosco County.
The Tawas river, with its branches, drains the eastern sections of the county, and empties into the bay through the Tawas chain of lakes, while the branches of the Au Ores river water its western townships.
History of Au Sable
According to the undisputed narrative of James O. Whittemore, who wrote a history of the county in 1868, ''the first settlement made in Iosco county was at the mouth of Au Sable river, to which the valuable fisheries attracted attention at a very early day.
Some time previous to 1848 Curtis Emerson, of East Saginaw, and James Eldridge located the land at the mouth of the river, on both sides, covering the site of the present village plat of Au Sable and also a part of the property of the Backus brothers, on the north side of the river.
Benjamin F. Pierce, of Bangor, Bay County, at that time had a trading post or storehouse which formed the landmark, from which in March, 1849, Eldridge and Emerson set off and divided lots fronting on the river to resident fishermen and others, who wished to purchase.
"The names of the seven original purchasers were Benjamin F. Pierce, W. L. D. Little, James E. Smith, Enoch Olmstead, Hulett Duell, Patrick Perrott and Horace D. Stockman. These lots had from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet frontage, and ran back at right angles to the river to the back line of the government subdivision.
Subsequently, Mr. Alberti was sent to survey and plat the new town, and it was thought best to lay out the lots parallel with the lines of the government survey.
When this new survey was laid down over the division lines of purchase which ran northeast and southwest, an innumerable amount of gores, triangles and fractional lots was found, and a tangled network of lines ensued, which a Philadelphia lawyer could not unravel.
Happily, this plat was not recorded, and in the spring of 1867, mainly through the judicious efforts of Francis B. Smith, who owned a large part of the town, a new survey was made, which left the ancient boundary lines undisturbed and which furnished a much more convenient and accessible arrangement and a better view of the town from the river.
"The white fish and trout fisheries off the mouth of the Au Sable River, constituted the main business of the town for many years.
Many thousand barrels were taken which found a ready market in the southern States, through Cleveland, Sandusky and Cincinnati; the capture of these required a large fleet of sail craft, and the curing and packing gave employment to many coopers and other hands.
Thousands of barrels of salt were required, and thousands of dollars worth of nets and fishing apparatus as well as large supplies of provisions and clothing for men.
The furnishing of these laid the foundation of the fortunes of Felix O'Toole, one of the most prosperous citizens of Au Sable, whose fine block of stores, crowned with a public hall and Masonic lodge rooms, forms one of the most conspicuous ornaments of the village.
Sometimes the demand was very great and prices were very high, and the business was exceedingly profitable.
At other times prices would sink to the lowest mark, inspection would then be unusually severe, and the profits would be on the minus side of the ledger.
Mr. O'Toole often made large advances to fisherman in the early fall and supplied them with provisions and clothing for themselves and men during the fishing season.
The age of poetry fell into the night of tradition, and the prosaic modern era came in, with the first shipment of machinery for the sawmill of Messrs. Backus & Brother, the pioneers in the lumber business of Au Sable."
The post office at Au Sable was first established in 1857.
Prior to that time, the few letters addressed to people at this point were brought from Tawas City or Bay City. The Tawas City office was established in 1856.
The mail carriers were authorized to get the mail and bring it to people at Au Sable.
The first postmaster was Elijah Grandy, a fisherman.
He kept the office in a small log house, where the O'Toole block afterward stood.
The first school in Au Sable was taught, in 1864, by a Mrs. Horr, who took compassion upon the few children of the settlement and gave them instruction in a private house.
In 1865 the first schoolhouse was built, the fishermen turning out on stormy days and helping.
It stood on the state road.
It was a primitive affair, enclosed with boards nailed up and down, and was just high enough inside for Horace Stockman to stand up in without damage to the top of his head.
He was the tallest man in the region round about Au Sable.
The first teacher in the new schoolhouse was Miss Jennie Doyle, now Mrs. Wm. Mackin, of AuGres.
Life in Au Sable in the early days had but few variations, although the population was continually changing.
