Article: Railroads of Michigan in 1873

By Ray Haddock, Esq. Reprinted from the Atlas of the State of Michigan, 1873.

The history of the Railroads of Michigan is in wrought with the annals of the State, with her early struggles, her hopes, her progress, her destiny. Immigration hither was at its height during the period, particularly the latter part of it, extending from 1830 to 1835. A large proportion was from Western New York, an element belonging mainly to the New England stock, and quite naturally the maximums of thrift and enterprise came with them. The practical application of these maxims began to take shape in stupendous enterprises even before Michigan emerged from the chrysalis condition of a Territory. The name of these projects was legion, most of them being of a Utopian character, whose most important results consisted of fastening upon our then population an enormous load of indebtedness. This period constitutes the first of two epochs in our Railroad history. The first belongs to the era of wild speculation and "internal improvement" so vividly remembered by old citizens of the West, and, in view of the great results which our pioneers hoped for, taken in connection with the insignificant means at command, it may be regarded as eminently typical of that remarkable era. It is with entirely different emotions that we turn for a moment to the second epoch, in the midst of which we now are, the most gratifying reflection connected with which is that, magnificent as are the results, they are but a true index of the development of the great materials of the State.

Of the numerous projects belonging to the earlier epoch, only three Roads of any considerable extent assumed substantial form and shape, viz. the Detroit and St. Joseph (the old corporate name of the Michigan Central); the Michigan Southern, and the Detroit and Pontiac (which alternately became merged in the Detroit and Milwaukee).

In 1830, the population of Detroit numbered 2,200 souls. The citizens of that day were proverbially enterprising, to a degree more than commensurate with their ability. If the public interest required any work to be done, there were no capitalists to rely upon, for no fortunes had been made.  A few of the old class of landed proprietors were comparatively well off, but those who were the most wealthy, as a general rule, had the least money, their possessions consisting of lands, and the necessity of borrowing money with which to pay their taxes was more nearly the rule than the exception. The community could boast of two or three banks, powerful institutions for those days, having more capital than could be conveniently used at home, and considerable of their surplus currency was absorbed by Ohio customers. There was comparatively little difficulty in borrowing money, and very naturally almost everybody was in debt. Thus situated, with no trade with the outer world worth speaking of, except in the single item of furs, when we say that poor as Detroit was, it was rich compared with the settlements elsewhere in the Territory, something like a true idea may be formed as to the ability of Michigan to prosecute great works of internal improvement.

Such was the condition of affairs when the Detroit and St. Joseph Railroad was incorporated by the "Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan." The act was consummated on the 29th June, 1832, and names as Commissioners the following gentlemen, all of whom, we believe, have passed from the earthly stage of action, viz. John Biddle, John R. Williams, Charles Larned, E. P. Hastings, Oliver Newberry, De Garmo Jones, James Abbott, John Gilbert, Abel Millington, Job Gorton, John Allen, Anson Brown, Samuel W. Dexter, W. E. Perrine, Wm. A. Thompson, Isaac Crary, O.W. Colden, Caleb Eldred, Cyrus Lovell, Calvin Brittain, and Talman Wheeler. By the terms of the charter, the State reserved the right to purchase the Road at a price not exceeding its original cost and fourteen per cent interest.

This initial step, destined to be productive of great results in paving the way for an East and West through line, was due in a certain degree to the necessities of the case, as well as to enterprise and public spirit. There were at the time four thoroughfares leading into Detroit, the Chicago [Road], Grand River [later Grand River Avenue], Fort Gratiot [later Gratiot Avenue], and Saginaw [later Woodword Avenue] generally known as the Pontiac road, all of which had been built by government. They were all constructed upon a clay soil, and were well nigh impassable throughout a considerable portion of the year; hence the necessity for iron outlets. The Detroit and St. Joseph road was at the outset a local enterprise, and probably not a dollar of the original stock was taken at the East. Every one in Detroit who had a hundred dollars at command, present or prospective, subscribed, and upon this subscription, with what little could be obtained along the line, the work was commenced.  Within two years from the date of the act of incorporation, the construction proceeded between Detroit and Ypsilanti, under the presidency of Major John Biddle. The civil engineer in charge was Col. John M. Berrien, then Lieut. Berrien, an officer of the army, detached for civil service - a not uncommon proceeding, the valuable aid of officers being frequently called into requisition in laying out roads and furnishing drawings of harbors and "paper cities". Between Detroit and Ypsilanti, the forest was almost entirely unbroken, and was so dense that it was with the greatest difficulty the surveyors could run a line. Not withstanding this and countless other drawbacks, the construction progressed at a fair rate for that period, when every necessary appliance was procured with great difficulty. The Albany and Schenectady (then Mohawk and Hudson) Railroad, the first Road built north of Pennsylvania, had been running only about a year when the Detroit and St. Joseph Railroad Company was chartered.

The construction of the Road progressed as rapidly as could be expected until Michigan was formally admitted as a State, in February, 1837. By this time, the subject of internal improvements by the State had begun to be agitated to a considerable extent, and an act was passed and approved March 20, 1837, entitled "An act to provide for the construction of certain works of public improvement, and for other purposes." This act provided for the purchase of the Detroit and St. Joseph Railroad, and under its provisions the Road passed into the possession of the State. This was after about $30,000 had been expended toward building the section between Detroit and Ypsilanti, and in purchasing the right of way beyond the last named point. Laws were passed by which a loan of $5,000,000 was to be effected for the purpose of making internal improvements, and thus carrying out the popular idea. Somewhere between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000 was realized from this loan, but by the crash of 1837 the corporators who had taken the loan became insolvent, and the State was left financially powerless.

