Long Rapids

Long Rapids

Very early in the history of Long Rapids disaster struck, when fire burned over the land, leaving a vast barren space. It is believed that tornadoes had swept through the area uprooting trees, setting the stage for the forest fires which probably came through about 1850. It was referred to as The Burning or The Burned Place. Soon the desolate section was replaced by a beautiful new green growth and so it is still called Greenwoods today. The village of Long Rapids received its name from the mile and a half long rapids on the Thunder Bay River. On March 15, 1873, the township of Alpena was subdivided into three townships: Alpena, Wilson and Long Rapids.

Less than a month later, Long Rapids township held its first annual meeting in the Jones School, in the Leuden Settlement (now the property of John Lewis, on MacArthur Road). Elected to the office of Supervisor was John Louden; Clerk, James Todd; Treasurer, James Carr: Justice of the Peace, William H. Marston, and Highway Commissioners, W.M. Hicks and Henry Hodgins.

One of the first industries in this area was the saw mill built by Hopper and Speechley, who also built the Speechley Dam on the river in the same area.

Cedar grew abundantly in the somewhat lowland area surrounding Long Rapids and the now burned over land was in perfect shape for the plow when the settlers arrived. The maple trees were of prime size for the making of maple syrup.

Mr. C. W. Richardson came to Alpena in 1864 from Maine. He acquired vast amounts of land in this area for the purpose of harvesting the timber crop. Much of it was in the Greenwoods. After his death the land was sold in smaller parcels to lunber men. Some land was homesteaded as a result of the Homestead Act of 1854.

On November 21, 1881, the David Donald family bought a parcel of farming land from Mr. Richardson. Earlier they had arrived in North America on May 29, 1872, after a two week journey aboard the ship, St. Patrick. They lived in the southern part of Quebec Province where their eleventh child was born. The large family moved to Long Rapids and set about clearing the land to build a log cabin. Later the new frame home was built when fire destroyed the cabin.

David Donald Jr., son of the Sr. David Donalds, married Ida Branscomb and they built and operated the only store in the Greenwoods. Money being scarce, much bartering was done at the store. Customers would bring chickens, eggs, wheat, and homemade butter to be exchanged for such essentials as tea dust at ten cents a pound; coffee, in a four pound pail, for one dollar; white sugar at twenty-five cents for three pounds; oranges for five cents each; and lard at two pounds for twenty-five cents. The Donalds took these items by carriage to Alpena to sell or exchange for grocery supplies to resell in their store. All necessities for the woodsmen as well as articles of clothing were also kept in stock.

Scales for weighing were scarce so the ones in Donald's store were pretty popular and used by anyone needing to weigh something. To bolster the family income, Mr. Donald worked as a lumber scaler. Although his wife had five small children to care for, she kept the store open for customers during her husbands abscence.

Fourth of July celebrations and Sunday School picnics were held in the grove in front of the store. Everyone came to join the fun of games, races and eat homemade ice cream.

When Mr. Donalds's health began to fail, he went West to Fort Collins, Colorado. The store property was sold to the youngest brother, Will Donald. Soon after the sixth baby was born to Mrs. Donald, she boarded the train with her small brood and headed west to join her husband. Mr. Donald was a pottery cookware salesman in Fort Collins and the family was together until he succombed to tuberculosis. Mrs. Donald and all her children once again returned to Greenwoods, repurchased the family dwelling and ran the store until it was destroyed by fire in the early 1900's. It was necessary for the family to sleep in the school house (and leave when the pupils arrived for classes) until a new home was built.

The Greenwood School, which was across the road from the store, was used as a church building also. It was here that Mrs. David Donald, Sr. and later her son, Donald, delivered the sermon and helped to teach the Sunday School.

Another family to move into the area was that of Duncan McRae. They came to Alpena by boat from Quebec and Ontario Provinces, the family was engaged in farming in the Long Lake area before coming to Long Rapids in 1885. The farm they purchased in the Greenwoods was formerly owned by Monior Clock. Adjacent to the McRae property lived a bachelor named Byron Newton. As part of his property was situated on a limestone knoll, Mr. Newton was engaged in the occupation of being a maker of lime.

The limestone was dug out of the side of a hill and the large pieces of stone were hauled to an eighteen foot square foundation which served as a furnace. The stone was placed inside the foundation and then broken into smaller pieces with a sledge hammer. Pine stumps were placed under some of the crushed rock and this was set ablaze. Hardwood was added after the fire had a good start. The fires had to be tended day and night for a three-day period. After it had cooled, the lime was sifted through a fine screen, to remove any large pieces, and it then was stored in barrels. Farmers would come great distances to buy the lime for building purposes. It was sold for about two dollars for a bag weighting fifty pounds. After the purchaser had hauled his lime home, he stored it in a pit like hole in the ground to prevent it from hardening. This task was usually performed in the Spring and late Fall when the farm work was not too pressing. Mr. Newton later sold his farm in 1903 to the John Gokel family. Mr. Gokel continued to operate this business for some time.

Mrs. John Gokel, Abbie Wynn and Annie Olsen cooked for the Robinson Brothers Saw Mill Camp in the Greenwoods. Most of the crew for this mill had come from the AuSable and Bay City regions. The logs were cut into planks and hauled by team and sleigh to Posen, a distance of twelve miles, and were placed aboard the train and shipped by rail. About every other weekend the Robinson brothers would open their crude shack to the public and a square dance would be held. Both brothers were excellent fiddlers and all of the folks from the area would come and join in the gaiety. Annie Olsen would make sure there were plenty of fresh doughnuts and coffee for the merrymakers. The mill continued operation until th last half of 1907 and early 1908. Thus ended th pine era in this area.

Another of the numerous occupations for the farmers of the area waws to strip the bark from the hemlock trees. The bark then was transported into Alpena by horse and wagon and sold to the tannery for the processing of leather. Many of the men also worked on the log drives in the Spring.

The oldest log house in the Greenwoods still in existence, was built by Mr. Bill Jones and later was sold to the John Cole family. Mr. Cole, although not of Scottish ancestory, played an important role in the community. He was a shoemaker and because he was an expert in his field, was hired by Pack and Fletcher to make logging boots. The leather for his product was purchased at the tannery in Alpena. During the winter of 1897, the family had diptheria, which caused the death of Walter and Grace, two of their yourg children, on the same night. The burning of sulphur was about the only treatment used for this disease.

The only family to homestead land in the Greenwoods according to available information was the John McMillan family. They moved into the area about 1873 or 1874. They homesteaded their farm and according to the Homestead Act of 1854, it was necessary for people to live on a piece of property for five years, build a cabin, and establish an orchard and then it became theirs. The property was transferred on February 6, 1878, to Mr. McMillan from the State of Michigan. Farming was the main interest of Mr. McMillan. Two sons were born to the family, William in 1877 and Delbert (Bert) in 1879.

Will and Delbert were interested in the lumbering business and at the ages of fourteen and sixteen years they began working for the Fletcher Lumber Company. Bert raised a large family so he also did a considerable amount of farming.

Without a doubt, all of the early settlers to this northern area had to be of an exceptional mold. No ordinary man could survive the hardships. They had the ability to improvise. Their desire to better themselves, and work and prosper free of the rule of landlords made it all worthwhile.

(Adaption): Through the generous cooperation of Mrs. Norma Carr we were able to write the article, Long Rapids. She allowed the use of her college term paper which was an excellent source of information.