Friday, March 6, 2015

Cedar River, Michigan

Cedar River, Mich. 

Dear George,
Some of our most memorable times in childhood occurred when our parents took us on family outings to Jean Worth’s hunting camp near Cedar River in Menominee County.  I don’t know exactly how large the Worth property was, but I think it was at least several hundred acres, and the camp cabin, constructed of huge logs, probably dated back to the late 1800’s.  The camp was right on the edge of the Cedar River, a 67-mile tributary which runs through the county and empties into Green Bay.  The property included the most primeval evergreen forest I’ve seen in the region.  Jean and Margaret Worth and their daughters, Dooley, Jean, and Ann, lived in Menominee, where Jean was the editor of the Herald-Leader, but they spent lots of leisure time at their Cedar River camp.  When we visited, it was usually along with other family friends, e.g., Worths, O’Hara’s, Caleys, Jacobsens, Burkes, Sargents, St. Peters, and many others.  The adults would socialize at the cabin, while the kids went off for adventures in the cedar forest.  My father brought our boy scout troop here for overnight camping, and later on dads in the group brought their teenage sons to camp for deer-hunting expeditions. These were exciting outings, even though none of us wound up with a deer.  After Katja and I were married, we’d drive up to Cedar River with my parents and have delicious burgers at Paddy’s Bar (now the Lighthouse Inn).  I’ve enjoyed compiling some of the history of Cedar River (see sources at end).  Here’s what I’ve learned.    

Cedar River (1911)

The village of Cedar River is located on M-35 along the Green Bay shore about 25 miles north of Menominee and 32 miles south of Escanaba.  Originally settled in 1850, it's the oldest settlement on the U.P.'s bay shore.  Its first name was Cedar Forks, referring to the point where the Cedar River emptied into Green Bay.  The town was also called Cedarville at one point, named after the great stands of cedar trees in the area.  The local post office opened on Feb. 27, 1852, with Edwin S. Briggs as the first postmaster.  A water-powered saw mill was built in 1854 on the Big Cedar River about 2 mines upriver from its mouth, and this is where the original settlement of Cedar Forks was located.  The Cedar River cemetery is still there today.  The mill was sold to Sylvester Lynn and Samuel Hamilton, but they abandoned it and built a new steam mill at the mouth of the river, today’s location of the village of Cedar River.  About 300 people lived in Cedar River when the lumber industry was at its peak in the 1890's.  The town’s name was changed to Cedar River on May 9, 1883.  

A Load of Supplies at Cedar River (1910)

Cedar River was a company town, and the lumber company, which Jesse Spalding acquired in 1862 and later sold to Samuel Crawford & Sons, owned most of the property.  The community included hotels, general stores, commercial fishing, and agriculture.  The company store was supposed to be the principal merchant, but an enterprising businessman named Jake Rosenberg set up a competing general store on the south side of town.  Lumber was processed at the sawmill, then shipped by schooner to Chicago.  Crawford & Sons cut 16 million feet of lumber and 14 million shingles in 1910, worth about $235,000.  The major harvest was of hemlock, tamarack, and white pine, but also included white cedar, basswood, elm, ash, maple, birch, and spruce.  In 1871 many of Cedar River's lumber camps were destroyed by the Peshtigo Fire.  The sawmill burned in 1912, was rebuilt, and burned again in 1920.  It wasn't replaced the second time around.  Remnants of the lumber mill can still be seen on the north side of the Cedar River.    

U.S. Lighthouse, Cedar River

The mouth of the Cedar River offered the best harbor on Green Bay's west coast, and in 1888 Congress appropriated $25,000 for the construction of a lighthouse there.  The lighthouse consisted of a 38-foot, white-painted wooden tower.  In addition, a two-story, six-room keeper's dwelling was constructed in 1890 on a one-acre property donated by Jesse Spalding.  Gustavus Umberham was in charge of the lighthouse from 1890 to 1901, and then Nelson Knudsen took over.  Though the lighthouse is long gone, the old lighthouse keeper's house remains to the south of the community.   

Churches on M-35, Cedar River

Early inhabitants hoped that Cedar River would get a railroad, but the lumber company chose to use a steam hauler instead for transporting logs.  As the forests became depleted and lumbering declined in the first decade of the 1900's, most of the residents eventually moved away.  Today only a couple dozen people are permanent residents of Cedar River.  Two churches still remain from Cedar River's lumbering days: the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart (1887) and the Mission Chapel (1889).  Today Cedar River serves as a popular fishing and vacation resort community.  The river is stocked with trout, and walleye, salmon, brown trout, and smallmouth bass are plentiful in the bay.  The Cedar River State Harbor offers seasonal slips, and the Cedar River State Forest Campground has sites for tents and small trailers.

Lighthouse Pub, Cedar River (formerly Paddy’s)

Katja and I usually stop for lunch in Cedar River when we visit Menominee.  The burgers are still great, and our visit brings back many happy memories.

"Cedar River,";
"Cedar River,";
"Cedar River, MI,";
"Heritage of the Route,";
"History of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan,";
"Michigan Place Names,";
"Seeing the Light,"

G-mail Comments
-Barbara S-K (3-7):  I hope you are recuperating from your broken ribs.  Isn't it amazing how much damage a little sidewalk crack can cause?  Loved your article on Cedar River.  As the Sawyer cabin was 7 miles from Cedar River, we also spent a LOT of time there.  Whether drinking, eating, fishing or vittles from Anderson's "grocery" store, we called it our second "hometown."  Many good folks have passed through those doors over the years.  Up to her death, my mother loved the more recent "Cedar River Bridge Walk" on Labor Days…


  1. Just catching up with Letters for George. David, don't you think the once-upon-a-time annual Cedar River Bridge Walk with Pat DeGaynor leading in his kilt and playing the bagpipes deserved a mention? Come to think of it,that event was probably not referenced in any of your sources.

    1. I wish I'd been there for that wonderful sight.