This article explores the rich history of Hemlock City, delving into its early days as a lumber town with a narrative that intertwines local lore, personal anecdotes, and historical records. Through conversations with local historian Mr. Earl and the discovery of a poem about the town’s founders, the article sheds light on the foundational figures of Hemlock, notably Mr. Glasby, a key businessman and community builder. It recounts the development of Hemlock from a forested area into a bustling community, highlighting the establishment of its first businesses, schools, and the pivotal role of the plank road in its growth. Personal recollections from William Pahl provide a vivid snapshot of life in Hemlock in the 1870s, offering a glimpse into the community’s social fabric, economic activities, and the transformative impact of the railroad and early automobiles on the town’s development.
by Lorenz H. Loesel
One day, while I was talking with Mr. Earl, the discussion centered around the history of Hemlock and its initial beginning. We face perplexing problems when we try to find records and documents that will give the complete story. Moreover, we have a conflict of names which adds to the task.
For example, we frequently meet a certain Mr. Gillespie in some of the early records. But as we study other records, we find the name spelled Mr. Glasby. Finally, I discovered that this name was used interchangeably in the early records of our community. His personal signature was W. F. Glasby.
William Earl helped to establish this fact when he quoted the subsequent poem:
The Village of Hemlock
Is a … of a hole
Built by ol’ Glasby
And run by G. Sproll.
We leave it to the reader to supply the meter and music. This lumberjack’s chantey gives us a fair description of the time and clime of the early Hemlock. Besides, it gives the reader a fair amount of history. In order to understand the early history of Hemlock, we must bear in mind that its story was couched in terms of lumber, sawmills, and men working in the forests.
During this period, we must picture to ourselves Hemlock as a densely forested area with only a few settlers living in its immediate environment. Ambitious lumbermen in and around the City of Saginaw were constantly seeking new areas to supply the ever-growing demand for logs and more logs. Since Richland Township and adjacent townships had a good supply of pine and other trees, it is obvious that its forests would help to feed the hungry mills of Saginaw and other mills along the Tittabawassee River.
Unfortunately, not one of our streets at Hemlock carries the Glasby name, who was very influential in so many varied endeavors. Mr. Glasby was one of the most aggressive and successful businessmen of Saginaw in the early 1860s. The records reveal that he served his community in many different civic affairs. He was a builder in the true sense of the word. This is proven by the following quote: “William F. Glasby, born in Livingston County, New York, came to Saginaw in 1850. He was one of the principal men in building three bridges that connect the two cities. He built the Valley City Hotel, which opened as a boarding house by Adoniram as host…”
Many more of his achievements could be enumerated, but the previously quoted items will suffice to indicate that Mr. Glasby was one of the leading men during this period. Since he was co-owner of Gallagher’s Mill, he was keenly interested in getting as much timber land as possible to supply this mill. Consequently, he bought hundreds of acres of land in this vicinity to get the white pine, more commonly known as Michigan Pine. Many of the abstracts and legal papers in this community will bear the name of W. F. Glasby.
We do know Glasby was one of the men instrumental in building the plank road which extended from the City of Saginaw to Saint Louis. An interesting account of this is given in the following article: “In the 1860s, a Saginaw lumberman, W. F. Glasby, was putting in the old plank road, the present M-46, and erected a series of steam sawmills, about every six miles. One, Meridian City, was located on the Tannehill Road, an old Indian trail from St. Charles to Mt. Pleasant. The town was approximately a mile west of Merrill, on the site where the village dump is located.”
A certain Mr. Wright was also deeply involved in the construction of this plank road, which fact is substantiated by James Cooke Mills: “For many years, Mr. Wright was a director of the Tittabawassee Boom Company and for several years its president. In 1865, the Saginaw Valley and Saint Louis Plank Road, thirty-five miles in length, connecting Saginaw with the farming section of Gratiot County, was constructed largely through his effort.”
This road helped to link the community of Hemlock and Richland Township with the sawmills west of Hemlock. These were little communities with the following names: Porter Station, Greene’s Mill, and West Mill. Some of the sawmill towns had several hundred people working in their respective neighborhoods. It is becoming apparent that this plank road helped to build Richland’s thriving community — later called Hemlock City.