The staples of those days were whiskey and fish, but the citizens had little interest in the fish except as articles of merchandise.
It would be a difficult task indeed to collect the names of all who at some time occupied a place in the procession that came or went, as the case might be, between the years of 1848 and 1870.
The fishing grounds there were widely known, and were sought by scores of men in pursuit of temporary and profitable occupation.
Many came here for a single season and never returned; some student in pursuit of means to finish an education, or others who, after a season, settled into permanent and profitable occupations.
Then the lumber industries developed until they completely overshadowed the fisheries.
Au Sable was incorporated as a village in 1872 and became a city in 1889.
In 1867 the firm of Smith, Kelley & Dwight, platted a tract of land which they had recently purchased and named it Oscoda, and in the following year built the first dock on this part of the lake.
During that year also the Parks mill was built, but it was operated only a short time.
The father of Oscoda was Edward Smith, one of the original owners of the site, and later of the Gratwick, Smith & Fryer Lumber Company.
The original lots in Oscoda were sold subject to a condition that they could not be used for the sale of liquor.
In 1872 the village received an accession, by the Loud property being detached from Au Sable township and attached to Oscoda Township.
This gave Oscoda two churches, a schoolhouse, and the extensive lumbering interests of Loud, Gay & Company, the latter of which proved to be the main source of its growth.
Oscoda was incorporated as a village in 1885 and was operating under its original charter when it met with the casualty of 1911.
The splendid part played by the Loud brothers in the growth of Oscoda and Au Sable is described in the pages devoted to the lumbering operations of Northern Michigan.
The Au Sable-Oscoda Fire
The awful conflagration of July 11, 1911, caused a feeling of widespread horror and pity.
It is self-evident that the most authentic account of the disaster would be prepared by home authorities, and for this reason extracts covering its main features are taken from the Oscoda Press of July 28th following the fire:
"Fire, originating in adjacent forests and from sparks said to have been thrown by the locomotives of both the Au Sable & Northwestern and the Detroit & Mackinac railway lines, devastated the twin towns of Oscoda and Au Sable and that part of the community known as Au Sable Township, Tuesday, July 11.
Business blocks, mills, factories and residence houses were totally destroyed to the number of about 600.
Five lives were lost in the disaster: Francois Clairmount, an aged musician; William Batts, yardman at the Hotel Elliott; Samuel Rosenthal, merchant; Jacques Lavoie, box maker, who died of burns received, and an unidentified peddler.
Only for the timely arrival of the steamer Niko, of the Edward Hines fleet, Captain Meyer, of Tonawanda, the loss of life would have been appalling.
"Two hundred and eighty persons, most of them women and children, were hemmed in on the lake shore, to which wings of fire had already spread on the north and south with the van of the conflagration moving down between.
All but strong swimmers would undoubtedly have perished had not the boat arrived.
"The forest fire which had been burning since the preceding Sunday in the neighborhood of the new chemical plant was the cause of the burning of two houses in West Au Sable early in the day.
Sparks from the engine of the train known as the "Lincoln Stub" are said to have been responsible for the fire which burned the H. M. Loud Son's yards and plant.
The big fire which bore down on Oscoda at four in the afternoon in a great wall of flame, started near the Au Sable and Northwestern tracks at the Barlow farm.
"Within five minutes twenty houses were ablaze on Main street, and when it became evident that Oscoda was doomed men ran up and down urging the women and children to hurry to the Loud Company, south dock at which the steamer 'Niko' had just arrived.
In the meantime residents of 'Shore Town' were flocking to the junction of the docks at the water's edge.
When the first crowd of women and children reached the boat at the end of the pier, men already on board were crying to the captain to 'pull out.'
Eli Herrick, Peter McPhail and others of Oscoda and Charles Jahraus of Tawas City, stood by the lines declaring that they must not be thrown off until all who could be saved were taken on board."
When the boat left the dock her cabins were on fire fore and aft, and a disastrous panic was narrowly averted.
