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Deward: mill town of the north

Back in the late 1970s, the late Carl Olson, a former Deward resident, and the late Raymond Brown of Frederic shared their knowledge of the town of Deward in northwest Crawford County. The information was originally collected for a high school research paper.

The town of Deward has become known as a fine example of the short-lived lumbering towns throughout Northern Michigan.

A great forest of red and white pines which once surrounded the town quickly became the lumber for its well-known saw mill. It ran 24 hours a day, with workers divided into two 12-hour shifts, six days a week. On Sundays it was closed. The mill turned out 200,000 board feet of lumber every 20 hours, enough to fill 15 boxcars each day.

Due to the location of the mill, the west side of Deward was known as the mill side, housing the mill workers and their families. Meanwhile, on the east were the houses of the railroad workers. The mill’s massive output required the town to have a three-stall roundhouse, with three railroad crews. The railroad crew when not working on the trains would pick berries as part of their job. Enough berries could be picked to fill a boxcar. Berries were shipped to cities around the state. The D.N.C. Railroad ran from Deward to Lafayette.

Deward also had a multi-purpose general store. This store contained a post office, depot, bank vault, doctor’s office and recreation hall upstairs. Dances were held in the hall on Saturday nights. The town doctor was paid a flat fee by town residents each month for all medical attention they might need, $1.50 for families and 75 cents for singles.

Children attended a two-room schoolhouse. Often, these children, especially the boys, only attended school until the age of nine or 10. After that, they went to work. Families at the time were large and it was difficult for the father to support the family on his income alone.
Many families lived in cottages there. The cost for a four-room cottage was a dollar a month at the time. There was a hotel in Deward also. On Sundays, people attended worships services at the Swedish Lutheran Church.

An oddity of the town was its lack of saloons. Saloons were banned in Deward. Considering the fact Deward was built around a lumber mill, that should hardly be surprising. At the same time, alcohol was banned at logging camp. Men worked harder and more efficiently without a hangover. If Deward residents needed a drink, they simply traveled down to nearby Frederic.  Also absent from the town were law officers. Yet another reason to keep alcohol out.

Reportedly, Deward had a fine baseball team. It traveled to other cities, especially rival Waters, by horse-drawn wagon in order to compete.

Annual festivals are nothing new to northern Michigan communities. Every spring Deward residents held their Fin, Fur and Feathers celebration. Community members competed in hunting and fishing. The losers paid for the music that night.

When the mill finally shut down in 1912, the residents moved on, many settling in Frederic.
Today not a house still stands from that era, but the remains of the mill, the roundhouse and the general store can yet be spotted while walking through the field where the town once stood.

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