Rosa Nettleton Book

Synopsis of Early Charlevoix History
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By Rosa Nettleton


Less than one hundred years ago the site, which is now the beautiful little city of Charlevoix, was an almost impenetrable forest. A "dense mass of wood" as one old settler expressed it.

In the early fifties of the last century, a small camp of fishermen were located near the shore of the lake at Pine River, now Charlevoix, and some of them were working from the Beaver Islands, which a few years before, had been taken over by the Mormons under the leadership of James J. Strang.

The Mormons were determined to convert all on the Island to the Mormon Faith, and failing with some, drove them away. A Mr. Geer put his family and what supplies he was allowed to take in a small boat and sailed to the shores of Pine River, landing at the foot of what is now River Street. He made a clearing and built a small log cabin at the place where is now the Fountain City House; but in the spring, when he had begun to raise a small garden, and had made a quantity of Maple Syrup, the Mormons came and drove him away, not allowing him to take any of his produce with him. Mr. Geer then again put his family in the small sail boat and sailed to Little Traverse, now Harbor Springs, where he remained and raised his family. Later, his daughter Marietta, married Richard Cooper a young government Indian agent. Richard Cooper became well known some few years later as the genial landlord of the Fountain City House.

After driving the Gentiles from the Island, the Mormons began their depredations on the mainland, trying to drive away all the Gentile settlers.

It was in 1853 that the fishermen had their historic battle with the Mormons, and it was in that battle that Capt. Louis Geboo was wounded. "Jack" Papinaw, a fisherman who came to this place in 1852, and was later well known to early Charlevoix residents, also fought in this battle against the Mormons. Some of the fishermen, feeling that conditions were too unpleasant in the near neighborhood of the Mormons, left for other fishing grounds.

The first man to make a clearing and become a permanent settler, was Medad Thompson, grandfather of Mrs. Rose Henderson of this place. He came in 1854 and made a clearing near Pine Lake, some little distance north of where the railroad station now stands. [This was no doubt intended to mean the former Belvedere Station now discontinued. Medad Thompson's home was back of where the Electric Light Plant is now located.-R. N.] This clearing he eventually enlarged and developed into a prosperous farm, where he lived until his death in 1886. "Uncle Medad" and "Aunt Phoebe" were apparently a quiet, and unaggressive couple, and seemed to have been overlooked by the trouble-making Mormons.

A different type of man was John S. Dixon, who came to this place in 1855. He was a man of culture and education, and with strong personality. It is evident that the Mormons recognized in him a rival in their plans of possession and a menace to their attempts to control the settlers of the mainland. They seemed to hold a special grudge against him, and their attempted persecutions decided Mr. Dixon to move his family for safety to Northport, where he followed them after getting out his crops. After the shooting of "King" Strang, in 1856, Mr. Dixon returned to his little home near Pine Lake.

While in Northport, Mr. Dixon met John Miller who with the pioneer instinct, had come from New York to find a home in the wilds of Grand Traverse region. Mr. Miller accompanied Mr. Dixon to Charlevoix and took up a homestead at the head of Pine Lake, becoming one of our early pioneer settlers, known and loved by the community as "Uncle John."

In the fall of 1857, Seth F. Mason and family with his brother-in-law Morris J. Stockman and wife sailed for Pine River, where they arrived on the 25th day of October in that year. Mr. Mason lived here with his family until his accidental drowning in 1870. When Mr. Mason brought his family to Charlevoix, he could find no place to stay but an unfinished, abandoned Mormon cabin. Here the family spent the first night, and Mr. Mason took up a homestead and developed the land, being a part of what is now known as the "south side" of Charlevoix. In 1869, a year before his death, Mr. Mason harvested a fine crop of oats on that portion of our town bounded now by Bridge, State, Antrim and Mason streets. Of the Mason family of nine children there are living today, only two, Mrs. Ida Ackert and Mrs. Lottie Markham. Mrs. Markham now lives on land which is part of the homestead cleared by her father. On looking across the river from her window, she recalled the time when her brother John, then nine years old, walked across. That water is now 17 feet deep.

Among other old settlers who came at about this time or shortly after, were Hugh Miller, Philo Beers who had the first Drug store, Wm. Laister who kept the first general store, Robert Bedwin, Wm. Holland, Nelson Ainslie, S. S. Wakefield, and W. C. Newman.

