Back in the mining and lumber booms of the 1800 and 1900's in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, towns formed in areas where these two prominent industries took place. In some instances, towns turned into cities and the population swelled. After awhile, things began to slow and people began leaving these communities. In one example, the city of Calumet in the Keweenaw was so populous, it nearly became the state capital of Michigan. But just as quickly as they came, they soon left. It wasn't only the case in Calumet but for many other communities in the U.P. In fact, some communities completely died out and became ghost towns. On this page, you will see a few examples of towns once filled with residents but only have buildings as reminders of its heyday. The listing of ghost towns on this page isn't the complete list of communities in the Upper Peninsula that have died off, but are the most notable ones. Find out exactly what made these communities lose their residents and if any remnants of their past exist to this day.
The thing to remember about Atkinson and Gibbs City is that they were essentially the same town at different times and places. Atkinson came first.
Around 1887, J.K. Stack, an Escanaba
banker, and Henry M. Atkinson, from a Green Bay farm family, organized the
Metropolitan Lumber Company and secured thousands of acres of virgin pine lumber
along the north and south branches of the Paint River in north central Iron
County. They dammed the river for a millpod and built a big sawmill on the
north bank about a mile below the confluence of the two branches. Within a
short time a good-sized town sprang up on the big flat near the mill. At its
peak a few years later, the town had board sidewalks, electric lights, two
hotels, a rail depot on a branch of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, which
terminated there, a hospital, and a big general store housing a library and a
post office. Thomas G. Atkinson, secretary of the lumber company, was its first
Meanwhile, the Atkinson area had become the scene of a homesteaders land rush. Settlers were attracted by the great pine forests and fertile land in the Paint River valley. But a dispute arose between the farmers and the lumber company, and soon it developed into a was like the one being out West between homesteaders and cattle ranchers.
There were acts of sabotage, violence and counter violence. Mill saws were stripped of their teeth by railroad spikes driven into pine trees by the homesteaders. Logging teams were shot and killed. One homesteader who claimed the forty acres on which the sawmill was built was found dead one morning, lying face down in three inches of water. The coroner, a company man, called it death by drowning.
One of the leaders of the homesteaders was the notorious Jim Summers, the same Jim Summers who had been left for dead on the beach near Fayette after a beating by the citizens of that town. (The story goes that he revived during the night and crossed Big Bay de Noc in a rowboat, never again to be seen in Delta County.)
Summer's role is ambiguous. Certainly no homesteader, he seems to have been a kind of hired (or perhaps voluntary) gun for the farmers. He was a crack shot with a rifle. Once, to demonstrate his skill, he shot a clay pipe from the lips of an unsuspecting passerby. Another time, in the Atkinson saloon, he shot off part of the tongue and some teeth of a man named Jerry Mahoney, who kept needing him about his infamous past.
The two men were friends of a sort, at least drinking buddies, but Summers had a violent temper and Mahoney's gibes finally got under his skin: "Jerry, your tongue is too long," he warned him. "Someday I'll shorten it for you." And he did.
After the shooting, Summers disappeared into the woods. A manhunt was organized but failed to capture him.
Several days previously, Summers and a friend named George Finch had gone fishing together in a small stream in a swamp a few miles south of town, riding there on a borrowed railroad handcar. The day after the shooting, Finch was handed a note addresses to him and delivered by one of the homesteaders. It had no signature, but Finch recognized the handwriting. It said: "George, do as we did Sunday, and be mum."
Finch got the homesteader to buy some food at the company store and that night went down the track on the handcar to deliver it to to his friend. As he told it: "When I reached the swamp, I heard a loud crashing noise in the brush and thought I was about to be eaten by wolves. I pumped the car as fast as I could for awhile and about the time I was about to congratulate myself on my escape, I ran over pebbles or something that had been placed on the rails, and stopped so quickly the car left the track. "
"As soon as the noise subsided, I heard heavy breathing and became desperately scared. "Is that you, George?" said Summers. And when I succeeded in answering, he said, It's a good thing that you it is you.
