A Walk Through a Ghost Town
Mikel B. Classen
The history of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is filled with tales of rags to riches and then back to rags again. Towns rose and fell; people came and left. More often than not, the glory lasted merely a few years. Evidence of these places and tales are scattered in every corner and county. The Tyoga Historical Pathway, a hiking trail through the location of a ghost town, is a sterling example of one of those.
Situated on the banks of scenic Laughing Whitefish River, the State of Michigan has gone out of its way to give visitors the historic picture of bygone days. It is the entire history of a frontier town in a walk.
Located in Alger County between Marquette and Munising, the pathway is two miles north of U.S. 28 at Deerton. The turnoff is 200 feet west of the Laughing Whitefish River off M-28. A small wooden sign marks the turn. The road is gravel but it's good quality and any vehicle shouldn't have trouble. The entrance will be on the right side about two miles.
A 1.4 mile interpretive hiking trail gives a guided tour of the various sites where the town stood. There are no buildings left here, but through photographs and historical descriptions along the trail, the tale of an old Upper Peninsula ghost town comes to light.
The town of Tyoga didn't last very long. Founded around 1900, its entire history spans a little over a decade and then it was abandoned. Like many other U.P. communities, it flourished while the resources held out, but then migrated as employment moved on.
Life here centered around logging. Immense mixed growth of pine and hardwoods provided work for two continuously cutting crews and profits for the Tyoga lumber mill. The mill was located along the Laughing Whitefish River and took 40 men to operate. An immense steam engine ran a band saw that could cut 50,000 board feet a day. The mill paid their workers $1.75 a day for ten hours of work. A worker could find board for $.25 which included the laundry. In 1906, the lumber mill was cited by a game warden from the Soo for dumping their sawdust and garbage into the stream, violating turn of the century environmental laws.
The lumber jacks were mainly Finns, Englishmen, and French-Canadians. They were a rough bunch and were prone to drinking and fighting. The men were divided into two separate crews and between them they cut down all of the timber surrounding Tyoga.
The largest of the crews, run by an Irishman named Dan McEachern, consisted of 32 lumberjacks and four women cooks. This crew's work was devoted solely to cutting huge virgin pine that were four to five feet in diameter. 150 feet tall trees would shake the earth when they fell. It could be felt all over town. Over 60 million board feet of lumber was harvested from the 7,000 acres the company owned.
At its peak, Tyoga housed 150 residents in plank houses and log cabins. There was a company store, boarding house, blacksmith, Cook shanty, horse barns and the sawmill along the river. In 1906 the town received a post office and in 1908 there was a school built.
A railroad spur of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic bisected the town bringing supplies, carrying visitors in and lumber away. Many of the residents lived off from the abundant venison and the frequent 3 1/2 pound trout from the river.
In 1907 the mill was sold to Cleveland Cliffs along with the acreage. It was dismantled and the next year they moved it to Munising so all of CCI's operations could have a more central location. Later it burned.
This was the beginning of the end for Tyoga. In 1908 the mill was gone and only a small number of families remained. By 1911, the town was completely abandoned. The schoolhouse was moved by sleigh and horse team along the railroad grade to Deerton where it still stands.
The Tyoga Historical Pathway, itself is a pleasant walk along the Laughing Whitefish River basin which then turns into the woods. There are some excellent stands of old growth pines and hardwoods. The walk isn't difficult and with the interpretive signs, it turns out to be leisurely. A good eye can spot old foundations and a piece of railroad is left to mark the grade that once serviced the old town. In the woods are the graves of loggers killed accidentally. Large open meadow spaces remain where the buildings of the old town once stood. Once more interpretive signs give a good overall view of how the town once appeared. It is easy to envision the life of the village in the days of its height.
The trail is well worth the effort and is not only a wonderful walk through nature but the historical information along the way gives this hike an added bonus. With its history paralleling so many other early U.P. communities, the Tyoga location reflects them all.
About the Author: Mikel B. Classen is the author of 4 books, two fiction and two non-fiction including Au Sable Point Lighthouse: Beacon on Lake Superior's Shipwreck Coast and Teddy Roosevelt and the Marquette Libel Trial. You can read more and follow Mikel Classen through his website at http://www.mikelclassen.com
For more information go here: http://www.michigan.org/property/tyoga-pathway/