Excerpts from
Averytown
By Albert Chapman
1991
Contributed by
Jerri Waterson Bearce

 

This work is not available anywhere for sale. Albert wrote to me that he was making a copy for the Benzie Historical Society. The original contains photographs, sketch and plat maps. I have omitted parts of it pertaining to the details of the logging operations and some stories of family interest. Anyone interested about this or for anyone wishing copies of Chapman/Waterson genealogy or pictures may contact me at Jerri Waterson Bearce

"Averytown has been generally thought of as just another logging town of Benzie county that came and went with the loggers, but there was more of a story to it than that. First inquiries among half a dozen or so oldtimers of the Honor area brought the unanimous reply, "Sure, I've heard about Averytown. A guy named Snover built a sawmill there in about 1900. It was down on the Platte River right where the river goes into the Big Swamp, back of where the outdoor movie is now. There was a stand of pine in there that he planned on logging off. Another fellow named Avery Thomas got into the deal, owned the mill or something, and he named the place for himself."

That was it---and just about all of it.

There is one solid fact to start from. The site is still there, preserved and untouched for almost a hundred years, and the Main Road on which it stood can still be traced out. Its spot on the map can readily be found too.

In specific terms, Averytown was on the southeast portion of a 40 acre piece of land, owned by Louis Sands, in the northeast corner of Section 7 in Homestead Township.

It seems to be an accepted fact that Snover built the sawmill and its surrounding buildings, and probably the homes for its workers that made up the town, with sundry factors indicating that this was done in 1898. At about this same time other subsequently important events were taking place too.

First was the purchase in 1899 by a promising young carpenter, J.C. Kuck, of an irregular-shaped, 61-acre piece of land on the other side, east of the river from Averytown. Next, in the same year, a Klotz family bought 80 acres adjoining Averytown on the south. Two years previously they had sold off their holdings near Nessen City, packed their goods in a covered wagon and headed west for Montana. The father, Edwin, was ailing when they left and by the time they reached Nebraska he was so ill that they turned around and came back. There were two boys, Ed and Orville, and two girls, Lorena and Elizabeth, all grown. The father died within a year after their return. The land they purchased had belonged to Avery Thomas and held the stand of pine already mentioned, although the timber didn't go with the sale. It had probably already been logged off by Snover anyway.

The Benzonia Trail cut across the east end of this eighty and there was a long, two-story, hall-like building here, facing the road, that had been a combination general store and inn for travelers, and at one time a saloon. It was empty at the time---possibly the storekeeper had moved to the new Main Road at Averytown where all the traffic had gone by then. In any case, Avery Thomas had agreed to move it and he did, across the road to a high piece of ground overlooking the river where it remained until recent times. The move wasn't made, however, until the Klotzs' had built a home for themselves and no longer needed it to live in.

It seems entirely possible that the young carpenter across the river helped, as a good neighbor, in the building of this home, for it wasn't long before he married one of the girls, Elizabeth...and in 1902 little Beatrice Kuck was born. This was at Frankfort. The new husband hadn't had time to finish a home for them on his own place. Beatrice grew up right there at Averytown, however, and eighty years later was able to provide an invaluable source of information for this story. She had become Mrs. Lish Peckens. Her death in July of 1983 left a vacancy in Averytown history that could never be filled.

Her brother, Oral, was born at the farm home in 1910 and has lived there all his life, all alone now, since the death of his wife. While he was too young to have any personal memories of Averytown, it is he who has preserved the site of the historic town all these years, untouched by plough or excavator's tools. He and Beatrice inherited the eighty acres owned by Ed and Orville Klotz, and like the Klotz brothers, they have held out firmly against repeated efforts of real estate developers to buy the cottage sites along the river, that have grown steadily more valuable. The Averytown site, of course, was north of this property on the Louis Sands forty, but there was no access to this land except through the Kuck property. Just last summer Oral sold a strip along the river to provide this access to a new owner of the forty, yet not without retaining control of the access rights himself, to Averytown.

The south portion of the Klotz eight, along U.S. 31, was sold off, first, to the outdoor theater, then to the Beulahland Shoppe on the west side and then the J&W plumbing on the east. A Consumers Power Company substation is on the southeast corner. All of these, however, are far distant from the Averytown site.

Now comes the question of why, in the first place, Averytown was built in the back corner of nowhere that became its destiny.

Of course, the town was there because the mill was there, and why the mill was put there will take considerable delving, into seemingly far flung yet unavoidable local circumstances like, for instance, roads.

A glance at ...(a) map will give the immediate impression that a sawmill, or a town, could hardly have been located at a more crossed-up pattern of crossroads. Five highways intersected here, plus a half encircling railroad and a twisted river, and none of this was as yet a fully settled situation. Up until 1896, just two years before Averytown, there had been only two roads here and, most of all, there had been no Honor.

