Collection Spotlight: The William Bonifas Lumber Company Records

This week, we thought that we would highlight a collection that can be helpful for those researching the lumber industry in the Upper Peninsula: the William Bonifas Lumber Company records.

William “Big Bill” Bonifas immigrated to the United States from Luxembourg. He was a lumberjack who managed to save enough money to start his own logging operation and to bring his seven brothers and sisters over from Luxembourg to help run his business. In 1910, he purchased several thousand acres of timberland north of Watersmeet, Michigan, and founded the company town of Bonifas. The town housed 200 people in twenty-five buildings, and the William Bonifas Lumber Company employed 350 people in several logging camps from approximately 1916 to 1932.
Bonifas became a millionaire when he partnered with the Kimberley-Clark Paper Company. He continued to be very involved with his company because, as he told a novelist who later based a ruthless lumber baron on him, he “just enjoy[ed] making money.” He was known for his aggressive and sometimes mildly unethical business practices.


Bonifas Company lumber camp, 1915. Photo Source 

The collection contains four ledgers from the William Bonifas Lumber Company dating from 1910 to 1936. They provide information about lumber lands with land descriptions, jobbers, and various accounts.  They do, however, take some time to decipher as the accountant had rather sloppy handwriting and a tendency to abbreviate.

The Archives also has several other collections related to the lumber and paper industries in the Upper Peninsula. These collections include the Bay de Noquet and Oconto Company records (which we have previously written about on this blog), the Marquette County Timber and Mining Reports, the Consolidated Fuel and Lumber Company records, and the United Paperworkers Union records.

Written by Annika Peterson


Karamanski, Theodore J. Deep Woods Frontier: A History of Logging in Northern Michigan. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989.

A Personal Connection with the History of Northern

On this blog, we often discuss the genealogical resources that we have for researching ancestors who went to Northern. This week, I thought that I would share my own personal connection to Northern’s history.

The same road trip that led to my attending Northern sparked my interest in genealogy. The summer after my junior year of high school, my family took a trip to the Upper Peninsula, including to Marquette, where I visited NMU. We also stopped in Newberry, where my grandmother lived in her early childhood. My dad had visited other relatives and family friends in Newberry as a child, but he had no idea where exactly my grandmother’s family had lived. With foolish, youthful confidence, I told my dad that I could figure it out by simply googling it.

It turned out that I was very, very wrong about that–not everything is on the Internet. However, in the process of failing to find deeds or plat maps online, I discovered census records and other records of my grandmother’s family, and I was hooked. I would eventually find out where my grandmother had lived, but only a year later when I begged my parents to stop at the library in Newberry on the way to Marquette for my orientation at Northern so that I could look at plat maps.

Several months later, after my first semester at Northern, I was at a family Christmas party at my aunt’s house. She told me that she had a photo album of old family photos that I had never seen before. I was shocked to discover a photo of my great-grandmother with the caption “Ellen Erickson with friends at State Normal College, now Northern, in Marquette, MI, Summer 1916-1917.” I had absolutely no idea that my great-grandmother had gone to Northern.

nsns photo

The photo discussed above. My great-grandmother, Ellen Erickson, is the one on the right.

Growing up, I was told stories about how my great-grandmother worked as a schoolteacher in logging camps in the UP. Later, after her husband died in 1947, she went to Eastern Michigan University and proceeded to teach history and English even after she went blind in her nineties! However, everyone in the family who I asked about it believed that when she taught in the logging camps she had no education past high school.

My aunt’s scrapbook contained two other photos of Ellen’s time at Northern:

lake superior

Here we see Ellen Erickson, on the right, in what I think is Lake Superior.

everett visit

Original caption: “Everett Erickson visits his sister Ellen at school.”

The photo album also provided some evidence for the stories that Ellen Erickson had told her grandchildren about teaching in the logging camps. Here we see her “with school class at Camp 7, Newberry, MI, 1916-1917.”

teaching at camp

It just so happened that I had started working at the Central UP and NMU Archives about a month before that fateful family Christmas party. As soon as I returned to Northern, I began looking for any trace of Ellen Erickson in our records…and was surprised to find absolutely nothing. Frustrated but not ready to give up, I contacted the registrar’s office to find out if there was a transcript for an Ellen Erickson…and there it was!


It turned out that the reason why Ellen couldn’t be found in yearbooks, the school newspaper, or Northern directories was that she had only attended Northern for a single summer. She had, in fact, taught for a few years after high school before deciding to seek formal teacher certification by taking classes at Northern during the summers. This was fairly typical for UP schoolteachers at the time. However, by the following summer, she had married Asa Van DeCar, a young man from the Detroit area who had moved north to work in the logging camps in Newberry. As a result, she did not return to Northern the next summer and did not teach for almost the next thirty years until Asa’s death.

