In the closing days of 1870 the "iron horse" made its first appearance in Wexford County, the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad having completed its line as far as Little Clam Lake, some six miles northward from the southern boundary of the county. The original survey contemplated having the line pass between Big Clam Lake and Little Clam Lake,* but through the efforts of George A. Mitchell, who had purchased quite a large tract of pine timber on the east shore of the little lake, and
whose sagacious eye foresaw the advantages of having mills at the eastern end, of a body of water where the prevailing westerly winds would very materially assist in floating timber to them, the railroad company was induced to swing eastward from its original survey and pass around the east end of the lake. The advantages that have resulted from this change of course can hardly be realized by one not familiar with lumbering operations, but it is not too much to say that there would have been no city of Cadillac in Wexford county if the railroad had passed, as first intended, between the lakes.
With the advent of railroads came a complete change in the base of business for the whole county. As soon as regular trains could be run the mail route was changed and the daily stage coaches, which had been running over the old state road, first to Cedar Springs, then to Morley, and then to Big Rapids, from Traverse City, were started on the new route to Clam Lake, as it was then called. Merchants began to have their goods shipped to the new railroad terminal, and business with Traverse
City from that day almost entirely ceased.
During the winter of 1871 fire destroyed the sawmill of J. H. Wheeler, causing much inconvenience and delay in getting out the material with which to complete the court house. The work of rebuilding was begun at once and when spring opened it was again in running order.
Another serious difficulty encountered in the building of the court house, as well as all matters of public nature, was the slow process of getting returns from taxes levied.
Far the larger share of the real estate in the county was owned by non-residents, who had been in the habit of paying their taxes at the auditor general's office in Lansing and who for several years after the organization of the county followed the same practice. In those days there was only a yearly settlement with the state, instead of quarterly as at present, and so the taxes assessed in any given year were returned to the county treasurer in March of the next year, if not paid, and in the October following the county treasurer would have to make a trip to the capital to settle with the auditor-general and bring back the money that belonged to the county and the townships. As a result of this process all public improvements were paid for with orders drawn on the proper township or county funds and the jobber would sell them at the stores for whatever price he could get. So low had the county's credit got before the court house was completed that the contractor sold a one thousand dollar
County order for eight hundred dollars and had to take half of that amount in “store pay." Township and highway orders were often sold at still greater discounts.
During the summer of 1871 the continued expansion of the lumbering interests of Manistee had pushed their way up the Manistee River until they had invaded Wexford County. Before logs could be floated to Manistee it became necessary to cut off the great number of sweepers (fallen trees projecting into the river) and clear away the many jams of flood wood reaching entirely across the river. This required a large force of men, with axes and saws, and long lines of rope, with heavy two, three and four-shieve tackle blocks, and even with all the necessary appliances the work at times progressed very slowly.
The county of Missaukee, which had up to this time been a part of Wexford County since its organization in 1869, was organized into a separate county by the legislature of 1871, and held its first election on the first Monday in April of that year. This greatly reduced the aggregate value of taxable property in the county, as shown by the equalization as fixed by the board of supervisors at their annual session in that year, the total valuation of the county for that year having been fixed at $498,861.86, including $35,826.00 of personal property.
In the fall of 1871, Mr. Ferguson started to remove his home, which occupied the present site of the Sherman House, preparatory to erecting a commodious hotel. It was during the very dry time in the fall of that year, which witnessed such vast, destructive forest fires in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as the great Chicago fire. After the first day's efforts in the work of moving the task was but half accomplished, and the house was left in the street when night came on. About midnight a cry of
"Fire" awoke the villagers and this house was found to be in flames. Forest fires were raging not more than one hundred rods away, but whether sparks from these fires or the hand of an incendiary caused the destruction of this house was never known. Many believed it was the latter, as Mr. Ferguson, in his capacity of prosecuting attorney, had in several cases been instrumental in causing just punishment to be meted out to violators of the prohibitory liquor law which was then upon the statute books of Michigan, and it was thought that the building was set on fire as an act of revenge, but if so, the guilty party was never known.
In November, 1871, Mr. Ferguson commenced the work of building a hotel, the little log hotel-the only hotel then at the county seat-not being sufficient to accommodate the growing needs of the public.
