Salted with Sharks

Who Were Elberta’s First Settlers?

In Gov't Watch, Historic Elberta, You Mist It the First Time on July 3, 2015 at 11:10 pm

By Andy Bolander

A proposal has recently been presented to the Village Council to honor John and Caroline Greenwood’s contributions to the development of Elberta. The proposal includes the installation of a sign under each of the village limits signs stating: “First Settlers John and Caroline Greenwood 1855.” A second part of the proposal changes the name of Furnace Avenue to Greenwood Parkway.

John and Caroline Greenwood contributed greatly to the development of Gilmore Township. John was a blacksmith and operated shops in both Frankfort and Elberta. He also carried the mail from Manistee to Frankfort when the trail was less than developed. John and Caroline built a house at what is now the southwest corner of Furnace Ave and Sherman St., which was commonly referred to as the Cedar Log House.

An informal school was held at the Cedar Log House from 1855 to 1860. John and Caroline moved south of Elberta to Greenwood Lane, which is the stretch of road extending from Grace Road/M22 to Lake Michigan. The Cedar Log House became the Cedar Log School in 1860 and Mr. B.W. Perry taught the classes.

The Greenwood family relocated to their farm by Lake Michigan which included a big red barn that was visible by sailors on the lake, and it frequently was used as a navigational aid. Shipwrecked crew members received aid and refuge in the Greenwood home.

John and Caroline Greenwood contributed greatly to the development of the Elberta area, yet I am not in favor of adding the proposed signs along our roadways. Why?

1- My first argument is ideological. Renaming roads and placing signs honoring individuals doesn’t fit the image of the Village of Elberta. The town is known for the Iron Works, the railroad and the car ferries. These undertakings created and supported a blue collar and everyman image for the town that refreshingly contrasted the religious and business interests which developed the other regions of the county. Streets are named after important people within the village. Most are named after generals or governors that were popular in 1866 when the village was platted. The street names have remained the same since some street names were changed to honor a number of servicemen who died during World War II. Naming streets after individuals contrasts with the identity of the village. Furnace Avenue is an apt title for old M168. It draws attention to the fact that a large and regionally important iron furnace was located there. It pays attention to the impact the Iron Works had on the development of the county. It also pays tribute to the diverse group of immigrants who worked the long days to keep the furnace profitable and successful for more than a decade.

2- John and Caroline Greenwood were not the first settlers of the area. Joseph Oliver had lived around Lake Aux Bec Scies (now known as Lake Betsie) for ten to fifteen years prior to the arrival of the Greenwood family. There is already a memorial in Gilmore Township Cemetery honoring Joseph Oliver as the first settler of the area.

The Cedar Log Home was the first documented dwelling in Elberta, but I wouldn’t consider the Greenwood family as the first permanent settlers of Elberta. Residences were temporary and fitted the needs of families who lived off the land. The Greenwoods were less than permanent residents of Elberta. Although John Greenwood maintained a blacksmith shop in the village, the family resided in town for a total of five years.

3- The Greenwood’s Cedar Log House wasn’t the most important building at the corner of Furnace and Sherman. The American House Hotel was built in 1887 after the Greenwood edifice burned in 1885. The hotel also served as the township library and election hall, and the building was used for public meetings until the 1940s. The American House was torn down in 1972 after unsuccessful preservation efforts.

So my counter proposal is this: Leave Elberta’s signs as they were. The signs would not be factually accurate and they would detract from the character of the town.

I obtained the facts and dates for this piece from Blacklock’s History of Elberta and Sivert Glarum’s Our Land and Lakes. Both books, and many other books on the history of Elberta and Benzie County, are available to be checked out at Benzie Shores District Library.

Andy Bolander moved to the Village in June 2014 and volunteers at the Benzie Area Historical Museum and other area organizations.

