History of Northern Michigan
Perry F. Powers & Harry Gordner Cutler - 1912
Kalkaska is one of the counties of northwestern Michigan included
in the Grand Traverse region. Torch and Round lakes extend into its
northwestern sections; its northern and western townships give rise
to the head streams of the Boardman and Rapid rivers, which flow
into the West arm of Grand Traverse bay, and the Manistee river has
its origin in several small lakes in the northeast. In other words, the
general surface features of Kalkaska consist, of a main central plateau
extending from northeast to southwest through the geographical center
of the county, forming a watershed which divides the Manistee valley
slope on the southeast from the Boardman and Rapid river valleys on
The entire county, with very rare exceptions, is well watered by
streams, originating from springs of clear and cold water. These
streams literally swarm with speckled trout, which afford the most
delicious food and rare sport for the leisure hours. There are also
numerous small lakes, clear and deep, fringed with dense foliage, and
concealing within their waters an abundance of pickerel, bass and other
varieties of fish.
The main central plateau, says an article on Kalkaska county
lately published by the Western Michigan Development Bureau, was
originally heavily timbered with sugar maple, beech, elm, basswood,
birch and other woods which here grow in great luxuriance, forming
some of the finest and most beautiful forests to be found on the continent.
The soil here varies from a loose but very fertile sandy or gravelly
loam to heavy clay—the former being best adapted to cultivated crops,
and the latter to hay and pasturage, although both grass and grains,
as well as potatoes and all sorts of vegetables, apples, pears, cherries,
plums and small fruits, grow abundantly on either soil. The same soils
prevail in nearly the entire northern half of the county. The Boardman valley,
which is but just beginning to receive attention, is of a
rich, dark muck, well adapted to the raising of celery and all kinds of garden truck.
There are in this county many thousands of acres of cut-over
hardwood lands of the very best quality for agricultural purposes,
offering the greatest possible inducement to persons of small means
who desire to obtain homes of their own. Many of these lands are
within a few miles of the best markets, and are on, or within a short
distance of the most excellent, county roads for which this county is
justly famous, being one of the pioneer counties in the work of county
To such advantages, provided by nature, man has made a great
addition in the building of railways through the settled portions of
the county. These include virtually its western half. Kalkaska, the
county seat, northwest of the center and by far its largest, village, is
at the crossing of the Grand Rapids & Indiana and the Pere Marquette
railroads—the former giving an outlet to the markets of the south and
north and the later to the Grand Traverse region. Prior to the building of the Grand Rapids & Indiana. Kalkaska county had been roughly
placed in communication with that region and the Manistee valley by
means of a state road and a more local highway running from Kalkaska,
the county seat, to Torch river, where travelers, during the open season,
could sometimes connect with steamers bound for Grand Traverse bay.
Boardman, the only village in the county besides Kalkaska, is in
the southwestern section on the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad.
With a statement of these general facts, the reader is presented with
the table of statistics showing Kalkaska’s increase in population during
the past twenty years, by townships and villages:
The area of Kalkaska county is 364,800 acres; land in farms, 67,731
acres; available for fruit raising and general farming, 200,000 acres.
First Settlers and Politicians.
The first settler in Kalkaska county was William Copeland, who
located in what is now the town of Clearwater, in the fall of 1855.
For twelve years Mr. Copeland and wife were the only permanent
residents of the county. About the time Mr. Copeland located there
a dam was built on Barker creek, but the parties did not build a mill,
and did not become residents of the county. Mr. Copeland was near
the Grand Traverse county line and had neighbors in that direction,
but in his own county he was the monarch of all he surveyed.
Rapid River was the first town organized in what is now Kalkaska
county, the year being 1868. There were then only a few settlers in
the county, but they were desirous of voting at the presidential election. The territory was then attached to Antrim county and the distance to the nearest voting place was so great that some would be deprived of their rights of franchise. Therefore Norman Ross, then a
resident of what is now Clearwater township, circulated a petition to
the Antrim board of supervisors for the organization of a town to be
called Rapid River. The first town election was held at the house of
S. A. Rice, in what is now Rapid River and nineteen votes were cast.
H. U. Hill had been elected justice of the peace at the spring election
and Norman Ross was elected first supervisor. The day following was
the presidential election and the voting place was at the house of Norman Ross. Fifteen votes were cast at that election—a falling off of
four. Having had a taste of politics, when the Grand Rapids & Indiana
Railroad commenced to loom up from the south, Kalkaska county girded
up her loins and struck out for independence from Antrim, for home
Kalkaska county was successively attached to Grand Traverse and
Antrim counties, being a portion of the latter until civil organization,
under an act of the legislature approved January 27, 1871. Crawford
county, then unorganized, was attached to Kalkaska for municipal and
judicial purposes. The act further provided that Joseph B. Haviland.
Charles H. Estes and Morris Mahan should be the commissioners to
locate the county seat during the year 1873; failing which, it was to
he located by the board of supervisors and county clerk. Under its
provisions the county officers were elected in the following April, the
first, meeting of the board of supervisors on the 25th of that month,
held at the schoolhouse in District No. 1 of Round Lake, being attended
by A. T. Kellogg of that township, H.U. Hill of Rapid River and A.
W. Jones of Kaska.
On July 14, 1873, the commissioners named met and located the
county seat at Kalkaska, where it has remained. Although cars were
not yet running regularly over the Grand Rapids & Indiana as far as
Kalkaska, a village had been platted during the previous winter and
the road had been pushed through the county.
