This article sheds light on Henry Bemish’s significant role in Richland Township’s history through his management of the Hemlock Hotel, once owned by Mr. Sproul. It draws on William B. Mershon’s “Recollections of My Fifty Years Hunting And Fishing” to provide a vivid snapshot of the era’s hunting and fishing life in the 1870s and 1880s. Mershon’s account of a hunting expedition and the construction of the Gratiot Plank Road offers a nostalgic look at Saginaw City’s pioneering days, showcasing the community’s deep connection to its natural surroundings and the profound changes that have since transformed the landscape.
by Lorenz H. Loesel
There is another important facet in the biography of Henry Bemish which played a significant part in the history of Richland Township. You will have noted that he bought the Hemlock Hotel and operated this hotel for many years. Previous to his ownership, this hotel was operated by Mr. Sproul. It was during these years that we have additional information that will give the reader a contemporary view of the people and their activities. It is from this book “Recollections of My Fifty Years Hunting And Fishing” that these quoted letters were taken. The reader would enjoy reading this book written by William B. Mershon, one of the pioneers of Saginaw City. From his writings, we derive much background and insight into the hunting, fishing, and lumbering activities during the early 1870s and 1880s.
Mr. Mershon was on a hunting trip with his father during the month of December. It was during the partridge season when this incident took place. However, we will follow the author of the book and be eyewitnesses to the ensuing scene:
“On this particular trip, Dolly drawing the old-fashioned box sleigh or cutter and warmly wrapped in a buffalo robe, we were going west along what was known as Gratiot Road.
“I might digress here to say that the Gratiot Plank Road was built from Saginaw to St. Louis when the St. Louis mineral springs were in their heyday of glory way back in the 60s and notables from all over the country flocked to St. Louis to be cured of rheumatism and other ailments because of the marvelous magnetism of this deep well water. The story was, that all you had to do was to hold your penknife in the overflow for ten minutes and it would pick up a ten-penny nail for magnetism. Well, they would have a plank road for means of communication for there was no other way of getting into St. Louis from this direction. All four-inch white pine plank was used, many of them clear pine at that. Frank Glasby had the contract. The road was under construction and was built as far as Hemlock City where we were going to spend the night at the hotel kept by Bob Sproul. How little incidents fix themselves in a boyhood mind and memory. Frank Eastman was doing the engineering work for this new plank road. It was a cold night when we gathered around the big box stove in the sitting room, bar room, and everything else of the hotel, and my memory goes back to one of his stories. I think Eastman was just back from the war where he had served with distinction in the Engineering Corps. He laid aside a pair of fur gloves as he came in and someone of the sitters around the stove attempted to put them on and I remember his stopping him. He turned to my father and said, “The only time I ever really enjoyed having a man pull my gloves was when I was in the army and had the itch in my hands.” While Hemlock City is only sixteen or eighteen miles from Saginaw, it was at that time a great center for deer hunters, many camping in the surrounding woods, and game of all kinds, including deer and bear, was plentiful.
“I have digressed purposely so that the reader will recognize the tremendous change that has taken place, for now all around Hemlock are old farms and there is hardly timber enough left in that locality to hide a chipping sparrow. The old rail fence has given place to fields that are now like a billiard table surrounded with wire fences.
“We left Saginaw right after breakfast and had jogged along the Gratiot Plank road six or eight miles when ahead of us we saw turkeys crossing the road. They were only two or three hundred yards distant and there was a tremendous flock of them. My father stopped the horse and computed, from the tracks, the probable size of that flock and his conclusion was there were about forty of them.”