William Clark Sterling, Sr., and Sterling State Park

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Commodore William Clark Sterling. (Photo Credit:  Lo Marie

Many pioneers settling along the banks of rivers running into Lake Erie, including the Detroit River and the River Raisin, considered the marshes at their mouths obstacles that needed to be removed or at best, ignored because they were not tillable or habitable land. William Clark Sterling of Monroe, Michigan viewed the marshes at the mouth of the River Raisin as hunting and marine assets that could be utilized and should be preserved. His passion for hunting, sculling, and yachting impelled him to work to preserve the marshes that eventually were included in the park that Monroe citizens named for him, Sterling State Park.

The only Michigan state park on Lake Erie, Sterling State Park is located in Frenchtown Charter Township in Monroe County, north of where the River Raisin empties into Lake Erie. Although it is dedicated to marshland, the park includes a beach, a boat launch, shore fishing and over six miles of biking and hiking trails.

 Timeless Marshes Before William Sterling’s Marsh Time

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Seventeenth Century Coeur de bois, French runners of the woods, and Eighteenth Century voyageurs explored and utilized the marshes between the River Raisin and the western end of Lake Erie, marshes that the Native Americans had hunted and fished for generations. The Coeur de bois and voyageurs also hunted the marshes for food and fur bearing animals and fished their waters. As Nineteenth Century farms and villages and cities spread throughout Monroe and Monroe County, many settlers considered the marshes and wetlands obstacles, but a few hunters and fishermen appreciated what the wetlands had to offer.

In 1849, a year before William’s birth, Harvey M. Mixer, a friend of William’s father Joseph Sterling, worked as a buying and shipping agent for the lumber business, visiting Monroe at least three times a year. He discovered the pleasures of shooting in the marshes surrounding the mouth of the River Raisin in Monroe and he always brought his gun with him. Every fall, thousands of ducks, geese, and swans flocked to feed on the wild rice and wild celery growing throughout the marshes. Harvey Mixer reported seeing no other human except occasionally a Frenchman pushing his dugout through the wild rice. He didn’t hear gunshots for days. He also reported excellent shooting on the margins of the marsh, and that in one afternoon he and a friend bagged 73 English snipe. He said that on the high ground in Monroe back a few miles from Lake Erie, quail, wild turkey, partridge, and other game birds were abundant.

In the fall of 1853, when William Sterling was about three years old, Harvey M. Mixer sent his schooner West Wind to Monroe with a cargo of iron for the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad which was then constructing a line from Monroe to Chicago. Harvey Mixer chartered the West Wind back to Buffalo with a cargo of corn, but he added his own imaginative touch to the cargo. A crowd gathered when the West Wind anchored at her dock to admire the numerous ducks that Harvey had trussed on the rigging to advertise the results of his three days of autumn shooting. The number of ducks so inspired Harvey Mixer’s friend, John L. Jewett (known as Jack) that the next year he and some other mutual friends George Truscott and J.H. Bliss of Buffalo all traveled to Monroe for the autumn hunting season. They found lodgings with Joe Sears, who had a house on an island in the middle of the marsh large enough to accommodate their boats, decoys, and provisions and they hunted, enjoyed some of the finest bass fishing in the country, and they discussed how they could make their hunting and accommodations permanent.

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When the group of hunters returned to Buffalo, they conferred and J. L. Jewett. J.H. Bliss, George Truscott, A.R. Trew, and H.M. Mixer decided to buy the facilities at the Monroe piers located directly across the channel from the government piers and the shooting ground to establish a clubhouse and hunting preserve. A few years earlier, the Michigan Southern Railroad had built two or three state of the art steamers to connect the eastern end of the line with Monroe piers with Buffalo. The railroad had built docks, warehouses, elevators, machine shops, and a large hotel. The men decided to lease the property with permission to use the docks and other buildings as long as they lasted.

In 1854, the group of sportsmen organized a hunting club that they christened the Golo Club, with officers John L. Jewett, president; J.M. Sterling, vice-president; H.M. Mixer, secretary and treasurer; and directors George Truscott, J.H. Bliss, and A.R. Trew. The founders of the Golo Club decided to adopt the name that one of their French marsh guides had bestowed on a duck with peculiar markings that they occasionally shot in the marsh.  Some club members called the duck which had a black back, glossy black wings tipped with white, and a black head and about the size of a redhead, a whistler because of the loud whistling noise it made in flight. Their French guide called the whistler a Golo and the club members adopted the name for their club.

The Golo Club didn’t have title to any of the marsh lands, but the members operated under permits from the United States government to occupy the lighthouse reserve where the clubhouse stood and they obtained leases and shooting privileges from the old French settlers. People respected the club as a private reserve, but its members didn’t prohibit other hunters from shooting in the marshes. By the 1865 hunting season, the Golo Club members and their friends averaged about forty ducks a week, over 3,000 ducks for the 1865 season. They shipped ducks in specially made baskets to customers and friends in New York Cleveland, and Detroit. By this time, Joseph M. Sterling was the only surviving original club member, and although he didn’t shoot extensively, he performed other valuable services for the club.

By 1866, Harvey Mixer’s business kept him mostly in New York, and he sold his share of stock to General George A. Custer, who had returned to Monroe at the close of the Civil War. After the U.S. Army ordered General Custer and his command to Texas, he sold his stock to Honorable H.A. Conant of Monroe. The Golo Club existed for a few more years, but members moving to other places, deaths, and the loss of the club house in a violent wind storm caused its demise.[1]

William Clark Sterling, Sr. Follows in His Father’s Business Footsteps

William Clark Sterling Sr. was born on September 17, 1849 in Monroe to Joseph Marvin Sterling and Abby Clarke Sterling. The 1870 United States Federal Census shows William Clarke Sterling living in Monroe with his father Joseph, 51, his mother Abbe E., 45, his sisters Mattie E. 22, and Emma, 10, and his brothers Joseph 18, Frank, 16, and Walter, 13.  He listed his employment as a clerk in an office.

On February 21, 1871, William Clark Sterling married Ada E. Calhoun in Monroe. Ada, the daughter of Erastus and Lucinda Calhoun, was born in New York in 1854, and she came to Monroe with her parents at the age of 12. She and William had four children:  William C; Abbie L.; Nellie L, and Ada Mae. The 1880 United States Census recorded William married to Ada and living in Monroe with their children: Willie, 8; Abby, 6; Nellie, 5; and Ada M, age 3. Ada died on April 25,1894 in Detroit, at age 40 and the 1900 Census showed William, age 50, a widower, living in Monroe with his daughters Abbey, Ada and Nellie.

Early in his life, William Clark Sterling, Sr., followed in his father’s business footsteps. In 1847, Joseph Marvin Sterling began using steamers to ship coal packed in hogsheads and barrels for blacksmiths to Monroe, paving the way for employment for his sons and the Sterling Manufacturing Company. In the fall of 1848, Joseph built his first coal shed in Monroe, stocking it with forty tons of blacksmith and grate coal estimated to last more than a decade. Business steadily increased until by 1860, nearly two hundred tons were used in Monroe. By 1865, Joseph’s coal total had increased to 400 tons, and by 1870 over 1,200 tons were sold and burned. The tonnage had increased to nearly 3,000 tons by 1880 and the receipts of coal at the Monroe station for 1888 amounted to over 500 carloads or nearly 10,000 tons.

As the years passed, William Clark Sterling, dealer in coal, wood, salt, hay, straw and ice handed these transactions at the same location his father Joseph Marvin Sterling had built his first coal sheds in the fall of 1848. William Clark Sterling along with his brothers and father was instrumental in incorporating The Sterling Manufacturing Company in January 1888, with a capital stock of $10,000. In 1887, the incorporators had begun building their plant, consisting of a saw, shingle, lath, and planing mill with engine power and yard room. The Sterling Manufacturing Company operated as general contractors and builders and eventually built over 30 houses in Toledo, besides a large number in Monroe and Wayne counties. The Sterling Company docks with the pole dock of F.S. Sterling & Company provided the only Monroe landing for boats drawing over seven feet of water.[2]

 William Clark Sterling, Sr. Grows up to Love the Marshes

During William Sterling’s growing up years in Monroe, he noted his father’s activities in the Golo Club and the fowling and fishing in the River Raisin marshes. Hunters came to the marshes in increasing numbers every year to shoot canvas backs, redheads, mallard, and teal. Market hunters in Monroe marshes sold wild fowl by the hundreds for 25 to 50 cents each. Hunters pushed both fall and spring shooting to the limit and year by year, the numbers of water fowl that early hunters had watched stretch in thick ropes across the sky, dwindled to thin strings and swirls.

Growing up under the tutelage of his father Joseph, William became a passionate hunter. In 1878, he began buying the nearby marshland for as little as 30 cents an acre because more than most people he understood the value of wetlands to humans as well as wildlife.

For the second time in half a century, a group of sports shooters organized to regulate their shooting, only this time in Syracuse, New York, instead of Buffalo, with different participants.  On May 30, 1881, a group of 24 gentlemen from the United States and Canada gathered in the Globe Hotel in Syracuse, New York, to conduct some important business that would profoundly affect the Monroe marshes.

The men organized the Monroe Marsh Company, elected Howard Soule chairman and H.G. Jackson secretary and agreed to purchase about 5,000 acres of marsh lands. Like his father had done in the Golo Club, William Sterling joined the Monroe Marsh Company and worked to preserve and improve the wild fowl hunting and fishing and pass down the privilege to future generations. He came a member of the Monroe Marsh Company in 1901 and remained active in the Company for years.

William Clark Sterling, Sculler and Commodore

In 1869, rowing clubs from Toledo, Detroit, Saginaw, Milwaukee, and Erie, Pennsylvania, formed the Northwest Amateur Rowing Association. Monroe had more than its share of enthusiastic young men eager to participate in races, but no available racing shells. The only possible candidate was a lap -streak boat about twenty feet long called the Kate Johnson, which had a checkered past. During the Patriot War, Kate Johnson, the daughter of William Johnson had used the boat to carry provisions to her father who hated the Canadian government. Both the Canadian government and the United States government had offered a reward for his capture because he and his men had burned the Canadian steamer Sir Robert Peel. The boat had been presented to Joseph Marvin Sterling, William’s father, and he had kept it and treasured it since then.

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Several young men from Monroe obtained the boat from Joseph Sterling and fitted her out as a double scull. Organizing under the name of the Independent Boat Club of Monroe, they entered the revamped boat against the modern racers in the first regatta of the Northwestern Amateur Rower’s Association at Toledo, Ohio, on July 8, 1869. William C. Sterling and William Calhoun were the crew. The two Williams attracted an enthusiastic crowd that cheered them on in Toledo, and although they didn’t win the regatta, they generated enough enthusiasm to convince its citizens that Monroe needed a rowing club.

Interest in rowing continued to grow and in February 1871, the Floral City Boat Club organized and purchased a six-oared lap streak they christened “The Atlanta.” In 1873, a newly formed club “The Amateurs” joined the Floral City Boat Club in a regatta on the River Raisin, pitting their new four-oared lap streak “The T.N. Perkins, against “The Atlanta.” The Perkins won the victory flag.  On July 22, 1874, the Floral City crew won the Northwestern Regatta at Toledo. William Sterling rowed on several crews and participated in and won races and regattas for the Monroe teams.

