Thank you to Charles E. Dedic and Family


In 1999, Charles E. Dedic, after nine years of historical research of our area, published the book “Dreams of Beaver Creek”. It is a wonderful book. What you will see following are excerpts of his writings of Perkins, Beaver and St. Nicholas. Also, many photos of these towns and businesses within these towns can be found under the “Dreams of Beaver Creek” – Photos tab within this Baldwin Township website.

Charles’ sons, Charles C., Edward and Steven, have graciously given Baldwin Township permission to use these excerpts and photos here on our website. In addition, they have donated one of their father’s books to the Baldwin Township Hall. There is much more to read and many more photos in his book if you would like to come to the Township Hall and peruse.

Thank you to the Charles E. Dedic family from all of us in Baldwin Township for your generosity.



A Speculative Journey Through the Past


Let me start out by saying that this book is not intended to be a historical work. One thing I learned in nine years of historical research for this book is that there is very little verifiable information available about most of the small communities in the U P. Another thing I learned is that record keeping was a scarce activity in the early communities and even the Railroads tossed out their records every six years. The researcher is often left with verbal stories passed down through families and sometimes a fact or two can be verified with a court record or by a statement buried in the jargon of a land abstract, and if one is very lucky, an old map may pop up somewhere in a submerged file. That is the plight of the historical researcher.

Considering the above, my book contains much more speculation than historical fact. And furthermore, I have now become very suspicious of the “facts” in many of the historical works I read in preparation for my research. To my dismay, I found that many U P historians tended to slant their “facts” according to the needs or philosophies of the company or railroad for which they worked or for the enhancement of the community they represented. Additionally, sometimes record keepers became confusing in how they recorded things.







In 1994 the Perkins Post Office was 100 years old. Baldwin Township, in which Perkins is located, was established in 1874, at a time when Perkins was nearing the end of its changeover from an Indian village on the banks of the Tacoosh River to a pioneer settlement. The people of this settlement got their first official mail service at Winde, from where it was delivered to a Perkins Saloon on an intermittently operating stagecoach, whose route is not anywhere on record, – or it could be picked up at the Winde Depot.

Winde, established in the late 1860s, southwest of Perkins on the Peninsula Railway to the Iron Range, became the source of a spur called the “Whitefish Branch”. This Spur would run through Perkins in about the year 1900, make its way northeast across the Tacoosh, then, north across the West Branch of the Whitefish River and past the west side of Trenary. It would terminate north and east of Kiva where it would intersect the east/west line of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad at a place called Dorsey.

At the time Winde was the only established town in this area with a Depot, Post Office, two stores and some related businesses. Its decline, however, would come quickly as the population of Perkins to the east and Beaver to the north would spring to life with a variety of entrepreneurial projects. The stores closed, the Depot was moved north about a mile, to Beaver, along with the Winde Post Office. Anyone who received mail at the Beaver Depot actually had a Winde address until after 1920, when the P.O. was renamed the “Beaver Post Office”. (This was apparently “unofficial” like so many things in those days – there is no postal record of it. In fact, postal records say a post office was opened at Winde in 1918 – Winde was already a ghost town by then.)

On May 7, 1894, probably because the village of Perkins had boomed into a town with more than three hotels, several saloons, a shingle mill, sawmills, lime kilns, a section house (moved from Winde), at least four liveries, two blacksmith shops and a variety of stores, it was assigned its own Post Office.

The first postmaster was Perkins’ own unofficial lawyer, grocery store owner, dealer in patent medicines and prominent land owner, John Fuhriman, son of Perkins pioneers, Jacob and Beatrice Fuhrimann. The latter had moved to Perkins from Humbolt just after the railroad to the Iron Range was completed. They bought the Herman Winde farm which would later belong to John. That farm would later be sold to John Sandstrom and then Louis and Hanna Pamperin.

