Big Bay life in 1922

The J.M. Longyear's Stone House at Ives Lake, visited by Erwin Hedrick in 1922, is shown. (Image courtesy of Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Erwin Hedrick moved to Big Bay in 1922 to work at the bowling pin mill owned by J. B. Deutsch. His surviving letters to his mother in Grand Rapids, Michigan are from March through May of 1922, plus one from a return visit in 1924. It appears he went to work at the mill for three months in order to gain weight and become healthier. He also traveled around the county to see some of the sights.

He recounts basic information about Big Bay from Polk’s Gazetteer- a population of 1,000, Catholic and Methodist churches, a motion picture theatre, express and telephone connection, and a hospital. Jay B. Deutsch was the postmaster, owner of Bay Cliffs Stock Farm, and president and manager of Lake Independence Lumber and Northern Timber Corp.

Erwin recalls his work at the mill: “I started working today in the pin mill. This company makes most of the bowling pins (ten pins) used in the U.S. Hard maple which grows just north of here makes the best pins. I am only doing this temporarily. Today I sealed up the fibre [sic] board boxes in which the pins are packed, ten in a box. I also put the boxes in stock ready for shipping. Rising at 5:30 this am, I dressed and went up to Tompkins’ for breakfast (that’s the private family with whom I will room as soon as they move into a larger house across the road.)”

Mr. Tompkins was the foreman at the shingle mill. Erwin worked a ten hour day starting at 6:30, had a one hour lunch break, and then continued until 5:30. He did tally work, but “As far as real work is concerned I haven’t done any since I’m here.”

Mrs. Tompkins ran a boarding house where Erwin stayed. He paid $9.00 per week for room and meals. “My wages just nicely cover that and a few incidentals.”

He reports on his weight gain, going to a chiropractor and joining the Big Bay Athletic Club. On March 29 he reports his activity at the club: “Listened in on the radio phone and heard a dance orchestra playing a lively number in Detroit. That radio phone is really a wonderful step forward. Then played 2 games of pool, winning both.” After three weeks he had gained 7 pounds.

The radio phone he writes about was an early version of a broadcast radio (which began in 1920). He explains that with the wireless telephone two or three people can listen to concerts with attachments. The club planned to get a “horn” or speaker so everyone in the room could listen. The club was one of the few places for activities at the end of the day.

The club seems more like a social club than a place for physical activity. However, he did take hikes around the area. On his first week, he walked to the bay with Milton Tompkins and they took pictures. After dinner they walked in the woods to a skunk farm which also raised foxes, presumably for the fur market.

Some of the letters detail trips around the county. He rode to Marquette on several weekends. His April 18 letter explains one short trip: “After dinner Rev. Roepke, three young girls my age and myself [sic] drove 10 miles east to Green Garden. They have a pretty red brick church there and Rev. R. held services at 2 in German. I have placed an order for 1 gal. Pure Maple Syrup to be sent by Peter White Sand Co ($3.50). You can get more if you like it.”

He uses a camera on his sightseeing and also takes several long hikes in the area. One warm Sunday in late April, they hiked to Ives Lake.

“Our last snow storm was last Wednesday and since then is has cleared considerably. Today was wonderful, very bright sunshine, blue sky and quite warm. Right after breakfast this morning, about 8:30, you could have seen hiking parties starting out in every direction. Milton Tompkins and I hit the trail north. Each of us had a camera, and dressed only in wool shirt and sweater; even then it was very hot sometimes.

“Our destination was J.M. Longyear’s Estate, Ives Lake Farm. It is approximately 8 miles from the Bay; we arrived there in time for dinner. The country is most beautiful. In the distance a chain of high hills, the foot of which are thickly covered with Norway and Jack Pine, Spruce and Balsam. Coming closer to the hills or (mountains) you find they are solid rock…The road winds around the lake to the farm. We were just going around the lake when we saw in the clearing seven deer that came out of the woods. That was a very pretty sight, and their white tails are so big, they look like a flab. We had dinner at the farm and started back about two, reaching the Bay in time for supper.

“I must tell you they had a very tame fawn right around the buildings; they call him Billy. Billy came right up to me and I could pet him like a dog. He stood about 3 ft. He licked my hand and wanted to be friendly…..All told I saw 21 deer on the hike today. Although they are free and supposed to be wild, they seemed not afraid, but stood and looked at us from a distance.”

Letters between him and his mother went back and forth several times per week. Mail traveled from Grand Rapids to Big Bay in two days, but took three days to get to Grand Rapids, because the train from Marquette to St. Ignace left Marquette before the Big Bay mail arrived. Other friends and family also wrote or mailed him items. His mother often sent fruit, candy and other items, including a cake as noted in his letter on Sunday May 14, 1922: Your letter of Tuesday reached me on Friday, and the box too. The angel food is simply wonderful. And how well it kept. When I opened the box it looked just as nice as when it left home, only a little frosting had crumbled off.

Erwin appears to have only stayed in Big Bay for a few months in the spring of 1922 before returning to Grand Rapids where he found a job in a tannery with his father, working his way up to assistant manager before becoming an investment broker. He died in January 1983 at the age of 80.


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