LOGGING -LINCOLN LAKE

The logging industry at Lincoln Lake was immense. To the 21sr Century Lincoln Lake resident it is difficult to visualize the magnitude of the virgin forests which surrounded the lake in the 1850’s. Many of the White Pine (Pinus Strobus L.) were 300 years old and reached staggering heights of up to 200 feet, with a diameter at the base of the trunk ranging up to 5 feet. Brief glimpses of these pines (referred to as ‘Cork" pine) are given by John Schenek who, in 1881, in ‘The History of Ionia and Montcalm Counties, Michigan’ wrote: ‘That an old settler asserts that in 1854 he passed up the Flat River and entered a pine forest which was so dense that he could not see to read the Detroit Commercial Advertiser’, and August Rasmusson in ‘Pioneer Life in the Big Dane Settlement’, wrote that ‘From Greenville to Kendallville, and from Lincoln Lake to Stanton, was a vast forest of great pines; only a house and a little clearing once in a while.’

As Lincoln Lake was one of the largest bodies of water within the Flat River Basin the ownership of the timbered land and the legal control over its water rights were valuable assets, especially to the major lumber companies (The Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago, Illinois and the White & Friant Lumber Company of Grand Rapids). The 1876 Spencer Township Plat Map shows that The Flat River Lumber Company owned 4,140 acres of prime virgin White Pine forests in sections 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 22, 23 and 27. The exceptions were 75.55 acres owned by William HEWITT, 77.15 acres by I. DODGE (both located in the lower Southwest part of Lincoln Lake in section 22), 40 acres by Arthur P. HOLLAND (One of the earliest settlers of Spencer Township) in section 14, and 76.70 acres around Cranberry Lake (Matson Lake) by WINEGAR and Co, a lumber company. At this time, a typical Montcalm and Kent County sawmill had a daily capacity of 1000-2000 board feet and the rough estimate rule was ‘5 logs to the thousand’, or approximately 200 board feet to the log. A board foot, a unit of measure for lumber, is equal to the volume of an unplaned board 1 foot long, 1 foot wide and 1 inch thick; by these calculations, the potential wealth available to the lumber companies was huge.

By 1876, Mr. John R. WALSH, President of the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago, along with Josiah J. SANDS, secretary of that company, and Thomas FRIANT and Thomas Stewart WHITE of White and Friant Lumber Company of Grand Rapids, had, by purchasing or by acting as agents for various owners of lumber stands, gained control over most of the forest surrounding Lincoln Lake.

While the Flat River Lumber Company was making land acquisitions around Lincoln Lake, William B. POWELL, in 1867, had built the Powell Steam Saw and Shingle Mill--the most important landmark on the lake. This was located in the Northeast corner of section 27, Spencer Township, where Clear Creek joins Lincoln Lake. The archaeological remains (the stone foundations and the timber pilings) which can be seen at this site under the water at Lincoln Lake would indicate that the William B. POWELL Steam Saw and Shingle Mill and the Lincoln Lake Reservoir together created a huge lumbering operation. This is also supported by the following excerpts, which appeared in The Greenville Independent and the Grand Rapids Daily Eagle. June 4th, 1867, The Greenville Independent: ‘That six million foot drive by J.B. HART of logs commenced passing through this village (Greenville) from Lincoln Lake.’ One year later, on April 21st, 1868:

‘The breaking of Lincoln Lake Reservoir some few weeks since was very discouraging but they have been working very successfully during the present season driving their logs. One drive of 10,000,000 feet has already reached Grand River and about 20,000,000 feet are below Russell Mill. The driving is well performed this year. A large force of men is engaged at the work. One day last week from 4pm to dark, 1,000,000 feet was run over the Upper Dam at this village. This is the fastest work of this kind of which we have heard.’

The Grand Rapids Daily Eagle on June 13th, 1878, reported the following: ‘Champion Shingle Bolt Sawyers of Michigan??-Michael HEFFRON and William DOLPH at Lincoln Lake sawed and piled 6 and a quarter cords of shingle bolts in ten hours.’ The Grand Rapids Daily Eagle, June 6th, 1881:

‘A BIG ONE HORSE LOAD-On Tuesday last May 31, at John HEADLEY’S logging camp, in the town (?) of Spencer, this county, a load of pine logs, six in number, which scaled 4,673 feet, was drawn by one horse a distance of 11/2 miles and delivered into Lincoln Lake. The scaler was present at the time they were drawn, and scaled the timber, so there can be no doubt about the size of the load. The logs are owned by White, Friant & Co. of Grand Haven. Who can beat this load?’

