Trouble begins in Manistee’s “White City”

For a couple of years in the early 1900s, one of the biggest events to take place in Manistee was the the encampment of the Michigan National Guard at Orchard Beach.

Soldiers of the Michigan National Guard line up on the grounds of Orchard Beach in the early 1900s. In August 1901, Orchard Beach was referred to as Manistee’s “White City” because of the quantity of white tents that were lined up on the grounds of the resort area.

Soldiers of the Michigan National Guard line up on the grounds of Orchard Beach in the early 1900s. In August 1901, Orchard Beach was referred to as Manistee’s “White City” because of the quantity of white tents that were lined up on the grounds of the resort area.

Lasting roughly 10 days, the encampment brought in volunteer soldiers from around the state as well as people interested in seeing the “pomp and circumstance” performed by the soldiers via their military maneuvers. However, in 1901 a wide damper overshadowed the event as it was not only reported that some of the soldiers were harshly disturbing the locals but there also began to be accusations of assault and murder involving soldiers of Manistee’s National Guard.

In May of 1901, a contract was signed between General J.H. Kidd, quartermaster general of the Michigan National Guard, and General George A. Hart, owner of Orchard Beach. The topic of said contract was where to hold the annual encampment of the Michigan National Guard. After attempting to locate a new site for the encampment, General Kidd decided that Orchard Beach was an excellent location for the encampment, that was to last from August 5 thru August 14, as the acres and acres of land provided the space needed to set up tents as well as perform military maneuvers (i.e. guard mounting, battalion drills, regimental drills, regimental parade) surrounded by the resort area’s picturesque beauty and close proximity to Lake Michigan.

In order to prepare the grounds for the Guard’s arrival, the state sent Quartermaster General James H. Kidd, Assistant Quartermaster General Stephen H. Avery and Brigade Quartermaster Major Oscar W. Achard to begin the preparation of the grounds at Orchard Beach.

Slightly over one month later, with the addition of local laborers, the grounds of Orchard Beach were in order and everything was set for the troops arrival which included National Guard companies from all over the state. In addition to Manistee’s own Company F (which had just changed from Company B) were companies from: Alpena, Sheboygan, Sault Ste. Marie, Calumet, Houghton, Ironwood and Iron Mountain, several from Grand Rapids, Big Rapids, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Tecumseh, Adrian, Jackson, several from Detroit, Bay City, Saginaw, Coldwater, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Battle Creek, Mason, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Flint, Owosso and Port Huron.

Once the plethora of white tents were set up, Orchard Beach began to be referred to as Manistee’s “White City”. An article published in the Manistee Daily News on July 31, 1901 described the scene. Portions of the original article follow:

“Visitors to Orchard Beach for the past week have enjoyed a beautiful sight to the eastward of the car track. Long lines of snow white tents glisten in the sun and contrast vividly in the green grass and darker green of the distant woods. The encampment grounds are practically ready for the troops.

“Come rain, come sun, Manistee camp will be a place to be enjoyed. The lines extend east and west across the south end of the grounds and a beautiful orderly city of canvas has been built. South of the soldiers’ quarters are the mess tents and upon a knoll to the southeast corner the hospital tent will be found. The selection of the latter site is a matter for congratulation.”

In addition to all of the state military guards in attendance it was also announced that Michigan’s Governor, Aaron Bliss would be making an appearance; not only inspecting the soldiers but also staying at the camp for a night. Thus the formal name of the encampment became “Camp Bliss”.

By August 5, all of the companies had moved into the camp and for the next week the routine of the day in/day out drills and maneuvers of the National Guard became the norm for the volunteer soldiers.

Throughout those days, the Manistee Daily News covered the activities of Camp Bliss describing to the local masses what was happening. One such article, published on Aug. 7, 1901 briefly talks about what the men thought of the grounds as well as describe the crowds watching the maneuvers:

“The men continue to be highly pleased with the location of the camp except that the rolling nature of the ground makes drills more difficult. The officers, however, do not share the opinion of the men and seemed rather pleased than otherwise.

“Yesterday afternoon and evening there were crowds of spectators on the grounds. In addition to the regular routine program which was published in yesterday’s issue there will be music by the bands each evening at the regimental headquarters and occasionally at the bridge headquarters commencing 7:30 to 8 o’clock.”

The next day, it was peculiarly noted in the Daily News that “…military discipline has been perfected and yesterday guards were stationed in the city as well as in the vicinity of the camp. Soldiers in order to come into town are now required to have permits signed by their officers so that the least attempt, intentional or otherwise, to infringe the privileges of hospitality, can be punished.

After the Governor’s visit and two days before the camp was laid to rest for that summer, an article in the Manistee Daily News mentioned that it was, “Hopeful that the encampment would return” next year. However, it seemed there were those that hoped that it wouldn’t come back including one farmer from Onekama that accused the soldiers of “terrorizing” the area. An article published on Aug. 13, 1901 in the Daily News details the man’s claims:

“A farmer from near Onekama informed a (DAILY) NEWS man today that the whole countryside is scandalized and terrorized by the soldiers of Camp Bliss. Many farmers are afraid to venture into the city with their wagons of produce until after encampment.

“The story that has particularly disturbed them is to the effect that a farmer was caught by the boys and had his harness cut to pieces, his load of stuff appropriated, and was finally stripped of his clothing. Other stories current through the peaceful rural regions relate that Manistee is in the throes of anarchy and peacefully inclined citizens cannot safely venture from their homes. It is told and believed that stores have been robbed in broad daylight. Numerous other shocking things are of hourly occurrence.

“Our Onekama visitor was assured that someone has been having a pipe dream, and after some reflection he decided to visit Camp Bliss and take his chances on getting away again safe and properly clothed.”

Days after Camp Bliss had closed, it was noted in the Daily News that a rumor had begun to circulate during the first days of the soldiers’ arrival at Camp Bliss accusing soldiers of Manistee’s Company F of a much more serious offense than the Onekama farmer did. The offense, or rather…offenses, were that of murder.

Next week we will take a look at the accusations and the investigation as to what supposedly happened during the Orchard Beach encampment of 1901.


Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531

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