The Deadstream Road, coming in from the southeast, had been little more than a wagon-track trail winding its way down, northeastward, through the Platte valley, keeping to the east and north side of the river. A few settlers were scattered along its route, and nothing else. The jumble of hills to the east and north were covered by an almost unbroken forest of virgin hardwood. When the valley narrowed and swung off more firmly to the west, the river swung with it and so did the trail. Then, in scarcely a mile, the valley opened wide into a sprawling plain on the south side and into a vast impregnable cedar swamp on the north. The river, as if in protest of the deep swamp ahead, made a twisting turn due north, but after a quarter mile, gave up and plunged northwesterly into the dark evergreens to swing west presently and be on its way to Big Platte Lake.

The Platte River Trail only acquired the title of "Deadstream Road" after it had been extended, a bit before 1900, out northwest across the swamp and over the Dead Stream itself on a concrete bridge, to run on along the Big Platte Lake north shore to the sawmill village of Edgewater. It was built across the swamp by sinking hardwood logs side-by-side crosswise, flat down into the muck until they reached firm bottom. Endless wagon loads of clay and gravel were then piled on top and rolled down to make a solid roadway. It was an extremely bold undertaking and a phenomenal achievement, almost beyond belief. It hardly seems possible that Benzonia or any other township would have ever undertaken it or even remotely considered financing it. It did, later, after the coming of Honor with its railroads, prove to be invaluable for the development of summer resorting on both Big and Little Platte Lakes. In 1900, however, a traveler could drive from the Lakes four or five miles to the Indian Hill Road and still be six miles over high hills from a railroad---and summer people came by railroad, or maybe lake boat. No, sir, resort development would have been no justification whatever then for the cost of building that swamp road.

But who built this road and why, and who financed it is another story. Its importance to the story of Averytown lies in the fact that it was essential to the logging off of the Deadstream swamp.

Incidentally, the Dead Stream (no current) was a natural channel joining the Big and Little Platte Lakes. It separated the crown of high, firm land between the lakes from the marsh of the swamp to the east.

Getting back now to the crossroads: Coming down from Leelanau County was the Indian Hill Road which skirted the Big Swamp and came to an end (for the moment) at the crossroads. It had taken over the "Old Benzonia Trail" which originally ran from Glen Arbor on Lake Michigan southward through Benzie County to Benzonia. In 1900 it ran from the crossroads, down across the Platte River and then off southwest across the valley to join the Beulah Road (now the Worden road) on the original route. The valley here was hemmed in for eight miles westward by a ridge of high hills too steep to be negotiated by a wagon without a great deal of effort. Oral Kuck relates how many, probably the majority, of settlers in the northern part of the county came there by boat to Glen Arbor, and on southward on the Benzonia Trail.

Into this, unheralded and unexpected, came, in 1895, the Guelph Patent Cask Company of Ohio with blueprints and surveyors and two railroads, the Pere Marquette from the main line at Bendon and the Manistee & Northeastern from Lake Ann. They both brought horses, workmen, tools and building material. By the fall of 1896 the mill was ready, the loggers were out in the woods and a town was getting started. The mill builder named the town "Honor" after his daughter. Thus Honor was born, or rather it popped up like a ripe mushroom in the middle of the progressive and well-tended farm of Robert Buchins, who raised potatoes along with apples and grapes. This development may have raised hob with Farmer Buchins, but it really blew the lid off with the Homestead Township Board and particularly with the bewildered highway commissioner. Here, out of nowhere, was a wildly booming logging business and a town rapidly filling up with people and houses and stores---and with no roads to get to or from it except one little wagon trail that went no place in particular.

It helped some, quite a lot, in fact, that one of the railroads, the M.&N.E., did not end its line at Honor but went on west and north alongside the wagon road to intersect with the Indian Hill Road at the Deadstream Swamp. There it turned north and laid its tracks between the edge of the swamp and the Indian Hill Road a couple of miles to the foot of the hill where it veered off northeast to make a junction with the Empire and Southeastern line, which by one connection or another would eventually reach Traverse City. Of more importance, however, to Averytown was the fact that back along the Indian Hill Road, off on the east side, there was a considerable stand of white pine that extended back into the foothills, beginning at a point just a half-mile north of the crossroads and going on to the hill.

At this rapidly declining stage of the Michigan lumbering era, finding a stand of white pine was like falling into a gold mine---and this stand had the prime advantage of being located where the cut logs could easily, in the winter, be taken by sleigh, downhill all the way, to a mill at the river. In the summer, by laying a spur track out into the pine, they could be taken by train.