Fuhriman would marry Anna Strohm and, with her help, he would be involved with the Post Office right on into the era when his son Floyd would take over as Postmaster. Again, like tradition, Floyd’s wife, Marie (Miron) would help with the postal duties and take over as postmaster during the years Floyd served with the Army in Europe in WWII. Upon Floyd’s retirement, several people would assume the duties of the Perkins Postal Service for short periods of time.

Though the wilderness has taken back most of what was once Winde and Beaver, Perkins lives on and even shows spurts of growth now and then. Two good examples of that are the Cretens Bros. Furniture Factory and the new Store constructed by Bea and Carl Branstrom and their family. Though Perkins may never return to its former glory, it is surviving and the Post Office has found a new home there.



(Speculation About the Unique Origins of Perkins)


“Town” to my family was always Perkins. That’s where the shopping was done, blacksmith work was taken and at some point, when the Beaver Depot/Post Office closed, it became our mailing address. Perkins always (especially around the turn of the century) had a surplus of saloons, dance halls and the like, but, in addition, you could find nearly anything there that you might find in places like Escanaba. Our family never gave much thought to the significance of Perkins – it was just there.

However, this was perhaps one of the most unique towns in the U.P. What started as an Indian village would become a perfect example of the melding of French Canadians and Native Americans. That melding would result in a late 1800s boom town where there was no logical reason for one to exist.

No one knows how they came to occupy the rolling hillsides that sloped to the high banks of the Tacoose River about 20 miles upstream from Little Bay De Noquet. A small band of Chief Tacoose’s people followed the River up from the main settlement at the mouth and found a little paradise where the lay of the land was ideal and fish and game were abundant. In the early 1800s, a picturesque Native American village of teepees and hogans adorned the high south bank where not so many years later stores, a dance hall, a post office and Pamperin’s hay fields would cover the remnants of that Native American beginning. The River would be named after their chief, whose main settlement was scattered along the north shores of Bay De Noquet at the convergence of several rivers. It also seems likely that, later, the arriving Canadian Frenchmen called the village “Tacoose” as well.

Historical records show that it was not long after the War of 1812 that young French wanderers came to the UP from Canada and, apparently, some would soon discover the little village on the Tacoosh. They may even have greeted old friends here, for in Canada they had lived contentedly among the Native Americans and many were already of mixed blood. It is no surprise, then, that these young men married girls from this village and settled in to new lives that would eventually lead to a frontier boom town.

The natural melding of Native Americans and French Canadians was brought about by what could be seen as an accident of fortune. The French men, trappers and explorers, were always in serious need of women, while the Upper Peninsula Indian villages suffered from a severe shortage of men. This phenomenon brought about a surge in interracial marriages in the UP, both common-law and Church sanctified. (Even well-known historian, John Schoolcraft, took a Native American wife, and it is said that she was the driving force behind his extensive writings of UP history.)

The shortage of Native American men was the consequence of constant warring in the Minnesotas against the Souix, who were considered a threat to Ojibway territorial claims. It seems that the Ojibway war parties were consistently being annihilated by the Souix, very few returning to their UP villages. Though the authority of this theory is hard to substantiate historically, some of those battles along the Mississippi River are on record, and it would explain why the French – as well as the British – so readily married into the Native American female population in the Upper Peninsula, with little or no resistance from the Native American men. Perkins had its beginnings in this phenomenon. Then, just after mid-century, in a relatively short period of time, this small agrarian settlement along the Tacoosh River, with its combination of French and Native American people, would go through a dramatic change in structure and purpose.

The major cause of that change chugged its way from Escanaba to the Iron Range near Negaunee. In 1862 the Peninsula Railroad began cutting a ribbon of “civilization” through the wilderness, passing about two miles west of the village. Soon new settlers began moving in along the tracks from both north and south. When a Depot and P.O. were set up at nearby Winde, settlers fanned out from there, and soon those Canadian French and Native American villagers at Perkins began marrying into the population of newcomers.

