HISTORY Of OGEMAW COUNTY
History of northern Michigan and its people ---
Ogemaw county adjoins Iosco on the west and owes its settlement to
its primal forests of pine which crowded along the headwaters of the
Rifle and Tittabawassee rivers. The streams of the former constituted
a network of waterways which covered its central and northern sections and extended to what is now West Branch, while the waters of
the Tittabawassee commenced their long and continuous journey to
Saginaw bay in the present Edwards township, southwestern part of
the county. Ogemaw county has fully fifty charming little lakes within
her limits, but, although of late, they have been attracting not a few
sportsmen and tourists to that region, it was the presence of these
forest-clad streams which flowed toward the older and more settled
region along the Huron shore that brought the first settlers to what is
now Ogemaw county. Today the pine has almost disappeared, as well
as the original forests of maple, beech, basswood, hemlock, ash, elm,
oak. cedar and birch. Lumber mills and hardwood manufactories have
largely consumed the limber, both soft and hard, but during the years
that these industries have been declining others more diversified, and
therefore more permanent, have been taking their place.
Perhaps no county in the state has so many small lakes and streams and flowing wells of purest water as Ogemaw which, together with its great variety and abundance of both wild and cultivated grasses, combine to form an ideal dairy region. Ogemaw Springs, the oldest settlement in the county, derives its name from the prevalence of those sparkling and bubbling: springs in that locality; in West Branch alone are located two hundred flowing wells, while nearly every farm in the county is, or may be provided with one of these blessings of nature.
Hay and potatoes have been staple crops in Ogemaw county for years. More recently peas, beans and all kinds of seeds, as well as garden produce for the market, have been added to the wealth of her soil and the body of her trade. All the cereals and small fruits have also been cultivated with success. West Branch has been largely benefited by this progress in all that concerns the farm, garden or orchard, and the great bulk of all the shipments in the county now consists of agricultural and live-stock products—whether over the Michigan Central line, which traverses the southwestern and western sections, or the Rose City division of the Detroit & Mackinac, which is the outlet of the northeastern townships to the Huron shore.
If anything the census figures indicate that the farming communities are growing faster than the city centers.
Early Settlement of the County
The building of the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw railroad into Ogemaw county was the initial act of its real birth. But the main facts constituting the pioneer period of its history were well recorded in the columns of the West Branch Times over twenty years ago; to the industrial edition of that paper for 1889 the author is indebted for much which follows relating to the early settlement of the county and the founding of "West Branch."
Up to 1871 Ogemaw county was a virtual wilderness. From the visit of the government surveyors in 1856, until the incoming of the railroad, the only tenants of her forests were deer, bear and other game, and an occasional stray hunter or land-seeker. Some tracts of pine were located, but were too far distant from the base of supplies to permit of much lumbering until the railroad was built.
In 1871 the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad Company completed its line as far as Wells, about fourteen miles south of West Branch. Four years before, W. H. Edwards had worked his way northwest from the mouth of the Pine river of Saginaw bay, over about forty miles of road, to the bank of the Tittabawassee. Here he built a log house and made a small clearing in connection with his lumbering operations. This house long stood as the oldest in the county.
Along in the sixties Alfred Wright and R. H. Weidman, composing the firm of Wright & Weidman, took up a large tract of land in Ogemaw county. In 1871 they commenced lumbering operations, and made some clearing at what is now the Forest Home Farm. The old log house was built that year, and it was headquarters for their lumbering business there until Mr. Wright's death in 1873. Mr. Weidman was in Norway, his native land, at that time, and remained there about six years during which time little progress was made at the farm. In 1880 D. Wright & Company bought the half interest of the heirs of Alfred Wright, and the firm was then known as R. H. Weidman & Company.
Mr. Weidman died very suddenly in 1882 and his interest was sold at auction, Nelson Holland being the purchaser. Mr. Holland sold shortly after to D. Wright & Company, who developed the property into one of the finest pieces of agricultural property in the state. Under their vigorous and wise management, both as farmers and business men, they founded what, in older countries, would be called a great estate. Forest Home Farm, as it was popularly called, comprised four hundred acres of clearing; large and convenient residence and farm buildings, and accommodations for live stock, poultry and dairy operations, and an orchard of about one thousand acres, comprising apple, plum, pear and cherry trees, grape vines and berry patches.