So there, after three full pages, is the reason why Averytown was built where it was. It had a railroad, its mill had pine to cut and an almost endless stand of big cedar.

With that incentive Snover began his mill building. There just wasn't room on the east side of the river to put up a sawmill and town of homes for the more permanent workers and their families. The railroad mainline, along with its sidings and freight sheds, took up most of the space, and there had to be a wagon road through all this, besides. It would be better, anyway, to set up the mill on the west and south side. This meant that the first thing necessary was a strong bridge for hauling supplies from the railroad across and sawed lumber back. The logs would be rolled into a widened pond in the river and pulled up the other side into the mill.

The ideal spot for the bridge---and maybe the originally planned spot---was the high firm ground on both banks at the edge of the swamp, and that's where it can be more or less seen in the background of the pictures, taken by Ed Kotz in 1902, of the mill. These pictures give a good idea of the general layout, or at least an idea. The bridge, though, needs a bit more description. It was built of heavy timbers laid across from bank to bank and decked over with thick hardwood planks. It had no railings, only a timber, probably eight inches square, fixed securely along each edge.

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At this point it becomes necessary to change this account into a first person narrative. There is so much that must be told by deduction, surmise and just plain guesswork that the telling becomes a matter of personal opinion and maybe background knowledge. My knowledge may be open to question, but I do have a family connection with Averytown, one that I must confess with deep regret I failed to pursue when that was possible. As a bit of clarification I might add that I first began looking into the Averytown story in 1978 at the request of present-day family members. Other matters intervened, but I did eventually get a little sketch of the story together, intending to do the job properly later, which has become now.

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Again we must delve into highway problems ... I have said that the Old Benzonia Trail crossed the Platte River, but I didn't say how. Well, it was with limited safety on an aging log bridge that was well on its way to collapse. By 1898 it had become a critical key in keeping open the only route of access to Honor from the west, which was still by way of the Deadstream Road. There had to be a new bridge immediately---and this was a problem not easily solved. Two townships were involved, Homestead on the Honor side and Benzonia on the west, and the Marshall Road, as the dividing line between them, had been long planned as a trunk line to go northward to the river, cross it on a bridge on the township line and then veer east to join the Indian Hill Road and go on north into Leelanau County. The stumbling block was the river, which turned north at the Benzonia Trail and wrapped itself in a double curve around the township line, leaving no suitable place at all for a bridge.

The highway commissions of both townships were still beating their brains, trying to find a solution to this, when they received a petition from a group of citizens from both sides, reminding them that the Marshall Road still lacked half a mile of even being laid out to the river..... a trail of sorts swung off westward from the end of the Marshall Road to join the Benzonia Trail. That was all.

(The) ... petition ...reads: "Application to Lay Out Highway to the Commissioners of Highway, etc."The "New Bridge" they refer to was one that had been approved by the highway commissions but was still on the drawing board. ...the date: April 22, 1898, just about the same time that Snover was finishing his bridge, which, by some rare flourish of fate, was exactly on the township line. When news of this development reached the commissioners, there was undoubtedly a celebration of major dimensions.

The petitioners did, in time, get their wish, too. In 1924, a group of business and professional men of the Honor-Beulah-Benzonia area bought the property on both sides of the Marshall Road to make a golf course. It was then the road was put through on the township line to join the Indian Hill Road. Even so, plat maps of the 1900 period show the road cutting straight through on the line.

In February of 1982 Beatrice (Kuck) Peckens wrote, in answer to one of my notes, "None of the roads in this area were on a section line, or any other line, no matter what the maps show. This (the area around Averytown) was a confusing mass of roads when I was a child. The bridge and the road that ran through Averytown and along the swamp was the main traveled road."

This latter road was no stump-dodging wagon track. It thrust out westward from Snover's bridge to skirt the upper side of Averytown and then turn south and a little west to run down on the firm ground on the edge of the cut-over swamp to the Platte Lake road, and it, even today, has the earmarks of a professional job, surveyed out on a straight line and graded up to a consistently level surface. Although unable to find any documented proof, I would still say that it was built by the Benzonia Township road commission. Why would Snover have built such a road? He had no use for one.

Incidentally, it was this road that in later years gave rise to the often repeated contention, even up to the present day, that a railroad did truly exist at one time in and through this wide part of the valley. Portions of the Platte Road that were abandoned in the final re-routing, added fuel to the belief. Oral Kuck declares positively that the railroad never crossed the river. Maggie Hooker, another one of my best informants, who was born in 1895 and lived all her life within half a mile or so of Averytown, was equally postitive that there had never been a railroad on the Averytown side of the river.