The refugees could not be landed at Tawas, on account of the heavy sea, and the boat finally docked at Bay City.
"With the fire which had entered at the west end early in the day quenched, Au Sable seemed safe from the devastation under way in Oscoda, until the wind changed at 7 o'clock.
"Turning, like a horse at the starting line, the flames set a terrific pace from the north to the south limits, the buildings sloughing before them as babbit melts and settles in a heated crucible.
The inhabitants scurried before it like a herd of cattle amuck.
''Out and far on the sands of the shore they ran helter skelter, void of dignity, all but one.
Judge Connine, of the Iosco county circuit, was the last in retreat.
Appearing and disappearing in the front volumes of smoke, he walked, with an extended stride, but even in the vortex, dignified.
On the sands, in the cold north wind, social caste was lost and rich and poor huddled together until sunrise in mutual discomfort.
"When the sun rose Wednesday morning there was no one alive near the scene of the calamity but shuddered at the thought that hundreds of their neighbors had met a fearful death.
When nightfall came and only four bodies had been found a general feeling of relief was mingling with sorrow for the unfortunate ones."
Hon. Gideon O. Whittemore, formerly prosecuting attorney and judge of Oakland County, as well as secretary of state, was the founder of Tawas City, to whose site he came in June, 1854.
In June of the preceding year, as member of a lumber firm, he and his associates made a visit of exploration to this region, located a tract of about 5,000 acres of pine land and secured a front of about a mile on Tawas Bay, which then lay in the solitude of nature.
On this trip they landed at the lighthouse on Tawas Point, which had been completed in 1852, and were hospitably sheltered by Capt. Colin Graham, then keeper.
One solitary hunter with his wife lived at the mouth of Tawas River in a rude shanty, dividing his time between this point and another hut on Traverse Lake, near what is called Sim's creek in memory of him.
The firm of G. O. Whittemore & Company purchased the site of Tawas City, and erected the first saw mill on the bay in 1854.
This mill formed the nucleus of a small village, which was surveyed and platted in 1855, and then included the so called Johnson property.
The owners of that tract being absent at that time, the recording of the plat was neglected until July, 1866, when that portion owned by the Messrs. Whittemore, embracing some three hundred acres, was resurveyed, platted and recorded.
Judge Whittemore, the founder of the village, spent ten years of an active, useful and honorable life in this locality prior to his death in June, 1863.
He it was who took the proper measures for opening the Iosco and Ogemaw state road, which brought the city into communication with an industrious and thriving class of settlers who had occupied the timber lands to the west.
Lumber mills were built, the fisheries encouraged, trade with the "back country" developed, and, perhaps above all, the county seat was fixed and held at this point.
In February, 1856, Iosco County was organized, with, provided that the seat of justice should be located at Ottawas, or Tawas Bay.
Under the impetus of Judge Whittemore's good work the little lumber settlement on the bay evolved into Tawas City.
Back from the shore, across the creek, is a tract marked Union Square in the original plat.
This was at first designed for Courthouse Square, but the proprietors of the village donated the high and pretty grounds overlooking the bay upon which the wooden courthouse and jail, still occupied, were erected in 1867.
The supervisors and county officers prior to that year had been accommodated in the second story of the Whittemore store.
The first election for county officers was held on the first Monday in July, 1857, at which the following officers were elected:
Sheriff, Charles H. Whittemore, (son of Gideon);
Clerk, James O. Whittemore, (another son of Gideon);
Treasurer, Charles P. Haywood; register, James O. Whittemore,
Prosecuting attorney, Gideon O. Whittemore;
Probate judge, Gideon O. Whittemore;
Surveyor, Henry Daggett.
Mr. Haywood failed to qualify as treasurer, and Benjamin F. Pierce was appointed in his place.
The two townships of Tawas and Au Sable were created by the act which erected the county and their township elections were held at the same time as the county election.
The first meeting of the board of supervisors was held November 9, 1857.
