Another Yoopee Time Capsule

As with most any so-called ghost town, Wilson, Michigan is not abandoned per se; there are still people who live here and own and look after these properties, and who wish them treated with respect.

Menominee County, home to the Menominee Iron Range, was opened up for mining in the 1870s. Explorer Jean Nicolet first visited these shores in 1634, the first fur trader settled here in 1796, logging began in 1832, and lasted until 1917. The county was originally set off as Bleeker County in 1861, supposedly named after an influential land owner's wife's maiden name, author Roy L. Dodge says. But the residents of the county later rebelled against this name and had it changed when the county was organized in 1863, to refer to the Menominee tribe of the Anishinaabe people who originally lived in the area.

The word comes from manoomin, which is the Anishinaabe word for wild rice, also plentiful in the region. Menominee County leads all other Yoopee counties in dairy production. Its county seat and largest town is Menominee, which I visited in part of an older post, and which is at the southernmost point of the Upper Peninsula, roughly at the same latitude as Traverse City. The county population in 1880 was 11,987 (whites), and 24,685 by 1960 Dodge writes, which is about where it still currently sits.

This is the former Wilson Post Office:

It appears that part of the roof has been removed...

Improvised screen-door handle:

Hoops? Sure, why not?

Back in 1869 the Escanaba Iron Co. built a blast furnace on Bay de Noc near Escanaba. In order to feed it with fuel that would get it hot enough to smelt iron ore into pig iron for shipping to a steel mill, they needed charcoal. For that, they needed a ready source of timber, some kilns to convert it, and railroad access from the kilns to the furnace.

The Historic American Engineering Survey (HAER) notes that in 1872 the Escanaba Iron Co. built this series of kilns here, as well as many others in the vicinity of the port city of Escanaba. This particular group here at Wilson was called the Kloman Kilns, possibly deriving its name after the nearby Kloman Mine, which in turn derives its name from that of Andrew Carnegie's first partner (I believe I have also seen these referred to as the Houle Kilns, but I can't find any reference to that name now).

It's hard to see them, but here is the line of kilns, each one with at least one cedar tree growing out of it like a planting pot:

According to the book Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig, the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad also made its way into Spalding Township in 1872 to serve the kilns, and the depot here was called "Ferry Switch." 

The Escanaba Iron Co. blast furnace only operated for two years, shutting down in 1874, and by May of that year the company had already built 49 charcoal kilns like these in the region along the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad east of Powers. In 1879 the blast furnace at Escanaba was dismantled, and I assume these kilns were left to crumble.

The village continued to grow however, earning a schoolhouse and a post office in February of 1881 according to Romig, which was named "Myra." It was soon renamed "Wilson," for Frank D. Wilson, who became postmaster and built the new sawmill here in November of 1881. 

According to Roy Dodge's book Michigan Ghost Towns of the Upper Peninsula, by 1887 there was a population of 200, a new post office, a couple general stores, a shingle mill, a saloon and hotel (the saloon is shown in the first photograph of this post, and still operated as of 1994). In 1893 Dodge reports that the population was "about the same," but a new hotel and grocery, a Methodist church, and a couple blacksmiths were added.

Interestingly, Dodge also notes the kilns were under the proprietorship of one Mr. Frank Pelland at that time, so I wonder if that means they found other blast furnace operators to sell their charcoal to, or if they simply put the kilns to other uses. I did manage to pull up a comment on a Flickr photo by someone claiming to have grown up nearby, who said that the kilns were used for seasoning lumber from the sawmill.

By 1905 the population of Wilson had increased to 425, there was a barber, a railroad agent, the Kellogg Switchbord & Supply (of Chicago), and a cedar yard of the Wilbur Lumber Co. of Milwaukee. Dodge observes that in 1909 the kilns were still apparently in use, and in the charge of a Mr. Louis Beachamp, 30 years after the Escanaba Iron Co. had abandoned them.

