• Bear Lake grew as a typical lumber boom town during the late 1800s. The first settlers arrived around 1863, primarily in search of free land, after President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862. The settlers found the land full of virgin forest of white pine and hardwoods. Homesteaders were forced to cut and burn the trees in order to have land to farm. In 1867, one of the first homesteaders, Russell Smith, platted out the original village of Bear Lake, offering free land to any person who would open a saw mill there. Within a few years, lumber became big business in Bear Lake. The boom hit soon after 1873, when brothers George W. and David H. Hopkins, purchased the land in the village, and proceeded to build a large sawmill, a brickyard, a gristmill, a store, and the first and only railroad to serve the village. The railroad stretched from Bear Lake west to the Lake Michigan shore at Pierport and west nearly as far as Kaleva, MichiganKaleva. The village of Bear Lake was incorporated in the fall of 1893 by action of the Board of Supervisors of Manistee County. By 1903, all of the trees in the area had been cut. The railway was taken away for use in Florida. Industry shifted to predominantly agriculture, and later, summer tourism. At one time, the population of the village was near 1,000. As of the 2000 census, it stands around 300. Source:
  • The Google ad leading here says "Bear Lake Mich". I know the beginning of that. My grandfather's cousin who grew up there as it was built of nothing says, in a family biography, that Mrs. Russel Smith was one of the first white women that ever stepped foot on the bank of Bear Lake."Because I jumped out of the wagon first. We lived in the eastern United States . The Michigan pine craze struck us the same as it did hundreds of others. There were 3 families of us and we were all young. We each had one or two small children. We came by wagon to New Haven, boat to Manistee. Then we found out there was no road whatso ever to Bear Lake where we had previously taken up government claims.There was a government blazed trail the distance, nineteen miles, and that was all. We engaged a man and a team of horses to bring us here to Bear Lake. On the following May morning we set out, all loaded down with our sea chests, bags of food, and a few tools. We soon passed the pitch-smelling lumbering town. We passed numerous board shanties where bashful children hisd behind their mother's skirts, immense piles of white pine lumber, cords and cords of hemlock bark ready to be taken to the tanneries , and huge piles of fence posts. Then we hit the big timber and blazes on the trees. What a wilderness of thousands upon thousands of majestic white pine towering their lofty green branches far up into the blue heavens. Try to imagine the greatest stand of white pine on earth, and you can form a faint idea of what stood around us. For nearly five miles we came in a comparatively straight course, around big trees, around fallen pine that had lain there,for a thousand years, around ground hemlock bushes and fallen limmbs and bits of dead bark. A big buck ran headlong out of our sight, and a doe protected its little one by running between it and us. Our wagon had rambled on until our trail turned and we came to a swamp. The blazes on the trees ran straight through the swamp, and we could see them going up the long steep hill on the other side. We couldn't drive through the swamp, so we meandered around it. The most of us wallked. Then up the long hill we went, the men holding to the sides of the wagon to keep it from slipping back whenever the team stopped for a breath. We adults walked up that half-mile hill, and we have walked up that hill occasionally now for 60 years. Not many more hills now crossed our pathway, and none compared to that. "Finally, when the big moon had climbed the tallest pine, we came out to the glistening waters of Bear Lake. It was ten o'clock by Russ's watch. We managed to build a fire for comfort and protection, then rummaged into our goods for some food. There we sat, alone. Did I say alone? The Almighty God was with us, yet for my part I looked into the darkness of that awful forest. I looked at the lapping inky water of the lake. I looked upon the friendly moon. Yes, there was something I had seen before and my heart was cheered by its old face. I was not afraid now. "We had no home, no houses, no funiture, no, nothing; but the moon cheered me, and I snuggled up near Russ and held our sleeping baby in my arms as we ate our cold bite.After this we pulled some blankets over ourselves and soon went to sleep... two days later Russ came home from Manistee driving a big red and white spotted ox, and a wooden, clumsy, creaky cart. Now the men set to work in good earnest to build us cabins....while the buildings were going up, we women sewed some drill, and made ticks and filled them with pine needles, which sent out a healthy odor, if they did not make a soft bed. We women also planted a little garden in the few open spaces where the trees had been cut: one peck of potatoes, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, corn, and cabbage. Of couse, we couldn't starve with deer peeking over the pole fences, and as far as fish are concerned, they would almost--not quite--follow us up the bank and beg to be fried. Besides these, there were numerous squirrels: red, black, gray, and