I started an interesting stage of my life today: Olli classes at Aquinas College. It’s a life long learning class. And life long indeed, I was the youngest person in the forty-person class by at least 35 years.
I will generally be taking at least one class a month, and posting about it, and likely interviewing the professor.
The first class is “West Michigan’s Fascinating Past.” The Professor, Carl Bajema, is a retired professor emeritus from Grand Valley State University. He was a biology guy, but has a passion for history, specifically Michigan’s logging and transportation past. Today’s class was on the logging portion.
I learned an enormous amount, mostly about how important the industry was to Grand Rapids.
The best thing I learned was you can never be lost in the Upper Peninsula, because Lake Superior is to the north and Lake Michigan to the south. But you can be late, up to two days late.
Michigan was almost 95 percent forest. An amazing amount when you stop to think about it, it’s a practically impenetrable forest. It was all nearly cut down by the early 1900s. That said, the last virgin batch in Kent County was cut down in the 1970s, with an interesting story behind it.
A friend, or something of such, of the professor was buying a piece of land, which had the said trees on it. The guy said he’d like to buy the piece of land before the trees were cut down, because the owner wanted to. The owner refused, as he needed those trees cut down. Why? Because his dad liked them.
There was also a large immigration of Swedes to the area. They left after five years or so, because the “Stumps will outlive them.” And it’s true. You can still find stumps from the days; pine doesn’t rot.
Grand Rapids made the cover of Harpers Magazine on August 18, 1883 because of the great log jam that occurred on that day. It took out a giant iron railroad bridge, and two others.
Someone was quoted in a Grand Rapids newspaper letter to the editor, “Look at the size of those trees, imagine the size of the corn we could grow here.” Well, those trees were 200 and 300 years old, and the land was sandy. Corn doesn’t grow well in sand.
Grand Rapids was second in number of saw mills in Michigan to Grand Haven. And saw mills were second in employment in Grand Rapids, only behind furniture manufacturers.
Henry Ford bought 400,000 acres of forest in the Upper Penisula in the 1920s!
Yoopers know Memorial Day as Headlight Day and Labor Day as Taillight Day. The professor clearly was full of jokes.