Kalkaska County

History of Kalkaska County

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 northwest.

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 road-building.

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. County Statistics

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 rule.

County Organization

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 Kalkaska.

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.