The work was pushed along as rapidly as possible, but in those days every foot of flooring, ceiling, siding or finishing lumber had to be dressed by hand, there being no planing-mill nearer than Traverse City, and it would cost as much to draw the lumber there and back as it would to hire the work done by hand. The hotel was finished some time in January, 1872, and E. Gilbert, now a prosperous merchant at Sherman, was installed as its first landlord. A large school house was also put up in the county seat town during the fall of 1871 and was ready for use in December of that year. Previous to this there had been no public school in the new village, although a private school had been taught a part of the time, Mrs. Gilbert and H. B. Sturtevant having at different times been in charge as teacher.
At the annual meeting of the board of supervisors in 1871 a resolution was passed authorizing the superintendents of poor to purchase a poor farm on section 16, in what is now Antioch township. This was done and the following summer a large two-story building was erected in which to care for such unfortunates as might become a county charge.
In the early days of 1872 there came to the county seat town two young and energetic men from Howell, Livingston County, to see what encouragement they could get toward the establishment of a newspaper. Everybody was anxious to have a newspaper started and it did not take long to secure pledges enough to warrant the venture, and on the first day of May, 1872, the first issue of the Wexford County Pioneer was printed. The publishers were Charles E. Cooper, late editor of the Manton Tribune, and A. W. Tucker. This was the first newspaper venture in the county.
During the year 1872 three new townships were organized by the board of supervisors, viz: Clam Lake, Cedar Creek and Antioch. Quite a village had sprung up where now stands the city of Cadillac,
and it was not long: until it became apparent that an effort would be made to secure the removal of the county seat from Sherman to the new village of Clam Lake.
The inauguration, development and success of this effort will be treated in a separate chapter in order to give the details in a more connected manner than occasional reference thereto with contemporaneous history.
The court house was completed in 1872 and also a county jail, thus giving the county ample room for its officers and courts, its prisoners and its paupers.
In the spring of 1872 Rev. Jonas Denton, a Congregational minister, located at the county seat and through his efforts a Congregational church society was organized with the following membership, viz: H. I. Devoe and wife, C. L. Northrup and wife, A. Anderson and wife and Gifford Northrup. Services were held in the village school house once in two weeks, alternating with the Methodist Episcopal services.
The new county had its first genuine experience with politics in 1872. In that year was held the first presidential election since the organization of the county. That election witnessed probably the greatest number of presidential candidates in the history of the country. There were seven in all, as follows : Gen. U. S. Grant, re-nominated by the Republican party; Horace Greeley, nominated by the Liberal Republicans and endorsed by one wing of the Democratic party; Charles O'Connor, nominated by the "straight-out" Democrats; James R. Black, by the Prohibitionists; W. S. Groesbeck, by the Revenue Reformers; David Davis, by the Labor Reform party, and Charles Francis Adams, by the Anti-Secret Society party.
During this memorable campaign the first political club ever known in Wexford County was organized at the county seat. As a matter deemed worthy of historical preservation, the names of the members of Wexford County’s first political club are here given as follows: W. J. Austin, L. P.
Champenois, E. Gilbert, J. H. Alberts, E. S. Carpenter, S. Gasser, Harvey Burt, E. J. Copley, N. L. Hanna, J. P. Barney, Jonas Denton, Isaac Johnson, Moses Cole, Martin Daniels, T. H. Lyman. Charles E. Cooper, Charles Fancher, C. McClintock, William Cole, A. Finch, William McClintock,
H. J. Carpenter, T. A. Ferguson, William Mears, Arthur Morrell, Nathan E. Soles, B. Woods, C. L. Northrup, H. B. Sturtevant, J. S. Walling, J. L. Newberry, Stephen Snyder, S. C. Worth, J. B. Paul,
A. E. Smith, George W. Wheeler, James Seaton, A. W. Tucker, J. S. York, J. H. Wheeler, forty. It was called the Grant and Wilson Club and of its forty members at least one-half are still living, and although a few have drifted into other political organizations, nearly all of the surviving members are still true to the party whose principles they subscribed to over thirty years ago.