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  1. Reblogged this on sixthstreetff and commented:
    I already commented on this article on the Alert Facebook, but just to cover all bases, I’ll say again: this historically accurate article is a very important contribution to Elberta’s meaningful history. Mr. Bolander is areal asset to the community.

  2. I guess I don’t want to miss out on commenting on the importance of this article for Elberta’s history! This is the third “Comment” and place that I’ve posted. Thank you, Andy!

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Mr. Bolander, Although I find your arguments against the proposed signs thoughtful, I think John & Caroline Greenwood’s contribution to the the settling of Elberta is noteworthy. As a direct descendent of John & Caroline Greenwood, my grandfather Harold Cornelious (Eugene) Greenwood of Manastee, was the son of their son John George, my family is very supportive of the Village Council motion to support MDOT creating and posting the new signs. As far as the facebook post saying the picture of John Greenwood is not accurate, My brother Dan is a dead ringer for John Greenwood as was my father.
    Susan Greenwood – Renard, St Louis MO

  4. Mrs. Greenwood-Renard,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post on this topic.

    I would like to clear the confusion on the image of John Greenwood. I do not recall say that the picture is inaccurate. On the contrary, I can verify that the image is of John Greenwood as it is held in the Allen Blacklock collection at the Archives of Michigan and is identified by Mr. Blacklock. (Blacklock’s History of Elberta is a respected resource on the history of Elberta. The image of John Greenwood is included in the book)

    I do remember posting an image of the sign placed under the village limit sign of Elberta. I remember saying that it was unfortunate and inaccurate. An explanation:

    -The signs were unsolicited by members of the community.
    -The signs are not factual (see inaccurate), the statements are not sourced.
    -The signs are an embarrassment to Elberta due to, but not exclusive to, the above two entries.
    -The signs are a highly visible example of how sourcing is important, with the identification of respected sources of particular concern.

    I am just going to include a few clips that counter the statements printed on the sign:

    “Before the first regular school the children of the Green-
    woods, Martins and others were taught by the adults of the
    family in the Greenwood home. This covered the years 1855
    to 1859. In 1860 Mr. B.W. Perry came to the area, set up his
    business and taught the first school. The building was cal-
    led the “Cedar Log School”, a former home of the John W.
    Greenwood, and located at the corner of the present Frank-
    fort Avenue and Sherman Street, where the American House
    Hotel stood for years.” (Blacklock’s History of Elberta, 137)

    “When Joseph Robar and Frank Martin came here in the fall
    of 1855, John Greenwood had already settled on the south
    side of Lake Un-Zig-A-Zee-Bee (Betsie). Martin took up tem-
    porary residence in Joe Oliver’s trapping shelter on the North
    side of the outlet from Lake Un-Zig-A—Zee—Bee to Lake
    Michigan. The high winds off Lake Michigan piled the snow
    and sand high around the Martin place and Robar and
    Greenwood helped Martin erect a wall of logs and brush on
    the Lake Michigan side of his home to protect it. They called
    it Frank’s Fort because of this likeness. This is said to have
    been the inspiration for the name “Frankfort” which later
    became widely used in the area, and was related to me
    personally by the early descendents of the Martin and
    Greenwood families.” (Blacklock, Introduction)