It was also about that time that an Adventist congregation moved up from Wisconsin and settled here, many of them taking up farming. Today, Wilson Seventh-Day Adventist Church is the largest Adventist congregation in the Yoopee. Wilson also became home to Michigan's first Native American-run school, the Hannahville Indian School, in 1976.

By 1915 Wilson's population had fallen to 300, possibly because the logging work was drying up. There was however telephone service, potato and livestock farming still ongoing, a farm machinery dealer, and a cheese factory.

Judging by the thickness of some of these cedar trees, I would say that the kilns have been abandoned for maybe 100 years. Thick, black soot caked their inside walls:

The Roaring Twenties were apparently kind to Wilson, and it was again a "flourishing, established village," with the population back up to 400 by 1927, Dodge reported. There were now several cheese factories at that time, a confectioner, a garage, restaurants, a tea room, the new highway US-41, and bus service running to Escanaba and Menominee five times daily. Wilson had arrived in the 20th century.

Larry Wakefield reports in his Ghost Towns of Michigan that the town began to backslide right about the time of the Great Depression, when the sawmill and cheese factories closed and residents moved away looking for work.

At some point this stretch of US-41 was re-designated as US-2, and at some point after that US-2 was re-routed, and this stretch became known as "Old" US-2. I have to imagine that this decrease in traffic signaled the death knell for Wilson's heydays, and that it went on the wane like every other remote small town in Michigan while the cities and suburbs swelled.

The Wilson railroad depot operated until 1950 before closing, according to Walter Romig.

Not far away I spied a farmhouse and barn that also appeared abandoned...

I'll have to check those out in a minute.

This last kiln was interesting...being made of brick, not stone:

This one was also far more intact than the other kilns, leading me to think that it was a younger addition to the family.

I had seen fully-restored kilns exactly like this one several years ago at the ghost town of Fayette, another pig-iron smelting town on Lake Michigan.

The kiln is charged via the openings near the bottom, and the smoke wafts out a small hole in the top.

You could make a lotta smoked fish in 'dere, yah you betcha.

By this point my partner had been missing for quite some time, and I assumed she had followed her nature and gone to check out the farm house, so I decided to start making my way over there. Along the way I peeked into the incredibly dense cedar groves to see this old implement:

A certain "Twilight Zone" creepiness seemed to pervade this whole it was stuck in a much older time period...

Complete silence dominated this tucked away farmstead, while a cold black creek wound its way through the tight grove of cedars. The loneliness was palpable.

There is just something about cedar groves that lends an air of mystery and suspense to any setting.

The crisp autumn air seemed alive with ghosts of the past as I approached the rear of the farm house.

The ruined walls of a barn:

There wasn't much in the shed:

I think this might have originally been a dairy production barn:

My city slicker eyes aren't trained enough to tell, but that would be my guess.

The timber beam construction spoke to the venerable farm's age.

Cliche "forlorn swing-set" behind a classic Yoopee homestead:

The style of house kind of reminded me of the ones at Old Victoria or the Hanka Homestead. It might have been built around 1900, but I wouldn't be surprised if it went back to the 1860s or further. Even if it was built in the 1900s, it was most likely hand built by some old Finns using the classic 1800s methods they knew.

The interior was completely swamped in hoarded clutter, or stuff that had been dumped after the house was vacated.

Living room:

Dining room:

The attached kitchen was almost completely wrecked, but you can see that the floor joists were hewn of whole cedar logs:

Part of the paneled wall still showed what life was like here once...again, the decor of this house didn't look like it had made it out of the first quarter of the 20th century. This was a classic country home.

A 1930s or '40s washing machine:

Very narrow staircase went up:

There was a small bedroom or two up here:

Looks like we found where Sharon stayed:

A newspaper from 1979 addressed to a Mr. Joseph Cappaert bore headlines about the Iran Contra, and for being almost as old as me it still looked fairly new. 