Even though no exact date is available, it must have been during these years that Mr. Glasby built the hotel along the plank road. Since this hotel was managed by a certain Mr. Sproll, this hotel was named the Sproll Hotel. Due to the fact that so many lumbermen worked in this area, we may well assume that this hotel served as a rooming and boarding place for lumberjacks. The early pictures show that this hotel could accommodate nearly fifty guests. The building covered the entire corner, including the place where the present post office is located. Mr. Earl stated that he worked at this hotel for many years while it was under the management of Mr. Sproll.
This little community could now boast of a plank road and a hotel. In 1874, a general store opened on main street. The American History Class of 1935 noted the following: “William McBratnie was the first person to run a store in Hemlock. It was located where the Ford Garage is now. He kept groceries, drugs, boots, and shoes…” We must realize that this report was given in 1935, so that the Ford Garage location does not fit our present-day location. Mr. McBratnie’s store was located on the corner where Mr. Hohman’s Garage is standing.
Later, Mr. King built another store on the corner where Clayton Gould’s Drug Store now stands. This Mr. King had the first post office in his store in the year of 1869. This raises the question as to when and how the name of Hemlock was given to this community. As soon as a post office had been established, there had to be a definite name for this locality.
Taken from a letter at the Richland Township Library, we have the exact date and year when Hemlock City received its charter to establish a post office. This was on May 24, 1869. Here we have the first legal document that designates this community as Hemlock City. Due to a heavy stand of Hemlock Pine, it may well be that the early residents may have used that name. With the establishment of a post office, however, Hemlock City became the official name for all purposes.
The reader may have noticed a conflict of dates with reference to the first store at Hemlock. If Jacob King acted as postmaster in 1869, then his store would have been the first place of business in this village. Previously we stated that Mr. Wm. McBratnie opened his store in 1874. Here would be a difference of five years. This points out the difficulty that a person encounters when attempting to establish exact years in the chronology of events. However, we will give this further consideration when we make a closer study of the biography of William McBratnie.
There is one more place of business that developed at an early date. As you drive south on Maple or Pine Street, you will cross Henry Street. This name is definitely linked with the early sawdust and pine saga of Hemlock. Mr. Henry’s place of business stood about where we find Wicke’s Lumber Company and Wolohan Inc. Elevator. According to the records, Mr. Henry’s lumber yard covered an entire block. It consisted of a sawmill, blacksmith shop, numerous barns, and a grist mill. Here we have a description of the land as it was purchased on December 20, 1870: “William F. Glasby and wife to James Henry—A piece of land as described as follows commencing fifty-eight rods (58) from the northeast corner of the east half of the southeast quarter of section twenty-eight (28) Town (12) twelve north. Range (2) east, south of corner thence running twenty-four rods southwest then twenty (20) rods north to the place of beginning, all being in section twenty-eight (28) Town twelve (12)… D. L. Cole, Justice of the Peace.”
The above purchase of land was ninety-five dollars. No doubt the projected plan of building a railroad from Saginaw to Saint Louis motivated James Henry to locate his sawmill at this particular spot. From all indications and statements, one can see that Mr. Henry was a very successful businessman.
Mrs. McCullagh related to me that she remembers the James Henry Sawmill. William Pahl in his interview with the Class of 1935, mentions that Mr. James Henry operated a shingle mill. Many other people in this community recall their folks talking about Mr. Henry. Mrs. Fred Koeppen said that her father worked for Mr. Henry and was employed as a shingle cutter.
In order to complete the picture of the early business section of Hemlock, we must refer to the Hoop Factory which was located on the western edge of town. Mr. Earl would place it in the vicinity of William Rick’s house. This hoop factory, although not a large establishment, employed several men. Here they made hoops out of oak and ash saplings. Mr. Earl stated that a machine was used that would split the tree into three or four strips. Each strip was planed and then rolled up ready for shipment. These hoops were used for barrels.
Now that we have a fair picture of the basic outline of Hemlock City, permit me to call on an eyewitness. We have no knowledge of the person’s name, but we have the record that was printed in one of the early documents: “The village known as Hemlock City is located in the western center of section 22. At present, there are a post office, two stores, a commodious hotel, a steam mill, and 25 dwelling places in the village. With the development of its agricultural resources, Hemlock City will grow in importance, and perhaps form one of the leading communities in the county.”
