ESCANABA - In the blink of God's eye, in a single breath of Mother Nature, in a wink of Gitchi Manitou, Escanaba grew out of the sand along Little Bay de Noc.
From where the waters of the "great flat rock river" (the Escanaba) marry in unison with Lake Michigan, offspring flourished.
From firs, to pines, from hardwoods to iron ore, Escanaba is about hard working people.
Karen Wils photo
Here is the Wils Crew wearing the Hudson Bay wool clothing of yesterday. In the background is the remains of one of Delta County’s 100 plus year-old cabins.
The city of Escanaba was founded in 1863. It was the river that drew the first permanent white residents to this area. They built their cabins on the east side of the Escanaba where Pioneer Trail Park is today. The Ludington Boarding House sheltered newcomers. Calloused hands built a sawmill. Folks labored and laughed together. And as the little cemetery in Pioneer Trail Park still ascertains today, some folks died by the river.
Escanaba, as well as Delta County, is celebrating its 150th Sesquicentennial birthday this year.
Lumbermen, farmers, fishermen and railroad men - they came to the north woods and to Sand Point where even today, there stands a lighthouse.
With the bellow of ore boats and the whistle of steam engines, Escanaba grew from the mouth of the river past the ore docks of north town, out to the municipal docks on the east end of Ludington Street, down Lake Shore Drive and all the way out to Portage Point.
What made Escanaba special yesterday and even still today is the melting pot of wonderful down-to-earth people of several ethnic backgrounds. The proud Croatians, the stubborn Swedes and Russians, the fun loving French/Canadian/American Indian, these people all brought their best to Escanaba. From maple syrup to meat pies, sweet things were coming to Escanaba.
People like "Big Bill Bonifas," Eli P. Royce, I. Stephenson, Mary Terry, Capt. Dan Seavey, and Doc Kitchens, made our history sparkle. Like characters out of a Hollywood movie, these men and women of Delta County added pizzazz and left their mark on our community.
In 1963, Escanaba celebrated its centennial. Ask your parents or grandparents what they remember about the gala event. Perhaps they will recall the street dance, queen contest, the beard-growing contest, the water skiing shows in Ludington Park or the wooden nickels tossed at the parade.
Centennials, like sesquicentennials, are often once-in-a-lifetime events that should be treasured and passed down to future generations.
Escanaba is a town with deep, rich roots. Many third or fourth generation families still thrive in the same neighborhoods.
Celebrate your family's heritage and join the sesquicentennial fun. The city of Escanaba will sponsor many memory-making events in July of 2013.
Check out that old "Century Book" sitting at your parent's house (or at the library). Brush up on Esky history and I will try to throw some history in my columns, too.
Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.