Lake Charlevoix Historical Images

In a presentation to LCA’s 2008 annual meeting, Dave Miles of the Charlevoix Historical Society presented an illustrated history of Lake Charlevoix. The photos ranged from an aerial perspective drawn from a 1889 fire insurance map to a view from the 1960’s of the Lake, its South Arm and Round Lake.

Dave explained the various industries that grew up around the lake, such as the huge tannery in Boyne City and the Iron Works in East Jordan. He explained the vessels that used the lake – passenger steamers and freighters and, of course, the Ironton Ferry.

#1. One of the earliest views of Lake Charlevoix, in the Lubow fire insurance map of 1889. This aerial perspective is from the west. Lake Michigan is in the foreground, Round Lake in the center of town, Lake Charlevoix in the background.

#2. Aerial view of Charlevoix from the southeast, 1947. Lake Charlevoix, bottom right, connects to Round Lake through the upper channel, here marked by the railroad bridge that was taken out in 1983. The upper channel was cut through in 1869, which opened the interior regions to world commerce. The Belvedere Club resort, with its pier and beach, fills the lower left of the photo. The Belvedere Hotel (razed November, 1960), once one of the most prominent landmarks seen from Lake Charlevoix, is in the center of the photo. The original outlet from Lake Charlevoix to Round Lake is Old River, seen just above and to the left of the railroad bridge where it connects to the upper channel.

#3. Old River runs below the Chicago Club resort. At first, Lake Charlevoix was two feet higher than Round Lake, which itself was two feet higher than Lake Michigan. Water flowed westward here over a series of small rapids which made it difficult to drag a boat from Round Lake into Lake Charlevoix without much effort. After the upper channel was cut in 1869 and the river reoriented away from its original site on the Lake Charlevoix shore to the south to connect with the channel, the waters of Old River became shallower. The club had to do considerable dredging before it erected its boathouses after 1881.

#4. The upper channel, looking westward into Round Lake. The entrance into Old River after the channel was cut is at bottom right. The wood revetments were continually battered and knocked off kilter by waves and ice until the Federal government, responsible for Charlevoix’s waterways, finally let them fall away and disappear.

#5. Up until the early 1900s, the largest passenger vessels were reluctant to turn around in Round Lake to come into dock by the bridge, especially if there were strong winds blowing. They either used tugs to do the turning for them, or else passed through into Lake Charlevoix where they turned around and sailed back in and up to the dock. Only after Captain Finucan of the huge passenger liner Manitou demonstrated that it could be done did the rest follow suit. Here, either the Illinois or the Missouri is shown coming back into Round Lake after her turnaround.

#6. Lake Charlevoix is seen under the south railroad trestle as a train is just about to cross the bridge.

#7. Another prominent landmark seen from Lake Charlevoix to the north of the upper channel is the Charlevoix train depot, built by the Chicago & West Michigan Railway, here almost completed in the early summer of 1892. It still stands today.

#8. To the south of the upper channel once stood the largest building ever constructed in Charlevoix, and one of the largest in the Lake Charlevoix basin, the sugar beet factory. Begun in August of 1902, it was completed a year later. But this area was not right for labor-intensive sugar beet cultivation, and the region’s farmers were reluctant to commit valuable acreage for a meager return. The operation only lasted about nine years, when the owners pulled out for Ohio, and the building fell into ruin until it was demolished in 1964 to make way for residential development and Irish Boat Shop and marina. Many of the marina’s dock foundations and breakwaters are made from the rubble of this building.

#9. At the far east end of Lake Charlevoix sits Boyne City, about seventeen miles from Charlevoix, here looking northwest back up the lake.

#10. The Boyne City waterfront was once an industrial powerhouse, boasting a huge tannery, the Charcoal Iron Company, the Boyne Chemical Plant that produced charcoal, acetate of lime, and wood alcohol, and above all the many structures of the lumber industry. When all the mills were running at full capacity, the waterfront was so shrouded in smoke it was almost like being lost in fog that obscured any view of the lake. So much lumber ended up on the lake bottom near the town that it was said that Boyne City has a wood-bottomed harbor. It was claimed that if each board cut at a Boyne City lumber mill was placed end to end and side by side, they would make at least an eight-foot-wide boardwalk capable of stretching around the world at the equator.

#11. The Boyne City Charcoal Iron Company began manufacturing in 1904. It could produce 28,000 tons of pig iron a year. The stacks of pig iron ingots seen above the freighter covered a ground area the size of a football field.

#12. The Boyne City tannery, probably the largest industrial complex ever constructed in the Lake Charlevoix basin. Its foundations were laid in 1901. By 1907 the tannery occupied 23 buildings and employed 125 men who produced over 6 million pounds of shoe leather.

#13. The entrance to Lake Charlevoix’s South Arm at Ironton, seen from the north. The Ironton ferry can just be made out approaching the east landing across the narrows. The peninsula in the foreground was once the area of the iron smelter from which the name Ironton (iron town) was derived.

#14 The iron smelter seen from across the narrows. Smoke from the smelter can be seen above the far horizon in the Lubow fire insurance map, the first image. For a few years toward the end of the 19th century, Ironton was a boom town, larger than any other on Lake Charlevoix. But Mr. Cherrie of Chicago, who founded the plant, vowed to get out of business immediately if the Democrats won the 1892 presidential election, fearing their business philosophy. The Democrats went on to win, so Mr. Cherrie shut down the smelter, stripped the grounds of anything valuable and moveable, and brought in dynamite to demolish everything left standing. In his wake he left a stunned town and workforce now plunged into unemployment and poverty. Ironton was reduced to almost nothing. The rows of small conical structures that look like beehives to the left of the smelter are the stone kilns used to produce high quality charcoal from the area’s hardwood forests, which was then used in the smelting process.

Lake Charlevoix Association

P.O. Box 294

Charlevoix, MI 49720

  • Protecting the natural quality and beauty of Lake Charlevoix
  • Promoting understanding and support for safe, shared use
  • Advocating sensible & sustainable practices for lake use & development