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When the Monroe Yacht Club was organized, and incorporated on May 27, 1887, William Clark Sterling was named its first Commodore and his brother Joe C. the treasurer. The schooner Emma G. is named on the list of Monroe Yacht Club vessels and Joe C. et al is listed as the owner.[3]

 Sterling State Park

William Clark Sterling died on August 26, 1924, and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Monroe. Rowers, yachtsmen, and other Monroe citizens remembered William Clark Sterling’s efforts to conserve and intelligently manage the River Raisin marshes, and in 1934, ten years after his death, a group of Monroe citizens worked to preserve 115 acres of marshland north of the River Raisin as a park named in his honor. It was officially dedicated and named Sterling State Park in 1935. The only Michigan park on Lake Erie, Sterling State Park is considered a gateway park, since it is often the first stop for out of state visitors.[4]

For decades, pollutants from the Detroit River were deposited in the region of the park, killing huge numbers of fish and wild life and making the western part of Lake Erie unsuitable for water activities like swimming and boating. In the late 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the park area and the Detroit River and western end of Lake Erie an area of environmental concern because of the level of pollutants in Lake Erie and the River Raisin, with the level of PCBs in fish from the area increasing 87 percent from 1988-1998.

Much of the pollution resulted from the industrial growth of the River Raisin delta and Lake Erie, including a nuclear power plant to the north and the largest industries including a Ford plant and the coal-burning Monroe Power Plant to the south both severely impacting the area ecosystem. In 1997, Ford completed its environmental dredging project in the River Raisin, removing about 25,000 cubic yards of toxic PCB- contaminated sediment from the River Raisin.

In 2001, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge included Sterling State Park as its southern border, allowing the park to receive federal funding for a $12 million-dollar renovation project. The remodeling included miles of public wetland a six-mile system of paved walking and biking paths, many lagoons and marshes furnishing habitat for wildlife and birdlife, and a 47-acre camp ground on the higher ground of Lake Erie overlooking the widest section of beach in the park. The renovation included upgrading Sterling Marsh Trail, which loops for three miles around the park’s largest lagoon, passing a tower, observation deck and interpretive area dedicated to viewing wildlife.

The lagoons attract many different varieties of water birds, among them great blue herons, mergansers, Canada geese and smaller shorebirds. Slender white egrets, standing more than 30 inches high, stand sentinel in the lagoons beginning in late March and staying until mid-November and great blue herons fish in seclusion.

 

It’s not difficult to imagine William Clark Sterling standing on shore admiring them.

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Notes

[1] History of Monroe County Michigan: a narrative account of its historic progress, its people, and its principal interests. John McCelland Buckley,  Chicago:  Lewis Publishing Company, 1913.  p. 459-463.

[2] History of Monroe County Michigan: a narrative account of its historic progress, its people, and its principal interests. John McCelland Buckley,  Chicago:  Lewis Publishing Company, 1913.  p. 459-463.

[3] History of Monroe County, Michigan. Talcott Enoch Wing,. New York:  Munsell & Company, 1890. pp. 406-414.

[4] Michigan Trail Maps.  http://www.michigantrailmaps.com/member-profile/3/118/ 0

The Renaissance of the Winding River Raisin

Imagination and the River Raisin shimmering in the sunlight, frozen in the moonlight, or covered with a fog cape conjures up reflections of Native American canoes skimming over the waters. The Native people called their river Nummasepee – River of Sturgeon-

and canoed and fished its sparkling waters until a long, French shadow stretched across it.

In 1670, the French explorer Robert de LaSalle gazed on the River Raisin as he voyaged to Detroit, marveling at the lush richness of the country stretched on each side of the river. Black walnut groves, wild plum trees, and oak trees draped in grape vines dotted the level prairies. LaSalle and the French settlers who followed were so impressed with the grapevines that covered the trees and crept along its banks that they called the river “Riviere Aux Raisin” or River of Grapes. A few more strokes of the paddle sift scenes from Native American canoes to French bateaux anchored at the docks of long narrow ribbon farms. In another few feet, factories and bustling wharves appear. The River Raisin creates timeless ripple pictures of people and places in its journey from its source in Vineyard Lake in the Irish Hills area to its mouth at the Monroe Harbor.

Glacier Geology and River Geography

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Scientists estimate the life span of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet or Pleistocene Glacier to be between two million and 11,000 years ago, which gave it time enough to carve out a geological landscape, including creating the River Raisin Watershed., which drains from the north and west. The River Raisin is approximately 140 miles long (estimated length varies from 135-150 miles) and its watershed covers 1,072 miles, about the size of Rhode Island.

The Raisin’s  headwaters rise about 1,200 feet above sea level in Vineyard Lake on the forested slopes of the Irish Hills and then wind southeast through glacial moraine and across an agricultural and industrial lake plain to its mouth in Monroe Harbor on Lake Erie. The River Raisin’s tributaries include Goose, Evans, Iron, Wolf, Black, and Macon Creeks and the Saline River. It has a south branch at Adrian and the Little River Raisin flows at Britton in Lenawee County.

The River Raisin’s watershed covers five counties, six cities, ten villages, and forty townships. River Raisin Watershed cities include Saline, Adrian, Tecumseh, Petersburg and Monroe. Villages include Brooklyn, Cement City, Manchester, Blissfield, Britton, Clinton, Deerfield, Onsted and Dundee. Its basin shelters 429 lakes and features more than 3000 miles of artificial drainage systems. Several earthen dams constructed in the 1800s are still maintained today, including those at Brooklyn, Norwell, Loch Erin, Saline, Milan, Dundee, Grape and Waterloo. [1]

Peeks at River Raisin People

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Taking advantage of the plentiful food and easy water transportation along the shores of Lake Erie and the banks of the River Raisin, Paleo-Indians probably used the area as a crossroads, camp site, or village centuries before LaSalle and other Europeans discovered the Great Lakes. The City of Monroe unearthed more recent proof of Native American imprints between 1999 and 2003, when it commissioned several excavations at the northwest corner of North Dixie Highway and East Elm Avenue. Archaeologists discovered artifacts that reveal that Native Americans were there between 1550-1650.

In the Seventeenth Century, European explorers and fur traders traversed waterways like the River Raisin and its connections to Lake Erie and water passageways to Lake Michigan to prosper and establish new territories and settlements in the Great Lakes Region. For years, Pottawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, and other Native American tribes thrived in villages along rivers including the Detroit River and the River Raisin. The women farmed, growing corn, beans, squash, tobacco, and sunflowers for seeds and the men hunted wild game such as rabbit, deer, and wild turkeys as well as catching the abundant fish in the rivers and lakes.

The first French settlers establishing claims along the River Raisin were direct descendants of the old French pioneers of Detroit and their French Ribbon farms and in turn, most of the old French pioneers of Detroit had left France for Canada, bringing their French traditions and customs with them. The British outlawed private grants between French settlers and Native Americans with almost no exceptions. Between 1763 and 1801, hundreds of young French habitants left Detroit and settled on the River Raisin with the goal of establishing new farms and families, negotiating with Native Americans-mainly the Potawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, and Chippewa tribes of the Western Lake Erie area – for deeds to tracts of land.

Dividing riverfront and lakeshore land on both sides of the River Raisin into narrow ribbon farms provided important advantages to the farmer. Each farmer had water access and water was the main transportation. The layout placed each farmhouse at a minimum distance from one another, ensuring easy communication of news, and Indian alarms. Quick access to neighbors made dances, sledding parties, and other social gatherings easy to arrange and attend. France controlled the River Raisin region until 1763 when after losing in the Seven Years War, they ceded the area to Great Britain.  Fur trader Joseph Pulier Benac was one of the first to settle along the River Raisin, and in 1780, Colonel Francis Navarre arrived and established the community of Frenchtown. Almost 100 settlers followed him to the River Raisin, building log cabins and peacefully living with the Native Americans for many years. In 1793, the first American settlement was founded at Frenchtown and French and English settlers also lived peacefully together and prospered.

Just months after the United States declared War of Great Britain beginning the War of 1812, the Battle of the River Raisin or the Battle of Frenchtown took place. From January 18-23, 1813, American forces and British and their Native American allies clashed in a battle that was part of the American plan to advance north and retake Fort Detroit after General William Hull had surrendered it to the British the previous summer. After winning the first battle, the Americans lost 397 soldiers and 547 taken prisoner in the second encounter when the British and Native Americans counter attacked. More prisoners were killed when they fell behind on the forced march into Fort Malden in Canada. The Battle of the River Raisin was the deadliest to take place in Michigan and its casualties amounted to the highest number of Americans killed in a single battle during the War of 1812. The Battle of the River Raisin spurred the young United States to fight on to defeat the British in the War of 1812 behind the cry, “Remember the Raisin!”[2]

Settlers flocked to Michigan Territory to purchase farm land and enough of them settled along the River Raisin for Monroe and Monroe County to be created on July 14, 1817. In the early 1800s, Joseph Loranger bought several acres of land in what later would become Monroe. He bought his farm, located on the east side of Monroe Street, from Judge Augustus B. Woodward, who in turn  had bought it to fulfill a Michigan Territory requirement requiring a judge to own at least 500 acres of land. He called the farm Euphemia, until he platted his land into village lots in 1817 and the new land owners named their village Monroe. Samuel Mulhollen and Jared Egnew purchased the adjoining farm on the west of Joseph Loranger’s for six dollars an acre and Samuel built a log house on his land

On June 1, 1819, John Anderson, Oliver Johnson and twelve other citizens were authorized to build a toll bridge across the River Raisin, the first of many spanning the Raisin.

Agriculture and Industry Along the River Raisin

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After Monroe and Monroe County were established in 1817,  Monroe’s enterprising citizens worked to take advantage of the abundant water power that the River Raisin and Lake Erie provided and  utilize its favorable geographic location halfway between Detroit and Toledo. Spurred on by the commercial rivalry with nearby Toledo, these pioneers searched for ways to take advantage of the water power of the Raisin and had their efforts had pulled Monroe ahead of Toledo until the canal and the railroad came.

The Canal was the  Wabash and Erie Canal which became operational in 1837. Monroe also became a city in 1837 and by 1838, its population, including Frenchtown was about 1,800. Toledo, which was reincorporated in 1837 numbered a population of 3,829 by 1850.

Then on April 22, 1833, the Territory of Michigan chartered the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad to run from the former Port Lawrence, Michigan (now Toledo, Ohio) near Lake Erie, northwest to Adrian on the River Raisin and on to Kalamazoo. When the trains began operating on November 2, 1836, horses pulled them, but a newly arrived steam locomotive eventually replaced them. By 1852, the Erie and Kalamazoo had been absorbed into the Michigan Southern Railroad , a link in the early rail route from the East coast to Chicago.[3]

Still struggling valiantly to win the maritime business, in 1852 and 1853, Monroe entrepreneurs established a line of steamers between Buffalo and Monroe including the Southern Michigan, the Northern Indiana, and the City of Buffalo, at the time the largest and luxurious on the lakes. Although they prospered for a time, the steamers couldn’t compete with the railroads. Monroe’s population statistics compared with Toledo tell the story. Monroe’s population in 1874 was 5,782 and Toledo’s population 1880 was 50,137.  In 1890 Monroe had 5,618 people and Toledo had a population of 131,822 in 1900. [4]

Monroe pioneers also worked to improved its harbor on the River Raisin by dredging a canal that formed the outlet into Lake Erie. In 1834, the River Raisin emptied into Lake Erie at the south end of a low, marshy peninsula that stood between the channel and the lake. The mouth of the River Raisin at this point reached only a five-foot depth over a bar. From 1835 to 1882, Monroe entrepreneurs worked to improve Monroe Harbor, including digging a canal 4,000 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 10 feet deep, across the neck of the peninsula at a point one and half miles above the mouth of the River Raisin. The canal and other improvements resulted in a mid-channel depth of nine feet or more from Lake Erie to the wharves, where the depth was eight to nine feet with a solid rock bottom. Two piers protected the mouth of the harbor, the one on the north side a crib work built with stone, and the one on the south side constructed with piling and crib work.

