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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 18. Our Clearing and the First Railroad Cars in 1838


OUR prospects began to brighten a little, and it is needless for me to attempt to describe what our feelings were, when we got a strip of the primeval forest cleared away. Our clearing now extended across the two lots, being half a mile east and west. It was about eighty rods wide on the west side, running this width to the east a little over half way, and it was forty or fifty rods wide on the east line. It contained about sixty acres mostly logged and cleared off, but a few logs remained lying on some of it.

We had burned the wood all up on the ground, as there was no market for it, it was worthless. We burned up out of our way enough timber to have made five thousand cords of cordwood. Father's big ax, which he brought from the State of New York, and mine, by striking innumerable blows, had been worn out long before this strip was cleared. The heavy, resounding blows of those axes had been heard, and before them many trees had fallen. They stood before the blows and trembled and swayed to and fro and at last fell with a thundering crash, to the earth, to rise no more. Some of their bodies broken, their limbs broken off, wounded and bruised, and stripped of their beautiful foliage. The noise of their fall and the force with which they struck the earth made the ground tremble and shake, and let the neighbors know that father and I were chopping, and that we were slaying the timber.

The grand old forest was melting away. The sides of many a tree had been cleft, and the chips bursted out, and they had disappeared all but their stumps. The timber was tall, I cut one whitewood that was about a foot through at the butt, and measured eighty-three feet to a limb. It ran up as straight as a liberty pole. I think our large timber was about one hundred feet high. It was, to me, a little singular that the smaller timber should run up so tall, equally as high as the large timber. All appeared anxious to look at the sun, bask their green tops in his rays and nestle and wave, in ruffles of green, above the high arching boughs of the trees. Once I saw them wave, arrayed in a different coat. Beautiful workmanship of nature was displayed in the growth of that timber.

It is not always necessary to peer through glass slides in order to take a panoramic view of the brilliant scenes dame nature presents, her varying pictures and beautiful face. Her handiwork as exhibited by herself is the most enchanting. Sometimes, the spectacle after a storm of rain and sleet is grand and sublime, but the effect of such a storm is not often seen as we view it now.

Early one spring, after nature had covered her face with a mantle of snow and appeared to repose, she aroused from her winter slumber, and adorned herself in a silvery robe. It was formed by drops of cold rain showered down upon the little snow that was left, upon the trees and, in fact, upon everything not under cover. Every bush and little twig was loaded and hung down its head. The bodies and limbs of the trees were alike covered and the boughs bent down under the heavy load of icy armor. Icicles, glistening like jewels, hung from the eaves of the house, from the fence rails, and from the limbs of our little fruit trees. The currant bush, the rose bushes, the briers and prickly ash were all encased in ice. From the points and ends of all the boughs, small and large, icicles formed and hung down like tapers. To the point of each was hanging a silver-like gem which had been frozen fast while in the act of dropping.

Some of the trees were loaded so heavily that the limbs broke off and went tearing down to the earth in a heterogeneous mass. The limbs broke in pieces and their icy coat and icicles broke up like glass.

The next morning the "Whirl-dance of the blinding storm" of sleet had passed away, but it had left its impression behind. There was formed a crust on the little snow left which gave it a shining coat, transparent as crystal. It was most beautiful. The sun shone clear and bright and cast his golden rays across the face of nature. The trees and tree-tops, the bushes and shrubs shone and glistened like so many thousand diamonds and the earth was dazzling to look upon. It appeared mystical as a silvery land, everything aglow and sparkling with radiant hues. The trees and earth seemed vying with each other in most charming beauty like many of earth's pictures.

It was a scene too bright and strange to last. A change was soon caused by the warming rays of the sun. The icicles, which hung down like jewels, melted, let go their hold and fell to the earth. The icy covering of the trees began to melt and fall like tears. Very soon the snow and ice were all gone and the ground left bare. Father said that he thought the trees were more beautiful when clothed in green leaves than when covered with ice though they were ever so bright. But to the clearing again.

Now finally I thought we had quite a clearing. I could stand by our house, and look to the west, and see Mr. Pardee's house and the smoke of his chimney. I could see Mr. Pardee and his sons when they came Out in the morning and went to their work. I could look to the east and there, joining ours, was the clearing and house of Mr. Asa Blare, and he could be seen. Then it began to seem as if others were living in Michigan, for we could see them. The light of civilization began to dawn upon us. We had cleared up what was a few years before, the lair of the wolf and the hunting ground of the red man. The Michigan bird of the night had no more chance to make his nest in hollow trees or live there, but had to go back to the woods. There we could hear him almost any evening hallooing: "Whoo! whoo! whoo!" His nearest neighbor would answer him, "Whoo! whoo!" then they would get together and have a great talk about something. Whether they were talking about our chickens, or our clearing off their woods and driving them away, or something else, I cannot say as I did not understand what they said.

