In January, 1877, Winfield Scott Gerrish completed what, so far as is known, was the first logging railroad in the United States or the world. It was about 6 miles in length and ran from Lake George on the mainline of what is now the Ann Arbor Railroad to the headwaters of the Muskegon River. Both by training, and perhaps via inheritance, Mr. Gerrish was the proper man to have achieved this distinction. His father, Daniel L. Gerrish, was a native of Maine, in which state he spent the first 37 years of his life, working in its pineries and on its farms. Both kinds of work were calculated to harden him into a stalwart man. As such, in 1857, he moved with his family to Werner, Wisconsin, where he continued lumbering until 1861, when the household located at Croton, Newaygo County, and remained there for eight years, or until the pine was nearly exhausted in that section of the Muskegon Valley. Mr. Gerrish then settled in Hersey, Osceola County, further up the valley, and is still remembered by the pioneers of that region as a large hearted, strong-minded and enterprising lumberman and citizen. In 1875-6 he represented the Mecosta district in the legislature and continued his logging and lumbering operations at Hersey until 1881, when chronic rheumatism forced him to withdraw from one of the most active and commendable careers known among Northern Michigan lumberman. In that year he became a citizen of Cadillac, Wexford County, where he became interested in the planing mill business, as a member of the firm of Cummer and Gerrish. After some years he retired from all business. His death, at the home of his daughter, Mrs. D. F. Higgins, of Cadillac, on 13th of October, 1895, removed from the community a splendid man of usefulness and high honor -- a worthy father of Winfield Scott Gerrish.

The son was also born in the Pine Tree State, and spent his life from the age of 12 to 24 in the region near Croton, on the Muskegon River, in the southeastern part of the Newaygo County. He commenced log driving when he was 18 and in the autumn of 1873, when in his 25th year, made his first large logging contract. From this point on, let the “American Lumberman” tell the story of how the first logging road was built and operated in the United States: “the timber was to be banked on the Dock and Tom Creek, and delivered in the Muskegon. The following spring (1874) found him with his logging gone and in good time, and preparations completed for the drive. Driving was presently begun and vigorously prosecuted, but this treacherous stream, the terror of log drivers of the Muskegon District, soon shrunk to a rivulet, while the drive was not finished. In those days the ‘State of Mainers,’ as the Maine lumberman were familiarly called, new everything, so to speak; this possibly was a mild solution, yet they were quite free with their advice to the green Michigan boys. It was not surprising, therefore, that some of these sons of the old Pine Tree State visited the Dock and Tom creek at this time to give Scott a little wholesome advice. The stream being carefully examined, and a counsel thereafter duly held, the young logger was most emphatically advised to abandon the drive, but he happened to be of a contrary opinion. ‘I will not give it up,’ he replied, and despite prediction of failure, more dams were built; some lakes discovered were speedily drained and every drop of water utilized, until the last log was driven into the Muskegon. Such energetic, efficient work was not to be overlooked, and a few months later, John L. Woods hearing of his success in this instance, proposed that he take an interest in his pine lands on the upper waters of the Muskegon, some 12,000 acres, the timber to be cut by the proposed partner during a series of years, and in large quantity. The proposition being accepted, a much larger field was now before him.

In 1874, in connection with E. H. Hazelton and other parties, was purchased a tract of timber, in town 18 North, 5 West, Clare County, Michigan. Not a tree had been cut in this township. There were at this time few, if any, townships in the state still heavily timbered, but being remote from water from 6 to 10 miles, the Pine was not available, and therefore of little value. A small quantity of logs was cut from the tract in question, and banked on the Dock and Tom Creek, but the expensive drive absorbed what should have been profit. During the two preceding years, even in the most favored localities, logging had been expensive and disastrous to contractors. Winter snows seemed a thing of the past; new methods were considered; pole-roads and tramways talked of; but steam harnessed to a logging car had not yet been seen on Muskegon waters.

The Centennial year had come, and all the people, seemingly, laying aside for the moment profession or employment, flocked to the ‘Quaker City,’ there to see and realize, in some measure, how wonderful had been the nation's progress in 100 years, an exhibition whose quickening influence is still felt in every department of industry throughout the land. With the multitude went Scott Gerrish, his lovely wife and beautiful boy. Those were busy, pleasant days. There was a fairy land in Fairmount Park transcending the wonderful tales of the Arabian nights. One evening as he had just left Mechanics Hall, where was gathered the most wonderful collection of mechanical art the world had seen – ‘did you notice,’ asked Mr. Gerrish of the writer of these lines, ‘that small Baldwin locomotive at the exhibition?’ Just the kind of a horse to haul logs without snow!

“This was a germ idea.” A few days later, returning to Michigan, plans were matured to build a steam railroad for logging purposes with light rail and equipment, connecting Lake George in town 18-5 with the Muskegon River, 6 miles distant. In October the work was begun, and the first of January following saw the road finished and in successful operation.

“Of coarse the croakers, never silent when new methods are to be tried, predicted a failure of the enterprise, and ruin for the owners, yet a few months later some of these men, riding over the road and witnessing the successful operation, were loudest in their approval, and their repetition of the exasperating ‘I told you so’ was as glibly constant as if it had applied to failure instead of success. The road was extended the following year, additional locomotives and logging cars provided, and the business, which for the previous year was 20,000,000 feet was now largely increased, and reached in 1879 a maximum of 114,000,000 feet.”

Mr. Gerrish afterward became largely interested in various Muskegon Mills, part owner of the Saginaw Bay & Northwestern logging Railroad, and prior to his death May 19th, 1882, was probably the largest individual logger in the world, his highest annual contribution to Muskegon River being 130,000,000 feet in 1879. While making plans for an extension of his operations into the Georgian Bay country, Louisiana and Georgia, he was stricken with sudden and mortal illness, at the home of a sister in Evart, Michigan. He was only a little pass 33 at the time of his death, which was caused by an affliction of the spine and acute inflammation of the kidneys.

The late Austin W. Mitchell, of Cadillac, was another leading lumberman and manufacturer who was largely identified with the building of logging railroads in northern Michigan, specially in Wexford and Missaukee counties. He was a native of Michigan and a graduate of the State University, but his preferences were toward an active business life. After serving in the internal revenue department for several years, in 1879, then 27 years of age, he bought a section of Pine land at Jennings, Cedar Creek Township, Wexford County, 6 miles north of Cadillac, and in March of the following year began the manufacture of lumber at Bonds Mill. He afterward became associated with his brother William W., both in the purchase of timber lands in Michigan and New Mexico and the manufacture of pine products, maple flooring, handles and other articles which are made from soft and hard words. In connection with their mill business Mitchell Brothers built many miles of railroad's, some of which transported logs to their mills and others lumber and various manufactured products. A. W. Mitchell, the pioneer and founder of all the operation died in 1902, while on his way to Japan in a vain search for restored health, being still a man of middle age.

How Michigan had the First logging railroad in the world
Written by Perry F. Powers in 1912 in the book "A History of Northern Michigan".