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The Early Days
Written in the 1940s
By: Pat Milligan II
In the year of 1879, the Chicago and Northwestern Railway started a survey for a railroad from Narenta, Michigan, in a northwesterly direction into a timber and mining region, which later was known as the Felch Branch, the town of Metropolitan being the end of the railroad line.
In the years of 1881 and 1882, the Harmon Lumber Company sent cruisers up the track to look at pine timber and whatever timber there was of sale value at that time.
In the years of 1882 and 1883l, the Harmon Lumber Company selected a spot approximately 29 miles northwest of Narenta, where the C&NW railroad crosses the East Branch of the Sturgeon River, and hired the Stephenson Brothers from Marinette, Wisconsin, to clear a town site and a place for their mill on the river bank.
Shortly afterward the site was called Foster City, named after the Harmon Lumber Company's first superintendent , A. Foster.
In 1884, the first lumber of commercial value was sawed in mill. A small store and a boarding house were built, plus other buildings needed by the people of the town.
From the beginning of the sawing in the mill until about 1904 and 1905, most of the timber sawed was pine, hemlock, basswood, and cedar, which was made into shingles. Laths were also made, in the lath mill. The pine was mostly gone, but the hardwood stands of maple, birch, basswood and elm were beginning to have a commercial value, and more shingles, laths and ties were sawed. The mill was converted into a hardwood mill and a two double block and shingle mill.
There no doubt were few regions in the Upper Peninsula that had more beautiful stands of virgin hardwood and cedar than the Menominee-Sturgeon River waterway and its tributaries. This was an established fact among the old cruisers of the U.P. Most of the timber sawed in the mill here came from a radius of 15 miles.
From the time of the first settlers, many of the men built homes near the village and established small farms, which today (meaning the 1940s) are some of the finest farms in the country.
Many of the first settlers were of mixed nationalities, foreigners who came to the U.P. to make homes for themselves and their families, while others came for adventure, following whatever new that would develop next. All these people were of hearty, hardworking stock that soon took the situation in hand, and built churches, schools, and halls, and made the community a thriving place.
When the depot was built by the C&NW railroad, the first agent was Mr. McKinnin. Mr. McKinnin later retired and lived in California.
Among other early settlers that lived here were A. L. Foster and his brother, Mr. Lewellyn Price, William Morse, O.D. Morse, Peter J. Anderson, Alex Erickson, Peter Moore, Dan Kaiser, Tab DuCare, Magnus Swanson, August Peterson, Everett Stebbins, Jack and William Enright, Mr. Paul, Gust Johnson, Sam Doran, Frank Peterson, Charles Pocan, John and Isaac Oman, Andrew Filback, John Anderson, Charles Skogman, Axel Skogman, Archie P. Farrell, John Salzer, John Johnson I, Mr. Patrick Milligan I, Swan J. Peterson, M.N. Johnson, and Nels M. Turnquist.
In 1900, Mr. Tom Morgan of Oshkosh, WI, purchased the Harmon Lumber Company and incorporated a new firm known as the Morgan Lumber Company and Cedar Company of which Mr. R.W. Pierce was superintendent, Mr. Lew Price, his assistant, and Steve Allen, bookkeeper.
This new company soon converted the mill into a hardwood shingle and lath mill.
Prior to 1912, the logs were hauled by oxen, mules, and horses; later hauled with a steam hauler and ten-ton Holt tractors, on ice roads and on large sleds. Many of these sleds were loaded with 6 and 7 thousand feet of logs. The best record was 26 sled loads, 21 racks of logs, and 5 racks of pulp and post composing the train.
Many posts, poles, ties, and cedar bolts and hemlock and pine logs were driven. The last drive was in the spring and summer of 1920. After the lumber was cut and piled, it was dried and loaded on railroad cars and sent to all parts of the United States. During the first World War, one car of basswood was consigned to St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada, and then to England.
This Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was something in itself. One engine, freight cars, one baggage car and smoker car, and a passenger coach...It left Escanaba at approximately eight in the morning and returned to Escanaba twelve to sixteen hours later, depending on the work. This was a total of 80 miles, plus the miles of switching. It was well known as "The Felch Flyer."
The year of 1907, a fire started somewhere south of Holmes' farm and traveled north. It soon got out of control, spread in many directions, and endangered many towns on the Felch line. Two miles south of town three fire engines were set up and pumped water to save the town. When the fire got within a mile of town, during the night, a special train was sent to take the people out of the danger area. About that time, a sudden shift of the wind helped the situation considerably, and by morning, before the train left, the fire was under control and no damage was done to any town on the Felch line.
One building of historic value was the Town Hall, in which many events took place. The hall in its time was used for social gatherings, dances, masquerades, Christmas programs, church services, caucuses, elections, an ice cream parlor, pool room, doctor's offices, shows and movies. Many boys and girls put in their first day of school in that building. Many a prominent orchestra in the U.P. entertained in that old town hall.
In the year 1923, the Morgan Lumber Company of Oshkosh decided to close its mill at Foster City. This caused many to go to work at nearby towns, and many traveled great distances for new employment. Thus ended another community in the history of the Upper Peninsula, as far as a sawmill town was concerned.
But the timber was not all gone. Neither were the farms and the people living on them, or the community buildings. Many of these were the finest structures in Dickinson County. In 1925, the late Mr. Swan J. Peterson purchased the town from Mr. J. Earl Morgan of Oshkosh, WI. (This ends the historical account by P.J. Milligan II).
* Ellen Halderson added a few more names to the list of early settlers which appears in this article: John Korton, Joseph Kelly, Charles Warden, Joseph Lapine, and Art Preston. There were many more that should have been mentioned, but unfortunately their names have not been recalled at this time by old-timers living in Breen Township.