Despite the improvements, Monroe maritime trade didn’t equal or surpass that of Detroit and Toledo. In these early days, most of the receipts were telegraph poles brought in on rafts with light draft tugs to tow the rafts in the River Raisin. During the summer season several small steamers carried passengers to equally small resorts near the mouth of the River Raisin. Steamers landed at the piers, but generally didn’t run to the Monroe wharves. During the 1897 Monroe season, 245 vessels with a registered tonnage of 11,180 arrived and the same number departed. The receipts for 1897 were 425 tons, and the shipments were 1,300 tons. In 1932, during the Great Depression, the City of Monroe and the Monroe Port Commission constructed the Port of Monroe near the mouth of the River Raisin and in 1981 built a new office near the ship turning basin on the River. The Monroe Port Commission owns a large amount of property with 4,000 feet of dock space and supports many tenants in the port area. The port generates about $38 million annually [5]

Not too long after the Monroe and Monroe County pioneers settled alongside or near the River Raisin, they dammed it and built mills across it.  Most of the dams were built in Monroe, but one of the more significant dams, the Alfred Wilkerson gristmill dam on the River Raisin, originated  in Dundee. In the early Nineteenth Century, the mills built on the River Raisin were mostly saw  or grist mills and later, in the mid-1800s paper mills were added to the mill mixture during the lumber booms and Henry Ford’s Rural Industry Program. Industries that at one time operated along the River Raisin in Monroe include the Alcoa Aluminum Plant, Newton Steel, Consolidated Paper Company, the Van Blerck Motor Company, the Ford Motor Company Monroe Plant and the River Raisin Paper Company. Gerdau  Specialty Steel, Monroe Waste Water Treatment Plant, Michigan Paving & Materials, and Barnhart Crane & Rigging are just a few companies that still operate near the mouth of the River Raisin in Monroe.  [6]

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The DTE Monroe Power Plant, the third largest coal fueled electricity generating plant in North America, is located near the mouth of the River Raisin on the western shore of Lake Erie. Constructed in the early 1970s and completed in 1974, the plant provides approximately one third of Southeastern Michigan’s electric power. With all four of its generating units operating, the plant produces 3,300 megawatts of electricity. In recent years, the Monroe Plant has received awards for environmentally safe practices.

The DTE Power Plant diverts most of the River Raisin’s flow and discharges it into Plum Creek to control pollution of the River mouth area. The Power Plant’s peak water usage exceeds the River Raisin’s average flow, so water is occasionally drawn upstream from Lake Erie into the plant. Its intake system also impacts fish. .  Warm-water fish including bluegill, white sucker, channel catfish, walleye, crap, white bass, black buffalo, freshwater drum and smallmouth bass can be found in the River Raisin, but they face survival challenges. The high amount of industrial water use is believed to kill many fish in the intake screens and the seven dams on the River Raisin make fish migration from the River into Lake Erie almost impossible

In his 1998 Department of Natural Resources Report, Kenneth E. Dodge described the River Raisin flow reversal situation. He wrote that the DTE plant’s cooling water requirement of up to 3,000 cfs greatly exceeds the 741 cfs annual mean flow and during all but the yearly high flow periods, the entire flow of the River Raisin is drawn through the intake canal and processed through the power plant as cooling water. Lake Erie water is also drawn upstream to the plant through the channel of the River Raisins, essentially reversing its flow. The processed cooling water at an increased temperature is returned to Lake Erie through a separate outlet canal to Plum Creek Bay. This cycle, part of the plant’s normal operation, prevents potamodromous or freshwater fish, from making upstream runs to spawn. Fish stocked upstream from the power plant also find it difficult to migrate downstream to Lake Erie.[7]

Portraits of River Raisin Places

 

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Restoring the River Raisin

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Agriculture and industries that made the River Raisin watershed region economically healthy didn’t return the same benefits to the River Raisin.. The Raisin’s natural course has been changed, its flowage diverted and dammed, and its waters polluted with PCBs, carcinogenic chemicals, heavy metals and agricultural runoff.

In 1985, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) designed the River Raisin as a Great Lakes Area of Concern. Areas of Concern are locations within the Great Lakes Basin that have suffered “significant environmental damage,” because of severe environmental degradation from industrial and municipal pollution. These areas are identified by specific ecological conditions that need drastic improvement. One of the established Areas of Concern covers the two miles of the watershed at the River Raisin’s mouth, which is industrial and harbor use, and fish consumption advisories exist up and down the River.

The River Raisin’s lower 2.6 miles which flows through the industrial zone of Monroe into Lake Erie has been heavily utilized over the decades and has earned an unenviable reputation as an “industrial sewer.” This stretch of the River Raisin has been on the U.S.-Canada international Joint Commission’s “areas of concern” list since 1987. The Areas of Concern” list identifies 43 of some of the Great Lakes region’s most toxic and problematic hotspots, including the Maumee and Ottawa Rivers, and the River Raisin industrial zone in Monroe. The original list included 31 areas in the United States and 12 in Canada and in the last 39 years, only seven have been removed-four in the United States and three in Canada.

In the 1990s, Ford instituted a remediation effort to clean up the portion of the Raisin adjacent to its plant, but studies had underestimated the extent of the PCB contamination, mostly because of the Raisin’s exceptionally hard and tough bottom. Although it had halted production in its Monroe Plant in 2008, Ford agreed to finance all but $9.5 million dollars of the cleanup.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded $275 million to $500 million dollars a year to Great Lakes projects and the House of Representatives approved a bill that extended the program at least five years. Since 2012, $23 million dollars’ worth of improvements have taken place in the River Raisin and an addition $30 million is being spent to remove toxic chemicals in the riverbed near the closed Ford Motor Company parts plant. The plan is for the River Raisin to enter a three to five-year healing and monitoring phase.

In September 2015, the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of the Great Lakes announced that state and local efforts to clean up the River Raison were bringing it closer to environmental recovery downstream. The DEQ removed one of its “beneficial use impairments” from the River Raisin, which means that the fish and wildlife habitat in the River has improved enough to support healthy populations.[8]

According to the DEQ, a 6.5 million dollar fund from the Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and help from state and local governments helped bring about the restoration. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the City of Monroe effectively implemented the Restoration Initiative projects, which included eight projects to remove or retrofit 1930s dams and provide fish passages and four wetland restoration projects in Sterling State Park in Monroe.

Optimism about the future of the River Raisin hangs like morning mists over its waters. Kayaking, canoeing, fly fishing, and other water enjoyment activities have flowed freely along with the Raisin in its wilder parts west of Monroe. Water quality improvements and dam removal have made it possible for fish once again to move across the Raisin’s lower 23 miles from Dundee to western Lake Erie for the first time since the 1930s.

In most polluted areas of the Raisin, fish-consumption alerts will probably stay in place for years, but there is hope that eventually the River Raisin fish sizzling in the pan will include lake sturgeon. Lake sturgeon are gaining a foothold in the newly resurrected Detroit River and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and other organizations are planning to reintroduce them to the Maumee River. Federal, state, and local agencies and the efforts of private citizens may eventually restore the River Raisin to reflect its original Native American name- Nummasepee, the River of Sturgeon.

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Brett Moyer – Kayaking the River Raisin

Notes

River Raisin Watershed Council

River Raisin Legacy Project

River Raisin Dam Remediation Project  

The City of Monroe published a 36-page booklet about the River Raisin’s history, legacy, pollution, and environmental restoration efforts. They are available at Monroe City Hall at 120 East First Street, Monroe.

[1] River Raisin Watershed Council      https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/wb-nps-rr-wmp1_303614_7.pdf

USDA Local Coordinating Committee, 1996.

[2]In 1956, the State of Michigan declared the River Raisin Battlefield a State Historical Site and in 2009, the United States Congress designed the River Raisin National Battlefield site as the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, just one of four parks in the country and the only one commemorating the War of 1812.  In 2013, U.S.  Representative Tim Walberg and the entire Michigan delegation introduced H. Res.37, 113th Congress, honoring the 200th anniversary of the battles at the River Raisin.

[3] Later it became part of the Lakeshore and Michigan Southern, the New York Central, the Penn Central, and the Conrail systems, and it carried passengers until November 1956.

[4] History of the Great Lakes, Volume 1. J.B. Mansfield, editor. Chicago:  Beers & Company, 1899.

[5] History of the Great Lakes, Volume 1. J.B. Mansfield, editor. Chicago:  Beers & Company, 1899;  River Raisin Legacy Project.

[6] River Raisin Legacy Project.

[7] Kenneth E. Dodge, Michigan Department of National Resources, 1998      

[8] River Raisin Watershed Management Plan          

 

 

George Lang Bicycled and Mapped His Way Through the Hearts of Monroe County and Monroe City

george-e-lang

The first person to check out a book from the Carleton Branch Library, George Earl Lang didn’t spend all of his time reading. After he won a bicycle in a local contest, he guided his bicycle through Monroe County interviewing people and mapping as he pedaled dusty country roads and optimistic asphalt ones.  George Lang created the first comprehensive maps of the backroads and byways of the region and his mapping trips earned him the title of bicycle man, and the Map Maker of  Monroe and Monroe County. George Lang ranked Monroe and Monroe County as number one on the list of best places to live. After discussing the state of the county roads and extolling the educational accomplishments of the County and City’s students, he wrote in his 1917 Pocket Road Map of Monroe County, Michigan, “Railroad facilities are unsurpassed, located between two great cities, telephone service, electricity, automobiles, good towns linked up with good roads, her chief city growing with leaps and bounds, with optimism in the air, it will be Monroe County and City “First and Always.”

George Earl Lang absorbed Monroe County appreciation before his birth in Ash Township on October 8, 1873.  His parents, Edwin and Lavina Baker Lang, and his Baker grandparents were Ash Township pioneers and his  Baker grandparents had settled on the farm at the intersection of Ready and Sweitzer Roads where George and his sister Chlora were born. His Lang grandparents were pioneers in nearby Port Creek. The 1880 Federal census shows six year old George living with his parents Edwin and Livina and his sister Chlora on the farm of his Baker grandparents.

Edwin and Lavina Lang eventually moved to Carleton, a Carleton that grew along with George Lang. Edwin established a blacksmith shop and the family settled into village life. In 1877, the village of Carleton had a population of 300 people, two sawmills, one broom handle factory and one stave factory, as well as general stores and a meat market. In 1879, Carleton had 500 inhabitants, industries, and a brick school houses which doubled as a place of worship, and in 1887 Mrs. Hannah Baker was listed in the businesses directory as operating a general store and Harrison Baker was Justice of the Peace. Later in telling the story of his early years, George recalled that he helped his father in his blacksmith shop on North Hand Street after school and on Saturdays.

George Lang’s Wider World

detroitymca

 Although he attended Carleton High School, George couldn’t wait to graduate.  There were too many opportunities in the wider world of Detroit, luring him with siren songs of opportunity, adventure, and career choices other than farming. From an early age, George displayed a love of and talent for art, so he enrolled in the Detroit Art School before he had finished Carleton High School. In an interview with the editor of the Carleton Messenger years later, George recalled that while he attended the Detroit Art School, he met Silas Farmer, the author of several histories about southeastern Michigan and that Silas Farmer encouraged him and steered him into his map making endeavors. While George lived in Detroit, he also served as a secretary for a branch of the YMCA.

