To begin with, for anyone who plans to use this posting to debate Edison vs Tesla, please go elsewhere, for this is not at all what today's article is about. Rather, it focuses on the early Michigan roots and routes of Thomas Edison and how he spent his time as a young teenager working on the railroad. Many of these train stations that Edison was familiar with when he rode the rails back in 1859 still exist to this day, as you will see in the photos below. Most of these depots allow for visitors to enter and learn a bit more about its history as well as the connection to Thomas Edison.
Come along and join me on this journey.
Come along and join me on this journey.
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Statue of Thomas Alva Edison
in Port Huron
So it was after spending 12 weeks in a noisy one-room schoolhouse with 38 other students of varying ages when young Tom's overworked and short tempered teacher finally lost his patience with the child's persistent questioning and seemingly self centered behavior. Noting that Tom's forehead was unusually broad and his head was considerably larger than average, he made no secret of his belief that the hyperactive youngster's brains were "addled" or scrambled.
14 year old Thomas Edison
in Port Huron circa 1861
His interest in science was initially sparked when his mother bought him his first science book, "The School of Natural Philosophy." He thoroughly studied the book and performed all the experiments described in it at home. He soon set up his own laboratory in his room and began performing original experiments. After a few disasters, he was asked by his parents to move his laboratory to the basement. But the explosions from the basement constantly shook the house, often upsetting his father.Edison also helped in the family garden. But as "hoeing corn in a hot sun is unattractive," he found other work when the opportunity arose.
While the St. Clair River and the Great Lakes were vital to the development of Port Huron, the railroads also played a pivotal role. The Grand Trunk Railway connected Port Huron to the expanding nation through Detroit and to Ontario, Canada, via the railroad ferry, and through those cities to the rest of the world. The historic Fort Gratiot depot was built in 1858 and is the actual depot that Edison worked out of as a newspaper reporter.
|In late 1859, Edison's mother gave him permission to work as a |
"candy butcher," selling sweets, newspapers, and magazines to
the train travelers.
|Each morning, twelve year old Edison boarded a 7:00 am |
Detroit-bound train, selling his wares, and would return
home to Port Huron at 9:00 pm.
The candy butcher also needed to be outgoing to actively promote their wares to make money, and they needed to be savvy and be able to spot potential customers, as well as be able to make change on the spot.
The first stop along the ride to Detroit after leaving the Port Huron/Fort Gratiot Station was at the Smiths Creek Depot, located in the community of Smiths Creek, which was southwest of Port Huron.
|From Smiths Creek looking toward Port Huron|
|This original building was removed from its location and restored |
inside of Henry Ford's historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn,
Michigan. What we have pictured here is the original depot as it
sits inside Greenfield Village, but let's pretend it's still in the
town of Smiths Creek.
The Smiths Creek Depot, originally built around 1858-59, could
have suffered the same wrecking ball fate as so many of the
classic train depots of the 19th century. But, with the Thomas
Edison connection, this building was different.
In early 1862, Thomas Edison purchased a second-hand printing press of his own and began publishing a newspaper, The Weekly Herald, in the train's baggage car. For a monthly subscription of eight cents, the newspaper provided readers with local news, train schedules, birth announcements, advertisements, and egg, butter, and vegetable prices.
During stops in Detroit, Edison made good use of his free time by continuing his education while working on the train and reading/studying in the Detroit Public Library during his daily layover as well as learn the rudiments of telegraphy. He had also set up a laboratory in the baggage car of the train where he performed experiments during other moments of free time.
|It was during a trip, in 1863, that an angry conductor threw |
young Tom off the train at this Smiths Creek depot when the boy
accidentally set the baggage car on fire while conducting a
chemical experiment using a jar of phosphorus. The chemicals
and his printing press were also tossed off as well.
|When Henry Ford heard this story from Edison himself,|
he decided to see if the depot still existed.
|Where the station master lived.|
|From Smiths Creek looking toward the next stop, Beebe's |
Corners, and then eventually winding up in Detroit.
A little history of the Beebe's Corners/Richmond here------
~Beebe's Corners/Ridgeway beget Richmond: fortunately, I was 'sent' the following three pictures of the depot courtesy of Thomas C. Pilarowski, who is a member of the Friends of Greenfield Village Facebook page.
It is unfortunate that this wonderful piece of history was razed in the fall of 1988.
|The depot as it looked in probably the 1980s.|
|October, 1988: no one was able to save it.|
|But it certainly was appreciated back in the 1940s and 50s!|
At least we have a bit of history about it:Originally founded in 1835, it was not until December 1, 1859, that Beebe's Corners/Ridgeway/Richmond's success as a community was secured, for the Grand Trunk Railway had arrived, providing easy access to the area's lumber and agricultural products; commodities much needed by a young nation in its time of Civil War.
