The Railroad's Story

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The Beginning: Arcadia's First Railway

Little is known about Arcadia's very first railway. We know that in 1881 Henry Starke began construction of a narrow gauge railway to supply logs to the lumber mill at the north end of Lake Arcadia and that it ran north from the mill and then east not far into the nearby woods.


1903 Plat MapPortion of Arcadia Township Map from 1903 Plat Book
Arcadia's first logging railway was probably just an eastward extension of the spur running to the planing mill.
The arrow points to the planing mill. The dashed line is the likely route east.

"No history of Arcadia pioneer roads would be complete without some mention of the pioneer railroad. ... The track or rails were made of timber 4x6 or 6x6 inches diameter, a narrow gauge track, and the engine was made of a Box Car. How it ran and pulled its train of logging cars I have never been able to tell. ... The road bed ran just north of the John Hovis property (now Lamont/Ness's -- east side of L.L. Finches and still east past Tom Tooheys." -- Jennie Hovis, Arcadia ladies meeting notes


Iron Works Locomotive

"[In the earliest days ]the rails were made of wood with a steel strip on top. The locomotive was 'homemade' and had an upright boiler. It burned slab wood from the mill. It had no brakes, so when the locomotive and cars loaded with logs began the trip back to Arcadia, it was necessary for a man with a two by four lever to be stationed between each car to brake the train." -- Arcadia 1880-1980

The Narrow Gauge Railway

[Arcadia was growing and could not get along with such a limited railway.] ... "so when the logs were off (gone) from where this road led, they built a road [east] of town. Although it was still a narrow gauge, it was composed of the usual rails and engines. Some years later, this in turn was discarded for a standard gauge railroad with the usual equipment." -- Jennie Hovis, Arcadia ladies meeting notes

This railway ran between Arcadia and a place about five miles east known as Malcolm.

Box Car Engine
As Jennie Hovis implied in her description of Arcadia's first railroad engine, box cars could be converted into steam engines. This picture shows one built by Robert Blacklock for the Frankfort Iron Works around 1872.
-- Photo courtesy of the Benzie Area Historical Museum


Arcadia Engine
in the 1880's
This photo shows the engine and log cars from Henry Starke's narrow gauge railroad, which was used in the 1880's primarily for lumbering.


The Trestle Near Arcadia
About 2.5 miles east of Arcadia, the engine in this photo is pulling flat cars loaded with logs on their way to the Starke sawmill.


The Starke Sawmill in Arcadia, Michigan
The sawmill at the north end of Lake Arcadia cut locally harvested logs into boards and other wood products. Note the railway flatcar on the right.
-- Postcard Photograph. L. L. Cook Co., Milwaukee.


The Route from Arcadia to Malcolm
The map shows the route of the narrow gauge railway from Arcadia on the left to Malcolm on the right. In the elevation chart, note the rugged terrain about 2/3 of the way to Malcolm. That is the location of the trestle.
-- John W. Martin. "Malcolm: A Station on the Arcadia and Betsey River Railway: Manistee County, MI"


Starke Land & Lumber Company Railway
This is the narrow gauge railroad used to haul logs to the Starke sawmill.

The Standard Gauge Railway

In 1893, timber supplies within reach of the narrow gauge railway were dwindling, shipping by boat from Arcadia only reached ports only on Lake Michigan, and business in Arcadia was growing. So when Henry Starke consolidated his holdings into the Henry Starke Land and Lumber Company, the new corporation began work on a standard gauge railroad that would connect the railway to the rest of the world.



Engine No. 1 in Arcadia
This photo shows the train on the east side of Arcadia Lake just south of the sawmill shown in the background. The sawmill was replaced by the Arcadia Furniture Company's factory in 1906.

Conductor's Badge



1894 Map of Arcadia
This map shows the location of the rails for the Arcadia & Betsey River Railway in Arcadia. This Y-shaped layout allowed the train to turn around. Note the pencil drawn location of the Starke Sawmill at the north end of Lake Arcadia.


1914 Map of Arcadia
This is a detailed map of the Arcadia end of the ABRR route showing the wye. A train entering Arcadia from the east could head south to The Point, stop, and then back into the Arcadia Station in the north. This is a portion of a series of valuation maps showing every foot of every piece of track along the ABRR.
-- "Station Map: Arcadia and Betsey River Ry." June 30, 1914. National Archives and Records Administration

Larger Maps
Click here, and then use your browser to zoom in on a much larger picture.

Click here for a map of the Lake Arcadia shoreline, which is also dated June 30, 1914 and available courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Railway Grew.

By September of 1895, the A&BRR extended 17.5 miles to Henry, where it connected with the Chicago and West Michigan Railway. By December of 1896, the A&BRR reached Copemish where it connected with the Ann Arbor Railroad, and passenger service was added. By 1899, Arcadia had passenger service twice a day and carried 3,000 passengers and the mail. From 1906 to 1936, the train carried furniture manufactured by the Arcadia Furniture Company in addition to the produce and other local goods encouraged by the expanded market.

The Surrounding Area Grew Too.

Stations such as Malcolm, Sorrenson, and Saile were built along the railway. Sidings and warehouses were built to support the collection of local produce and other products. People were hired to run the stations, collect goods, prepare produce for shipping. The railroad right of way provided a ready-made path for telephone lines (in 1897 between Arcadia and Copemish) and power lines (in 1919 from a dam on the Betsey River).



Leaving the Station in Arcadia
This photo shows a passenger train traveling south along the northeast shore of Lake Arcadia. The building behind the engine is the roundhouse.

The Demise of the A&BRR

During the 1930s, as the economy slowed and roads and trucking improved, the railway was used less and less to ship goods. By 1936, the last full year of operation, the railway brought in only $3.00 in passenger revenue. In 1937, the tracks were torn up leaving nothing but the roadbeds to mark the passing of the Arcadia & Betsey River Railway.



Engines 4 and 5 at Henry in 1939
When the A&BRR discontinued service, these engines were stored in Henry until they were used for scrap metal for World War II. -- C. T. Stoner Photographs and Papers, Box 1, Folder AA5R-AG, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

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