Pioneer Day had his hands full
Trees were important in the life of D.H. Day, who was the first president and one of the founders of the Michigan Hardwood Lumber Association. By 1910, he owned more than 5,000 forested acres and long before the reforestation movement came to northern Michigan he promoted it. The 1,400-acre Day Forest, with its huge second-growth trees, was viewed by government researchers as one of the best timber stands in the Midwest.
By the 1920s, Day also had more than 5,000 cherry and apple trees at the 400-acre D.H. Day Farm, which he called “Oswegatchi” after the New York community where his father was born and the Oswegatchi River on whose banks D.H. Day played.
Day grew hay and corn to feed his 400 hogs and prize herd of 200 Holsteins described as among the best in the state. The farm, located just south of Glen Haven, has a massive white barn that stands today as a landmark of the heritage of Sleeping Bear Country. Day had the barn, house and three out-buildings built in the late 1880s and early 1890s. One outbuilding was the pig barn, one the creamery, and the third the bull barn. The farm is located on M-109, which joins M-22 to the south to link Glen Haven with Empire. Day, a pioneer promoter of good roads in Michigan, played no small role in building the Glen Haven-Empire road. The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported: “Mr. Day planned the work, supervised it, and paid for the actual construction himself.
Promotion of good roads became one of Day’s objectives in his leadership roles in the Western Michigan Pike Association, which staged auto rallies in Glen Haven as part of its “good roads pike tours.” As one founder of the Western Michigan Development Bureau in 1909, Day promoted road improvement throughout his nineteen-year tenure as its president. The bureau encouraged investors and settlers to come to the area and promoted development of west Michigan’s agricultural and industrial potential. The bureau’s slogan was “Every possible acre working all the time at that for which it is best adapted.”
Day had his own ideas for diversifi ed use of every possible acre. His sawmill, which at its peak produced as much as 55,000 board feet of lumber a day, stayed in operation until 1923, beyond the end of the lumber boom.
During much of the boom from the Civil War until about 1900, Michigan was the national leader in lumber production. According to the Michigan Bureau of History, state loggers cut 161 billion board feet of pine logs and 50 billion board feet of hardwoods — equivalent to a half-mile wide, oneinch plank road from New York to San Francisco. In dollar value, Michigan lumber outvalued all the gold extracted from California by a billion dollars. In 1889, the year of greatest production, Michigan produced about 5.5 billion board feet. (A board foot, the standard unit of lumber measurement, is a piece of wood one foot long, one foot wide and an inch thick.)
As lumbering declined, Day planned for economic diversification — something that Michigan’s economy has needed throughout its history of boom-and-bust cycles. In the early 1920s, he established the Glen Haven Canning Company on the shoreline near the dock and shipped cherries and other fruits to various Great Lakes cities.
With improvement of roads, the Glen Haven dock faded in importance and fell victim to storms. Today, depending on Lake Michigan’s fluctuating levels, pilings of the Glen haven dock are in some years totally submerged, and in other years have their tops exposed as a reminder of Glen Haven’s importance to the water highways of yesterday. The canning company building has been restored by the National Park Service and on occasion will house an exhibit of small craft used in the Manitou Passage.
A diversification project promoted by Day that was far bigger than the canning company was resort development. According to National Park Service historian Cockrell, Day “wanted to harness the anticipated economic windfall of tourism to the full advantage of the region and Glen Haven village. His scheme was so grandiose that if successful, the Glen Haven/ Glen Lake area would be transformed into the most elaborate and exclusive resort in the United States.” In large part because of the Depression, it was not successful. Here is what happened:
In 1922, Day sold a large portion of land, including reforested Alligator Hill between Lake Michigan and Glen Lake, for a real estate development that was called Day Forest Estates. Alligator Hill, so called because a portion of it resembles the silhouette of an alligator’s snout, is a glacial deposit formed when two surrounding lobes of ice dumped their load of sand and rock into the area between the lobes. One real estate publication, calling the area the “Adirondacks of Michigan,” proclaimed with a flourish:
“The project, deemed fit for the permanent Summer White House, can provide homes for residents of the Gold Coast of Chicago or Millionaire’s Row of New York and leave nothing to be desired that nature or men can provide. It will be a center of society.”
An 19-hole golf course was built, an air strip and clubhouse site were cleared, and access roads graded. A brochure about 1929 announced “the development of America’s premier exclusive summer community.” The venture failed during the Depression, although the golf course operated for several years. One man who played it in the 1930s said “it was a great course, but if you went off the fairway, you were in a mighty deep, deep forest.”
Although the course is abandoned and overgrown, the outline of its fairways are evident today for those who use the National Park Service’s Alligator Hill hiking and cross-country ski trails.
Day Forest Estates was not developed. But the Glen Lake area, as D.H. Day anticipated, became a premier location for summer residents and visitors.
The Sleeping Bear Dunemobile Rides out of Glen Haven introduced thousands of people to the dune during the mid-twentieth century. Throughout their forty-three years of operation, the rides were owned by Louis Warnes and his wife, Marion, D.H. Day’s youngest daughter. By this time, they owned the D.H. Day Store, and used it as base for the dunes rides.
The rides started in 1935 with a used 1934 Ford that took four people at a time, for a charge of 25 cents each, on a brief ride from Glen Haven to the crest of the dunes and back.
By the time the rides ended in 1978, there were thirteen dune wagons, each carrying as many as 14 passengers on a 12 mile, 35 minute excursion.
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