The Benzie County Record Patriot carried on with its tradition of publishing the Benzie County Historical Calendar this year, and Benzie Area Historical Society archivists provided images for each page. Here’s the story behind this month’s image:
May: Grand Army of the Republic Monument in Benzonia Cemetery. Known as “The Mushroom.”
April: Log drive circa 1900 near the Lewis Bridge.
The Story: Three crews from three different mills working the logs; namely, the Crane, Butler and Bellows Mills. The Lewis Bridge was the only major road from Frankfort to Elberta in the early 1900s. It was not a railroad bridge; many think it was a trestle. In 1932, a truck delivering baked goods to Frankfort was too heavy for the bridge and damaged its approach.
Whoops! Clearly, load limits matter.
March: A chemistry class at Benzonia Academy
The Story: Although logging played an important role in Benzie County history, our community’s character is rooted in education.
Benzonia Academy began in 1858 as an educational colony, and the Grand Traverse College was founded in 1863 “…to afford all people, regardless of color or sex, the opportunity to receive a liberal education.” The college had full academic course offerings including Latin and Greek.
In 1900 the college was changed to a preparatory school named Benzonia Academy. Both served as a center for cultural and recreational activities for citizens of the surrounding counties.
February: A train in Thompsonville in winter storm.
The Story: Early on, Thompsonville served as a hub of two trains lines; namely, the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad (eventually the Chesapeake and Ohio) and the Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad (later the Ann Arbor).
The two train lines intersected in Thompsonville with the rails creating a diamond shape.
The Michigan Historical Marker Program recognized the significance of the Thompsonville Junction crossing with Benzie County’s tenth historical marker. A dedication ceremony and celebration was held on June 19, 2021.
Pictured at the dedication ceremony: Barb Mort, Executive Director of the Benzie Area Historical Society; Bryce Gibbs, author of Thompsonville in History, published in 1976; Chuck Kraus, author of Thompsonville in Time A Northwest Michigan Story 1890-2021, and Eugene Allen, Jr., president of the Village of Thompsonville.
Thompsonville Junction: Constructed in 1889, Thompsonville’s diamond crossing formed the intersection of the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad (eventually the Chesapeake and Ohio) and the Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad (later the Ann Arbor). Both had depots at the junction which was located south of Thompson Avenue on what became part of the Betsie Valley Trail.
Their lines linked Frankfort to Toledo and the Traverse City area to Chicago. The railroads offered both passenger and freight service. In the summer of 1903, the Ann Arbor Railroad a “ping-pong” train that took passengers from Thompsonville to Frankfort resorts every few hours. All railroad service to Thompsonville ceased by the 1980s. The diamond crossing was moved after the tracks were dismantled.
Village of Thompsonville: A village began growing around the diamond railroad junction in 1890. It was originally known as Lyndonville but was renamed Thompsonville for S.S. Thompson, the president of the Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad. Multiple sawmills served as the first community businesses. Thompsonville incorporated as a village in 1892. The 1896, Thompsonville had established an electrical plant that provided light and power for its residents. The village labeled itself “The Biggest Little Town in Michigan” in 1901. Its population was less than one thousand, but it boasted forty-eight businesses and two churches. Thousands visited the annual street fair in the early twentieth century. Thompsonville’s population began declining by 1910 and continued to do so as rail service decreased.
To learn more about Thompsonville and its history, check out Thompsonville in Time: A Northwest Michigan Story 1890-2021 written by Charles T. Kraus and published by the Benzie Area Historical Society.