Another article in the Grand Rapids Daily Eagle of the same date read: ‘At Lincoln Lake- Mr. John HEADLEY of Ada, has completed his job of cutting and putting into Lincoln Lake, Spencer, Kent County, eight million feet of pine logs. These logs belong to J. Rugee & Co. of Grand Haven, for which firm White and Friant are agents. Mr. HEADLEY will continue to log, expecting to put into the lake two million feet more.’

Lincoln Lake loggers would have encountered the same conditions and regulations in harvesting its pineries as other logging companies elsewhere in Michigan. As the logs left Lincoln Lake for their final destinations on the Grand River, there had to be an indisputable right of ownership to each log. ‘Log marks’ were to the Lincoln Lake lumber companies what cattle brands were to the Western American Rancher. By 1842, the Michigan State Legislature had passed a law requiring log marks to be registered in the county where the logs were to be manufactured into lumber. These log end marks replaced in most cases the previously used bark marks which were cruder, laborious to mark and consequently more difficult to read as the logs floated down river. Originally the logs from Lincoln Lake which had come from the sections mentioned previously, were bark-axed, always on the light side which remained visible while afloat. Therefore they needed to be marked on both sides in order to be identified, and this was time consuming, expensive, and not always accurate. Although little logging had occurred around Lincoln Lake in the late 1850’s, a new Michigan law passed in 1859 required all logs, including those from Lincoln Lake, to be marked on their ends several times. According to research conducted by Mr. Bill Burr, a freelance writher from Stanton, Michigan for the Greenville News, the logs occasionally were marked up to 5 times per log-end and by law these end marks had to be registered in each county through which they were to pass. Then, in 1867, a new law gave the booming company full ‘Power of Contract’, which allowed it to become a ‘Law Enforcement Power’ for executing the Log-Branding Registration. This law granted each owner legal rights protecting his ownership to his harvested lumber. According to lagging folklore, log rustling, the act of cutting off branded log ends, did occur. Log ends are still being found among the historic mill sites on the Flat River, although this evidence is often disputed by the logging historians.

The lumber drive, which occurred in the spring, was a logging community exercise as all logs had to be accounted for at their final destinations on behalf of the various lumber companies and logging agents. Court cases were heard throughout the state as millions of board feet were contested. Muskegon, the great lumbering center to the west of Lincoln Lake, was possibly the most influential force in directing the Legislation to protect this industry. ‘Booming companies’ were established and had full control of the delivery of the logs from the forest to the mills and just as this responsibility was accepted as ‘standard practice’ and common law, it was further supported by legal test cases heard in the state Supreme Court in Lansing. The log mark rapidly became the most important means by which lumber companies in Montcalm and Kent Counties could reinforce and protect their claims. Wyman C. BOCK writes that Josiah J. SANDS, Spencer Township lumberman, is mentioned in an 1871 Lincoln Lake abstract assigning his log marks to the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago on May 21st, 1875. These marks could be used on the logs floating down the Flat and Grand Rivers and their tributaries. SANDS’ log end marks were ‘J.JS&SAND-ROB-JUG’ as well as the symbols of ‘Bell-Bugle-Harp-Horsehead’. Other logs marks associated with Lincoln Lake were (Chart3-4).

The logs from Lincoln Lake were floated down Clear Creek, Cooper Creek and then into the Flat River north west of Greenville, where the Flat River Booming Company of Greenville, established by Henry Merrill FULLER, was in control. The logs coming from Lincoln Lake could now be recognized amongst the ‘higgledy-piggledy’ mass of disorganized logs at the boom at Greenville and other sawmills downriver.

Life for the lumbermen at Lincoln Lake was tough. Legendary reputations were made and broken in the world of the lumberjack. Lincoln Lake was no exception. The weather was cold, wet, inhospitable and taxing. The working conditions were at the best of times hazardous and in some situations primitive. For example, the Greenville Independent reported in the Grand Rapids Eagle on May 12th, 1870 the ‘Lumbering was a dangerous occupation in the (William B. POWELL) Mill as well as in the forests or in the stream’. The article went on to say:

The 12 year old son of Aaron INGRAHAM was caught in the belt of the line shaft of Powell’s shingle mill in Spencer township on Monday, May 9, 1870-his right arm was twisted off at the elbow and his left leg broken above the knee. Drs. Avery & Martin chloroformed the patient, set the broken limb and amputated the arm near the shoulder.’