There is a little more to be said about this "Main" Road. It went to the Platte Lake Road, but it didn't stop there, not for long. People traveling through weren't about to turn back east at this point and turn southwest again on the Benzonia Trail to get on to Beulah or to Steve Miner's straight over the hill. Not a bit. When they came to the end of the Main Road they drove straight on across the field to where the Benzonia Trail hit the Beulah Road (now Worden) and within a month or so the Benzonia Trail was forgotten for all time. .... So the Beulah Road became the Main Road to Beulah and Benzonia until 1932 when U.S. 31 took over and it became the Worden Road. So Averytown was on the Main Road from Leelanau County to Manistee, and points beyond.

There were and still are some interesting questions about the building of Averytown. Snover built the mill and its necessary structures, but did he build the homes that made up the town? Or did Avery Thomas build them? Did Snover own the mill? Or did Avery Thomas own it? Beatrice writes, "The mill was owned by Avery Thomas." Harold Brozofsky added his full agreement to this positive statement. Maggie Hooker wasn't so sure. She was of the opinion that Snover and Thomas were partners in the ownership, with Snover running the mill. Harold, born in 1898 and passed away in 1982, was the son of Barney Brozofsky, a progressive and notably public-spirited settler who had a well-established farm on the higher, richer land a scant half-mile southwest of Averytown. Oral Kuck was too young to have had any personal remembrances of the mill, but he contributed the thought that the land on which the mill and its town were built was owned by Louis Sands, then and for a number of years afterward.

It was when Snover started putting up the homes, and the mill, that the question of ownership became of significance. Normally the homes of a mill town were thrown together by the lumberjacks and were made of rough boards covered with tarpaper, and so was the mill. After all, they were only to be used for two or three years, five at the most. To put up finished buildings meant that carpenters had to be hired and smoothly planed lumber shipped in, no doubt by railroad from the planing mills at Manistee, altogether a decidedly expensive operation. Mrs. Kuck often visited with the women of Averytown in a neighborly way with her little daughter going along with her, and Beatrice could remember those cottages clearly. "Those homes were really nice," she wrote, "perfectly finished outside. I remember some of them painted white. They had fitted woodwork inside and patterned wallpaper. I wish you could have seen the living room of the Prentiss house." As the daughter of a carpenter, Beatrice would notice these things.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a picture of even any part of the Averytown homes. I do have, however, a few pictures of the mill and the logs. These were made from half-a-dozen 4x5 glass negatives taken by Ed Klotz in about 1903 or '04. They are all Beatrice had been able to find from the many that he took during that time. They are reproduced with this account ---and they are well worth studying a bit.

They show clearly that this mill was no slap-dash board shack. It is square and plumb and neatly finished at the corners and aorund the eaves of the roof. Under a strong magnifying glass it can be seen that the wide roof was of cedar shingles and it had a cleat ladder up to the peak where there was a squarely-braced fire walk with several water barrels for quick dousing of roof fires. The barrel on the end toward the camera was missing, probably taken down to have the hoops tightened. The wall on this end shows tight, tongue-and-groove finish siding. It had the appearance of having been built to serve some big city for fity years.

....... It took a lot of people to carry out a logging project as big as the one laid out for Averytown. The mill itself would require no less than eight or ten men and when it began making shingles and other cedar products the number would go up to twenty or so. This...(along with the normal staff of the camp)...adds up to about 35, most of whom were married and required homes. Then there were fifteen or twenty lumberjacks and their several foremen who worked out in the woods. Mostly these men slept in the bunk house and ate in the dining room....There was (also) the saw shack, ...tool house,...an office building... .

Another building that would certainly be included...was a boarding house. There was one here, because all my informants remember it, only none of them can remember where it was. I would guess it would have been facing on the Main Road somewhere, for it served as a hotel for passing travelers as well as visitors to the mill, such as ...traveling salesmen...or lumber buyers. The boarding house was also used for quarters for any female help like the maids, washwoman or possibly a woman cook.

The camp needed no company store, ...Right there on Main Road across from the mill was a big private store. Maggie Hooker remembered it. Harold Brozofsky could recall going there once with his father when he was about five years old.

That about concludes the account of the Averytown buildings, unless the note might be added that the homes all had cellars. They were small ones, about four feet square and the same depth, and they are still there, two rows of homes in a long-ago time. They were reached through a trapdoor in a pantry, or maybe a kitchen floor, a place where vegetables, fruit and other foods could be kept cool in the summer and warm enough in the winter to never freeze.

