Page Two - Historical Notes
Alden and Helena Township, Michigan

contributed by Irene Hawley Montney

Table of Contents
(for this page)

Other Early Business Enterprises
Postal Service
Telephone Service
The Press

Other Early Business Enterprises

This history would not be complete unless mention was made of some of the other men who contributed much to the growth of the community. Martin M. Elder, about 1887, conducted a general store on the north side of main street near the lake. Later, after M. M. Elder left, Earney Foster, of Foster and Company, conducted a successful trade. Jim Knight operated a hardware store in the large building east of the railroad tracks on the main street. It is believed that Mr. Knight started this building. As time went on it changed hands, more was added to it, and later Leonard Armstrong ran a hardware and implement store in this building.

The first bank was owned by some of the business men and houses in part of the building joining on the east of our present drugstore. It was organized in 1907 with Charles H. Coy, President, and Daniel B. Oviatt, cashier. In 1923 the Bank of Rapid City moved to Alden, operated in the same location as the first bank, and was known as Farmer's and Merchant's Bank. In 1924, they moved into a new brick building at the foot of main street under the management of McPhail, Bloomer and Aemisegger. In the next few years F.E. Aemisegger became the sole owner of the bank and remained at this place until 1962 when the bank relocated in a new bank building.

The first druggist was W. A. Segar who operated where our present drug store in now located. In 1899, David (Dad) HIggins came from Morley, Michigan, and bought the business. His daughter, Miss Ethel Higgins, owns the business and today has a very fine gift shop in connection with it.

The Helena House, the first known hotel, was owned by John P. Smith, affectionately known as Uncle Johnny. The write has in her possession a register which was used in the hotel and shows that one of the first entries was August 21st, 1883, indicating that Helena House was probably built a year or so before. It continued to operate as a hotel as late as 1899, according to the register. Some years later, Hal Rauch acquired the building and remodeled it for a pool room. In later years, he and Almond Valleau has a garage there. While under their management it was destroyed by fire. This building stood on the site of the present Angell's Grocery Store.

The Main Hotel

The "Main Hotel" well known to many of the present day inhabitants, was built in 1890, as near as can be determined, and was wrecked in 1961 to make way for the new bank building. John Main, the genial and well known owner, catered to salesmen and summer visitors, and when the railroad came through, many of the workmen stayed there. He also had an opera house, which stood directly back of the hotel. It was destroyed by fire, rebuilt, and in later years it was moved to become a part of the present Park Garage. Another of his ventures was a livery stable that flourished until the coming of the automobile. Mr. Main was much interested in field sports, horse racing, fairs and regattas.

John McCracken, father of Otha McCracken, was one of the most prosperous business men Alden had in the early days of lumbering. He and his father-in-law, Jared W. Tyler, ran a blacksmith and wagon shop which stood east of the present Alden Tavern and on the west side of the railroad tracks. Later, they moved to a building on the west side of the Methodist Church. The two made and repaired wagons, sleighs, and log boats, all of which were important vehicles in the lumbering operations, and to the people clearing and establishing farms. Mr. Tyler, a carpenter and wheel-wright, did skilled work with wood. McCracken, who was a trained iron worker and blackmsith, made and fitted the proper irons. Victor Tyler, John Russ, Elmer Gleason and others worked in the shop as apprentices, learning the trade. The building was sold in 1937 to Morris Brookshire, and later to Ed Crammer, who tore it down.

Peter Chappelle owned and operated a furniture store and mortuary. Mrs. Chappelle ran a rooming and boarding house in their home, catering to the many summer people who came to this area. Over fifty years ago, George Angell started a meat market, then expanded to include groceries. The business is still owned and operated by members of the family, Mr. and Mrs. Leo Agnell.

Postal Service

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor
gloom of night stays these couriers from
the swift completion of their rounds."

Such would apply to the first known mail carrier for this area, C. P. Hawley, father of Frank Hawley. Mr. Hawley started carrying mail in the late 1860's, making a round trip to Elk Rapids twice weekly, one on Monday and another on Thursday. On Tuesday he went to Otsego Lake south of Gaylord, returned the next day, repeating the same journey on Friday and Saturday. In the beginning, Mr. Hawley hiked through the woods following the Indian trails, but later acquired a small team of horses. The only way to cross Torch River was by wading. At this point, he used a row boat to cross, but there were times when his boat would be taken and he would have to wade.

Many and varied were Mr. Hawley's experiences, but perhaps the most memorable was the time that his team of horses fell through the ice of Torch Lake. By much perserverance and hard labor he was able to rescue and save the horses. Another time a drunken Indian jumped into his boat and attempted to wrest the oars from him, but after a hard struggle, he was able to push the Indian into the water and proceed on his way. Probably the most harrowing experience was the time he fell through the ice while walking across Torch Lake. Fortunately for him, he had a jack knife and was able to use it to grip along the edge of the ice and pull himself free.

