Drummond Island, Pt. 3: “It's Dolomite, Baby!”

August, 2012.

After I dismounted from my tight-rope act, I took one last look back at the beast I had just conquered, and saw that here came one of the American Courage's sister ships, the American Spirit:

Skipping along down the beach back to my car with a shit-eating grin on my face, I was totally ready to get to the island and grip up some grub, asap. I got back to my car and drove into the center of town where I found there to be quite a line for the ferry.

I was afraid I would have to wait for the next one, but luckily the Drummond ferry is significantly larger than the Neebish one, and I lucked out. I got out of my truck and sat on the roof of the cab. I figured, if this boat starts to go down for some reason, and the life vests are all way over there, I ain't gonna be the one struggling to hurry and get out of my vehicle and run over there in a big mob when everybody tries to open their car doors simultaneously. I'm gonna be the one using their heads as stepping stones as I run to grab my vest, haha. This way, I also had a better view for the 15-minute-or-so ride.

I began to see why the St. Mary's waterway is one of the top boat-watching places...the Anderson (which is the boat that was with the Edmund Fitzgerald the night the latter went down) crossed our path as we motored for Drummond. Finally, I was going to check this island off my list. There had actually been a skirmish in these waters during the War of 1812, after the Second Battle of Mackinac.

In my brief preparations for this exploration, I delved as far as I could into what man-made things remained on the island. I came up with about three shipwrecks that were supposed to be visible, a sawmill ruin, and a rumored Indian mound near the Potaganissing River south of the Maxton Plains, plus Fort Drummond. Fort Drummond was the last British post ever built on American soil, in 1814. There are also the notable dolomite cliffs at Marble Head on the eastern edge of the island that sounded worthy of checking out, and Fossil Beach along its north shore, which is basically a beach made of solid dolomite, containing an abundance of exposed fossils.

Like the rest of the Yoopee, Drummond is geologically diverse and profitable, but in a far different way than the western Yoopee. Nearing the dock, we passed the dolomite quarry, once and probably still the world's largest dolomite quarry, which has been operating since 1853. The first three locks of the Soo Locks were built using stone quarried here. Drummond Island is basically an outcropping of 400 million year old limestone known as Engadine Dolomite, which extends from Niagara Falls to Minnesota. It is said that the first Americans to settle on Drummond were Daniel and Betsy Seaman, who came from King James Strang's Mormon kingdom on Beaver Island in 1850 (but that is another story). Other Mormons allegedly followed, probably after the alleged assassination of their king and breakup of the Mormon cult on Beaver Island by the U.S. government.

After our ferry came to a halt and the gate dropped, I sped off down the road past where I knew Fort Drummond to be, in search of food. I also missed the turn-off to Pigeon Cove where the wreck of the 173ft. Delaware supposedly lay beached. I ended up at Chuck's Place...an old timey-looking “up north” bar on the road to Johnswood, which is where the sawmill ruins were. After eating I waddled out of the bar and continued down the road to Scammon Bay which is where the ghost town of Johnswood (originally called Kreetan) had been.

The old sawmill was fairly easy to find because of the giant sign proclaiming “OWN THE HISTORIC JOHNSWOOD LUMBERMILL--FOR SALE!” at the roadside, though the actual ruins were almost a quarter mile back along a winding two-track in a copse of trees on the banks of the cove. There sure were a lot of “LAND FOR SALE” signs on this island.

I was especially excited about this, being that finally I would be getting to explore a sawmill, since even though they were such a major part of Michigan's history almost none remain standing. Which is probably because almost none were built out of concrete like this one.

According to the Drummond Chamber of Commerce website, lumber operations on Scammon Cove started in the fall of 1883, and this eventually became the largest mill on the island, controlled by Island Cedar Company, which was made up of Chicago investors.

That company moved in 1890 to DeTour, but Harold Johnson inherited the property and turned the mill into the H.C. Johnson Co., but was later bought out by C.H. Wood of Buffalo, a maker of piano keys. In 1914, the name of the post office was changed from Kreetan to reflect these two stakeholders' names—“Johns Wood.”

Of the mill production, the article by Gerry Bailey says,
Continuously, through these years of name change, the sawmill poured out lumber ten hours a day, six days a week. The mill produced, in an average ten hour day, forty thousand board feet of hardwood lumber and sixty thousand in softwood, the “boxmill” production was in addition to that. There were numerous (8-20) lumber camps cutting 8, 12, and 16 foot logs for transport to the mill, and twenty to thirty miles of narrow gauge railroad was laid to transport the logs.

The main rail connection shot northeast toward Glen Cove, Bailey writes, "with several spurs that went up north of Dry Lake, east to Marble Head and south, nearly to Bass Cove, to haul logs out to Scammon Cove." This timber was sawed at the mill in Johnswood and left for market aboard sailing ships.

Bailey also notes that in its heyday, Johnswood had "a mill working two 10-hour shifts, a company store, a boarding house, a row of two-story houses, a row of one-story houses, a clubhouse, a silent-picture theater, a small hospital and was served by telegraph, a school, a post office and the above mentioned railroad."