In those first years the Main Road through Averytown was a busy thoroughfare. Wagons and buggies to and from Honor were constantly passing. In the summer, fishermen and resorters, brought into Honor by train, went through there to the Platte Lake road, sometimes in quite fine carriages. They stopped at the boarding house for lunch or cold lemonade and at the store to trade. The people of Averytown grew together as a close-knit, friendly little community, out in the open country yet as up to-date and in the swim of things as a big town.

The mill finished up its pine cutting and changed over to machinery for sawing cedar and making shingles. New families came to town, families of the skilled men who sawed shingles. Shingle weavers, they were called.

During all this the Klotz brothers were no doubt working at the mill, Ed especially. Ed was a remarkably capable fellow. I knew him quite well in later years. I don't think there was any job he would hesitate to tackle. Back in that day the best of cameras were little more than an adjustable lens and shutter and required the skill of experience to produce good picturs, but Ed taught himself to take remarkably professional pictures and develop and print them himself. When radio came along in 1921 he made his own crystal receiving set and was one of the first in Benzie county to hear radio broadcasts.

So it was that when the mill was ready to use cedar, he was picked for the job of logging off the huge Deadstream Swamp. This was an assignment that would stagger even the most skilled and experienced timber foreman, and I can well imagine that it staggered Ed Klotz too. It would demand, above all other qualities, an unusual amount of engineering ability, an ability based on experience. This definitely wasn't anything that could be undertaken on a trial and error basis. Well, the Ed Klotz that I was acquainted with, when confronted with a tough job, would have known at first glance what had to be done and at second glance would have figured out how to do it. This time, however, at second glance he realized that he would have to have someone of long experience looking over his shoulder before he even started. At least I am sure that's what a man of his sound sense would have thought. But where could he have found such a person in the lumberjack field?

Well, I have an idea that the proper man just showed up one day, probably a grizzled old logger that dropped off the train looking for a job, and the problem was solved. Louie Sands would have operated that way.

So it was that, as Oral Kuck told me confidently, Ed Klotz logged off the Deadstream Swamp. Oral knew well enough what an awesome undertaking that was, so did the numerous old-timers who, down over the years, had told me the same thing, proudly. How it was done is another story---like why the Deadstream Road was built. All I know about it is that this was when that road came into real use. Three roads, maybe four, were cut straight north from it back into the swamp, wide roads closer than a quarter of a mile apart. The stumps were chopped down as flat as possible, cedar boughs were packed down over and between them. When the snow came it was packed over this with a roller and on cold nights, days too, the road was sprinkled with water which froze, with more sprinkling, into a bed of solid ice. Eight-foot-wide sleighs, loaded high with big logs, could be pulled over such a road easily with a four-horse team of sharp-shod horses. The tricky part was in getting the logs out of the swamp on each side of the road and loading them on to the sleighs. It was the Deadstream Road, of course that took the loaded sleighs on to the mill at Averytown. In the summer the logs could be cut along the west side of the swamp and loaded on to the railroad cars.

I know about these swamp roads because back in the Twenties and Thirties they were readily visible as a streak of shorter growth going back into the higher second-growth trees. They made a convenient route, if you knew swamp travel and ignored the rattlesnakes, back to a creek that was full of the biggest, fattest brook trout Benzie County has ever produced. Those snakes were what the Indians called saugers, water rattlers that seldom grew over two feet long. They would rather run than fight and weren't very poisonous.

Incidentally, the second growth, though thick, has never really grown up. The big cedars of 1900 don't seem to be coming back. The timber south of the Deadstream Road, I should note, was evidently pulled out to that road and taken in by sleigh.

Meanwhile, along about 1903, there was a big change at Averytown. The Homestead Township highway commissioners finally built the Platte Lake Road straight on east along the half-section line into Honor, having, of course, to build a bridge across the river. The exact time of this can only be guessed, since the commissioners, while keeping detailed records of their constant planning meetings, never jotted down a date of when their road or bridge jobs were completed. In this case, the big problem was that from the township line on east there was swamp and some rather soupy marsh, and the road builders avoided this kind of terrain like the plague. Actually, a few drainage ditches and some dredging out and filling would usually take care of the matter and did here. Still, it wasn't undertaken until every other possibility had been thoroughly hashed over and abandoned. So we do not know the completion date but we do know that the road is still holding up firmly as the base for U.S. 31. The Honor side of the river was swampy, too, but entirely firm when opened up to a little sun and drainage.

A thirty-acre portion of the Kuck farm extended up the river and east along this road line and had been covered with big cedars, until Ed Klotz logged it off before starting on the Big Swamp job. He floated the logs down the river to the mill. The land was fine for farm crops.