Upon the purchase of the Road by the State, the name was changed to the Michigan Central [actually the name "central Michigan" line was used. The name Michigan Central was later used when the line was privatized], and it became part and parcel of the famous plan of crossing the State by three parallel lines, namely, the Northern, having its eastern terminus at Port Huron, the Central, terminating at Detroit, and the Southern, at Monroe. By way of relieving the monotony attaching to so many land routes, a canal was projected from Clinton River to the Kalamazoo, upon which a large sum was expended before it was abandoned. The Northern road, after being graded for some distance west from Port Huron, was abandoned after the expenditure of a large sum for the right of way, grubbing and grading. The late Hon. James B. Hunt was the Acting Commissioner of the Northern route, Gen. Levi S. Humphrey, of Monroe, holding the same position in reference to the Southern, the works being in charge of a general Board of Internal Improvements. The first Acting Commissioner of Internal Improvements was Col. David. C. McKinstry, father of Commodore J. P. McKinstry.

To convey a correct idea of the character of the railroads of that day, we ought to state that up to this time, and for several years subsequently, the old-fashioned "strap rail" was the kind use. The rails, after a little wear, easily became displaced, the projecting ends being what were too familiarly known as "snake-heads." The T rail had been introduced upon Eastern roads, but the idea of its possession did not even enter into the thoughts of our pioneers of internal improvement. It was, in fact, the very cheapness of railroads that served as a powerful incentive to men with small means to undertake their construction. Even the strap rail was at times a luxury, the supply being ecked out, in case of emergency, by the substitution of wooden material. The rolling stock was mostly of a character in keeping with that of the track. The cars were small, divided into three compartments, but entirely innocent of any of the "modern improvements," and having doors through the sides. The first cards in use were built in Troy, but their manufacture was soon commenced here. The first passenger car of Detroit make was christened the Lady Mason, and was built under the supervision of George and John Gibson, both now deceased.

The State built the Road as far west as Kalamazoo, but her reputation for railroad management was constantly on the descending scale. The Internal Improvement warrants sunk as low as forty cents to the dollar, there being no funds with which to meet them. The Roads were rapidly wearing out, and the state was so new and so poor that it had no credit to purchase iron, or even to buy the spikes required to fasten down the "snake-heads," to say nothing of a further extension of the track. The affairs of the Road were in such a strait that it would have stopped entirely, but for the interposition of Governor Barry, who advanced $7,000 in money from his individual means, and became personally responsible for $20,000 more. In this condition of affairs, the Legislature of 1846 assembled. Amongst the earliest proceedings, Judge Hand, the sole representative from Detroit in the House, moved a resolution for the appointment of a committee to consider the expediency of providing for the sale of the public works. This was carried, and a bill authorizing the sale was about being reported, when Mr. J. W. Brooks, of Boston, came forward as the representative of a number of Eastern capitalists, and made a tender for the purchase of the Road. Negotiations were at once entered into, the result of which was that the present charter was drawn up and reported, conditioned for the payment of $2,000,000 as purchase money, and after a protracted struggle, the required two thirds of each House was obtained, and the bill became a law. Previous to this time it is asserted that so large a sum as $100,000 had never been brought into the Western country from the East for investment in any one enterprise. Yet this act of incorporation contemplated the expenditure of from $6,000,000 to $8,000,000, of which half a million had to be paid before the State would relinquish possession. The Company were required to complete the Road to Lake Michigan with T rail of not less than sixty pounds to the yard -a very heavy rail for those days - and it was also stipulated that all the old Road should be re-laid with similar rail. The Company were authorized to change the western terminus to any point in the State on Lake Michigan, and they were subsequently allowed to change it to Chicago. The carrying out of the provisions of the charter and the gradual change in equipment and outfit until the Road has become second to none in the country, if in the world, are matters upon which it is unnecessary to dwell at length. By an arrangement with the Great Western of Canada, the two interests have been practically consolidated so far as concerns their traffic.

The same committee reported a bill for the sale of the Southern Road. The charter of this Road, as granted by the State, was from Monroe to Lake Michigan. Subsequently it became a desideratum with the stockholders to have the terminus at Toledo, and they adopted measures finally resulting in the perpetual lease of the Erie and Kalamazoo road, whose indebtedness was assumed by the Southern to the extent of the amount of aid which had been afforded by the State. Previous to offering the Southern Road for sale, the state had completed it to Palmyra, four or five miles east of Adrian, at a cost of $1,100,000. The President, Mr. Noble, effected its purchase on behalf of himself and others, the corporators being as follows: James J. Godfroy, Samuel J. Holley, Harry V. Mann, Charles Noble, George W. Strong, Austin E. Wing, Henry Waldron, Stillman Blanchard, F. W. Macy, Jonathan Burch, Dan B. Miller, Benjamin F. Fifield, Wm. C. Sterling, W. Wadsworth, Edward Bronson, Daniel S. Bacon, and Thomas C. Cole. The Messrs. Litchfield, who subsequently figured so extensively in the history of the Road, then owned little or none of the stock. The priced paid to the State was $500,000 for the whole Road, so far as completed, with the materials, right of way, etc., including also the Tecumseh branch, from Adrian to Manchester, which had been already built to Tecumseh, and also the franchises of the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh road, know known as the Jackson division of the Southern. The Company commenced operations the same year looking to the extension of the Road westward. The work progressed slowly, but public confidence steadily increased. Great difficulty was encountered for want of means, the corporators being mostly citizens of Monroe, who were mainly impelled by public spirit. Not long after the sale by the state, a controlling interest was obtained by the Messrs. Litchfield, and their coadjutors, who with a little money, a great deal of boldness, and indomitable perseverance, succeeded in pushing the Road into Chicago, reaching that city in advance of the Central. There was no stoppage of the work from the period of the same. while the construction was in progress, Col. Bliss, of Springfield, Mass, also became prominently connected with it, and held the Presidency for several years. In 1855, an act was passed authorizing the consolidation of the Michigan, Southern and Northern Indiana Roads, and in 1856, the Detroit, Monroe and Toledo Road was chartered. The latter was promptly completed and the company controlling the Southern obtained a perpetual lease. A reference to the other divisions controlled by the same interest, will come more properly hereafter in the portion of our article allotted to the enterprises of later date. By consolidation with Roads beyond the limits of the State, the Southern has become a gigantic corporation, the total length of the main line and the different divisions being about 1,200 miles. Like that of the Central, the building of the original line was attended with great difficulties, and the parallel is maintained so far as concerns equipment and general management - both lines enjoying enviable and well-earned reputations.