    “In June, 1855, John Greenwood, a 24-year-Old Canadian
    Blacksmith and his bride, settled in what is now Elberta.
    Greenwood was a man of great industry and ingenuity and
    well fitted to face the trials of the wilderness. He was born in
    Three Rivers, Canada, February 2’7, 1827, and was married
    to Miss Caroline Robar, of Ludington, July 3, 1850, in
    Chicago, Illinois. They built a cedar log house, where the
    American House Hotel stood later, and gleaned a living from .
    the wilderness by hunting, fishing, trapping, and farming.
    Later, Greenwood operated Benzie County’s first place of
    business, a Blacksmith Shop in the same area as the log
    house. The old shop stood for years and was torn down in
    1944, few people realizing its historical importance. The
    cedar log house was later used as the first schoolhouse in
    the County.
    Sometime later, the Greenwoods moved to a farm located
    on what was known for years as “Greenwood Lane” which is
    now the West one—half mile of the Grace Road, from M-22 to
    Lake Michigan. Here on the shelves of their large kitchen,
    were kept the scanty supplies of the community which John
    Greenwood brought in on foot from Portage and Manistee.
    Here, many a Weary traveler traveling the “Traverse City
    Trail” found food, warmth and lodging. Here, many a group
    of victims of the many shipwrecks along the Lake Michigan
    Shore, following the shoreline South to “Civilization”, found
    shelter and supplies. Here, they often rested for days at a
    time, and the woods sometimes rang with their cries of
    merriment as the Greenwoods entertained in their French-
    Canadian folkstyle, which often saw Greenwood kick off his
    slippers and proclaim his prowess as the best dancer from
    “Quebec to Hell”.

    John Greenwood was the first to carry the mail from Manis-
    tee to the few settlers along the route to his home. On one
    occasion, he left Manistee in the forenoon, on snowshoes. to
    go along the shoreline to his home. carrying about 50 pounds
    of provisions and mail on his back. A fierce storm of wind
    and snow arose, at times almost smothering him. He
    reached Herring Creek about four p.m., removed his snow-
    shoes, and started to cross the ice of the dangerous and
    treacherous stream. When near the middle he broke through
    the ice into deep water. Beginning to sink, he threw his load
    over his head onto solid ice, and himself forward on his
    hands and face and crawled ashore. Pouring the water from
    his boots, he went on. Two miles further on, finding his wet
    feet freezing, he removed his snowshoes, boots, and socks,
    wrung the water from his socks, reclothed his feet, and went
    on. It is claimed by oldtimers who have heard of this experi-
    ence more directly and at an earlier date, that he poured
    some whiskey, which he was carrying home for medicinal
    purposes, into his boots to keep his feet from freezing. He
    tried to mount the bluff opposite his home on Greenwood
    Lane and fell back down the bluff twice because of the icy
    slope. He followed the beach North to the Indian Camping
    Ground at the river’s mouth, and then followed the Indian
    Trail South to his home. He arrived there about 11 p.m., his
    cap and clothing frozen to his person, and his feet so much
    frozen that he was unable to leave his residence for some

    The Greenwoods prospered on their beautiful farm, hav-
    ing over sixty acres under cultivation, which included over
    30 acres of Orchards. They produced apples. plums, cher-
    ries, peaches, and grapes. Also other small fruits and ber-
    ries in abundance. His large red barn on “Greenwood Lane”
    was a well known landmark for the ships sailing Lake
    Michigan and could be seen for miles from the Lake. Green-
    wood was the first to have harvesting machinery, some of it
    homemade. His threshing machine did work for the farmers
    for miles around. The culmination of their lives work in
    success compensated to some extent for their sacrifice and

    During the Greenwoods time a great many ships and
    schooners sailed Lake Michigan and there were a great
    many ships lost. Many valuable objects were salvaged from
    these wrecks and along the beaches. There is a story told by
    oldtimers that Mr. Greenwood came into possession of a
    large anvil. When questioned as to how he came into pos-
    session of such a large anvil in this wilderness, he claimed
    that the anvil had floated up on the beach and that he had
    salvaged it from there. An old timer who knew him, told that
    he talked in broken French—English, and when his prize bull
    would wander off Greenwood would go about the Coun-
    tryside looking for the bull, and would say to those of whom
    he inquired, “If you see big bull, she mine”.
    Born to John and Caroline Greenwood were six sons and
    five daughters. George of Manistee, Jerome, John, Alfred,
    Eugene. and Louis went West. Mrs. Addie Sims and Mrs.
    Jewell Cash of Los Angeles, California; Mrs. Elizabeth
    Deuell, of Chicago; Mrs. Josie Burtker, and Mary M. Luxford
    of Elberta. John Greenwood passed away in the year 1885, at
    the age of 58 years. Mrs. Greenwood survived him 27 years.
    passing away at the home of her daughter, Mary M. Luxford
    in Elberta, December 20, 1912. Mrs. Greenwood was highly
    esteemed by all who knew her for her Christian life, and
    sterling worth, a devoted wife and mother. and a counselor
    and friend to all. When Caroline Greenwood, Elberta’s first
    white woman settler, passed away, the entire community
    felt the loss of one who had contributed so greatly to the
    needs of so many people in the trying days of early settle-
    ment.” (Blacklock, 3)

