Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village of Chatham History

This page describes some of the early place names of Rock River Township, and describes the history of early Chatham.
As Rock River Township began growing, numerous locations throughout the area attracted settlers. While many of the early settlements can no longer be found on maps, local residents still refer to them by their original names.  Slapneck, east of Chatham, got its name from the Slapneck River which was named for a Pittsburgh businessman, Joseph Slapnick, who had a summer home at the mouth of the river.  Finn Spur, a mile east of Chatham, was named for Jim Finn, the foreman at Camp I.  Louds Spur, two and a half miles south of Eben, was named for Colonel Louds of H.M. Louds and Sons who owned the lumber company that logged in that area.  Louds and Sons also had a sawmill in Munising on the former Munising Coal Company site.  Cold Springs, south of Chatham, got its name from the underground springs that furnished water for the camp town.  Deimling, north of Rumely, was named for J.F. Deimling, chief engineer of the LS&I and Munising, Marquette and Southwestern Railway.  Ferguson was reputedly named for a horse doctor of that name.
Since the beginning of Rock River Township, Chatham has been the seat of township affairs.  This was the center of the vast logging operations of the region and subsequently the base for land agents.  Since the beginning of Rock River Township, Chatham has been the seat of township affairs.  This was the center of the vast logging operations of the region and subsequently the base for land agents.  This is where elections have been held since the turn of the century and today is the home of government offices, headquarters of the Chatham Telephone Company, Chatham Branch of MFC First National Bank out of Marquette, Michigan State University's Upper Peninsula Experiment Station, other business places and, more or less, the shopping center of the community!  

The first store and post office built by John Gattis, was located on the west side of the Rock River Road, across from the Chatham depot.  The depot had been built previously when the Munising Railway Company brought rail service to the area in 1896.  Gattis was appointed Chatham's first postmaster on January 19, 1897 and was followed by William Gatiss, Gunile Heldman (served 28 years), Sylvia Seppi, Frank Hill (temporarily), Arnold Keskimaki, and Beatrice Johnson.  Through the years, mail to Trenary has been dropped off at the Chatham post office, necessitating a mail route to Trenary.  Route drivers (early ones used horses to haul the mail) have been William Mead, Thomas Van Duzer, John Van Duzer, Vern Richmond, Ed Joel, Nick Johnson, Henry Vogel, John Niemi, Sam Cummings, George "Snowball" Cummings, and George Cummings, Jr.  Railroad depot agents have been Don Barney, Joseph O'Leary (1915 to 1945), George Lelvis, and Lloyd Young.  Charles Dolan, Emil Finholm, and Carl Zeno have been section foreman.  

As Chatham kept growing, John Gatiss and Chan Brown formed a partnership, operating a general store and livery stable.  When the partnership dissolved, both men continued in business with their own stores.  Other early business places were Levy's Saloon on the corner, the site of the Chatham post office for many years.  Fire destoyed the saloon on September 18, 1911, and shortly after, Ed Levy was granted a saloon license for the Pacific Hotel which he had built in 1904.  Much of the past history of Chatham and the entire township is associated with the hotel (now known as the Village Traveler Restaurant).  Constructed of stone from the nearby quarry, the imposing three- story landmark has lodged early lumbermen, land lookers, traveling salesmen, and school teachers.  During the flu epidemic of 1918, the hotel was pressed into service as an emergency hospital.  Owners of the hotel since Levy have been Isaac Tunteri, Julius and Ida Thorsen, Bill Godell, and more recently Nancy and Jerry Foubert. It was even used as a rest home for awhile, and yet unoccupied for periods of time.  Currently, the hotel is used as a restaurant.  It was once known as the Village Traveler Restaurant and up until 2012 was purchased by another owner and renamed the Rock River Cafe. 

Other early businesses were Hillman's store and land office, John Nymark's dry goods and clothing store, Anton Johnson's general store, Frank R. Hill's store, Joachim Hill and Ivar Samuelson's saloon, Joachim Hill's boardinghouse, a bakery shop, a creamery, and a saw mill.  William Mead had the first blacksmith shop in 1903.  Ed Fortune and Sol Spielmacher also ran blacksmith shops. 

Of the very early businesses in the village, only the depot, the town hall, the Pacific Hotel, and the present John Seppi, Jr. and Henry Norman houses are still standing. The main street through Chatham early in the century was little more than a wagon trail.  It was not until 1916 that board sidewalks were replaced with concrete.  A sewer line, emptying into the Slapneck River was approved in 1910.  Whether or not the sewer contributed to some fabulous trout fishing below the outlet has long been debated.  At any rate, for sound environmental consideration, the sewer was condemned and the village today has a modern lagoon-type sewage disposal system.  As early as 1907, however, township officials expressed their concerns over sanitation in the village.  A notation from the minutes of a July 1907 township board meeting states: "Motion passed to notify all persons that hereafter no dirty matter filth will be allowed thrown in any of the ditches on the main street of Chatham."

Telephones started becoming a reality in Chatham by 1904 as Stan Brown built a line connecting the village with Michigan Bell line at Rock River, which soon extended to the camps of Trenary.  After Brown's original store building burned, he rebuilt his store and the telephone switchboard was located there for several years.  Currently TDS Telecom (formerly the Chatham Telephone Company) has a modern dial system that serves over 2000 customers and covers a 550 square mile area.  

