History

A report in the Cheboygan Democrat, dated August 30, 1888, states, “Their skulls were all broken as if by blows and the supposition is they were dead of a battle or victims of torture.” Some old time islanders recall that the remains were displayed at the hotel, but then disappeared. White occupation of the area began with a Jesuit, Father Jacques Marquette, who first visited the Straits around 1670. The explorer-priest, Louis Joliet, followed him. The Jesuits brought the word of Christ to the Native Americans and sent the news of vast lands teeming with game and furs, back to the adventurers trickling into Quebec and Montreal. The first sailing vessel on the Great Lakes, the Griffin, anchored near St. Ignace on August 27, 1679 and attempted to return to Niagara with a load of furs. It sank, but the trickle of voyageurs soon became a flood, and Mackinac Island became the trading center for the whole Great Lakes basin. The potential value of military control of the Straits was understood almost from the start. Very early the French built a fort at St. Ignace, which was soon abandoned. Then, about 1715, they built a fort at what later became Mackinaw City. The British bested the French in their war in 1760 so English troops took over that fort in 1761. The unsettling thought of trying to defend a wooden fort against American cannon fire persuaded the British to build the partly stone fort on Mackinac Island, where they relocated in 1781. The transfer of Fort Mackinac to the Americans in 1796 was the final incident of the long, otherwise over, Revolutionary War. In 1795, the Chippewa Nation ceded Bois Blanc Island, along with vast tracts of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, to the United States in the Treaty of Greenville. Bois Blanc Island was an afterthought in this deal: It was considered a woodlot for the troops at the fort, a convenient place to construct a kiln to produce quicklime for use in the mortar to build the fort, a fine place to gather maple sugar, and a place to bury those who died of contagious diseases.

     The first General Land Office Survey of Bois Blanc Island was made in 1827 by Lucius Lyon. Several private holdings were reported, but not confirmed. The major thrust of the survey was to discover what Bois Blanc Island had that the fort on Mackinac Island could use, and accordingly, Major Thompson, Commander of the fort, wrote that despite the fact that a “considerable part of the reservation is useless swamp not even producing timber proper for fuel,” Bois Blanc Island had some value. It could supply “sufficient uttering (sic) pine & other timber to build and keep the post in repair.” Two years later the first lighthouse was built on Bois Blanc Island. Eber Ward began his duties as light-keeper for the princely sum of $350 a year. He was almost fired when his son, in his absence and against orders, sold “spirituous” liquors to fort soldiers. The son later became a millionaire. Eber lived to see the light tower fall in a great storm that washed away its footings in 1839, but in May 1843, Ward quit. He had had enough of his not so pleasant boss, S. Pleasanton, whose penny pinching made the lonely life of an island lighthouse keeper very unpleasant. A succession of keepers followed, and in 1867 the third light house was built sturdily and it still stands today as a private home.

 

steamer

pavillion

 

 

Up:   Pavilion 1910

Left: Steamer Long Dock 1910

 

 

 

  In 1884, the U.S. Government opened Bois Blanc Island to settlers. According to the Cheboygan Democrat, 71 families settled there that first year. In the period of just one year, the island was transformed from an Army woodlot into a community of private citizens. The years between 1884 and 1894 saw a flurry of activity. The U.S. Coast Guard opened a Life Saving Station at Walker’s Point in 1891. Several sawmills were in operation. In addition, homesteaders were farming on the east end, and one of them, J.C. Blanchard, started the first commercial ferry route between the island and Cheboygan. The Hattie May had a “set-to with McArthur’s dock” in a May storm. In 1888, the Bois Blanc Island Land Company, which was set up to sell resort plots, acquired a steamer, the Jennie King. By August, the Jennie King was plying a route between Cheboygan, Pointe aux Pins and Mackinac Island twice a day. A dock had been built the year before at the site of the present “Association” dock enabling building materials for a new hotel to be offloaded. Construction on the Pines Hotel began in May and was far enough along to open to great fanfare on July 9, 1888. By the early 1900’s several sawmills were operating on the island. There was a mill near Gull Island, one on McRea Bay owned by Lawrence Dunman and a shingle mill on the east side of Thompson Lake. The remains of the skidway can still be seen crossing the main road near Moon Bay. This trail is unique in that there is no evidence of wheel ruts. The loggers would wet down the trail in winter to ice it, then “skid” the logs along it. The largest steam sawmill was built in 1908 at Sand Bay; it employed about 30 men, some of whose homes are still in use. Getting the logs to Sand Bay was accomplished with a narrow gauge railroad which ran north out of Sand Bay across most of the island with a spur going easterly off the main line that is parallel to, but south of, the base line. Another spur ran across the present day airport and ended near the bluff that overlooks Zela (Stony) Point. The steam engine, manned by Carl Boileau as fireman, frequently jumped its tracks despite engineer Mike Laway’s best efforts. The small engine pulled eight cars, each laden with about 1,000 feet of timber. Once cut, the lumber was shipped via steamboat, one of which was the Helen Taylor.

