COPYRIGHT 2005 Clarke Historical Library
The Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road was the first continuous road
into the heart of central Michigan. The route was north, up the
peninsula divide from the settled districts of the south-central portion
of the state into the wilderness of the northern Lower Peninsula. It was
the first state road designated to be financed with provisions from the
Swamp Land Act conveying federally owned swamp lands to the state of
Michigan. The southern stretches of the road helped open land to farm
settlement and remain in use today. Construction of some of the northern
portion, however, illustrates a familiar pattern in nineteenth-century
internal improvements: private interests often captured state-subsidized
ventures and profited more than did the public. In this instance, the
road angled across section lines on a route highly advantageous to its
builders but awkward for permanent use. And within a few decades,
portions of the road, having served the purpose of building private
wealth, were abandoned.
Travel into the central and northern interior of the state in the
mid-1800s was largely limited to the rivers where one could travel by
canoe and raft. In his book Woodcraft, George Sears describes his walk
across the Lower Peninsula in October 1845. From the time he left
Saginaw until his arrival at a lumber camp a few miles from Muskegon,
ten days elapsed. Sears described his trip as "through a strange
wilderness, solitary and alone," as he encountered only forest creatures
in his travels. (1) Even as late as the Civil War, the wilderness
prevailed. Isaac A. Fancher gives us an example of the rigors of these
early times in his history of central Michigan: volunteers gathered at
Indian Mills (about fifty miles west of Saginaw), bade farewell, boarded
a raft to carry them down the Chippewa River to Saginaw, and enlisted in
the Union army. (2)
In 1850 Congress passed the Swamp Land Act, which transferred certain
federal lands in eight states, including Michigan, to state control for
disposal by sale. Under this act, the Michigan Land Office eventually
received nearly six million acres of so-called swamp land. It was not
until 1859, however, that the state provided for using these lands as a
way to finance road building. By this time the need was greater than
ever for better roads to open the way for settlers. On February 12,
1859, Act 117 of the Michigan Legislature was signed into law. (3) In
the preamble to the legislation, the act's framers cited the need to
construct roads and ditches (required to drain roads and farmlands)
through the more unsettled parts of the state. Legislators deemed that
the proceeds from the sale of swamp lands granted to the state by the
federal government should be used to construct these roads and ditches.
Act 117 listed nine different state roads for construction, and the
Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road was number one on the list.
Furthermore, this act set up the machinery necessary to carry out
construction; commissioners would be appointed, and among their duties
would be the establishment of specifications for fights-of-way, bridges,
and road surfaces.
One other important provision of the act concerned the letting of
contracts. In this section, the act noted that a contractor might elect
to take lands in lieu of cash payment for constructing a portion of a
road. The law stipulated, however, that no more than an average of 640
acres could be awarded for building one mile of road. Another provision
stated that the land granted to the contractor must be in the same
county as the construction work he had performed.
Just three days after the passage of Act 117, another measure, Act 240,
which authorized extending the Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road to old
Fort Mackinaw, received the legislature's support. (4) In the following
years, however, construction never reached farther north than Houghton
Lake. As a state swamp land road, it was thus destined to be the Ionia
and Houghton Lake State Road.
Why the writers of Act 117 chose Ionia as a starting point for the road
to the north is not clear, but there are several possible reasons. First
of all, since there was a state land office in Ionia, a road from there
would be ideal for persons buying land and planning to move north into
the central Lower Peninsula. Second, Ionia, which at the time was
already a substantial community on the Grand River, was situated farther
north than Lansing and thus closer to unsettled land. Choosing Ionia as
the starting place for the road had another benefit that the people who
drew up the act may not have fully understood. Had the road proceeded
north from Lansing, builders would have encountered serious
difficulties. In northern Clinton County, the wide glacial spillway now
occupied by the Maple River would have been a major obstacle. Farther
north in Gratiot County, the road would have had to be built across a
glacial lake plain consisting of heavy clay loam soils. Building a road
in those conditions would have required extensive drainage and filling,
and even then the resulting road would have been subject to flooding at
certain times of the year. Alternatively, a road running north from
Ionia would follow the "backbone" of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan,
where there was a series of recessional moraines and ground moraines,
along with stretches of outwash plain. Although this area was not
without problems, the route offered relatively good year-round drainage
and lighter soils, which made road construction much easier.