About the last days of that decade a sail boat came from the direction of Little Traverse (now Harbor Springs). In it were Captain Samuel Horton and his family. Their intention was to sail along the coast to Grand Rapids where Mr. Horton had two sons living, but the winds remaining adverse after they had put into Pine River for supplies, they at last decided to remain here; Mr. Horton settling in that locality known as Horton's Bay.

With him as a passenger was a young man by the name of Archibald Buttars who later became a prominent citizen of Charlevoix, serving in the State Legislature and being elected as Lieut. Gov. of Michigan.

About this time Richard Cooper, moved from Harbor Springs to Charlevoix, and bought the property from Amos Fox which had been the little clearing the Mormons had taken from his father-in-law, Mr. Geer. Mr. Fox had enlarged the little log cabin and had used it for a store. It was the intention of Mr. Cooper to start a boarding house for the men in the employ of A. Fox & Co. who had a contract to ship wood for a Buffalo concern and had built a dock running out into Lake Michigan where the Buffalo boats landed. In 1867 the Fountain City House was commenced as a hotel or boarding house.

In 1867 David C. Nettleton landed at the old Fox & Rose dock from a scow. The little settlement consisted then of about half a dozen houses. The Fountain City House being the hub of the community. There were some farms in the surrounding country and an Indian village named Pashabatown a few miles away.

In 1868 came Major E. H. Green the first attorney, also Henry Morgan came from Canada here.

In 1869 Willard A. Smith and started the publication of the Sentinel. Dr. Levi Lewis also arrived in October of 1869 and caused quite a sensation as he drove through the streets in a buggy. Something new in Charlevoix.

In the fall of 1867 Messrs. Reddington & Nelson came for the purpose of locating a lumber mill. The country was then heavily wooded and the prospect looked good. In 1868 the mill was started.

In 1871 a Grist Mill was started by Geo. W. Esterly of Whitewater, Wis. Mr. Esterly was father-in-law of John Nicholls, who later located here to look after Mr. Esterly's interest in the lumber mill which he had bought from Reddington & Nelson.

The first school was held in a small log building which stood not far from where the Belvedere Hotel now stands. Mrs. Lottie Stockman was the first teacher receiving $1.00 per week as compensation. Later, her sister Celia Moses who became Mrs. Archibald Buttars taught, also E. H. Green and Fred W. Mayne.

The first bridge across Pine River was a foot bridge about four feet wide and some two feet above the water, constructed by driving small piles by hand, placing stringers thereon, and planking over, leaving a few planks loose for the passage of small boats. In 1870 A. M. Ross had the contract to construct a new bridge across Pine River.

In 1869 the mails were brought to Charlevoix twice a week carried by a crippled Indian by a strap over his forehead. In 1872 the post office was moved from the Fountain City House to the Sentinel office where the editor did not find the mail so heavy as to interfere with his editorial duties. E. H. Green was the first postmaster.

In 1872 the village boasted 450 inhabitants, a number of new homes, several stores and a wagon shop.

During the early 70s the chief project which seemed to occupy the minds of the people was the making of a harbor so that large boats could come through the river into the harbor of Round Lake. This project was agitated continually by the Sentinel and taken up enthusiastically by the residents. "Bees" were formed and some money subscribed for the purpose. There were many workers, able and willing to help and as time went on Government appropriations were secured and eventually in July of 1882 the propeller Fountain City, Master Capt. Gibson entered Charlevoix Harbor and was moored alongside the dock of Upright, Emrey & Co. This was a proud moment for Charlevoix and large crowds of people gathered near the bridge to cheer and welcome this forerunner of the fine steamboats which later came in Charlevoix Harbor.

These shipmasters were well known to early Charlevoix residents and some of our local Captains were known and well loved by their fellows. Among them was Capt. Tim Smith, "Tip" Miller, Capt. Geiken, Capt. P. D. Campbell, and Capt. O. E. Wilbur and many others.

· Charlevoix received its charter as a village in 1879; as a city in 1905.

· In 1869 a township office paid $25 per annum and a county office $100.

· Stockman's Hardware Store later purchased by H. Lee Iddings was said to be at the corner of Bridge street and "Hoop Skirt Alley."

· In 1872 there were so many pigeons in the neighborhood of Charlevoix that the sky was darkened as a cloud by them.

· When the first copy of the Sentinel was published Charlevoix was in Emmet county. An act creating Charlevoix county took effect that same year shortly after the first Sentinel came off the press.


This synopsis gives these few pertinent facts in the early history of Charlevoix, gathered from the Sentinel files and from old residents and other authentic sources verified in all instances as much as possible.-R. N.

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