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

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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

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 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.

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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

 

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