Do you have ancestors who attended Northern and/or lived in the Upper Peninsula? Contact us to find out if we have records that could help you in your genealogical endeavors, and be sure to check out the Genealogical Resources page on our website!

Written by Annika Peterson

The Story of the City of Ishpeming Fire Hall

Sometimes the materials in the archives tell a story. Such is the case with the building of the fire hall in the city of Ishpeming in 1911-1912.

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An image of the Ishpeming Fire Hall. Source: Hathitrust

While the reason for a new fire hall is not given, a letter from 1905 written by a special committee shows the Common Council was thinking of building a new fire hall well before the actual construction in 1912.  A number of sites were under consideration in 1905, including the present fire hall on the corner of First and Bank Streets – with the addition of another lot. A second site, the lot owned by the Swedish Baptist Church at the corner of First and Division Streets (now occupied by the Mining Journal office) also looked good and an option to purchase the property was secured.

In the summer of 1911, the Common Council began searching in earnest for a new site for the fire hall. Again, numerous sites were under consideration including the fire hall site on First Street, the old City Jail site on Bank and Second Streets, a vacant lot on Pine and Front streets, the Swedish Baptist Church lot and the office and yard of Superior Lumber Company on Lake Street.

On July 3rd,a special election to decide whether or not the city would issue $40,000 in bonds was held. There was also an advisory election to see which site the taxpayers found the most desirable. The four sites were:

  1. Office and yard of the Superior Lumber Company on Lake Street
  2. Karger property on Pine and Front Streets (although the ballot put the property on Pine and First Streets)
  3. Present fire hall site with adjoining sites
  4. Old City jail site with adjoining lots on Second and Bank Streets.

The bond issue passed and the majority of votes in the advisory election went to the Old City jail site with the addition of the Nelson lot.

After the bond issue passed, several architects also sent letters to the mayor and common council, hoping for the job of designing the new fire hall. One of them was John D. Chubb out of Chicago. He was quite persistent–there are several letters from him in the files.

There was also a letter from Murray Duncan, Superintendent of Mines, introducing Mr. Charlton of the firm Charlton and Kuenzli, Marquette. Charlton had already designed the Negaunee Fire Hall, plus numerous other buildings in the Upper Peninsula, including the Marquette County Courthouse.

There are a number of letters between the city of Ishpeming and Pickands Mather & Company, who owned the Superior Lumber Company on Lake Street. One letter, dated July 5th,shows that while they were willing to sell some of their property, they still wanted to keep their office building and some of the property. In that letter they set the price at $10,000.

On the 4th of August, the “Committee on Fire Hall site” met and voted on several issues. The first one was to eliminate the site of the current fire hall from consideration. The reason for the elimination was money. It would cost at least $15,000 to buy the necessary additional lots, demolish the fire hall, and rent temporary quarters for the fire department while the new fire hall was being constructed.

The site on Second and Bank Streets was thought to be too shallow, even with the addition of a piece of land owned by Edward Nelson and a piece of land owned by Frederick Braastad, an alleyway would have to be closed.

The reason for the final choice of the lot on Lake Street is not known, but probably came down to the price and size of the lot.

In the spring of 1912 bids were submitted from at least five construction firms, including J. S. Wahlman of Ishpeming, a firm out of Antigo, Lipsett & Sinclair of Marquette, L. E. Chausse of Negaunee and Herman Gundlach of Houghton. There was a separate, single bid for the installation of the steam heating plant which came from Lake Superior Steam Heating Company of Ishpeming. Herman Gundlach was the lowest bidder, beating out Lipsett & Sinclair by only $274.

On May 15th, 1912, the contract between Herman Gundlach and the city of Ishpeming was signed, as well as a surety bond issued by the American Surety Company of New York. Charlton and Kuenzli had designed the fire hall, which was to be completed before the 30th of November, 1912. The contract specified periodic payments to Gundlach with the final payment issued on the 19th of December, 1912. With payment for unspecified extra work, construction of the fire hall cost $25, 971.86. The heating plant cost $1,565.

Incidentally, Gundlach Construction is still in existence, although now known as Gundlach Champion. They recently did some construction work on the Ishpeming Fire Hall, which also still stands at the site on Lake Street.

