Manistee’s Big Four Railroads: Manistee & Northeastern

by: Mark Fedder

To take a glance into the past is to delve into the world of yesterday where how people lived, worked, dressed, and traveled can all at once be foreign and similar to the way in which we live today. With Manistee’s place in history as a towering lumber industry, the town itself needed to use railroads in order to conveniently transport logs out of the forest as well as in and out of the various sawmills that surrounded Manistee Lake.

At first utilizing four main railroads for the transportation of lumber, all but one of these railroads eventually became used for passenger service shortly by the turn of the 20th Century and along with it Manistee’s growth as the premier lumbering town in Northern Michigan.

Manistee and Northeastern Railroad

Originally conceived as a logging railroad, construction of the M. & N.E. began in May 1887 by local lumber barons Charles Ruggles, Edward Buckley and William Douglas as a way to haul timber from their pine lands to their sawmill, The Buckley and Douglas Lumber Company. However, realizing that more money could be made by making the train route a standard gauge railroad, the organizers decided to add passenger service to the line and by January 1889, the first official passenger run of the Manistee and Northeastern commenced with a trip to Bear Creek.

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Over the next four years, more track was laid and by 1892, the train eventually wound its way to Traverse City opening up various branches whilst passing through smaller communities such as: Newland, Douglas, Onekama, Norwalk, Chief Lake, Bear Creek, Kaleva, Lemon Lake, Copemish, Nessen City, Karlin, Interlochen, Lake Ann, Solon, Fouch, Greilickville, and Traverse City. With the railroad passing through these small communities, foot traffic increased and some of the areas prospered and began to grow.

As the years passed, the M. & N.E. covered approximately 120 miles of track with the amount of passengers increasing to a height of almost 200,000 by the late 1890s and early 1900s.

With many good years behind it the railroad began to experience a tumultuous period as portions of the available virgin timber in the area began to decrease leading to the closure of many of the area’s sawmills. However, in 1910, the line had reached Grayling and with it, access to more timber which went a long way in helping to maintain the railroad line for a few more years.

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Even though passenger service kept on, the M. & N.E. had ceased to become profitable and in 1924, a new corporation was formed to help the unstable financial situation of the railroad. With more people traveling in automobiles and numerous branches closing (all leading to an eventual decrease in passengers) the line was turned over to the Pere Marquette Railroad in 1932. A small trickle of travelers continued until the last passenger train, running from Manistee to Kaleva, was discontinued in November 1949. However, in January 1955, the Chesapeake and Ohio line began to reuse the M. & N.E. tracks as a passenger service and for the next eleven years continued to do so until ceasing service in October 1966. The line continued to be used for freight until February 1982.

To learn more about the history of Manistee County visit the Manistee County Historical Museum.

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