The Alger County Infirmary, "the Poor Farm," was built in Chatham in 1907.  The farm was made up of 80 acres, and was located on the south side of the village.  The main house had living quarters for the superintendent and his family, large rooms for the men, a barn and other farm buildings.  The residents were usually homeless former lumberjacks and those who were able worked on the farm.  Much of the food required was produced there.  Several of the men were avid baseball fans and could usually be found in the grandstand at home games.  Superintendents of the infirmary were Frank Featherly and Sergius Wolkoff.  The farm was discontinued in 1945 and the house converted to apartments.  

In 1907, a jail was added to the previously built Chatham town hall and in 1910 the Standard Oil Company was granted a permit to build a storage tank on Munising Railway Company property.  In March 1915, Morgan Jopling, Hugh Gallop and Michael Walin of Marquette were granted a franchise to build an electric light system in the village.  Also in 1915, $1000 was appropriated by the township board to construct a building for the Alger County Fair.  C.C. Brown furnished the electricity for them.  Built by George Leiphart of Munising and designed by Chan Brown, the structure featured a unique truss system without cross beams.  After the fair was discontinued in the early '30's, the Hippodrome was still used for dances and other social events.  The building was completely renovated around 1940 for use as the Eben High School gymnasium.  Fire, however, destroyed the Hippodrome in 1945 and the land is now owned by the Richmond and Hawley Sawmill and Lumber Company.

While most of the original business places in Chatham were no longer in existence at the time of the fire of 1925, Issac Tunteri, an early Chatham resident, continued his operations well into the '30's.  His original business, lost in the fire, was soon replaced.  Tunteri and his wife continued operating the Pacific Hotel for several years.  Since he retired, the store has been owned by Elmer Salminen, Dick Williams, and now by the Chatham Co-Op.  Bakery shops in the village have been owned and operated by Gus Syrjanen and Toivo Partanen.  The bakery was bought by Earl Brown in 1948 and converted to a 4-lane bowling alley.  In 1957, Bruno Lindfor and Leo Lammi bought the alleys and operated them until 1961 when Harold Johnson became the owner, and he, in turn passed them on to Bob Salo.  The building, which no longer was used as a bowling alley after 1987, served as a Youth Center and a Video shop.  The building was eventually demolished to make way for a parking lot for the Village Pub. 

Joe Brisson's Sandwhich Shop was originally a pool room built by Toivo Kallio in the late 1920's.  With the repeal of prohibition in 1933, Brisson began operating a tavern there.  He retired from the tavern business around 1960 to devote more time to his logging operations.  The tavern has since been owned by Vic and Betha Ayotte, Joan and Stanley Hill, Vic Ayotte, Ed and Joan Dzarnoski, and in 1968, by James Buggy.

John Berg, Frank Santore, and Oscar Woimanen operated the little garage at the junction of M-94 and M-67.  Joe Hill built the gas station at the Chatham Corner.  It has since been owned by Charles Maki, Toivo Luoma, and Bob Lessmeir (it is now closed and the windows boarded up).  Fred's Service, operated by Fred Woimanen, was about the busiest place in the village from the 1970's to the '90's.  The station was built in 1954 and purchased by Woimanen in 1976.  Fred retired around the year 2000 and the service station was closed.  An auto glass repair shop has since reopened in the former garage.

The Richmond Oil Company, a fixture in the community for years, became the Norman Oil Company.  Other petroleum dealerships in Chatham have been operated by Leslie Kellan, Charles "Murphy" Little, Henry Norman and Steve Norman.

Vern Richmond, a long-time Chatham resident, was one of Alger county's most active and successful businessmen. He was born in Algoma, WI, in 1890 and moved to Chatham in 1920, having previously lived on a farm north of Winters.  He began working for Standard Oil in 1922 delivering gas.  His widow, Opal, recalls Vern using horses to deliver gas and oil supplies often as far north as Deerton.  About that time, he also had the mail route from Chatham to Trenary.  Opal was frequently called on to drive their Model-T mail truck.

After working for Standard Oil ten years, Vern started his own company as a Standard Oil dealership.  Later, he switched to Phillips 66 and finally to Cities Service. In 1948, he bought the former Rumley schoolhouse and moved it to Chatham.  He converted the building to a general hardware store and had his gas company operations centered there.

Vern died in 1952.  In 1954, the company was purchased by his daughter and son-in-law, Alice and John Norlin. They operated it until 1976 when it was purchased by Steve Norman.  Normal Oil Company closed in 2007.

Chan Brown started his 
first movie house in 1917 in his new store which he replaced the one lost by fire in 1911. This store later became the Chatham Co-Op.  In 1927, Brown established a new theater across the street from the present Village Pub which ran until the 1920's.  In 1935, it was rented by Charles Nygard and his son-in-law Howard Herse, who operated it until 1945.  The building was then purchased by Joe Brisson and converted to offices and apartments.

The Eat Shop, located just south of the current Chatham bank, was a popular restaurant in Chatham.  It was originally operated by Frank and Marion Hill, then by Tyyne (Kallio) Oja for a short time, Eero And Syhfri Lindfors from 1947 to 1951, Ann and Marion Hill again from 1958 until the restaurant was closed in the middle 1960's.

Chatham residents who were engaged in logging operations have been the Hill Brothers (Joseph and Frank), Kallio Brothers (George and Matt), Joe Brisson, Vern Richmond, and Peter Maki.  Today's loggers and truckers include Leslie Takkinen, Reino Maki, Mike Fisher, Albert and Larry Charlebois, Kenny Hallstrom, the Salo Brothers, and Bill (Sonny) Williams.

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