Manistee County, Michigan
Genealogy and History


Bear Lake, Michigan - Contributed by Paul Petosky



This beautiful and enterprising village is located in the north part of the township, and upon the south side of Bear Lake, one of the prettiest bodies of water in the state of Michigan. The lake is about two ad one-half mile long, and three-quarters of a mile wide. It has no outlet, and is clear as crystal.

Its depth in some places is twenty-four feet, but along the banks the water is very shallow, growing deeper toward the center. It abounds with fish, the principal kinds being pickerel and bass. All around the village can be found genuine clay loam, about half clay and half tine sand, and this is covered to the depth of from ten to eighteen inches with vegetable mold, made by the leaves of centuries which have fallen and rotted. Thus the village ha all the advantages of a soil that cannot be surpassed by any soil in the West, or, in fact, anywhere, for general agricultural purposes. The timber in the region round about it is maple and beech, principally, but rock elm and a number of other kinds of hard wood are to be found in great profusion. The maple found here so largely is the prettiest we ever saw. The birds-eye variety, and the curled grain maple, so valuable for veneering and other fine and fancy work, cannot be surpassed for beauty and finish. Large quantities of it are destroyed annually by using it for wood, and in burning it to clear up lands, which seems an absolute and lamentable waste. The village is just eighteen miles north of Manistee.

The character of the society is especially a subject of comment by every intelligent observer who passes through the place. The substantial settlers and owners of farms are men of rare intelligence, and their wives and daughters are cultivated and refined to an extent that we challenge any other place of its size in the West to produce its equal in that respect. The people are law-abiding, find we cannot now recall a single arrest that has been made in the village during the past five years of our residence in the county. It has no jail, nor any use for one. The climate, like all this lake region, is mild in the Winter, and cool and pleasant in the Summer. It being located about six miles inland from Lake Michigan, gives it the climatic advantages of that body of water.


The first efforts toward starting a village were made by Russell F. Smith, of whom mention has already been made. He gave land for a mill site and otherwise encouraged immigration and business enterprises. But little progress, however, was made until 1873, in June of that year, when George W. and David H. Hopkins, under the firm name of Hopkins Bros., purchased the present site of Bear Lake Village. The operations of this form so largely concern the commercial interests of the village, and, in fact, the entire county, that this work would be incomplete without a brief sketch of its career and interests.

George W. Hopkins, the founder of the concern, was born on a farm in West Virginia, November 8, 1844. In 1855 he removed to Lenawee County, Mich., with his parents, and remained at home upon the farm until 1863. He then engaged with Samuel Giles making county maps, and remained in that business until twenty-one years of age.

He then started with a capital of $46.50, and sold fruit trees one year. In the Fall of 1866 he settled in Manistee, and purchased some land with the view of starting a brick-yard. In the Spring of 1867 he made the first brick ever made in Manistee County. In October, 1867, his brother David H. Hopkins, went into partnership with him under the firm name of George W. Hopkins & Bro. They carried on the manufacture of brick, making 25,000 a day until 1870.

In the Fall of 1867 they took a logging contract of Gifford Ruddock & Co., to put in 12,000,000 feet of logs, which they did during the Winter.

In 1870 they went out of the brick business and engaged exclusively in dealing with logs and lumber, under the firm name of Hopkins Bros.

In June, 1873, they purchased the present site of Bear Lake, and began the extensive operations which have given them such prominence in the commercial world.

They at once built a sawmill, which commenced running in August following. The mill is the one now owned by Charles B. Boston. They also built the grist mill, costing $10,000, and commenced running it January 1, 1874.

In the Spring of 1874 they platted eighty-eight acres for a village, and built the large store building which they still occupy. In the Fall of 1874 Mr. George W. Hopkins removed his family to Bear Lake., Where the village now stands was at that time a forest, but the Hopkins' energy and enterprise very soon began to make their impress upon the place.

In 1875 they built the Bear Lake Tram Railway, constructed of maple rails ad operated by horse-power. This line extended from Bear Lake to Pierport, a distance of six miles, and cost $10,000.

In October, 1877, the Hopkins Manufacturing Company was organized, the officers being George W. Hopkins, president; David H. Hopkins, secretary; Ella Hopkins, treasurer.

In 1878 they started a livery stable, the first one in the northern part of the county.

In 1879 the Bear Lake pier at Pierport was built by the company, and a general store opened there.

In 1881 they rebuilt the grist mill at a cost of $25,000 It was the first roller mill in Northern Michigan.

Early the present year (1882) they constructed the Bear Lake and Eastern Railway, to take the place of the tram railway. This road is built of twenty T rail, and is equipped with forty cars and a locomotive. The first rail was laid in April, and trans commenced running May 1.

They have also built a new sawmill the present year, having a capacity of 40,000 feet of lumber a day.

The company owns at least 2,000 acres of uncut timber lands in the county, and 5,000 or 6,000 acres of stump lands.

They have built most of the buildings in the village, and stand ready to help any who wish to make the village their home. They loan money to parties desiring to build, or sell homes upon terms of easy pay rent. The results of their enterprise and liberality are seen in the beautiful and thrifty village which has grown on in the space of these few years. The buildings are tasty, the streets well laid out, and everyone seems prosperous.

Mr. George W. Hopkins was married at Bellaire, Ohio, August 4, 1868, to Miss Ella Stuart, of that place. In 1876 he built the handsome residence which is now their home, a view of which appears in this work. As a clear-sighted and successful business man, Mr. Hopkins has few superiors. He was instrumental in securing the location of the county fair grounds at Bear Lake, loaning the society funds with which to improve the grounds, besides contributing liberally to advance the the interests of the society. He keeps thoroughly posted upon public matters, and is active in political and other county affairs.

David H. Hopkins is also a native of West Virginia, and came to Manistee i 1867, and entered upon the prosperous business career already described. He was married December 2, 1876, to Miss Minnie M., daughter of Henry Erb, of Bear Lake. Their family residence, a very handsome structure, was built in 1876. At the present time Mr. Hopkins spends most of his time in Chicago, attending to the company's interest in that city.


In February, 1879, the village of Bear Lake was described, by a local writer, from whom we quote, as follows:

"Bear Lake Village has about seventy-five buildings, all of which were put up substantially and in a comfortable and secure manner. The Hopkins Manufacturing Company's store is the largest building in the village. It contains on the first floor, two large store rooms, one for groceries and dry goods, and the other for hardware, crockery ware and other such merchandise. The second story contains a number of rooms which are used as private rooms by persons connected with the store or in the employ of the firm. The third story is a public hall, about 75x85 feet in size, furnished with staging, scenery and seats for public entertainments, lectures, etc.  The private residences of the village are a good deal better, on the average, than will be found in many much large villages. Messrs. George W. Hopkins and D. H. Hopkins have not only comfortable, but very elegant residences. They stand upon an elevated part of the village, giving a beautiful and magnificent view of the lake and surrounding country. They are both furnished with all the modern conveniences, such as heating apparatus, and are designed in the latest style. They are surrounded by nicely laid out yards, and would be considered very desirable residences in Chicago, Milwaukee, or any other large city. They are worth about $10,000 each.


SOURCE: History of Manistee, Mason and Oceana counties, Illustrations and Biographical Sketches, Chicago, H. R. Page & Co. 1892




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