The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.
From the diary of J.E. Snow, edited by Charles J. Dow
(Ed. note from 2020: This is a historical piece, written in 1860 and printed in 1950. There are words and terms used in this piece that would not be used in Inland Seas today. )
August 17th, 1860. This morning at five o’clock, the West Andover Brass Band left home for a pleasure trip up to Lake Superior. The morning was cloudy, with a light shower to lay the dust, and make our ride in our band wagon the more pleasant. Our company consisted of the band and some of their ladies, to wit, J.H. Carpenter, Myron Beach, O.F. Mason, D R. Carpenter and Wife, J.E. Snow and Wife, T.S. Selby, C.M. Wilkins, Isaiah Crowther, Fred Boyington, Levi Rice, Henry Wilder and Wife, J.L. Osborn and sister. All enjoying ourselves first rate. We arrived at Ashtabula at eleven o’clock; we met my old and well tried friend, Rev. Ransom Dunn; was glad indeed to see him; he was on his way from Hillsdale to Boston.
We left Ashtabula at twelve-thirty on the cars for Cleveland. Had a pleasant ride, left my wife at Madison with her friends, and we arrived at Cleveland at two o’clock. We put up at the Bennett House. Rambled over the city to our hearts’ content, at five o’clock, took supper, after which we went down to the boat Iron City, a beautiful steamer which is to be our home for the next ten days. The crew were about thirty in number, and many of them were colored men, but fine fellows. After sunset, we commenced playing, and played most of the time till the boat started, which was about nine o’clock. The weather was fine, the lake smooth and we were soon out of sight of Cleveland; we were all tired, and soon found our state rooms and beds; here we spent our first night on our pleasure trip towards Lake Superior. Some of us slept, and some of us did not much.
Sat. morning Aug. 18th. This morning I arose a little before the sun, went on deck, found we were in sight of Walden, where so many black men have declared themselves free men. We are now passing some beautiful islands, and some manufacturing villages. The morning is beautiful, and the river is calm as a summer evening.
We arrived at Detroit at about seven o’clock; this is a business city, everything appears to move like clock work, on the river, and the land. On the opposite side the river is a large town, called Windsor. There are a large number of colored people who find employment here, without the fear of being carried off by southern slave holders. I am glad there is a spot on this wide earth, where the colored man is free. We entered Lake St. Clair at about twelve o’clock. This is rather a beautiful sheet of water, though the smallest of the great chain of lakes. The weather is still beautiful, and all on board are enjoying themselves finely. On leaving Detroit, we went nearly due East. We are now in the middle of the South. At 2 P. M. we are having a hard shower, although there are but few clouds to be seen. The sun is shining all the while. The shower soon over, we are now on what is called St. Clair Flatts, where the grass grows up through the water. There is a light house about ten miles from shore. We are about to meet a steam tug with three tall masted vessels in tow. We have met one like it before. We are coming among the islands. At five o’clock, we are passing the town of St. Clair, on St. Clair River. This is a beautiful country on either side of the river; the river is about three quarters of a mile wide, steam saw-mills are very plenty. Pine logs are floated down from the north. We have just met a raft of about two acres of pine logs, towed by a steam tug. The crops along the river are fine, this is a pleasant country. At sunset, we entered Lake Huron, with rather a stiff head wind. The boat begins to rock some, just enough to make it ride pleasantly.
Sabbath morning, Aug. 19th, it is somewhat cloudy, but no wind, the lake is calm as it can be, not a ripple on its waters. There are now in sight thirty-one vessels, all waiting for wind to waft them along. We are nearly out of sight of land, there is a little streak lying west of us. We passed Saginaw Bay, before daylight, when we were entirely out of sight of land. We are now at breakfast time in the vicinity of Thunder Bay. At 9 A.M., we are among the islands covered with pines, the country is wild and beautiful, the day is fine, not wind enough to make a ripple on the water. At about 11 o’clock, we begin to see land on the eastern shore. At 1 o’clock, there is a long strip in view, and we begin almost to lose sight of it on the western shore. In front of us nothing is visible but water and clouds, with here and there a sail. There is scarcely any wind, all is smooth and fine. We have just left a table where we have partaken of a dinner, good enough for any man. We have lived well all the way. The whole crew appear to be men of the right stamp.