Probably the history of no Railroad ever built is replete with so many amusing and grotesque incidents, or marked by so many financial perturbations, as that of the old Detroit and Pontiac Road. At an early period is the history of Detroit, it became a desideratum to establish railroad connection with the rich agricultural region of Oakland county, whose milling facilities were already in a fair stage of development. A charter was obtained of the Territorial Legislature on the 7th March, 1834, and the capital stock fixed at $100,000. Messrs. Alfred Williams and Sherman Stevens, of Pontiac, were the principal stockholders and managers, their control continuing until 1840, during which period their financial operations, if they could be presented in full, would make a most racy chapter. The building of the Road in the mean time made slow progress, banking enterprises engaging the principal attention of its managers. It was finally completed to Birmingham in 1839, and in September of that year the late Henry J. Buckley, agent and conductor, put forth his advertisement in the papers for two trips a day to Birmingham, the cars funning in connection with "post coaches" to Pontiac and Flint, together with a semi-weekly line to Grand River. The introduction of steam was regarded as a notable event, the cars, during the period for which Royal Oak had been the terminus, having been run by horse power. In 1840, parties in Syracuse, N.Y. having claims upon the Road, procured its sale under an execution. It was bid in by Gurdon Williams, of Detroit, and Giles Williams and Dean Richmond, of Buffalo, but was soon afterward transferred to other parties in Syracuse.  It was finally completed to Pontiac in 1843. The Road was subsequently leased by the Syracuse owners for ten years to Gordon Williams, who was to pay a graduated amount of rental, averaging  about $10,0000 a year. In 1848, before the expiration of the lease, steps were taken to rescue the Road from the slough of despond into which it had been sunk by a heavy load of indebtedness, which finally resulted in its coming into he possession of a company headed by H. N. Walker, Esq., and that eminent but ultimately unfortunate financier, N. P. Stewart. Mr. Walker, who was elected President, negotiated bonds of the Company for a sufficient amount to relay the track. The accession of this company was the turning point in the fortunes of the Road. The laughable anecdotes of its early days, in which "snake-heads" and hair breadth escapes are among the leading stables, would fill a respectable sized volume.

On the 3d April, 1848, a charter was obtained by the "Oakland and Ottawa Railroad Company." The Company was poor, and its bonds were negotiated with difficulty, and it was only by the most strenuous exertions that any progress was made. In 1852 work was commence, and in 1853 Mr. Walker went to Europe in the interest of the Road, where he purchased 2,600 tons of iron, being sufficient to lay the track to Fentonville.

The "Detroit and Pontiac" and "Oakland and Ottawa" Railroads were consolidated on the 13th February, 1855, under the name of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway. In July of that year Mr. Walker made a second trip to Europe, where he negotiated the Company's bonds to the amount of $1,250,000. Subsequently Mr. W. visited Europe for the third time, during which visit an arrangement was made with the Great Western Railway Company, which was calculated to put an end to financial embarrassment. The mortgage was closed in 1860, and the name changed to the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad.  It may be added, as a curious fact, that, while those who were early engaged in pushing forward this enterprise made much greater sacrifices to promote the land grant policy than were made by any other interest in the country, the Road was ultimately deprived of all aid in the way of a grant. The Road was completed only by the most herculean efforts, but all these great sacrifices have been requited in the immense influence it has exerted in aiding the development of the country.

Our sketch of the Railroad enterprises belonging to the first epoch, is now brought to a close. For many years after the completion of our pioneer Roads, railway enterprise was at a low ebb, for want of the "sinews of war," but with the advent of a more favorable period in the money market, the attention of Eastern capitalists was directed to the flattering inducements held out by our State for investment in projects calculated to aid the development of our vast material wealth.