A final set of documents are related to the issuing and repayment of the bonds. 20 bonds of $250 each were issued. From 1912 to 1915, only interest was paid on the bonds and the taxes per $1000 valuation were .293. In 1916, the city started to pay off the bonds and paid off $5,000 per year. Taxes for payment of the bonds added .733 per $1,000 valuation, which meant that in 1916 the taxes per $1,000 valuation were 1.026, but then decreased every year until the bonds were paid off in 1923. There is a list of bond holders plus the schedule of when the bonds were paid off.

Pictures of the Ishpeming fire hall, as well as some of Charlton and Kuenzli’s other work, is on Hathitrust.

The archives are open during the summer from 8-5, Monday through Friday. Come and uncover other stories!

Written by Karen Kasper


Collection Spotlight: Commencement Records and Other Helpful Genealogical Records at the Archives

As everyone at NMU knows, this Saturday is commencement. Did you know that you can find all of Northern’s commencement records at the Archives?

commencement 1901

One of Northern’s first commencement records (1900)

You might think that a simple list of names wouldn’t be too helpful for genealogists, but finding an ancestor’s name on a commencement list can open up a doorway to many other records of their time at NMU. With a certain graduation date, yearbooks (up to 1980), newspapers, student organizational records, and more all become far easier to search!

For most of its history, Northern was a small teacher’s college, so the student newspaper recorded many details about the lives of students and faculty. Spending time with our collections from the time period that your ancestor was at Northern can yield many personal, interesting, and funny stories about them.

Here are some examples of what can be found in the yearbooks:

1924 yearbook

A list of what students in 1924 wanted to remember about the school year.

Some of our yearbooks, especially the earliest years, came from the families of deceased students. Just like today’s high school students, many Northern students wrote notes to each other in these yearbooks. If you get particularly lucky, your ancestor may have written something in the copy of the yearbook at the archives.

1924 yearbook voelker

An example of a yearbook page with a note written to the owner. As you can see, this particular note was written by John Voelker, who went on to become the famous author of Anatomy of a Murder and other books.

Sometimes we also have information about students post-graduation. In the early years of the university newspaper, alumni often wrote in with news updates about their lives. A lot of these articles were helpfully copied, put onto index cards, and alphabetized by the Olson Library sometime in the 1960s.

sample index card

A sample index card.

Northern’s Registrar’s office also maintains the transcripts of all past students. Although these records are closed for recent years, you can view a relative’s transcript if it is sufficiently old. Transcripts can be a treasure trove of information for the genealogist. They list the classes that the person took, the grades that they received, and information about where the student was from and who their parents were. Please contact the Registrar’s Office for more information if you think that there might be a transcript for your ancestor. (Keep in mind that you will have to prove that you are related to the person in order to see it.)

Are you a genealogist who has heard rumors that a relative attended or graduated from Northern in its early years? Please let us know—with a name and an approximate year range we can easily check the commencement records for you. For more on our genealogical records for the central Upper Peninsula, please check out the Genealogical Research page on our website.

Written by Annika Peterson

Flash-Back Friday: An Old Tradition at Northern

In 1925, the Color Day Parade wanted to encourage student to have more school sprit by wearing the school colors. The freshmen were expected to embrace this new idea by appearing in a green and gold cap called a pot. Keeping this tradition alive, the freshmen fell in line and participated in the school spirit. By 1931, the use of the frosh class pot had become a well-established tradition. The cap became a way for students to be identified as freshmen during the first few weeks of school. At one point there was a question of whether the pot would be a continuous tradition at Northern.

In 1954, freshmen were required to wear their beanies for initiation during homecoming week. The freshmen would have to wear their beanies until the end of the football season if they lost the games against the upperclassmen during homecoming week. One of the traditions was that if the freshman-constructed bonfire that did not exceed the 31-foot mark, they would have to wear the beanies for an additional week. If freshmen did not wear their beanies, it was implied that they could have their heads shaved.

The beanie tradition was attacked by Professor William Cooper of the Economic Department in the fall of 1968. Soon after, students began to complain about the tradition and the fact that the wearing of beanies was not closely monitored. In October of 1970, the Northern News carried an editorial, “Beanie Boloney” and soon after, the Northern tradition had come to an end.


To learn more about Northern traditions, please check out the finding aids for our collections or stop in at the Archives! Starting next week, we will be back to our summer schedule of Monday-Friday 8 AM-5 PM.

Written by Prince Parker

Collection Spotlight: City of Ishpeming Records Letterhead

Correspondence coming into Ishpeming’s Department of Public Works during the 1890s was boring! The city was in the middle of putting in their sewer system and most of the letters were debating or extolling the merits of various types of sewer pipes, catch basins, and more.
If what was written is rather mundane and pedestrian, what the letters were written on is not. Many of the letterheads (and often invoices) used are, quite simply, gorgeous.