"I made several other trips to his hideout before leaving Atkinson, but I shall always remember that last night. We talked for hours before parting. Then he extended his thin cold hand, expressed gratitude for what I had done, bade me goodbye, and we parted--never to meet again."
The Atkinson mill was destroyed by fire in 1900; after that, the town languished and died. It was resuscitated in 1914, when lumberman Royal F. Gibbs built a sawmill on the south bank of the river just upstream from Atkinson. Some of the Atkinson buildings were moved there, and some former Atkinson workers were employed at the Gibbs mill and lumber camps. Following a familiar pattern, Atkinson had logged off all the pine, and now Gibbs was harvesting the hardwood.
Gibbs City had a post office, granted in 1917, and a hotel-sized boardinghouse accommodating up to two hundred people, along with other facilities and businesses. In 1922, its mill, too, was destroyed by an explosion. It had a brief renascence in 1941, when two big sawmills there produced hardwood lumber for army cots, powder boxes, and other wartime needs.
The old buildings stood empty for years after that. They were finally put to the torch in a controlled burning on April 12, 1966, at the behest of the property owners, who worried about people getting hurt there. Spectators came from miles around to watch the old town go up in smoke to the drumbeat of paint-can explosions and the popping of old bottles and electric light bulbs.
Now all that remains of Gibbs City are a few ruined foundations hidden in a jungle of weeds and brush. The only relic of Atkinson is the freestanding chimney of Ed Atkinson's home, in its day the biggest house in town. Atkinson and Gibbs City were located in Iron County.
Atkinson and Gibbs City, Michigan
area in 1861, and reported that it offered
an ideal location for iron smelting operations. It offered an ideal location
for iron smelting operations. It had abundant stands of hardwood for making
charcoal, huge outcroppings of limestone for building material and flux for
furnaces, and a snug, deep-water harbor for shipping. Because of its shape, the
beautiful little bay had been known for years to Great Lakes sailors as Snail
The company acquired the land, including some twenty thousand acres of hardwood forest, in 1864. The first furnace stack was built in 1867 of limestone blocks quarried from the harbor cliffs, and the first pig iron was produced in December that same year.
A second furnace was built in 1970. Iron ore was transported from the railhead at Escanaba by tug and barges. The company built its own narrow-gauge railroad and hauled charcoal from its sets of bee-shaped brick kilns all over the lower part of the Garden Peninsula. Each set of kilns had its own boardinghouse and a group of log cabins for its workers.
During the 1870's and 1880's, Fayette became the second largest producer of quality charcoal-forged iron in Michigan. Altogether, it produced some 230,000 tons of pig iron. Most of it was shipped to Chicago.
Fayette boomed during the seventies and eighties. It received a post office in 1870; Marvin H. Brown, the company agent, was postmaster. At its peak in the late 1880's, Fayette had a general store, office building, superintendent's and supervisor's houses, a machine shop, black smith, doctor's office, hotel, boardinghouse, opera house, 40 log cabins for its workers and their families, and a population of five hundred-but no saloons.
By company decree the town was dry. However, it made an exception in the case of "Pig Iron" Fred Hink, one of its workers who had been disabled in a plant accident. He had been permitted to open a tavern about a mile from town on the Garden road. That led to trouble.
"Pig Iron" was a good guy, but his tavern became a hangout for a bunch of toughs known as the Summers Gang. Jim Summers operated a bordello known as "The Stockade" a mile or two south of Fayette. It had a high wooden fence around it to keep the girls from leaving without permission-many of them had been forced into prostitution against their will.
Trouble started when one of the girls escaped and sought asylum at Fayette after wandering in the woods for two days. The story goes that she was taken in at the home of the deputy sheriff, but instead of protecting her he turned her over to Jim Summers, who was waiting outside in a buggy.