The fist industry was most likely the “Mike” (“Magloire”?) Gerioux sawmill (early 1860s?). After studying the Clark mill on the Whitefish, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mike’s mill, brought to Tacoosh from Canada, was water-powered. That would explain why he located it on a “flat” on a high-banked area of the Tacoosh River. In all likelihood, the first “bridge” over the Tacoosh at that location was a dam he constructed to provide power for his mill. Many years later his son, John, would move the mill to a location near the new railroad spur west of town, and he would run it with a steamer. The next industry, after the Mike Gerioux sawmill, to have a real impact on “Tacoose” was the Lime Kilns. Evidence suggests that they were established in the 1870s by someone named Perkins. Later, near the turn of the century, these would be expanded by the Escanaba Furnace Co. and a railroad spur would be built from Winde to service them. Most of the kilns were located behind what is now the old Gibbs Co. warehouse where the railroad tracks were curved to pass near them and a siding was built next to them. There were kilns scattered about the whole area – at Beaver and on Krouth’s road (the road to Gena) for instance. Later, according to Perkins native, Ralf Clausen, there was a row of seventeen kilns along the Perkins siding of the Whitefish Branch. Once the railroad came through, the coke as loaded on freight cars and shipped to pig iron producing furnaces at places like Escanaba and Marquette. I can only assume that before the railroad came to Perkins the coke was shipped by wagon to Beaver or Winde. There is no mention of the spur in any of the town records until after the turn of the century, so I have to accept the traditional view that the so-called Whitefish Branch was not constructed until near 1900. According to Ralf Clausen, construction of the spur began in about 1897. The C&NW doesn’t seem to have any records of the spurs it built in the area.

The Whitefish Branch, extending from Winde through Perkins and on up to the northeast, beyond Kiva, to a place called Dorsey, would bring about the expansion of area industries around logging and farming. The entrepreneurial skills of the Perkins area settlers had already turned a quiet wilderness village into a boom town. Rumor has it that at one time Perkins boasted no less than 13 saloons – a sure sign of prosperity in those days!

Though I can’t account for all 13 saloons, I do know that it sported more than three hotels, a couple of dance halls, a billiard Parlor, two blacksmith shops, at least six stores, a butcher shop, three sawmills, a shingle mill, several liveries and a whole variety of other enterprises, including a couple of “unofficial” cat houses.

In 1873 the leading citizens of “Tacoosh” decided that they wanted a “township”. That would give the area “official status”.

Their petition was accepted on March 13, 1874, and Baldwin Township was official born. It would run from the Escanaba River on the Southwest, to Osier on the Northeast.

It is popularly believed that it wasn’t until the coming of the railroad to Perkins near 1900 that Lime Kilns were established in the town. However, my reading of township minutes leads me to believe that lime kilns not only operated in Perkins at least two decades earlier, but were owned by a man named Perkins. That leads me to believe also that the two theories about the man whose name the town bears are both wrong. Let me quote from the minutes of the Baldwin Township Board meeting of April 1, 1879.

“A motion was read and carried that the location of the poll be changed, and that the next voting poll be held at the Store at Perkin’s Kilns.”

Notice the apostrophe before the “s” showing the “possessive” form of the name. This entry not only shows that the Village had operating Lime Kilns in 1879, but that they were owned by someone named Perkin or Perkins. This also tends to cast doubt on the vague notions about a “Perkins Dodge” or “a farmer named Perkins” being the persons after whom the town was named. It makes more sense that the town would come to bear the name of the family which owned its leading industry. More evidence of those early lime kilns shows up in another set of minutes from July of 1881. This was part of a resolution to force citizens to remove obstructions from the township’s roadways.

“…provided that this resolution shall not be so construed as to debar the owners of the Perkins Lime Kilns property temporarily to occupy the Roads near the said lime kilns for the storing of cordwood…”

It would be nearly two decades later before the Escanaba Furnace Company would come to Perkins with its own plan for a lime kiln industry there. It would be my guess that they purchased the already established lime kiln industry, expanded it, and then, enjoined the railroad to build a spur to the village to accommodate their new venture.

