Celebrating a hard days work in early Manistee

By STEVE HAROLD
Manistee County Historical Museum

With the museum’s newest exhibit, “That’s Entertainment: An Historical Revue of Entertainment in Manistee and Manistee County” set to open on June 27, it’s interesting to take note of what the early settlers of our county did to entertain themselves.

An illustration of Christian Hauser’s reminiscences of early Manistee.

An illustration of Christian Hauser’s reminiscences of early Manistee.

Among those reminisces of those days is a piece written by sawmill laborer, Christian Hauser who gives a description of what life was like back then as well as how the people celebrated a hard day’s work.

“I came to Manistee on the 22nd day of April 1853, in a small schooner called the LEWIS IRWIN, and commanded by William Higgle. The schooner was one of two owned by Canfield and Sons. At that time what is now the City of Manistee was simply a hole in the woods with plenty of fever and ague to satisfy everyone and the mosquito, a permanent resident.

“During the milling season all of the mills were run night and day, and crews changing every six hours commencing on Sunday evening at six o’clock and running to Saturday night at six. Thus all hands on Saturday till Sunday evening. As about nine-tenths of the population were unmarried it was rather lonesome for some us until John O’Neil started a boarding house and bar across the river about opposite the Canfield Mill. By a little crowding the ballroom could be made to accommodate three sets, providing we were able to secure enough of the female persuasion.

“Every Saturday night till broad day light we danced, and the program was carried out weekly from about the first of May until New Year’s. The orchestra consisted of one violin played by a highly accomplished musician, Dexter F. Beard, who also did the calling for the different numbers, and on weekdays for recreation put in his time as mill wright at Smith’s mill.

“I came very near forgetting the most interesting feature of those rare social functions, the evening dress. We had the strictest kind of a code in those days. Ladies dressed in muslin, lawn, gingham, silk or any other fabric that suited their taste or matched their complexion, and the mode was a mere matter of individual fancy, but the ball gowns were not abbreviated as they are now.

“Among the men, the evening dress was arbitrarily prescribed. It consisted of a pair of light dancing shoes, black pants unsupported by suspenders and a white bosom shirt over which was placed a red flannel shirt with collar turned under to expose the white linen beneath, which was further ornamented with several dozens of pearl buttons.

“Of course an account of the liquid refreshments mentioned above there were occasionally slight misunderstandings, as it was not the custom to deal much in the futures at that time the boys were accustomed to adjourn to the backyard of the O’Neil place and arbitrate the difficulty by means of a fist encounter.

“These encounters were considered a mere incident to the dance and did not interrupt the progress of the ball. When the fight was over the matter was considered as ‘closed’ and no more thought of it by atone. Feeling was not supposed to enter into these minor tiffs, and was discountenanced by all hands.”

The Manistee County Historical Museum’s newest exhibit, “That’s Entertainment: A Historical Revue of Entertainment in Manistee and Manistee County” will be presented at the museum from June 27 through July 30. In addition, our annual Heritage Social (the museum’s only fundraiser) will take place on Sunday, June 26 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more details please call (231) 723-5531.

Leave a Reply