It was not until the keels of countless merchantmen had vexed the waters of the bays and inlets of our Lower Peninsula, bearing away the rich spoils of our frontier forests, that our lumbermen began to work their way inward from the shore, a process that gradually became a matter of necessity as the supply began to show marked signs of diminution. By slow degrees the plow followed the paraphernalia of the mill, and in due time the important truth became revealed that the "pine barrens," which, according to tradition, constituted a very large share of our Peninsula, were almost entirely mythical so far as the term referred to the character of the soil.  the choicest pine timber proved to be invariably interspersed with beech, maple, and other hardwoods, growing mostly on rolling lands, and having an arable and productive soil. The settlement of the north began in earnest; State roads were constructed; lands became valuable for farming purposes, and the country began to feel the effect of the land grants that had been made by Congress in aid of railroads. These grants proved, indeed, the coup de grace in raising the value of lands along the line of the proposed Roads. They were granted in alternate sections, and a demand spring up at advanced rates for the unappropriated sections, which in turn reacted upon and enhanced the value of the grants. The first specific grant by Congress for railroad purposes was made to the Illinois Central in 1850, but the first grant in aid of Michigan roads was not made until 1856. These grants were made to the State direct, and the details of the conditions were imposed by legislative enactment. The progress of the Roads was slow, and the effect in the enhancement of the value of the lands was on a corresponding scale. The unexampled progress which has been made within the past eight years is due to a very great degree in the interest controlling the Michigan Central, backed by Eastern capitalists. Within the brief period named this interest has either built with its own means, or materially aided in their construction, the following important lines, viz. The Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw; the Grand River Valley; the Jackson and Fort Wayne; the Michigan Air Line; the Detroit, Hillsdale and Indiana; the Kalamazoo and South Haven; The Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore; the Detroit, Lansing and Lake Michigan, and the Detroit and Bay City. The pushing forward of these great enterprises alone could not but exert a very marked influence upon the development of the State, to say nothing of the extension of the system by way of branches and the connecting lines that have been found expedient as that development progressed. In the mean time other causes have been at work, while local pride and local interests have been stimulated to the highest pitch, and within the past two or three years railroad enterprise has been at its height, and still shows no diminution except so far as that necessarily occasioned by the consummation of its objects. This rapid progress ought perhaps to excite no surprise when we duly consider the peculiar advantaged presented by our State, bearing directly upon the case. While she stands confessedly within a peer in the extent and multiform character of her resources, her geographical position is at the same time strikingly favorable, situated as she is upon the very highway, both by land and water, of the mighty commerce of the northern part of the continent. Other, though less powerful causes, some of them subsidiary to the cardinal ones we have named, may be referred to, such as the comparatively easy gradients, and the incentives presented for spanning peninsular territory - a bribe held out by nature herself as it were, to the spirit of progress. To these may be added the proverbially enterprising character of our people, a point which, so far from approaching hesitatingly, we desire to emphasize, and with respect to no class of our population more particularly than to the hardy tillers of the soil. The indomitable energy and public spirit of this class has, on numerous occasion, elicited admiring comments from capitalists, and has been brought most forcibly to the minds of the citizens of the commercial metropolis in connection with the noble efforts of the people upon all of the new lines by which it has been sought to reach the city - efforts which have finally, in almost every instance, been crowned with triumphant success.

Speculations have to some extent been indulged in, touching the effect of the final exhaustion of our pine timber upon the prosperity of the railroads whose interests are identified with the traffic of Northern Michigan, but no considerations touching this point have produced any influence - at least any unfavorable influence - upon the minds of investor. the conclusion is so obvious that he who runs may read, that the day that witnesses such exhaustion will see our railroads upon the very top wave of that prosperity that shall never know an ebb. A traffic quite as lucrative will be opened up in hardwood timber, the value of which will be greatly enhanced by numerous causes, among which may be named the very thinning out in question. Its prospective value and importance in fact baffles all computation.This commodity, which is produced among us in such profusion that the most prodigal disposition of it scarcely excites remark, is wanted at high prices in all the markets of Europe, and will be exported in limitless quantities as soon as a revolution is brought about in the carrying trade between the lakes and the ocean, an event which in the very nature of things, cannot be much longer deferred. In the meantime the agricultural resources of the country will be developed, of whose effect some idea may be formed from the significant fact that several of the lines completed within the past two or three years have in their very infancy, attained to prospects that warrant them in adopting means to provide for extensive lines of "feeders".

It is within the scope of our article to enumerate the roads already built, but with no particular system as regards date of construction, together with such projects as are certain or most likely to be matured, as well as to present a few leading facts concerning them respectively. The idea of doing full justice to them, in whole or in part, would involve greater space than we have at our command.

[Michigan Central Railroad]

The Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw road was the first ever aided by the Michigan Central, which was about eight years ago [1865]. When commenced, there was no thought of carrying the line as far as Saginaw, but upon its completion to Lansing, the idea was conceived of extending it to the former place. There lay in the way, between Lansing and Owosso, a segment of the old "Ramshorn Road," a familiar designation for a project whose corporate name was the Amboy, Lansing and Traverse Bay Railroad. The Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Company purchased this segment, with all its franchises, including the land grant, under the authority of an act of the Legislature, made it part of their line, and carried it in triumph across the Saginaw Valley toward the Straits of Mackinac. It is the strength which the above land grant gave them which now enables them to be building toward the Straits. During the past season it has been completed to Otsego Lake, in the north part of Otsego County, within fifty miles of Cheboygan. At the present writing [1873], it has not been decided whether the line is to be run to the Straits direct, or to that point via Cheboygan.  Whichever may be the case, it will form a most important link in the chain of the Northern Pacific, and will afford, after the completion of the Detroit and Bay City road, virtually an air line from the Straits to Detroit. The Road from Mackinac to Marquette, it is now rendered certain, will be built at an early day, and the distance from Marquette to Detroit by rail will then be 340 miles shorter by this line than by any other existing route, which will enable it to control the entire traffic from Marquette during the protracted period of the year at which navigation is closed.

The Grand River Valley road was finished in 1870. It is 94 miles long, running from Jackson to Grand Rapids, intersecting the Detroit and Milwaukee road [this should read Grand Rapids & Indiana], and connecting by means of the latter, with the Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore road, which runs north to Montague, on White Lake. This Road runs through the county seats of Eaton and Barry counties, through a fertile and to some extent a heavily timbered country, and has done and is still doing well, although it had not the benefit of a land grant. Like the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw road, it was undertaken by the people of Jackson, but they finally applied to the Central for help, without which it could not have been finished for many years. The governing consideration in taking hold of it was to control the traffic of the important region through which it passes and bring the same to Detroit.

The Jackson and Fort Wayne road, which was completed about two years since, is 100 miles in length, and afford direct communication with Indiana, a connection which has been rendered a very important one by the completion of the Detroit, Eel River and Illinois road. It also forms, in connection with the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw road, a great route for lumber from Northern Michigan to Cincinnati, Louisville and other cities on the Ohio River.