In 1869 the postoffice was in a store operated by Jason C. Agnell, one mile east of Alden on the corner of the cemetery road. Peter Smalley, manager of the store, was the first postmaster in the township.

Later the postoffice occupied space in Coy's store and Mr. Coy served as postmaster for several years. As time went on it was located in various places in Alden: in 1923, in the building just north of the present Park Garage. Ths building, the former warehouse of the first store owned by Reuben W. Coy, had been moved to that location and remodeled. Postal service remained there until December, 1960, when it was transferred to the new building east of the drugstore. There were other postoffices in the township, one at Clam River, and another at Comfort in 1913.


In the early days, the nearest place where settlers could get their supplies was Elk Rapids, a distance of eighteen miles. It was a long and hazardous journey, as they had to travel by foot on the crude trails made by the Indians along the shores of Clam Lake and Torch Lake. They traveled over cradle knolls, through underbrush, and ground hemlock, to Torch River. Here they had to ford the river, wading slightly above the mouth on the shoals to the opposite shore, a dangerous undertaking. If they wished to have dry clothing for the remainder of the journey, they had to undress, tie their clothes in a bundle and carry it on top of their heads. Reaching the opposite side, they proceeded to Kewadin, then Wequagemog (northwest wind), and finally on to Elk Rapids. Their purchases consisted mainly of flour and other necessities making a heavy burden for them to carry on their return trip, so that it would take them more than a day to complete the journey. In the winter time they crossed on the ice and cut the distance more than half.

When Reuben W. Coy opened a store in Alden, the merchandise was transported to Elk Rapids by one of Dexter and Noble's tugs, and across the ice on sleighs in the winter time. The tugs had no regular schedule of stops at Alden and there was no certainty of obtaining merchandise when wanted. To overcome this, Mr. Coy purchased from Wilson Rushmore a small two masted schooner, the "King Fisher". This was a sturdy boat, forty-five feet in length and of good beam that carried a crew of two men. The boat sailed on Torch Lake to Torch River and had to be poled down the entire river. The gunnels running the length of the boat were about ten inches wide where the crew walked from bow to stern pushing against the bottom of the river with pike poles. This had to be done for a distance of three miles until Round Lake was reached. The boat was then sailed through the narrows into Elk Lake and across to Elk River where it was poled through the river to its destination, Elk Rapids. A profitable business was done, carrying settlers and their household goods from Elk Rapids to Alden. The original crew was Levius Van Camp and his son, James. The next season, and the last, 1873, the "King Fisher" was operated by James Van Camp and John F. Main.

The finest boat that sailed the Chain of Lakes was the side wheeler, "Queen of the Lakes", owned by Dexter and Noble. This ran a route between Elk Rapids and Brownstone at the north end of Torch Lake, making stops at Torch River, Alden, and Clam River. The boat, purchased at a cost of $25,000 was a double deck boat, 105 feet in length containing several staterooms, dining rooms and main cabin, as well as a large open deck for the passengers. It carried a crew of four men under the command of Captain Fred Johnson. The boat did not prove profitable, however, as the operational costs were too much, and to the great disappointment of the inhabitants about the lakes, it was sold in the early eighties.

The first steam powered boat on the lakes, as nearly as can be determined, was the "Jennie Silkman", used both for passenger service and the towing of logs. Later can the "Times" and the "Maple Leaf", which plied between Bellaire and Elk Rapids, and afterwards the "River Queen" covered the same route. Other boats which sailed the lakes at various times were the "Annie S.", "Hattie Kay", "Grass Lake", later named the "Mud Hen", and another side wheeler, the "City of Cheboygan".

Sometime in the eighties, Joe Hawley and Ira Sharp bought the steamer "Ida" which was placed on a run between Alden and Elk Rapids. This boat finally sank in Clam River and a fine new boat was purchased by them, the steamer "Odd Fellow". Later a sister boat was bought, the steamer "Mable", to better care for the growing patronage. They made two trips daily, the "Odd Fellow" captained by Joe Hawley going from Alden to Elk Rapids, and the "Mable" operated by Ira Sharp coming from Bellaire to Alden to make connections with the "Odd Fellow".

It was difficult and hard task to sail the lakes. The pilots soon became experienced in detecting the deep water channels and avoiding the sand flats and shallows. But there were times when it was necessary for the passengers on loaded boats to go aft to raise the bows, then rush forward while the boat went over a sand bar. About 1912, with the advent of the gasoline motor boats and automobiles, the boats became unprofitable, and were either sold or abandoned.

The first crossing on Clam Lake was by ferry located at Crystal Springs and was reached from Alden by going east of town one mile, then north past the cemetery. First, there was a chain fastened to each shore of the lake which rode over a sprocket on the ferry, and was turned by hand. The ferry had a railing on each side and a bar placed across each end to keep teams in places. Later on, this chain was abandoned, and a sculling oar used to make the crossing. At one time, cattle and horse thieves were active in Antrim County. Once, when the thieves were bringing a team of horses north, offices followed them so closely that they backed their stolen horses off the ferry into Clam Lake where they drowned.

