The Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company
In March of 1878, in Port Huron, Michigan, D.B. Harrington, John P. Sanborn, Henry Howard, Fred L. Wells, Charles A. Ward, William Hartsuff, James Beard, Henry McMorran, Silas S. Ballentine, Peter B. Sanborn and Charles R. Brown, came together to form the Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company. They formed the company to construct a railroad with a gauge of three feet that would travel in the city of Port Huron as well as through a portion of St. Clair, Sanilac, and Huron counties to the village of Port Austin. Their goal was to use the road to transport people and goods throughout the area to benefit the local business community.
The D.B. Harrington
The company commissioned the Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works to build a narrow-gauge steam engine capable of hauling passenger traffic and freight. The contract was signed December 5, 1878. It was anticipated the engine would weigh 19 thousand pounds and exhibit driving wheels 36″ in diameter and cylinders 8″ in diameter. Excitement was felt throughout the city as all waited for delivery of the machinery. When the new Locomotive No. 1 (2-4-0) arrived in Port Huron, it was christened the “D.B. Harrington.”
The engine only ran on the railroad for a short period. It was sold some time after 1884. Over the years it held many different homes, but in 1991, it found its way back home to the Port Huron Museum. I was very happy to read the Community Foundation, Port Huron Museum, SC4 and the Gaffney family have all joined together to restore and preserve this historical treasure. It is amazing this little engine survived all of these years.
While the D.B. Harrington was the first engine purchased by the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad, it was not the first narrow gauge engine built by Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works to catch the shareholder’s attention. Before the D.B. Harrington came into existence all the eyes of the Port Huron community were focused on the little narrow gauge steam engine running lumber in Alcona County, Michigan called the “Henry McMorran.” Consequently, the relationship between James Beard, the Michigan lumber trade, and his involvement with the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad heavily influenced the purchase of the D.B. Harrington.
Michigan Lumber and the Beard Brothers
When James was 27 years old, he and his brother, John, took over took over the lumber mill business originally run by their father. The year was 1842. During this period, high demand was placed on vessels to haul lumber. This inflated the costs to ship it. As a solution, James and John decided to split the chores of the business. While John took leave of cutting the logs, James oversaw hauling the logs to Detroit to be sold. This became taxing, laborious and costly for the brothers. To remedy the situation, James decided to moved to Detroit in 1845 and start a lumber yard there. He chose a location close to the waterfront situated down river from the old Detroit waterworks dock at Jefferson and Randolph street.
By 1856, the Beard brothers dissolved their business together. John went on lumbering the family mill. James partnered up with a friend he had met while in Detroit, Elijah R. Haynes, and ran a lumber mill business in Port Huron. According to local historian, William Lee Jenks, the mill they operated had originally been built by David Whitman in 1853 along the St. Clair River located next to the Simon Petit and A. & H. Fish mill. They operated their business off of logs transported down the Black River from Sanilac County. Together they operated this mill until about 1863.
Beard & Haynes in Alcona County
By 1865, the lumbering business in Port Huron was heavily congested and competition was high. Too many mills were operating and logs were scarce, making them dependent on lumber from outside of the area. This drove up the price of transporting the lumber. These factors prompted Beard & Haynes to venture into Michigan’s wilderness in the lower northern region of Michigan in Alcona County. By constructing a saw mill in a remote location, Beard and Haynes would have access to plenty of lumber in their own backyard, which would equate to greater profits. They built the first saw mill in Alcona Township in partnership with two other Port Huron natives, John Johnston and F. H. Vanderburg. They went by the firm name Johnston Haynes & Co.
In the beginning, the work was tough. Workers were scarce and hard to come by because of the remote location. Men demanded a higher wage to come out and work in an uninhibited place. Supplies were limited and could only be delivered by small boats to the edge of the lake shore. Further complicating the delivery of supplies was the fact that large vessel owners who could transport the small boats necessary to approach the shore line did not think it worth their time and effort to deliver a meager volume of supplies to a small band of logging men working in this remote area. By 1871, Johnston and Vanderburg decided to get out of the lumber business in Alcona due to the hardships associated with it.
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Beard and Haynes held firm in their belief their business could be successful and pushed forward. Little by little, they made a dent in overcoming the hardships. They brought working men to the area and set up logging camps for them to live in. They began cutting timber along the shore of Lake Huron, and they managed to haul logs to the mill on carts using manpower along wood rails and carts pulled by horse power. However, these forms of transportation were limiting. Hauling logs was best completed by aid of the snow that would cover the area in the winter months (Prescott, R.E., 1934). In 1875, Elijah Haynes died. James assumed his part of the business and took his son, F.E. Beard, into business with him as James Beard & Co.
A New Mode for Transporting Lumber
As the timber along the shore of Lake Huron was used up, Beard & Co. had to reach back westward into the expansive pine woods to feed their saw mill. This made transportation by cart and horsepower very time intensive, and hauls to the mill took greater lengths of time. While logging was known to be highly profitable, these profits were heavily dependent upon transportation. The logs had to be able to get from the woods to the mill, then from the mill to the shoreline to be transported to the consumer. Any interruptions or delays in transportation could spell bankruptcy.
