Recently I took on a new opportunity and challenge as the inaugural museum director for the Lovells Township Historical Society. Located on the North Branch of the AuSable River, Lovells is home to a rich history that includes the three pillars of North Country History: lumber, conservation, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is also part of the holy waters of the AuSable where trout fishing is an integral part of the economy.
The Lovells Township Historical Society operates the Lovells Historical Museums that includes two museums: The Lone Pine School, a 1906 log one-room schoolhouse that contains a local history museum, and The Lovells Museum of Trout Fishing History. This second museum is Michigan’s only trout fishing museum and tells the story of trout fishing, especially pertaining to the AuSable River watershed.
Early on, the AuSable River was a fishing destination, even while the river was still being used to move logs to the sawmills during the spring river drives. Grayling was the first fish to be popular with anglers, to the point of its extinction due to a number of factors, including over-fishing and habitat destruction (from the lumber industry). Brook trout was found in some streams and was introduced into others, along with the introduction of the European Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout from the western United States.
Fly fishing for trout brought many people to the AuSable. T.E. Douglas, a lumberman who owned a sawmill in Lovells, branched out and added the Douglas Hotel and North Branch Outing Club, to his businesses in Lovells. Some of his patrons included Henry and Edsel Ford, John and Horace Dodge, and Charles Nash, all pioneers in the automotive industry. The Fords would invest in the “Dam Four Club” and Charles Nash built “Nash Camp.” On the main stream, the Stranahan family, founders of Champion Sparkplug built Wa-Wa-Sum Lodge. Later, George Mason, president of American Motors, built a lodge on the South Branch of the AuSable. He purchased the properties of others, tying them together as the Mason Tract, now a semi-wilderness along the South Branch.
Besides auto-magnets, the AuSable River attracted men, and women, of many walks of life. William B. Mershon is one such example. Mershon’s father was a lumberman from Saginaw who took young William hunting and fishing throughout Michigan. William Mershon saw some of the last great flocks of Passenger Pigeons in Michigan and would write of their demise. As early as the 1890s William Mershon would make the trek to the North Branch to fish for both grayling and trout. By the early 1900s he had “Highbanks Lodge” built and that would be his base for fishing and writing to the end of his life. Mershon not only wrote about conservation matters, but also pushed the state of Michigan to strengthen game and fish laws and create a non-political conservation commission and professional game wardens (conservation officers).
Following in the footsteps of William Mershon, fishermen and conservationists, including George Mason, Art Neumann, and George Griffiths, met at Griffiths’ cabin on the mainstream of the AuSable to form the conservation group Trout Unlimited. TU not only supports ethical trout and fly fishing, but also to protect and restore the freshwater ecosystems where trout make their home, including the AuSable.
During the 1930s, enrollees of the Civilian Conservation Corps built Camp AuSable less than a mile west of the North Branch. These young men worked on many projects that would benefit the North Branch and Lovells. They planted pine forests, did stream improvement of the AuSable and its tributaries, stocked trout that were raised in the Grayling Fish Hatchery, did wildfire prevention and suppression, and other conservation projects.
The history of Lovells and the North Branch echo that of all of the North Country. It is the natural resources, including the forests and rivers that have brought people to the region. I’ll continue to bring this history to life through North Country History and with my new position with the Lovells Historical Museums. You can learn more about the museums at www.lovellsmuseum.com. The Lovells Historical Museums are located in the small village of Lovells on Twin Bridges Road, adjacent to the Lovells Township Hall. The museums are open Wed, Fri, Sat, and Sun from April 25-September 26.
Besides my regular offerings of North Country History programs, I can also do programs on the AuSable River and trout fishing history as requested.