In the decades that followed, industry flourished and prospered. By 1878, the voters of Beebe's Corners and the two nearest neighboring communities, Ridgeway and Cooper Town, agreed to incorporate as one community. The following year, by an act of the Michigan Legislature, the Village of Richmond was born.~
Though the Beebe's Corners depot is no longer, we can safely assume its architecture is more than likely the same as the others we see on the route.
|Ten years later, in 1869, the Village of New Haven was |
incorporated, and the depot then became known as the
New Haven Station.
But this was the New Baltimore Station while Edison worked
on the line.
|Wall plaque of the year of construction|
|The placard at the New Baltimore/New Haven Station states that |
it was a favorite stop for Edison as he sold his papers and fruit.
In 1990, the railroad company decided that the old depot had outlived its usefulness and announced that it would be torn down. Soon, a community group was formed called Save Our Depot, and they did save the New Haven Depot/New Baltimore Station. In 1997, the group purchased the depot from the Grand Trunk Railroad, along with 1.3 acres of land, for the charitable sum of $5,000. The Save Our Depot, Inc. group then raised about $100,000 for its restoration. A majority of the money came from community development grants, with an additional $50,000 worth of services contributed. The restoration was finished in the spring of 2004 and the depot officially reopened on June 27, 2004 as a museum for the New Haven and Lenox Township community. The Save Our Depot organization has evolved into the New Haven/Lenox Twp. Historical Society.
I discovered this depot quite by accident while driving in the rural area of its location during an early spring evening in April 2019. After taking care of some business, I made it back to the station to take photographs of it.
Just my luck...
|...a train happened by!|
No, it was not a ghost train of an old steam locomotive.
|And the last remnants of the train headed off into the sunset |
while evening had come to pass.
|The historical markers|
for Mt. Clemens
Now we are heading to the next stop, Mt. Clemens.
It seems that 1858 and 1859 were busy years for the Grand Trunk Railroad, for virtually every depot built along this line were constructed during this time, including the one in Mt. Clemens. The Mt. Clemens station was nearly identical to the other stations built in Smiths Creek, New Haven/Richmond, and, most likely, Beebe's Corners; they are also very similar to stations constructed earlier by Grand Trunk in Ontario which were likely based on an 1841 English design.
From the Michigan Transit Museum: "The Mount Clemens Train Station was Built in 1859 and served the Community until 1954. It was purchased by the city in 1980 and then leased and restored by MTM."
|The Mt. Clemens Train Station as it stands today.|
After practicing intensively all summer, Edison took a part-time telegraph job in Port Huron.
|The depot is restored to its 1900 appearance. |
Inside are exhibits surrounding railroading of that era.
|I suppose "tried & true" fits here, for it can be|
difficult to figure out which depot is which - -
they really do all look alike!
|"Some of Edison's earliest inventions|
were based on the telegraph."
Within a year Edison had embarked on a four-year stint as an itinerant telegrapher, a path followed by many ambitious, technically oriented young men. During those years he advanced to the front rank of telegraphers, becoming an expert receiver known for his clear, rapid handwriting. He joined the elite press-wire operators, the men who handled the lengthy, important news dispatches. He associated with journalists and editors, frequenting their offices and joining their conversations into the early morning. Some of his fellow operators later became newspaper reporters, and a few of them would help push Edison into the public eye.
|The restoration of this depot, still on its original location, is a |
blessing to the state, not just for railroad or Edison buffs, but to
lovers of history as well.
In 1818, Christian Clemens, who first came to this area in 1796 as part of a surveying venture, laid out lots and streets with names; in other words, he plotted a village he named Mount Clemens. On January 15, 1818, Michigan Territory Governor, Lewis Cass, signed a proclamation establishing the County of Macomb, named after General Alexander Macomb, hero of the War of 1812. Three months later, Governor Cass named Mount Clemens the County seat and appointed Christian Clemens Judge of the County Court. On January 26, 1837, the little settlement was incorporated as a village, the same date that Michigan became the 26th state admitted to the Union.
But Mount Clemens was not yet the destination that it was soon to become.
|Looking the same as it did all those years ago.|
Around World War II, this thriving industry began to decline, and fewer and fewer people came to stay the three weeks required to obtain the curative powers of the baths. Reminders of the era can still be seen throughout the City, in the neighborhoods with the stately old Victorian and early 20th century homes and in the downtown with its picturesque buildings.
|A little of old Mt. Clemens can still be seen as it|
once was well over a hundred years ago
|Grand Trunk closed the Mt. Clemens station in 1954, after which they used it for storage and other railroad-related services until at least 1972.|
It is currently leased from the city by the Michigan Transit Museum.
So now we have traveled from Port Huron to Mt. Clemens. We have not made it to Detroit yet, for there is yet one more stop: Utica Plank (Frazer) station.
