As shown in the above photograph taken in c1910, the Elk River and Chain of Lakes provided a means of transporting logs to the Dexter & Noble sawmill and a shoreline site where cord wood was made into charcoal fuel for the iron furnace. This photograph, taken from the top of the sand dune at the northwest corner of the US-31 intersection where the traffic light is now located, captures the industrial development on the shore opposite of where you are currently standing. Pictured from left to right is a road heading east, which is the approximate route of present day Ames St., with a rail road bridge for transporting iron ore shipped from the Upper Peninsula to the large ore stock house. There the ore was fired in the furnace with charcoal made in the adjacent beehive shaped kilns.
The Dexter & Noble iron furnace was built in 1872, produced its first blast of pig iron in the amount of 16 tons on June 24, 1873. At the height of its operations, the furnace produced 100 tons per day, using 170 tons of iron and an equal amount of charcoal by volume, and lime stone for flux. From the smoke of the kilns, the chemical plant, located approximately across the river where you are standing, recovered acetate of lime, wood alcohol and other by-products.
The first charcoal pig iron exported from the United States to England was
produced at this furnace at Elk Rapids in 1885. The furnace produced pig iron from 1872 to 1915 and was dismantled shortly after.
The plant was operated by various owners:
The Dexter & Noble Co. 1872-1881
Elk Rapids Iron Co. 1881-1907
Lake Superior Iron & Chemical Co. 1907-1915
In the foreground is the steamer 'Ruth', tided [sic - tied] up at the landing, about where the highway bridge is today. The 'Ruth' hauled people and freight up the Chain of Lakes as far as Bellaire. The dock was used for freight and passenger boarding.
If You Were Standing on This Spot in 1776 you would be standing in a cedar plain approximately 300 feet from the shore of what became known as the Elk River and entry point to the Chain of Lakes. In the 1850's a dam was built across the Elk River on the site of the Dexter Noble sawmill just a short way downriver from this site. By 1872 this spot was void of any large living trees as they had been cut for lumber, and in that year, across the Elk River, Dexter and Noble had just built a large pig iron furnace.
In 1916 an electric power plant was added at the dam site to provide power for the local industry and residences. This Spot was a wetlands area, filled in the late 1950's, when the Michigan Department of Transportation relocated highway US-31 from a route through Elk Rapids to the location along the Elk River.
This display donated by the Elk Rapids Rotary Club ©2005.
Information provided by the Elk Rapids Area Historical Society.