The entire property of the firm, in the eighties, amounted to about 20,000 acres, which comprised some of the most valuable hardwood land in the county. More than any other firm they pushed the sale of farm lands in this section. Mr. Hauptman himself was foremost in the formation of a county agricultural society. In their lumbering operations they furnished employment to many who resided in West Branch, and more than half the platted village was their property. Finally, they reserved a considerable strip along the river for manufacturing purposes and donated several sites to induce industrial plants to locate. Too much credit cannot be given to D. Wright & Company in connection with both the agricultural and industrial development of Ogemaw county.
It was not until 1872 that actual farmers began to arrive in the county. In the fall of 1871 John Klacking, Christopher Reetz and Horace Sherman located homesteads, and they came up and took possession the following spring. William Rose, father of A. S. and Alcibiades Rose, Scott White, Sherman T. and Decater A. Neal, James Campbell and George Sherman, were other permanent settlers who came the same year. They all took up homesteads and most of them afterward became known as prosperous farmers of the county.
John Regan came to the county in 1872, as foreman of Weidman & Wright's property, and took up his farm the next year. A. L. Gumming and his sous, Louis and A. L., Jr., settled on their farms in 1873.
Captain S. V. Thomas and Dr. C. L. Nauman arrived in Ogemaw county in 1872, the former as proprietor of a mill business near Beaver lake, the latter as secretary of the Ogemaw Lumber Co., with headquarters at Ogemaw Springs. After some experience in the mill business, they both became among the earliest citizens of West Branch. Ogemaw Springs
At this point a digression is advisable to say a word more particularly about Ogemaw Springs. Although never incorporated as a village, this is the oldest settlement in the county. In the year 1871 the Ogemaw Lumber Company was organized by a party of Ohio capitalists. Dr. C. L. Nauman was secretary. A mill was built and business hummed for a couple of years. The great panic of 1873, which drove so many firms to the wall, shattered the Ogemaw Lumber Company and the business was soon transferred to other hands. When the county was organized in 1876 Ogemaw Springs made an effort for the county seat, but failed, West Branch having the greater number of supporters. This decided the fate of the town.
On April 15, 1873, the county of Ogemaw was created by act of the state legislature, but it was not organized civilly until 1876. After a close fight between West Branch and Ogemaw Springs, the county seat was located at the former. At the first county election the following were chosen county officers: Sheriff, W. H. Hosier; clerk, Dr. 0. L. Nauman; treasurer, Edward Washington; register of deeds, Allan S. Rose; judge of probate, 'A. IT. Wright; prosecuting attorney, A. P. Lyon, Bay City; coroners, A. L. Cumming and Zenas H. Wright. The first board of supervisors consisted of A. L. Cumming of Ogemaw, and A. E. Pinney of Edwards, the former chairman.
Those pioneer times witnessed some strange scenes in West Branch. Law and order were almost unknown, and a gang of fifty or a hundred woodsmen would frequently swoop down upon the place and run things for a time. But, though disorder prevailed and rows were frequent, there was a surprising; lack of downright crime. Old settlers say that stealing was unknown. Money was plentiful, wages high and times prosperous.
The earliest business firms at West Branch were Washington Brothers, Wells, Stone & Co. and Gustin, Merrill & Co., who sold an immense quantity of general goods and hardly at starvation profits. A. S. Rose at Churchill, and Davison Brothers at Damon, early became rivals of the West Branch merchants, and worked up a large trade among the settlers and lumbermen.
Ogemaw county has had a steady, healthy growth every year since its first settlement. The nearest approach to a boom occurred in 1881, when a number of new stores were built at West Branch, but, though property advanced considerably in value, it never assumed the attitude of a boom, which is so disastrous to many new towns.
The village of West Branch dates its growth, from the organization of the county in 1876. Up to that time the population consisted of employees of a hotel, and one small store.
When West Branch was made the county seat and the courthouse constructed, a steady growth began. The nearest approach to a boom was in 1881. when the town began to push eastward from the railroad. It was supposed, when the old courthouse was built, that it would become the center of the new town, but the peculiar condition in which the Weidman & Wright estate was placed by the absence of Mr. Weidman in Norway, made it impossible to purchase lots on the west side. The town was bound to grow and when Mr. Ripley opened his lots for sale on the east side, he found ready purchasers. Nearly a dozen blocks were built in 1881, and the town assumed the appearance of a place of business.
The fire of February, 1883. wiped out a row of business blocks on the south side of Houghton avenue, but they were replaced the next year with better ones. Since then West Brunch has suffered from four or five large fires, those of 1808 and 1900 being especially destructive.