Within a month of the passage of Act 240, Governor Moses Wisner
appointed H. H. LeRoy and J. W. Toms as swamp land road commissioners.
They quickly arranged for a survey of the route, heading the survey
party themselves. It took two months and seven days to survey the
212-mile route; the team arrived at the Straits of Mackinac on June 1,
1859. The field notes, which took up three rolls, each one eleven feet
long (at two inches to the mile), contain an amazing number of details
about the topographical features the group encountered. (5)
In a written report to the governor, the swamp land road commissioners
emphasized that the Ionia to Mackinaw route was an ideal route to the
north, following as it did the divide between Lakes Michigan and Huron.
The report also asserted that contrary to popular belief, the lands to
the north were not a mass of swamps and gravel ridges. Instead, this
region held out excellent prospects for habitation and development. The
commissioners further noted the presence of pinelands and large areas
suitable for farming, which the road would help make accessible to
lumbermen and settlers. (6)
The commissioners decided that six rods of right-of-way should be used
for this road instead of the standard four rods of right-of-way used
along section lines. Of these six rods, the center three were to be
"grubbed" free of roots and stumps and cleared of logs. Except for
bridges, culverts, and logways, the road was to be thirty feet wide. The
traveled portion should be "turnpiked," (7) and where the ground was low
and wet, the surface was to be four feet above the bottom of the
adjacent ditches. Detailed bridge plans specified three types, depending
on the crossing. All bridges were to be eighteen feet wide. The bridge
deck was to be planked with ten-inch-thick pine, hemlock, or oak, and
these planks were not to be wider than fifteen inches. (8)
On February 27, 1860, a little more than a year after Act 240's passage,
the first contracts were let at a public auction in the village of
Ionia. Darling & Murphy was awarded the first contract for a portion of
the road near the Ionia County and Montcalm County line. The State Road
Commissioner's office issued fourteen contracts to four different firms
during 1860. (9) These contracts allowed for the extension of the road
to near Sheridan in Montcalm County on a line corresponding to what is
now state highway M-66.
The State Road Board was the governing body responsible for allocating
monies from the sale of swamp land and approving procedures to build
state roads. This board was headed by the governor, and members included
the state treasurer, the auditor general, the secretary of state, and
the state's road commissioner. This group soon found that the original
act needed changes in order to facilitate implementation of its basic
intent, and in 1861 Act 107 was passed to address this need. (10)
Act 107 stated more clearly how state swamp lands would be awarded in
lieu of money for the construction of swamp land roads. Upon
satisfactory completion of the work, or two miles on larger contracts, a
payment or partial payment in land could be made, with the land valued
at the minimum price set for swamp lands. The contractor could select
lands ahead of time and have them held until he completed or partially
completed his work. When construction was complete, the commissioner of
the State Land Office would issue to the contractor a certificate of
lands he had selected. This certificate entitled the contractor to
patents for the land.
In the following year (1862), Act 26 instituted more changes. It allowed
contractors to select lands in payment in counties other than those
where the work was performed. Another feature of this act allowed
surveyors to receive payments in the same way as building contractors.
(11) The framework was in place for the eventual dispersal of thousands
of acres of designated swamp lands in Michigan. The result would be
access to new lands for many homesteaders and fortunes for a few
Although much work was completed on the Ionia and Houghton Lake State
Road in 1861, the Civil War soon slowed construction. No new contracts
were let for more than three years after Frederick Hall of Ionia
received one in February 1862 (the next contract that was issued was to
Giles Gilbert for the road in Montcalm north of Stanton on October 17,
1865). In Hall's case the contract had to be extended beyond the
original completion date. As nearly as can be determined, the Ionia and
Houghton Lake State Road was finished as far as Stanton, the county seat
of Montcalm County, in late 1863 or early 1864.
