THE HISTORY OF SAWMILLS IN SPRING LAKE
This exhibition is broken up into Mills located in the Village and Mills in the Township. Mills in the Village will be highlighted in blue and Mills in the Township will be highlighted in green.
The Lumber Era was a defining period in the history of the Village of Spring Lake and Spring Lake Township. In the period from 1836 to 1890, residents of Spring Lake built nine sawmills; seven of these mills were built within the modern boundaries of the Village of Spring Lake, while two were built in what is now Spring Lake Township.
Michigan’s rich timber resources made the Tri-Cities strategically important for the lumber industry. In fact, the industry was so important to the area that the Village of Spring Lake was originally platted as Mill Point in 1849. The name of the post office was not changed from Mill Point to Spring Lake until 1867, and the Village of Spring Lake did not become the official name of the area until 1869.
The role of Spring Lake in the lumber industry during this time was primarily to process lumber using sawmills. Lumbermen harvesting logs inland transported them to the banks of the Grand River, where they were tagged using log marks to indicate to what company the log belonged. In the spring, these lumbermen rolled the logs into the river to be sorted in the Tri-Cities area. An alternate route for logs to travel was from the forests to the northeast corner of Spring Lake (where Pomona Park is now located), then southwest through the lake to the mills located on the southern shore. After the completion in 1856 of the Ottawa County Booming Company at Boom Road in Spring Lake Township, sorting took place in a centralized location, with workers organizing logs by log mark and tying them together to be transported by tugboats to the mill to be processed. Taking the logs from their natural state to a final product that could be used for building required workers to strip the bark from the logs, sort by species and use, saw the logs into boards, and finally to prepare them to be transported to end users.
This map shows the location of mills in Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, and Grand Haven. The mills are all located on bodies of water, including the Grand River, Spring Lake, and Lake Michigan.
Ottawa County Booming Company
The Ottawa County Booming Company was the place where logs were sorted to be delivered to the various mills in the area. The approximate location of the booming company was near the boat ramp at 144th Ave in Spring Lake.
The first sawmill built in the Spring Lake area was constructed around 1837 by Benjamin Hopkins on the southern banks of Spring Lake, near what is now the Barrett Boat Works Marina.
This photograph shows the mill as it appeared in the mid-19th century.
The Barber/Bell Mill built in the Spring Lake area was constructed by Jabez Barber and Richard Mason in 1844. Barber and Mason, like Hopkins, left Canada after the Upper Canada Rebellion, which was an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the British government in 1837-8. This mill was located further east on Spring Lake, at what is now Verplank Point. This mill operated until 1853, when it was destroyed in a fire. After the fire and Barber’s death in 1854, his business partner William Bell rebuilt the mill, which was then called the Bell Mill.
This pole pike, which was used to help move logs while they floated on the river, was found near the location where the mill was built.
The White, Haire, and Tolford Mill
Thomas Waite White was another entrepreneur of the lumber industry in Spring Lake. He and his family arrived in the area with the Ferry family in the 1830s (White’s sister, Amanda White, was the wife of William Montague Ferry). White made significant developments in the Mill Point/Spring Lake area, most notably the White, Haire, and Tolford Mill and the White & Friant Mill.
The White, Haire, and Tolford Mill was built on the Grand River near the intersection of Tolford Street and Jackson Street. This mill changed hands many times over the course of its operation. White built the mill in 1851. In 1867 he sold it to Haire and Cole, which then became Haire and Tolford in 1871. Just three short years later, the Cutler and Savidge Lumber Company purchased the mill.
The White and Friant Mill was built on the north bank of the Grand River near Boom Road, on the site of the old Norton Mill in Nortonville (present-day Spring Lake Township). The original Norton Mill was built by Amos Norton in 1837 but that structure had burned down in 1854. The replacement mill Norton erected afterwards became the White and Friant Mill. These photographs show Thomas Waite White and the White and Friant Mill.
The White and Friant Mill
Cutler & Savidge Lumber Company
The next major development in Spring Lake’s lumber industry was the creation of the Cutler & Savidge Lumber Company, a partnership between Dwight Cutler I of Grand Haven and Hunter Savidge.
