NORTHERN MICHIGAN, MIKADO AND ALCONA COUNTY

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by Lloyd Streeter

“Northern Michigan” is what we call that part of the state north of Standish.  Of course, there is a lot of Michigan which is north of Oscoda, where we had a summer home.  So, when I mention Northern Michigan, I am not referring to the Upper Peninsula.  I’ve spent very little time in the U.P.

This part of northeast Michigan, between Tawas and Alpena, on the sunrise side of the state, is the area where I grew up.

The closest town to the farm where I grew up is called Mikado. Mikado was first called Bruceville, because the founder of the town was Daniel Bruce, and the town was first named for him. I have read that the town was also called West Greenbush for a while. The name was changed to Mikado some time around the turn of the century, c. 1900. The Japanese name for the town was borrowed from the Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, The Mikado.

Well, you can be sure that the residents of Bruceville had no first-hand experience with opera, either “light” or “heavy,” or any other kind! They just liked the name, Mikado. Unfortunately, they did not know how to pronounce it; therefore, the name of the place is “mi-kay-doe” [long i, long a, long o].

Mikado was once a bustling and growing town with a bank, a hotel, train depot, several grocery stores, restaurants, grain elevator, hardware, several churches, barber shop, a four-room school, and various other establishments. However, after most of the virgin timber was harvested and the logging business died, the Detroit and Mackinaw rail spur was removed, and the town began to die. That was between 1920 and 1935.

When I was growing up in the 40s and 50s, Mikado was only a fraction of its former size. There was a restaurant, owned by Kenny Collins, and later by my cousin, Thellis Good. The restaurant always had good hamburgers, and when it was owned by Kenny, it sold comic books (very popular at the time), newspapers, and other sundries.

Across the road from the restaurant was First Baptist Church. It was an American Baptist church. Because of the liberalism in the American Baptist Convention, First Baptist suffered a split back in the 40s. Herman Waldeck (one of the best Christians I have ever known), Edwin Goddard, Lloyd Andrews, and a few others withdrew from First Baptist, went just east of town, dug a basement and started Calvary Baptist Church. First Baptist continued to dwindle until the late 50s and it closed. The building was torn down. Calvary Baptist, where I was saved during my teen years, has continued to hold forth the Gospel as an independent Baptist church.

Just south of the restaurant was Joe’s garage and filling station. Joe Silverthorn sold and serviced Ford tractors. His mechanics would repair, overhaul, weld, cut with a torch, or order parts for any tractor, truck, or car that was brought to the place. For a while, Joe was also the dealer for Studebaker cars. Joe’s garage was a favorite gathering place for a group of men, mostly older men, who had a card game almost every night. My uncle, Charlie Streeter, and Russell Wallenmier were regulars at the card game.

Across the road from Joe’s was Gus Holmes’ grocery store. Gus sold all kinds of groceries, but seemed to major in meats and cheese. He considered himself to be somewhat of an entertainer and “disc” jockey. On Saturday nights (when most people would go to town), Gus would hold a drawing. Customers had to be present to win. First prize was always a ham, but after a few years, the first prize was downgraded to a  “picnic ham.” Second prize was usually a 25 lb. bag of flour. There were sometimes third and fourth prizes of whatever canned goods that Gus chose for the purpose. This drawing was “broadcast” over a loud speaker system both inside and outside the store. Typically, a group of 2 or 3 hundred people was listening to him as he spun his favorite country songs on his 45 rpm machine. Gus told his jokes and tried to be winsome in teasing the winners. And, before and after his drawing, Gus would “broadcast” country and western music. At least two or three times every Saturday evening, he would “broadcast” Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call.” He also “broadcast” songs by Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Snow. Each song was typically introduced and commented upon by Gus. Gus and his wife, Edith, lived in a log house next to the store.

Just south of Joe’s garage and south of the Glennie Road was the post office. It was a rather imposing building that had once been a bank.

Across the road, east of the post office, was Joe Hughey’s Shell Station. Some of the younger men would gather at the Shell station at night when they were not “crusin” up and down through town trolling for girls or looking for someone to challenge to a drag race.

Still further south of the post office was Eddie Wood’s Hardware. Eddie did a good business, and he was a highly respected member of the community. He lived in the apartment above the store. Farmers needing bolts, barbed wire, nails, glass, screen, well pipe, or any of a hundred items would look for them at Eddie’s.

Just east of Eddie’s Hardware, across the road (the north-south road through town was numbered as M 171 at that time but is now numbered F 41) was Fred Richie’s Sunoco Station. Fred wore his filling station hat and uniform every day. He gave good service, filling customer’s tanks, checking their oil, water, battery, and tire pressure. It was a full-service station, and Fred worked hard. My dad bought almost all of his gas and oil products at Fred’s.