Jackson Alexander, a Civil War veteran from Elkhart, Indiana, who came
to Isabella County in September 1866, wrote about conditions in that
part of central Michigan soon after the war. (12) He was anxious to
homestead, so he traveled with his wife and three children to
southeastern Coldwater Township in Isabella County. Alexander's farm was
located less than two miles from the future Ionia and Houghton Lake
State Road, which would not be completed until five years after his
Traveling up the state road from Ionia to Schafer's Tavern north of
Stanton, the Alexanders experienced few difficulties. This was as far as
the road had been completed, and thus it was the "jumping-off place"
into the forested tracks that led farther north. Alexander recalled
going for many miles through pinewoods where there was no clearing. The
trail was marked by an occasional blazed tree and wound in every
possible direction to avoid the giants of the forest. The travelers left
Schafer's Tavern at noon and finally arrived at the Pine River in
Isabella County--a distance of about twelve miles--just as darkness
fell. They made camp at this location and soon after daybreak loaded up
their gear to continue the journey. After traveling a short distance,
however, they came to a sudden halt when one of the wagon wheels
collapsed. Unable to repair the wheel, Alexander walked seven miles to
get help from a settler who rented him a wagon so he and his family
could reach their destination. (13)
During a subsequent journey, Alexander and his wife were on a woodland
trail only five miles from their claim when their wagon, which was
loaded with household goods, tipped over. On this occasion, H. A.
Bruebaker, the "original homesteader" in the area, helped the couple
out, as he did so often in those early years of settlement. Bruebaker
loaned Alexander his wagon so that he could retrieve his goods.
Alexander recalled that it was well after dark when he and his wife made
their way slowly through the forest. They were met by Bruebaker,
carrying a lantern and a basket of food to see them through the last leg
of their journey. (14)
Veterans such as Alexander were looking for a forty- or eighty-acre
tract on which they could settle. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand,
sought to acquire land that could be exploited because of its timber.
They saw an opportunity to build roads and ditches and then select
payment for this work in profitable timbered acreage.
By the middle of the 1860s, swamp land roads were under construction in
many places, particularly in the northern two-thirds of Michigan.
Problems arose when unscrupulous contractors did not perform their tasks
to specifications. There was a move to tighten up the administration of
the program by creating the office of State Swamp Land Road Commissioner
in 1865. Charged with awarding contracts, the commissioner would also
have to see that the work met the criteria set forth in those contracts.
Most important, the commissioner's warrant had to be secured before
funds or land could be received for the completed work. (15) These
changes did not, however, prevent a well-connected businessman from
using his wealth and political connections to ensure that road
construction would benefit primarily himself and his associates.
Detroit lawyer and lumberman Edmund Hall would play a leading role as
the construction of the Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road moved into
Isabella County. Well-connected politically, Hall was responsible for
building more of this road, some thirty-seven miles, than any other
contractor. Hall was born in New York State in 1819 and died at the age
of eighty-one, having accumulated a fortune from his timber operations,
principally in Clare and Isabella counties, although he never resided in
outstate Michigan. (16) Records show that in Isabella County alone
Hall's holdings eventually totaled more than fourteen square miles of
Western Isabella County is the watershed of the Chippewa River, a
watercourse capable of floating logs. Hall had chosen a well-positioned
site on the river for his camp. As it turned out, this camp was about
three miles east of the original Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road
survey. Hall recognized that he might be able to acquire additional
timberland if he built a portion of the state road in Isabella County.
As he thought about it, however, it occurred to Hall that it would be
even more advantageous to him if the route were shifted closer to his
In 1867 Hall persuaded Lansing authorities to authorize a change in the
route so that the road would pass near his lumber camp. Some settlers in
the vicinity of what would become Sherman City along the line of the
original survey learned of this change and were not pleased. They had
moved to this location because they believed that the road would pass
near their homesteads. The settlers sent one of their number, Thomas
Burgess, to Lansing to protest the change. Fred Kent, an early pioneer
from Sherman City, recalled Burgess's efforts many years later m 1914.
He wrote: "But Edmund Hall had money. Burgess liked money but he hardly
knew what it looked like since coming to Sherman, and so, his old
neighbors say, he was tempted and fell." (17)
So the new alignment started with a new survey and a new local State
Swamp Land Road Commissioner. The post was given to William Broomfield,
one of the first settlers in the township that bears his name in western
Isabella County. He immediately set about arranging for the survey work.
Under Broomfield's supervision, E. W. Palmer of Westville in Montcalm
County surveyed the new route in Isabella and Clare counties during
November and December 1867. The twenty-seven-mile stretch of route
relocation started, interestingly enough, on the north edge of
Broomfield's farm in Section 31, T14N, R6W, on the Isabella County line.