This aroused the citizens of Fayette to a fury. They held a town meeting, formed a posse of vigilantes, and, armed with clubs and mops and axe-handles, descended upon Pig Iron's tavern, where the Summer's Gang was whooping it up. After beating up the gang, they marched to the Stockade, liberated the girls, and left Summers battered and bleeding on the beach to die. But when some his friends returned next morning to bury him, the body had disappeared.
Fire destroyed the furnaces in 1883. They were rebuilt and smelting operations continued for a few years, but by that time the areas hardwood forests had been virtually wiped out for charcoal, and new and more efficient methods of iron smelting were coming into use.
In 1959, after slumbering on Snail Shell Harbor for more than half a century, visited by only occasional travelers and boatmen, Fayette was acquired by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and transformed into what many people consider Michigan's most interesting and beautiful state park. The castle-like ruins of the great blast furnaces have been left virtually untouched, but many of the frame buildings have been mended and completely restored. Many are now on-site museums, filled with antiques and memorabilia of their time. Fayette now is truly a long step back in time.
Like Deward and Stratford and dozens of
other Michigan ghost towns, Fayette was a company town. The Jackson Iron
Company of Negaunee built the town in 1867 and owned everything in it,
including-so some of them said-the bodies and souls of its employees. Actually,
the company, was a benevolent employer, paid good wages in gold, and took care
of its workers. Its product was pig iron.
Fayette, on Delta County's Garden Peninsula on Big Bay de Noc, was named for Fayette Brown, a company agent. He scouted the
In these decadent times, however, there
are tall bar stools for the clientele, which consists mainly of the pick-up
truck trade. Business isn't rushing, but it's steady and the O'Sullivans do all
right. It's better in the winter than summer, Joyce says, and better on rainy
days than sunny, when there's nothing else to do.
Clarence says that the building hasn't changed a bit since it was built in 1902 by the Menominee Brewing Company, except maybe that the ceiling has been lowered a little. Back then, the ghost town of Wilson, on old U.S. 2 in Menominee County 17 miles west of Escanaba, was all ready thirty years old.
In 1871, the Chicage and North Western Railroad came through Spalding Township on its way from Green Bay to Escanaba, and built a depot to serve the charcoal kilns at a little settlement the railroad called Ferry Switch. Other than the charcoal kilns there wasn't much to it, but the town came back to life and started growing in 1881, when Frank D. Wilson built a big sawmill there. It got its first post office as Myra on February 24, 1881; and Daniel McIntyre, who built the first big general store, was its first postmaster. That same year, the name was changed to Wilson, and the sawmill owner replaced the storekeeper as postmaster. The first school was built in 1881.
After that, the town grew by leaps and bounds, reaching a peak of more than four hundred people around 1910. In addition to the big sawmill, which speculated in cutting railroad ties, Wilson had a shingle mill, two general stores, a hotel, blacksmith shops, two saloons, and several cheese factories. One of its most important buildings, a two-story brick mansion, was built by August Enfield, owner of one of the general stores.
Wilson continued to flourish into the 1920's. Clarence O'Sullivan says that the second floor of the Wilson saloon was a dance hall. The finest dance bands from Wisconsin made it a must-stop on the polka circuit. People from miles around came to Wilson on Saturday nights and danced into the wee hours. Even as late as 1927, Wilson had a population of over four hundred.
Then things began to slide. The sawmill closed and the cheese factories went out of business. People moved away, looking for work. Fundamentally, Wilson had two strikes against it. One, it was too close to Escanaba and therefore, unnecessary; two, it was on old U.S. 2 and thus practically invisible.
The C&NW trains still pass through Wilson but they don't stop any more. The old depot, discontinued in 1950, was moved away several years ago and now serves as a storage warehouse. Along with the saloon and two to three other empty buildings, the old Enfield mansion still stands, but its windows and doors are boarded up now, and the weeds and brush flourish like a jungle around it.