Behind Fred’s station was the old Mikado school. It was a fairly imposing wooden building with four classrooms. The school had been closed for several years by the time I arrived on the scene. The Mikado School District had consolidated with the Oscoda District. The kids from in and around Mikado rode the bus for about an hour to go to Oscoda.

Also behind Fred’s garage was the baseball diamond. Mikado always had a good baseball teams. My Uncle Charlie was an umpire for the various baseball leagues, so he spent a lot of his summer days at the ball park. When he was not hanging out at Joe Silverthorn’s, Uncle Charlie could usually be found at the ball park or at the restaurant.

Further south and on the east side of M 171 was the creamery. Many a farmer had a cream separator to separate the cream from the skim milk. They did not sell milk. They sold cream. The cream had to be taken to a creamery where it would be tested for its fat content. A check would then be issued to the farmer. My dad sold cream for many years. He fed the skimmed milk to the pigs.

All of the other establishments in Mikado were on the east side of town, along the Greenbush Road. Behind Gus’ store was St. Raphael’s Catholic Church. Quite a few people in our community were Catholic. They always had a good attendance at the Catholic church.

East of St. Raphel’s was the town hall. The town hall was just a small auditorium with a full basement. The main floor had basketball hoops. The hall was used for all kinds of meetings, parties, and square dances. The Goodfellows held the Christmas party there. The kids were given “parts” to memorize and perform. Santa Claus made an entrance and every kid got a bag of goodies to take home. Incidentally, the Santa Claus was my Uncle Charlie. One year, my sister, Alice, recognized Uncle Charlie’s hands (he wore gloves in the subsequent years!), and the rest of the kids in our family recognized his “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

I should explain that the Mikado Goodfellows was (and still is) an organization of community leaders and helpers who do good things for the children, the poor, and any people who are having a difficult time. They put on funeral dinners. They help the sick and injured; and they help those who lose their belongings in house fires.

The town hall was about 50 by 100 feet. The first garage for the town’s first fire truck was attached to the side of the town hall. The first fire truck was a little water wagon pulled by a Jeep. It was okay for putting out small grass fires if the pump was working and if whoever used it last remembered to refill the tank with water. Gerson Kahn was the first fire chief. Sometimes, at the town hall, there were country music shows. One in particular that I remember was a Grand Ole Opry show with Little Jimmy Dickens, Minnie Pearl, and others. I was not present for the show, but my parents were. It was a well attended show because the people around Mikado (c. 1950) would not have missed an Opry show, something they listened to on WSM every Saturday night! And Minnie Pearl was a favorite of my dad’s; so, he definitely would not want to miss it.

East of the town hall was Kahn’s store. Kahn’s sold everything from bacon to bolts, from groceries to guns, from overalls to oilcloth, and from cornmeal to canning supplies. The Kahn’s were, of course, Jewish. They were wonderful people, good neighbors who did a lot to help their community. Joe Kahn came to Mikado, I think, right before the turn of the century. Joe raised a large family. He started in business by loading a wagon with goods and visiting the homes and farms in the area around Mikado. He built a store, a pretty big building for Mikado. There was a large apartment above the store where Joe and his family lived. Two of Joe’s sons, Gerson and Bill, were running the store during the 50s. Bill was living upstairs and Gerson was living in a nice house across the road. Gerson was a conservative Jew and Bill was a more liberal Jew. Bill also owned and operated a real estate business. The Kahns were people of integrity and dignity and they ran a good business.

Across the road from Kahn’s General Store was Bob Smith’s barber shop. It was a little white building with big windows in front. There was room for just one barber’s chair, an oil space heater, and about five chairs for those waiting for their haircuts. Bob was getting on in years during the 50s, and he had the shakes, probably from Parkinson’s disease. One night, a member of our family, a teenager, was taken to Bob’s shop for a haircut. Our whole family sat in the car and watched through the big window as Bob got a straight razor and started to shave around the teenager’s ears. Bob’s hand was shaking when he came at the kid with the razor. We laughed when we saw the fear in the kid’s eyes and when we saw him squirm in the chair, but he managed to survive with both ears intact!

East  of the barber shop was the grain elevator. Actually, it was more of a feed store, but it was a place to get grain ground or buy feed for horses, chickens, and rabbits.

East of the elevator was the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The people who went to church there always wanted us to know that they were not Mormons, though they did have a common origin with the Mormons. I knew many of the people who went to church at the Reorganized Church, and they were honest and good people. Of course, I did not agree with many aspects of their religion, but they were friends and good neighbors in the community. Years later they would change the name of their church to Christ’s Community Church.