A look at the personal life of Silas Farmer and the history of the YMCA in Detroit provides evidence for a deep connection between Silas Farmer and George Lang. In 1850, before they moved to Ypsilanti, Justus and Mary Littlefield lived in Ash, Monroe County, with their family including their daughter Orpha. On June 18, 1868, Orpha married Silas Farmer in Detroit. Silas Farmer traveled around southeastern Michigan, including Monroe County, to collect material for his books and to court his future wife Orpha. Silas and Orpha Farmer had a son Silas Hamilton, who died on May 12, 1873 before he reached his first birthday. Intuition says that Silas would befriend and mentor the young George Lang, born the same year as the son he lost, the young man whom he may have met during his travels in Monroe County and the young man with similar interests and inclinations as himself.

Even if George Lang didn’t meet Silas Farmer until he attended the Detroit Art School, there still would have been a bond between the two. Silas Farmer was the founder of Silas Farmer, Inc., a map making company and he focused George Lang’s gaze on map making in Monroe County. A book called One Hundred Years with Youth:  the story of the Detroit YMCA, 1852-1952 by A.G. Studer documents that Silas Farmer served on the pioneering boards of the YMCA. In 1891, around the time that George Lang would have been going to Detroit Art School. YMCA membership in Detroit had grown so rapidly that the organization created branch offices in different parts of Detroit and established the Detroit Technical Institute, the only evening educational institution in Detroit that allowed young men further educational preparation for a vocation. George Lang could have received his draftsman and designing training there while serving as secretary for the YMCA branch. [1]

George Lang Makes a Monroe County Map

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This isn’t George, but he probably looked like this riding his bicycle!

Besides being a skilled artist, George wrote well and he contributed articles to the Carleton Messenger and other area newspapers. In 1896, two important changes happened in his life. He returned to Carleton to live and he won a bicycle in a newspaper contest. The bicycle gave him the wings of wheels to travel around Monroe County and he began collecting the information that provided the foundation for his maps.

For two years, George interviewed land owners, pored over records, and peddled tirelessly over country roads, stopping overnight at hotels in Milan, Monroe, Dundee, and Petersburg. His appreciation of hard working farmers, enjoyment of their company, and open manner made him friends all over Monroe County and City.

The Monroe County map named the owners of every piece of private property in Monroe County and featured detailed maps of every village in the County. George scaled Monroe 300 feet to the inch while he scaled the villages in Monroe County, 400 feet to the inch. The village maps included Strasburg, Grape, Yargerville,, Pointe aux Peaux and plats recently laid out in the Third Ward of Monroe.

 

George Lang finished his Monroe County Map in 1901, copyrighted it and published 3,000 copies of it. Copies of his Monroe County Map traveled around the Monroe County and Monroe many times faster than George had pedaled to gather data for it and found permanent places in schools, law and surveying offices, and other locations around the County, including private homes.

George Lang, Craftsman, Community Servant, Comrade

Designing and publishing maps, writing newspaper stories, designing and hand lettering signs, and taking pictures kept George Lang busy for the next fifty years of his life. When his bicycle wore out, George turned to selling motorcycles as a side line. In the 1900 United States Federal Census, George, 26, listed his occupation as a designer. He lived in Ash with his parents Edward, 61, and Livina, 57, and his sister Chloa, 24.

In 1903,  when George was thirty years old, he was listed in Carleton’s business and professional directory as George E. Lang, Civil Engineer and he was also listed as a Civil Engineer in the 1907 directory. The 1910 United States Federal Census showed George working as a photographer with his own studio living in Ash with his parents, but not his sister. By that time, his sister Chlora had married Harry Henry Hause on April 17, 1906 when she was 30. During those years, George actively promoted the Greater Carleton Association, and he helped organize and build the Community Tabernacle which eventually became the village recreation center and at one point housed a roller skating rink before fire burnt it to the ground.

A letter from the State Board of Supervisors in Lansing dated June 15, 1911, revealed the important part that George Lang played in the confirmation of Carleton’s incorporation as a village on December 12, 1911.  The letter from Attorney General Franz C. Kuhn is addressed to Mr. George E. Lang, Carleton, Michigan. It said:

Dear Sir—Your communication of June 8th relative to the incorporation of the village of Carleton, directed to the Secretary of State, has been referred to this department. You state that a petition signed by one hundred legal voters has been filed with the county clerk and you ask if it will be all right and acceptable to have the board of supervisors which meets on June 19th, pass upon this petition and permit the question to be submitted to the voters in the territory to be affected.

In reply thereto would say it is assumed that your inquiry arises under Sections 2 to 4, inclusive, of Act 278 of the Public Acts of 1909. Said Section 4 requires that the petition “shall be filed with the clerk of said board not less than thirty days before the convening of such board in regular session, or in any special session called for the purpose of considering said petition,” etc. It will be observed that such a petition as that to which you refer can be considered by the board of supervisors only at a regular session or at a special session called for that particular purpose. If the meeting on June 19th is a special meeting called for the purpose of considering this petition, it will be proper for the board to consider same; otherwise the board has no authority to act.

Very Respectfully,

Franz C. Kuhn, Attorney General[2]

Carleton’s incorporation as a village was confirmed in Lansing on December 12, 1911.

Following the mentoring example of his friend Silas Farmer, George became interested in Scouting work ,becoming a scouting master in 1913. He continued to be active in scouting for many years.

Pocket Road Map, Monroe County and Monroe City

In 1916, George Lang lost his Carleton studio and photography business to fire, but he kept writing, making maps, and taking pictures as well as earning the reputation as the best and only sign maker in the region. Just a year after the fire in his studio in which he lost much of his previous work, he produced a book called Pocket Road Map, Monroe County, Michigan:  Monroe County Briefly Historical Data and Facts about Monroe County, Briefly Told.

pocketroadmap

In his introduction to the book, George wrote that in publishing a brief history about Monroe County he was indebted to many friends and several items had been secured with much difficulty. He observed that he had access to many volumes of old records in the Court House, township records, State Department Records, facts and dates from many pioneers of the County. He said that Monroe County and City would be “first and always” and “when it comes to state and national calls for service, the second oldest county in Michigan has never been found wanting.”

As well as his community and Scouting activities, George Lang continued to use his engineering, literary, and photography talents. In 1921-1922, the Michigan State Gazetteer listed him as both a civil engineer and a photographer. In 1927, he served as Carleton Village treasurer and in 1944 he was appointed village clerk and elected to that position the next year.

 

Military Matters, One More Job Listing, and Museum Recognition…

At age 45, George Lang registered for the World War I draft and his card is dated September 12, 1918. He listed Secretary of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce as his employment.

A Charter Member of the Monroe County Historical Society, his fellow members honored George Lang in October 1952, when he donated many of his maps and slides to the Museum.  That same night, Historical Society members recorded his voice and played it back to him.

But  Most of All, A Friend

Almost two decades later, George Lang’s name appeared on another military record, this time as a friend performing a final service to another friend. George’s friend Owen McManus enlisted in the 17th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War and he died in Monroe County on April 14, 1915.  George E. Lang, of Carleton, Monroe County submitted an application for his veteran’s head stone which was shipped on June 30, 1937.

George Earl Lang’s family and friends laid him to rest in Carleton Cemetery after his death in  Monroe on April 18, 1953, following long bouts of heart trouble and leukemia. His immediate family members  had gone before him in death, but he kept  smiling, taking pictures, making friends, and mapping his life to the end. As his obituary in the Monroe Evening News said, “His financial wants were not excessive and he had a host of friends who were always willing to help.”

Notes

[1]One Hundred Years with Youth:  the story of the Detroit YMCA 1852-1952. A.G. Studer. Detroit: Studer, 1952.

[2] Annual Report of the Attorney General of the State of Michigan, 1911.

Michigan Attorney General’s Office

 

Dundee, Michigan – “The Hub of Highways”

William D. Loreaux Takes A Bottoms Up, Backward Look at the Historic Water Tower

William D. Loreaux. 1885-1976. William D. Loreaux was born on a farm in Wayne County, Ohio on January 8, 1885. In 1910, he received a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Ohio State University at Columbus. He spent the next several years acquiring more technical expertise, working in industry, and teaching in Cleveland Public schools. In 1926, he took a job at the Flint Water Department and in 1932 he came to Dundee, taking over from Otto Spohr, the local plant’s first engineer.

The history of Dundee’s Water System. It was completed in December 1930, at a cost of $44,000, after a vote on the bond issue narrowly squeezed through. Water was previously pumped from Sulphur wells at Water Works Park on Ypsilanti Street.  The water is taken from the River Raisin near the Toledo Street plant, treated chemically, softened and filtrated at the plant and then pumped into one of the two tanks in the park. In the 20 years of operation, (1970s figures) customers have tripled to 600, and pumpage has increased four times. There have been so many expansions on the distribution system that Mr. Loreaux estimates that the mileage of the pipe has doubled. The record number of gallons pumped per day is 275,000.

Changes in operation and a reduction in electric rates which has reduced power costs from $88 to $35 per million gallons has given the plant a chance to operate in the black on expenses. Today, the value of the plant is over $150,000, Mr. Loreaux says.

William married Lillian Riley on June 19, 1919, in Copperhill. They lost a son, Eugene, 23, in a flight training accident at Freeman Field, Indiana, in 1944. Their only other child was a daughter, Mary Elizabeth.

He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery.

Times Before the Water Towers

Long before the birth and demise of its old water tower and the rise of its new tower with the Cabela emblem, the village of Dundee, Michigan began as hopes for better lives in the hearts of stalwart pioneers, many from New York, strong muscular axe arms, and dreams of opportunities thicker and wider than the dense woods hugging the River Raisin. Today, the village of Dundee, incorporated in 1871 and the surrounding Dundee Township are part of the Monroe, Michigan metropolitan area.

John McClelland Buckley in his History of Monroe County, Michigan narrated some early Dundee and Dundee Township history. He wrote that the records show that William H. Remington recorded the first land entry for a homestead on July 23, 1823 and Riley Ingersoll and George Wilcox built cabins in the Dundee wilderness in 1824. Other pioneer names appearing in the record of claiming land in the hardwood forest wilderness included Samuel Jenner, Nathaniel Richmond, George Wilcox, Samuel Barber, Riley Ingersoll, Martin Smith, Heman Spaulding, Justus and Charles Jermain, Enos Kent, Ira Irons, George Pettingill, William Verdon, Sam Rankin, and Walter Burgess.

In 1825 the only road from Monroe to what was afterwards Dundee, was up the south side of the River Raisin. The road that touched the River Raisin opposite Dundee featured a canoe ferry across the river. the same as to Petersburg, where it touched the River Raisin On this road the setters’ houses passed were Gale, Bliss, Burchard, Farewell, Sorter, Dives, Mettez, and several Frenchmen, who names were not lost to history. In the fall of 1827, with the help of settlers from Monroe, Petersburg, and Blissfield, the early settlers began to build a dam across the River Raisin at Dundee, and they finished a sawmill in 1828 and 1829. The turnpike from La Plaisance to and through Dundee was laid out in 1832, and individual citizens laid out the bridge timber.

The first post office to leave a documentary record was named Winfield, with William Montgomery as postmaster conducting post office business in his own cabin. Alonzo C. Curtis and his parents and brothers were some of the pioneer settlers of Dundee, arriving there in 1828. Alonzo moved the post office into the village. He became the village’s first postmaster and officially named it Dundee, after the city of Dundee, Scotland.

In 1835, Sybrant Van Nest platted the village of Dundee by now stretching along the north shore of the River Raisin and offered land for sale. His pamphlet advertising the village proclaimed “two first rate sawmills and one small gristmill in the village and a large and elegant tavern house.”

Dundee Township was organized in 1838, formed from the adjacent Summerfield Township. The first election was held at the house of Samuel Barber in the spring of 1838. Riley Ingersoll was the first settler in the new township, moving to Michigan Territory from New York in 1824. He bought a part of the Potter farm and built a log house on his land. Captain Richard P. Ingersoll, Riley’s son, was the first white child born in the township.[1]

The first schoolhouse in Dundee, built of logs, dated from 1834-1835. When fire destroyed it, Dundee citizens replaced it with a frame building with better facilities. Some of the early teachers included Doctor Bassford, John Montgomery, William Parker, Junius Tilden, H. Townsend, H. Watling, Rebecca Whitman, Emily Jenney and Mrs. James White.