Savidge arrived in Mill Point with his family in 1856. His first company in the area was a sawmill that closed in 1857 due to a financial panic. This did not deter him, however, and he soon began working with Cutler. While their cooperation can be traced back as early as 1858, they did not formally incorporate their partnership until 1863. The firm had several mills in the area, including the Hopkins Mill, which they purchased and then added on more buildings to increase the mill’s processing capacity. Cutler & Savidge also maintained a mill further west on Spring Lake, near the current location of the Old Boys’ Brewhouse. The firm later purchased the Haire & Tolford mill on the Grand River in 1870. These photographs show the Cutler and Savidge mills in the Spring Lake area, a train car for the company, and a wooden fragment of one of the buildings. The company became a powerhouse in the lumber business, continuing to work in the Spring Lake area until the lumber industry dried up in the 1890s due to massive deforestation. Once this decline occurred, the company moved to Ontario, Canada.
Munroe, Boyce, and Co. Mill
The Munroe, Boyce, and Co. Mill was located on the southern bank of Spring Lake, east of Verplank Point and the Barber Mill. The mill was built by Dr. Stephen Munroe in 1867. Munroe (1813-1890) came to GH in 1850. He was a medical doctor, practicing until his retirement in 1857, investor in a variety of businesses including the sawmill. Munroe’s business partner was Sherman H. Boyce, a man who came to Grand Haven in 1866 from Grand Rapids. Boyce’s finances were involved primarily in the lumber trade, although he also had investments in the Grand Haven Furniture Company and other local businesses. The Munroe, Boyce, and Company sold the mill to another company in 1881.
Photo of the Munroe, Boyce, and Co. mill in 1872.
Portrait of Sherman H. Boyce (1832-1904).
Session and Lilley Mill
The Session and Lilley Mill was located on the Grand River, at the mouth of Lloyd’s Bayou, near the Leonard Road Bridge. George D. Session (sometimes spelled Sission, arrived in the Tri-Cities in 1871) and Thomas Seymour (arrived in 1872) banded together to create Session & Seymour Lumber Company. By 1874 the company added Francis Lilley as a partner. The partnership built the mill in 1872 and enlarged the mill in 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the mill in 1884.
This page from the 1883 edition of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Map of Grand Haven, Michigan, shows the layout of the Session and Lilley sawmill. (Source: Library of Congress - https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114gm.g040211883/?sp=16)
Blendon Lumber Company
The last mill in Spring Lake is something of a mystery. Several maps show a mill owned by the Blendon Lumber Company on Eastman Island in the Grand River.
This is a closeup of a map in the Tri-Cities Historical Museum’s collection (object number 63.10.10) showing the Blendon Lumber Company located on Eastman Island in 1856. (Click on the image to enlarge).
The Blendon Lumber Company is difficult to research in part due to issues with its name: it was also known and written about as the Lansingburg Company because the company founders lived in the Troy/Lansingburgh area of New York. But available records indicate that the Blendon Lumber Company leased the Boom Road sawmill in Nortonville/Spring Lake Township when it was still owned by Colonel Amos Norton. The company also had a sawmill at Blendon Landing, near the northeast corner of Grand Valley State University’s campus, which was quite close to the area in Blendon where the timber was harvested.
Contemporary newspaper clippings do not mention a sawmill on Eastman Island at all, and some modern texts appear to have confused the Blendon Landing sawmill with the one on Eastman Island. Unfortunately with the limited access to information during the pandemic, we have not been able to clear up the mystery further, although we hope to do so soon. If you have any information about a sawmill on Eastman Island, contact the exhibits curator Kate Crosby (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The lumber industry in Spring Lake was a vital part of the economy in the mid to late 1800s. With the wealth created by logging, the people of the Village of Spring Lake and Spring Lake Township were able to build other businesses such as hotels, general stores, hardware stores, bakeries, and more. While the lumber era in Michigan ended in the 1890s, these other industries allowed Spring Lake to withstand economic hardships and to continue to grow and develop into the 20th century.