About a mile east of the four corners of town was the Calvary Baptist Church. It started out in a basement which was dug there. Eventually, they built an auditorium. I received Christ as my Savior at Calvary Baptist when Pastor Doug Taipalus was ministering there. Some of the members of the church at that time were Herman and Esther Waldeck, Jack and Mary Stuit, Allen and Bertha Silverthorn, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Nickelson, Don Umphrey, Delbert Travis, Irwin Sweet, and a great group of young people. I have many fond memories of this group. Pastor Taipalus was a tremendous encouragement to me when I was a poor, shy, backward teenager. I was baptized and called to preach under Doug’s ministry. He officiated at our wedding. I knew him for 50 years, and he was still a good friend on the day that he died in 2008.

Across the road from Calvary Baptist is the township cemetery. My mother and dad are buried there. My grandmother, whom I never knew, and my grandfather who died when I was 5 years old, are buried next to my father and mother. I remember going to this cemetery with my parents on Decoration Day (Memorial Day). My dad would walk to one grave and then another, and to all of the graves of his relatives and friends who had departed this life.

Scattered throughout Mikado and between the businesses are the homes of residents. There may have been 3 or 4 hundred people living in the town at one time, but when I was a boy, there were only about 150 people living there.

Today, Mikado is almost a ghost town. Kahn’s, Gus’, Joe Silverthorn’s, and the restaurant are all closed. The grain elevator is closed. Bob’s barber shop is gone. The school building and Fred’s garage both burned. First Baptist Church and the old post office were torn down. The Reorganized Church moved to a new building two miles east of town, their old building is now a residence. There is no place that sells gasoline anymore. The businesses in Mikado consist of a tavern, which has been there for about 80 years, and the Mikado Market, which is located in the building which was Eddie’s Hardware. Of course, St. Raphael’s and Calvary Baptist are still there. There is a small post office. One bright spot is that a nice Civic Center (town hall) was built back in the 70s; a place for the kids’ Christmas party, funeral dinners, and bingo nights. And, there is a fire house for the town’s two fire trucks.

I grew up on Tait Road, two and a half miles northwest of Mikado on a farm that my grandparents acquired in 1897. My dad was born there in 1902 and I was born there in 1943. I grew up in Alcona County and went to school in Oscoda.

A few years ago, before we retired, we bought a condo at Oscoda. We now spend part of our summers here in Norther Michigan.

I had some reasons for wanting a home in Northern Michigan. I have some family here. A brother and a sister still live near Mikado. And, of course, this is still home and I have pleasant memories of so many places; places that would not mean anything to anyone else, but places that take me back in the mists of my memory to people and events now dear to me. I drive down a country road and I think of the spring beside the road where I used to stop the tractor and get a cold drink of good spring water. Sometimes I pass a farm and remember that I cut, bailed, and hauled the hay out of that field, and I fed cattle at that farm. And, over there, I filled that silo. We hunted deer in those woods. We cut firewood there. A friend lived there.

And I love Northern Michigan because, in the summer time, the weather is beautiful. Normally, it is not too hot. And, there is such an abundance of trees that it makes the world look clean and fresh and beautiful. Some of the rainbows are perfect, just like they were when I was a boy–full, complete and solid rainbows that over-arch the creation of God. And, some of the sunsets are so red that it is as if an angel swept the western sky and set it on fire.

Karen and I like to drive out in the evening to see the deer in the fields and the flocks of wild turkeys scratching beside the road. We like walking down to the “mighty” AuSable River on a foot-trail near our home. We watch the canoes and the boats coming down stream, most just floating along with people who are content to relax and enjoy the scenery. There, at the river, we see families who have come to the “beach,” the beautiful, sandy stretch along the great bend in the river; at the place that is called “Three Pipes.” We also like to go to the “real beach,” the well cared for beach-park at Oscoda, the Lake Huron beach, a beach as nice as any we have seen in Florida, Jamaica, or Mexico.

Here in Northern Michigan, we love the summer weather, the friends we have made, our church (Family Heritage Baptist at Harrisville), and our family.

Of course, the winters here are hard on people our age. So, come November, we will head for our winter home in Lake City, Florida.

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Deer are plentiful here–  Canoers on the AuSable River beach.

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Brian, Brady, & Tina / Ainslie on the AuSable River beach.

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Friends from Illinois by the Lumberman’s Monument.

The “mighty” AuSable as seen from the monument.

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Tina on a sand hill behind our home.   Jackie enjoys the river, too.

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Lloyd with Brady and Ainslie.

Posted Sept. 6, 2008

Edited Feb. 16, 2013