Monthly Archives: May 2016

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