Mail and transportation in Dundee grew along with its population. In the stage coach days, mail was supposed arrive in the village weekly, but especially in the spring with often impassable roads, the mail didn’t always arrive in a timely manner. When the railroads came, daily mails and the telegraph kept Dundee villagers in touch with the outside world.

The Michigan State Gazetteer of 1867-1868 described Dundee as a township and post village of Monroe County, on the river Raisin, 55 miles south west from Detroit, and five miles north of Petersburg, on the Michigan Southern Railroad, the nearest shipping point. The village contains two flour mills, one paper mill, a lath factory, three steam and one water saw mills, two turning shops and a bowl factory, also one Methodist, one Baptist and one Congregational church, a fine school, a Masonic lodge (Dundee, No. 74), two hotels and several stores and mechanics’ shops. Population of village. 500; of township, 2,000. It has three mails per week. Postmaster—Charles F. W. Rawson.[2]

Five years later in 1873, the Michigan State Gazetteer recorded Dundee’s growth when characterized Dundee as an important inland village, in Dundee township, Monroe county. It is situated at the crossing of the Chicago and Canada Southern R. R. and the Toledo, Ann Arbor and Northern R. R , both now in process of construction. It is 6 miles north east of Petersburg on the L. S. & M. 8. R. R. The river Raisin flows through the village, affording a fine water power. The U. S. Express Co. have an office here, and the place supports a weekly newspaper, the Dundee Enterprise. It also has a paper mill, a woolen mill, a machine shop and some other manufacturing interests. It ships away paper, cheese, staves, brooms, and farm products. The surrounding country has a clay, alluvial soil, and is heavily timbered Dundee was settled in 1827, incorporated 1871, and now has a population of 500. It has a daily mail. Peter Clark, postmaster.[3]

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George Lang Map of Dundee and Dundee Township, 1901

George Lang wrote this about Dundee Township in his 1917 Pocket Roadmap of Monroe County, Michigan. “Part of 6, South Range 6, East and West half of Town 6, South Range Seven East; fourteenth township organized by the Legislature on March 31, 1838 out of Summerfield and Raisinville Sections 31, 32,33, in southeast corner, were added to Ida for a time and then set back. No records as to dates can be found.

The first town meeting was held April 1, 1839, at the house of Samuel Barber, who was elected supervisor.  The first land entry was made by William Remington, July 23, 1823.  During the next ten years came Riley Ingersoll, Nathaniel Richmond, Ira Jones, George Wilcox, Martin Smith, William Perdun, Samuel Rankin, Herman Spaulding, Samuel Jenne, Enos Kent, Justus Germain. The turnpike from La Plaisance to and through Dundee was laid out in 1832; bridge across the River Raisin built in 1833. Although no Scotch settlers can be recalled, at the meeting called for that purpose it was named Dundee after Dundee, Scotland. Has many fine farms. First white child born within the limits of the township was R.P. Ingersoll.”[4]

In his 1917 Pocket Roadmap of Monroe County, Michigan, George Lang described the Village of Dundee as: “the second town in the county; was incorporated February 10, 1855; reincorporated April 13, 1871. Territory added, April 2, 1895.

Population: 1,240; 22 miles north of Toledo; 45 miles southwest of Detroit; has two state banks, a large suspender factory, (The Nu-Way Stretch) , flouring mill, elevator, two creameries, two canning factories, a pickle salting plant, laundry, two cigar factories, milk condensery, weekly newspaper, good hotel, good business blocks, four churches, fraternal orders, fine residences, paved streets, municipal lighting plant, water works, high school on University list, splendid railroad connecting over the Ann Arbor, Lake Shore, Detroit, Toledo & Ironton, & Toledo and Detroit; a good hustling town. The first schoolhouse was built in 1834. The post office was called Enfield in 1835 and located two miles east of the present village. Original plat recorded November 12, 1833.  The first settlers were Riley Ingersoll and George Wilcox.  Called Dundee in 1838.”

Over the decades, Dundee Village kept adding transportation and people. Eventually so many trails and railroads crisscrossed in Dundee that the little farming community was dubbed the ‘Hub of the Highways.”  Dundee’s population followed the same growth path. The village’s 1880 population numbered 932. A century later in 1980, the village had grown to 2,575. The village’s year 2,000 population numbered 3,522 and by 2010 it had grown to 3,957.

Practicing History in Practical Dundee Places

dundee-historicaldistrict

The Dundee Historical District

The Dundee Historical District or Dundee’s Downtown District was settled about the same time as the Old Village Historic District in Monroe, both built in their present locations near or on the River Raisin. Dundee (and Monroe’s) original buildings were small, wooden structures, built between 1866-1900, although Dundee traces some of its building to its founding in 1825.  Eventually the businessmen replaced the small wooden buildings with two story brick storefronts.

Dundee’s Historical District is located about one mile east of US-23, along M-50, known locally as West Monroe Street east of the river and Tecumseh Street west of the river, at the bend of the River Raisin. The major part of the Historical District is located on the north side of the river, including Riley, Ypsilanti, East Main, and Tecumseh Streets with south of the river including small parts of West Monroe and Toledo Streets.  Locally, the District is called the “Triangle District,” after the unique shape of the grid plan where Riley and Tecumseh Streets intersect at a 45-degree angle which creates a triangular piece of land cut off by Park Place on the west. The original owners of the Triangular piece of land donated it to the Village of Dundee with the stipulation that it would remain an undeveloped park in the center of the expanding community. Today it is known as Memorial Park, featuring a naval cannon and a bandstand.

The Dundee Historical District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 20, 1990.

The Old Mill Museum

oldmillmusem1

The Old Mill Museum, originally the Alfred Wilkerson Grist Mill, is located along the River Raisin on Toledo Street in Dundee. Although the mill dates to 1849, its dam, the largest of several dams located along the River Raisin, was first built in 1827 and rebuilt in 1846. The mill functioned as a gristmill for Dundee’s growing milling industry, but around 1910 it was converted to produce hydroelectricity to furnish Dundee’s only source of power.

Although the mill had the distinction of being the oldest surviving building in Dundee, it was neglected for years and the village almost demolished it in 1934. Then automobile czar Henry Ford bought the building and spent a large sum of money restoring it, although the only addition he made to the original three story mill was a single-story building on the side of it. He converted the mill into a small factory to produce welding tips for the automotive industry. His activities in Dundee were part of his village Industries Program.  He believed that Dundee would be a vital part of the Village Industries Program experiment to see if small towns could be used to contribute to the global automotive industry and he visited Dundee often to check on the progress of his experiment.

After Henry Ford died in 1947, interest and support for his small factory disappeared and in 1954, the building was sold to the Wolverine Manufacturing Company. Once again, the original mill was transformed, this time to produce paper products and it operated until 1970, when the Wolverine Manufacturing Company sold it to the village of Dundee for one dollar. The village converted the mill and its surrounding 13.8 acres into a museum park.

Although the Old Mill Museum was designated as a Michigan Historic Site on August 3, 1979, it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places in its own right. Instead, it is listed as a contributing property within the Dundee Historic District which was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 20, 1990.

oldmilldundee

A much older image of the building and the dam (date unknown)

Pioneer Paragraphs

John S. Babcock. 1813-1889. He was born in Bath, New York on June 30, 1813.  On June 14, 1835, he married Jane Fleming and in 1836, John and his wife Jane came to Dundee with their young son Albert H. who was about six months old.  He provided blacksmithing to the village of Dundee and the surrounding area for nearly 50 years. He died on December 30, 1889 at 76 ½ years old and he is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.7

Rev. Harry Coleman.  1896-1978. Harry Coleman, born in June 1896 on a Dundee Township farm, had to quit Dundee High School in his senior year when his father’s health forced him to help on the farm. For more than year before he left the farm, he worked as a foreman at the Consolidated Paper Mill in Monroe and later at the National Supply Company in Toledo. In 1935, he bought a 120-acre farm on Day Road in Dundee. He farmed until a major operation forced him to give it u p and then he worked as assistant herdsman at the Ypsilanti State Hospital Dairy, maintaining 160 head of cattle, 89 of them cows.  He married Myrtle Zilke on April 7, 1939 after his first wife died in 1937. He took a ministerial training course in the Methodist Church, and served as a replacement when the Rev. Charles F. Bragg retired. He served three years on the board of education, and he was a member of the Community Chest and bond drives during World War II. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Alonzo C. Curtis -1804-1887. Alonzo C. Curtis and his parents and brothers were some of the pioneer settlers of Dundee, arriving there in 1828. Alonzo became the village’s first postmaster and named it Dundee, after his homeland city of Dundee, Scotland. He served Dundee for many years as justice of the peace, a druggist, practiced law, and he also farmed. He died on December 10, 1887 and he is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Scott W. Jackson. 1869-1950. Maple Grove Cemetery. He attended Dundee Public Schools and he began teaching at age 17. He taught 39 years, retiring in 1931. He was one of the oldest members of the Dundee Methodist Church. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery.

Charles F.W. Rawson. 1812-1903. He settled in Monroe County, Michigan, in 1833 and practiced several occupations including farming, blacksmithing, and operating a boot and shoe shop. He was the Dundee Postmaster for 16 years. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

George W. Richardson- 1852-1934.  George W. Richardson was born in Sanborn, Niagara county, New York state on September 4, 1852. He attended and graduated from the Buffalo College of Medicine in 1878 and came directly to Monroe county where he settled at Cone. After a short time, he removed to Azalia and then to Dundee, having practiced his profession in this vicinity for over 56 years. His tales of those early days in the community will be remembered by the many who enjoyed to converse with him. For the first two years, he walked carrying on his work, later acquiring a horse with which he managed to go farther afield through the woods. For 19 years Dr. Richardson served with Dr. Denias Dawe of Monroe, on the U.S. Pension Board. For several years, he attended lecture courses in Cleveland and New York City, and shortly after received his diploma as a pharmacist from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Donald Erwin Siler. 1900-1985. Donald Erwin Siler was born November 8, 1900, in Dundee to William and Maude Adams Siler. He married Rebecca L. Smith in Dundee. He served as justice of the peace for 16 years, and Governors George Romney and William Milliken appointed him to the Monroe County Jury Commission.  He also was a real estate broker and the owner of Don Siler Real Estate as well as owning and operating the Siler Hatchery for many years.  He held many village offices and was a deacon in the First United Presbyterian Church.  He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Henry Alonzo Stewart, 1838-1906. In 1847, Henry Alonzo Stewart came to Dundee with his parents and until he reached 19 years of age, he lived with Mr. Cady who conducted a hotel in Dundee for many years. Henry learned the blacksmith trade and worked as a blacksmith for five years. In November 1863, he enlisted in Company L of the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. He lost the sight of one eye while serving in the Civil War and he mustered out on August 28, 1865. He was a member of William Bell Post No. 10 of the G.A.R. in Dundee. He married Mary A. Haines on April 15, 1860 and their three children all died in infancy. Henry operated a grocery business in Dundee for many years and was undertaker for two years. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Judson W. Van DeVenter. 1855-1939. Judson W. Van DeVenter was born on a farm near Dundee, Michigan. After he studied art at Hillsdale College, he became interested in music. He taught at the Rankin School in Dundee in 1878. Eventually, he wrote hymns, probably one of the best-known being “I Surrender All,” found in many church hymn books. He is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Charles A. Verschoor. 1888-1943. Charles Verschoor invented the first radio transistor which was produced in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Alfred Wilkerson. 1820-1900. Alfred Wilkerson moved to Dundee from Ledyard, New York in 1836. He organized the first Republican Party in Monroe County and in 1859, was its Michigan State Representative. The 1812 Hand Atlas noted that “he has been twice married…and deserves great credit that he has never drank beer or smoked a cigar.”  He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Dundee. A biography of Alfred Wilkerson indicated that he moved to Dundee from Ledyard, NY in 1836. Alfred organized the first republican party in Monroe County and he was the Michigan State Representative in 1859. According to the 1812 Hand Atlas, “He has been twice married…and deserves great credit that he has never drank beer or smoked a cigar.”)

