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Posted: 05/15/13

New exhibit shows
influence of MI loggers

Observer Staff Writer

      Those pining for information about local lumbering and its effects on the area can quell their curiosity at a local museum.
       The Romeo Historical Society is presenting its "Michigan Lumbering" exhibit beginning this month at the Romeo Arts and Archives Museum, located at 290 N. Main Street.
       Richard Beringer, historical society trustee and museum curator, has taught about Michigan's lumber industry for 30 years. Much like how the auto industry affected the area, he said lumbering had a huge impact on developing Romeo.
       "Michigan lumbering is very important to the 19th century," he said. "We had a lot of people in town who made a lot of money."
       Notable local names highlighed in the exhibit include Harvey Mellen, who in the 1850s engaged in lumbering operations in Lapeer County. Another is Henry Stephens, a lumberman who lived in Lapeer County but had a summer home in Romeo.
       "He was a big money-maker as a lumber baron," he said. "Henry Stephens was the first guy in Michigan to ever have a funeral in a car."
       One former resident was John Brewer, an example of a surveyor or "land looker" who would work for someone like Mellen using measuring techniques with a Merritt Hypsometer and Biltmore Stick. Beringer reproduced the instruments to demonstrate how people determined the amount of usable lumber in an area.
       "It (the exhibit) just explains how we developed with the economics of Romeo," he said. "Look at how wealthy people got, the inventions involved."
       He said other industry tools will be on display, and the Clyde Craig Blacksmith Museum will allow for more hands-on experiences for museum-goers.
       "The kids can saw logs. . .we teach them how to tie a timber hitch and haul a log," Beringer said. "It depends on the group."
       Burning for information
       The exhibit also talks about two of Michigan's most devastating fires. The Great Michigan Fire of 1871 is said to be partly caused by loggers harvesting Eastern white pine and leaving behind branches and unused wood that easily caught fire. Around 4,000 square miles were burned.
       A decade later, the Great Thumb Fire of 1881 started in Lapeer County and scorched more than a million acres in less than a day in the "Thumb" of Michigan. It claimed the lives of 282 people and destroyed more than 2,000 barns, homes and schools.
       Beringer said the fire also has the distinction of being the first-ever official disaster relief effort by the American Red Cross.
       In addition to old articles and information regarding the fires, the exhibit replicates the disasters with a typical Victorian-era living room that looks as if it's on fire with creative lighting.
       Beringer said the historical society is holding numerous presentations throughout the year to focus on certain aspects of the lumber industry, such as local inventor William Austin Burt, the fires and how lumberjacks worked.
       For more information, call (586) 752-4111 or visit

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