“A Man, A Plan, A Canal, A Beach, A Panorama – A Saunterer’s View of Crystal Lake”
Presented by: Dr. Stacy Leroy Daniels
In 1873, the level of Crystal Lake was dramatically lowered in an attempt to construct a slack-water canal between it and Lake Michigan. Most other canals had differences in level of only a few feet, the original level of Crystal Lake was 35 feet above Lake Michigan, which made it especially attractive for a canal. Unfortunately, the whitecap waves of Crystal Lake washed away a temporary dam before the canal could be completed. The level of the Lake dropped precipitously by 17 feet as 56 billion gallons of water poured down its outlet. Although a canal system was never realized, some 2,000 Acres of former lake surface was transformed into a 21-mile perimeter of sandy beach. This made possible: the founding of the Village of Beulah; the development of Frankfort and Benzie Co.; the coming of the railroad and carferries; installation of telegraph and telephone lines; development of lakeside resorts; and construction of 1,100+ cottages, connected by an infrastructure of perimeter roads and trails.
This epochal event was the largest inundation from an inland lake due to an anthropogenic cause (a dam breaching) in U.S. history for 147 years until surpassed by a larger event in 2020! One lake’s uniquity is an object lesson to extrapolate to other lakes. Uniquity of opportunity brought Archibald Jones. A “bootstrap engineer” to Crystal Lake. The Benzie County River Improvement Co. improved upon Nature, and increased the uniquity for Crystal Lake. A unique place exists for Crystal Lake and its Watershed! It is a fascinating true story of a man, a plan, a canal, a beach, and a panorama!
The sesquicentennial of the Lowering of Crystal Lake is being celebrated this year.
This iconic panoramic photograph (*) typifies the period between the discovery of Crystal Lake by 1822 together with its survey by 1838, and connotes the opening of its pristine wilderness of the surrounding moraines, still partially cloaked with forest, to the advances of civilization! The newly exposed beach was entirely covered with some twelve (net) to seventeen (low) feet of water before the level of Crystal Lake was lowered in 1873 in an attempt to build a canal to Lake Michigan “just over the hill” !
The panorama shows the cut-over terrain mixed with barren beach (no visibly determined swampland) existing at the time the “new” station of the Frankfort & South Eastern Railroad (F&SE RR and railroad tracks) were moved from Benzonia to Beulah. It represents a time (1889), some 16 years after the lowering of Crystal Lake (1873), and some 22 years before the installation of a permanent dam at the Crystal Lake Outlet!
The composite series of photographs were taken from the beach at Crystal City (Beulah) at the east end of Crystal Lake looking west down the entire length of the Crystal Lake (8.5 miles toward Point Betsy (not visible in the distance). The railroad runs southeast past the station and then wraps west along the lakeshore on toward Bay Point (Railroad Point) (visible), across the Crystal Lake Outlet (canal), and then proceeds further west away from the Lake to Frankfort on Lake Michigan. The F&SE Railroad runs along the NE shoreline (right) a short way to a dead end. It does, however, connect to the Ann Arbor Railroad which runs east toward Thompsonville.
Source: Benzie Area Historical Museum, Benzonia, MI; also Bentley Historical Library
Stacy Daniels [BSE 1960 (ChE); MSE 1961 (EnvE); MSE 1963 (ChE); PhD 1967 (ChE); at The University of Michigan], is a professional chemical-environmental engineer, who was employed in a variety of environmental assignments with The Dow Chemical Co. (1955-1993); taught as an Adjunct Professor at The University of Michigan (1970-1995); directed research at Ingenuity IEQ, Inc., a small business (1995-2010); served as a member/chair on several National & State science advisory committees for the U.S. EPA, and MDEQ (EAGLE) (1970s-1980s); and directed many water quality studies of the Crystal Lake Watershed (1967-2017). He is a member of the Historical Society of Michigan and the Midland Historical Society, and a board member of the Benzie Area Historical Society
Daniels is the author or coauthor of some 400 papers and presentations, and has written many environmental letters and poems. His book, “The Comedy of Crystal Lake” (2015, 496pp) www.CrystalLakeComedy.com tells the story of the attempt to build a canal from Crystal Lake to Lake Michigan in NW Lower MI in August 1873.
He is an original “Townie”-“Lakie” of Frankfort and Crystal Lake, MI (Benzie Co.), where his family has had cottages for five generations. His father was superintendent of schools in Frankfort, MI, and his mother was a former English teacher. In 1944, he moved with his parents to Midland, MI, where he grew up, attending Midland High School (Class of 1955). After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1967, he and his wife, Carol Yvonne (Parker) Daniels, a high school science teacher, returned to Midland.