Visiting the little village of Cedar River in 1940, one finds it hard to believe in the extent of operations and the site of the village back in the days when almost all of Menominee County was a wilderness. True, Cedar Forks like most sawmill towns had few families in proportion to the whole population as many single men and boys were employed in the woods and at the mill. The school cannot, therefore, be taken as an index of population.
In the year 1864-65, back in the days of the Civil War, Robert McCullough, director, reported that eight months of school had been held with an enrollment of 25 children. This school must have been operated largely on faith as the district owned no building and its receipts were but $40. This money was paid the teacher and the $152 still owing was made up later. For 1868-69 the district reported that it had a building valued at $80 and was carrying over a balance of $181.
The district school census for 1872 gives these names: Annie and Margaret McCullough, Bill, Sarah, and Mary Wright, Agnes, George, Frank, Alex, and Joseph Jerue, Jane, Abe, Ed and Andrew Nesbitt, William Armstrong, James Egan, and Mary Curn. Michael Rooter, Louis Schall, John LaBelle, Pat McMahn, and Cyp. Burnette were young men of 18 or 19. In 1895-96 the school employed two teachers, and had an enrollment of about 65. Since 1925 the number of children in school has decreased as employment for men fell off, so that only one teacher has been employed
The second school in the township was at Fox just north of Cedar River. This was organized in 1884-85, and apparently was the first district in Menominee County to have a woman school officer. Rose Baker was director for several years.
The third school District No. 3, was a Jam Dam now in Gourley Township as were also districts 5 and 7. In 1899-1900 the school at Devil's Creek, now called Elmcrest or District No. 4 was established, an in 1902-03 District No. 6 had six months of school. This district is the second one north of Cedar River on the shore, near the present Fox post-office. That two has moved northward as years went on. In 1908-09 the school at Jimtown was opened with Miss Elsie Gadbois as teacher.
Ups and Downs
The ups and downs of Cedar River, its transformation from wilderness to an old town on M-35, the road itself, the bridge across the Big Cedar, the cross-country route of the mail carrier who took mail from Cedar River to Spalding, the bustling mill and busy harbor, the silence when the lumbering industry ceased, the burning of many homes, the razing of old houses have all occurred in a single lifetime, an illustration of the impermanence of ways of living. Miss Agnes Jerue who came to Cedar River in 1857 as a small child has seen it all in the 85 years of her life. (NOTE: Miss Jerue passed away in 1941.)
Like Cedar River the settlements north or if have dwindled until Fox now bears no semblance to a village and even the school is closed in District No. 2 for lack of pupil. The present population earns a livelihood by fishing and farming. The article on Devil's Creek [following], by Miss Ellen Ahlskog, tells a similar story.
HISTORY OF DEVIL'S CREEK
Devil's Creek is a community in Cedarville Township about forty miles northeast of Menominee. It was settled in 1885 for the purpose of lumbering. Some of the first settlers were Tom Bolen, Dan and James Deacon, Peter Peterson, Albert Engel, Bryan Bartlett, and Frank Strauss.
Robert Plutchak built the first mill when he saw the excellent tore of timber at hand. This mill was situated on the N.W. 1⁄4 of the N.E. 1⁄4 of Section 7. There are no remains of this mill today. Other mills were owned by the Durow Brothers, Willmot Heath, Frank Strauss and John Donovan and Son. Donovan's mill was the last one to operate here.
There was a very heavy growth of cedar, hemlock and pine trees. Most of this timber was owned by Crawford and Son of Cedar River. Large forest fires in 1891 and 1910 destroyed most of the standing timber with a heavy loss to the owners, the mill owners, and settlers.
The largest logging camps were Camp M and Camp N. Camp M was in the S.E. 1⁄4 of the N.W. 1⁄4 of Section 19 and Camp N in the N.E. 1⁄4 of S.W. 1⁄2 of Section 31.
Devil's Creek received its name in this way. The creek was very swift, rocky, crooked, and narrow. The log drivers had such a hard time driving their logs down the creek that the men called it "Devil's Creek."
This legend, also, has been handed down about the name. One day a teamster broke through the ice on the landing with his sleigh. After many unsuccessful attempts to get it out, he said, "I wish the Devil would come and take it out." A stranger came along just then who took hold of the sleigh and easily pushed it out, not saying a word. He then went on his way and no one ever heard of him or saw him again. They never found out where he came from, so the teamster believed he must be the devil, and ever afterward the creek was called "Devil's Creek."
When Robert Plutchak, Sr. came here and found several families with no opportunity for education, he built a school. This was in 1900. The original school is still standing although many additions and improvements have been made. We are proud today of our modern school which has a large concrete basement with a furnace and ventilating system. We have electric lights, indoor toilets, a large playground, an adequate library, a piano and radio.
The school was given the name Elmcrest a few years ago. It is situated on the crest of a hill and there are elm and maple trees forming a background for it. When the school was built in 1900, there were no desks, so the children had to sit on boards set upon blocks. There were only a few books to use for study. The first teacher was Hattie Houle, followed by Louise Berger (Mrs. Nadeau of Stephenson).
The first bridges were only small foot bridges and every year the swiftly moving waters of the river washed them out, so many times the children would ride on the logs to school when the men were driving the logs downstream.
The beavers built a large dam in the river which was destroyed in 1939. They built another one about two miles up the river, which is quite an attraction today.
Frank Strauss, one of the earliest settlers, drove a team of oxen here from Peshtigo, more than fifty miles away, in four days. It is believed that he is the only farmer in the county today who still uses oxen for all of his farm work.
Lumbering is, today, a thing of the past. The few remaining families make their living chiefly by agriculture. Dairying is the principal industry.
--Ellen Ahlskog (1940)
Source: Menominee County Book for Schools, edited by Ethel Schuyler. Menominee, Michigan: Office of County School Commissioner, 1941.