In 1876, Winfried Scott Gerrish, a lumberman in Clare County, Michigan, attended the World’s Fair in Philadelphia where he witnessed a locomotive that could run on a narrow-gauge track. On his return, this new discovery led him to build a narrow-gauge track to haul the logs for his mill. He was able to haul logs all year round, and with a speed he had not been afforded before. While logging railroads were in existence in 1876, there were none in Clare or Alcona County. Many in the area were skeptical until the implementation of hauling logs via a narrow-gauge railroad changed Gerrish’s fortune. At the time Gerrish built his railroad, he was facing bankruptcy and the use of this new method of transportation quickly made him into a very rich man.
By 1876, with the use of a logging railroad in close proximity, success for a lumbering entrepreneur in the Alcona area was guaranteed. This is well established by the fact the area drew the attention of Alger, Smith & Company, who put down a mill with a team of 600 men in the Black River area of Alcona Township. Alger, Smith & Company specialized in long timber logging and would become the largest logging company in the world from 1876 to 1880.
The winter of 1877-78 was a mild one. The lack of snow caused transportation issues at the Beard mill and spelled a loss of profits for the company. With the Alger, Smith & Company in his backyard and the winter loss under his belt, Beard followed in Gerrish’s footsteps and began cutting out and leveling road to build a narrow-gauge railroad track in May of 1878.
“Henry McMorran” Saves the Day
By July 3 of the same year, three miles of track had been completed, and his new steam engine was running on it. He christened the narrow gauge steam engine “Henry McMorran.” By August, four and a half miles were completed and his little logging railroad was fully operating. On August 20, 1878, The Port Huron Daily Times reported on the Beard road:
“For about two miles the road runs through a thick cedar swamp, where nothing can be seen except the narrow opening for which the track runs and the thick branches on either side …. the road has cars all made by the Phoenix Iron Works of this city and costing $75.00 dollars each … the company have one locomotive and in hauling logs eight cars carrying 2,500 feet of logs, make up a train … we are pleased to learn that the road is likely to prove an entire success, financially and otherwise.”
Later that week, details of the engine were reported:
“The locomotive ‘H. McMorran’ used on the road was built expressly for Messrs. Beard & Co. at the Porter, Bell and Co. Locomotive Works of Pittsburg, PA, and we do not hesitate to say that it is an excellent piece of machinery. Its weight is 10 ton; size of cylinder 10 x 16 inches; drive wheel 36 inches in diameter. The engineer, Benjamin Dupont, is certainly practical in his business. He not only knows how to care for and run a locomotive, but can build one if required. He was formerly an employee in the shop where the McMorran was built, and came with it to Alcona.”
It was at this time that James Beard decided to switch gears and leave the long timber logging to Algers, Smith and Co. and concentrate on short logging. He felt with the advancement of such a large company entering his area, it would be a relative short time before long timber prices dropped due to mass manufacturing. His tract of land contained pine that numbered approximately at 25 to 30 million. He had 70 men within his employ. He operated a general store to serve local farmers and his employees. With the construction of his tiny railroad, James Beard had plenty of work to do, and he was content to leave the long timber logging behind.
When the shareholders of the Port Huron and Northwestern Railroad gathered to develop their railway, there is no denying James Beard’s experience in Alcona County with the “Henry McMorran” contributed to their purchase of the D.B. Harrington. Along with the preservation of this famous engine, I hope my story will serve to honor not just the engine, but those who came before me and dedicated themselves to the act of preserving historical information.
This story would not be possible without the historical accounts of events available for me to find. I am truly appreciative of those individuals and organizations that work diligently every day to preserve and provide access to historical materials. Without this community, my research would not be possible today. Historical preservation is truly a gift that keeps giving to the whole of society, whether we are cognizant of it or not. What we can derive from this gift is bountiful and forever endless in what it teaches us.
Those of us who seek knowledge of the past can also contribute to its teachings by passing on what we have found in our research and study, often finding new details that lead to further discovery or clarification of historical events that can enrich our history for future generations to expound upon. This blog post serves as an example of just that.
This post is only possible through the culminating efforts of Roland E. Prescott, the Library Board of Alcona County, Michigan, Charlotte McMorran, Pamela Fox, the Port Huron Museum, William Lee Jenks, and T.J. Gaffney. My appreciation is best expressed through the words of Roland E. Prescott, who said with great wisdom:
“It is of great events – physical, political, and social, that histories are written. It is of small events and by ordinary human beings that history is made, and records compiled by historians reflect only the surface. The facts – or versions accepted as facts – omit two most important elements necessary for their understanding: the ‘atmosphere’ prevailing at the time, the events transpiring, and the human equation. A frontier region is open by adventurers who are followed by settlers and permanent home builders. Era blends into era each generation too busy with the present to record the past; and links with the earlier days are broken, unless some effort is made to preserve them in printed form. This is the mission of these little books – to give a picture of existing conditions and to preserve the ‘atmosphere’ of the era, as described by those who lived through it or from information obtained from other authentic sources.”