After a road was completed from Alden to Clam River along the shore of Torch Lake, the ferry was moved from Crystal Springs to Clam River, and the chain and windlass were once again used. The ferry had aprons on each end to be raised and lowered on approachments, so that a team could be driven off and on. As the years passed, the ferry became unsafe from rot and decay and was replaced with a barge from Dexter and Noble of Elk Rapids. It nearly reached from shore to shore and approachments were built to allow easier loading and unloading of the scow. Boat passage was permitted by pulling the scow upstream until the craft had passed, then allowing it to float back into position. The boats which sailed the waters at the time were mostly tugs towing logs and wood, traveling all hours of the day and night.

In 1907, a steel bridge was erected at Clam River, which was on the old highway that went past the present business places. This was a hand-operated swing bridge. In May, 1957, a new high level fixed bridge was built east of the old swing bridge which was dismantled the following year. The days of the last hand-operated swing bridge in Michigan passed into history.

In 1892 a railroad was laid through this area by the Chicago and Western Company, later called the Pere Marquette, or "P.M.". Two passenger and one freight train went north and returned each day. When the resorters started arriving and building summer homes on the shores of beautiful Torch and Clam Lakes, two special trains were added for eleven weeks in the summer. Now many of the depots are closed along the route, including the one at Alden. The only continuing service north of Traverse City on the railroad is the freight trains. The railroad is now owned by the Chesapeake and Ohio (C and O).

As stated before, there were very few roads in the township. Other than two already mentioned, another called the State Road was built to Mancelona and was the main route to that village for several years. It went north of Alden to the village limits, turned right, went near the cemetery past "Clark's Hill", and continued east to Mancelona. Very few people know of its existence, as much of it is impassable, and in some places barely discernable. It is now much as it must have been in the early days, a narrow dirt road running through the deep woods.

Telephone Service

The first known telephone office was located in the rear of Higgin's Drug Store about 1899 or possibly a year or so before. There were few telephones in the village and out-going calls were relayed through Kalkaska. It was known as the Citizen's Telephone Company and Mr. Swaverly was the owner and manager of this line.

Later the Traverse Bays Telephone Company was organized with headquarters in Central Lake. Mr. Greer managed the company and stock was sold in the area. After Mr. Greer, William Hicken became manager. There were "central" offices in Bellaire, Central Lake, Alden, Kewadin and Ellsworth. Trouble shooters came down from Central Lake with a team of horse and buggies or sleighs, depending on the season of the year, to repair damage to the lines. To put in a call to Mancelona, the operator had to call the Maddock's farm, three miles east of Alden, and they in turn relayed the call.

One of the services rendered by the most efficient operator was the giving of the weather report. Promptly at twelve noon every subscriber's telephone would ring a long, continuous ring, a signal for all to listen in. It was a serviced much enjoyed by the people since there were no radios or television sets and very few people subscribed to the daily newspapers, which, at any event, would have brought them the weather news a day late. Woe unto the operator, if for one reason or another, she was unable to give the report; then her switchboard would be swamped with calls wondering what happened.

Later the telephone office in Alden was moved to the building east of the railroad tracks and remained there until the present dial system was installed.

The Press

The "WAVE" was Alden's first newspaper, but there are conflicting bits of information in regard to its beginning and the first ownership. Polk's Business Directory for 1899-1900 names C.E. Wagner as the proprietor of "THE ALDEN WAVE". F. L. Vandermark then lived in the house now owned by Elmer Parks. Here, Wagner and Vandermark printed the paper. Stuart Miller of Rapid City has a copy of the "WAVE" that is supposed to be the first edition, dated October 29th, 1896, published by Daniel B. Oviatt. Polk's Business Directory lists D. B. Oviatt as the publisher of "THE ALDEN WAVE" in 1903.

Fred Andrews and Alfred Blinkhorn were editing and printing the paper about 1906. At this time the printing office stood on the present site of the Biscuit House. Later it was located in the second story of the Higgins Building, above the present gift shop and drug store. In 1907, D. F. Davis printed the paper.

The "ALDEN ARGUS" appeared on the scene for a short time in 1907. It was published by J. R. Riblett, a hourneyman printer. While in the printing office in Bellaire, his coat was caught in the press and he was thrown and his head was injured, causing his death.

The "ALDEN BEE", Vol. 1 - No. 1, dated March 11, 1915, was next on the list of Alden's journalistic efforts. It was owned and edited by Carl L. Newtown. The issue of August 16, 1915, carries the name of R. L. Lorraine as editor.

Several small sheets were published from time to time. Two of these were the "Torch Lake Reporter" and the "Inland Lake Resorter". The latter, in its edition of July 12, 1912, carried the news of the tragic drowning of Roy Armstrong and Hugh Vaughn. In October of 1935, D. M. Alexander began publishing the "Torch Lake News Letter". All readers enjoyed this newsy little sheet about the doings of this area. In January of 1954 Milford Mattison put out a few copies of a paper called the "Alden Times".

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