Looking back on EJ, Boyne City

Guest Commentary by Mitch MacKay of East Jordan

MOSTLY EAST JORDAN BUT BOYNE COUNTRY amalgamating in genesis, the Northwestern tip of the Lower Peninsula is partially covered in the Traverse region (1884) and related histories available in local libraries and online as one greater territory in its settling.

For practical purport, Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bays aside, post-Civil-War settlement reigns relevant as inland property became officially available for homesteading.

Of course, there were forays in older times from Vikings, French, English and others which remnants are still being uncovered.

For current perspective, the advent of East Jordan is ascribed to Solomon Isaman who decamped from Charlevoix on foot in 1867 to set up a homestead on the west shore of Pine Lake, now Lake Charlevoix South Arm.

Another tangible East Jordan record extant is that of Amos Williams, 1850s, an itinerant preacher who is said to have named the Jordan River.

Solomon Isaman built a wooden cabin which housed a sort of trading post which became a compound of buildings as other pioneers ventured into the area; an old drawing depicting the settlement such as it was indicates accumulation of enterprise.

The inlet from Lake Michigan at Charlevoix, which flooded the river basins of the Jordan and the Boyne Rivers, created lake and river estuaries inland, but connected to the big lake more advantageously when the narrow and shallow inlet-outlet stream, Pine River, was widened and dredged deeply to allow large boats to enter.

That opened the territory to settling because once Charlevoix was reached by lake vessels the inland routes carrying trade and passengers farther into the peninsula promoted founding of the towns of East Jordan and Boyne City.

French fur traders had explored the lands north and south of the Straits of Mackinac, somewhat able to make contact with the Indian tribes then habituating, some records even suggesting that the French could communicate with some Indians without translations, raising more questions about heritage, some Indian tribes being known by French-sounding names.

Scandinavian explorers ventured as far as Minnesota as relics and ruins show, the Great Lakes being the roadways of that time, via Lake Superior extending to Minnesota from the St. Lawrence Seaway, Hudson River water routes, geographically more than a third of the distance from the Atlantic Ocean to eastern Minnesota at Duluth.

Water travel was the principle means of discovery and thence transportation of pioneers and cargo, which extended throughout the New World, Michigan being one of the last eastern provincial regions to be settled due to its then No-Exit Land’s-End at the Straits even when the land became traversable on foot, by horse and penultimately by railroad. 

The old train engine residing in Sportsman’s Park on the west side of the harbor once tugged freight and passengers to and from southern areas to Northern Michigan.  Meanwhile, Boyne City was indulging in its own prosperous arising as a pioneer town with manufacturing interests and tourist facilities even back in those days.

Many progenitors surfaced but one in particular, the family of Zacharias Morgan stands out.

An African-American couple, Zack and Mary were industrious in the formulating of Boyne City, a brickmaking company for instance, a street still bearing the name Morgan.

Another oddity of black folk living in Boyne City comes through Jim Andrews, now deceased, born and raised in BC, an anecdote of a black man living up the street from Jim’s house on Leroy St in direct alignment with the former Tannery on the lakeside of Lake Charlevoix, the greater inlet from the town of Charlevoix.

This man, said Jim Andrews, would capture a bumblebee regularly to allow it to sting him to ward off severe arthritic pains, a remedy that was since then developed in pharmaceutical labs as patented relief.

The man, said Jim, would holler in pain at night with the self-imposed curative.

Jim also told of the polluting of the lake with red chemical pigment used in curing cowhides for leather; when the water was too red, said he, the kids would avoid it for a more transparent swimming day.

East Jordan, though, heralded the more industrious beginnings of the territory with its lumber mills and unique natural harbor of deep water at river’s conflation, a setting which allowed as many as twenty big boats to dock at once for loading and unloading of lumber, passengers and finished products coming and going.

When the railroads came, the passageways were completed for passenger-freight transport, minus of course personal motivity, no roads yet but for “Indian Trails.”

Hotels aplenty lined the main streets of most towns in early days, usually three-story wooden structures, which usually burned leaving almost nothing but sketches and photos to remind.

Likewise, no one will find much to reminisce of the early days but postcards.

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