The "Michigan Air Line" was projected as a short line from Chicago to Buffalo, and was intended to run across the State from Chicago, striking the St. Clair river just above the town of St. Clair, and there connect with what is now known as the Canada Southern. The Michigan Central, which aided in building so much of this line as lies between Jackson and Niles, and furnished almost the entire capital with which it was built, finally made it a feeder for Detroit and the Central. Cassopolis, Three Rivers, Union City, Centreville, Homer, and other thriving towns ae located on this line, and it passes through as fine and productive region as any in Michigan. This Road, which was completed in 1871, is, in point of construction, equal to any in the West, and shortens the distance between Detroit and Chicago about 15 miles. Distance from Jackson to South Bend, 111 miles.

The Detroit, Hillsdale and Indiana Road was built by an arrangement with the managers of the Michigan Central, whereby it was enabled to sell its bonds, and raise money with which to go forward and build; but it may be proper to add that the Great Western was also a party to the arrangement. The new Road runs on the track of the Central from Ypsilanti to Detroit.  Distance from Ypsilanti to Hillsdale, about 65 miles. Nearly all the business of the region traversed by this Road has hitherto gone to Toledo. The Hillsdale Company took the franchise of the Eel River road, extending from Butler, Indiana, to Logansport, and the Road has recently been finished to the last named point. The fact that it affords the shortest route to St. Louis from New England and the region having its outlet at Buffalo, coupled with the almost unrivaled fertility of the region which it penetrates, renders this Road of vast importance. It also affords a direct route between Detroit and Indianapolis via the Indianapolis, Peru and Chicago road.

The Kalamazoo and South Haven is another Road whose capital stock is owned chiefly by the Michigan Central, and the latter company has also guaranteed its bonds and obtained a lease of the Road, which is an important feeder of itself - 40 miles in length - and important also as affording an eligible connection with another Road in the same interest - the Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore - the traffic of which it brings to Kalamazoo.  It runs through a country partly timbered and partly farming.

The line of the Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore road extends from New Buffalo, 66 miles east of Chicago, to Pentwater, but it will ultimately be extended to Manistee, a distance of 200 miles in all, and a branch has been built from Holland to Grand Rapids, 24 miles. These lines have both been finished within 18 months. The main line north of Grand Haven is operated in the interest of the Michigan Central, and constitutes, with the Grand River Valley road, a direct line from Detroit to the western coast of the State, trains leaving daily from the Michigan Central depot. The Chicago and Michigan Lake Sore road was consolidated October 23, 1872, with the Muskegon and Big Rapids road, which has recently been completed. The pine lumber trade of these roads is assuming immense proportions.

The Detroit, Lansing and Lake Michigan road, an important artery of the commerce of Detroit and of the State, was completed in the Fall of 1871 to Howard City, at the junction with the Grand Rapids and Indiana road. From thence it has been surveyed and will be built during the Spring of 1873 to Fremont, a point near the centre of Newaygo County, where it will connect with the newly constructed Muskegon and Big Rapids road. A branch of this Road extending from Ionia to Stanton has already been built, and will be extended beyond Stanton at an early day. The Detroit, Lansing and Lake Michigan road was formed by the consolidation of three companies. The first consolidation was that of the Detroit and Howell, with the Howell and Lansing, the latter, however, being organized in the interest of the Detroit and Howell. The next was that of the Detroit, Howell and Lansing with the Ionia and Lansing, which took place in March last. The Hon. James F. Joy, President of the Michigan Central, first aided in raising the money to build the section from Lansing through Ionia to Greenville, some 56 miles in length about four years ago. The parties who had it in charge became embarrassed, and Mr. Joy was obliged to take charge of it in order to save those who had invested in it from loss, and, in order to make it valuable, took u the Detroit and Howell project - as enterprise which had failed - with the view of extending the Road to Detroit, and from Greenville northwest to Lake Michigan. The parties above referred to had put in a large amount of capital, which would have been helplessly sunk but for this last consolidation.

The Detroit and Bay City road, which has already been incidentally referred to as part of a direct line to Mackinac and thence to a connection with the Northern Pacific, completes the present category of the Roads which have been built or aided by the Michigan Central. It is but a short time since its commencement, yet, before our work reaches its readers, it will have been completed. Its length is something over 100 miles passing through a rish agricultural region, while lumber and salt trade will contribute very materially to swell its traffic.

To appreciate the full significance of the great enterprises to which we have so far referred, as belonging to our modern railway epoch, with a solitary exception these projects have all been matured  within a period of a little more than two years! While the expenditure of capital in  building branches and feeders is of common occurrence with railroad corporations, the large scale upon which the managers of the Michigan Central have aided kindred enterprises that are neither branches nor "feeders," is unparalleled in railway annals. Without dwelling upon the incalculable benefits of this liberal policy to local interests or to that the State at large, it is a fair inference that that policy has been inaugurated and pursued mainly as the means of judicious investment of capital- a theory that suggests a most flattering commentary on the estimate placed upon the vast latent wealth of our State by those most competent to form a just idea on the subject.

[Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway]

As next in order, we may properly refer to the branches or divisions of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, of which quite an important one was completed last year, namely, the "Northern Central Michigan," now known as the Lansing Division, extending from Jonesville, on the main line, to Lansing, a distance of 59 miles. This division, which traverses a wealthy region, succeeded to the franchises of the southern section of the old Amboy, Lansing and Traverse Bay, or "Ramshorn" Road. The old company built a road from Lansing to Owosso, but it was constructed in primitive style.  Financial difficulties arose, and, in September, 1864, the Hon. C. C. Trowbridge, was appointed Receiver, who remained in possession about two years. The Road was managed under the direction of Mr. Trowbridge, by the Superintendent of the D. & M. [Detroit & Milwaukee] Road, and the rolling stock necessary to its proper working was supplied by that Road. The Receivership was, of course, only temporary, and near the close of the 1866 the road was sold to the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Company. It is the southern division of this once famous corporation, as already intimated, that is now practically represented in the Lansing division of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway. An extension has been projected from Lansing to St. Johns, and thence northward, which has already been mostly graded to St. Johns. This improvement will ensure connection with quite a number of enterprising and thriving towns.