In 1920, as so often happened, the mill caught fire. By 1925 it was decided that lumber operations here were basically a wrap anyway. "The Finns," Bailey says, "who had been led to Drummond Island by Maggie Walz, dispersed across the Island and today their descendants continue to make up a significant percentage of the Island residents."

By 1927, the Johnswood post office had closed. In other words, the town was already history.

Not much is left of Johnswood Village; only two "original" structures remain. One is the "Stone-house" where C. H. Wood resided, and the other is the "Wayfarers Mart." According to Gerry Bailey, "the Wayfarers Mart was built in 1915 as the company store for the sawmill. In the 1940s it reopened as an eclectic, full-service, sporting goods store. It is currently a private residence."

Just off the shore here lay the wreck of the 187ft. schooner barge Troy, built at Marine City in 1872. She hauled lumber on the Great Lakes for most of her life, and reportedly burned at this dock in 1920, presumably in the same fire that consumed the sawmill. Unfortunately nothing seems to be sticking up above the water for me to see.

The other shipwreck in Scammon Cove is that of the tug Silver Spray, built at the F.W. Wheeler yard during Bay City's shipbuilding heyday. Though she was originally home ported in Marquette, she was the tug used to maneuver the big schooner barges such as the Troy into and out of Scammon Cove to the lumber mill. Supposedly more of this boat is visible above water, but it was laying on the other side of the cove, whose shoreline is entirely privately-owned, so I did not really bother to go looking. It would be nice to come back up here with my boat sometime and get a closer look at stuff like this.

After satisfying myself with the sawmill, I thought about what to hit next. It basically came to a choice between going north to Maxton Plains and Fossil Beach, or east to Marble Head. Maxton Plains is a type of alvar grassland that exists only here, on nearby Manitoulin Island, and in Latvia. But since I wanted to be able to say I've been to the easternmost point of the Yoopee, I chose Marble Head. I figured I could give Fort Drummond a shot tomorrow morning when I head back to the ferry.

This did not simply go off without a hitch...I had trouble locating the correct road, based on the imprecise directions I had. Many of the roads on the island are just trails, and not named. This caused me to waste a couple hours, and I also learned a lesson in just how big Drummond Island is. In fact I got to a point where I realized that I actually should stop what I was doing, and go back into “town” to fill up on gas. I was highly annoyed I had to drive all the way back there for that, but being that I was about to embark out on some prettttty rough backroads and night was going to fall soon, I could not risk being out there with only 1/8 tank.

When I set back to figuring out these cryptic directions, the sun was sinking in the west. They said “head towards Glen Cove, but when you get to Corned Beef Junction, turn right, not left. Then when you can't go any further, get out and walk about three miles to Marble Head.” Okay, easy enough, but where the fuck is this “Corned Beef Junction?” Is it some word-of-mouth snowmobiler lingo nickname that I'm just supposed to know, and isn't marked anywhere on a map? Well it definitely is not marked on any map, but there is a sign. Nailed to a big old maple tree:

I only found this after a lot of hunt-and-peck navigation over narrow rocky paths. Once I passed Corned Beef the trail became even rockier and more uneven. I was basically driving on shattered dolomite shards and through the occasional mud puddle. I had no idea where this “when you can't go any further” place was, or what it looked like, but in the interest of time I was determined to go as far as possible in my vehicle. I was seeing the occasional 4-wheelers and hardcore Jeepers along the way, and yet here I was tooling along in a beat up 4-banger 2WD.

I was really out in the middle of nowhere...the desolation was comparable to Isle Royale at times. At the more ugly obstacles I had to roll over or around them with great care as opposed to charging ahead like the people with true ORVs. But I did pretty good. I came to a wide open three-way trail intersection with space to park amongst the broken rock, and a sign that warned of the rough trail conditions ahead, and that only those with ORV stickers should continue ahead.

I looked up into the woods ahead and decided to chance it. I was able to tough it out for almost another mile. Right after I passed a small clearing on the left with some kind of wooden shack erected at the edge of the trees, I encountered the first of many obstacles that were just too much for my little Rusty Camel. I wasted no time in situating myself and my gear to hike out immediately. The sun was setting fast, and if I had three miles to cover over this nasty muddy ground, I would be pushing it to reach Marble Head by nightfall. And the last thing I wanted to do was have to roll out my sleeping bag next to a mud puddle.

I realized as I started power-walking down the trail that I was going to be able to see the full moon rise from the dolomite cliffs, and that made me want to hurry all the more.

This kind of sucked. Trudging through this chocolate mousse mixed with boulders was grueling at times, especially when the mosquitoes came at me. After about 20 minutes I came to the first of many obstacles that my truck not just “maybe,” but absolutely would not have made it past. I had a strong suspicion that hidden in the murky water of many of these puddles were probably some radiator-piercing boulders waiting to impale those who did not have enough lift.

The slightly more greenish coloration of that water leads me to believe that it has a high content of antifreeze in it.

A little while later, I came across a debris field containing this:

Silly rabbit, the H3 is for kids.

A long while later, I saw the pale form of a truck's ruined hulk emerge through the trees.

