Article: The Northern Division of the Detroit & Mackinac

DM Map

The Northern Division of the D&M

From the Alpena Argus, August 28, 1895.

The geographical situation of the city of Alpena is such that the country to the northwest, west and southwest, for a distance of at least 60 miles, will find Alpena as its shipping point, and for wholesale business. That vast region is sparsely settled at present, but is destined to be the home of a multitude of people, and their business along will, in our opinion, maintain a much larger city than Alpena is at present. To develop the region referred to, and induce the settler to locate on the vacant lands, and convert them into farms, good road communication is the great need, and already considerable has been done in that line.

One important factor in the development of the region to the northwest, is the northern division of the Detroit & Mackinac railroad, from this city to a few miles beyond Valentine, or Jackson Lake, as it was first termed. The distance is 54 miles, but many branches led from the main line to the lakes and territory beyond it. The railroad was built by Alger, Smith & Co., principally to enable them to lumber their large tract of pine in Presque Isle and Montmorency counties, and convey it to the lake shore. At the same time it served as a means for opening up the country through which it ran, to settlers, and gave Alpena lumbermen an opportunity to bring their pine to the city. The road has given Alpena a large amount of business, as it turned the commerce of that region to this city. Lands increased in value along the route.; Settlers began to locate and make farms of the wilderness, and villages are springing up. And yet it is but the beginning of an improvement that will make the region one of the most valuable in the state. Thousands of people will have comfortable homes, and the fertile soil will produce crops of immense value.

A representative of the Argus took a trip over the road Friday, to see the wild country along the route, and note the improvements in the short time the road has been in operation.

The first regular passenger train was run over the road November 20th, 1893, going to Posen, being as far as the road was completed at that time.  It was extended gradually through the pine forests until Jackson Lake was reached.

April 16th, 1895, the road was purchased by the Detroit & Mackinac, and designated the Northern Division.  It has been a good paying road from the commencement, and a large business is done in moving logs, hemlock bark, posts, ties, poles, pulp wood, etc., besides the revenue from passengers and general merchandise is extensive.  The train makes one round trip per day, and is made up of engine, passenger coach, combination baggage and smoker, and good time is made.

The passenger train leaves the depot near Dock street, at 7:50 in the morning, and a run of nine miles brings it to Cathro, where there is a large clearing, and we counted 10 buildings in sight, mostly farm houses. There is no depot, but a siding allows cars to be sidetracked. The timber surrounding the settlement is heavy.

From Cathro to Bolton, a distance of nearly three miles, there are few clearings. The land is well wooded, and the soil becomes less stony. Bolton is a lively hamlet, with a brisk business appearance. Near the track are piles of pine and hardwood logs, lumber, cedar and hemlock bark. We counted 18 buildings in sight. There are no depot buildings.

From Bolton to Posen the distance is about six miles. The timber along the route is mostly hardwood. The soil is good, with occasional stony patches. About two miles from Posen the hardwood timber becomes magnificent - maple with a mixture of hemlock and other woods. To grow such timber requires the finest kind of soil, and it is not surpassed for agricultural purposes by any in the state. The timer is a mine of wealth.

DM Posen Depot

Posen (depot at left), is 19 miles from Alpena, and has been settled many years by farmers. The residents are not grouped in a village, but live on their farms. It is well populated by an industrious class, mostly Polanders, and the election manipulations and church troubles of the past made them noted. Well cleared farms, free of stumps, with bearing orchards are numerous, and the soil is as fertile as any in the state.

The advent of the railroad brought new life to the place, and a lively village is being built about the depot. There is a large hotel, managed by the Crawford Brothers, near the depot. The depot is a neat building. Two country roads meet at the village, and up one can be seen the spire of the new church. We counted 25 buildings from the car platform. The ground about the depot is slightly rolling, the fields are free of stumps, and the rural scene is pretty, and framed in by magnificent forests of maple, beach and other hardwoods. Posen has a bright future before it, and nature has been munificent with her choicest gifts.