Further, a thorough reading of the township minutes before 1880 brings about a startling revelation – nowhere is the name of the village mentioned. This implies that the person after whom it would be named was still a living resident and the name “Perkins” was not yet the name of the village. It begins to become apparent that it bore its Indian name, perhaps into the 1890’s. Though there is no record of the naming of the village as “Perkins”, it may have been named when it got its Post Office in 1894, and it makes me suspect that, to this point in time, everyone was happy with its original name of “Tacoosh”. (There is also no record of when the spelling of “Tacoose” was changed to “Tacoosh” or if both were used at the same time “as preferred”.)

It would again be my guess, then, that with the influx of new white settlers after the coming of the railroad, the Canadian Frenchmen, who to this point, had been happy with their Native American wives and family associations, began to marry into the new white stock. Some may even have abandoned their Native American families. There are historical records of this phenomena all over the country. With this new view of things (a popular view throughout the Nation, where many whites were turning on their former Indian friends and relatives.) the village leaders probably wished to disassociate themselves from their Native American ties and moved to “Americanize” the village name. Also, around this time, many of the original settlers at the village, both Native American and Canadian French, would leave to seek jobs in the many logging camps which began to fill the wilderness along the new Railroad. Most of these would never return, wiping out all traceable evidence of their connection to the Village. As a result, we will never know the names of many of the earliest settlers or the Native Americans who lived there.

Out of all this comes the greatest regret in my research of Perkins beginnings – the confusion with the village’s original Native American name! As a boy I knew it. Now, after muddling about a little and grilling a few old-timers, there seems to be a consensus that the name given to it by the first Frenchmen to arrive on the scene was simply “Tacoosh” – after the river and the Chief whose people lived there. I’m just not sure. The name I heard as a kid seemed more romantic sounding.

Even though Perkins was established early in U.P. history (long before the Peninsula railroad invaded its neighborhood in 1864), when the railroad built a spur to it in about 1897, the town never got its own Railroad Depot – just a large loading dock along the tracks, adjacent to a long siding. With that there were a couple of warehouses, a section house which had been moved there from Winde, and a railroad car, permanently parked, that served as a station house. Anyone traveling by train would board it two miles away at Winde or, later, at the Beaver Depot. To get there they may very well have made use of Joseph Gerou’s “Livery and Taxi Service” or “Dolf Pilon’s Palace Livery”. Some members of one of the Gerou families are also suspected of having operated the mystery stagecoach to Gena, serving the area at an earlier time.

In those early years before the turn of the Century, Baldwin Township’s leaders were a busy group. Under the leadership of such men as Herman Winde, A.E. Besson, S.D. Perry, Wm. Oliver, Wm. Welsteed and several others, roads and bridges were being built, school districts established, and businesses of all sorts were being encouraged. They were also building a township road system at a nearly frantic rate. Below is part of the requirement for a township road as contracted out 80 rods at a segment to local “contractors”.

“Said road must be cleared 20 ft. wide. Corduroy must be 16 ft. long, 5 inches in diameter and of sound timber, and laid so as to be level. Roots, stumps etc. must be grubbed out before laying corduroy. Said corduroy must be inspected before any ground is thrown on it. Ditch must be 3 ft. wide on top, 2 ft. deep and 2 ft. on bottom. Dirt to be thrown on center of corduroy and leveled off. Highland must be grubbed 20 ft. wide and rounded off so as to be 1-1/2 ft. high in center of road. Road must be made straight in the line and must be completed on or before Oct. 1st, 1893. Sold for $98.50 to Philibar Bouchamt.”

I presume the recipient of that contract was Philibar Beauchamp. Some other contract recipients were John Geroux for $63.00, Arcule (Hercule?) Lancour for $60.00, etc. The misspellings probably occurred because Herman Winde, Township treasurer in charge of issuing the contracts, went by the sound of the names pronounced in that wonderful nasal twang with which those old Frenchmen spoke.

