Hiking through history

Pere Marquette State Trail history tour map now available

Pam Simmons, promoter for the Pere Marquette State Trail, created the brochure to enhance the trail experience for its users. Pictured: Pam is holding a copy of the brochure at the historical railroad bridge crossing the Baldwin River along the trail. (Star photo/Shanna Avery)

Pam Simmons, promoter for the Pere Marquette State Trail, created the brochure to enhance the trail experience for its users. Pictured: Pam is holding a copy of the brochure at the historical railroad bridge crossing the Baldwin River along the trail. (Star photo/Shanna Avery)

LAKE COUNTY — Imagine traveling on the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad a century ago - the train chugging along the tracks, the whistle blowing, folks waiting for their stop at bustling towns and small, quiet settlements throughout Lake County.

Fast forward to the present day. Although little remains of the original sites and structures along the old railroad route, a new self-guided tour map takes trail users to an earlier time.

In the spirit of the Lake County Sesquicentennial, Pam Simmons, local advocate and promoter for the Pere Marquette State Trail, created a brochure-style map of historical points of interest along the trail — something she hopes will be a learning tool for trail users and visitors for years to come.

"This brochure is something that trail users can take along that might enhance their trail experience," Simmons said. "Researching the historical communities and events that happened along the trail has been a valuable learning experience for me, as well."

In Simmon's research, the railroad line was planned well before this area was settled. On Jan. 22, 1857, the Flint & Pere Marquette chartered to construct a rail line from Flint to Lake Michigan, via Saginaw. Train service to Flint began Dec. 8, 1862, and tie by tie, 12 years later, the line was finally completed to Reed City on Dec. 1, 1874.

The railroad passed through several communities, some which have long been forgotten, except for in historical archives on the shelves of local libraries and museums, such as Ungers, which was near Nelson Road, and Summitville, along State Road. Other towns, such as Chase, Idlewild and Baldwin, are still active, thriving communities.

The brochure highlights all these communities, and more, along with historical events which took place along the tracks, such as the battle for the county seat between Chase and Baldwin on April 30, 1875.

The F& P.M. Railroad not only served traveling needs, especially in the years pre-dating automobiles, but also was highly used for the main industries in the area, logging and farming, with some produce warehouses and agricultural operations springing up along the line.

According to an article from the Star dating back to July 18. 1876, before the railroads came through, it took 4 days to get to Grand Rapids. This same trip was shortened to 4 hours by rail.

On Nov. 1, 1899, the line was incorporated as the Pere Marquette Railroad, and on June 6, 1947, it consolidated into the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

After 113 years of servicing the area, the line was officially taken out of service in 1987, and by 1988, was abandoned. In 2010, new life was breathed into the old railroad bed when the Department of Natural Resources was contacted about the possibility of improving the trail to make it multi-use, Simmons explained. By 2014, the surface was improved with crushed limestone to make it a year-round recreation trail.

As people enjoy the nature of Lake County as they stroll, run, ride bikes or snowmobile on the trail, they can keep the map on them and site-see the historical locations, which are marked with numbers corresponding with a matching numbered paragraph describing the history.

The maps are available in downtown Baldwin at Red Tree Curiosities, Pandora's Box, Pathfinder Community Library, Lake County Chamber of Commerce and the Lake County Historical Museum.