Pioneer Society of Michigan- Muskegon  
Pioneer Society Collections
Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan Together with Reports of County, Town and District Pioneer Societies
1877 pages 285-301 Muskegon

Part 3- The Centennial History of Muskegon


    The building of the first saw-mill on Muskegon lake was commenced in January, 1837, by Benj. H. Wheelock, the agent of the Muskegon Steam Mill Company, most of the stockholders of which resided at Detroit and Ann Arbor. The mill was built on the site now occupied by the White, Swan & Smith mill, upon which land Mr. Wheelock about that time had made a preemption claim. It was a steam mill, and was a large one for that time, having two upright saws. Before it was completed the-panic of 1837 occurred, and money becoming scarce, it was not ready for operation until 1838, when the first lumber was 
sawed; that being also the first sawed on Muskegon lake. The adventure proved to be an 
unprofitable one for the company, and the next year after the mill was started the 
property went into the hands of John Lloyd, of Grand Rapids, and John P. Place, of Ionia,
who owned and run the mill until 1841, when it burned and, the machinery was taken to 
Grand Rapids. 
     In August, 1837, Jonathan H. Ford, the agent of the Buffalo and Black Rock 
Company began building a water mill at the mouth of Bear lake, on the site now occupied 
by the Ruddiman flouring-mill. It was completed the next year, and the first cargo of
lumber made at this mill was hauled to the mouth of Muskegon lake in February, 1839,
and put on board of the Victor, Captain Jackson, a vessel that would carry about 
40,000 feet. The vessel started for Chicago, but soon after got into a drift of ice, and it was ten days before she reached her destination, those on board having suffered severely from cold and hunger in that time. Hiram Judson & Co. bought the mill in 1840 and made very extensive repairs and improvements upon it, among which was the putting in of a new water-wheel, which was done by George Ruddiman. The mill was valued at $20,000, and was the best one on the lake for several years; it was burned in 1853, and was never rebuilt. 
     Theodore Newell began to build a mill in the spring of 1838, and finished it in 1839, 
on the site now occupied by the Ryerson Hills & Co. mill; this was a small mill, with one 
upright saw, costing altogether about $4,000, and would saw about 6,000 feet of lumber 
in twenty-four hours. The engine was eight inch bore and twenty-six inch stroke: the boiler 
was sixteen feet long and thirty-six inches in diameter, with one thirteen inch flue; the engine not having sufficient power to saw a log and haul up another at the same time. The first lumber was shipped from this mill in the autumn of 1839. In September, 1845, Martin Ryerson and J. H. Knickerbocker bought the mill of Mr. Newell, and in the winter following removed the old mill and, built a new one on the site, and had it ready to run within three months froth the time of commencing operations. In 1847, Mr. Knickerbocker sold his interest in the mill to Robt. W. Morris who continued a partner of Mr. Ryerson until the time of the sale of his interest in 1865 to the present firm of Ryerson, Hills & Co. The latter firm has made very extensive repairs and improvements, until but little of the old mill remains; excepting the foundations. 
     Joseph Stronach built a small water mill in 1842, near the site of the McGraft & 
Montgomery mill, and run it until 1844, when he sold it to George and John Ruddiman. 
The latter afterwards put in a small engine and used water and steam power at the same time. This double power not proving sufficient for hauling up logs at the same time the saw was in operation, animal power was also produced and applied to mechanical purposes, an ancient white bull being used to haul up the logs; hence the origin of the name of the bull-wheel in a saw-mill. 
    One evening in the autumn of 1848, after a heavy rain, George Ruddiman heard the water escaping through the dam, and on repairing to the house after examining it, told the men that in the morning they must cut some brush and stop the leak. About two hours afterwards he visited the dam again, finding that the break had increased, and then said that it would be necessary to haul some sand in order to repair the break. On going out in the morning to begin work, there was nothing to be seen of the mill, the log slide, or the dam; even the engine and machinery had been carried out into Muskegon lake. The next winter a portion of the present steam sax-mill was built by George Ruddiman, on the site of the present mill; this has since been considerably enlarged and improved. 
    In 1847 S. J. Green built a water mill at the mouth of Green creek, on the north side of Muskegon lake. It was run for several years, but with rather indifferent success; at length it got out of repair and finally went into decay, and has never been rebuilt.
    The mill now known as the Chapin & Foss mill was commenced in 1848 by Wm. Lasley and G. T. Woodbury, the latter having a quarter interest, and completed and started in the spring of 1849, Marshall W. Lloyd sawing the first lumber that was made in the mill, he being employed there at the time. Mr. Lasley sold the mill in 1852 to Chapin, Marsh & Foss, Mr. Marsh afterwards disposing of his interest to his partners. 
    In 1849 John Ruddiman built a steam saw-mill on the north side of Muskegon lake, on the site now occupied by the Torrent & Arms mill. He continued to run the mill until 1862, when it went into the hands of Anson Eldred, after a closely contested suit in regard to the title. The mill burned soon after, and was replaced by a large mill built by James Farr, Jr., under the superintendence of L. H. Foster. The property was sold its 1871 to Torrent & Arms, and, the second mill on the site was burned in 1872. The mill now belonging to this firm was erected soon after. The mills built on this site seem to have been rather unfortunate in regard to fires and lawsuits, whose effects upon property are about equally destructive. 
    The foregoing includes all the saw-mills built on Muskegon lake prior to 1850. There were three mills on the lake in 1840, whose aggregate sawing capacity, per day of twelve hours was about 13,000 feet.
    In 1850 there were six mills on the lake, having an aggregate sawing capacity of about 60,000 feet. During the next ten years ten mills were put in operation on the lake, with the following capacity:

C. Davis & Co.    38,000 
Eldred, Way & Co.    20,000
Ryerson & Morris (Bay mill)    36,000
Smith, Fowler & Co.    20,000 
Brown & Trowbridge    16,000
Trowbridge Wing    22,000
J. C. Holmes & Co.    15,000 
Durkee, Truesdell & Co.    38,000
L. G. Mason & Co.    36,000
J. & H. Beidler    35,000


Ryerson & Morris (upper mill)    24,000
John Ruddiman    36,000
George Ruddiman    15,000

    Not only has the sawing capacity of the mills been increased, but the number of men required to perform the labor has been proportionately lessened. In 1860 it required a man for each 1,000 feet sawed per day, while at the present time the daily product is, on an average, something more than 2,000 feet for each man. This result is to a large extent due to the valuable improvements made in the machinery used in the mills.
    There are twenty-six mills on the lake at the present tune, with the capacity per day as follows:

Rutherford, Anderson & Co    70,000
Wilson & Boyce    75,000
C. Davis & Co.    80,000
Ryerson, Hills & Co.    48,000
Chapin & Foss    40,000 
Mason Lumber Co.    130,000 
Bigelow & Bros.    70,000 
G. R. Roberts & Hull    130,000
C. H. Hackley & Co.    150,000
Beidler Manufacturing Co.    130,000
White, Swan & Smith    80,000
Bushnell, Walworth & Reed    60,000 
Montague, Hamilton & Co.    120,000 
McGraft & Montgomery    40,000
E.Torrent    30,000
A. V. Mann & Co.    75,000
Alex. Rodgers    65,000
Kelley, Wood & Co.     75,000
E. Eldred & Co.    80,000
A. M. Allen & Co.    30,000
C. D. Nelson & Co.    120,000
Ryerson, Hills & Co.    90,000
Torrent & Ducey     30,000
Baudry, Vallicott & Co.    40,000
Farr, Dutcher & Co.    40,000
Torrent & Arms    150,000


    The first attempt at running logs down the river was made in 1839, by John A. Brooks; the logs having been cut a few miles above Croton. The "drive" finally reached Muskegon, but after a great outlay for clearing the river, the men employed celebrated the event by buying and drinking a barrel of whisky, which then cost about sixteen cents per gallon. The whisky was common property, but in order to assume an appearance of "business" they fitted up a counter on a stump, and one of the number having a silver quarter dollar, commenced by treating the company, one of them tending bar; this bar-tender then took the money and came outside and treated the company, another taking his place as bar-tender. This was continued several days until the whisky disappeared. There was an annual carousal for a few days on the arrival of the "big drive," until the village "lock-up" was erected in 1861, after which the officers became able to suppress it. 

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On to Part 4-  Early Settlers

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