Chippewa County

Pioneer Families

The House & Clarke Families
"Centennial Cranberry Farm"
Established July 4, 1876

By Chris House

The Chippewa Indians had known about Whitefish Point since the 15th century and many primitive tribes had inhabited the area for thousands of years. Etienne Brule’ allegedly visited the area around 1622 and is widely considered to be the first white man to set foot there.

Since that time Whitefish Point became a meeting place for trappers and fur traders and others. Around 1785, the merchant voyager Jean Baptiste Perrault became the earliest recorded visitor.

Commercial fishing in the Whitefish Point area had developed in about 1832 but the Point remained undeveloped until the 1840s. In 1846 Horace Greeley, a newspaper publisher visited Lake Superior by boat to review the recent discoveries of iron ore and copper. He was less than impressed with the lack of lighthouses and harbors and unleashed a volley of editorials on the subject until Congress appropriated money for the lighthouse at Whitefish Point on April 3, 1847.

Original Plat Whitefish Point Light

In November of 1848 the first lighthouse was put in service with a lens that used whale oil with parabolic reflectors. This could be seen up to seventeen miles out into the lake. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln signed an order for new lighthouses at Whitefish Point, Manitou Island and DeTour Village.

On July 4th 1874, John Clarke (originally from Meaford, Ontario) arrived at Whitefish Point and built a small house, a “soddie”, three miles west near a small inland lake we now know as “Little Lake”. He had visited the area the previous summer when fishing and noticed the wild cranberries growing there. At that time cranberries were selling for $3.00 a bushel and he thought that these wild cranberries could be cultivated. After he had built the house his wife, Priscilla (Phelps) Clarke arrived. A short time later his friend, former Scottish sea Captain Alex Barclay arrived with his wife, Jerusha. Alex also built a house near “Little Lake”. That summer and into the fall they prepared the land for growing cranberries

Photors contributed by Chris House & Paul Petosky

In February of the next year, 1875, there was a terrible storm. The snow blew in off from Lake Superior so thick that visibility was less than ten feet. Their houses had eight foot walls and a peak roof. They were in the house when the storm started. Sometime in the afternoon they remembered that they had seen Alex going across “Little Lake” and thought they had better make sure that he returned. When they tried to open the door they discovered that it was so blocked with snow that they couldn’t get out. They pried a couple of roof boards off and crawled out through there. After fighting the elements they managed to get to their neighbors house and found that he had arrived but had had a difficult time getting back. When the storm was over they made a tunnel through the snow to the front door and used this tunnel the rest of the winter.

The summer of 1875 was spent planting approximately two acres of cranberries. In June of that year, John’s nephew, William H. Clarke arrived from Sault Ste. Marie to make his home with John and Priscilla. William was nine and a half years old. John and Priscilla reportedly adopted William. William’s surname was Bonstell, according to William’s daughter, Ethel. Will’s Mother had been widowed. She had worked as a seamstress and, at that time, when a seamstress was hired she would make clothes for the entire employer’s family. It was not possible for her to take Will with her as she moved to these various homes. So, believing she was unable to properly care for the boy, she asked her brother, John, to take him in. John agreed to this only on the condition that he were allowed to adopt the boy. Widow Bonstell agreed.

In the winter of 1875 and 1876 they got timber to build a proper log house. The spring of 1876 they began building the house in a more sheltered area away from “Little Lake”. In the summer of 1876 they also planted two more acres of cranberries. The Barclay family also built a house down the road but closer to Lake Superior. This home was eventually taken by the Lake and at the time of this writing in 2006 the foundation is probably under about twenty feet of water.

John purchased the land from the U.S. Government in 1876 and chose the name “Centennial Cranberry Farm” to honor the country’s one hundredth birthday.

Since it takes about three years for the cranberries to bear fruit John and William took to seine fishing. This is when you place a large fishing net vertically in the water and weigh it down at the bottom edge with weights. When they couldn’t fish they would work on the farm.

Once the cranberries began to produce a fair crop they would hire the Chippewa Indians from Garden River and Sugar Island to come and pick. The Indians would camp in tepees out along the level area and hold a regular camp meeting. After a few years it became evident that some other means of harvesting needed to be employed as there were not enough pickers to pick the berries before the frost came. John purchased a steam tractor and pump and flooded the plot that they were going to pick. Because the berries were so buoyant they would float up and the pickers could rake the berries off the vines. These berries would be scooped up and placed in to lathe frames for drying. This allowed one man to pick 15 to 20 bushels per day.

