Monday, October 10, 2016

Research Road Trip: Up North

Anne here.
In case you've forgotten, Jaime, Erica, Gabrielle, and I have been busy writing our Gilded Age novella stories for the Rags and Riches collection because our first draft deadline is looming in December. I was able to jam a quick family reunion-research trip into my schedule two days before I left for ACFW with Jaime in August--a trip to the place that stirred my novella idea.

Michiganders, or anyone who has ever vacationed in Michigan will tell you, the phrase "Up North" evokes an instant transport to Northern Michigan. The terms "North Woods" or "Back Woods" evoke similar memories from anywhere in the midwest north of the 49th parallel. Memories of thick woods, ferns, rolling hills, and tall pines complete with "two track" trails left by forgotten lumber companies have imprinted the hearts of visitors living south of there for decades--actually for a century or more.

I've spent my lifetime making the six-hour trek straight up the hand of Michigan's mitten-shaped back woods to visit my grandparents near the very tip of the mitten. An 1875 Act of Congress opened Emmett County for settlement and my great-great grandpa Gehman first settled there about 1888, while my great-great grandpa Gregory settled there about 1910.

 Gehman Homestead

Gregory Homestead

Newswanger Homestead

The earlier ancestors had come north for the fertile farm land and clear air. Years later in 1914 my grandfather made the move with his family from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Brutus, Michigan to the small Mennonite settlement there.

Mennonites weren't the only ones during the early years who recognized the riches northern Michigan had to offer those willing to make the trek into the undeveloped forrest--as early as 1875, the Methodist church had purchased 316 acres north of Petosky from the Odawa and Ojibwa Indians for their week-long summer camps, later named Bay View Association. The railroads soon brokered deals with the resorters and land agents to run passenger tracks northward for summer-long vacations away from the coal-filled air of cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and further south. Even the steamboats delivered travelers to the northern paradise.

While my ancestors were busy pulling out tree stumps, turning sod for farm ground, and building barns, the Methodist church had grown from a week-long summer camp in 1875 to establishing summer cottages for summer-long occupation by 1885. Cottagers came north for the entire summer, and soon the activities caught wind of the educational Chautauqua movement that had swept the nation. Soon the movement drew well-known lecturers and circuit speakers such as Hellen Keller, Booker T. Washington, and William Jennings Bryan. As you can imagine, such speakers and topics of politics, prison reform, child labor, and women's suffrage, as well as popular preachers soon brought crowds upwards of five to ten thousand--all housed in Victorian cottages and resort hotels of the times.

Bay View holds 450 unique summer homes that still stand today--the same homes that I recall being enchanted by every time we drove past them to grandpa and grandma's house. My grandfather was a carpenter for decades and often did paint and repair jobs for cottagers there. The cottages were uninsulated and closed up for the winter months. My mother recalled as we drove around that he would go to the key-keeper's cottage in the spring and get the keys to unlock the cottages. He would open all the wooden shudders, fix any broken steps or hand rails, and touch up peeling paint before the owners arrived for the summer.

I rode along with my parents for the weekend family reunion and we took a drive around Bay View...

Evelyn Hall

 The cottage view over Little Traverse Bay...

Then we headed back to the Gregory homestead for a lunch and I was reminded of where my great grandmother Susie Gregory had a large garden next to her tiny Dawdy house on the farm. She would take her vegetables and butchered chickens to sell to summer cottagers and "townies" during tough years like the Great Depression. 

Though some may have considered our ancestor's humble beginnings less than the opulent cottager life, we never did. Life along the Maple River was lush and rich in many ways.

 Still, the contrast of these settings are what stirred the ideas for my upcoming novella story that I hope will give my readers a flavor of "Up North".

Have you been "Up North"?
What is your favorite Michigan vacation spot?

Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
Coffee drinker--any time.
Find me at:
Find me on:Facebook
Find me on: Pinterest
Find me on: Goodreads
Find me on: Twitter
Find me on: Instagram


  1. I was born in Jackson, Michigan but was brought south where my parents were born when I was two months old. I haven't been back but would love to visit Macinaw Island. That's on my bucket list.

    1. Oh Gail, you will enjoy the Island for sure. It's a great trip. Be sure to get up to the Fort while you are on the Island!

  2. I live in Michigan not far from the farm I was born on that my great-grandpa bought in the early 1900's. I adore Michigan history and the stories behind where people live. We visit the U.P. many times and Mackinac Island is a favorite to see. Also in the lower peninsula we go camping at Ludington twice a year. How neat to have all that Michigan history in your family! Thanks for sharing pictures with us!

  3. Wonderful, Susan! Then you can't be too far away! Love that history!

  4. I grew up in MI near Lansing in the lower peninsula. We camped and traveled around MI a good bit as I grew up. One place I especially remember visiting in the UP was Tahquamenon Falls.
    I live down south now, by try to get home to visit every year or two.

    1. Oh yes, I've been to the Falls once years ago. Beautiful place!


Hey friend! Please leave a comment, no lurking allowed ;)