Now this is no mallrat H3...this is a man's truck, son. A 1960s International-Harvester.

Looks like she met a pretty rough end, and even sports a few bullet-holes, but one thing's for sure, she made it farther than that H3.

Closer examination showed that this seemed to be an old panel truck. And on the side:

“FIND IT IN THE YELLOW PAGES.” The local telephone company lineman's work truck? Too cool.

With darkness falling, I was beginning to get concerned about the fact that I had seen no sign of reaching my destination. This was no good. At length I did sense that I was climbing in elevation significantly, but I still had not seen any ORV trail markers in quite some time. By the ORV map I had seen where I left my truck, I knew there were three turns I had to make along this hike. I wondered now if I had made all the right ones. Suddenly the dark woods gave way to a young birch opening, and the trail turned to bare dolomite again. I had to be getting close:

I came to my last intersection, and turned right. I could sense I was getting near; the breeze had a fresh quality to it that I wanted to think came from the lake. I walked another 15 minutes and found myself overlooking the cliffs of Marble Head:

A gorgeous dusk and calm seas...the wind was gentle and balmy. Out over the vast waters was a deep lazy quiet that was occasionally broken only by the sound of some bird or animal in the woods below or behind me. The piece of land out in the distance is actually Cockburn Island, Canada (MAP):

Halfway out into these waters was the imaginary boundary line drawn 200 years ago by appointees from Washington D.C., and a delegate of the King of England (who had apparently a little too much to drink). Hard to think that this was part of Great Britain once, or that our naval forces vied for control of Michigan upon these waves.

I was alone out here. I sat down on the rocks that made up the easternmost point of the Yoopee and relaxed my weary self with a few pulls off the ole campin' whiskey while letting my mind wander.

Suddenly I became aware that the full moon had risen, a vivid red tinge. Quickly it levitated through the murky invisible airs that obscured it at first, to show its full disc.

Manoominike-giizis...what we call the harvest moon, the Ojibwe call the “ricing moon.” It's time to sail your canoe through the marsh with your rice knocker sticks and sing the ricing song while you fill up, basically.

I sat mesmerized as I often do when the moon shows big...

Cockburn Island is pretty big, almost as big as Drummond, but it is completely uninhabited.

Night began to fall, but still I sat.

I rolled my sleeping bag out right there on the edge of the cliffs. The breeze there was perfect to keep the mosquitoes off me, and not too cold. I began to sink into sleep.

A perfect end to a perfect adventure.

*  *  *

I awoke with dew on my face as dawn's strange alchemy turned the sky from pewter to gold.

I knew I had to make haste in getting off the island and on the road because I was meeting someone in Mount Pleasant for lunch.

I took one last look back at Marble Head before turning to face the setting moon at the end of the eastern trail, and proceeded to kick the morning grogginess out with a good stiff walk.

The hike along the ORV trail was no more fun today than it had been last night. It was full daylight before I reached my truck and was bouncing along in it again.

I probably still had a little bit of time to make a go of old Fort Drummond, but being that my directions were once again imprecise and that it was literally in someone's front yard, I canned the idea. I'll come back for it another time, better prepared, I told myself.

I instead meandered quietly through an enchanted cedar grove nearby, sipping the precious coffee I had picked up at a general store on the way back to civilization.

Another bit of trivia about Drummond: Michigan millionaire and Dominoes Pizza founder Tom Monaghan made waves when he bought a huge chunk of the island years ago for use as a retreat.

Finally the ferry arrived and once again I sailed for the mainland. Along the way I had a better view of Frying Pan Island this time, where there had once been a lighthouse. Today it is uninhabited, but you can see some remnants of the station.

The freighter St. Clair crossed our path as we made way for DeTour Village:

The lighthouse in the distance is DeTour Reef Light.

The north end of Frying Pan Island shows what looks (on higher magnification) to be a wrecked boat washed up on some rocks:

Passing the island, I got a better glimpse of the wreck of the Sainte Marie:

According to the Drummond Chamber of Commerce website again,
The wood car ferry Sainte Marie was built at Wyandotte, MI in 1893 by the Detroit Dry Dock Co. for the Mackinac Transportation Co. Her dimensions were: length, 288 feet; beam, 53 feet; hull depth, 19.6 feet; and gross tonnage, 1357 tons. She was used as a passenger and rail car ferry, running between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace from 1893 until 1912. In 1913, she was replaced by a new steel car ferry of the same name.
[It may be appropriate, at this point, to remind the reader that prior to 1957, the Mackinac Bridge did not exist and all travel across the straits of Mackinac was done by ferry boats.] After being retired from service by the Mackinac Transportation Co., the vessel was purchased by T. L. Durocher of DeTour, MI and cut down for use as a barge as part of Mr. Durocher’s salvage, dock and dredge business. When the Sainte Marie’s useful life as a barge was over (circa 1927), Mr. Durocher abandoned the vessel alongside his property in DeTour Village, where it remains to this day.
The Detroit Dry Dock Co., you say? Very cool. I passed through the Les Cheneax on my way home but unfortunately didn't get any good photos.

CLICK for part 4


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.