A look back at Forman, one of the first towns in Lake County
Editor’s note: Lake County boasts its share of early communities which rose up from the aspirations of lumbermen and other entrepreneurs who saw opportunity with the vast forestland of towering trees. Some communities still exist, and others, such as Forman, faded with the logging era.
This article is the second of a two-part series relating the history of the ghost town of Forman, one of the first towns in Lake County. Accounts from local historians, historical archives and excerpts from the memoirs of the family of John T. Batchelder, the founder of Forman, tell the story of the sawmill community.
Also called Forman Mills or Forman Station, the town of Forman was located south of U.S. 10 along both sides of Forman Road about 2 1/2 miles east of Baldwin on the township line of Pleasant Plains and Yates townships. The town was founded in 1873 on land homesteaded by John T. Batchelder, who operated five sawmills. The town also had several stores, a church, a school, two hotels, a large supply store, a blacksmith shop, a foundary, a flour mill and a post office.
First-hand accounts from John T. Batchelder’s son, Junior Batchelder, relate some experiences he remembered as a boy of the sawmill days and some of the characters in the mills and town. The Batchelders lived along the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad tracks on the southeast corner of Forman Road.
“One fellow came to us in the night. He was scratched and bleeding. Pa didn’t want to let him in till he found the fellow had jumped off the train when he had seen the crossing light,” Batchelder wrote. “The train was moving at the time. We took him in and cleaned him up and put him to bed. In the morning he said he would like to work at the mill. Pa could use him but couldn’t pay much. He said he would work anyway.
“I was doing the cooking for the mill at that time. For breakfast I had flapjacks, bacon and eggs. When I put the platter of flapjacks on the table this fellow took his fork, stuck it through the whole pile and slid them on to his own plate. Pa and I looked at each other amazed. Pa said to me, ‘Maybe he hasn’t eaten for a while. We’ll try to fill him up.’ We never could. Pa finally let him go saying we couldn’t afford to feed him let alone pay his wages.”
He recalled helping his dad scale logs at the mill (measuring the volume of a log before it is cut into lumber.)
“One man brought some logs in to be cut, some were small and crooked. He asked me to scale them. I did, but he didn’t think I got enough lumber out of them so he asked Pa to scale them. Pa didn’t figure it as close as I did. Then the man wanted to take my count but Pa wouldn’t do it,” he wrote.
Batchelder remembered an amusing story about a lumberjack.
“One lumberjack was walking one night, carrying his boots and gear in a sack over his back. He came to a place where he saw a pair of eyes staring at him. He moved a little closer but was getting pretty scared. The eyes just stared at him, didn’t move at all. Finally, he yelled and threw his sack at it and took off running. He didn’t wait to see if the thing ran or not. The next day he went back to get his sack. The eyes were still there. It was foxfire on a stump. Foxfire glows like florescent,” he recalled.
Batchelder told about some of the characters in the town of Forman.
“One of our neighbors was a bachelor,” he wrote. “I asked him why he never married. He told me those he might have married wouldn’t have him and those that would have him the devil wouldn’t have. He finally ended up in the poor farm. We had a poor farm in those days. When someone got too old to take care of themselves they would go to the poor farm. They did what they could around the place.” (The poor farm, known as the Lake County infirmary, was located on a hill on the west side of Hawkins Road south of U.S. 10 in Chase Township. It operated for almost three-quarters of a century, closing by the 1940s. The large white farmhouse still stands.)
“A neighbor boy told my brother and me that an Indian medicine man was buying rattlesnake rattles up town,” wrote Batchelder about a boyhood memory. “We knew where there were some rattlers so we got a couple of forked sticks and went down to the Camel Ponds. (The ponds are east of Baldwin on the south side of U.S. 10.) Every time we spotted a snake we would pin it down just behind the head, step on the snake and pull off the rattles. When we got home Pa asked us what we had there. We showed him. He asked, ‘Did you kill those snakes?’ We told him no. He told us to get right back there and kill those snakes. We went back but we didn’t find many snakes.”
An account from Aug. 29, 1878, issue of the Star told about bears terrorizing the town of Forman.
“There was quite a little excitement down at Forman Station last Thursday evening over the killing of three bears,” the article said. “Joseph Clement was passing along the road leading north of town when he discovered an old bear and three cubs.”
The article continued to tell how Clement scared the cubs up a tree by brandishing a club and yelling. People from the town came out armed with guns, revolvers and peaveys, a logging tool. The cubs were killed and weighed about 60 pounds each. The older bear escaped.
C. H. Forman, the postmaster the town was named for, later settled in Sargent County, North Dakota by 1888. Another town was named for him. It is the seat of Sargent County to this day.