Alcona County Historical Society website (n.d.) Lumber Camp [image]. Retrieved from: http://www.alconahistoricalsociety.com/photos.html
Articles of Incorporation for the Port Huron and Northwestern Railway Company (1878). Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA). Retrieved from: https://cofs.lara.state.mi.us/corpweb/CorpSearch/CorpSearch.aspx
Austin, D. (2018). Water Works Park Tower. Historic Detroit.org. Retrieved from: http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/water-works-park-tower/
Bird, M.J. (2012). Gerrish and his logging railroad: Part one. Retrieved from: https://bluelemon.me/2012/08/16/gerrish-and-his-logging-railroad-part-1/
Bunn, B. (1991, March 27). Historic locomotive returns. The Times Herald.
Community Foundation of St. Clair County (2018). The D.B. Harrington [image]. Retrieved from: http://www.stclairfoundation.org/news/more/db_harrington_moving_to_sc4
D.B. Harrington (1878, July 8). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Death of Elijah R. Haynes (1875, April 27). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Dinsmore, R.E. (1984). Archaeological perspectives of the lumber industry in northern lower Michigan 1865 to 1920: Master’s Thesis. Western Michigan University ScholarWorks at WMU. Retrieved from: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2498&context=masters_theses
Find A Grave (2010) [image of Charles R. Brown]. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54203634/charles-richards-brown
Find A Grave (2011) [image of Gen. William Hartsuff]. Retrieved from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80234226/william-alexander-hartsuff
Fred L. Wells Died Suddenly (1904, May 16). The Port Huron Daily Times [image of Fred L. Wells].
Fuller, G. N. (Ed.) (1924-1926). Historic Michigan, Land of the Great Lakes: It’s life, resources, industries, people, politics, government, wars, institutions, achievements, the press, schools and churches, legendary and prehistoric lore, Volume 3. Dayton, Ohio: National Historical Association, Inc.
Henry McMorran Was A Pioneer (1903, Sept. 2). The Port Huron Daily Times [image of Henry McMorran]
H.R. Page and Co. (1883). History of the Lake Huron Shore: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.
H.R. Page and Co. (1883). History of the Lake Huron Shore: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Long Timber Train [image]..
James Beard (1882, April 29). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Jenks, W.L. (1912). St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1, p. 368, The Browning Mill. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.
Jenks, W.L. (1912). St. Clair County, Michigan, Its History and Its People: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress and Its Principal Interests [image of D.B. Harrington], Volume 2. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.
Locomotive ‘Henry McMorran’, (1878, July 9). The Port Huron Daily Times
Locomotive No. 1 (1879, February 3). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Locomotive purchased (1878, December 5). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Michigan Probate Court (St. Clair County), James Beard Estate, Calendar 3, pages 1002-1056, Case No. 1049, 1882, Ancestry.com – Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestr.com Operations Inc., 2015.
Mr. Beard’s railroad (1878, August 20). The Port Huron Daily Times.
North County History Facebook Page (n.d.). Rollway of Timber on a Logging Railroad [image]. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/northcountryhistory/photos/a.390072611170471.1073741830.201553756689025/390086217835777/?type=3&theater
Prescott, R.E. (1934). Historical Tales of the Huron Shore Region and Rhymes. Michigan: Alcona County Herald.
Savings bank (1872, October 22). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Sortor, R.J. (1997). Lumber Camps in the Curtisville Area. Log Jammer used to load logs onto a rail cart [image]. Retrieved from: http://nvance.tripod.com/Alclumber.html
Summer Logging (1878, August 28). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Wikipedia (2017). Alcona Township, Michigan. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcona_Township,_Michigan
Wikipedia (2018). Henry Howard (Michigan), [image]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Howard_(Michigan)
Wikipedia (2018) National Register of Historic Places Listing in Detroit, [image City of Detroit Areas]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Register_of_Historic_Places_listings_in_Detroit
Douglas Withey says:
Very interesting story, we all know the names of those involved but few of us know,( including myself) the story behind those names. Thank you, very informative.
September 25, 2018 — 5:54 am
You are very welcome. I’m so glad I could give you the story. Expect more and take care.
September 25, 2018 — 6:04 am
Any idea where I can find the rest of the Articles of Association found at the top of the website?
November 14, 2021 — 8:16 am
If you go to my references at the end of the article you can search for them at LARA Michigan’s website. The link for the search is the 2nd reference link. You can pull them off of that website.
November 14, 2021 — 8:55 am
Gayle Barlow says:
Thank you so much for this article. Though I am at the end of the line in age, it thrills me to see more historical data that you have collected here that adds to my history research both in both Alcona County, Detroit and the Huron shore areas. Need to know where to leave historical data that I have collected.
December 10, 2022 — 11:54 pm
Gayle, if you are interested in leaving historical data to me I would be happy to have a conversation. Please email me at email@example.com. Maybe you have something I could write a story on. Thank you so much for reaching out.
December 11, 2022 — 2:07 am