To Averytown, the opening of this new route just about wiped out the travel on their Main Road. Some of the farmers around came to the store, but Honor was fast becoming a "big town" and certainly a lively one. To the majority of people, just to visit it and see the sights was worth the extra mile of driving. Summer people, of course, took that more direct route to the lake. It is probable that the Averytown store held out as long as the mill was running, but no longer.

The mill evidently closed out in the spring of 1905. Oral says he's sure the machinery was shipped off to Northern Wisconsin. Anyway, it was cleaned out. There was still maple and beech around and other hardwood, but there was much more money in cedar. Shingles were in great demand and millions of board feet of clear cedar went into lead pencils. It was used for all kinds of water tanks, big and small, and for tubs and bucket and all manner of liquid containers, for posts and timbers set in the ground, even for boats. The more specialized mill workers moved away to other mills. Some found jobs easily enough at Honor where they could walk back and forth and continue to live where they were.

The other attractive little homes and expertly built mill structures were abandoned for anybody who wanted them. But not for long. The dust had hardly settled when one Dave Waterson appeared and probably by some pre-arrangement with Avery Thomas, took over the store building and a number of the homes for his own use. The store building, he and his wife, Sally, known as Nad to the family, quickly fitted out for preparing and packing woods ferns to go out by train every night to a wholesale florist in Chicago. Their son, Francis, aged five, wasn't of much help in this, but George, four years older, did his bit. At this time, Dave and Nad selected homes for a crew of relatives who were to be their workers in the fern business. They included their daughter Goldie and her husband Martin Wright; Nad's two sisters, Emily Griffin and her five children, and Mary Griffin and her three. Though both husbands were Griffins, they were unrelated. Both were away at the time, working on other jobs.

The fern business involved gathering the long stems from the woods, then sorting, bunching and tying these and packing them in wooden boxes to ship. Hauling in the lumber and building the boxes and then hauling them off to the train was quite a task in itself. They had to be handled with painstaking care, not a leaf could be bruised or broken. A one-horse, covered delivery wagon was used to bring them in from the woods. They were spread carefully on cheesecloth-covered frames which fitted into racks spaced four inches apart in the wagon and the wagon had to be kept closed so that wind wouldn't whip through it and disturb the ferns.

The business flourished right from the start. More men had to be hired in the woods and in the box shop, and more women had to be found for the sorting and tying. Some of these were from among the Averytown wives, some from around the countryside. One of the latter, a couple of years later, was Maggie Hooker who furnished most of the information about all this---for, Heaven help me, I was too plain stupid to have gathered information concerning the fern hooraw and everything else about Averytown when I had it right before me.

You see, Nad Waterson was a Chapman, my aunt. I lived right across the road from the Watersons from 1930 to 1942, close neighbors. Averytown was the high point of their lives and naturally an always present topic of their conversation. I enjoyed hearing about it, yet I remembered practically none of it. It went right through my empty head like a summer breeze. They lived about three-quarters of a mile south of Averytown then on the Marshall Road and I lived across from them on the Old Worden Place, sweating out the depression. I was born in April of 1903 at Thompsonville where my folks were visiting my father's relatives. We left soon afterwards to return to his work at Louisville, Kentucky. He was a "fancy" brick and stone mason, and the summer work was coming on. It was after World War One when I came back to Michigan and in 1926 when I reached Benzie County, where I was to get into newspaper work and become acquainted with a great many people, many of whom had been a part in Benzie County's early days. I learned much of Benzie County history and recorded some of it, but not enough.

Averytown settled down into being just a nice little village. It had no government, unless Avery Thomas could be counted as a mayor or something. People around seemed to think of him as the person in charge. He was ready enough to listen to problems and to try to find solutions, but he never set himself up as any kind of an authority. There was a doctor who must have served quite a wide area. There were people around back in the Thirties who remembered Dr. Prentiss. There was a school at Honor, only a mile away. There doesn't seem to have been any religious services at the town, but there was a large and active Methodist church up on the corner of the Marshall and Covey Roads, about three-quarters of a mile south where just about everybody attended. It served the Champion Hill community, a long-settled, fertile if hilly area of open-hearted farm people. Nobody at that time would have given a second thought to walking that short distance and there were enough horses and conveyances at Averytown to take everybody on rainy days, or with sleighs in the deep snows of winter.