Broomfield ensured that his farm would not be affected when the new
construction began the following year. Contracts were let on fourteen
miles of road in Montcalm and Isabella counties following the original
survey line to Broomfield's farm and then seven miles on the new survey
line to Hall's camp on the Chippewa River. The contractors--not
unexpectedly--were Hall and his associate, the lumberman E. L. Gray. It
was nearly the middle of 1869 before the road was completed as far as
the Chippewa, although Hall finished the bridge across the river by the
fall of 1868. (18) Hall's lumber camp would now have road connections to
the south. The camp was just a half mile off the new road, and, more
importantly to Hall, he could now receive valuable swamp lands in
exchange for its construction.
Insight into the workings of this acquisition can be found in the "State
of Michigan Plat Book of Swamp Lands Covering Central Michigan." (19)
The reader may recall that the contractor for a state swamp land road
could select lands in advance to be held from the general sale pending
completion of the terms of his contract. In this book, penciled in on
the margins along with a date, is the following notation: "Edmund Hall,
applies for these lands when they come on the market on his contract."
Blocks are circled with lines to notations, and each forty-acre parcel
is labeled "EH." (20) Hall designated acreage in April, May, and June
1868 in anticipation of his completion of the Ionia and Houghton Lake
State Road to the Chippewa River.
In what became Gilmore Township in northern Isabella County, Hall
designated forty-nine forty-acre parcels at the going rate of $1.25 an
acre. This would amount to $2,450 for slightly more than three square
miles of designated swamp land. He also selected additional lands in
other townships. Large contractors like Hall probably took the maximum
of 640 acres of swamp land for each mile of road they built. They also
had the option of taking cash for construction contracts completed. The
average cost of constructing a mile of the Ionia and Houghton Lake State
Road was approximately $1,200, an amount that varied considerably
depending on topography and the number of watercourses traversed during
Using these acquisitions and other land that he purchased, Hall managed
to operate his lumber camp on the Chippewa River for nearly twenty
years. According to local historian Walter Russell, in 1892 Hall sold
most of his land and all of his equipment to McGeorge Bundy and Gale
Lumber Company for $110,000. (21)
The Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road now reached as far as the
Chippewa River. The revised 1867 route continued north some twenty miles
to near Bear Lake in Clare County, a point that joined the line of the
original survey. One might expect that the next contracts would be let
along this line, but that was not what happened. Edmund Hall became
aware of a new development that would make it advantageous for him to
request another route change.
In the late 1860s the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad was surveying
the route across Clare County in order to extend its tracks from Saginaw
to Ludington. Hall examined this new route with great interest. The
railroad would cross the south branch of the Tobacco River, making the
site an excellent location for a mill town. With his timber holdings in
mind, along with potential land acquisitions, Hall planned his moves.
Railroad officials chose the name Farwell for the new village (the
surname of a railroad superintendent's father-in-law). Along with some
other businessmen, Hall formed the Farwell Land Company and platted the
village in 1870. According to most accounts, Hall was the key figure in
having the village declared the county seat. (22) At about the same
time, Hall was pursuing a new request in Lansing for another change in
the route of the Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road. Houghton Lake could
be reached just as easily by angling the state road to Farwell and
thence to the north from the Chippewa River in Isabella County.
Hall sent his relatives to the area in order to further this endeavor
and advance his interests. Henry Woodruff, George Hitchcock, and Josiah
Littlefield took up residence in Farwell and were active in business and
governmental affairs. Of the three, Littlefield had the most lasting
influence on the community, and he also wrote an autobiography. (23)
In the summer of 1870, Hall's brother-in-law, George Hitchcock, surveyed
a new route north from the Chippewa River, revising the one that had
been completed in 1868. The 1870 survey was finished in July, and in
that same month four contracts for construction were let to extend the
road some forty miles to the Muskegon River in Clare County. (24)
The same general route was again surveyed by Edmund Hall's nephew,
Josiah Littlefield, the following summer. It appears that the earlier
survey had been a hasty effort just to get something on paper so that
construction could begin. Littlefield's autobiography does not address
this issue directly, but it indicates a degree of urgency on Hall's part
to push the road as far as Farwell. Both surveys are on file in the
state archives, so a comparison can be made: the 1871 survey reflects
the actual line of the road, whereas the 1870 survey missed the eventual
location of Farwell by three-quarters of a mile to the west. (25)
Littlefield relates that he worked with the local State Road
Commissioner, William Broomfield, as they ran the 1871 survey to four
miles north of Farwell, the end of Hall's contract. Littlefield
describes the extension of the survey north from that point in the
summer of 1871:
I was also
called on to make this survey through to Houghton
S. C. Hall of Muskegon had this contract of about
miles. This survey was made under the supervision of
commissioner, Mr. Broomfield. It was the practice in
these surveys to avoid steep grades as much as possible
was quite a good deal of angling to get around them. But
had gone, in this way, for about seven miles north of
Mr. Broomfield decided to follow the section line one
of the town line, which we did clear through to the
River in the northern part of Summerfield Township
County. From here on we were obliged to do some
but they were mostly long stretches to Houghton Lake.
