The sights and sounds of 150 years of history

ESCANABA – On a hot summer night, when the western sky turns red, the sounds of yesterday seem to echo through the mouth of the “old Esky.”

The Escanaba River, our namesake, glows in the aftermath of another day.

A boat motor whines, a train engine chugs, a blue heron squawks and the frogs’ chorus begins. As the light of day fades into night, ancient noises rise above the river.

Did you hear a horse whinnying? Was that the splashing and spearing of peeves and cant hooks against water and wood?

Was it just my imagination, or is a saw zing-zinging on the eastern most end of the Escanaba River? Do you smell sawdust and smoke?

If you look in to the last light of day along the river, you may catch a glimpse of a native canoe, a trapper, a lumberjack, a streetcar or a world famous lumber mill, before it disappears into the darkness.

The mouth of the Escanaba River is the birthplace of our town. White settlers were first drawn to the riches that came out of the river like beaver pelts, white pine, hard woods, fish and hydroelectricity.

The “Century Book” tells us that Delta County’s first permanent settlers, Louis Roberts and his wife, came to the river in the early 1830’s. Chandler’s water powered saw mill was built along the Escanaba in 1836.

Sand Point, Ludington Street, the park and the manmade Aronson Island would follow in years to come.

The river got its name from a combination of words the native peoples called it meaning “Flat Rock.” This grand flat rock river would become world famous by 1900 when the I. Stephenson Company produced 200 million feet of hardwood lumber annually. Two mills spanning the mouth and the island in the middle of the mouth, made maple flooring.

The factory employed 3,000 men, including my Grandpa Stasewich.

Since that time, the east end of the river has sort of been forgotten. Many of the old pilings from the I. Stephenson Company are still visible along the banks. The old cement highway bridge stands like a dinosaur lost in time.

When the soot and the sawdust receded, many of the wild creatures and walleye returned to the area. The City of Escanaba built a northshore boat launch on the side of the river. This is a great place to view the birthplace of our town. It’s a nice place for a little nature hike and a nice place to touch the history of our area.

Escanaba has a very important birthday coming up this year. Our city will be 150 years old! Do you remember the Centennial celebration in 1963? A committee is in the planning stages for a gala 150 years celebration.

Listen to the whispers of our forefathers in the lapping of the river against the antique wood and ancient rocks.

Listen, did you hear that? Was it a gull or a ghost of the big mill?

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.