     When the island had been nearly logged out, the mill at Sand Bay was abandoned to the people of the island who “used” the lumber until there was nothing left but the boiler and stack. A smaller mill, run by Richardsons, was located near the Sand Bay School site and continued on for several years.  The mills and lumber camps brought families to Bois Blanc and schools were opened to teach the children. One stood

on the north shore as early as the late 1880’s and another was built near Sand Bay in 1908. There was a school on the east end to serve the children of the Coast Guard Station and one to serve children in the Pines, which happily is still in operation today.

     Education must have been difficult in the one room, un-insulated, frame buildings where wood stoves served to both heat the room and cook a hot meal for the lunch. The four R’s often took a backseat to more pressing concerns: the weather, hunting season or a shortage of funds. When money ran out the schools closed, then reopened when funds were available to pay a teacher.

     Then, as now, the island population swelled in the summertime. By 1904, there were often as many as 125 people for dinner at the Pines Hotel, which boasted just 41 rooms. The Bois Blanc Island Land Company (BBILC) had built cottages with nine different floor plans – but none had kitchens! Owner E.T. Webb’s idea was that resorters would eat at the hotel and he would make a little extra money. Cottage prices ranged from $200 to $500 and many are still in use today. Dances were held almost nightly and a gazebo, which originally stood near the “Association” dock, was used as the bandstand. The Church of the Transfiguration was completed in 1906. Sailing regattas, swimming, hiking, horseback riding and berry picking were popular pastimes.

     By 1908 a fire had swept over several logged areas and burned down several cottages. The BBILC sold their holdings to a new group of businessmen and a self-governing organization was formed to involve the landowners in the operation. The current Bois Blanc Island Association can trace its beginnings back to the original group and several other organizations, including the Pointe aux Pins Association and the Wilderness Club. These organizations strove to better the life of all those on the island. Sidewalks were built, the “old” dock was maintained and activities were planned. Most of the activity took place in Pointe aux Pins.

     Families continue to come for the summer to escape the heat and stress of the rest of the world. Throughout the years, the Plaunt family brought most of us to Boblo. First it was the Adventure (1932-34), captained by Charles Plaunt. Then the Ada M, (1934-54). Ray Plaunt took over for his father as captain in 1947 and christened his next boat the Charleanne after his two daughters in 1954. The Chemaunes (Little Canoe) also ran from 1979 to 1987. The Kristen D. replaced both on August 21, 1987. It was named after Ray’s granddaughter. Curt Plaunt took over the wheel when Ray retired. Several other boats have provided service including the following: Bois, Busy Bug, Charleanne II, Curt, Jane L, Nora, North Star and Polaris.


   Given all this information, those who have never been on the island may still wonder,
“ So, what’s the attraction? No golf course, no fancy restaurants, too many bugs and
too much dust!” For those of us who love Bois Blanc Island,  E.T.   Webb said it all
pretty well in one of his promotional brochures way back in 1903. For us Bois Blanc
Island is: “The place to go for pleasure, for comfort, for health. Worries are lost sight
of here, buoyancy takes the place of weariness,  the old lassitude and languor is
exchanged for ruddy health; life takes unto itself a deeper, larger, sweeter meaning
than ever before.”

No mystery there!

 

 

Based on research by:
-Helen Crouch and Mike White
-Andrews, Roger, Old Fort Mackinac on the Hill of History. Herald-Leader Press, Menominee, MI 1938
-Crouch, Helen. The History of Bois Blanc Island. Pamphlet
-McPherron, Alan. The Juntunen Site and the Late Woodland Prehistory of the Upper Peninsula
-Great Lakes Area. Anthropological Papers No. 30, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1967

 

 

 

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Bois Blanc Island Community Foundation.  Member of Community Foundation Northeast Michigan.