A lively run of five miles and Hoffman is reached. The route is still lined with hardwood timber, with an occasion cedar swamp. Many clearings and country roads are passed. Two of the clearings are large, one being about a mile long, and the other half a mile. Hoffman consists of one large house. There is a siding, but no depot.

About a mile further up the road is South Rogers, where passengers for Rogers City embark on the stage, for the ten mile trip. When the railroad was built there was no South Rogers, but there was considerable of a settlement, and some of the settlers had been located several years, having comfortable house, good cleared farms and bearing orchards. Now South Rogers has a neat depot building, a hotel, store and several other buildings, and including farm buildings, we counted 15, composing the present station. It is the center of a fine farming region, and has a prosperous future. A short distance from the depot the road makes a little curve, which was caused by a settler refusing to allow his barn to be moved, so the road runs partly round, and only for this the railway would have had a straight course for over 18 miles.

Some three miles further up the road the train stops at La Roche.  There is a large clearing there, however, with only one house near the stopping place.  On the side of a high hill is a farm house.  Just at the entrance to La Roche is a hill about 100 feet high, and a large slice has been taken from it to make embankments and ballast.  It is from that hill that gravel is obtained.  The country changes at La Roche, and the level land, or gently rolling, is replaced with hills and ravines.

May Lake Junction is four miles distant. The track is bordered mostly with hardwood, with clearings, swamps, burnt tract, and cedar timber at intervals. The soil is sandy with a mixture of gravel. May Lake Junction is but a junction of the spur to May Lake with the main track. A telephone box is the only object to be seen. The lake is but a few miles up the spur.

For the next three miles the road runs through dreary plains that have been lumbered, with occasional cedar and tamarack swamps, when Pack's siding is reached. It boasts of a telephone box and two small buildings and the tourist is not anxious to remain long. The scenery now becomes dreary and desolate. Pine stumps tell the story plainly that the lumberman has made one of his devastating campaigns, leaving the wilderness and ruin behind. There is an occasional cedar and tamarack swamp with timber still standing. Burch timber, but small, is noticed at places, and there are sandy ridges and many old skidways. There is a wild looking appearance about the country as Blong is reached. It is an old and deserted lumber camp, with about a dozen log shanties, some roofless. Just beyond is the deepest cut along the road. To ascend the high ridge it is necessary to cut through it, and the excavation is about 50 feet deep. the grade here is the deepest along the route.

There is now an eight mile run through a dreary wilderness, and the train stops at Rainy Lake. At this place a spur runs to Rainy Lake. The railroad stopping place is designated Rainy lake, but why we do not know, as no lake can be seen. The place has two small log houses and two small board shanties, each one story. When the train came to a stop in front of the largest log house, a person came to the door and rang a bell, and the initiated went in. It was the hotel Cadillac, and the menu was relished by the patrons. Most of the passengers either had lunches or intended to dine at the Valentine House, at the terminus. Several of the officials of the road, including the superintendent, patronized the Cadillac, which is sufficient to give it a high-toned renown. It certainly looked neat from the outside. Near the hotel was about an acre of potatoes which presented a thrifty appearance, and gave an indication that the sandy soil had considerable fertility about it. A well about 12 feet deep, had plenty of good drinking water in it. The timber in the vicinity is but a few feel high, with plenty of small birch. Burnt trunks of trees in the distance make the scenery still more cheerless.

Six miles more and McPhee is seen. There are only the log shanties of the old lumber camp, one of the marks that tell of the campaign of Alger, Smith & Co.'s lumberers in the forests. The remaining five miles is through a wilderness, with one glimpse of life, made by the camps of a logging crew, who have both tents and shanties, and Jackson Lake is reached at 12:05.