In 1903 Arthur Besaw, one of those early Perkins entrepreneurs, who tried his hand at just about everything, started a weekly newspaper called the Perkins Chronicle. He ran it until about 1906 when it just sort of faded away.

Finally, as an example of how quickly Baldwin Township grew in those days, it is evident that its population around the turn of the century was perhaps more than double what it is today.





On May 9, 1874, an act of extreme generosity by the State of Michigan was officially recorded. It was the act of handing over to the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Company a commodity with which the state was blessed in excess – LAND. This deal was sealed in a document that says (in some rather ungrammatical legal language) that the State of Michigan “Conveys under the Authority of Certain Acts of Congress and of the Legislature of the State of Michigan, to aid in the construction of a railroad from Marquette to the Wisconsin state line. The said State…grants unto the said Railway Company, the following described lands…” Though the original transaction probably took place over a decade earlier, events even as significant as this were often transacted rather loosely in those days, and it’s a wonder it became a part of the public record at all. Though the land was granted to the C&NW Railway Company, the tracks here were actually laid by the Peninsular Railroad Company. The latter was a project of W.B. Ogdon, who was the President of the C&NW. It was established in 1862 and may have been created specifically to build this new line. It would later become part of the C&NW.

The recorded history of Beaver Creek Farm begins with the recorded document of this land grant. While only a part of the present farm was included in this enormous gift package to the C&NWR Co., it led to a huge logging camp being built on Beaver Creek. More than a decade before the turn of the century the Railway Company was in the process of cashing in on some of those land parcels and gave a “timber deed” to the Escanaba Woodenware Co. This deed included a huge parcel (20,000 acres) west of Beaver (known as the “Beaver Tract”) and the Woodenware paid $111,935 for it ($5.59 an acre). To sweeten the deal the C&NWRCo. swung an arc of narrow-gauge track from its “Beaver Branch”, through some of the best timber, to within a few yards of Beaver Creek. They also provided a “Pony Engine” and, mounted upon a set of flatcars, a huge steam winch. This winch would pull full-length trees from the nearby woods to where they would be cut up along the tracks by a crew of men with crosscut saws, then loaded on flatcars. (Similar spurs to other pockets of timber would soon follow all along the Beaver Branch.)





Perhaps the first permanent settlers in the area were the Barron Brothers, Peter and Dona, who ran their father’s logging operation there near the turn of the century. John Barron of the Flat Rock area had a section of land on Indian Creek and that would eventually belong to Peter and Dona, and it is where Dona would develop a large Sugar Bush. Later, around 1912, Belgian immigrants would settle the area and turn it into a lucrative farming community. The first of these settlers would be a man named Alphonse Heirman. Though a few families, like the Fred Kossow family, along with many jobbers and woodsworkers, lived in the area before the turn of the century, most records of their existence have long disappeared. It would be left to the Belgian farmers to leave a permanent mark on this segment of wilderness. They would build a community here and name it St. Nicholas, after a town in Belgium in the area from which St. Nicholas founder, Alphonse Heirman, emigrated.




At the beginning pulp and logs were the main export from St. Nicholas. This was probably because the Belgians who converged on the area had been scattered among area logging camps as workers. These men would take the small stakes they made and buy land at St. Nicholas (then unnamed). This settling was mostly at the urging of a Marquette priest, Mathias Jodocy. Some of the men would send to Belgium for wives as they became established on the land.

Soon, as farmland was cleared (These men had been mainly farmers in Belgium.) cattle would be driven in from Flat Rock. One of the greatest barriers on these cattle drives was the Escanaba River and one had to be careful about just where the herds would be “waded” across this stream which was over half a forty wide in many places. As the farmers became more diversified and prosperous, potatoes would become the main crop exported from St. Nicholas, though most folks also remained dairy and beef farmers.

