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Finn Town - most of today's inhabitants of [Ludington], Michigan would raise eye-brows at the expression; they never heard of the place. Finn Town is just another ghost town; one of those many early settlements in Michigan which prospered and then sank into oblivion. There are still some older Ludington residents who remember Finn Town as a thriving community of more than 30 families of fisher folk who lived on the south shore of Pere Marquette Lake close to the harbor channel.

Charles J. Johnson, born 13 May 1872 in Finland, came to the United States in June, 1891 and went directly to Ludington where he worked in Taylor's sawmill for a few months. He then worked for the Danaher lumbering interest north of Branch and, when they finished operations there, he went to Newberry in the Upper Peninsula in 1899. In 1901 he returned to Ludington and began his career as a commercial fisherman. He and his bride Ida established their first home in 1902 in Finn Town. They were the last family to leave "The Island," as the settlement was often called, moving to Ludington in 1910 and raising their family there.

He and his partner Emil Bishop bought a small sailboat in which trips were made out into Lake Michigan and all the nets were lifted by hand. There was no fishing in the winter months in those days when ice blocked the channel, so he worked in the logging camps in the winter months.

Finn Town on "The Island" was in its heyday at the turn of the century. The name, Finn Town, came from the settlers, most of whom came from Finland and were known in Finland as Swede-Finns. The western tip of the long peninsula stretching out from Buttersville into Lake Michigan with Pere Marquette Lake as its northern boundary was the site of Finn Town. It was commonly referred to as "The Island" because earlier a small stream had cut through the peninsula in the vicinity of Buttersville, giving all the land to the west the island status.

The first settlement of fishermen in Ludington was on the shore of Pere Marquette Lake in which today is Fourth Ward. As the lumbermen came in and sought sites for their mills the fishermen were driven out of this location and established their settlement on "The Island." They took over the long strip of white sand beach between the two lakes and there they built their homes, their fish shanties, their ice houses and their dance hall. Once established on this stretch of sand they held possession by squatter's rights and remained there as long as they wished, despite attempts of lumbermen to oust them and take it over for lumber docks.

There were more than 30 frame houses built on the sand with numerous fish shanties along the shore. From each shanty a long dock extended to Pere Marquette Lake where the fish boats tied up. There was a salt shed of Butters & Peters Lumber Co. and from this extended an extra long dock to which the Pere Marquette steamers tied up while they loaded salt and fresh fish for shipment to Milwaukee.

Living was simple and the fisher folk were busy and happy. There were no modern conveniences. Water for washing and general household use was carried in buckets from Pere Marquette Lake and drinking water was carried from a well sunk in the sand on the Lake Michigan shore. A plank road connected Finn Town with Seatons, Taylorville and Buttersville, all ghost towns now but then thriving lumber settlements to the east of the fisher village on the south shore of Pere Marquette Lake. The fishermen had their own small boats in which they went back and forth to the mainland (Ludington). A grocery firm made weekly deliveries to Finn Town and the children attended school in Buttersville or rowed across the lake to Ludington's First Ward school.

From early spring until late autumn Finn Town was astir long before dawn as the fishing boats started early for the long trip out into Lake Michigan to haul in the day's catch and set new nets. Often the sun disappeared below the western horizon before the day's work was done. Many had only sailboats and it would take a half a day to get out into the lake and, if the weather was calm, they had to row out and back. Most of the fishing was for lake trout and the nets would be set five to ten miles out in the lake. Two to three hundred pounds of fish was an average catch of the sailboat fisherman and they were sold for five to six cents a pound. The fish were iced in barrels and shipped by boat to Milwaukee and Chicago. The ice cakes, harvested during the winter on Pere Marquette Lake, were hauled to the shore by teams of horses and packed in sawdust in the three big ice houses on "The Island".

Charles Johnson recalled some of the good times and dances in the big dance hall when Herman Borg was the fiddler who kept the dancers on their toes. He marveled that despite their crude equipment and often hazardous trips out into Lake Michigan in small boats, no tragedy befell any fishermen of Finn Town. In fact, most of the older generation never knew how to swim. They were extra cautious and careful to avoid trouble.

One by one the families left "The Island" for new homes in Ludington. Some houses were moved over to the mainland and others were torn down for the lumber. Fishing operations remained there for some time. The fish shanties continued to be used and boats tied up at the adjoining docks. Then as the lake fishing declined, those left in the business operated with bigger and more power-ful boats and Finn Town was completely abandoned.

About 1950 the last trace of human habitation disappeared from Finn Town. Johnson's weather-beaten, once red fish shanty had remained for many years visible from the mainland as a reminder of the days that used to be. Silhouetted against the white sand dunes with the blue waters of Lake Michigan in the distance, it was a favorite subject of artists during summer months. All that is left now is a stone foundation on which the shanty rested. Blending in with the beach sand and invisible from the Ludington side of the lake, the crumbling masonry today is a source of conjecture to fishermen who come upon it while walking out on the long sand point to fish for perch from the south arm of the harbor breakwater.


From Ludington Daily News, 15 March 1955 by Lenore Williams

June Pelo


Note: Charles Johnson and my grandfather Anders Andersson Pelo were friends from Finland. My grandparents also lived on "The Island" after arrival in America. Since earliest childhood I can remember visiting the Johnson family at their home on West Loomis Street in Ludington. From their house one could look west past the No. 2 slip of Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Co. (where car-ferries docked) and see "The Island" across the water. The fiddler, Herman Borg, mentioned above, was my grandmother's cousin.


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