The terminus presents an attractive appearance. The pine trees stand close to the track, as the lumberman has not yet made a desolation with his ax. On the left is a raise of ground, sloping from the track; on the right is a small level plateau, beyond which is a deep ravine, and the trees at the bottom do not project their tops a great height above the plateau. A wagon road extends slanting down one side and up the other. On the plateau is situated the Valentine house, owned and managed by James O'Connor, well known in the city. It is a large, two story building, and the proprietor has a paying business. On one side is a small building occupied as a barber shop, and the striped pole has a sign with the inscription "Valentine Post office." Some other little buildings are near the other side of the hotel, one being a fine cold storage room. A few hundred feet further up the road are about 12 log and board shanties, and all appeared occupied. From one came the sound of a sewing machine. A school house is not far distant. At the time the train arrived there were about 50 men in front of the hotel and Mr. O'Conner had a hearty welcome for his guests who had just arrived.  Dinner was served just after the train arrived.

From Valentine the road has two spurs, one a short one pointing towards Atlanta and the other about seven miles long in the direction of Hillman. A wagon road leads to Atlanta, some eight miles distant. Jackson Lake is not a great distance from valentine, and abounds with fish.

The tract of pine near the road at Valentine, is owned by G. N. Fletcher & Sons, but Alger, Smith & Co. are said to be negotiating for the purchase of it. It contains a large amount of pine.

A few words in regard to the northern division. It was built as a logging railroad, with no intention of running passenger trains at high speed, but since the D. & M. assumed control, great improvements have been made and cars run smoothly when going at 30 miles per hour. From Alpena to Cathro heavy rails have been put in place of the light, and rapid running is the result. The entire track is free from heavy grades, there being only of any account. Bridges and trestle work are few, and from the city to La Roche a finder route for a trunk road would be hard to find. For that distance - 29 miles - the road is, generally speaking, a straight line, the bed is comparatively level, and the expense for bridges is light. It is an ideal route for hauling heavy freight or running that fast passenger trains, and only heavy rails are now required. The route is about northwest to beyond Lake May, then west to Rainy Lake, then southwest and south to Valentine, and then east about seven miles towards Alpena, extending some 60 miles, and the end is but about 30 miles from the city.

The intention is to extend the road to the Straits of Mackinac and a survey of that route has just been made. We are informed, but not by the surveyors, that the Cheboygan part is just as level as the Alpena part, and that there will be no deep cuttings, and that long trestle work or expensive bridges will not be required. We believe the extension to Cheboygan will be from near La Roche, and the route about the same direction as from Alpena. The road from Alpena to Cheboygan will be very direct, with no sharp curves, deep cuttings, high embankments or expensive bridges, and will be the best route to the upper peninsula, with little trouble to keep it unobstructed in winter.

In a later issue of the Argus we shall have something to say about the great tract of fertile land that extends as far as Lake May Junction.  That section is destined to take an important part in upholding the business of Alpena and greatly increasing it.

RRHX Editors Note: This is a front page feature article from the Alpena Argus, from 1895. Earlier in the year, the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena purchased the Alpena & Northern, which had been owned by Alger, Smith & Company and then the combined roads emerged from bankruptcy as the Detroit & Mackinac Railway. The D&M immediately surveyed a route from LaRoche ("La Roche" in this article) to Cheboygan, but construction west of today's Hawks (La Roche) was not started until 1898 and not completed to Cheboygan until 1904. Until that time, the D&M, like other railroads wanted to show how successful they were and promoted train service to Valentine Lake as their north-most point.

Before the Valentine Lake Branch (from Hawks/ LaRoche) was removed, it was built west from Valentine Lake and extended well into Otsego County.  But it appears that scheduled passenger service did not go west of Valentine.

Today, some of the communities like Valentine, McPhee, and South Rogers are completely gone. Others have new names, like Hawks (instead of La Roche). The Valentine Lake Branch of the D&M was cut back to Hurst (near Lake May Jct. by 1908, and completely removed at Hawks by 1923.

The article was transcribed from Alpena Argus files at the State of Michigan Library.