We are now at 3:30 p.m. passing out of Lake Huron. There are a large number of islands, and all covered with pines. A fine chance for a steam saw-mill. It is now raining a little, but not hard. It is not a very easy task for me to describe the splendor of the scenery, as we pleasantly float along among those beautiful islands. They are all covered with timber, of various kinds, pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar, white poplar and a variety of undergrowth. On the small islands, the timber is large. We are having rather a rainy afternoon, which makes it unpleasant being out on deck, but we have no wind to disturb at all. We are now passing a few log houses, where there are a few vegetables growing in the garden. We are just entering a beautiful river, the clouds are breaking away, and the rain has stopped. At sunset we entered a very narrow river where there was a small village, and some land cultivated, but no corn growing, a few cabbage, turnips, and a few potatoes were about all that could be seen. This is St. Mary’s River.
Soon after dark we came to the canal where there are two locks, that lock up into Lake Superior. This canal is about three quarters of a mile long. This is a great work connecting the two Great Lakes. The fall is twenty-eight feet, the rapids are about half a mile long, and I should think about the same distance wide. The Indians will run their birch bark canoes up the rapids, and catch fish. We passed through the locks, and went as far as the upper end of the canal, and tied up till morning, as it was too dark to enter Superior among the islands.
Monday. I arose as soon as it was light, and viewed the canal and locks and at eight-thirty we started. And after passing a large number of islands we came into Lake Superior. We are now at noon, out in the broad lake with a stiff head wind. The waves are beginning to roll big, the white caps are showing themselves to good advantage. The weather is quite cold, at four o’clock, the weather is quite pleasant, the wind has gone down, and the lake is getting quite smooth again. At five o’clock we are passing the sand bank, or what they call the “Sandy Mountain,” which is three hundred feet high, and about five miles long, no timber for half a mile back. The wind has all gone down, and the lake is getting quite smooth again. Now at 6 P.M. we are nearly opposite the Picture Rock, but so far out that we cannot see the pictures. We can look into the big Cave where a steam boat can go in and tum around. Now the sun is just setting in the water, rather of a splendid sight. It is quite cold, more like October than August. It is no easy task for me to imagine that I am nearly one thousand miles from home, and on one of the largest lakes in the world. The weather is still fine, a little head wind, but the lake quite smooth. We are now at ten-fifteen, within forty minutes sail of Marquette. We stopped here and stayed until about three in the morning, it is so dark that I can’t say much about it.
Tuesday morning, Aug. 21st, I arose this morning, just in time to see the sun come up out of the water. There is a little wind, and the lake somewhat rough, but the wind soon died away, and it is quite calm again. We are now at ten o’clock, at Portage Entry, unloading on another vessel, about two miles from shore. The weather is beautiful, the wind is springing up from the south. The scenery along this lake is most splendid. There are mountains on the south of us, that are high, and the forests unbroken, the timber is mostly pine with a thick growth of underwood. In some places, where the soil is cultivated, some places there is a fine sandy beach, and in other places a rocky shore. Some are a white sandy rock, and others a red sand rock and very high, it has the appearance of brick, and extends along the coast for many miles. It is impossible for me to describe the many places of interest, as we sail along this beautiful day.
At 2 P.M. our boat came to an anchor about half a mile from shore, where there were six hundred fish barrels to be taken off, and about twenty-five barrels of salt. We stayed here about four hours, and all went on shore and had a ramble on the sandy beach. Here we saw the Indian women drying fish over a slow fire. Henry Wilder and I went into the lake swimming, the water was cold, and clear, we picked up a number of little stones, and brought them away with us. This is a great fishing establishment, where one of our passenger’s lives. We left this place at about six o’clock, at sunset. We are at the lower end of the peninsula, passing between it and the Manitou Island. We stopped at Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor and Eagle River in the night.
