The river drive contractors of Manistee

One of the most important businesses in Manistee in the lumbering era was that of the Manistee Boom Company, the firm which was responsible for all the logs in the Manistee River.

These logs will all be delivered to mills in Manistee by contractors of the Boom Company of Manistee.

Each summer they would collect the logs from the rollaways, float them down the River, sort them according to the “marks” and deliver each to the appropriate mill.

Previous to 1869 each lumberman had handled his own logs in the River. In that year local businessmen formed the Manistee River Improvement Company to clear the River from the county line to the headwaters. This firm recovered its investment in the improvements by charging tolls on logs for a period of years.

With the Manistee River cleared of obstructions The Boom Company of Manistee was organized on Feb. 23, 1869, to handle the drive as noted above. The firm did not handle the actual work but instead contracted it out to the lowest bidder. A similar arrangement was set up on the Little Manistee River. The initial five-year contract on the big River was won by a partnership of James Dempsey and Antoine E. Cartier (this partnership eventually grew into the large and extensive Manistee Lumber Company).

The partners apparently won the contract for a second five-year term and in addition in 1877, won the contract for the same work on the Pere Marquette River.

Several other Manistee lumbermen made a considerable profit on boom company contracts if their subsequent investment activities are any indication. Patrick Noud and Thomas Kenney formed a partnership in 1879 to engage in the log booming business in which they were later described as “very successful.”

Moses R. Denning also held boom company contracts. In 1876 he took over the operations on the Little Manistee and he was listed as the contractor on the big River in 1882. However, all was apparently not profit in the log booming business for we find the following item in the papers for a hundred years ago:

“A few months ago the Manistee Boom Company advertised for bids for driving the logs down the Manistee River for the next five years, and among those who put in bids was J. P. Baxter of our city and the ex-county clerk. As his bid was the lowest he was awarded the contract and gave a bond to the Boom Company, in the sum of five thousand dollars for entering into and fulfilling the contract, with his friends Louis Sands and George A. Hart as sureties.

“All went smoothly until the time came for completing the contract, when Mr. Baxter refused to complete it, giving as a reason for his conduct, that he had bid too low and could not afford to do it. This left his bondsmen the alternative of paying the bond or taking the contract, which Mr. Hart after looking the matter up carefully concluded it would be cheaper, and accordingly the contract was made with the Boom Company and Mr. Hart, though not a bidder, nor desirous of doing the work, was forced to take the contract for it.”

As time went on the drives on the Manistee saw fewer and fewer logs as Manistee lumbermen sought timber far from the River and brought it directly to their mills by rail. However, they did continue to use the River to float their logs as long as possible. The drives ended about 1912 when the construction of electric power dams commenced on the Manistee River.

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