Beatrice Peckens, in her childhood remembrances, could count up as many as twenty homes in the second stage of Averytown and she wrote down the names of some of the people that she knew. There was the doctor and his wife Mattie, then a Claude Prentiss, probably his brother, also Alto Ames, Mr. And Mrs. Hunt, Mr. And Mrs. Gilbert Melvin, the two Griffin families, the Watersons, Mr. And Mrs. Martin Wright, Avery Thomas and Mrs. Ella Sheldon. The others she just couldn't recall. There was the Klotz family, too, who, though they had a home of their own, lived in the edge of Averytown. The boarding house was still there and still had patrons among the visiting fishermen and hunters, and maybe two or three bachelors who worked in Honor or were hired by Dave Waterson. "Avery Thomas lived there," Beatrice wrote. Mrs. Sheldon kept house for the place. She had three children, Bill, George and June. My mother used to visit with her and she usually took me along." She didn't mention the other children around town, although there must have been quite a few of them, and no doubt she knew the majority of them. I've heard Harold Brozofsky talk of the boyhood fun he had attending school with Francis Waterson and Walter Griffin, both of his age. Walter was Aunt Em's boy.

I think it was in 1908, maybe '09, that tragedy came very close to striking at Averytown. That was when Aunt Mary's girl, Edith, won quite a bit of newspaper fame and almost lost her life when she was caught in a forest fire, and ran through it, carrying her three-year-old brother, Harry. She was only eleven. She was severely burned, her legs especially, but she lived. Harry had only minor burns. I don't know where around Averytown this happened. I don't think I ever knew, even though it became a family legend. Little Beatrice Kuck went with her mother when Mrs. Kuck went to the Griffin home to help change the dressings. The sight of those terrible raw burns made an impression the six-year-old mind that Beatrice never forgot. It left Edith with deeply scarred and weakened lower limbs for the rest of her life.

Averytown could hardly have been otherwise than a friendly little community of parents and children and a few unmarrieds, all with common interests and all sharing in the joys and sorrows of each other. All of the Watersons and the Griffins talked fondly of "those wonderful times at Averytown."  There were spur-of-the-moment potluck dinners and picnics, sometimes out at Platte Lake, sometimes at some shady grove near by. A favorite place was under some big pines over on the Kuck place. There were quilting bees for the women and wood cutting bees for the men, song fests and, of course, all the usual games and self-made entertainment of that day for the kids, square dances for everybody in the empty dining room of the camp. There was plenty of fun to be had. One of the very special pastimes for the children was the digging into a certain sandy spot over near the railroad for Indian beads. Years later Francis Waterson showed me a long necklace made from the beads that he had dug there as a boy. It was made of bright stones of many beautiful colors and designs and ranging in size from as big as a walnut down to some so small that it was beyond belief how the Indians could have found a way of holding and drilling such tiny round objects. Some were flat and thin and several inches in diameter with the color in stripes or spots. They must have been gathered from the beaches of Lake Michigan where they had been washed and polished by thousands of years of sloshing waves.

... I hesitate to bring up the subject of roads again, but I should have said right in the beginning that the Old Benzonia Trail followed along quite closely on the same route as the ancient Indian trail that went from Mackinaw southward along Lake Michigan to Manistee and beyond, keeping inland far enough to maintain a fairly direct line. Passing through Benzie County it naturally skirted the Big Swamp and crossed the Platte River where the banks were low and firm enough, especially on the north side for easy fording. It was also an ideal spot for making contact with Lake Michigan by canoe. Canoes would have been kept here for the convenience of passing travelers. I've never heard of any artifacts being found to indicate that there was ever an Indian village here, and no skeletons to mark the spot as the site of some great battle. It seems more likely that parties of Indians---men, women and children---from the north and south gathered at this halfway point to visit and barter and have a good time in general- -and at the same time to gather pebbles and make beads. For some reason, the early Indians did not seem to fancy Benzie County as a place to live.

Another fun affair of the Averytown folk was rushing to the river bank to see the motorboats go put-putting by. A small gasoline-engine driven craft, a little bigger than a rowboat, they had appeared around 1905 and would have been there sooner, only the logs in the river at the mill blocked them before that. The river was deep enough up to the new bridge on the Honor Road for quite large launches, of sufficient size to carry groceries, furniture, building supplies and even sizable loads of lumber to the cottages that were springing up around the Platte Lake shores, and, of course, they transported summer visitors and their baggage, and endless numbers of fishermen, local as well as visiting. Oral Kuck remembers that his father was starting to build summer homes and he went back and forth to the lake by boat.

The river was full of trout, both rainbow and brook, and everybody fished, from small children to visiting grandfathers. People raised gardens, too, generally having enough potatoes and root crops to see them through the winter. There was good land in the heavier ridge of soil along the edge of the swamp.

... Before the Big Swamp was logged off, it had had a considerable population of bears. Most of them wandered off into the scrubby growth of jack pine and oak along Lake Michigan. Some, however, just drifted about, homeless and not knowing what to do about it. The swamp land west of Averytown had long since been cut over for its usable timber, and now the smaller stuff that had been left had grown up into cover enough for a bear or two.

