The town of Shelldrake, named after a duck common in the area, is a ghost town about 8 miles south of Whitefish Point, at the mouth of the Shelldrake River (also known as the Betsy River) on Whitefish Bay. In the 1890s and early 1900s, it was a thriving sawmill town during peak logging years on the Tahquamenon River watershed. By the 1920s repeated fires and the decline of lumbering led to its demise. Today it is a privately owned ghost town with only a few weathered, original buildings.
I found stories of the area being haunted by an old sea captain who stands on the dock. He has a pipe and a cape and he is usually seen from the lake, as boats approach the shore, he fades away and disappears. While researching the history of Sheldrake, I found out about the Tugboat Grace which was towing a scow in October of 1879 thru whitefish bay headed for Goulais Bay in Canada. During a storm in the early morning the tugboat broke down and drifted onto a sand bar about 200 feet offshore from Sheldrake. The tug filled with water and broke to pieces. The crew made it to shore, and after climbing the bank to safety the captain proclaimed “Thank God, we are all safe” and then suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack. I wonder if that is the captain that has been seen on the docks.
The Penoyer brothers from Bay City, Michigan began the first lumbering operations on the mouth of the Shelldrake River in 1895 with the construction of a sawmill, long docks, and a tramway into Whitefish Bay for loading lumber onto ships. They owned a large block of pine lands in the Tahquamenon River watershed. The Calumet and Hecla copper mining company bought the sawmill and uncut timber in 1899 for their mines. Calumet and Hecla sold out to a Canadian firm, the Bartlett Brothers, in 1910. Lumber milling continued at Shelldrake until 1925 when a fire burned down the sawmill plant for the second time.
By the late 1890s, Shelldrake had a sawmill, houses for workers that were equipped with bathrooms, a hospital, a school house, a post office, and an icehouse that could store enough meat to feed a population of 1,000 through the winter months. All of the buildings were plastered and had hot water piped from the sawdust burner. There was a stagecoach between Eckerman, Michigan and Shelldrake daily in the summer and three times a week during the winter. At one time there was also a passenger ship sailing between Shelldrake and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Shelldrake was listed on Michigan’s Historic Register in 1979 with the period of historical significance designated as 1600–1825. However, Shelldrake did not become settled as a lumber town until the late 1890s. The state marker text reads:
Shelldrake legend has it that Lewis Cass, governor of the Territory of Michigan, and his party of nearly 100 camped here in their search for the source of the Mississippi River in 1820. This area, once a bustling lumbering community, was first settled in the mid-nineteenth century. Shelldrake is now a sleepy resort and hunting place. Few of the weatherbeaten buildings that once faced the long boardwalk remain. This settlement is a reminder of the area’s lumbering era.
Although Shelldrake was sold to private owners during the 1930s,it never developed into a resort or hunting place despite what is recorded on the Michigan historic marker. It is now a privately owned ghost town with only a few weathered, original buildings at the site.
You can kinda see it from the road when your traveling from Paradise to Whitefish Point, but since it’s privately owned be respectful of the owners and don’t go exploring around it. There is a road leading up to it, but I am not sure it was a private road since I was there in the winter time, if it was, I apologize for trespassing. I wanted to get a pic for my Michigan Historical Marker Series, I just snapped a quick pic and left.
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