The Inland Route Today
The Inland Route today comprises the waters of: Crooked Lake, Crooked River, Burt Lake, Indian River, Mullet Lake, and the Cheboygan River. The summer months provide warm waters for modern recreation. Many pleasure boaters each year make plans to explore the 87 mile round trip route, usually over a weekend.
Indians and the Inland Route
The Inland Route known to the Indians and fur traders, also included Round Lake (near Lake Michigan), and a small stream from Round Lake to Crooked Lake called Iduna Creek. The Inland Route was a highly desirable passage, due to the naturally protected inland waters and eliminating the need to take the treacherous journey around Waugoshance Point on lake Michigan. Therefore, navigation of the Great Lakes waters between, Petoskey and the mouth of the Cheboygan River, could be eliminated by taking the Inland Route.
Indian encampments have been documented along the entire Inland Route. An archaeological study by Michigan State University has found traces of approximately 50 encampments along its shores. One of the most productive digs was located in Ponshewaing, with artifacts dating back 3000 years.
Two portage points were used by the trading Indians. The portage from Lake Michigan occurred near Menonaqua located between Kegomic and the south border of the current Petoskey State Park. Another portage was usually needed at various points on the Iduna Creek.
The Inland Route Area Grows
The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad (G.R.&I.) reached Petoskey in October 1873. The regular train service to the area brought settlers, lumbermen, and the first tourists to the areas around the Inland Route.
The Inland Route Opens Up
In 1874, Mr. Frank Sammons of Cheboygan conceived the idea of transporting the mail via the Inland Waterway from Cheboygan to a point on the Crooked River (Alanson) where it could be taken via the State Road to Petoskey, then, to the railroad. In order to make his plan work, Mr. Sammons needed to remove sediment from the mouth of the Indian River at Burt Lake. He set out with a team of horses, two white men, and two Indians, then proceeded to plough and scrape the sand bar wide enough for the tug Maud Sammons (short name Maude S) to enter Burt lake with a full load of supplies and mail for the lumber camps established along the shores.
In 1876, the Bureau of Swamp Lands made an appropriation of $20,000 for the dredging of the Crooked River. Dredging began in June, later that same year, a tug piloted by Captain Andrews of Petoskey made the full trip from Conway to Cheboygan in 10.5 hours. Prior to the establishment of the railroads around the Inland Route, the only means to transport logs and finished products in the area was by using tugs between Conway and Cheboygan. With the advent of the railroads, the Inland Waterway went into a decline. As tourists began to discover the attractions of the Inland Route, it became one of the busiest inland waterways in the country. At one point, up to thirty two boats a day were traveling the route with tours lasting 2-3 hours up to an overnight stay at various hotels. The types of boats providing tours were; Side Wheelers, Paddle Wheelers, Naphtha Launches, and Steam Boats.
The first steamer on the Inland Water Route that did not require a paddle-wheel for propulsion was the Irene. Mr. Hamill who later operated the Steamer Topinabee, owned the Irene. The Irene’s boiler operated on coal and wood. The Irene operated on the Inland Water Route from 1884 until 1915 hauling freight and passengers and was piloted by Capt. Fields for most of its existence. When taking passengers, a souvenir booklet was given as a reminder, there were at least two different types.
In 1880, the Inland Navigation Company was organized by Mr. Charles R. Smith of Cheboygan and three boats were running until 1883. Two prominent boats for the Inland Navigation Company were the side wheelers “City of Cheboygan” and the Northern Belle”. These two boats would make trips from Conway to the Mullet Lake House. People wanting to make the trip to “The Island of Mackinac”, would board the “Propeller Mary” to continue their journey. Many boats traveled the river at the time, as the river proved to be the best means of transportation. Mr. Frank Joslin better known as Captain Joslin first ran the Ida May a steamer tug that hauled logs. On Feb 7 1887 he had purchased this steamer from Jane Dagwell for $259. In 1893 Capt. Joslin piloted a new boat, the Oden, on her first trip down the river. This vessel was built expressly for the Inland Route.
In 1903 a steamboat traveled daily from Oden to Cheboygan during the navigation season.
By far, the most popular vessel of them all was the shallow draft, double decked, “Steamer Topinabee”. Piloted by Mr. Hamill, who, falsely marketed himself as a grandson of Chief Petoskey. A typical trip itinerary would include: Board the Steamer Topinabee in Oden, make stops in Pon-she-wa-ing, Alanson, Sagers Resort, Columbus Landing, Indian River, Topinabee (for Dinner), Cheboygan, terminus Mackinac Island. A similar trip was the inverse of this schedule. At other times The Topinabee also included stops at The Inn at Conway (Conway House, Inland House).
While touring Conway, Oden, Ponshewaing, were attractions themselves, the most interesting part of the journey was the cruise down the Crooked River. Alanson from 1882 until 1901 had a 14 foot high wooden bridge known as the “High Bridge”. At this point on the river, many steamers had to hinge back their smokestack to pass under the bridge. The Steamer Topinabee being a double decked steamer had to hinge back its Pilot House, and the smoke-stack was a telescoping design. In 1901 a Swing Bridge: replaced the High Bridge. From 1901 until the mid 1960’s the swing bridge that had to be opened via a manual key placed into a gearing system. In the mid 1960’s a hydraulic system was installed to actuate the gearing. The Topinabee was seventy two feet long and had a twelve feet beam providing for a very minimal clearance at the bridge opening, thus very slow accurate navigation was needed. The second bridge location across the Crooked River in Alanson is at the present day site of the M68 bridge. In 1903 a drawbridge was installed by the Grand Rapids Bridge Co. Careful navigation was also need at this bridge too. In 1937 the drawbridge was replaced by a cement bridge similar to the bridge of today. Further down river were many tight narrow bends in the river. Of particular interest were two corners called “Devils Elbow” and “Horse Shoe Bend”. In order to navigate the tight corners of these two corners, the steamer had to go forward and backward several times in addition to the use of poles that were used by deck hands to help push the steamer around the banks of the corner. On some of the corners, logs were tied together at the bank, to facilitate the boat “sliding” around the corner. Early two engine Side Wheelers would actually have one wheel going forward, and the other wheel going backward, to facilitate navigation the tight corners.
From 1876 until 1920, nearly 100 commercial water craft were in business on the Inland Waterway. The water craft included: Steam Tug Boats, Side-wheel Steamers, Stern Paddlewheel Steamers, Propeller driven Steamers, Naphtha Steamers, and Gas powered water craft.. Tug boats were primarily used to facilitate the transporting of supplies and logs. The steamers were primarily used for the transport of people to various places along the Inland Route. Some steamers were owned by a particular resort. Examples include: the Columbus Maid (1893) was operated by the Columbus Beach association (Indian River), the Argonaut Belle (1898) and The Pittsburg (1896-1905) were operated by the Argonaut Club (Burt Lake). The Buckeye Belle a resort steamship ran from 1905-1915 and was owned by the Dodge Resort.
While the Inland Route was an entity by itself, there were operations to take passengers from Oden to St. Ignace. The New Inland Route (a company) had such an operation. The Irene, Wau-Kon, and the Charles D. had coordinated timetables to enable passengers to make the trip. Another combination of the steamers; Sailor Boy, Irene, and the Wilson had the same route. A typical itinerary would be: Take the Irene from Oden to Topinabee, transfer to the Wilson, travel to Cheboygan, transfer to the Sailor Boy for St. Ignace.