In 1881 the school population of West Branch was about twenty- five or thirty, and one small school room served to accommodate all the children who attended. In 1887 a brick and frame edifice was erected at a cost, of $6,000, to accommodate the two hundred and fifty pupils of the village. This was replaced by the present central or high school in 1901, in which one hundred and forty-six scholars receive instruction. There are also two branch schools, the total enrollment in the grammar grades being four hundred and ninety-four.
In 1880 the first courthouse was erected in West Branch, at a cost of $10,000. It was a neat wooden building with the jail and the sheriff's living rooms in the basement. This courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1887, and the brick structure now occupied was completed in the following year for $18,000. The jail and sheriff's residence are in a separate brick building on the Courthouse square. The county poor farm, consisting of one hundred and twenty acres, is just outside the city limits.
Incorporated as a Village
West Branch was incorporated as a village in 1885, and that was also the year of the organization of the County Agricultural Society and of the establishment of the first bank at the county seat. M. H. French sold his interest in the Times during the spring of 1885, and, in partnership with J. J. Ellis of Ann Arbor, started a small banking business, under the firm name of Ellis & French. The business grew and the bank made lots of money. In 1886, Fremont F. French, who had been conducting musical conventions in different states for a year or two, grew tired of this kind of life, and settled at West Branch and obtained an interest in the bank.
Banks, Trade and Industries
The Commercial Bank, Tolfree, Livingston & Company, proprietors, is the oldest existing institution of the kind at West Branch, and was established by John Tolfree and J. W. Livingston in 1890. Thomas W Ballantine is still cashier. The capital of the Commercial is $10,- 000; responsibilities, $500,000.
The Ogemaw County Bank at West Branch is one of the many- owned by Ealy, McKay & Company in eastern and northeastern Michigan. The McKays are managers of the branches at East Tawas, Tawas City and West Branch, as well as partners in the firm. Robert C. McKay is in charge of the Ogemaw County Bank, which was opened at West Branch in 1900. Its responsibility is placed at $1,000,000. William Hisey came to West Branch in the fall of 1883, in response to a decided demand for a flouring mill. , A small mill, owned and operated by H. E. Rose, of Rosetown, fourteen miles from West Branch, could not handle the amount of wheat that was being raised and a citizens' meeting resolved that there must he a flouring mill in West Branch. D. Wright & Company donated the site and the mill was erected—the first one there, although only a partial success. Birdsall Brothers also put up a planing mill in 1883.
Among the first merchants to come to West Branch was B. Blumenthal, who located in the spring of 1885. He is still there, and for years has been among its leading merchants.
The city has both a good local trade and is the industrial, financial and commercial center of a large interior district. Among her institutions in these fields may be mentioned the Batchelor Timber Company, whose headquarters are at Saginaw and which operates a saw and planing mill; the West Branch Flour Manufacturing Company, with a mill on the Rifle river; Jacob Eck's brewery; A. C. Neilson's creamery, and last, but perhaps most important of all, the elevators operated by the Ogemaw Grain and Seed Company and the Evan Seed Company. West Branch a City
West Branch assumed the dignity of a city government in 1905, and is worthy of it. It is a neat place, with good prospects, and, as has been described in detail, has developed into a modern little city. To further illustrate, it may be stated that her streets and buildings are lighted by means of an electric plant, situated on the Rifle river about two miles east, and put in operation during 1901. The city has a public library, an opera house and Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal churches.
Rose City, formerly Churchill, was incorporated as a city of the fourth class in 1905. It is a place of over five hundred people, on a branch of the Rifle river, and is the terminus of a division of the Detroit & Mackinac Railway, which commences at Emery Junction, Iosco county. Rose City is fifteen miles northeast of West Branch, the county seat, is in the midst of a productive farming country. Its bank, elevator, creamery, flour mill and general stores; its good school, electric light plant and churches are a few of the strong points in its favor.
Prescott and Lupton
Prescott dates from 1882, when what was then the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena Railroad was extended westward into Mills and Rich- land townships, Ogemaw county. It was named in honor of C. H. Prescott. a pioneer lumberman who owned a large tract of land in the vicinity, and is now the terminus of a short branch of the Detroit & Mackinac Railway.
Lupton, a station and postoffice on the same road, five miles east
of Rose City, was settled in the late eighties, mostly by members of
the Society of Friends. It took its name from Emor Lupton, who,
with his sons, were owners of large tracts of farm, orchard and timber
lands, and made many improvements both as cultivators of their properties and builders of mills.