HISTORY OF WOLVERINE
As the glaciers retreated and the lakes receded, the landforms of Wolverine began to take shape. Forests began to cover the hills and the woods filled with wildlife, Elk, Bear, and deer roamed the woods as flocks of wild passenger pigeons flew overhead. Through the centuries the Sturgeon River meandered through the valley, catching the runoff of the spring thaws as the water drained toward the Great Lakes.
The first humans to pass through were Native Americans who came to hunt and then moved on. They stayed close to the rivers and lakes and seldom came this far into the interior of Northern Michigan. The forests were dense and most settlements took place along the major lakes and rivers. It wasn't until after the Civil War was over, that settlers began to move into this part of Michigan.
As the fur trade diminished on the Great Lakes, fishermen and businessmen began to settle in villages along the coastline. They settled along shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and especially at areas where rivers gave them access to the interior land. Lumber became recognized as a resource for building, as well as for firewood. Coopers became employed in building barrels for shipping fish and boat builders wanted the tall white pine that was abundant here. As more sailing ships began to ply the Great Lakes it became easier to ship fish and lumber to Chicago and Detroit.
Between 1840 and 1843, Mullet and Burt surveyed Cheboygan County and named lakes after themselves. In 1849, Cheboygan Township was organized and this included the County Of Cheboygan. In 1855 the area land office moved from Flint to Duncan City, across the river from Cheboygan. In 1858, the Cheboygan State Road was authorized by the Legislature and began to be built. This route was a path used by a horse and rider or dog sleigh to connect Saginaw to Sault Ste Marie.
In 1864, the population of Cheboygan County was 483 and most lived and worked at the Duncan Bay Mill in Cheboygan. In 1867, the Slack Water Navigation Company was organized to construct locks in the Cheboygan River and they finished by 1869. This opened water travel up the river, through Mullet Lake. In 1870 the Cheboygan City census was 800 and by 1871 it was 1500. The changes then came rapidly as many lumber companies became active in the county. The Civil War was over and the rest of the county was ready to get to work. Civil War Vets were given land grants and many looked to the northern forests of Michigan as a place to live and work.
BY 1880 the County population had grown to 6524. Only, 2800 of those lived in the City Of Cheboygan. The rest were spreading out throughout the county. Supplies for the Wolverine area now came to Cheboygan by boat or Gaylord by train. They were then brought to Wolverine by horse and cart.
In 1881, the Michigan Central Railroad had extended their line to Mackinaw City. The Grand Rapids Railroad completed their line to Mackinaw in 1882. The first car ferry the "Betsy" carried railroad cars across the Straits, pulled by the Algomah. Passageways had been opened through Mullet and Burt Lake and the Inland Navigation Company operated three steamboats through the inland water route. Tourists began to take trains north in the summer as "hay fever", asthma, bronchial and lung affections" drove them out of the crowded cities. In the days before modern plumbing and heating, cities were dirty, smelly and unhealthy places, especially in the summer, so families looked forward to moving north. By 1903 there were six daily tourist passenger trains passing through Wolverine. The Wolverine Depot ( still standing today ) opened in 1906 and provided a convenient stopping place for travelers.
By 1880 the county population grew to 11,986 and the city of Cheboygan only accounted for 6,235 of this. The lumber industry was at its peak and eight area lumber mills were turning out over 100 million feet of lumber per year. Cheboygan County mills produced 35 million laths from 10 mills and 5 million shingles from 5 mills. By 1894 the county populations was at 13,500. In 1904 it was 17,256. The Detroit and Mackinaw Railroad extended its line to Cheboygan.
Early Wolverine Settlers
Wolverine was first called "Torrey" when George Richards came to settle here. He purchased a homestead near Weber Lake and used to walk to Gaylord to pick up his mail and supplies. His diary state Nov. 26, 1880-Wrote to postmaster General in Washington to have a Post at the Forks and asked to be appointed Postmaster at "Sturgeon City". A reply on Dec 17,1880 granted his request, drew a plat of the post office and changed the name to Wolverine. Before this post office, George Richards walked from Wolverine to Gaylord once a week and carried the mail both ways. He followed a footpath which led around Silver Lake. He spent the night in Vanderbilt, then walked home the following day. Richards served as postmaster, land and timber looker, real estate dealer and was elected Representative to Lansing in 1903. In 1882, he helped organize the Wolverine School District and was a member of the school board for 15 years and its director for 11 years. His great granddaughter, Sue VandenHoek, teaches at Wolverine Schools today.