The Grand Rapids Daily Eagle also wrote, on March 2nd 1878, the following"

‘LUMBERMAN (TEAMSTER) FALLS THROUGH ICE AND DROWNS ON LINCOLN LAKE-Thomas FURSMAN finished hauling logs on February 26 and stabled his team of horses on the north side of Lincoln Lake and then crossed the ice covering a narrow section of the lake to the house on the south side of the lake where he boarded. He got up about 5 o’clock on the morning of February 27, lighted a lantern and started across the ice covering the lake to feed his horses. He fell into an air hole and drowned underneath the ice’.

For companies like the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago, harvesting the forests at Lincoln Lake followed a chronological pattern. This commenced with the timber cruiser who surveyed the Lincoln Lake pine forests for the company. His job was to scrutinize the topography in relation to the contiguous streams, lakes, marshes and swamps, which would be used later in floating the logs down to the Lincoln Lake Reservoir. Once these forests were appraised and measured, the cruiser staked his claims at the land office in Ionia for his prospective employers, just as a gold prospector did in the American west at the assay office. The grading and laying of the ‘tote’ roads took place next, for this would allow the lumberjacks access to the forest as well as to the Lincoln Lake waterways. If one imagines the construction of a half wheel using the axle as a center point, the tote roads would radiate, as the spokes of the wheel from the water’s edge to the various parts of the forest being cut. The lumber camp (the hub) would have been located as near to the center of the operation as possible. The Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago employed an ‘Operator" (sometimes known as the ‘Wood Boss’), who managed all of the Lincoln Lake lumberjacks and employed the swampers: these were the loggers responsible for erecting numerous lumber camps simultaneously throughout the region. The camps were constructed from virgin pine forest stands within the area being harvested. Within a month the swampers would have finished constructing the cook shanty, mess room, bunkhouse for the double/triple bunk beds, offices, supply stores, blacksmiths shop, carpenter shop and barns for the horses and oxen. The ‘teamsters’, who were in charge of the animals, were often the ‘privileged’ logging men. for it was important to the entire logging camp that the animals were in prime condition and not overworked. Easy accessibility to the water edge was always a prerequisite in establishing these lumber camps.

The camps were always at their busiest during autumn and winter, especially after the first frosts, which would have killed the biting and stinging insects. The lumberjacks immediately began preparing their logs for the forthcoming season of snow and ice. This involved cutting the trees, cleaning the logs and culling them into appropriate sizes for movement and placement on to the skids (bobsleds, photo 3-6). The bobsleds, which were built by the wood butchers (the carpenters), were huge horse-drawn vehicles with heavy iron runners. They were capable of carrying loads up to 10,000 board feet; some the size of railroad cars. When the first frosts arrived at Lincoln Lake (late September of early October) the tots roads leading from the forests to the water edge were iced. Every night, the roads were sprinkled with buckets of water and grooved to deeply that the massive bobsleds would travel on them as a tramcar would travel on iron rails.

At this time, the sawyers replaced the lumberjacks. These men sawed the massive felled trunks into lengths which ‘could be hooked’ onto the bobsleds and transported down the man-made icy roads to the water landing or rollway. The rollway was where the logs were placed, branded, scaled, and prepared for the spring drive. Here the logs were rolled down to the lake, one log after another, until the first logs were pinned to the bottom of the water edge by the wall of logs which had formed above. The tiered structure of the logs above exerted pressure on those at the bottom, hence preventing them from moving. When the water level of Lincoln Lake rose due to the melting snow and ice, the lower tiers of the logs had to be loosened and cajoled down the lake with the rest of the logs gradually following. The breaking up of these rollways was a hazardous and dangerous operation for the logger. The position of the rollway relative to the water edge had to be accurate for the rectification of a mistake would be difficult and costly. The lumber camp had to toil as a homogeneous unit preparing for this spring thaw; if not ready, the spring drive could be lost of delayed until the following spring. As the logs were rolled into Maston Lake, Blue Lake, Little Lincoln Lake, Black Lake and the Four-Mile Creek, the loggers (known as sackers) used ‘pike poles’ to guide and coax the logs from each of these lakes through Lincoln Lake Channel into Lincoln Lake. The lumbermen at the William B. POWELL Steam Saw and Shingle Mill and at the Lincoln Lake Reservoir would be waiting for the arrival of the spring drive. It was said by the locals that at this time of the year ‘That one could not see the water at Lincoln Lake for the logs.’ In the Greenville Daily News of July 6th 1927, a clipping entitled ‘LOG DAYS ON FLAT RIVER RECALLED BY FEW SURVIVORS OF ROMANTIC AND VIRILE’ (sic) summarizes the importance of the Lincoln Lake dam and boom, ‘The boom was a device about 100 feet long, so constructed that it could be swung from bank to bank whenever desired and was used as a holding pen for the logs. The water would rise behind the dam and at a given signal, the boom would be swung aside and the water would come down with a rush, carrying the logs along’. It also stated that , since Lincoln Lake and Hunter Lake were the largest lakes in the area, they were occasionally used to obtain additional water to swell the Flat River in order to make possible other log drives on that river from the lumber companies upriver as far as the Six Lakes. The Lincoln Lake dam allowed the water of the lake to rise up to six feet, so that the logs would not be left behind in the swamps and marshes surrounding the lake (The Lincoln Lake Lodge and various small cabins on the west side of Lincoln Lake were all therefore built on six foot stilts.) The Lincoln Lake dam guaranteed that the spring drive would proceed even though there might have been a lower than normal snowfall during that winter.