We had few speeches, no torch-light processions, no barbecues, no bonfires; indeed, there was no occasion for such things, for Wexford county politics in those days was somewhat like the handle to a jug wonderfully one-sided. The total vote for presidential electors was three hundred and fifty-one, of which two hundred and seventy-seven were in favor of U. S. Grant and seventy-four for Horace Greeley. Neither of the other five candidates received a vote in Wexford county. At the November election in 1872 the following county officers were elected, all Republicans: Sheriff, E. D. Abbott; clerk, and register, H. B. Sturtevant; treasurer, Ezra Harger; prosecuting attorney and circuit court commissioner, S. S. Fallass; judge of probate, William Mears; surveyor, A. K.  Herrington.
In this election Hon. T. A. Ferguson was elected representative in the state legislature for the district to which Wexford County was attached. The bill introduced by him, and which his efforts secured the passage of, which most largely interested his constituents and gained for him their united praise was the act taxing railroad lands. 'The railroad company claimed that their lands should not be taxed until five years after the issuing of the patents therefor, and even after the passage of this bill introduced by Mr. Ferguson they refused to pay the first tax levied against their lands, claiming the law to be unconstitutional.
They took the case to the Supreme Court, got beaten and thereafter their lands helped to pay the burden borne by the public or the support of government. During the summer of 1872 the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad was pushed through the county and as a result another new village came into existence. It was at first called Cedar Creek, after the township in which it was located, but later the name was changed to Manton. This shortened the distance from the county seat to the railroad by nearly one-half and enabled the making of a round trip in a day instead of taking two days, as before. The mail route was soon changed and all railroad business was thereafter transferred to the new station.
A second newspaper was started in the county in 1872, its first issue appearing June 1st. It was given the name of the Clam Lake News, and was published by C. L. Frazier for a few months, but in November of that year its management was assumed by S. S. Fallass, the new prosecuting attorney-elect.
The year 1872 witnessed the inauguration of the stupendous lumbering operations, which has at last swept away nearly the last vestige of the large tracts of pine timber which the county then possessed. In addition to the heavy operations along the Manistee River, the new village of Clam Lake was a genuine lumbering town. As early as June, 1872, there had been two saw-mills, each with a capacity of twenty-five thousand feet per day, put in operation, and a few months later two others were started, with a capacity of forty and sixty thousand feet per day, respectively. These four mills manufactured about four million feet of lumber per month, or nearly fifty million per year.
If one stops a moment to contemplate the work of these mills, and those built soon afterward at Haring, Long Lake, Bond's Mills, McCoy's Siding and on the shores of Clam lake, and their constant operation for ten, fifteen and twenty years each, he can get some idea of the vast wealth in the pine forests in Wexford county at that early day.
During the legislative session of 1873 an act was passed detaching the township of Cleon from Manistee County and attaching it to Wexford County. The act was thought to be unconstitutional, as it changed the boundaries of legislative and judicial districts in effect, though not specifically providing for such changes, consequently it had to be re-enacted at the next session of the legislature. This town remained a part of Wexford County until the year 1881, when, by act of the legislature, it was set back into Manistee County. While it remained in Wexford County, Alonzo Chubb, one of its most prominent citizens, was elected judge of probate for Wexford County and served a four-year term.
Two new townships were organized by the legislature of 1873, viz: Haring and Greenwood, the former consisting of township 22 north of range 9 west, and the latter of town 24 north of ranges 9 and IO west, making thirteen townships in the county. The first agricultural society in the county was organized in October, 1873, with Alonzo Chubb as president; A. M. Lamb, of Clam Lake, T. A. Ferguson, of Hanover, and Warren Seaman, of Cedar Creek, vice-presidents: George Manton, of Colfax, as secretary, and C. J. Mankletow, of Selma, as treasurer.
Rev. R. Rideoff succeeded Mr. Denton as pastor of the Congregational church at Sherman in April, 1873, and through his efforts the society built a church building during the summer, which was dedicated October 11 of that year. This was the first church building erected at the county seat and the second in the county, the Methodist Episcopal society of Clam Lake having gotten their church edifice in condition for occupancy in July of that year.
As a result of the taxation of the railroad company's lands, the aggregate valuation of the county, as equalized by the hoard of supervisors in October, 1873, was $1,423,416.63, greatly reducing the rate of taxation and thereby relieving a part of the burden which had hitherto been borne by the people of the county.

*These lakes have just been re-christened, and the smaller one will hereafter be known as Lake Cadillac, and the larger one as Lake Mitchell.

Wexford County Historical Society

History of Wexford County, Michigan - John H. Wheeler