Sally A. Rea From the West Branch Historical Society graciously shared the information from her own story about The Smokestack Cabin in Clear Lake community. Photos are courtesy of the Historical Society Museum of West Branch.
Although coal was never mined in the Clear Lake area, there is a connection to coal via Peter Hartley and the “cottage” he built here.
Hartley was born in December of 1883 in Burlington, England, and moved to America with his parents in 1887. They settled in Pennsylvania, then moved to Sebawaing in 1891.
Eight years later they moved to St. Charles, Michigan where he worked in coal mines. He married Anna Marie Schweizer in 1906, and later worked in Peter Schweizer’s general store.
In 1913 he started a garage and machine shop, then added he sawmill business in connection with the garage. 1920 he added a large dairy farm located in Fergus. He became vice president of the St. Charles Bank in 1933.
Coal Mining began in Michigan in the 1800s, but the last active mines closed in the 1950s. There has been no economic interest in Michigan coal for many decades; however, the Oil, Gas and Mineral Division (OGMD) provides available information related to old coal mines when legacy issues arise, typically construction projects near old mine shafts.
Hartley later purchased the Saginaw property where the #8 coal mine stood. Then he donated 200 acres for the Hartley Outdoor Education Center.
Hartley Outdoor Education Center sits on 300 acres of natural habitat, including hardwood forest, wetlands, meadow, ponds and a creek. The Hartley site is also home to the Coal Mine No. 8 Historic Site & Museum, Schroeder Log Cabin, Fowler One-room School, Murphy Farmhouse & Henige Log Cabin, and Farm Learning Center. (Hartley Outdoor Education Center)
The smokestack was built with 42,500 bricks and the opening at the top was 25 feet across. It is believed that in 1935 it was torn down and that Hartley had the bricks shipped on a coal train to West Branch, then trucked to his property at Clear Lake. Hartley built his Clear Lake cabin out of old bricks from that smokestack.
He gave much to his new country before passing away Feb. 14, 1956.