There was also a time when moonshine became an export from the area. But then, it was the Carrie Nations of this country who could take credit for creating a whole new cottage industry that helped many a poor farmer or laborer to make some good money for a change. On St. Nicholas, as in many places, some farmsteads took on noticeable improvements as the Prohibition progressed.


  About the Author

Portrait of Charles E. Dedic


Charles E. Dedic was born in the old farmhouse at Beaver Creek on December 20, 1935. He attended school in the Perkins school system and graduated from there in 1954. He spent three years in the Armed Forces and was discharged in 1957 with the rank of E-5. He would receive a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from Northern Michigan University and would later study at the University of Minnesota under a Wall Street Journal Fellowship for Journalists. His teaching career would begin at Newberry and he would retire from the Escanaba Public School system in 1991. Early in his career he taught summer Journalism Workshops at Northwood Institute in Midland.

As a sidelight to his teaching career, he also worked as a bartender, ran a dairy and beef farm, worked in the woods as a pulp cutter, ran a small family sawmill and logging operation, and made outdoor life the main focal point for himself and his family.

In 1995 he published Neighborhood Elders and Little River Rats, a book about growing up on the farm at Beaver Creek. …after the publication of Dreams of Beaver Creek, he …finalized a somewhat humorous book called Lena, Girl of the Camps.




Selma Weldum
February 26, 1987


Perkins was founded on the Whitefish branch of the Chicago Northwestern railroad in 1872, shortly after the main line was built from Escanaba to Negaunee in 1865. It is located on M-35, Baldwin Township, Delta County. One can’t miss it because of the T in the center of the village. The former Norden’s Store has been crashed into 17 times when drivers failed to turn left on M-35 or right toward the old school, when coming into the village from the South on M-35.

There are two versions of how the village got its name. It was named for either Perkins A. Dodge, one of the first settlers to own land in the area, or John Perkins, first homesteader.

Baldwin Township was formed in 1873 and was granted a Post Office in 1874. Presently 124 boxes are rented to patrons. There is no rural delivery. Betty Koski has been postmaster since 1981.

French, German, and Scandinavian immigrants settled in the area. Belgians came to St. Nicholas, named after Nicholas Jodocy, in 1912. Bethany Lutheran Church was dedicated in 1910 and St. Joseph Church in 1923.

Escanaba Furnace Co. built kilns along the railroad. Later shingle mill and sawmill furnished work for people. The cheese factory closed in 1953 as dairy farming declined, except St. Nicholas area became noted for its potato farms, and still is.

Gibbs store operated from 1905 until 1972. Gibbs was also one of the big timber buyers in the area. Timber business still is the main source of income for many residents. Mead offers employment to some and some work in Escanaba in stores or shops.

The township has always been governed by a township board. Donald Stevenson has been Supervisor since 1976; Ken Depuydt, Township Clerk, has been on the Board since 1961; Thor Nelson is Treasurer; Aaron Depuydt and Joanne Gustafson are Trustees; Alan Depuydt and James Crenshaw are Constables. The Board meets at the Baldwin Township Hall on the last Wednesday of the month.

Residents voted to consolidate the many one-room school houses in the Township, so a brick school was built in the village in 1909, K-10 grades. Fire caused by an electrical storm destroyed it in 1928. It was rebuilt and in 1938 a gym and rooms for grades 11 and 12 were added.

In December, 1976, a school with 66 students in high school, of which 28 were girls, lost to Lake City in basketball finals at Grand Rapids. Lake City, a school which went up to Class C the following year. The previous year the Yellow Jackets had lost to Lake City in semi-finals.

However, when Perkins and Rock consolidated in 1977, the girls of the new Mid Peninsula school won state championship in East Lansing. Debbie DeBacker, who came to Perkins to coach in 1973, and still coaches at Mid Pen, won the 200th game last September.