point we made a junction with the Traverse City Road....
trip gave me a vivid idea of the vastness of the virgin
in the State at that time. And now, as I look back
of those days it gives me a feeling of loneliness when
around and see not one of those beautiful and splendid
creatures left. They have all been swept away. There are
forest companions, and we are indeed lonely. (26)
S. C. Hall held most of the contracts for building the road in central
and northern Clare County. S. C. Hall and Edmund Hall teamed up to build
one of the final sections of the road in Missaukee County. S. C. Hall
was from Muskegon, where the city directory listed him as a "pine land
dealer." He eventually acquired fifteen thousand acres of pineland in
Clare, Roscommon, and Missaukee counties, much of it from state swamp
land road contracts. (27)
The Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road was connected to the Midland
Grand Traverse Bay State Road just west of Houghton Lake at Reedsburg in
Missaukee County in late 1872, marking the end point of construction. A
total of $127,999 had been expended on the Ionia and Houghton Lake State
Road through September 30, 1876. (28) The records do not indicate that
any more roads were built under the name "Ionia and Houghton Lake State
Road," or "Ionia, Houghton Lake, and Mackinac State Road," so the
project never extended beyond Houghton Lake toward Mackinac.
The importance of the Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road peaked in the
years 1873 to 1885, particularly in the northern counties. Settlers and
lumberjacks with wagons and teams traversed the road through the
developing countryside. Comings and goings along the state road were
regularly reported in the Farwell Register. A February 7, 1887, extract
tells of a pioneer's trek north: "A covered wagon containing a family
and household goods, including a stove with pipe elevated through [the]
covering overhead passed through this place for the woods on Tuesday.
Considering the condition of the roads at this time, that family could
give a rich experience in roughing it." Two weeks later, this note
appeared: "Pete Olson of this place has a blacksmith shop on wheels. He
started northward on the State Road towards the Gerrish and Hazelton
Railroad on Tuesday with his outfit intending to visit lumber camps
along the road. He has 70 horses to shoe at the railroad camps. Here is
enterprise for you." (29)
Without a doubt the most unusual piece of equipment to travel the state
road did so in January 1878. A small locomotive destined for use on the
Gerrish and Hazelton Logging Railroad, situated some fifteen miles to
the northwest near the present-day village of Temple, was shipped to
Farwell on a flatcar over the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad. On a
cold winter morning steam was "gotten up," and the engine started
northward on the state road at the west end of the village. It was
accompanied by a force of men with levers and teams pulling wagons
loaded with water and wood. A crowd assembled to watch, and the Farwell
Register later reported the proceedings: "The sight was curious and
novel, a railroad engine puffing through the tall pines, vomiting fire
and smoke and startling the astonished woodsmen along the route." The
reason for the unusual trip up the state road was the experience gained
from getting the first locomotive on location two years before. It had
been transported to Evart, some twenty miles west of Farwell, on the
Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad. The locomotive was then loaded on a
raft and poled, with considerable difficulty, up the Muskegon River to
the site of logging operations. Having almost lost the engine in the
river on that occasion, the firm decided to use the state road the
second time around. (30)
To the south in Montcalm County, the state road's function was changing.
An agrarian landscape was developing; geographic townships were becoming
named political townships, with town halls and governmental functions.
Township roads were being built along section lines. Soon the state road
was integrated as just one road among many within the emerging pattern
of local roads. Much of Clare County, however, never developed a network
of section-line roads, as its sandy soil could not support a high
density of farmers. For this reason, the state road has been a main
road, retaining its identity throughout the years.
