Deward, halfway between the towns of Gaylord and Grayling, Michigan is still in the book of county maps some locals keep in their cars.
But go there, and you won’t find any town, just a field of grass and broken glass.
The mighty forests of northern Michigan, pines that grew for centuries to reach heights of 45 meters, had been mostly clear-cut by lumber barons in less than a generation. When the stand of pines was brought down in Deward, the town’s population moved on, leaving behind a graveyard of giant stumps. A few people stuck around and tried to eke out an existence, but by the 1930s the once-bustling town was deserted.
And now Deward is a ghost town, one of dozens in Michigan.
Well…and what’s left of Deward?
Nothing…except a few oil pumps that have invaded the land.
Yet the town had one of the largest sawmills in Michigan, despite it didn’t last very long.
It was started in 1900 and named in honor of lumber baron who cut the land, David E. Ward, who had been a timber cruiser for lumber concerns out of the Bay City-Saginaw area in the mid-19th Century, which helped him acquire his own land in northwestern Michigan.
Eventually he became one of the most prolific and richest lumber barons in the area from the 1850s until his death, in May 1900.
His will stipulated that all his assets needed to be liquidated in 12 years, including the tract near the upper Manistee River, which meant they had that long to clear the pine.
So a mill was built a year later and the company town of Deward was born. Eventually there were 12 mills, a railroad depot, a company store with a community hall and several residences including boarding houses and single-family homes for families.
At its peak, Deward had a population of 800 souls.
All typical of the logging boom towns.
Social events like dances were held in the community center, where there was also a Swedish Lutheran Church.
The one thing you couldn’t get in town, however, was liquor. The town was on private property and the Ward estate banned the sale of alcohol, though a thirsty lumberjack could head to nearby Frederic for a bottle.
And for years, lumbering and life continued.
Michigan white pine built much of America in the 19th Century into the 20th Century, with the soft wood that was used for much of the rough carpentry for homes and other structures.
In any case, by 1912, the white pine supply was exhausted in the Deward tract. Thus Ward estate pulled up stakes and started selling off the land to other companies that cut hard woods like maple and beech. After all the standing timber was logged off and cut into boards and the sawmill closed, the town died off. The buildings were dismantled and hauled away and the old sawmill was demolished leaving just some concrete foundations.
Eventually, like many other areas decimated by lumbering, the land fell into the hands of the state, which only brought Michigan’s forests back to life after decades of conservation and restoration projects.
Eventually, the trees grew back covering over the former townsite hiding it from view. If you know where to look you can still see the foundations and relics of the past.
The best way to find the ruins is from county road 612. Take Manistee River Road north past West Cameron Bridge Road. About a mile and a half north of West Cameron Bridge Road you will see a two-track heading west with a small green sign with a binoculars symbol on it. Go down that road to a parking area. If you take the trail down to the river, you will see an old wooden fence with concrete bases at each end left over from the sawmill.
From the south base head into the woods, and you will see the concrete foundations.
There are plenty of building and house foundations scattered throughout the area.
This could be a ‘ghost town’ search for you that would be fun…yes, you’ll have to travel down various dirt roads to get there, but it’ll be worth it to visit this little slice of Michigan history.
After all, It’s still technically on the map….
Images from web – Google Research