The Serge Williams Story:  The Autobiography of a more recent Dundee resident.

the-serge-williams-story

The Business of Dundee is BUSINESS!

Michigan State Gazetteer  -1856-1857

In 1856-1857, the Michigan State Gazetteer reported that Dundee was a post village in the town of Dundee and Monroe County located on the north side of the River Raisin, 18 miles from Lake Erie. Dundee featured a vigorous milling and manufacturing trade with a township and village population of 2,900.  An alphabetical list included:

Henry Angel & Co., flouring mill

William Bell, saw mill and turning factory

J.P. Christiancey, saw mill

Dealand & Goodrich, steam saw mill

Ebenezer Duston, general store

Justin B. Duston, grocer

Daniel DeVeu, shoe store

Fuller & Green, steam saw mill

James W. Gale, general store

Willis Hinsdale, turning factory

Clemon Longe Lee, haress store

John G. Parker, steam saw mill

James Plank, general store

Daniel Reid, turning factory

Watling & Barber, general store

Dundee Business Cards

A listing of some Dundee businesses from  1856-2017.

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Dundee Business Briefs

Some Dundee Businessmen and businesswomen

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Veterans Voices

Dundee veterans serving America.

Ernest Berndt, 1894-1960.  Ernest was born in St. Joseph, Michigan, on November 29, 1894. He worked on his father’s fruit farm and in a Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Chicago until he was drafted into the Army in 1917. He served as a PFC in M37 Infantry, World War I. After his discharge, he came to Dundee and worked for Beaume-Rauch Co., later Consolidated Paper Company, in Monroe, as a millwright. After eight years, he started his own business selling straw to paper companies and later worked at the Ford Mill. In February 1945, he joined John Norman in buying the Dundee Bar, formerly Fred’s Tavern, from Kurt Fredericks. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Dr. A. H. DeGroot- 1885-1954. A.H. DeGroot was born on a farm in Vriesland, Michigan, and received his early education in Vriesland, “a widening of the highway about four miles from Zeeland.” Between farming seasons, he worked at a furniture factory in Grand Rapids, and eventually enrolled in the Grand Rapids Veterinary College, graduating with the class of 1917. During his junior year at college, he had the opportunity to become acquainted with Monroe Country when he went to Ida for several months to take over the practice of Dr. D.M. Hagen who was recovering from an operation. After he graduated, he went to Dundee to set up his veterinary practice. In 1918, he enlisted in World War I and was training as a second lieutenant in the Sixth Co. Veterinary Corps when the war ended. He returned to Dundee and resumed his practice. In 1922, he joined Edward A. Schaap in founding the Dundee Hatchery, but in 1936 he dropped out to concentrate on his veterinary practice. On October 4, 1923, he married Leona M. Schultz and they had one daughter. He served on the Dundee Village Council for three years. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Henry Phillip “Hank” Karen. 1915-2016. He worked for the Karner Brothers Elevator in Dundee, the family business, and during World War II, he was a test pilot and member of the flight crew that flew B-24’s at Willow Run. He ran the Ann Arbor Airport, was a flight instructor and charter pilot, and then a corporate pilot for Hoover Ball Bearing. He retired as Chief Pilot in 1964. After he retired, he joined the Boyne Highlands professional ski patrol.  He loved to hunt and fish and shot a bear at age 91. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

John Owen.1836-1924. He was a teacher and justice of the peace in Dundee.  He was a Civil War veteran. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Harrison D. Plank-1840-1865. Harrison D. Plank, the son of James and Sarah H. Dubois Plan, was born in 1840, just in time to come of age during the Civil War. He fought in Company H of the 18th Michigan Infantry and he was taken prisoner on September 24, 1864 and paroled on March 16, 1865. On April 27, 1865, he and an estimated 1,547 people, many of them Civil War soldiers eager to return home, boarded the riverboat Sultana to begin the voyage northward and home. When the Sultana had reached a place on the Mississippi River just above Memphis, Tennessee, the Sultana’s boilers exploded. The explosion broke the Sultana nearly in two, and it burned and drifted uncontrollably before grounding on a small island in mid-stream. Harrison drowned in the Mississippi River on April 27, 1865. He has a memorial in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Horace Pulver, Sr. 1846-1919. Horace Pulver Sr., was born on August 20, 1846 on the Captain Ingersoll farm near Dundee. Early in life he learned the trade of brick mason and followed that until about 1889, when he opened a stone quarry in Dundee.  He also opened a contracting business and oversaw the construction of the Dundee High School building. In about 1907, he retired from active business. During the Civil War, he enlisted in Company A, 13th Michigan Infantry for two years. He worked actively in the G.A.R. and commanded the local William Bell Post twice. Once or twice a year he visited the school and talked to the pupils about Sherman’s march to the sea. The children called him “Uncle Hod.” He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

William H. Pulver. 1834-1905. William H. Pulver was born in New York State in November, 1834. His mother died when William was about ten years old, and he wandered and worked at various places until he married Mary E. Philbeam when he was 29 years old. They settled in Dundee where he opened a carriage and wagon business. The first building he built in Dundee was his house which he built in 1869 and he lived there with his wife and two daughters.  He fought in Company B of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War. He is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

Captain Nelson White. 1808-1899. Nelson White came to Michigan in 1832, locating his farm two miles west of the village of Dundee. He received his deed from President Andrew Jackson and owned the land since then. For many years after he settled in Dundee, Captain White went back east during the summer, commanding a boat on the Erie Canal. In 1838, he married Emily Jenne and they had ten children. He served as first lieutenant in the company recruited in Monroe County to fight the Toledo War. With his men, he “invaded” enemy territory and always enjoyed telling war stories.  He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Dundee.

More veterans voices

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The First Settler’s Story

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Dundee Homestead

The First Settler’s Story

by Will Carleton

It ain’t the funniest thing a man can do—

Existing in a country when it’s new;

Nature—who moved in first—a good long while—

Has things already somewhat her own style,

And she don’t want her woodland splendors battered,

Her rustic furniture broke up and scattered,

Her paintings, which long years ago were done

By that old splendid artist-king, the Sun,

Torn down and dragged in Civilization’s gutter,

Or sold to purchase settlers’ bread-and-butter.

She don’t want things exposed, from porch to closet—

And so she kind o’ nags the man who does it.

She carries in her pockets bags of seeds,

As general agent of the thriftiest weeds;

She sends her blackbirds, in the early morn,

To superintend his fields of planted corn;

She gives him rain past any duck’s desire—

Then may be several weeks of quiet fire;

She sails mosquitoes—leeches perched on wings—

To poison him with blood-devouring stings;

She loves her ague-muscle to display,

And shake him up—say every other day;

With thoughtful, conscientious care, she makes

Those travellin’ poison-bottles, rattlesnakes;

She finds time, ‘mongst her other family cares,

To keep in stock good wild-cats, wolves, and bears;

She spurns his offered hand, with silent gibes,

And compromises with the Indian tribes

(For they who’ve wrestled with his bloody art

Say Nature always takes an Indian’s part).

In short, her toil is every day increased,!To scare him out, and hustle him back East;[5]

Dundee settlers didn’t hustle back East.  They stayed in Dundee, built lives and left descendants to attract new settlers into infinity

Notes

[1] History of Monroe County, Michigan: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people, and its principal interest. John McClelland Bulkley. Chicago:  Lewis Publishing Company, 1913, p. 150.

[2] Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1867-1868   https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015008145842;view=1up;seq=208

[3] Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1873.   https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015071130887;view=1up;seq=282

[4] Pocket Road Mpa, Monroe County, Michigan.Centennial Editor, 1917. Geoge E. Lang. Monroe, Michigan:  McMillan Printing Company, 1917. P. 8

[5] The First Settlers Story   http://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/amverse/BAE8956.0001.001/1:5?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

Joseph C.W.Van Blerck, Engine Entrepreneur

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River Mark in Oudenbosh, Netherlands- Photo Credit, Andre Speeck

The River Mark flows near both Oudenbosh and Zvenbergen where Joseph Van Bkerck and his wife Dimphna were born. The Atlantic Ocean, the Detroit River, the River Raisin, the Cuyahoga River, the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a circular life voyage, are some of the waterways that Joseph C.W. VanBlerck traveled and populated with his marine engines after he immigrated to the United States from Holland across the vast Atlantic Ocean. He spent a lifetime working diligently to invent and manufacture lighter and more efficient engines for newfangled automobiles, boats, and the newer fangled airplanes. His Van Berck engines powered boats,  navigated and raced through waterways across America and the world and his son, Joseph Van Blerck Jr. carried on his legacy. [1]

After years of collaborating with Henry Ford, Joseph Van Blerck created the Van Blerck Motor Company, pioneering the development and manufacturing of innovative design and high performance marine engines. His engines were installed in nearly all early hydroplane and racing machines, and in 1914 he drove the Kitty Hawk, powered with a Van Blerck engine, to a record of 60 mph. For years, his engines propelled boats to victories and records in all of the major boat races. He also pioneered design and development of stern drive units. Many of his inventions became standard components on marine engines.

The Dutch Archives show that Josephus Christianus Van Blerck was born on August 16, 1876, in the Netherlands village of Oudenbosch in the Dutch Province of North Braband and his future wife Dimphna Adriana Goddrie two years before him on February 13, 1874 in the village of Zevenbergen,in the province of Noord-Brabant near Breda.  The River Mark flows near borh Oudenbosh and Zvenbergen. Rivers, windmills, land reclaimed from the North Sea, and the North Sea itself were wallpaper waterscapes in Joseph’s early years. He stated on his United States Federal Census records that he had an eighth grade education, but his mechanical talent and character carried him to achievements far beyond eighth grade. Perhaps he dreamed of boats speeding through the water as swiftly as seagulls and perhaps news about Henry Ford’s harnessing horsepower to create fast moving(rumor had it the Model T could do 40 miles an hour) automobiles focused his visions of powerful, reliable engines.

According to the 1910 United States Federal Census, Joseph C.W. Van Blerck and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1902, when he was 26 years old and his wife Dimphna was 28. Other sources say they didn’t arrive until 1904. Joseph listed his occupation as a machinist who owned his own shop.The 1910 Census shows the Van Blerck family renting a house at 366 Hibbard Avenue in Detroit. Joseph, 34, Dinshina, 36, and their two children Cornelia, 4, and Johanna, 2, shared the house with Dinshina’s mother, Cornelia Mather, 66, and her brother Christ Goodrie who had just immigrated from the Netherlands. The Van Blerck’s had lost one of their children, three-year-old Joseph Van Blerck who was born on November 3, 1902 and who died of pneumonia in Detroit on March 3, 1906.  Another Joseph, who would be equally as famous as his father, was born in 1916.

