Article: Railroad Origins in Alpena, Michigan

by Dale Berry

The first common carrier railroad in Alpena was the Detroit, Bay City and Alpena Railroad which entered Alpena from the south around 1886 and was built by Alger, Smith and Co. interests (a logging company). A second road, also owned by Alger, Smith & Co., was the Alpena and Northern Railroad, which was opened from Alpena to LaRocque on November 18, 1893 [MRRC].  (Note: There were probably private logging railroads in Alpena prior to this time but they were created for the limited purpose of moving logs from forest to town, or between the mills and other lumber product companies in the town).

Research from Sanborn Insurance maps [SML] from 1895 suggest that the Alpena Northern originated on the north/east side of the Thunder Bay River, at the foot of Merchant Street. The A&N had a depot and freight house at this original location, along with a small yard. The A&N right of way then continued north, along the river to about 1/2 mile north (near the old roundhouse) where the grade turned northeast for a bit to the location of the current Lake State Railroad roundhouse at the current Alpena Jct. The line then curved northwest to LaRocque, and eventually Cheboygan. This original A&N line on the north/east side of the river was the LSRC industrial spur which extended to the former Fletcher paper facility at the lake front. This line has been pulled up but the right-of-way can still be visualized in some places.

In 1886, the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena Railroad reached Alpena from the south. This line apparently terminated at the first DBC&A depot on the south west side of the Thunder Bay river. That small depot was replaced by a second depot in the same vicinity.

Eventually, a bridge was built and this line joined the A&N at the original " Alpena Jct.", just northeast of the current river dam/bridge near the old A&N roundhouse.

The DBC&A and the A&N may have consolidated depots at the A&N depot on the north side of the river on Merchant Street, the consolidation taking place before 1895 as Sanborn maps show no depot south of the river by that time. It is assumed that the DBC&A used the A&N depot  by pulling north past the original Alpena Jct., and backing down the A&N line to the depot. (Note: This theory is supported by an 1898 D&M employee timetable which shows the first Alpena Jct. - MP. 125.2 - as being "south" of Alpena Station - the original A&N depot at MP 126.0.  A 1922 D&M timetable lists the new Alpena Depot at Tawas Street as MP 124.2). Alpena had about 12,000 residents in 1895, making it a fairly large city in northern Michigan at the time.

In 1894, the DBC&A was in receivership and was sold at a foreclosure sale on November 8, 1894 to the newly created Detroit & Mackinac Railway. The Alpena & Northern was also sold to the Detroit & Mackinac Railway on April 16, 1895. [MRRC] 1895 Sanborn Insurance maps list the railroad as both the DBC&A and the D&M. There is no identification of the A&N in 1895.

The original roundhouse (a 3-stall facility with turntable and water tower) was located just south of the D&M main line near the original Alpena Junction (north of the river).

Other notable additions and changes to the Alpena area after 1895 were:

  • Building of a new roundhouse, wye and yard at the "new" Alpena Jct. and closure of the old roundhouse (date not known).
  • Construction of a new depot at Tawas Street, and closure of the old A&N downtown depot.  The new depot opened on December 14, 1911.  [HI]
  • Addition of the Hillman Branch in 1911, leaving the main line at Hillman Jct. (sometimes called Alpena Jct. on maps).  [HI]
  • Building of the Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena Railroad. It appears that this railroad was built in two directions. From Alpena, it built west and then joined with a the main line which was built from Atlanta and entered town on the north side of the Thunder Bay River along what is now Long Rapids Road. There are proposed drawings in the State of Michigan Archives of the BCG&A crossing the D&M and proceeding south to the lake front. Drawings also suggest that the BCG&A proposed continuing their main line northeast to Rockport. This line was ultimately built and/or operated by either the D&M or the quarry itself. This will require more research.
  • In addition to showing the BCG&A junction at MP 1.3, a 1922 D&M employee time table shows a junction at MP 3.7 called Fletcher Jct. Fletcher Junction was the start of a short branch line which went southwest to construct a electric power dam on the Thunder Bay River.