My partner looked at the peeling wallpaper in here and noted that there were layers upon layers of the stuff pasted to the wall. She tore a chunk off for closer scrutiny, and in her estimation as a learned wallpaper guru declared that the oldest layer probably dated back to 1880 or 1890. She also noticed that it had been laid on boards that were cut with a circular saw, and not even sanded or plastered before it was papered:

Not my photo
She hypothesized that this was an indication that the home was in fact older than 1880, probably 1860s-1870s, and was fixed up to look nicer once they got the farm established and could afford such niceties. Perhaps it also indicated that a marriage occurred and financial prospects had improved, after which the additions began to be built onto the original house to accommodate a growing family, and a woman's touch graced the once austere walls.

Circa-1900s kitchen addition:

Just a lonely old Yoopee farm on a lonely old Yoopee road.

Joinnnnnn Ussssssss...

Ghost Towns of Michigan Vol. 1, by Larry Wakefield, p. 35-39
Michigan Ghost Towns of the Upper Peninsula, by Roy L. Dodge, p. 241 & 261
Michigan Shadow Towns: A Study of Vanishing and Vibrant Villages, by Gene Scott, p. 224
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, HAER (1978), p. 57
Michigan Place Names, by Walter Romig, p. 607
Michigan Technic, Vol. 25 (1912), p. 40
Engineering and Mining Journal, Vol. 93, (Jan. 27, 1912), p. 223
Combination in the Mining Industry: A Study of Concentration in Lake Superior Iron Ore Production, by Henry Raymond Mussey, p. 73


  1. This is so cool. Those first four or five shots are the kind of thing I really like. That wooden chest under the hoop looks like it could be refurbished nicely.

  2. This is only a few miles from where I live. I've played my flute in those kilns. The acoustics are GREAT! I wanted to by the tavern about 17 years ago. It was still renovatable but I think it's a lost cause now. Which is a shame because the upstairs has a huge dance floor, stage and dressing room. Truly amazing building!

  3. As I understand from some of the old timers in Wilson this house was originally built by the railroad to house the railroad workers. It was heated originally by steam generated from a building across the road along the tracks. The dip in the roadway is where the steam pipes crossed. There was also a wooden water tank located near the tracks that was used to fill the steam train engines. The water was taken from the nearby Creek to fill the water tank.

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  5. I remember this property with the Kilns quite well. When I was a young boy in the early 1970s my father used to drive a septic tank pumping truck and the landowner actually had my father dump the raw sewage on the fields around those kilns for fertilizer. Can you imagine now days doing something like that? Environmentalist and the DEQ would quite literally have their heads explode over it. I used to play in and around the Kilns while my father was emptying the trucks contents on the fieldd. definitely different times back then

  6. The Barn and house belong to my family! At no time was permission given to walk on or enter property and take pictures! NO Trespassing signs are posted! STAY OUT! There is no respect for private property! STAY OUT!

  7. I am from Escanaba. Moved away for 42 years. I sure love this. I am very familiar with the Wilson/Bark River area. Thank you for doing this. We spent many nights at Potvins bar in Perronville. Great memories.

  8. Words of advice. Don't be caught trespassing in Wilson. You're likely to not have wi-fi when they take ya down a peg or two.

  9. This is great! I used to live up the road from the post office and bar. If my mom couldn't find me she'd call the bar, that's where I'd be, eating penny candy and talking to Joyce! awwwww the good old days!

  10. I used to drink at that tavern with my ex-wives cousin "Fireman Dan"

  11. I lived in that old house you show and had wonderful memories of it. We rented it from Peter Houle who raised a family in that house. The house was not part of the farm nor were the kilns. The kilns belonged to the Juneau/Nault family. I also recall going to the Wilson store to buy things with my Dad and the owner was Mr. Corriveau who was also
    postmaster. The house was trashed by the Cappaerts after they moved out I assume.


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