In 1858, the Chicago, Detroit and Canada Grand Trunk Junction Railroad Company purchased their right-of-way through Fraser, and a depot was later built on what is still called Depot Road. These two factors, the Utica Road and the Railway Depot, created a crossroads community that grew into a village and center for commerce in the immediate area.
Drawn by its commercial prospects, a Detroit lawyer, Alexander J. Frazer, came to this area in 1857 or 1858. His father, also a lawyer, was a prominent figure in Detroit. He purchased land in Fraser in 1858 near the Grand Trunk right-of-way. He plotted a subdivision and may have built some houses. It is also possible he built and perhaps operated a hotel near the depot. Between 1860 and 1870 various pieces of this property were sold.
Following the train track on a map from Port Huron to Detroit, I found that this is the same line on which Thomas Edison rode, but surprisingly, in Fraser's history, there is nothing written of him that I found. Did he not get off at the layover? Did nothing interesting or exciting happen to him here?
It is unfortunate that the Utica/Fraser depot was razed in, I believe, sometime in the later 1980s, for just the fact that this was part of the line Edison rode should have been enough to keep and restore it in the same manner that the citizens of New Haven did.
|Here is a sort of "then & now" photo showing|
the Utica/Fraser depot as it looked before it
was torn down, and how the area looks now.
I have no idea who to credit the pictures to,
but I certainly hope they do not mind me using
them, and I would be happy to give credit
where the credit is due.
It is unfortunate that, according to train enthusiast (and all-around good guy) Ian Kushnir, all of the original Grand Trunk depots that were located in Detroit have been demolished.
Well, at least we have what we have, right?
|An employee timetable from January 10, 1865:|
So, this is the listing of Edison's stops from
Port Huron to Detroit during his tenure on
the Grand Trunk Rail Line in the 1860s.
I cross the same railroad line daily that Edison travelled upon daily!
It just goes to show you that history is all around us...sometimes without even realizing it.
To me this is so very cool.
By the way, as a sort of quick postscript, it was in 1866, at age 19, that Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to work for The Associated Press.
I would like to add one more note of interest I learned recently that tells of the speed of the trains in the 19th century. They could reach a top speed of 60 to 70 mph. However, the average speed was much slower - in the range of 15 to 20 mph. This sounds slow to us but to put things in perspective here are the estimated average speeds of contemporary transportation modes:
*Pony Express -- 7 to 10 mph
*Stagecoach -- 3 to 5 mph
*Horse & wagon (long distance) 2 to 4 mph (this was the preferred mode because it was so much faster than ox teams
*Ox team & wagon -- 1 to 2 mph (this was the preferred mode for most western pioneers as they could walk comfortably alongside the wagon and load more freight in the wagon)
*Walking -- 2 to 3 mph
*River boat (downstream) -- 5 to 10 mph
*River boat (upstream) -- 1 to 5 mph
So 15 to 20 mph is a pretty decent speed, all things considered.
And before we leave, I would like to make one more depot stop----Holly, Michigan - - which, as far as I know, Edison did not come through here.
But it is another interesting depot built in the same style as the others, though it is not on the same line.
|I see the train a-comin,' it's comin' 'round the bend...|
Right past the old Holly train depot.
|I walked up one day after visiting Holly's many antique|
shops and took a few snapshots of the old building.
The real growth of the village of Holly began with the completion of the Detroit & Milwaukee Railway (later the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee) as far northwest as Holly from Detroit in 1854 or 1855.
|Unfortunately, I saw a sign posted on the window that said if I |
could read this then I was trespassing, so I promptly left.
The interior of the new depot was paneled with Norway pine. Each of the railroads had their own ticket booth, and the depot had two waiting rooms: one for women only, and the other with a lunch counter. The lunch counter was an unusual feature for a small-town train depot -- most small towns did not have enough train traffic to support one. It may have succeeded in Holly because the station served two lines with transferring passengers.
The depot continued to serve rail passenger traffic on the Grand Trunk Western until about 1964.
It is too bad that it is not open to the public as a historical site, for I'm sure, considering that most of Holly's buildings and homes are from the 19th and early 20th century, it would only add to its history.
Hopefully, this idea is part of the future vision for the old depot.
And with that, we have now visited some wonderful Michigan historical sites, mostly associated with Thomas Edison. To think this young boy would one day, with his workers, change the world by inventing and/or contributing to inventions such as the first practical incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the motion picture camera, the kinetoscope, an improved stock ticker, as well as improving the telegraph and telephone, among many, many others.
As far as I know, no other has put out such a work as this, visiting the Edison depots. At least, not that I've seen.
I am pretty proud of this.
So, until next time, see you in time.
Some of the information came from THIS site
Some came from THIS site
Holly's info came from THIS site
To learn what life was like for Thomas Edison's workers while at Menlo Park, click HERE
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