Family prepares to remove century old fish shanty

MANISTEE — Every family has something in their history that binds them to their ancestors.

ack and Bob Carlson stand in front of the fish shanty located on the Manistee River Channel that has been in their family for more than a 100 years. They are tearing down the shanty after the easement lease was not renewed by the company that owns the property where it is located. The shanty is the last building from the commercial fishing industry that was located in that area for many years.

ack and Bob Carlson stand in front of the fish shanty located on the Manistee River Channel that has been in their family for more than a 100 years. They are tearing down the shanty after the easement lease was not renewed by the company that owns the property where it is located. The shanty is the last building from the commercial fishing industry that was located in that area for many years.

It may be a piece of jewelry, furniture, painting, antique, heirloom, cottage, home or a thousand other things, but it carries with them a special connection to those family members from the past. It proves that the object in question isn’t as important as the memories and good  thoughts it conjures up in the minds of today’s relatives.

For more than 118 years the Carlson family has carried those simple good thoughts about a little red fishing shanty located on the Manistee River Channel that was built by Axel Carlson in the early 1900s. To that family, the little red building carries with it thousands of good memories from the past.

It formed a myriad of images, aromas and sounds that will linger with them forever. From the sight of fishing nets drying on the large racks, to the smell of a smoker working on a batch of smoked chubs and the sounds of fisherman chattering about that day’s catch, all were parts of their family history.

However, in the next several weeks it will be disappearing from is location just west of the Shipwatch Condominums when the family will be tearing it down.

Jack and Bob Carlson had great look of sadness on their faces this week as they talked about the end of an era in their family history.

“For as long as anyone can remember when these buildings sat over water you would pay an easement to get to the building because Sand Products owned the property along the shoreline,” said Bob. “Over time with the water receding and buildings being moved in off the dock, it just got to the point where there was always an acknowledged easement where Sand Products admitted they did not own the buildings and we did.”

The Carlsons said recently they received notification that Sand Products was terminating the easement lease. That meant family members would either have to move the building or tear it down in the next 60 days.

Shown is how the commercial fishing structures in that area looked at one time. The buildings on the right were owned by the Carlson family and one part of them was torn down after they moved the smaller portion onto the land.

Shown is how the commercial fishing structures in that area looked at one time. The buildings on the right were owned by the Carlson family and one part of them was torn down after they moved the smaller portion onto the land.

“The person we dealt with at Sand Products told us he was sorry and that they respect the history of it, but the orders came from above because the company has plans for the property,” said Bob.

Jack added that over the years Sand Products was very good to the fishermen who had their property located along the channel.

For Jack, the loss of something that has been in his family for so long touched him quite deeply.

“It’s sad as it has been in our family for so long,” said Jack. “You can take away the building, but you can’t take away all the good memories.”

Bob said the bigger section of what was originally built there by his relatives was torn down years ago leaving only the smaller fish shanty that presently exists.

At one time that area was filled with commercial fishing businesses, with another noted one being Bjorkquist Brothers, who had a building that existed there until 1997 when it was torn down.

Manistee County Historical Museum executive director Mark Fedder said that in the 1890s and 1900s that section of the river channel contained fishing boats, tugs, nets and was a real fish town of its own right.

“The fishing industry played a very vital role in Manistee,” said Fedder. “It was one of the industries that goes back for many generations. Obviously, the Carlson family was one of those families. There is a really rich history that goes back with the fishing shanties and that industry.”

Bob said his great-grandfather Axel who was Jack’s grandfather, is the patriarch who started the fishing tradition.

Axel Carlson who started the commercial fishing tradition more than a century ago proudly poses with a big sturgeon he caught.

Axel Carlson who started the commercial fishing tradition more than a century ago proudly poses with a big sturgeon he caught.

“He emigrated in 1888 to Manistee and worked at the Luther Lumber camps where they changed his name to Carlson,” said Bob. “In the winter months he would come down here and work little jobs in the fishing industry. Then he would go back to the lumbering in the summer.”

Carlson said Axel used to be an fisherman back in Finland, which is where the interest came in for him. However, something else that changed for him was he met his future wife, Anna, and started a family. It left him wanting a job that kept him closer to home.

That started with the purchase of  his first boat, which was a Mackinaw. A standard Mackinaw boat used in fishing was 18 to 24 feet long. Like its canoe ancestor, the boat was flat-bottomed and could be hauled up onto a beach or pebbled shoreline. The Mackinaw boat was usually schooner-rigged as shown in older pictures of the Carlson’s docks.

“The fishing businesses continued to grow and grow along that area,” said Bob. “He got into the commercial fishing and eventually purchased a tug called the Mary A. which was a tug they used until they sold it in the 1940s. After that they just used a 16-foot  dory named Anna after my great-grandmother. Those were pretty tough boats and could handle just about anything.”

He said the family continued to fish into the 1950s when Axel died. That was when the family left the commercial fishing industry.

“It just stayed as a family fish shanty after that,” said Bob. We we came down here all the time. There was a lot of cane on the bank and we would come down here, break one off and tie on a line and go out on the docks and fish.”

Jack said the commercial fishermen were real close, and the bond between them years ago when he was young was quite strong. They would often get together to socialize when they weren’t working.

He said something that many older residents also remember is the good smoked fish that the commercial fishermen used to produce and sell at many local food stores.

“They would take a smoked fish right off the hook and give it to you to eat,” Jack said with a laugh.

Bob said in 2002 he recreated a smoker like Bjorkquist Brothers used for so many years. He constructed one entirely out of cedar like they had to smoke fish at the shanty. They used chicken wire to hold the fish as they were smoked.

“We smoked fish for quite a while,” said Bob. “I haven’t used it in the last few years, but am probably going to end up moving it to my house and use it again.”

Bob said the cost of moving the building and placing it somewhere else is cost prohibitive.

“The cost of putting it on a barge is too costly,” he said. “Years ago in 2002 Steve Harold, from the museum, approached me and wanted our building to put on the Riverwalk, but I said at that time no. We fixed it up and brought up all the nets and tools that they used to use and for the last 20 years it was like stepping back in time when you would open the door.”

Bob said the last week they have been cleaning out the interior and taking out all the artifacts.

“Now I am just going to call Consumers and get the power shut off,” said Bob. “My father-in-law has heavy equipment and we are looking at getting a backhoe down here and taking it down.”

Bob said in the 1990s his cousin, Dan, approached the historical society and offered them the building, but they didn’t want it at that time.

“We restored it back and maintained docks, but now we are at the point where it is all gone and that is sad,” he said as he gazed around the shanty and surrounding area.

However the look of sadness was much more than the loss of a mere wooden fish shanty — it is the loss of one family’s heirloom.

 

 

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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