 The Detroit Years

 

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Detroit River – Photo by John Duguay

Before he created and perfected his first marine engines and established his own shop in 1910, Joseph Van Blerck worked with Henry Ford in his early efforts to develop the 71909 Model T engine. Henry Ford was the first in a long line of prominent and talented people that Joseph Van Blerck’s own talent and perseverance drew into his entrepreneurship circle.  Often Henry and his young son Edsel would visit Joseph and discuss the practicalities of building his first marine engine in the backyard of his Detroit home. Joe Van Blerck’s prototype engine, a one-cylinder, quickly attracted affluent buyers and new business. The Smith-Ryan Boat Company, one of Van Blerck’s prominent customers, bought his engines that could travel an astonishing 31 mph and more for its modern ships.

Marine author Stan Grayson wrote in his book, Engines Afloat, From Early Days to D-Day that between 1905 and 1915, innovative inventors greatly improved the weight-to-horsepower ration of marine engines.  He explained that after Joe Van Blerck established his own engine shop about 1908, he soon hired John Hacker, a talented designer as manager and in 1912, Charles Page, a Cleveland businessman. Stan Grayson also wrote that Chris Smith of Chris-Craft fame possibly was an early supporter of Joe Van Blerck.

According to Stan Grayson, the Van Blerck Motor Company had problems along with its successes. Rex Wademan who wrote and designed catalogs for Joe Van Blerck reported that the Van Blerck motors were not standardized, and even two motors with the same cylinder size and number of cylinders didn’t necessarily have interchangeable parts. He said it was a frustrating and time-consuming chore to replace worn out or broken parts.[2]

Yearly sales increases often  countered by the time and expense of replacing custom build parts and the necessity of replacing them kept Joe Van Blerck constantly purchasing patterns, tools, and jigs. His company  wrestled with the problem until 1908, when Joe Van Blerck began to build standardized motors. He ordered another catalog promoting the change in production and his business increased. By 1913, Joe Van Blerck was building a new factory in Monroe, Michigan.

Author James Barry in Hackercraft wrote that Joseph Van Blerck immigrated to the United States in 1909 and opened a small engine shop in Detroit where he served as designer, builder, and office manager. About 1912, Charles E. Page, a Cleveland businessman, joined Joe Van Blerck and he set up a new plant at Monroe. The Van Blerck dock fronted on the River Raisin and boats would pull up to have their engines overhauled or new engines installed. George Page took over the office functions of the company because Joe Van Blerck’s interests and abilities didn’t include office management. Business insiders knew that Joe Van Blerck didn’t have time for office work. As a report in Motorboat Magazine of August 1914 asked rhetorically:  “Can you imagine Joe Van Blerck swearing into a dictaphone?”[3]

 The Monroe Years

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River Raisin, Monroe Michigan – City of Monroe

 In 1913, Van Blerck Motor Company moved to a new, more modern facility in Monroe, Michigan. The October 1913 issue of Motor Boating reported that Van Blerck Motor Company was building a new factory in Monroe, not too far from the banks of the River Raisin. Engineer McGeorge planned a fireproof brick, steel, and concrete factory, 60 feet wide by 176 ½ feet long that would meet the company’s immediate requirements for space. The building, modern for 1913, featured an office, large windows, and state of the art electric equipment.The company also built a power plant and the facility featured a testing room where Joe Van Blerck could operate several engines simultaneously, using handmade stands simulating boat angles. Each engine came with test results. [4]

The opening of the new business created a furor of excitement in Monroe. Joe Van Blerck mailed dozens of invitations, urging everyone to visit his shop, touting its favorable location 45 minutes from Toledo and 1 ¼ hours from Detroit. Gradually, Joe Van Blerck established standardized tooling as the norm in his Monroe operations and all parts became interchangeable. He ran another advertising campaign to promote the benefits of standardization and the public embraced his campaign, buying enough standardized motors to support full time shifts and even overtime at the Van Blerck factory.

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As well as racing engines, Van Bleck also built standard models, including D and DD engines that the company sold to use in fire equipment, electrical generating sets, pumping outfits and trucks and farm tractors. A 1915 fire truck sale with a Van Bleck engine to the City of Monroe caused some controversy. In January 1915, the city bought a $5,500 Watrous fire truck with a Van Blerck engine to replace a horse-drawn steam pumper. A story in the Monroe Michigan Observer repeatedly stressed the unreliability of the cone clutch in the Watros fire truck. In 1920, the truck was rebuilt, leaving some people with dark thoughts about the Van Blerck motor, in truth a marine model, in the fire truck..[5]

Joe Van Blerck introduced three engines while he operated in Monroe: the E, E-Special and the EE.  According to Stan Grayson, the new engines were so well made of such high quality material that they still run the occasional cruiser. Another Van Blerck model, a 6-cylinder, 125-horsepower engine, powered a twenty foot hydroplane called The Kid, which dominated the 1913 Astoria, Oregon Regatta.

The Van Blerck engines continued to win races and boat builders with sterling reputations including Lawley in Boston, Herreshoff in Rhode Island and Matthews in Ohio used standard Van Blerck engines as standard operating procedure. A boat builder named S.A. Ferris operated with Joe Van Blerck, because at that time it wasn’t unusual for marine engine builders to build boats as well. In 1914, Ferris built the Hacker designed Hawk Eye at the Van Blerck shop and Van Blerck installed a 12 cylinder engine of his own design and construction. The hull design was that of an improved Kitty Hawk. Other Kitty Hawks followed over the next few years: Hawk Jr., Kitty Hawk IV, and Kitty Hawk 5 – all with Van Blerck engines.

Most Van Blerck engines ran reliably and long term. Demand for them remained steady or increased. Other countries around the world including China, Australia and New Zealand purchased many Van Blerck Motors. A carpenter living in Shanghai, China, built a Yankee runabout he called Carthay II, and powered her with a four cylinder Van Blerck Motor capable of reaching 30 miles an hour. The owners of the Carthay II wrote that she is the “fastest boat by far in all China, Japan and the East. The engine has run ten months and is better than ever.”[6]

Over the next few years, the Van Blerck Motor Company continued its expansion, and Joe Van Blerck continued to attract talented and famous people to his business and to his engines. In November 1915, at an annual stockholders meeting, the Van Blerck Motor Company reorganized and made plans to greatly increase its facility. Officers elected were:  Joseph Van Blerck, president; Charles B. Page, vice president and treasurer; and Clifton Knoll, secretary. Thomas B. Taylor, George B. Cross, and F.D. Ames of New York and J.S. Haggerty of Detroit were Directors. By 1916, the Van Blerck Motor Company had a diverse line-up of engines, ranging in power from 40-500 horsepower. The prices ranged from the low $1,000 to over $6,000 for the V-12 unit.[7]

During his Detroit and Monroe years, Joe Van Blerck had also opened a New York office. In March 1916, Thomas B. Taylor, a well known motor boating enthusiast who had been a director in the Van Blerck Motor Company since October 1915, was elected second vice president and the resident Eastern Executive in the Company. Besides the changes in the New York office and its force, the Van Blerck Company opened a Washington office in charge of Horace Ward. In its announcement of the change, the Motor Boating Magazine stated that the rapid increase in the volume of business placed by the United States Government in the Van Blerck Company has caused this action.[8]

World War I

The Motor Boating Magazine announcement said that World War I brought even more orders rather than a slump for Joe Van Blerck marine engines. Naval architects heard of Van Blerck engines and eventually the engines powered their way to the front lines of the War. A maritime museum, Forum Marinum, in Turku, Finland, has models of patrol boats built for the Russian Navy during the First World War which were equipped with Van Blerck 150 hp engines. [9]

Joseph Van Blerck’s obituary in the Monroe Evening News stated that he moved his factory east where he designed and supervised building a series of interchangeable motors for the U.S. Navy. A 1924 catalog of the Model N marine engine has the address of the Van Blerck Engine Corporation as Plainfield, New Jersey. The Model N featured one of Joe Van Blerck’s favorite cylinder sizes, 5×6’ bore and stroke. Max F. Homfeld in Gas Engine Magazine stated that he had little doubt that the Model N was a Naval engine.[10]

An obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle stated that during World War I Joseph Van Blerck had built hundreds of engines for the Navy and was selected to design a special standardized engine for the Navy’s lifeboats and launches.  [11]

At this point, the transitions in offices and companies of the Van Blerck Motor Company, and the swinging doors of personnel become a kaleidoscope of conflicting documents and speculation about Joe Van Blerck’s motives and directions. The February 1917 issue of Motor Boating Magazine stated that Joe Van Blerck had moved his general sales office to New York City at the beginning of the year and opened for business on January 3 in the Hecksher Building at 50 East 42nd Street. The facilities contained 800 feet of floor space to hold a large number of Van Blerck parts. The Company was also ready to open a sales office in Boston, and Joe Van Blerck planned to open a combination sales and service station in Chicago on or about April 1, 1917.[12]

The announcement said that the general sales offices had been moved, but it didn’t mention the factory part of the organization. According to Stan Grayson in Engines Afloat, From Early Days to D-Day, Joe Van Blerck left Monroe in 1918, and documents at the Monroe County Historical Museum indicate that the company was dissolved on June 23, 1923. There are conflicting documents about this scenario. Joe Van Blerck registered for the World War I Draft on September 10, 1918, and his draft registration shows that he enlisted from Monroe and he listed his livelihood as being president of the Van Blerck Motor Company. The Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory shows Van Blerck Motor Company still present in Monroe in 1921-1922, but with different executives. The Gazetteer listed George H. Houston as President, and L.A. Moehring as secretary-treasurer and stated that the company manufactured gasoline engines.[13]

Stan Grayson wrote that the details of what might have happened between Joe Van Blerck and Charles Page are unknown to history. He speculated that a postwar slump may have strained their relationship or that Joe Van Blerck simply was not interested in the new model engine. Since he did not leave an archive of letters and diaries, any statements about Joe Van Blerck’s motives are speculative, but studying his life and actions provides some clues. If the 1914 Motorboat Magazine is correct, Joe Van Blerck was more of a dreamer, designer, and doer when it came to creating engines and not a practical, pragmatic, pencil-pushing businessman. He followed his product dreams where they led him, and when someone else couldn’t visualize or produce his dream engines, he moved on to more sympathetic environments.

Whatever his reasons, about 1919, Joe Van Blerck relocated to Akron, Ohio, opened a factory there, and introduced the first commercially oriented engine, the Model MM.  He left that company  a year later and moved to New Jersey.

Van Blerck Motors Race On to Ohio, New Jersey and New York

 

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Wikimedia Comons

The 1920 United States Federal Census showed Joseph Van Blerck 44, living with his wife Dinphina, 46, and their children Cornelia, 13, Johanna, 12, and Joseph, 8, and his mother-in-law Cornelia Goddriek, 74, in Akron, Summit , Ohio. He listed his occupation as an engineer in a machine shop. Even though Joseph Van Blerck had left Monroe, the company that he had founded still remained by the River Raisin. The 1921 Michigan State Gazetteer listed the Van Blerck Motor Company as still located in Monroe, Michigan. George H. Houston was named as president and Lester Ahrend Moehring as secretary-treasurer.[14]

It appeared that Joe Van Blerck created or sold name and engine rights to different companies that he either started or endorsed. A 1920 newspaper advertised the WS-M engine which was a Joseph Van Blerck design. The factory’s address did not appear, but the sole distributor was Wilbur H. Young with a Fifth Avenue, New York City address. A 1920 catalog showed the Van Blerck address again as Detroit and the company logo included the words, “The Standard High Speed Motor.”