On September 24, 1877 the Whitefish Point Post Office opened. Sylvester P. Mason was the first postmaster. In the summertime, mail was delivered three times a month by boat.

In 1883 the Vermillion Life Saving Station was established some nine miles from here. It was named so because of the large stores of red ochre found there. It is interesting to note that the aforementioned William H. Clarke became the first postmaster at Vermillion as well as having served in the Life Saving Service after leaving the cranberry business.

Around 1882 a twenty year old Frank House moved to Whitefish Point from Meaford, Ontario and began helping his half-brothers, John and James, on the cranberry farm. Family history states that he moved here for health reasons as he is described as being somewhat sickly. Other sources state that Frank moved here because of John Clarke’s ill health. Anyone who has ventured to Whitefish Point, even these days, will probably wonder that the harsh environment can be good for anyone’s health but in 1861 Alexander Campbell, a state representative from Marquette, presented to the Michigan State Legislature that they should try to “balance prevailing assumptions about its frigid climate and long winters with positive descriptions of its dry, clean air and therapeutic value for invalids, particularly during the summer months.” Furthermore he went on to say that “Though the winter air might be too bracing for those suffering from tuberculosis,” he believed ”that it virtually eliminates the feverish colds and barking coughs of damper, more changeable climates.”

In the early years, James Madison Clarke (brother of John Clarke), who arrived in 1884 from Duluth, Minnesota with his wife, the former Alice Tacey, and their children; Annie, John, and Fred, hauled mail and passengers around by stagecoach to various areas around Whitefish Point. In the 1930s the Post Office would be moved to Dutcher’s Grocery Store at the start of Wildcat Road.

This is a wedding photo of James and his wife Alice. James Madison Clarke was born in Meaford, Ontario, Canada, January, 1855, died March 2, 1930, Sault Ste. Marie, MI. Alice Mae Tacey, was born Duluth, MN October 6, 1859, died October 6, 1906, Whitefish Point, MI. They were both married in 1875 at Duluth, MN.

In 1888, John Clarke and W.B. Quigley of St. Louis, Missouri formed a partnership and bought seven acres of land near Vermillion. Quigley was John’s brother in law. He had previously, six years earlier, married William H. Clarke’s mother who was the sister of John and James. W.B. Quigley died in Sedalla, Mo in May of 1894.

From 1889 to 1898, William H. Clarke ran the Vermillion cranberry operation. He became the first postmaster at the Vermillion Post Office when it was established on May 23, 1896.

In 1891 a nineteen year old Sarah “Jennie” Gough, who was born in 1872, was hired to teach school for the winter season at the Whitefish Point School. At that time the Whitefish Point School was located near where the Whispering Pines Cemetery currently is and was in operation until 1939. Jennie had been born in Fordwich, Ontario, Canada to Henry Gough (1822) and Fannie Hewitt (1835). In 1877, when Sarah was six years old her parents and two sisters, Mary (1874) and Lovinia (1876), moved to Pickford, Michigan.

On June 29, 1892 Jennie was married to Frank House and remained at Whitefish Point rather than returning to Pickford. On July 5th 1893 Jennie gave birth to Erma Frances House. On September 23, 1894 Harry Francis was born. It was over three years later, on December 28, 1897 that Margaret Elizabeth was born followed by Janice Guilelma on October 21, 1899 and Edna Irene on February 16, 1901. Leslie Victor was born in August of 1903 but died a scant four years later in 1907 of Scarlet Fever. It was another two years before Gladys Lucille was born on August 13, 1905.

  Click here to see Headstone Photos Jennie & Frank

About this time, in 1905, John Clarke sold his home to Frank House. Frank then enlarged the structure to fit his growing family. Four years after adding on to the house, George Jewett was born on May 22, 1909. A final child, William, was born the next year in 1910 but he died 7 days later on August 26, 1910 from complications of being born premature. Jennie and Frank also kept boarders at the large house as a source of income. From March 2, 1907 to March 31, 1916 she also served as the postmaster at the Whitefish Point Post Office.

Frank worked for the Life Saving Station and patrolled the beaches after storms where he occasionally would help to pull the lifeless bodies from the Lake. In the early 1900s he subbed at Vermillion and his family even lived there for one year.

In September, 1907, he was called by the Vermillion Life Station and pulled out several bodies from the Alex Nimick which had been wrecked at Vermillion. On one of the bodies was a watch which had stopped at exactly 4:00 P.M.