fox squirrels. And the woods were thick with partridges and pigeons. So between our cornmeal cakes, the fish, the game, we couldn't starve. "The men cut down the towering pine and maples, beech and elms, for here the pines started to thin out in some places and hardwood began. They cut down the big trees, cut them into logs and the ox skidded them into heaps to be burned up. In this way we cleared up a ittle patch where we could plant some crops.I think our greatest source of discontentment lay in our lonely, isolated condition. How many times I have creid myself to sleep, woke, and cried again. There we were married to educators. Tilson a professional doctor, Anderson and Russ both teachers. We three girls were not ashamed of our education. What good did education do now? (Doctor's "bugology" book identifies bedbugs in their dry hemlock.) "Well, the middle of the summer came. The deer ate most of our corn, the worms destroyed our cabbage, cut worms cut off our beans and peas, ants ate our lettuce, potato bugs pestered the pototaoes, and bedbugs and fleas nearly drove us to distraction. So take it all around, what a glorious never to be forgotten summer we had. (A visitor arrives. They are all excited, it making no difference if he were drunk, sick, or just tired out. They all wanted to see a human being. He had smallpox and they all got it while he stayed at "Anderson's" place. Then they planned a trip tp Manistee to get a barrel of flour.) "None of us had tasted white bread since May, so around the first of October Russell rowed our dugout over to the big bay and shot one of the biggest wild geese I had ever cooked, and I've roasted many of them. I also made a big johnnycake and a can of peppermint tea. We awoke early. Russ greased the cart wheels and fed and watered the ox while I packed the basket....the only horse conveyances to ever have gone through that nineteen-mile stretch of pine forest was the team that brought us here and the ox and cart coming back. Not a trace of the wheeltracks could be seen. The summer's growth of foilage, the breeze-swept pine needles, the scurrying and walking of animals both small and large had quite obliterated the last trace of a wheel track. Through this trackless wilderness we once more followed the blazed trail. (They see the lights from the new lumber town of Manistee 5 miles away as they camp. They see brilliant foilage in the frost. She gets everyones' mail and opens everyone's and answers for them because when would they have time, and buys the barrel of flour, some drill to make the men pants and jackets, and a pound of tea. The ox begins to act very queer at "James Lake." "In three minutes he was dead.There we stood, unbelievingly. We now had to get that barrel the remaining 9 miles home. Russ got into the thrills and started pulling the cart and I pushed. All went fairly well...on the little grade, but on the level or going up grade it was altogether different.We finally decided we could not get that big heavy clumsy cart and flour both home. "At last Russ said, 'You stay here with the gun and I'll go home and get the other men'. 'Why must I stay here?" 'To protect the flour.' 'From what?'Now I was scared. 'From the porcupines.' Raised as a minister's daughter , used to luxeries, she began to cry. So they rolled that barrel, sipping water, singing loudly until the men and women heard them and met them and rolled the barrel home. My great-cousin wrote her story for "Michigan History"-- it was told at a pioneer reunion in Bear Lake in 1912. Mrs. Russell Smith was in her 80s then. My ancestor, Eva Ferrier, nee' Burwell,( mother Sarah Anne, father Peter, siblings Maggie and Lewis) was one years old when she moved to Bear Lake in 1870. There were 3 Keillor boys--Oscar, Nelson, and Samuel,who all married and had children, and 2 Lumly boys, David and Rufus, to play with her 5-year-old uncle, Charles Henry Young. There were 6 families, most parents Harvard grads, including their schoolteacher for the 1870's-1880's-, John White Allen. Eva's grandfather Benjamin Young, also grandfather of the late bamboo fly-fishing rod builder and inventor Paul H Young,helped build the homes, the Voss School and the Pleasanton School of logs. Mrs. Bert Lewis kept the Post Office. Mrs. Pierce on the next corner had brought her library from New Haven. Samuel and Marion Arnold's wives were the first teachers of the Voss School.They also came from new Haven and Harvard.In 1870 George Hopkins and his 3 brothers came. George had the first sawmill. They called the creek Dr. Miller lived on Bowen's Creek,alive with trout, as Bear Lake was with fish-Young and pal Homer Bailey always got as much pickeral and bass as they could lug.They took a dugout to a small bay and got black bass, sunfish, and bluegills. You could hunt and fish as you liked and Charles' father got 104 deer making his own bullets. The first story is from Mich. History, Mich. Historical Commission, March 1952. The story of the people of 1870 comes from my aunt's memoir.As she was later a respected historian I know it is trustworthy as a source. Apparently once all the trees were gone the people left, for I hear it went from 1,000 to 100. I don't think that, the second time it was settled, anything was known about previous settlers. I doubt the Voss School is there or the Pleasanton Post Office?

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