One reason for the disappearance of parts of the state road is that, in
contrast to present state highways, the swamp land state roads were
built and then left to each township to maintain. No attempt was made to
coordinate a through travel route, so road conditions varied from place
to place. Just fifteen years after the completion of the Ionia and
Houghton Lake State Road in Isabella County, the Sherman Township
Commissioner of Highways considered the bridge across the Chippewa River
on the state road to be "unsafe," although it remained in use until
1901. At that point, a steel span replaced the wooden structure. (31)
The Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road was abandoned in substantial
portions of Isabella County where it angled across sections. This
extensive diagonal rerouting was unique to Isabella County. In Ionia,
Montcalm, and Clare counties (and to a lesser extent Missaukee County),
the road generally followed section lines and remains a part of these
counties' road systems today.
More than half of the original 27.1 miles of state road has disappeared
from the map of Isabella County. The entire road appeared in the 1899
Plat Book of Isabella County, but the 1915 plat book reveals ten missing
miles of road. (32) Furthermore, several miles of road in Gilmore
Township in the 1915 plat book were indicated with dashed lines and were
apparently little used. Eventually, a total of 14.8 miles of the
original state road ceased to exist in Isabella County.
Searches of available records in the townships have not turned up any
formal closing of the state road. At the Isabella County Register of
Deeds office, the original right-of-way does not even appear in the
index to the tract on which the road cut diagonally across a section of
It appears that the state road was phased out as section-line roads were
built and people settled along those roads, taking up landownership
following the rectangular survey system. The angled road made for
irregular fields, and the same destination could be reached along the
section lines. Lack of maintenance by the townships and the landowners'
desire to shut off sections of the road all probably played a part in
I first became interested in the Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road in
1957. Wondering what could be seen of the abandoned and little-used
sections of this road, I made numerous field trips to search out
locations using old maps and then take pictures of what I found.
Not far from William Broom field's farm, just east of Hall's Lake, is an
original section of the state road. Early specifications had mentioned
the use of logways across marshes, and here exposed at a swampy crossing
were timbers bare of any soil covering. The road has since been widened
and raised, however, and there is no evidence today of its original
Near the present-day junction of Rolland Road and the state road, a
fence line extended southwest along a trace of the state road running
toward Indian Creek. Today, the fence is long gone, and what was a field
is now covered with trees and shrubs.
Bridge sites are easy to locate, such as along the Coldwater River south
of Littlefield Lake. At this site, fill extends onto the floodplain and
the bridge abutments are still present. In general, in places where the
road ascended a hill a cut was made, and where it passed through a marsh
fill was needed; so in these places the original traces of the road can
sometimes be found. Short segments of the original road in such spots
often end abruptly in open farmlands. These locations can be determined
by comparing present-day aerial photographs with maps from the time of
the state road's existence.
In 1957 several houses that were failing into ruin stood in the middle
of Sections 16 and 21 of Gilmore Township, along an abandoned stretch of
the state road. In one of these structures I found a wall papered with a
1905 edition of the Detroit Times. It was only a few years after 1905
that this section of the road was abandoned. Time has taken most of
these relics, leaving at best a fieldstone foundation or an enduring
clump of lilacs.
At the present time (2005), the section most characteristic of the
original state road is the short half-mile segment, which is still in
use, that runs diagonally across Section 31 of Gilmore Township
southwest of Little field Lake. It has recently been marked with
historical signs by the Isabella County Road Commission.
The Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road was an important transportation
artery in the early history of central Michigan. Lumbermen saw an
opportunity to acquire timber, and farmers saw the opportunity to
homestead. In many ways the road created possibilities for both.
Considering the many centuries this area stood virtually untouched, a
century and a quarter is a short time to go from a track in the forest
wilderness to a populated landscape with roads on almost every section
(1) George W. Sears, Woocraft (New York: Forest and Stream, 1884);
reprinted in Michigan History Magazine 15 (1931): 634-44.
(2) Isaac A. Fancher, Past and Present of Isabella County, Michigan
(Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1911), 313-14.
(3) Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan Passed at the
Regular Session of 1859 (Lansing: Hosmer & Kerr, 1860), 310-18.
(4) Ibid., 876.
(5) "Plats and Profiles of the Ionia via Houghton Lake to the Straits of
Mackinaw State Road, 1859," RG-58-17, box 220, State Archives, Lansing,
(6) The Ionia via Houghton Lake to the Straits of Mackinaw State Road
Commissioners Report, in Governor Moses Wisner Papers (Roads), 1859,
State Archives, Lansing.