Kalkaska, the County Seat
In the spring of 1872, A. A. Abbott, then living at Decatur, Van
Buren county, Michigan, started out to find a suitable location for a
mill and village site. The Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad was finished and trains running as far as Cadillac and work on the grade was
being prosecuted as far as Walton. Grand Traverse county, near the
Kalkaska county line. Mr. Abbott visited the present site of Kalkaska
and was favorably impressed with the location. The county had been
organized but the county scat had not then been located. He reasoned
that a village at this point, being on the line of the railroad and near
the center of the county, would probably become the county seat; and
his reasoning was correct. The north branch of the Boardman afforded
a desirable location for a mill site, and he therefore made a purchase
of one thousand acres of land of the railroad company, Hannah, Lay
& Co. and Dexter & Noble. He remained there until August and then
returned to Decatur to complete his arrangements for beginning work.
Before starting on his prospecting tour Mr. Abbott had arranged with
R. L. Thompson, then living at Grand Junction, to join him in the
enterprise, should he find a satisfactory location.
In October, 1872, Messrs. Abbott and Thompson arrived upon the
site of their operations with men to begin work. Trees were cut down
and a log house built for a boarding house. After work was well under
way, Mr. Thompson went back after teams and tools necessary for lumbering, and returned with them in December. Work was pushed forward on the mill and sometime in February it commenced running.
Mr. Thompson owned and operated the mill, the site and lands belonged
to the firm of H. S. Buskirk & Company.
During the winter Mr. Buskirk sold his interest to O. S. Abbott,
brother of A. A. Abbott, and the style of the firm was changed to 0. S.
Abbott & Company. The business at Kalkaska, however, was transacted
by A. A. Abbott, who remained upon the ground and became a resident of the place, carrying on lumbering operations there for several
years. Mr. Thompson operated the mill about a year when he sold it
and took up a homestead on section 36, in what is now the town of
During the winter of 1873 Mr. Abbott platted two hundred and
forty acres lying upon both sides of the railroad, and commenced selling
village lots. At the same time the mill was building, Charles E. Whitney built a log house which he finished in February and opened as a
hotel called the Kalkaska House. As spring opened a number of
settlers arrived and erected houses and stores. Saloons especially
flourished at that time. They were mainly supported by the construction gang of the railroad, and as the work passed through the village
the liquor business declined. In the spring of 1873, five saloons were
in full blast, but by July of that year, when the new railroad town
was made the county seat and the grading was far advanced toward
the northern boundary, the traffic had so fallen away as to speak well
for the habits of the permanent settlers.
Irregular preaching had already been conducted in the young town,
but the Congregationalists have the honor of forming the first permanent society at Kalkaska in December, 1874. This, as well as all
other local events, was being duly recorded by the Kalkaskaian, which
had been established since early spring.
A school district had been organized in 1873 to include the future
county seat, and later the proprietor of the village site offered the board
an acre of ground for school purposes. A good frame building was
finished thereon in November, 1874; so that both education and religion
obtained a firm foothold very early in local history.
In 1883 a new courthouse replaced the old one of 1873-4, at a cost
being about $20,000, and in 1884 a substantial building was completed
for a Union school.
Kalkaska was incorporated as a village in 1887 and has shown a
steady growth. Situated on the North Boardman river and at the
junction of the Grand Rapids & Indiana and Pere Marquette railroads,
it enjoys the double advantage of fine water power and adequate facilities for the transportation of the various products of its factories and
of the agricultural country of which it is the natural and actual center.
Among its industries are cant hook works, cement brick works, saw,
grist and planing mills, and a maple syrup factory'. The shipments
of Kalkaska include ginseng, potatoes and other farm products, as well
as the output of these plants. It is also a convenient banking point
largely through the facilities of the Kalkaska County Savings Bank,
with its capital of $20,000.
The county seat provides convenient buildings for the courts and
official business of the county, and is altogether a comfortable and
attractive village in which to reside. Its streets and structures are
lighted by electricity, while well constructed waterworks are installed,
operated under the Holly system. School and church advantages are
what they should be, the Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists and
Disciples having organizations.
In 1871 Orange A. Row located in what is now Orange township,
in the southwestern part of the county, and got into communication
with Hamilton Stone, a friend and lumberman of Ovid, southern Michigan.
Mr. Row told Mr. Stone of a tract of eighty acres of land lying
near the crossing of the Grand Rapids & Indiana railroad and the south
branch of the Boardman river. The line of the railroad was at the
time fixed, Mr. Stone found a better water power than he had anticipated, and soon after the railway company platted the town that gentleman proposed it. In the fall of 3874, accompanied by several others,
he located at Boardman to commence operations. As the railroad was
then running he brought some lumber from below and his men soon had
erected a rough shanty—the first building on the village site. The
depot and a boarding house—the Boardman River House—were finished before winter set in. and early in 1875 a man named Thomas
Wasson moved a portable sawmill from Mancelona to the new lumber
and railroad town. A postoffice was also established at the depot and
a schoolhouse built, both during 1875.
Boardman seems to have taken a new start in the early eighties,
when large steam sawmills were built by J. L. Quinby of Grand Rapids,
and M. B. Farrin & Company of Cincinnati. Mr. Stone also largely
improved its water power.
The village received its charter of incorporation in 1890, and is
now a pretty place of over five hundred people, lighted by electricity
and provided with other conveniences which make it pleasant for residence. It has a creamery, cement block works, handle manufactory, and
saw and flour mills, which, with a good school and several churches,
give it substantial standing as a place of business and an intelligent
and moral community.