    “After Greenwood and his family moved to their farm
    Martin moved to the “Cedar Log House”. “ (Blacklock, 5)

    “The first actual business in the village was carried on by
    John Greenwood. He kept a store of supplies, brought in on
    foot from Manistee and Portage. There were only 3 families
    here from 1855 to 1859, all on the south side of Betsie Lake.
    Greenwood also operated a blacksmith shop before moving
    to the farm just south of the present Village Limits.” (Blacklock, 71)

    “John Greenwood, in addition to being a hunter, trapper.
    fisherman, and farmer was a blacksmith and had a shop in
    both South and North Frankfort at one time. His shop in
    South Frankfort stood on the southwest corner of Lot 7. Block
    8. Plat of Frankfort City. It will be remembered by many
    older residents as the upholstery shop of Hod Brink. It was
    torn down in the 1930’s no one realizing its historical impor-
    tance as the county’s first place of business.” (Blacklock, 81)

    “When the white people first came to this area there were
    no roads. There was an Indian Trail from the vicinity of the
    present harbor along the base of the hill and along the route
    of the present Frankfort Avenue, which joined another In-
    dian Trail where the present Grace Road (Greenwood Lane)
    joins M-22. This became a wagon trail later. For those who
    wished to go north along the shore of Lake Michigan, “ (Blacklock, 114)

    “Nov. 4- (1885) On Monday Evening the large two story frame dwelling in South Frankfort, known as the John Greenwood property was destroyed by fire. It is not known where the flames started, but it is thought from a defective flue. The loss of the house and contents is estimated at about $2500, with insurance at $1600.” (Elberta Alert, May 3rd 1912)

    Summary from “Our Land and Lakes” by Sivert Glarum

    -Born Three Rivers, Canada on 27Feb1827.
    -Age 17 moved to chicago-Michigan City-New Buffalo (stayed 6 years, learned blacksmithing)
    -Moved to Cedar River, WI then to Ludington.
    -Married Caroline Robarge on 3July1850 in Chicago
    -Moved to South Side Lake Aux Becs Scies in 1855
    -Cedar Log House SW corner of Furnace(Frankfort) Ave and Sherman St.
    -Blacksmith Shop on Lot 10 of Block 8
    -Second shop in Frankfort
    -Died 7Jul1885, Age 57 Buried Gilmore Cemetery

    Pg 30 “Herring Lake”

    Pg 125 “Historical collections / Michigan Pioneer and … v.31 (1902).”

    Benzie Banner “Frankfort Department”. 4Oct1888


    A more fitting location to honor your ancestors would be the extension of Grace Road from M22 to Lake Michigan. It has been known as Greenwood Lane in the past and touches the location of Greenwood’s Farm.

    These signs are an embarrassment to the Village of Elberta and misrepresent the history of the Greenwood family. These signs need to come down.

    Andy Bolander
    Elberta, MI

    • Thank you Andy for such a thoughtful and well-researched response. How does one start the process of taking the signs down? Seems that all it took was a petition and presentation at a council meeting (without documentation) to get it up. I like the idea of renaming west Grace Road Greenwood.

  5. And another question: this source says that Joseph Oliver arrived in 1854, which would make it just one year earlier than Greenwood, but you say 10-15…? Just wondering about that discrepancy. Thanks!

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