(7) As used in this article, "turnpiked" means that the traveled surface
was crowned and smoothed.
(8) "Plats and Profiles," map 214, State Archives, Lansing.
(9) "Records, State Roads, July 7, 1859, to March 26, 1873," vol. 5,
RG-57-31-A, in ibid.
(10) Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan Passed at the
Regular Session of 1861 (Lansing: John Kerr & Son, 1862), 140.
(11) Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan Passed at the
Extra Session of 1862 (Lansing: John Kerr & Son, 1862), 56.
(12) Portrait and Biographical Album of Isabella County, Michigan
(Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1884), 382-83.
(15) For an excellent overview of Michigan's swamp lands, see LeRoy
Barnett, "Roads, Railroads, and Recreation," Michigan History 72
(July-August 1988): 28-34.
(16) For additional biographical information about Edmund Hall, see
Silas Farmer, The History of Detroit and Michigan (Detroit: S. Farmer &
Co., 1889), 2: 1120.
(17) Isabella County Enterprise, July 24, 1914, 1.
(18) "Records, State Roads, July 7, 1859, to March 26, 1873," 237.
(19) "State of Michigan Plat Book of Swamp Lands Covering Central
Michigan," vol. 9, RG-57-41, folder R6-VII S1-4, State Archives,
(20) Forty-acre parcels were the smallest legal subdivision for
designated swamp lands. This was my conclusion from studying the notes
and plats of the original survey of the state of Michigan by the United
States Surveyor General's office.
(21) Walter Russell had in his possession a letter from William F. Bundy
confirming this family purchase from Edmund Hall. William F. Bundy was
an assistant United States Secretary of State in the 1960s. Russell is
now deceased, but he shared this information with me in the early 1960s.
(22) Forrest B. Meek, Michigan's Timber Battleground: A History of Clare
County, 1764-1900 (Clare, Mich.: Bicentennial Historical Committee,
1976), 35, 93, 158.
(23) In 1959 I visited Josiah Littlefield's daughter, Hazel Littlefield
Smith, to inquire about her father's role in building the Ionia and
Houghton Lake State Road. Smith produced an autobiographical manuscript
Littlefield had written that includes information on the Farwell area as
well as the state road. The Bentley Historical Library, University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor, has J. L. Littlefield's papers, which may contain a
copy of this manuscript.
(24) "Records, State Roads, July 7, 1859, to March 26, 1873," 335.
(25) Ionia, Houghton Lake, and Mackinaw State Road (Surveys, 1870-71),
RG-60-8, State Archives, Lansing.
(26) This quotation was taken directly from Josiah Littlefield's
autobiographical manuscript. An edited form of this document, titled
Josiah Littlefield, Lumberman-Conservationist: An Autobiography, was
privately published in 1972. Hazel Littlefield Smith's editing
eliminated the quotation given here, but the printed version tells of
his work on the state road.
(27) F. A. Barnard, American Biographical History of Eminent and
Self-Made Men, Michigan Volume (Cincinnati, Ohio: Western Biographical
Publishing Co., 1878), 5-47.
(28) "Sundry Indexes Relating to State Road Contracts, Statements of
Payments-State Swamp Land Roads," vol. 6, RG 56-31-A, State Archives,
(29) Farwell Register. This weekly newspaper and its files are no longer
in existence. Two nearby papers that often quoted stories from this
paper were the Evart Review in Evart, and the Isabella County,
Enterprise, located in Mt. Pleasant. It is from these sources that the
two quotations are taken.
(30) Hudson Keenan, "America's First Successful Logging Railroad,"
Michigan History 44 (Fall 1960): 292-302.
(31) Sherman Township, Isabella County, retained complete records of the
early township road and bridge work, including the construction of
section-line roads. I was able to examine these record books at the
township hall in 1957.
(32) C. M. Foote, Plat Book of Isabella County, Michigan (Minneapolis:
C. M. Foote Publishing Co., 1899); Isabella County 4-H Council, Land
Atlas and Plat Book, Isabella County, Michigan (Rockford, Ill.: Rockford
Map Publishers, 1915).
(33) I found just the original 1859 survey and the revision of 1876 for
the Ionia and Houghton Lake State Road recorded in the Isabella County
Register of Deeds office.
Hudson Keenan is a retired Mt. Pleasant High School instructor and a
native of Isabella County, Michigan.