Clare County History 
by William Harper 
 Member, Harrison Area Genealogy Society

Until 1820 the area was all part of Wayne County. Then the state started dividing itself into smaller county units and Clare County was founded in 1840. It was organized in 1871 according to a Michigan Department of Commerce Report found in the Harrison Community Library. It was named after County Clare, Ireland, has 16 townships in 5722 square miles or 366,080 acres. A large portion of the county is Chippewa River State Forest property. Once the center of a thriving lumber industry, the area business now
caters to the tourist and recreational industries.  36.6% of the work force commutes outside the county for employment.

Early settlers were English and Germans migrating from the Ohio region to establish farms.  They were followed by Irish, Scottish and Canadian groups. The first county seat was established in the village of Farwell. The citizens voted to place the seat closer to the center of the county; and on April 25, 1879, the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad agreed to plat 40 acres adjoining Budd Lake for a 9 block village. There were only a few shacks in the area when the new county seat was named Harrison after the United States president. As the county seat, situated in a beautiful hilly and wooded setting with numerous lakes and streams, Harrison grew rapidly. When Clare was incorporated as a city in hopes of having the county seat moved to within its borders, Harrison responded by incorporating and retained the honor of being the Clare County seat.  Clare and Harrison are now the only incorporated cities in the county.

Clare County Lumber Industry 

Logging was a major industry in Clare County in the 1870’s. Dozens of logging camps existed, towns and villages sprung up around the camps and the railroads that served them. The world’s first narrow gauge railway was built in 1874 by Winfield Scott Gerrish: the Lake George and Muskegon River Railroad. In 1877, the track was only 7 1/2 miles long. It was built over swampy land, streams, hills and dales by human labor. In 1879 there were 17 bridges as part of the track which as over 45 miles long, extending from Lake Bertha to George. Most of the old Lake George and Muskegon River Railroad grade can still be walked or driven. You can find an Historical plaque is erected on Old U.S.-27 midway between Harrison and Clare commemorating the railroad. In 1882, with the lack of pine to lumber, the railroad was no longer in use.

Camps ranged from small operations of less than 100 men to larger operations of 200-300 men such as Leota and Long Lake. It was a rough and dangerous life. Loggers had rotten reputations and carousers and drunkards. Roy Dodge tells this story in Michigan Ghost Towns Vol.II: “Meredith had many upstanding church-going families (though the village had no church). When a lumberjack was killed in a saloon brawl or by accident in the woods, these people refused to allow his burial in the Meredith Cemetery.

Thomas Garrity had set off a small plot in one corner of his farm, in Hamilton Township, for a private cemetery. When citizens refused a departed lumberjack a last resting place, the story is told that several of his pals built a rough box, chipped in to buy a few bottles of liquor, and held their own private funeral for the deceased.

By the time the funeral procession reached the cemetery all the pallbearers and mourners were in a very jovial mood. After digging the grave and lowering the deceased, one of their members removed his hat and with bowed head recited these lines: ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If Meredith won't have him, then Garrity must.’”

By 1910, all of the pine that could be harvested was gone. The camps, villages and stations that had sprung up as a result of the logging industry either devised other ways of making money (farming, resorts) or became ghost towns and disappeared from the landscape.

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