Wednesday morning, Aug. 22nd. We arrived at Ontonagon at eight o’clock, this morning. Here we found the beautiful steamer Lady Elgin which backed out, to make room for the Iron City. It rains now very hard, and some snow mixed with it. This is quite a town, I should think contains about five hundred inhabitants. This is the extent of our journey. When we leave this place, it will be to return to our homes, which will be about noon. Here I got the first specimen of copper ore. We have had a fine passage, the lake has not been very rough, everything has passed off delightfully, I hope we shall have as good a time in going back. If this is a specimen of the western country, I think I shall not care about going west to live. All the fruit and garden vegetables are brought here on the boats, the soil is one mass of sand. Some of the residences have rather a beautiful front yard, with shade trees in them, this place is situated at the mouth of Ontonagon River, and is destined to be one of the largest cities on the lake.
Now at eleven o’clock, we are again on the mighty deep, and it is raining very hard, but the noble vessel is crowding its way, along its trackless course, regardless of the elements that surround it. We have just arose from the dinner table, and it rains powerfully, and thunders terrifically; the lake is not very rough. We came to Eagle River about four o’clock, where we spent the remaining part of the day rambling through the town, and over the hills. We went to one of the copper mines, and should have gone to another, if it had not rained. We got a number of specimens of copper at this place. I saw fine horses here, and some very large oxen and some large cows. We stayed at this place all night.
Thursday, Aug. 23rd. We left Eagle River at five thirty this morning, and at six thirty we are at Eagle Harbor, a place of about two hundred inhabitants. All that makes the place is the Harbor, and the copper mines in the mountains. While we were at this place, the Lady Elgin came in, and another boat was coming in as we left. We are now again out in the lake, crowding our way along against a hard wind. It is a little cloudy, but rather a pleasant day, after all. At eight thirty we enter Copper Harbor, where we stay about one hour. This is a very pretty place, but small. one church, one store, one tavern and store house, and a few dwellings.
We are now again on the great deep, pressing our way on pleasantly; there is a little wind, but not enough to make it very rough. Thus far everything has passed off first rate, we have had no cause to regret that we have made this trip. If we have no worse weather than we have had, we shall always look back to this time, as one of the brightest spots in our history. We are now at ten o’clock, turning the peninsula, between it and Manitou Island, which are about one mile apart. The Lady Elgin and another boat are just behind us, putting on all the steam they can make; they go to Portage Entry, and we to Marquette. The wind begins to rise, and the waves run rather high, the boat tumbles about more than it has done since we left Cleveland. There is quite a heavy fog, the lake is still quite rough, and many of the passengers are sick. I do not feel sick yet, but I expect to soon, unless the sea goes down a little.
Five o’clock, we are safe at Marquette. This is quite a business town, of nearly one thousand inhabitants. We called here in the night, when we went up, and I did not see much of it. Iron seems to be the main article of commerce. The hands are taking on coal, which I was told came from Cleveland. I have just been looking out of my stateroom window, to see those faithful black men work with their shovel and wheelbarrow. I really feel very sorry for them. It rains hard, but they keep at work, but they are well paid for this work. I think I should not like to be driven so hard, without any time to rest my weary bones. Just after dusk, the Lady Elgin came in, and tied up to our boat, and we all went on board of her. I think it is the most beautiful boat that I ever saw in my life. In consequence of the dense fog, and the darkness of the night, we did not leave till morning. The Lady Elgin only stopped about two hours, when she put out to sea again.
Friday morning, Aug. 24th, at about four o’clock, we left Marquette, and again launched out into the deep. The wind was blowing quite hard, and the waves running high, the boat would roll and tumble finely. We are now at seven o’clock, in sight of the Cave, and Picture Rocks, but they are some ten miles off. This forenoon has been the roughest of any time since we started. But very little stirring about on the boat. At one o’clock the weather is more pleasant, and the wind going down, but still the lake is quite rough, and many of the passengers are sick. We are coming in sight of land on the north shore, and we shall soon be out of Lake Superior. At two thirty, we have stopped at White Fish Point. There is a Light House, and a dwelling house, and a number of Indian huts, a fishing park, and barren sandy soil.
