Curtisville Area Lumber Camps

James Barnes Squaring Mill | Big Dan’s Lumber Camp | Caleb Smith Lumber CampGates Lumber Camp | Green’s Lumber Camp | Jules Simons Mill | Hugh Curley’s Lumber Camp | Robinson’s Mill | Wilber’s Lumber Camp | White’s Lumber Camp

Call to Dinner

Logging Camp-Call To Dinner. Original Harper's Weekly (c1895)

The Lumber Camp Song Lyrics

A typical lumber camp consisted of a half dozen buildings accommodating around 70 men, twenty teams of horses, and a few yokes of oxen.   The cook shanty was always the central building in a camp, about 20 feet wide and 50 feet long, one story and included a kitchen and dining room.   The latter usually had two long tables covered with oil cloth, where about forty men could be feed at a time.   Staples consisted of potato, beans, pork, bread, molasses, and strong tea. These were served in some form three times a day.  Five barrels of flour, five barrels of pork, and twenty bushels of potatoes were used each week. Lumberjacks are said to have tested the strength of the tea by placing an ax head in the pot, if the ax head didn’t float the tea too weak, if it floated it was okay, if it dissolved it was considered just right. 

Bunkhouses had around three dozen bunk beds, each accommodating two men.  The bunks were made with boards, and supplied with a straw tick and blankets.   For heat there was a large box stove in the middle of the room, and kerosene lamps for light.  In the evening the men played checkers or cards, and told stories and tall tales.  Intoxicating liquors were not generally allowed in the camps, that was left for the end of the season when the men “went to town.”

Other buildings usually included a barn, granary, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, saw filing shed, and a van (store where a contractor sold tobacco, clothing, and other odds and ends).

The Smith, Gates, White and Green lumber camps were all located close to Curtisville, many of the men may have lived at home and commuted to the camps to work.  



James Barnes’ Squaring Mill was located on the family homestead.

James Barnes had a squaring mill in the late 1800's or early 1900's as he built a two story house on the property in 1902. This mill was located on the farm located on the southeast corner of Curtisville and Bamfield Roads. Currently the home of Dominic and Dorothy (Byler) Prosperi.   NOTE: Dorothy's father, William Byler, was the minister of Curtisville Baptist Church from 1922-1941.


On Route 604, just before you get to Route 4001, in the flat area is a road that goes south a short distance and ends at a swamp. This was the site of Big Dan's Lumber Camp. A good sized camp but smaller than Gates. There is also a road named Big Dan's Logging Road. (1)


Hugh Curley had a small operation at Dead Man's Landing on the AuSable River. His elderly mother did the cooking assisted by a granddaughter of Henry and Degretta Curley. Alvin Redmond was a young boy about twelve but drove a team. Clare Redmond his brother spent the winter at John and Rosie Redmond’s so he could attend school. Mr. Curley cut cedar logs which were sold to one of the big lumber companies. NOTE: Dead Man's Landing has a bit of history. A black family named Davis had homesteaded 160 acres near McKinley. Tradition tells that Jimmy Davis, a son was working as a cook's assistant on a Wanigan during a log drive. Some drunken lumber jacks made Jimmy dance for them on the back deck. Jimmy fell into the river, filled with logs and disappeared. His body was never recovered. The rest of the Davis family are buried in the old Comins Cemetery near Comins Flats. So if you are canoeing the AuSable some moonlight night near Dead Man's Landing and you hear singing - "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" - don't worry - it is just the ghost of Jimmy Davis. (2 and 3)

Jammer load cedar poles at Gates Lumber Camp

Jammer loading cedar logs at Gates Lumber Camp


The biggest operation was Gates Camp at the end of Bamfield Road. Gates also had a large operation in Bay City. They owned several square miles on land in Curtisville and adjoining Oscoda and Ogemaw counties.  They built a railroad into the camp to transport timber to Bay City. This was a spur connecting with the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena Railroad stations at Hunt (now known as South Branch).

Gates Lumber Camp Cookhouse

Cook House - Gates Lumber Camp c. 1910. Peter Imlay, Camp Cook, wearing apron.  Richard Curtis fourth man from the right.

Manley Bell and En Warner

Enos Warner by horse with plaid jacket.  Manley Bell on left on top of logs.

