Some Pinny Links
The Shay locomotive was, in time, to claim a heavy role in the success of the state's earliest logging railroad in the Pinconning area, started by the team of VanEtten and Kaiser.
Regional lumbering was in its heyday in the 1870s and there were some smug beliefs the woods would never be "lumbered out" when George VanEtten and Frederick A. Kaiser conferred, pooled monies and set up camp on the Pinconning River.
Their firm, VanEtten, Kaiser & Co., was formulated in February 1872 with determination to be a great one in that area despite the fact great forest fires the previous fall had taken their toll in the neighboring pinelands. They proceeded to buy up vast tracts of lands and by late 1872 had an initial sawmill in operation there.
The firm platted a 100-acre settlement along the Pinconning River, started a company general store and post office, and set out village lots. The river's name was derived from an Indian word, "O-pin-nic-con-ing," meaning a place where wild potatoes grew abundantly. Pinconning Township, when established a year later, also adopted the name.
VanEtten, Kaiser & Co., still not satisfied, extended their pine holdings on both west and south. The late George E. Butterfield, county historian, said the firm held approximately 16,000 acres of pineland when it founded another village, given the name of Kaiserville, on the far west end of holdings. This was on the headwaters of the Kawkawlin River.
During the year 1873 the railroad was built from Pinconning to Kaiserville, with the entire 11-mile stretch crossing company lands. The intention was to move timber faster by rail than wagon from camp to sawmills in Pinconning and Kaiserville. The line was known as the Pinconning & Kaiserville Railroad.
The project was described in a release of that period as follows:
"Among the numerous important enterprises for the development of the country inaugurated and conveyed to completion in the year just past is the Pinconning & Kaiserville Railroad, from Pinconning, which is located on the Jackson, Lansing & Saginaw Railroad, to near headwaters of the Kawkawkin River in Town Sixteen North, Range Three East, Bay County. The road has been built by the VanEtten, Kaiser & Co. of Pinconning on the tram road principle, although operated by locomotive power.
The road is 11 miles in length, running across lands of the firm, and is planned to bring timber to the mill at Pinconning as well as a second mill in the village of Kaiserville, western terminus of the tracks, contiguous to which the company has 16,000 acres of timber, estimated to cut 100 million (feet) of lumber. It is believed that 50,000,000 (feet) of lumber belonging to other parties will, by necesssity, become added business to the road."
Heavy ties and logs formed the roadbed, to which were attached hard maple rails as a cross-section, which the account called "a cheap and excellent system over which the locomotives pull from three to six loaded flatcars at a speed of nine to 12 miles per hour. While light, the engine with two cars has made 20 miles per hour over the line." Construction cost was listed at $2,000 per mile.
The account stated: "It is the intent of the proprietors to continue the eastern end of the railway to Saginaw Bay, three miles from Pinconning, where docks are envisioned for the shipment of generous cuts of timber. The efforts of the owners are already showing in growth of the new village of Kaiserville and development of the virgin country surrounding it. Supplies are being carted over the route for the camps on the headwaters of the Tittabawassee and other rivers. The new road will prove of great advantage in developing the western edge of Bay County as well as the eastern edge of Midland County."
In 1874 Pinconning-Kaiserville Railroad changed hands when George and Hugh Campbell formed a company, bought the line and called it Glencoe, Pinconning and Lake Shore. By 1876 this railroad ran to Saginaw Bay hauling lumber from the established mills to the very shore for direct shipment by boat. The Glencoe, Pinconning and Lake Shore Railroad had the proud distinction of being Michigan's first logging railroad.
In 1877 new owners renamed it the Pinconning Railroad, and a branch line was constructed north five miles to the village of Bentley in Gibson Township. In 1880 the railroad's name was again changed to Saginaw Bay and Northwestern Railroad. In 1883 the system was bought by Michigan Central Railroad Co., and operated as one of their branches, called Gladwin Division. It was abandoned in 1960, giving way to the automobile.
The railroad was the lifeblood of Pinconning
for more than 80 years. For some years after 1883, Pinconning
and northern Bay County lumbering interests were busy,
before the fading forest lands forced the industry
further west and north.
Pinconning village in northern Bay dates its start to 1872 when Frederick A. Kaiser and George H. VanEtten built the first sawmill there. The firm of VanEtten, Kaiser & Co. built the Pinconning to Kaiserville, first logging railway in Michigan, for 18 miles through the timberlands, then platted 100 acres on both sides of the railway into village lots shortly after 1872. In 1875 the railroad line was extended to Saginaw Bay, and there was a shift in name to Glencoe, Pinconning and Lake Shore Railway. In 1883 the system was purchased by Michigan Central.
The village was incorporated in 1887 and re-incorporated in 1891. The 1900 census listed 729 inhabitants. The VanEtten-Kaiser lumber firm opened an early general store and also established a post office. Records credit Pinconning's pioneer mercantile firm to that run by C. H. Rhodes. An early-day brick schoolhouse was destroyed by fire in 1904. The earliest church was an Indian mission which was established at the mouth of the Pinconning River.
Like most Bay County communities, Pinconning was primarily a lumbering town. But in 1911, after the forest industry was done, William Reid began a cheese plant which later expanded, and some historians have given Reid credit for building Pinconning into the self-proclaimed "cheese capital of Michigan."
But the catalyst, according to most accounts, was Dan Horn, a transplanted Wisconsin cheesemaker, who saw instant potential in the wet, flat farmlands along Saginaw Bay. He built his factory around World War I and others soon followed: Swiss-born Paul Hitz, Joe Turmell and the Kraft firm, which took over the Halpin Creamery in 1936.
The business prospered through World War II. Gradually as milking became less profitable to surrounding farmers, they succumbed to the lack of raw materials. Cheesemakers interested in survival were forced to find new suppliers. It wasn't only that the Pinconning brand name had established itself as a best-seller throughout Michigan; it was planting whole platoons of tourists where the wild potatoes used to grow!
Pinconning's most famous export was Arthur E. Summerfield, who topped his distinguished career as national chairman of the Republican Party and then later as postmaster general of the United States. His father, William H. Summerfield, was the first Pinconning rural mail carrier at the turn of the century.
Summerfield, born in Pinconning in 1899, moved to Bay City with his parents at the age of eight and had his early education in Bay City before the family moved again, this time to Flint in 1911, where he founded the Summerfield Chevrolet agency in 1929, one of the largest retail automobile sales firms in the nation at that time. His grandfather owned a general store in Pinconning until the panic of 1909 closed his doors. He had been superintendent of the Bay County Road Commission.
The late Russell J. Schafer was "Mr. Pinconning" to close friends for his very active role in civic, county and political affairs. A Chevrolet car dealer for 50 years and operating the largest agency north of Bay City, Schafer sat on the Pinconning city council for 19 years and was mayor for seven. He also was chairman of the Bay County Board of Supervisors, one of the organizers and early trustees of Delta College who is given credit for naming the school, chairman for the Bay County and Pinconning Centennials, Bay City Yacht Club commodore, Michigan Petroleum Association president, as well as president of the old time Pinconning Telephone Co. He was active for many years in GOP party support.
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