Frank with the help of a neighbor brought the pilot house from the D.M. Clemson, which had been wrecked in November 1908, onto the property so his children could use it for a playhouse. When he became older Harry House also worked for the Life Saving Service. After serving as the keeper at Manitou Island on Lake Superior and Middle Island on Lake Huron, he was appointed the keeper of Whitefish Point Light.

John Clarke continued growing cranberries at the Vermillion farm after buying out W.B. Quigley’s interest. He remained there until his death in 1914 at the age of 67. After he died the farm went back to wilderness and the cranberry vines were choked out. Priscilla moved to Sault Ste. Marie and is shown there in the 1920 U.S. Census. She was 73 years of age and probably died before the 1930 U.S. Census was taken.

In 1922, the ownership of the Whispering Pines cemetery in Whitefish Township, which was initially owned by John Clarke family, changed to Frank and Jennie House. Frank died in 1935. Later, in 1955, Jennie deeded the property over to Whitefish Township. Jennie herself died in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the home of her daughter, Margaret, in 1960.

(Photo on left is Jenny and her children)

Erma Frances House was married to Victor Lorne Palmer on 8 Jul 1919. Erma attended Ferris Institute in Big Rapids, Michigan. Victor was born on 18 Feb 1891 in Pickford, Michigan. He was a grocer in Mason, Michigan. Erma died on 1 May 1976 in Hastings, Michigan. Victor died on 2 Jan 1952 in Mason, Michigan. They are both buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery in Mason, Michigan

Harry Francis died young, at the age of 40 on 18 Jan 1935 in Detroit, Michigan. He was a Lighthouse Keeper, serving at Manitou Island off Keewenaw Point, Outer Island, Middle Isle, Lake Huron, Poe’s Reef, Mackinaw Straits and the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. He also served at the Crisp Point Lighthouse. Harry never married. In April, 1933 two Michigan fishermen discovered that the ice where they had been fishing had broken away and carried them out on to the open lake. After the Coast Guard surf boat that had been sent out to rescue them got crushed and thus marooning those three men. Harry House, the keeper at Whitefish Point, rescued all of them. He was commended for this by the Commerce Department and also the Lighthouse Service.

Margaret Elizabeth House was married to Ervin David Shroyer on 14 Nov 1925 in Whitefish Point. Margaret worked as a registered nurse.

Ervin was born 21 May 1882 in North Star, Michigan. He died 01 May 1959 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She died 17 Dec 1976 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (7 months after Erma passed away). Both Margaret and Ervin are buried in the Whispering Pines cemetery in Whitefish Point.

Janice Guilelema attended high school in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan and attended Michigan State College in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She was a school teacher, a Lake Superior shipwreck historian and was instrumental in making Whitefish Point Light a National Historic Site in 1974 and the Two-Hearted Life Saving Station a Michigan Historic Landmark in 1980.. Janice married Merle Stanley Gerred on 13 Jan 1934 in Munising, Alger Co., Michigan. Merle was born in Blanchard, Isabella Co., Michigan on 2 Nov 1900 and he died on 27 Aug 1990 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Janice and Merle are both buried in the Whispering Pines Cemetery in Whitefish Point.

Edna Irene House married Albert William Hutton on 25 Jun 1924 in Whitefish Point, Michigan. Albert was born on 19 Mar 1901 in Garnet, Michigan and died 28 Mar 1992 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Irene died 31 Oct 1993 in Vandalia, Ohio. Both Irene and Albert are buried in the Whispering Pines Cemetery in Whitefish Point.

Gladys Lucille House was first married to Harry Muench on 16 Aug 1924 in Michigan. Harry was born on 30 Aug 1896 on August, Missouri and died 16 Aug 1938 in Norfolk, Virginia. Harry served in the U.S. Navy and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Gladys remarried about 1950 to Richard Snow and a third time to Walter M. Sweitzer. Gladys died 27 May 1998 in Foley, Alabama and is buried at Dallas, Texas.

George Jewett House married Mary Lois Mumford on 15 Sep 1932 in Manistique, Michigan. He worked at a variety of jobs throughout his life including the Ford Motor Company, as an Inventory Checker at a bomb factory during WWII as well as working on the cranberry farm. He died on 2 Mar 1963 in Detroit, Michigan from a massive heart attack. His son, Loren George House, currently runs the Centennial Cranberry Farm with his wife Sharon. The farm is open to tours.

Photo courtesy of Paul Petosky 2006

Story by Wm. Clarke
More on the Cranberry Farm History