 Another Van Blerck Motor Company advertisement dated January , 1921 promoted the “Lucetta,” built for H. De Ver Warner, Bridgeport, Conn. Designed and built by Wm. H. Hand, Ir. Powered with an eight cylinder Van Blerck engine. Speed, 30 MPH. NE of the most successful boats of the past season is “Lucetta” and one of the best things about her was the splendid way in which she maneuvered at all speeds. From dead slow to full speed ahead, the engine instantly answered the throttle. No backfiring, no stalling— just an even, consistent flow of power as and when required. The Van Blerck Engine, plus the Van Blerck Fuelizer, makes an altogether desirable combination — add this combination to your boat and you have the Ideal. VAN BLERCK MOTOR COMPANY Also Makers of High Duty Commercial Motors OFFICE AND WORKS AT MONROE, MICH, New York Sales and Service Branch—3o Church Street[15]

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In January 1921, Power Boating Magazine announced George Sykes as the new general manager of the Van Blerck Motor Company in Monroe, praising his trained executive mind and splendid experience in production methods and executive management.

In September 1921 Power Boating printed a notice about Guy W. Vaughn, who had been the vice-president and general manager of Van Blerck Motor Company since 1919. Guy Vaughn resigned as general manager, but would still remain as vice president and a member of the board of directors. Power Boating commented that , “Mr. Vaughn’s remarkable record with the Van Blerck Motor Company which company he entirely rehabilitated, increased their business, and made their balance sheet a pleasant sight to behold,” a statement that tends to support the people who believed that Van Bleck’s engines were in production decline and had become obsolete before the advent of World War I.  Guy Vaughn would remain vice president and a member of the board of directors of Van Blerck Company, but he accepted a position as vice president and general manager of the Standard Steel and Bearings Company of Philadelphia, effective on August 8, 1921.[16]

The June 25, 1922 Motor Boat Magazine section called The Trade announced the latest Joe Van Blerck move.

Joe Van Blerck to Supply Van Blerck Motor Parts

An interesting announcement made in a rather modest sort of way is to the effect that Joseph Van Blerck is prepared to take care of all owners of Van Blerck Motors in the way of service and parts. It will be remembered that several years ago, Mr. Van Blerck severed his connection with the Van Blerck Motor Company, then at Monroe, Michigan.

Since severing his connection with the Van Blerck Motor Company about two years ago, Mr. Van Blerck has received many requests from Van Blerck owners for his services for the repair and rebuilding of the Van Blerck power plants. It was the number and character of these requests as well as Mr. Van Blerck’s own personal interest in all motors which bear his name and for which he still feels responsible which caused him to undertake to supply proper parts service to all owners of Van Blerck motors. Perhaps the idea of maintaining the representation for quantity which had been earned by Van Blerck Motors also helped to prompt this move.

Mr. Van Blerck opened offices at 90 West Street, New York City, where he will be prepared to supply parts built under his personal supervision for all models. This service will be rendered at very reasonable prices. For this work, Mr. Van Blerck has enlisted the services of a number of men who were formally associated with him and who were directly in charge of the production of practically every Van Blerck motor now in service.

Low prices will be possible because of the fact that it will be unnecessary to carry a heavy overhead burden as in the case of a company manufacturing motors on a large scale. The savings will be on such items as sales expenses, the necessity of carrying a large shop and the elimination of developmental and experimental work.

This is a move that might be expected from Joe Van Blerck by anybody who has followed his career in the Marine Motor Industry. The Van Blerck Motor made its personal appearance 15 years ago when Joe Van Blerck made a few engines at Detroit  into which went every speck of capital he could scrape up. From that beginning the business grew rapidly and steadily until the Van Blerck Motor Co,, became one of the leading manufacturers in this industry. War expansion of the business caused the control of it to pass into other hands and on January 1 of this year (1922)the manufacture of Van Blerck Motors ceased. Since that time owners of Van Blerck Motors in need of parts or service found that repairs entailed great expense and many of them took up the matter with Joe Van Blerck. His characteristic answer to these  inquires and requests is found in the present announcements . The business will be conducted under the name of Joseph Van Blerck, Inc. [17]

One of Joe Van Blerck’s  associates, Leonard Ochtman Jr., automotive engineer, came to Akron to continue his association with Joseph Van Blerck.  He was born in Riverside Connecticut on March 22, 1894, to Leonard and Mina M. Ochtman. His father, born in Holland, was a noted artist. Leonard Jr. was educated in Greenwich, Connecticut Schools and graduated in 1915 from Cornell University with an M.E. He worked as a draftsman and designer on gasoline and light automobile engines in 1913 and in 1914 as an inspector of automobiles at the Saxon Motor Company in Detroit. He worked at Van Blerck Motor Company in Monroe as a chief draftsman from 1915-1919. By 1922, he was the chief engineer for Joseph Van Blerck Inc., in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

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Surviving and Thriving Through the 1930s

Navesink River, Red Bank, Monmouth, New Jersey

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Navesink River, Red Bank, Monmouth, New Jersey-Wikimedia Commons

The 1930 United States Federal Census showed that Joseph Van Blerck,52,  lived in Red Bank, Monmouth, New Jersey with his wife Diaphinia, 54, and his son Joseph, 18. He listed his employment as a manufacturer at a boat works.

Part of Joe Van Blerck’s strategy to survive during the Depression and beyond included rebuilding and converting used automobile engines. He advertised five different models in 1934 and 1939 for Joseph Van Blerck Boat Engines, Inc., Long Island City, NY. He used the car clutch and transmission, modifying the gears to provide a 1:1 reverse similar to the JVB and Model N. He designed marine conversions for truck and tractor engines. He designed engines to power midget race cars and to replace less efficient outboard motors, and he built many engines for early Elco-Electric Company Motor Yachts.

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Van Blerck engines didn’t seem to have geographical or territorial limits. In 1931 when the Van Blerck 16 valve engine was advertised from 2200 Diamond Street in Philadelphia.  Van Blerck made copper exhaust pipes for Elco-Electric Launch Company in Roosevelt and Freeport, Long Island and provided technical and transportation support for the company. Joseph Van Blerck Jr. oversaw most of the Long Island operations and became an acclaimed speedboat racer in his own right.

The variety of his company names and locations reveal Joe Van Blerck’s tireless quest for better quality and quantity engines and his sheer love of imagining and designing them. The names of the companies that he founded or was associated with in some way include:

  • Van Blerck
  • Van Blerck Motor Company
  • Joseph Van Blerck
  • JVB
  • Joseph Van Blerck Motor Corporation
  • Wellman-Seaver-Morgan Company
  • Elco-Electric Launch Company
  • Fay & Bowen
  • Navy
  • Continental Motors

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He also has a varied list of company addresses including Detroit and Monroe, Michigan, Akron, Ohio, Plainfield, Red Bank, and West Bank, New Jersey and Philadelphia Pennsylvania. His company timeline is just as varied (although these times are estimations):

  • 1909-1911-Detroit
  • 1913-1920-Factory in Monroe, Michigan
  • 1918- New York City
  • 1920-Cleveland
  • 1921-JVB in Akron
  • 1923-24-Plainfield, New Jersey
  • 1926-New York City
  • 1928-Red Bank, New Jersey
  • 1934-1939-Long Island City
  • 1949-Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

The Engines Keep Running Through the Waters

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Great South Bay Long Island, Wikimedia Commons

In 1935, Joseph and his wife Dinphina lived in Free Park, Nassau, New York, where he and his son Joseph Jr. actively designed, manufactured, marketed, and adapted marine engines.

Years later, Joseph Jr.’s obituary in the New York Times reveals more of the complicated interchangeable engines that were the lives of the Van Blerck father and son. Some of Joe Jr.’s maritime achievements included championship speedboat driving. He set a record 39 minutes in the 1947 Manhattan Island Marathon in his 225-cubic inch class hydroplane Alijo V. In 1949, he broke the one-mile world’s record off Aberdeen, Maryland, with a mark of 92.3 miles per hour and in 1950, he won the national championship in the 7-liter speedboat class at the Buffalo Launch Club Regatta. He often raced with Guy Lombardo, his Freeport neighbor.

Joseph Van Blerck Jr. was born in Detroit and proved to be a chip off the engine block son of Joseph Van Blerck Sr. In 1912, the family moved to Red Bank, New Jersey, where the Senior Van Blerck designed and built marine engines. After graduating from the Pratt Institute, Joseph Jr. joined Van Blerck Motor Company in 1929, and ran it after 1938. During World War II, he discontinued the business and designed and built PT boat exhaust systems for Elco in plants at Freeport and Roosevelt, Long Island. He also serviced and sold parts for the 1,500 horsepower Packard PT boat engines in yards at Ocean Avenues in Freeport.[18]

Even though he apparently turned over some of the businesses to his son Joseph Jr. Joseph Van Blerck Sr. listed his occupation as manufacturer in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. The Census also shows that Joseph Van Blerk, 63, and his wife, Dinphina, 66 lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at this point in their lives.

Florida records chronicle some of the last years of Joseph Van Blerck’s life. His wife Dinphina died and he remarried Reta Mary Crosthwaite in 1949. He kept his fertile imagination and literal and figurative fingers in the workings of a marine engine.

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When Joseph Va  Blerck died on September 5, 1949 in Fort Lauderdale, news of his death appeared in newspapers and magazines and saddened the hearts of internal combustion engine lovers around the world. One of his obituaries appeared in Motor Boating-ND in October 1949.

One of America’s pioneer marine engine manufacturers, Joseph Van Blerck, Sr. passed away September 5, at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Mr. Van Blerck, born in Holland 74 years ago, contributed much to the development of internal combustion engines for boats. Before entering the marine engine field in 1910, Mr, Van Blerck was associated with Henry Ford in the early development of the Ford Car. After the day’s work, Henry Ford and his young son Edsel often spent many pleasant evenings with Mr. Van Blerck when he was building his first marine engine in the backyard of his Detroit home.

During the first World War, Mr. Van Blerck built hundreds of engines for the U.S. Navy and was later selected by the Secretary of the Navy to design a special standard engine for the Navy’s life boats and launches. Mr. Van Blerck is survived by two daughters and one son, Joseph Van Blerck Jr. of Freeport, Long Island, New York. He was a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers.[19]

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Notes

[1] The variety of documents about Joseph Van Blerck list various dates and data about his life and his engines.  It isn’t possible to reconcile them all, although I have attempted to accurately cite the conflicting stories and documents.

[2] Engines Afloat, From Early Days to D-Day, Stan Grayson. Devereaux Books, 1999. Chapter 5, Volume I, “The Gasoline Era.”

[3] Hackercraft. James P. Barry. Voyager Press, 2009.

[4] Motor Boating, Volume 12, No 4, October 1913, p. 94.  1913-  In a booklet titled Review of the Racing Season of 1913, the address shown is Monroe, Michigan, location of factory.

[5] Monroe Michigan Observer, November 21, 1942.

[6] Open Exhaust, July, 1915. p. 11

[7] Open Exhaust, Volume 6, November, 1915

[8] Motor Boating Magazine, Vol. 17, No 3. March  1916, p. 40.

[9] Forum Marinum, Turku, Finland 

[10] Gas Engine Magazine. Max F. Homfeld, September/October 1993.

[11] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) ·  Wed, Sep 7, 1949 ·  Page 21

[12] Motor Boating Magazine, February, 1917. Volume 19, No. 2, p. 46. 1918. A 1918 Catalog shows the company address as 50 East 42nd Street, New York City, rather than Detroit or Monroe

[13] Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1921-1922 

[14] [14] Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1921-1922 

[15] Motor boat Magazine, January 1, 1921, Volume 18, part I, page 52

[16] Power boating, Volume 23, January 1, 1921, p. 62; Power boating.  Volume 23, p. 62. September 1921

[17] Motor Boat Magazine, The Trade, June 25, 1922, p.40

[18] New  York Times, July 8, 1974. Joseph Van Blerck Jr. Is Dead; Set Many Speedboat Records

[19] Joseph Van Blerck Sr. Obituary in Motorboating – N.D. , October 1949, p. 77