Wilson still has its post office; and you can still buy a drink at the old Wilson saloon, the last and only business in town.
**As of 1994, the Wilson Saloon was still in operation. However, it has since closed. One individual even e-mailed me to say he took the bar from the Wilson Saloon and completely restored it and it is now located in his basement. As far as I know, the Wilson Post Office still exists and may be the only business left in town.
The old Wilson saloon is still open for
business**, and you can but a drink - soft, hard or
in between - at the original mahogany bar from the Finnish barmaid or from one
of one of the owners, Joyce and Clarence O'Sullivan, a general Irish couple
(except she's Lithuanian) who bought the place thirty years ago and live next
The bar itself is high off the floor. It's what they used to call a stand-up bar. The lumberjacks and mill hands would "belly-up" to the bar for their drinks. The way they figured it, bar stools were for sissies and loose women.
Crystal Falls) to the site and Mansfield
Mining Company began developing the mine. The miners and their families
represented a rich potpourri of ethnic backgrounds: Cornish, Italian,
Scandinavian, Finnish, and Irish. The town soon acquired several
boardinghouses, two general stores, three saloons, and a school. Tom Corbett
ran a stage line from Mansfield to Crystal Falls. John Erikson became the first
postmaster on July 23, 1891.
By 1893, the Mansfield Mine had six galleries at various levels, the deepest being 423 feet. All of them ran directly beneath, and parallel to, the Michigamme River. The top level was only thirty-five feet below the riverbed.
Five of the galleries had been stopped (mined out), leaving only the timber shoring and the pillars of ore to bear the tremendous weight of the earth above. The sixth and deepest level had not been stopped, and that's why twenty-one of the forty-eight miners who descended the shaft that fateful night escaped with their lives.
It is generally believed that the disaster occurred when the fifth level of the mine caved in, allowing the levels above, and consequently the river, to crash down on the miners.
Andrew Sullivan, night boss on the sixth level, heard the crash. He knew immediately what had happened and told his men to follow him to the ladder. The downdraft caused by the crash blew out their lanterns and candles, and they had to grope their way in total darkness to the shaft. All but four of them reached the ladder and started to climb.
At the fourth level, they were met by a torrent of water from the Michigamme River, pouring down the shaft. From there, they could hardly breathe except at the landings at each level, and reached safety at the top more dead than alive.
But alive. The miners on the fourth level weren't so lucky. Frank Rocco, night boss at the fourth level, was standing with another man when he heard the crash. Instead of heading for the skip (lift), which would have carried him to safety, he went back into the drift to warn his men, and was never seen again. Only the operator of the skip lived to tell the tale of his heroism.
Altogether, twenty-seven miners lost their lives. The death of so many husbands and fathers, as well as single men, was a terrible blow to the town, and it never recovered. By diverting the river into another channel, the mine was later redeemed and was operated until 1911 by the Oliver Mining Company. But by 1913, the mine was closed and Mansfield's post office was discontinued, and that was the end of Mansfield except as a ghost town.
Now all that marks the site are a bridge across the river, a few houses, and a gray granite monument that bears the names of twenty-seven miners who lost their lives in the Mansfield mine disaster.
The excerpts of these ghost towns located in Upper Michigan came from the book titled "The Ghost Towns of Michigan" written by Larry Wakefield; copyright 1994. A special thanks to Mr. Wakefield for using the information contained in his book to create this webpage.
During the twenty-some years of its
existence, Mansfield, a little mining town in Iron County near Crystal Falls,
probably never had a population of more than four hundred, even counting the
dogs and cats. It has, nevertheless, one tragic claim to distinction.
Mansfield was the scene of one of Michigan's worst mining disasters. It
happened on the night of September 28, 1893.
In 1889, W.S. Calhoune discovered iron ore in profitable quantities there and platted the town. A year later, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad built a branch line from Armenia Mine (near