Frankenmuth & The Great Thumb Fire of 1881

Chart of the Burnt District of Michigan, The Great Thumb Fire of 1881.[1]
“Chart of the Burnt District of Michigan,” The Great Thumb Fire of 1881.[1]
134 years ago this month, the Great Thumb Fire swept through Michigan’s Thumb region. Hundreds perished in the fire. It destroyed over 3,000 buildings. The valuation of losses was over $2,000,000 in 1881 dollars.[2] The Great Thumb Fire of 1881 was the first major disaster response of the newly formed American Red Cross.[3]

The conflagration was centered mainly in the Thumb region counties of Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola, and Lapeer.[4] Largely forgotten to time, the fire extended as far west as Frankenmuth Township in Saginaw County. An article from The Saginaw Evening News provides the following details:

“The fires are spreading rapidly in the vicinity of Frankenmuth, and considerable damage has already been done. Three barns with their contents of hay and grain have been destroyed, and Martin Messner [Mossner] has lost 125 cords of wood and all his fences. Several houses are now in danger, and the fire is gaining.”[5]

Reference Notes:

[1] “Chart of the Burnt District of Michigan,” digital image, State of Michigan, Michigan.gov (http://www.michigan.gov/images/FIRE1881_22139_7.jpg : accessed 11 September 2015).

[2] William O. Bailey, Report on the Michigan Forest Fires of 1881 (Washington D.C.: Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1882), 16; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 10 September 2015).

[3] “How Has Red Cross Fire Response Changed Over the Years?,” American Red Cross, News, 8 April 2015 (http://www.redcross.org/news/article/How-Has-Red-Cross-Fire-Response-Changed-Over-the-Years : accessed 11 September 2015).

[4] Bailey, Report on the Michigan Forest Fires of 1881, 13-16.

[5] “Red Ruin: At Frankenmuth,” The Saginaw (Michigan) Evening News, 6 September 1881, p. 2, col. 3; digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 10 September 2015).

[Mappy Monday] : The Second Barn Built in Frankenmuth

Detail, Section 28, Frankenmuth Township 1877 plat. [1]
Detail, Section 28, Frankenmuth Township 1877 plat. [1]
Check out the upper left hand corner of this detail from an 1877 plat map of Frankenmuth Township. It notes the “Second Barn Built in Town” which lies on the north side of Tuscola Road on the Georg Conrad Bernthal property. It’s not often I’ve seen extraneous notes like this on plats, but the mapmaker thought it significant enough to mention. Georg Conrad Bernthal took over the Bernthal homestead from his father Georg Martin Bernthal. The property still bears the Bernthal name today. Pictures of a contemporary barn on the farm were featured in a previous post here.

Reference Notes:

[1] F. W. Beers, Atlas of Saginaw Co. Michigan, From Recent and Actual Surveys and Records Under the Superintendence of F. W. Beers (New York: F. W. Beers & Co., 1877), 81; digital images, Michigan County Histories and Atlases (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/micounty/ : accessed 25 February 2014).

[Mappy Monday] What grew here? : Using Vegetation Maps in Your Research

Saginaw County Vegetation circa 1800 map, produced by Michigan Natural Features Inventory.
Saginaw County Vegetation circa 1800 map, produced by Michigan Natural Features Inventory.

What did the vegetation consist of at the location of Frankenmuth prior to European settlement? It was a beech-sugar maple forest. The answer was easily found using Michigan Natural Features Inventory’s “Vegetation circa 1800 Maps.” These maps show the vegetation growing in Michigan at the time of the General Land Office cadastral surveys taken between 1816 and 1856. According to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory website, “Surveyors took detailed notes on the location, species, and diameter of each tree used to mark section lines and section corners. They commented on the locations of rivers, lakes, wetlands, the agricultural potential of soils and the general quality of timber along each section line as they were measured out.” From theses notes the Michigan Natural Features Inventory created color-coded maps for each of today’s Michigan counties. The maps include township section outlines and numbers making it easy to locate a particular location. They can be accessed here.