Father said: "Now our best wood is worth something, as the road," which is now the Michigan Central Railroad, "has got as far as Dearborn, and they are building it farther west." [The first railroad company in the Northwest was the Pontiac and Detroit Railroad, incorporated July31, 1831- Much delay ensued in building the road, however, and not until July, 1838, was it in operation as far as Royal Oak. Meanwhile, the future Michigan Central Road was chartered, June 29, 1832, and the route surveyed as far as Ypsilanti in 1834. By the close of 1836 the road had been "grubbed" to Ypsilanti, and ten miles of it had been graded. The State of Michigan now took over the road, named it the Michigan Central, and in the course of nine years (1837-46) pushed it westward to Kalamazoo. Financial disaster had long since engulfed the state government and the further construction of the road devolved upon private enterprise, which succeeded in extending it to Chicago in the spring of 1852.] He thought we could cut some of our best timber into cord wood and sell it to the managers of the road, and make something from it. We drew some of the first cord wood that they used on the railroad, and continued to furnish a share of it for years. We had learned what day the first steam car was expected out to Dearborn. I went to see it, as it was to be there at a certain time of day. I was in time and with others waited anxiously for its appearance. While we were waiting I heard that there was to be a race from Mr. Conrad Ten Evck's, a distance of one mile, to Dearborn. William Cremer, a young man who lived at Ten Eyck's, had made up his mind to have the race on his own hook and let the people of Dearborn see him come in. He got his sorrel, white-faced pony, had him saddled and bridled, and waited in readiness, so that when the iron horse came opposite he could try him a race to Dearborn, and likewise try the speed of his pony. I don't suppose the railroad men knew anything about his arrangement. As the Ten Eyck tavern, where he started, stood within twenty rods of the railroad, no doubt some of the railroad men saw him when he started. Toward the village the roads ran nearer and nearer together for about a hundred rods, then came side by side for a short distance. As he had a little the start, and came to the narrows first, he must have been in plain sight of the men on the cars. It is easy to imagine how the puffs of the iron horse scared the little sorrel and gave him, if possible, more speed. The passengers who saw him might have thought it was another "train band captain, John Gilpin," running after his wife. Nearly all the people of Dearborn (who were but few at that time) had gathered in front of the arsenal, in the Chicago road, at the side of the Dearborn House and were anxiously waiting. From this point we could see half a mile down the Chicago road east, and we could see the smoke of the engine beyond the Ten Eyck place.

The time appointed was up and we were very impatient, waiting and looking, for the least sign of the approach of the long-talkedof cars. As we were waiting some one said the cars would stop for Mr. TenEyck, as he was the richest and most influential man there was in the town, and the road ran a long way through his farm. Some said, "of course they will stop and take him on. [Conrad Ten Eyck was a native of Albany who came west to Detroit in x8oi and for many years ran a store on Jefferson Avenue, near Woodward. In 1826 he built the tavern on the Chicago Road at the eastern bank of the Rouge which figures in our narrative. The building was on the south side of the road, about opposite the lodge at the entrance to Henry Ford's estate. Here Ten Eyck died in 1847. He had several children who married well, and he was a reputable citizen; yet village tradition still tells of dark doings carried on in the tavern and the finding of human corpses in the near-by river. in the early fifties a fine house was built a mile or so down the Chicago Road to the west, to which one of Ten Eyck's daughters came as a bride. A tavern established here in recent years has been named by the proprietors the Ten Eyck Tavern, in memory of the family association. The ancient tavern stood until 1918, when it was demolished by Mr. Ford.]

At last we could hear a distant rumbling like the sound of a thousand horses running away, and we saw the smoke. As they came nearer we saw a long string of smoke disappearing in the air. The cars were approaching us rapidly, and stopped for no one. When they got opposite Mr. Thompson's tavern, sure enough, there on the Chicago road came William Cremer, like a streak, with his hat off, waving it in his hand, looking back over his shoulder at the cars, hallooing like a trooper and his horse running for dear life. He had beat them for the mile. Of course, before Cremer got up to us, we all started for the railroad, which was about twenty-five rods to the south, to see the iron horse come in. He came prancing and pawing upon the iron track, and he disdained to touch the ground. His body was as round as a log. His bones were made of iron, his veins were filled with heat, his sinews were of brass, and "every time he breathed he snorted fire and smoke." He moved proudly up to the station, little thinking that he had -just been beaten by a Dearborn horse. "With his iron reins" he was easily controlled and held in subjection by his master. His groom pampered and petted him, rubbed him down, oiled his iron joints and gave him water to drink. He fed him upon the best of cordwood, as he relished that very well, and devoured it greedily. The contents of his iron stomach seemed to be composed of fire. While he was waiting he seemed to be very impatient, letting off and wasting his breath and seeming eager for a start. He was sweating profusely. The sweat was falling in drops to the ground. When all was ready, the cry was, All aboard!" and away he went snorting at every jump.

I went home and told the wonderful story of the sight I had seen. There was but little talked about, at our house, except the cars, until the whole family had been to see them. We thought, surely, a new era had dawned upon us, and that Michigan was getting to he quite a country.


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