The Kalamazoo Division, familiarly known as "Gardner's Road," was built by piecemeal, having been commenced (about seven years ago) without any clearly defined reference to the points now constituting its termini. The Southern Road had had for several years a "strap" road from White Pigeon to Three Rivers, and the company agreed that if Mr. Gardner would relay it, they would give him a lease of it, as a link in a project of his own, namely, the construction of a road from Three Rivers north to Schoolcraft, the later point being the outlet of a rich prairie region. This arrangement was concluded, and the Road was extended to Schoolcraft, after which another corporation was formed by Mr. Gardner and his friends to build from that point to Kalamazoo, which project was finally carried forward to completion, and at the last names point Mr. Gardner rested. He ultimately succeeded in carrying the Road to Grand Rapids, having been enabled to dispose of the bonds by means of a stipulated traffic arrangement with the Michigan Central, which corporation was desirous of obtaining an outlet to Grand Rapids. The Road, however, finally passed into the hands of the Michigan Southern, and the Central built the Grand River Valley road, as already stated. Mr. Gardner also built a branch of his Road from Allegan to Holland which was ultimately extended to Muskegon (known as the Michigan Lake Shore road.) The "Continental Improvement Company" (an association nearly identical in interest with the Pennsylvania Central) have obtained control of all this line beyond Allegan, and have completed a Road from that place to Martin's Corners, on the Grand Rapids and Indiana road.

The Detroit, Monroe and Toledo Division was built in part by subscriptions at Detroit and at other points on the line. It has proved of great value to Detroit merchants in affording communication with the South, and has grown into importance as a channel for shipment to various points in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

The company that constructed the Jackson Division was organized under special charter, and the Road was built about thirteen years ago [1859]. The effect of this Division is to draw off a certain portion of the traffic of the Central for the benefit of Toledo.

The Adrian and Monroe Division is practically part of the main line, Adrian being the point of divergence for the lines respectively to Toledo and Detroit, the later via Monroe.

That portion of the main line from Toledo to Adrian, 33 miles, was acquired by a perpetual lease from the old "Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad Company."

The Roads hereafter names, including a number of highly important lines, have, it is hardly necessary to say, no connection with either of the great interests upon which we have heretofore dwelt. Like the lines already described, however, they are almost invariably first class in their construction and general equipment.

[Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad Company]

The Grand Rapids and Indiana road is a most important channel from a number of considerations, especially in view of its great length, the immense natural wealth of the vast region tributary to it, and from its connections, having the Straits of Mackinac as its northern terminus, and tapping the Grand River Valley with its network of railways and its rich stores of lumber, plaster, and other leading commodities, for which it has opened a market in the rich State of Indiana. Its financial history has been a checkered one. There were heavy losses from various causes, including inefficient management at the onset, quarrels with contractors, the failure of financial agents, etc.

In 1852 and 1853, the "Fort Wayne and Southern Railroad Company" made such advances toward the construction of a railroad from Louisville to Fort Wayne as seemed to insure its completion. The President of that company made propositions that led to the organization of the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad Company in 1854. The proposed southern terminus was Hartford City, running north to the Michigan State line in the direction of Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids and Southern Railroad Company was organized in 1854, and the two were consolidated under the present name. In 1855 the southern terminus was changed to Fort Wayne, and, the same year, application was made for a land grant, which was obtained in 1856, followed by another in 1864, the whole amount granted aggregating 1,160,382 acres. In June, 1857, the Company was consolidated with two other organizations, the "Grand Rapids and Mackinaw" and the "Grand Rapids and Fort Wayne" Companies, the name of Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad company being retained by the new organization. Early in 1857, the Company organized three full corps of engineers, one to operate direct from Grand Rapids to Grand Traverse Bay, the second west of that nearer the Lake, and the other as a direct Grand Rapids to Little Traverse Bay, and thence to the Straits, as was practicable. On the data thus acquired, the present line was located. Owing to the embarrassments to which we have referred, the Company asked for and obtained numerous extensions in order to enable it to take advantage of the terms of the land grants, the time being finally extended to June 3, 1874. In 1869, the continental Improvement Company (organized for this specific purpose) took the contract to build the Road for the full length, from Fort Wayne to Little Traverse, 50miles beyond Traverse City, in all 330 miles.This contract, owing to the greatly enhanced value of the bonds turned over to the Improvement Company (the Pennsylvania Central guaranteeing them, thus making them par), has given that company the lion's share of the avails of the enterprise, and thrown the original corporation completely into the shade.

The Road has been built as far north as Rapid River, in Antrim County, and will be completed during the present year to Mackinac. A branch has been completed and is in operation to Traverse City, diverging from the main line at Walton, in the northeast part of Wexford County. Distance form Fort Wayne to the Straits, 352 miles.

[Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad]

The Flint and Pere Marquette road, another of the great arteries that are diffusing life and material health throughout our State, owes its inception and existence to the combined influence of a land grant and the enormous lumber trade of the region tributary to it. It has already been of inestimable value in stimulating the settlement and drawing out the resources of Northern Michigan. The Road was commenced at Flint and built to East Saginaw about seven years ago, and in the Fall of 1866 the construction of the second division was commenced, running from the east bank of the Saginaw River, at East Saginaw, 26 1/2 miles, to Averill's, on the Tittibawassee River, six and one half miles west of Midland. Twenty miles were laid, ballasted and opened for traffic on the 1st of December, 1867. On the 24th of April, 1868, a lease was effected of the Flint and Holly Railroad, 1 miles in length - for the term of100 years. The latter Road had been opened for traffic in November, 1864.  In December, 1868, a lease of the Bay City and East Saginaw Railroad was executed. The work on the main line has been steadily pushed forward. At the close of 1869, 77 miles were opened; in January, 1870, 20 additional miles were brought into use. During the ensuing Summer the Road will be finished to Ludington, on Lake Michigan, its western terminus, the contract having been concluded for the unfinished portion. A branch has recently been built from Flint to Otter Lake fifteen miles in length, and another has been surveyed and will probably be completed the present year, extending from East Saginaw by a very direct line through Vassar and Capac to St. Clair or Port Huron. A branch will also be built from East Saginaw to Caro, in Tuscola County, and at several distant points short branches will be constructed for the special accommodation of the lumber trade.

The Holly, Wayne and Monroe road, which has been built within the past two years, has been consolidated with the Flint and Pere Marquette, giving the latter a Toledo connection. It also brings to Detroit the business of a circumscribed but wealthy region before inaccessible, via Plymouth, on the Detroit, Lansing and Lake Michigan road, and Wayne, on the Michigan Central.  Distance from Holly to Monroe, 63 1/2 miles.

[Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad]

The line of the Port Huron and Lake Michigan road is from Port Huron to Flint, where it connects with the Detroit and Milwaukee Road, affording direct communication between Port Huron and Grand Haven, and giving Port Huron the benefit of the connections of the D. and M. Road. It was projected as long ago as 1836, constituting one of the three pet schemes of crossing the State heretofore referred to. At that time a line was marked out all the way to Grand Rapids, and a few miles were graded, but owing to the great financial embarrassments of 1837, the scheme fell through. In 1841 the Port Huron and Lake Michigan Railroad Company was formed, but its progress was confined to locating the lie and obtaining the right of way. In 1856 the Port Huron and Milwaukee Railroad Company was organized, the line located, and a considerable sum expended, but the property was sold under its mortgage in 1864, and the company dissolved. In 1865,the property and franchises came into the possession of the present Company. It is the present intention of the management to extend the line to Lansing, although Owosso has also been named as a possible objective point.

The route of the Peninsular Road extends southwest from Lansing and has been carried into Indiana, securing a Chicago connection. At Charlotte it crosses the Grand River Valley road: at Brady, the Grand Rapids and Indiana; at Schoolcraft, the Kalamazoo division of the L.S. and M.S.R.S.; at Battle Creek, the main track of the Michigan Central; at Cassopolis the Michigan Air Line; at South Bend, the Lake Shore and Michigan; at Stillwell, the Peru and Indianapolis; at Haskell, the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago; and at Valparaiso, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago. The Road was undertaken by Mr. Dibble, of Battle Creek, some four or five years ago. He has built thus far on municipal aid, and the proceeds of bonds sold in Europe. Distance from Lansing to South Bend, 118 miles; Lansing to Chicago, 205. The project known as the Michigan Midland, from Lansing to Flint, is encouraged by the Peninsular, as a means of securing an eastern connection.

[Other Roads]

The Ohio and Michigan is the corporate name of a Road generally denominated the Mansfield, Coldwater and Lake Michigan Road, which is being constructed under the auspices of the "Continental Improvement Company." The line extends from Mansfield, Ohio, through Coldwater, Burlington, Battle Creek and Augusta to Allegan, from which point the route to Grand Haven and Muskegon, 56 miles in length, is controlled by the same interest. [This line later became the Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee].

The Michigan division of the Grand Trunk Railway, extending from Port Huron to Detroit, 59 miles, was completed in the autumn of 1859, the whole expense having been borne by the gigantic corporation by which it is owned and controlled. The Road has proved of substantial advantage to a part of the State not otherwise accommodated with a railway outlet, while the connection has proved invaluable to our merchants and shippers - and thereby to our producers - in affording a competing route to the East as well as connection with points not reached by any other line. Distance from Detroit to Portland, Maine, 861 miles.

The Saginaw Valley and St. Louis road, extending from East Saginaw to St. Louis, 34 miles, has been built during the past year and the cars are running. The extension of this line to Grand Rapids was in contemplation at the period of the inception of the enterprise, and it may yet be built.

The Grand Rapids and Newaygo Railroad, 36 miles in length, also belongs to the list of railroads completed last year. An extension has been projected northward to Fremont, the junction of the Detroit, Lansing and Lake Michigan with the Muskegon and Big Rapids Railroad.

Considerable earth-work has been done at intervening points on the line of the proposed Marshall and Coldwater road, and an extension has been projected from Marshall to Elm Hall, in the northwest part of Gratiot County. [Editor:  Neither were ever built].

A Road has been projected from Wenona opposite Bay City via Midland, to Big Rapids, where it is proposed to form a junction with the Muskegon and Big Rapids road. The road-bed has been finished from Wenona to Midland, and that section will be ironed, it is expected, early the present season. [This line became the MCRR's Midland Branch. It was not extended west of Midland]

The new Canada Southern, which for a considerable period has occupied a prominent place in the public mind, now approaches completion. The last rail on the portion between St. Thomas and Amherstburg, Ontario, was laid some time since. From Trenton on the Detroit River, the Road will have three branches, viz., one direct through to Chicago passing through Flat Rock, Blissfield and Morenci; one to Toledo, where it will connect with the Toledo, Wabash and Western, with which it has been consolidated; and another to Detroit. [Part of this line west of Trenton was sold to the DT&I (to Dundee). The line from Grovsnor to Fayette became the NYC's Fayette Branch through Morenci].