AT the start of 1881, Wolverine had 19 residents. Joe and Fred Sart built the Veneer Mill soon after the railroad was completed in 1881 and the population began to grow. In 1883, Edison Roarbeck and his brother in-law, Simon Warner Vroman had come to Wolverine. Vroman came by train to Petoskey and set out on foot from there to locate his homestead. This was a land grant given to veterans after the Civil War. Simon homesteaded 80 acres and his brother in-law 160 acres. Vroman used to carry the mail on foot to a hollow tree, about half way between Wolverine and Petoskey. There it was picked up by a man from Petoskey.
The Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Railroad Company received a deed for railroad property from the State Of Michigan at Trowbridge. There they built a two story house for railroad laborers. soon there was a school and post office. The boarding house was expanded and had 14 sleeping rooms with a dance hall on the third floor addition. The first floor had a saloon, dining room, kitchen and lobby. This building burnt down.
Cassen B. Stonehouse came to Wolverine from Yale, Michigan in 1891. He operated the steam chest at the veneer Mill for 10y ears. He was also a deputy sheriff and was later named judge and held that post for 23 years. Logs were put through the steam chest to condition them for the lathe. Following the steam chest operations, they were washed with a huge hose, which removed loose bark and any trace of sand. From there they went on to the lathe and were sliced to one in thickness in slabs that later became veneer, used mostly in furniture making. Basket staves were a byproduct of the mill and required large drying sheds.
By 1891, the population of Wolverine was booming, with 1000 residents. The village became incorporated in 1903. The Peoples Bank was established on the northeast corner of Main Street. Early 1900's B.E. Thayer established a weekly newspaper known as the " Wolverine Courier". In 1912, the" Wolverine Harness shop" opened; owned by George Richards. Dr.Marion Goddard came to live in Wolverine and was the first women doctor in Northern Michigan. She made house calls with a horse and buggy and charged $1, including medicine. The Congregational Church was established in 1883, the lumber used came from George Donnor Mill. The Methodist Church was built in 1893.
In 1898, the Babcock Family came to Wolverine. They got off the train at Trowbridge. Horatio Babcock worked cutting wood and by 1901 he had his own logging operation. Mrs.Babcock cooked at the Cornwell Lumber Company Camp for 22 years. She also helped with the farming and canned up to 1000 qrts of fruits and vegetables for family use.
By 1902, the population of Wolverine was 1080. Charles Peterson opened a meat market in Wolverine in 1903 and there he processed and sold seven head of cattle daily, plus five or six hogs. He bought many of the cattle from Mark Scott who homesteaded the farm on Scott's Hill in 1894. This later became known as Rhondo Pond. A depot was built there when the train went through. There was a store, post office, a 3 story hotel, planning mill, shingle house a sawmill and a stave mill there.
In 1905, the population was about 1800. On Saturday nights, when the Lumberjacks came to town, the population doubled. In 1908, the road on "East Hill" was built in its present location with teams of horses and wagons. Lumbering and forest fires wiped out most of the wood and farming began to replace Lumbering in the area. Early farms used ox teams to plow, drag, harrow and hay. Later, horses and tractors made this work easier. Local crops were potatoes, corn beans and apples.
With the lumber gone, the population began to decline and residents had to look for other work. By 1934, ninety men were employed at the fish raising ponds, where mills had formerly stood. Gerhart's came in 1938, when they started a Christmas Tree plantation, replanting trees in areas that had been timbered off. Tourism helped as US27 was paved and Wolverine was on a direct route from Detroit to Mackinaw City. Many people left Wolverine to work in the cities and to do construction work.
Wolverine sat quietly nestled along the Sturgeon River while Gaylord, Petoskey and Cheboygan developed most of the area's shopping, industries, offices and tourist stops. Things are quietly changing now as retirees move up north and purchase much of the property that has been lumbered off. The trees have started to come back and people now look to live on the nearby lakes and forest. Many residents are employed in the tourism industry- hunting, fishing, camping, snowmobiling, and cabin rentals. Others build log furniture and log homes. Many drive daily to Gaylord, Petoskey and Cheboygan to work. the school is a major employer in town as it cares for 300 children of area residents.
Today, as Wolverine continues to celebrate its annual Lumberjack Festival, it is important that we remember our heritage was so tied to the forests. It is what brought our ancestors to the area. They worked hard to build their homes here and to make a living. Many of their descendants still live in the area. Although the forests were timbered or burned off, they are starting to come back. The nearby lakes and the Sturgeon River offer beautiful lots for homes. Our students are keenly aware of the local environment and want to keep it clean and beautiful. We want to preserve the local lore and history of the past and collect our own history to share with the future generations.