There were present, Gideon O. Whittemore, supervisor of the township of Tawas, and James O. Whittemore, county clerk.
Charles H. Whittemore was appointed county treasurer to fill a vacancy caused by the failure of Charles P. Haywood, treasurer elect to file his official oath and execute the bond required by law.
Thus the county machinery commenced to move, as had Tawas City, largely through the efforts, good judgment and popularity of the Whittemore family.
The post office established at Tawas City, March 11, 1856, was the first one between Ray City and Mackinaw, and James O. Whittemore was the original incumbent.
For several years after the office was first established, the mails were delivered by sailboat from Bay City in summer, and by Indian carriers with dog sledges during the winter.
In April, 1869, it was made a money order office.
The first international order was issued August 10, 1872.
The first school in Tawas City was taught in 1863, by Miss Graham, daughter of Capt. Graham, keeper of the lighthouse.
The school room was over the Whittemore store, the only public place of assembling in the village.
In 1868 the village schoolhouse was finished, and cost, with the furniture, $5,000.
The main building was 26x45 feet, and the two wings, each 16x20 feet.
The entire building was two stories in height, with a belfry.
It is situated at the outskirts of the village, on a spot of high ground near the edge of the woods.
Tawas City was incorporated as a village in 1885 and as a city in 1895.
It is at the mouth of the Tawas River on Tawas Bay and has one of the best natural harbors on the shore.
The leading industry of the place is the plant, or the car shops, of the Detroit & Mackinac railway which really stand on the boundary line between East Tawas and Tawas City.
The latter is also a shipping point of some importance for potatoes and sugar beets; but its mainstay is the fact that it is the county seat.
Its bank is one of the chain controlled by Ealy, McKay & Company.
Tawas City has a good union school and one ward school attended by over four hundred pupils, and Baptist, Methodist, German Lutheran and Evangelical churches.
East Tawas was founded in 1864 by the lumber firm of Smith, Van Valkenburg & Company.
At that time the timber extended to the ridge, and from that line to the bay shore, the ground was swampy, filled with water courses and covered with brush and jack pines.
The firm of Smith, Van Valkenburg & Company, having failed to acquire title to a site selected at Sand Point, purchased land on Tawas bay and floated timber for a mile from Sand Point to their new site.
Messrs. Bobst, Locke, Mathers and Lawler were the first to arrive,
Mr. Locke appearing with a yoke of oxen that he had driven from Alabaster, a little settlement on the shore five miles south which had been growing around the plaster beds opened in that vicinity three years before.
In June C. F. Adams came up from Alabaster and built a little shanty where the Walker foundry afterward stood.
On July 3rd a shanty for the mill boarding house was completed, and July 4th Mr. and Mrs. Adams moved into their domicile.
Work was begun on a more commodious boarding house for the mill.
Mr. Adams went at work on timber for the mill, and S. W. Chilson drove piles for the mill foundation.
Thus the village of East Tawas had its birth.
In September, 1868, Mr. James O. Whittemore outlined the progress of the first two years as follows:
"The first ground was broken in July, 1864, by Messrs. Newman and Bobst, of the firm of Smith, Van Valkenburg & Co., who then commenced the construction of their mill.
At that time the feasibility of building saw mills on the open shore of Tawas bay was a question subject to doubt.
The success of this firm, however, demonstrated that point completely.
Their mill was 50x124 feet, with additions for engine room, etc., and contained two gangs, a large circular, lath, mill, etc., and had a capacity of 70,000 feet of lumber a day.
In 1866 two run of stone were added for grinding feed.
In 1865 they commenced, and finally completed, a very extensive dock, which serves both for piling lumber and as a boom for rafts and logs behind it.
The dock has front of 1,200 feet with a width of forty-five feet, and is five hundred feet from the shore, with a pier to connect with the mill.
The logs for the supply of this mill come from the Au Sable and Rifle rivers, principally.
This firm, then known as the East Tawas Mill Company, had also a large store twenty-six by fifty-nine feet, which was quite handsomely fitted up with new shelving and counters, and which also contained the post office.