... Things went along at Averytown without much change. As soon as Edith Griffin was healed enough to travel, Aunt Mary took their little family and went to East Jordan to join the father, Frank who had landed a job as foreman of a railroad section crew. Sometime between 1908 and 1914 a concrete bridge, probably the same one approved by the Homestead highway commission in 1898, was built across the river on the Old Benzonia Trail. This wasn't done, however, without quite a lot of neighborhood pressure that culminated with Ed Klotz making a trip to Traverse City and retaining a lawyer. Again, I was unable to find any record of the date when the job was done. This bridge was needed because the Main Road through Averytown had been left rather high-and-dry as a through county route. This new bridge joined the Indian Hill Road and the Marshall Road as the trunk line that had been originally intended. The road problem at that particular point still wasn't settled, however. One of the very first of Oral Kuck's remembrances as a small boy was watching a crew of men out in front of his home spreading strips of cedar bark on the roadway. The bark came from where some woods workers had been peeling cedar fence posts to ship out on the railroad. Its purpose on the road was to cover the deep sand that came up the rise from the bridge. Even a big team of horses had a tough time pulling a loaded wagon through there. The new automobiles that were beginning to come along didn't have a chance. The bridge was just about useless without some clay and gravel on the road.

It wasn't because there was any shortage of gravel, either. There was a big gravel pit---that was to become one of the largest in Western Michigan---less than a mile up the road towards Honor. A couple of years later, when Oral was walking back and forth to school on that road, the highway workers were hauling gravel that they told him they were having to haul the full length of the Deadstream Road just because his Uncle Ed Klotz had tore it up so bad dragging cedar logs over it that it was about to sink out of sight. Afterwards Oral realized they had just been kidding him but at the time he felt pretty bad about it. What they had really been doing was building up the road for automobile travel. It was the automobile that, within a few years was to make that stretch of highway worth a hundred times its original frightening cost.

Now I have said about all the good things concerning Averytown, it's time to mention the one, fatal flaw. That was the long, hard winters.

The fern business ended the first of November and couldn't be revived again until the middle of April, or sometimes May. The men of the enterprise, including Uncle Dave, went to Honor to work in the woods. The women, and they were quite a few, were out of a job. So were the freelancers who gathered ferns on their own and brought them in. It might be said, and has been, that the people of Averytown could have turned the big mill building into a cannery for berries and peaches, maybe vegetables, but that could only have hired people for two or three months in the summer. No one seems to have been interested anyway. The Watersons had only one aim in their fern business and that was to make enough money to pay down on a small fruit farm. I doubt if they even thought about building a town. Neither, it seems, did Avery Thomas. Most of the men who lived at Averytown worked at Honor where the winter was even busier than summer.

The plain fact was that Averytown was in reality a suburb of Honor. Well, in 1913 the Watersons had the money to buy an eighty-acre fruit farm and they dropped the fern business. In 1915 Honor, still booming, became the county seat. In 1916 the veneer mill was slowing down. In 1917 it finished out the year and was closed. In the meantime, the United States had plunged into a war over in Europe that had begun in 1914.

That delayed Honor's collapse, and also Averytown's, for a couple of years, since the government needed long-timbered red elm, of which there were still some good stands in the Honor area. These would be sawed into forty-foot planking and kiln-dried for the building of "Liberty Ships" to transport war supplies to France. The elm had been left out in the logging because it was of little value in any normal use. Another by-passed timber was basswood and this too was needed. It was shipped in eight-foot bolts to Grand Rapids where it was chewed up into excelsior for packing around artillery shells, hand grenades and other military gear during shipping.

When the war was over, the Pere Marquette pulled up its tracks and left. The M. & N.E. held on until 1922. But back as early as 1916 many of the Honor workers and families had packed their trunks and left for the teeming war plants in the southern part of the state, many of them going by Model T. The automobile was becoming quite common in Benzie County by 1917.

...At about this same time, 1917, everybody in Averytown seems to have shut the doors to their nice little cottages and just walked off.

With the Honor boom gone bust, the next thing was for settlers to move into the cut-over land and start clearing out the stumps for farms. They needed homes, so they picked out an Averytown home and loaded it on a sleigh and took it along, or maybe they tore it down, carefully saving the lumber, and set it up again where they wanted it. I asked Oral what became of the big sawmill and he said he didn't know, it was just gone.

And that was the end of Averytown....with Louie Sands still owning the land.

With the pulling out of the railroad soon after 1920 and the removal of the big barn and other logging buildings, the land along the east side of the river started building up with small summer cottages. By 1925 it had become quite a colony. But Averytown remained a ghost, quietly revered and respectfully untouched.

 

Last update February 19, 2009