At this point, the lumberjacks exchanged their axed for ‘Peavies’, and became known as Lincoln Lake river hogs. These highly specialized men with their heavy spiked boots used their ‘Peaveys" ( a long tapered tool with a spiked hook) to unlock the various logjams in Lincoln Lake and downriver. It was the most dangerous of all logging jobs and many river hogs lost their lives or were seriously mangled when the logjams buckled or unjammed so rapidly that the river hogs could not jump to safety.. It was a contest between the river hog’s strength and agility against tons of moving, crushing dead-weight. As these events were taking place at the logging camps, other loggers had been employed throughout the year, cleaning and deepening the channels of Clear and Black Creeks, as well as removing fallen logs, stumps and boulders to prevent the dreaded logjams. It was crucial for the river hogs to keep the logs moving, especially after the water from the Lincoln Lake boom was released. According to ‘lumber tales’ from Spencer Township, visitors from all over Kent and Montcalm counties journeyed to Lincoln Lake to witness this annual breathtaking event. The country schools in Spencer Township were often closed so that the children could also witness the spectacle of the lumberjacks performing, which they did with consummate skill. The breaking of the boom, with millions of gallons of water gushing out of the lake, the sudden movement and subsequent loud thundering noise of thousands of logs colliding against each other would have bee overwhelming and deafening.

The log drives were follow by a floating kitchen built on a raft of logs and known as a Wanigan. Many logging tales came from this floating kitchen, especially as the cook was the most important person in the logging camp. The kitchen, which was built on a raised deck, contained the cook’s utensils and supplies, and permitted the foodstuffs to be kept dry. The cook’s salary as the highest paid in the lumber camp was $40.00 per month plus room and board. His assistant, the cookie, completed the minor tasks-gathering and splitting firewood, collecting water, setting and clearing the tables and washing the dishes-at a salary of $5.00 per month plus room and board. The cook and cookie prepared the meals continuously either from the Wanigan or from a lumber camp. The meals usually consisted of potatoes, pork, beans, bread, molasses and tea. The size of the Wanigan was dependent on the river’s depth and width. Although Clear Creek and Black Creek were too small, the Wanigan would have followed the log drive on the Flat River. A few Wanigans on the larger rivers of Michigan were large enough to contain sleeping quarters for the cook, the cookie and possibly a few lumberjacks. Although not from Spencer Township, the Wanigan on the Flat River (cc. 1880: Photo 3-9) would have been similar in construction to that possibly used on Lincoln Lake. Although there were lumber camps built around Lincoln Lake, there is every possibility that a floating kitchen was used between Lincoln Lake and the adjoining lakes when the spring drives took place.

When Henry Merrill FULLER (November 7th 1825-September 28th 1903) with his brother, Edwin L. FULLER, arrived at Greenville in 1857, it was a tiny village bordering on the south side of the pine forests. At this time, the lumber business in Kent and Montcalm Counties was in its infancy. The residents of Greenville were not actively engaged in the logging industry as at that time the only means of transport of the harvested logs was the Flat River since the logging railways had not yet been developed in this area. Henry Merrill FULLER, however, appreciated the full potential of these standing virgin forests and with his brother Edwin purchased timbered land throughout the area, especially around Lincoln Lake and Gowen. As early as April 8th, 1857, it is documented in the abstract title of the Lincoln Lake Silver Beach Resort that Edwin had purchased land on the east side of Lincoln Lake.