The Owosso and Northern road is a new project, with Frankfort, on Lake Michigan as its ultimate objective point. It has been graded for the distance of forty miles northward from Owosso. The proposed road crosses the Flint and Pere Marquette road at Evart, and the Grand Rapids and Indiana at Clam Lake [Cadillac]. [This line became part of the Ann Arbor Railroad].

The Toledo, Ann Arbor and Northern road is another comparatively new project, but the line between Toledo and Ann Arbor will soon be ironed. The bridges are already built, and the road-bed completed.

The capital stock has all been subscribed for a railroad from Elkhart, Indiana, to Benton Harbor, opposite St. Joseph.

A railway will be eventually built in all probability, from the main line of the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw road to Alpena. As yet, very little has been done.

The Michigan Air Line, projected from St. Clair to Jackson - of which the Road is in operation between Ridgeway and Romeo  is a segment - has disposed of its franchise to Pontiac parties who have been endeavoring this past summer to raise funds to complete the Road. They have induced some English capitalists to look over the ground with the view of investing, but the result is somewhat uncertain. [The portion of this line between Jackson and Richmond became part of the Grand Trunk Western.]

An Air line from Detroit to the southwest through Adrian has been a favorite project with the citizens of the rich region directly interested, but its culmination has been postponed through various causes, and is as present retarded by a conflict of interests.  The line has already been graded from Tecumseh to Adrian, and a contract was let some time since from Adrian to Morenci. [This line became the Wabash, later the Norfolk Southern].

A Road has been projected from Lapeer to Port Austin, which, if built, will run for the distance of six miles over a branch of the Detroit and Bay City road, which has already been completed northeasterly from Lapeer.

A Company has been organized for the construction of a Road from Utica to Almont with some prospect for success.

We have now enumerated, in addition to the Roads actually built, the more meritorious of the new projects which are agitating the Lower Peninsula. New ones are  being constantly urged upon the public attention, many of which have nothing very substantial to rest upon, but are projected as a means of furthering purely local interests, without due deference to the question whether they can command the volume of business necessary to sustain them.

We will now invite the attention of the reader to the Upper Peninsula, where the stupendous interests at stake are beginning to enlist the serious attention of capitalists, and the development of a railway system on a scale corresponding with the magnitude of those interests has commenced in earnest within a recent period. We have already referred, incidentally, to the probably early completion of the link in the chain of the Northern Pacific, extending from the Straits of Mackinac to Marquette.

The formation of the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad Company is the result of the consolidation of the "Marquete and Ontonagon" and the "Houghton and Ontonagon" roads. The former road, extending from Marquette to Champion, opened to a market the iron district, embracing twenty of the largest mines, as well as a large timber, mineral and agricultural country. The latter road, from L'Anse, at the head of Keweenaw Bay, to a junction with the Marquette road, opened an immense additional mineral district, with an outlet at L'Anse, and the consolidated roads and branches, extending nearly a hundred miles, are rapidly accomplishing the development of the largest and richest mineral district in the world. The line is now completed in full operation from Marquette to L'Anse, with a magnificent harbor and freight facilities at each terminus, and is doing a business, proportioned to the investment, greater than any other railroad in the United States. The iron traffic alone will amount in 1873 to at least 1,500,000tons. The chief towns and cities located upon this important line are Negaunee; Ishpeming, Clarksburg, Champion, Michigammi [sic], and L'Anse. The Road will be extended to Ontonagon within the next four years, and will eventually connect at Montreal River with the Northern Pacific. It will thus form a most important connecting link between Duluth and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and through the State to all points throughout the country.

The gap of 65 miles in the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad from Escanaba to the Wisconsin line has recently been built, forming a continuous route by rail from Marquette to Chicago. This road was built by W. B> Ogden and his friends, and finally consolidated with the Northwestern.

The aggregate length of the Railroads of Michigan isstated by Governor Bagley, in his message, at about 3,200 miles. The following is believed to be a correct statement of thenumber of miles actually ironed in 1872:

  • Michigan Central (double track) - 50

  • Jackson Lansing and Saginaw - 84

  • Detroit Bay City, and branch - 116

  • Grand Rapids and Indiana main line - 80

  • Grand Rapids and Indiana, Traverse City Branch - 17

  • Ionia and Stanton - 20

  • Muskegon and Big Rapids - 50

  • Flint and Pere Marquette - 15

  • Northern Central Michigan (whole length) - 59

  • Saginaw Valley and St. Louis - 34

  • Mansfield, Coldwater and Lake Michigan - 21

  • Grand Raids and Newaygo (whole length) - 36

  • Cicago and Northwestern - 65

  • Marquette, Houghton and Ontogagon- 50

           Total No. of miles - 697

The theodolite of the railroad surveyor has been to our beautiful Peninsula, even as the wand of Prospero. It has caused the wilderness to blossom as the rose, and throughout the length and breadth of the land have risen schools, and colleges, and temples to our Most High. The rapid development of our resources has reacted upon the means by which it was wrought. Insignificant railroad machinery has given place to engines which are seemingly the perfection of human invention; the old-fashioned, ill-contrived cars have been succeeded by palatial coaches; and "strap rails" have been displaced by a kind more worthy to bear the teeming commerce of the mighty West. The history of our early enterprises has not been without its moral. We are commanded not to despise the day of small beginnings, and the lesson in this case is emphasized by the striking fact that the mightiest channels of the State and of the West are the legacy of a period chiefly remembered as the era of wild speculation. Thus did the strong man of old gather sweets from the carcass of the dead lion.


Note: [Bracketed comments] are editorial comments which have been added and were not a part of the original published text. They are inserted to correct inaccuracies or to make the story more understandable 150 years later.