Above the store was located an office and a public hall, about twenty-six by thirty-four feet, which was used for religious meetings and for the meetings of the East Tawas Lodge of Good Templars No. 535, containing about sixty members.
The business of this company is superintended by George P. Smith, who is conducting its varied details very successfully.
"The second mill erected was that of Messrs. Adams, Swaney & Company, from Ohio, in 1867.
This mill is of large size and contains one large circular, edger, etc.
This firm have a dock front of about five hundred feet and obtain their supply of logs principally from the Au Sable river."
The salt industries of East Tawas, as have already been noted, followed the establishment of her fisheries, her sawmills and lumber trade, and they, in turn, gave way to more diversified manufactories which sprung up in response to the demands of a growing, large and more complex community.
Her fishing interests are still large and a remnant is left of the important lumber manufacture and trade of the period from 1870 to 1890.
But East Tawas is no longer on the simple plane of a lumber town and fishing station.
The city is a modern, well built and attractive place, and, next to Bay City and Alpena, the most important point on the Detroit & Mackinac railway.
The general offices of that company are divided between Bay City and East Tawas and her extensive car shops, which employ over one hundred and twenty-five men, stand on the line which divides the two cities - Tawas and East Tawas.
The superintendent of the shops is C. W. Luce, road master and master mechanic, H. T. Thomas, and assistant to the latter, A. G. Jackson.
East Tawas has a substantial trade with the "back country" and is one of the leading shipping points on the Detroit & Mackinac line.
A branch of the Ealy, McKay & Company syndicate of banks, of which John M. Ealy of Caro, Michigan, is president, provides the chief banking facilities of the city.
When East Tawas reached the advanced age of eighteen months, the people felt that their letters, papers and valentines should receive the consideration of the post office department, to the extent of providing a post office.
In January, 1866, a petition with one hundred signatures was forwarded to the department, asking for a post office.
There were in the village at that time one hundred and fourteen persons, by a careful and conscientious count.
The prayer of the petitioners was granted and a post office established.
The first postmaster was Christopher C. Parker, who operated a portable office.
He carried the mail around in his hat or pockets, as happened to be most convenient, and by so doing was always about the office when the anxious patron inquired for his mail.
It was so to speak, a kind of free delivery system.
A few months after the post office was established at East Tawas the Methodists of the place organized its first religious services under Rev. Jared Copeland.
They were held in a little board shanty near where the drill house of the East Tawas Salt and Lumber Company was built a few years later - this tiny building having also been used as the first school in the spring, that of 1866.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church originated in 1869; the Evangelical Lutherans organized in 1872; the Congregationalists in 1876 and the Baptists in 1880.
During this period of religious activity and establishment, the public schools of the village were also advancing to meet the demands of its increasing populace.
A Union school was completed in 1869 at a cost of $5,000.
When the first school was opened three years before there were one hundred and fourteen persons entitled to attend; in 1883, three hundred and seventy-five pupils were enrolled and in 1911 about five hundred.
East Tawas was incorporated as a village in 1887 and adopted a city charter in 1895.
It has modern systems of electric lighting and water supply, is well paved and presents a general aspect of substantial advancement which is not belied by the facts.
Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Baptist churches are well established for the edification of the permanent populace, and strangers who seek rest or diversion readily find both, especially in the summer months, at the beautiful beaches and summer resorts on the shores of Tawas Bay.
Seventeen mills southwest of Tawas City, the county seat, is a small community of about two hundred people which was incorporated as a city in 1907; it was never a village.
This is Whittemore, a station on the Prescott division of the Detroit & Mackinac line; the center of a promising agricultural section in the southwestern part of Iosco County and the trading place for quite a large district.
A saw and planing mill, creamery and store for the sale of agricultural implements, with several good general stores and a sprinkling of residences, are features which may give a general picture of the embryo city.
Written by Perry F. Powers in 1912 in the book "A History of Northern Michigan".