From 1870 until the 1910’s, logging and lumbering, together, formed the principal industry of Frankfort and much of northern Michigan. With the improvement of Frankfort’s harbor and the channel to Lake Michigan, lumber could be shipped from Frankfort to anywhere on the great lakes.
Several sawmills were built around the Bay, and ranks of stacked lumber two stories high ranged along its banks convenient to the docks. A shingle mill was erected, and a planning mill, and a woodenware factory. White pine was cut for building purposes. Hardwoods were fashioned into tool handles or bowls or planed for flooring. Cedar was used for shingles and posts. Hemlock bark went for tanning leather. Excess wood was chopped into cordwood, first for the charcoal kilns by the iron furnace and later as fuel for steam ships.
Loggers felled trees in the winter and skidded them on the snow to the banks of the Betsie River. When the river rose with the spring snow melt, “river rats” floated the logs down the Betsie. Once the river boys had done their job, the buzz of sawmills could be heard around the Bay through the summer.
The work was dangerous. Death and serious injuries were commonplace whether one worked in the log woods, on the river or in the mills. Sawmills regularly burned down for a variety of reasons, including incendiaries.
By the early twentieth century, the hills surrounding the Betsie Valley were virtually barren, save for the stumps of the once virgin forest.