Frederick Braastad was a local merchant. His department store was one of the biggest and best in Ishpeming. Today known as the Gossard building, it is located at 308 Cleveland Street.

It should be noted that in the 1890s, printing was done on platen presses with hand set type. The letterhead was done as a metal engraving mounted on a block of wood.


Here’s another one for a foundry in Pittsburgh, PA. The letterhead itself bears witness to being stored in damp conditions.


In those days, two color letterheads were rare, and much more expensive than single color letterheads, since each sheet of paper required two trips through the printing press. Still, some companies felt it was worth the expense.


Almost every letterhead served a dual purpose, advertising the company’s services and products.


Invoices and other business stationery also got
“fancy” headings, such as this one for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. It’s in purple, probably to make it stand out from all the black and white pieces of paper.


This letterhead is also interesting, as it uses a photograph rather than an engraving.


Here’s one last letterhead. Some of the details, especially the Art Deco flourishes, are nice.

The letterheads shown in this blog post are but a few examples of what’s in our archives. Many of the letterheads were typical for the period when they were designed. For more information on the history of letterheads, check out these blog posts from the Duke University Library and the University of Virginia!

Written by Karen Kasper.

Glam Glorious Graduates: Peter

photo 1

As we move ever closer to the end of this semester, we are reminded of what lies to come in the time away from school. For some, perhaps, it is not so much different after all. Perhaps it’s summer classes in Marquette. For others, perhaps it’s summer work to make some money before returning to school in the fall. For others, perhaps this summer means going abroad or traveling and volunteering. And yet for many this summer leads to change: a whole new chapter, life after college. This week’s post finishes our series on graduating student assistants with Outreach Specialist Peter Dewan.

photo 2

Peter (left) with his friend Kyle

Peter ended up choosing to attend NMU after graduating East Lansing High School in the spring of 2012. Peter knew that he wanted something different for his college experience. He says, “I chose NMU because I wanted a unique college experience. Most of my high school classmates attended Michigan State or the University of Michigan. I was one of three classmates that picked Northern Michigan University. The first time I visited Marquette I knew it was the right place for me. I was amazed by the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding geographical features within Marquette County.” Peter is a pretty smooth and logical guy. He enjoys brackets, basketball, and even taxes! So naturally it makes sense that he would go into accounting. Peter relates how he came to choose his major: “I am currently graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting. At first I was a Marketing major with no intention of becoming an accountant. After I took the required accounting classes for the college of business, I realized that I enjoyed the work and I could see myself pursuing a future career within the field”.

photo 3

Backpacking trip at the Porcupine Mountains (Right, Jon Michael)

Whenever he’s around, Peter gives off good vibes. He always seems to stay positive and energetic. Of course, all of this energy needs to be let out somehow. Peter does this by staying active–going to the PEIF or on a run every day and going hiking, camping, and walking. He says, “One of my favorite moments at NMU was when I went backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains. During my sophomore year I lived in Magers Hall, on the third floor. A group of friends and I decided to plan a backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend. Prior to this trip I had very minimal backpacking experience. After the first day of hiking we found a campsite right along Lake of the Clouds. The campsite was unreal and it was hard to imagine that we were still in Michigan. On the second day we visited various waterfalls and also went swimming in Lake of the Clouds. By the end of the trip we hiked roughly 32-40 miles around the Porcupine Mountains. This trip has become a tradition for my roommate Rob and I. For the past three years we have gone backpacking together over Labor Day weekend in the Porcupine Mountains. I’ve cherished the time spent on the trails and I look forward to many more fun adventures in the Porkies!”

photo 4

Holding down the front desk at the NMU Archives.

At the Archives, Peter maintains a constructive presence. As the Marketing and Public Outreach Specialist, Peter helps to set up outreach events and runs the Archives social media. He says, “Working at the Archives for the past two years has been a great experience. I have been able to learn about planning events and using effective communication. The ability to communicate with others is the biggest component of my job that I will take away. I have also had the opportunity to work with some amazing people, and I really appreciate everything that I have learned from my co-workers”. You are probably asking, what’s the future plan for Peter? Wait no further. Peter says, “After graduating from NMU I plan on looking for an internship within the public accounting sector. After interning for a year, I plan on applying to Michigan State University for their law program. My goal is to apply my knowledge of accounting towards tax law. The few tax classes I have taken at Northern have inspired me to pursue a future career in tax law and planning. I also hope to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam within the next two years.”

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Written by Stefan Nelson