Piling Logs

John Goodfellow piling logs for Lumber Co. standing next to big log on the right. c.1910

John Goodfellow hauling logs

John Goodfellow hauling logs on sleigh in winter. 1st from right, next to horses 

Gate Lumber Camp - Loading Logs

Gates Lumber Camp - Manley Bell is the man in the center.

Gates Lumber Camp - 1

Many men were employed. Peter Imlay was employed as the camp cook. Peter had previously worked as a baker on the Great Lakes Ships.  Members of the Ellis family were also employed at the camp.

Kenneth Bell with team at lumber camp

Kenneth Bell driving team at Gates Lumber Camp.

Alexander Gordon was Superintendent until his death of a heart attach in 1906. His brother Gordon replaced him as Superintendent and continued in that capacity until 1909. Manley Bell was a foreman at Gates Camp in 1909. Enos Warner was employed as a teamster at Gates Camp in 1909. Wesley Redmond was employed at Gates Mill. Jim McMillen was a foreman in the Fall of 1914 and Spring of 1915. Warren Curley worked at Gates Mill in Bay City. The camp had its own store and school. Jessie Heilig, a local girl, taught at the school.

Big Wheel

Big Wheel used for moving logs
Mrs. (Mary Anne Bonner) Bamfield on top, Mr. William Bamfield and son Colin on the left and Tom Bonner on the right.


Green's had a lumber camp in Section 12, T. 25 N., - R. 4 E., Mentor Township, Oscoda County. It was located behind the ridge that many know as Greens Hill that runs west from Curtisville Road. This camp was in operation around 1901. A railroad spur connected this camp with the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena Railroad station at Hunt (South Branch).



Robinson's Logging Camp, c. 1910. Note the Gabriel’s Horn held by one of the men.
Robinson's Logging Camp -- January 15, 1910.


Robinson's Mill was located at the intersection of Taber Road and Mack Lake Trail west of South Branch. Curtisville  residents Kenneth Bell and Donald La Fleur worked as teamsters at Robinson's Mill.

Robinsons Mill in South Branch

Robinson’s Mill in South Branch
Robinson’s Mill c. 1909.  Kenneth Bell driving team in the center.  Donald La Fleur driving team on the left.

Robinson's Camp 1914

Robinson’s Mill - 1914
Back row: Maude Curley, Wesely Redmond, Orra Spencer, Isabelle Curley.  Front row: Roy Curley, Bill ?, and unknown


Jule Simons was the first to own a saw mill. It was a small portable mill located on the top of what is known as "Bamfield  Hill." He cut logs for pioneers to use in building their homes.


We know that Caleb Smith had a small camp on the creek that Bears his name. This was possibly the earliest lumber camp in the Curtisville area. It was located along Smith Creek in Section 20, T. 25 N. - R. t E., Curtis Township, on the east side of Brodie Road. Ebenezer Curtis was operating this mill at the time of his son Richard's birth on Dec 11, 1868. Richard was the first white child born in Curtis Township.


White's Lumber Camp was located west of Green's Lumber Camp in Mentor Township, Oscoda County. this camp was in operation around 1910.


Wilber’s Lumber Camp was located along Wilber Creek in the NE 1/2 of NE 1/4 of Section 17, T.25.N. R.5.E Curtis Township.  Eliza Wilber purchase the land from the government around 1868.  This lumber camp was operated by Eliza and Manley Wilber.  The village of Wilber near East Tawas  and Wilber Washington were named after him.  He was married to Melvina Curtis the daughter of Ebenezer and Mary Curtis and they moved to Washington State after the timber had been cut here.  The lumber camp property was purchased by the Goodfellow family some time before 1916.

Goodfellow Family Picture

Wilber’s Lumber Camp
Notice the canary cages handing from the eaves of the front porch.



1 Rathbone III, Fran and "D", "George Russell's McKinley, " Wilderness Chronicle, Issue 231, Comins, MI: Spring, Summer 1991, p. 42

2 Moore, Rose Lockwood, "The George Davis Family, Oscoda County's Black Homesteaders," Wilderness Chronicle, Issue 15, Comins, MI: Spring 1988, p. 13

3. Foley Jr., Bill, "AuSable river Pioneer Genealogy," Wilderness Chronicle, Issue 13, Comins, MI: Fall 1987, p. 29

I would like to express my appreciation to Arbutus (Bell) Milholin, Charles Curtis and Harry McMillen for their assistance in identifying the locations of these lumber camps and identifying some of the residents that worked in the camps.  R. J. Sortor


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