We arrived at the Sault St. Marie’s Canal, just before sunset. Where we had a fine view of the Lock and rapids, and also of the town. When we went up, we passed this place in the night, and did not see it much. It is quite a town, about five hundred inhabitants. I should think from the appearances, that whiskey was used pretty freely here. We left the boat and went through the town on a ramble, had a good time. The boat tied up for the night. The river below here is very narrow, and difficult running in the night.
Saturday morning, Aug. 25th. We left this place a little after sunrise. This is a beautiful morning, but rather cool. We have had quite a large accession in the number of our passengers, and among them is the celebrated Mr. Dodsworth of New York City. He is leader of the largest band in the United States; he had his instrument, and played a few solos very nicely. At eleven o’clock, we have passed through the river, and among the islands and now we are at Detour, a small place, of two or three log houses, and one large frame house. This ls just at the entrance of Lake Huron. The scenery is rather beautiful, but there is nothing to induce anyone to come here to live. At eleven thirty, we are now again under way, with the broad Huron before us. The day is beautiful, and the lake is calm, and we are passing rapidly over its smooth waters. The afternoon passed off very pleasantly, nine o’clock, beautiful scenery, the moon shines brightly, and we are enjoying ourselves finely. We are now off Saginaw Bay, and out of sight of land. This is the only place, that we have passed, where we could not see land on one shore or the other.
Sabbath morning, Aug. 26th, we are still on Lake Huron, on the Western shore. For twenty miles the banks are rocks, and very high. There are two considerable villages in sight, I should think they were about ten miles apart. This is a beautiful morning, the lake is calm. There is quite a number of vessels in sight. Eight o’clock, we have just left Lake Huron, and entering St. Clair River. This is a beautiful place on either side of the river. The cars come in from the East, and West, and almost every point of the compass. These are the largest towns I have seen since I left this place going up. This place is called Gratiot.
We passed down the river, and through Lake St. Clair, met a great many tugs, towing sail vessels up, and some had as many as four or five in tow. At one o’clock, we arrived at Detroit, the shops are generally closed, and all seems to be quiet as a Sabbath day, except the unloading of some freight, from our boat. Just now a ferry boat came over Canada, with about twenty-five colored children on board, dressed in their Sunday suits, looking as happy as any children in the city. They started directly up town, probably on their way to church. I was glad to see that the Sabbath day was regarded in so large a city as Detroit.
At two o’clock, we left Detroit, and are again on the river, making our way towards Cleveland. We rode pleasantly down the river, and were soon on Lake Erie. At about five o’clock, we come among the islands, which we passed in the night when we were going up. This is the battle ground of Commodore Perry, which was fought on the 10th of September, 1813, a day that will not be soon forgotten, by the people of America and Great Britain. We arrived at Cleveland about twelve o’clock, at night, all safe and sound. The band all got up and played a few times, and then returned to their beds again. Monday morning, August 27th, we left our beds, and found our boat tied up at the same spot where we found it ten days ago. We were glad indeed, to set our feet on Terra Firma again, once more. Our journey has been a pleasant one, still we were glad when we left that noble steamer the Iron City. We formed acquaintance with some of the crew, and passengers, that will not soon be forgotten. We had another ramble through the city, went to the Bennett House and took breakfast, and at ten o’clock we took the cars for Ashtabula.
[end of J. E. Snow’s account of trip up the Lakes.]
At Willoughby, J. L. Osborn, and his sister Helen, left us to visit their relatives, by the name of Lord. At Madison, J. E. Snow left us to join his wife. At Ashtabula, some of the Band Boys went to Mr. Nettleson’s on the South Ridge, for our horses and band wagon, when they came with the wagon, we loaded in, and started for home. And right glad we were to get back, safe and well from our very pleasant trip. After being gone from home eleven days.
[Record finished by Henry Wilder, West Andover, Ohio, leader of the band.]
This article first appeared in Inland Seas in Fall 1950