Michigan has a long and rich history of forestry and logging that dates back centuries. We put together just a brief look at how and when it all got started.
We take the tradition of logging very seriously. We’re a part of a long line of families working the woods to improve the health of our forests and to help build the country. Back in the early 1700s, French fur traders first began commercial logging interests to build their new colony. They build homes, trading posts, small towns, and forts to support their trade, giving rise to some of the earliest settlements in the state, including Mackinaw City.
When the British and American colonists took over the region, they expanded those efforts and brought about a true logging industry. The timber harvested here in northern Michigan helped to build huge cities back east, as well as growing metropolitan centers like Chicago and Grand Rapids. Transportation relied on the early narrow-gauge rail, as well as the many lakes and rivers to float logs downstream to waiting mills.
The forests these early loggers relied on for timber contained primarily species of pine, with white pine leading the way ahead of jack and Norway. These forests were over two hundred years old and were made up of tall, strong trees with trunks as wide as five feet in diameter. White pine played a crucial role in building cities all over the Midwest, and helped to make Michigan a logging behemoth. By the year 1880, Michigan was producing more timber than the next three states combined!
Behind the logging operations, the cleared land left behind was often used for farming, opening up a thriving agricultural output that remains to this day, especially in areas like Saginaw and the central part of the state. The Homestead Act made land exceedingly cheap, with land costing just over a single dollar per acre. Families would buy huge tracts, sell the lumber, then start crowing corn, soy, or other crops; most of their homes and barns were built from trees that once grew on their own land!
While the world will never see those expansive Michigan forests again, the tremendous supply of timber taken helped to create the United States as we know it today. It’s incredible to think that Michigan lumber built homes, buildings, and entire communities across the country, with trees from northern Michigan reaching every corner of the country thanks to Chicago’s railroads.