As Henry Merrill FULLER expanded his acquisitions around Gowen, documents suggest that Mr. FULLER sold his interests at Lincoln Lake around 1866 to the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago. The following year he established the Flat River Booming Company of Greenville which firmly secured this company’s control over the movement of all logs down the Flat River. These included the logs from the timbered lands of Lincoln Lake which he had sold to the Flat river Lumber Company of Chicago the year previously. It was around this time that the state of Michigan had given boom companies exclusive rights to handle the log drives on a specific river for an ‘established’ price. The lumber companies invested in these boom companies in order to ensure the safe and economic transportation of their logs. This helped to eliminate corruption and overcharging. Another lumber company, the White and Friant Lumber Company of Grand Rapids, after locating its Lincoln Lake lumber office at Spencer Mills, Spencer Township, became an active and dominant player in this logging community in the late 1870’s, and gradually replaced the influence of the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago. The former company was among the most prominent operators of logging and log driving on the Grand River, and also of lumber manufacturing and marketing at Grand Haven. The December 29th 1883 issue of the Northwestern Lumberman stated ‘Grand River is important as a logging stream, mainly by reason of the importance of its tributaries, the greatest of which is the Flat River, on which has stood some of the best timber that ever floated from the forests of Michigan’ (including Lincoln Lake). In fact, the 1907 Spencer Township Plat Map shows that the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago had left Lincoln Lake entirely, and that even White and Friant had reduced their ownership of land at Lincoln Lake to a mere 279.55 acres. The Cedar Springs Clipper on February 22nd 1888 stated: ‘SPENCER SPLASHES-White & Friant have moved their tugboat (from Lincoln Lake) about one mile and left it on the road. Hope it will not be left as an ornament as the Morris stump machine is near Pine Lake’. The legal rights to Lincoln Lake Dam, which had been acquired by White and Friant from the Flat River Lumber Company of Chicago, had now been transferred through a rental agreement of $1.00 per year to their Spencer Mills office manager, Henry Merritt FULLER, who had purchased from the company approximately 353 acres on the east side of Lincoln Lake. Clearly, by 1907, these lumber companies were no longer interested in Lincoln Lake, as its natural resources had been totally exhausted.

Two important individuals involved in the logging industry at Lincoln Lake were Thomas FRIANT and Thomas Stewart WHITE, both from Grand Rapids.

Thomas FRIANT was born in Plainfield, Kent County on February 16th 1840. At the young age of 18, he entered the lumber business in Grand Haven, working for the Hopkins and Friant Company, partly owned by his brother. Afterwards he engaged in several professions: druggist, local political officer and bookkeeper. Thereafter he went into partnership with SQUIRE and WHITE of Grand Haven, when he entered into a contract with the Ottawa County Boom Company to run, raft, and deliver all logs on the Grand River destined for Grand Haven. This partnership, White and Friant (1879 to 1886), established lumber offices at Spencer Mill, Spencer Township. In 1878, the White and Friant Lumber C9ompany in conjunction with John RUGEE of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, purchased lumber tracts of virgin forest in the Flat River Basin containing over 100,000,000 feet, a portion of which would have been from Lincoln Lake. During that time, the company became acquainted with Henry Merritt FULLER, the lumberman from Greenville, who became their manager at Spencer Mills for the Lincoln Lake logging operations.

The other man of importance involved in this partnership was Thomas Stewart WHITE, who was born at Grand Haven, Michigan on June 28th 1840. As a young man he engaged in banking at Ferry and Sons, Grand Haven. He left for Chicago in 1863, working as a shipping-receiving clerk in a grocery business, then returned to banking for the same company for approximately 2 years. Then, he acquired a contract for harbour clearance work in Lake Michigan and subsequently entered into a lumber partnership called White and Avery with John M. AVERY. This successful firm merged with Robinson Solomon & Co., Robinson Letillier & Co. and Letillier & White, to become the firm of White, Friant & Letillier. In 1869, White formed a partnership with Thomas Friant called White & Friant. From 1896 to 1889, White & Friant Booming Company of Grand Rapids controlled the movement of all logs on the Grand River at Grand Rapids, until they reached Grand Haven, Michigan. When the forests from the Flat River Basin were exhausted, and the drives no longer took place, the partnership was dissolved in 1890. From 1888 onwards, White and Friant were continuing their lumbering activities elsewhere in Michigan and in Minnesota.


Source:  From the book The History of Lincoln Lake by Duane Mead
Transcriber: Susan Hallock
Created: 20 August 2005
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/townships/oakfield/logging.html