Now would be a propitious time to quote the late William Pahl and note how he describes this early settlement. Knowing Mr. Pahl personally, I can assure the reader that Mr. Pahl had the unique talent of projecting and displaying his deep concern for his fellow man. In his interview with one of the students of the class of 1935, he made the following remarks:
“I arrived in Hemlock in 1873. It was a thriving little town of twenty-five homes, one hundred people, two stores, a hotel, and a post office. Nights we gathered about the stove in Mr. King’s store, which was built in 1864. Around the ruddy redness of his fire, I discovered many facts about the settlement.
“The years were full of adventure, and the first adventurous settler to Hemlock was Philo Thomas and his wife Arminda. Their home still stands in the northwest section of the town. The village, I was told, received its name from the vast number of Hemlock trees that covered the territory. These disappeared rapidly after the first sawmill was set up in 1860. Soon several sawmills were built. John Rick owned one located where the lumber sheds now stand. Farmers brought their logs to him in the winter on bob sleds, and he would saw them in the spring. Mr. Henry operated a shingle mill here. A Mr. Showers also made shingles. Mr. Showers had a large wheelbarrow on which he would pile his shingles and wheel them to the railroad. Here they were placed on trains and hauled away. In 1873, the railroad ran only as far as the Porter Station, three miles west of Hemlock. A roundhouse was located at this point, and trains were turned about and headed east again. During the year 1873, the road was extended to Saint Louis.
“Gradually, the railroad took the place of the lumbering stagecoach that rattled into Hemlock from Saginaw, stopping overnight and completing its journey to Saint Louis the following morning. The travelers were put up at the Sproll Hotel, which stood across the street from Heinitz’s Store. About 1907, we were furnished a big laugh when the first automobile came chugging into Hemlock, where it gave its last gasp and stopped. It was nothing more than an old buggy rigged up with a gasoline engine. In 1908, the first owned car in Hemlock was purchased by Frank Coon, a butter maker. We called it ‘the chicken,’ and it lived up to its name because it made such clucking sounds. In 1910, there were three cars owned in Hemlock.
“Going back to the year of 1873, I remember how we used to stand and wonder at the great flocks of pigeons that inhabited this region. They would light onto a tree, bending its branches to the ground, at times breaking some of the branches. However, a bounty was placed on them, and they soon disappeared. A beautiful apple orchard and vineyard grew on the plot where Thomas Hardware now stands. Across from the Catholic Church stood Philo Thomas’ blacksmith shop, and the post office was down where the Gosen Hotel is now. Occupations varied; there was lumbering, manufacturing of barrel hoops and brooms, general store work, dairy farming, and sawmilling. A toll station occupied the plot now occupied by the Ford Garage and collected tolls from all traffic passing through on the road.
“Children attended a wooden school which stood on the corner where Dr. Ling’s home now stands. They were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography. Our social events consisted of homecomings, spelling bees, and corn husking contests. Running out of thoughts, I will now close, hoping you have benefited by this attempt to bring back forgotten yesterdays.”
The story related by Mr. Pahl should give the reader an excellent picture of Hemlock in the early 1870s. Since Mr. Pahl was an eyewitness, we can be reasonably sure that his report is accurate. By and large, we might say that his statement verifies previous accounts. There is one major point of variance, and that is the account of the school at Dr. Ling’s corner.
In a previous article, we discussed the history of the Hemlock School. The school that Mr. Pahl mentioned could be the first schoolhouse that was built at Hemlock. However, the year of 1873 does not correspond with the date and time of the second school. Even though there is no definite proof, it could be that there were two buildings used to accommodate the large number of students during this period. It has been fairly well established that the second schoolhouse stood on the corner where Mr. Mearl Thomas now lives.
In a later chapter, we will discuss the village of Hemlock and its development in the 1880s.
- History of Saginaw County, Michigan, 1881;
- “The Saginaw News,” February 2, 1946;
- History of Saginaw County, Michigan, James Cooke Mills, Vol. 2;
- History of Hemlock, The American History Class 1935-1936, Hemlock High School.
- Office of Register of Deeds, Saginaw County Courthouse.