When the schools consolidated there were 544 students and 43 graduates in 1978. The first class to graduate from the new Mid Peninsula school on St. Nicholas Road, in 1986, had 38 graduates. In 1986-87 school year the count is 476 students K-12. Gene DeKeyser, who became Superintendent at Perkins in 1968, continues to be Superintendent at Mid Peninsula school.

Population of the township has fluctuated with the high points being 1900 and 1940. Population: 1880 -295; 1900-862: 1910-753; 1920-807;1930-756; 1940-887; 1950-689; 1960-647; 1970-610; 1980-769; 1984-801. There are 510 registered voters in the township in 1986.

Land distribution is as follows: 1986: total acreage 53,120, and state equalization value (SEV) $7,787,878.

* Residential 9.56% or 5083 acres, 544 parcels of which 365 have year-round occupants. In 1980 there were 410 parcels and 314 year-round occupants.

* Agricultural acreage is 4,280 acres or 8.5% and 107 parcels.

* State owned land is 23% or 12,240 acres. No Federal land.

* Timber cutover covers 41.71% or 22,168 acres.

* Recreation or land in Commercial Forest Act (CFR) is 17.53% or 9,317 acres.

* Commercial or retail contributes to only .04% with 8 parcels, such as 2 bars, store, garage, Post Office, and others.

* Industrial takes 3% and 1 or 2 parcels. Part of Boney Falls is in Baldwin Township. The old school will become an Industrial parcel when the new owner, Creten’s Brother’s Waterbeds, Inc. moves in the area to manufacture furniture. Train stations, such as Winde, Friday, and Osier, on the Whitefish branch and Beaver no longer are on the map.

The cheese factory now houses the library, township hall, Senior Center, Head Start, fire hall, community center; the Lions Club purchases Gibbs store and in 1977 dedicated it as a clubhouse and community center. The American Legion, Post 540, owns a clubhouse which is used for community events.

Supervisor Stevenson says the outlook is optimistic. In 1985 single family dwelling permits exceeded valuation of $350,000. “We revised our zoning laws to permit more building in the area,” he said. “That and the lower interest rates have increased real estate sales and building new homes.”




St. Niklaas to St. Nicholas
Author Unknown

St. Nicholas, 1962. St. Nicholas always comes to Christmas, but in two instances, at least, Christmas comes to St. Nicholas, as well. This little Community of about 25 families in northwestern Delta County in Upper Michigan is busily preparing for that annual celebration, and the same thing is going on over in St. Niklaas, Belgium, where the first settlers of this Belgian community came from.

St. Nicholas did not take its name from “the old home town”, St. Niklaas, according to Jule Van Damme, who was the second settler just 50 years ago, in 1912. “This community was started by the Rt. Rev. Matthias Jodocy, a Roman Catholic priest, who named it after his brother, Nicholas – who was named in honor of the saint,“ Jule explained.

St. Niklaas, Belgium, is a manufacturing city of about 45,000 population 30 miles northwest of Brussels.

Along with its “Christmas” name, St. Nicholas is also renowned for its potato growing. Jule Van Damme surprised the potato world in 1941 by winning the Michigan state championship by growing 650 bushels per acre, on a 20-acre plot. In 1944 his neighbor, Emil DeBacker, won the title by growing 715 bushels. Rene VerBrigghe was the “champ” another year, and in 1949, 1953, and again this year (1962) Paul Van Damme, Jule’s son, was crowned champion. His production record this year was 1,045 bushels per acre on 30 acres.

The Upper Peninsula was largely a region of cut-over timber lands in 1912 when Fr. Jodocy began his campaign to develop it agriculturally. A Belgian himself, he knew that Belgium was a nation of fine farmers, a country with the densest population in Europe, a land where farms were necessarily restricted in size. “Why not,” he asked, “bring some of these good Belgian farmers to Upper Michigan, which has thousands of acres which could become good farms?”

The idea was accepted and Fr. Jodocy, through the church, asked for 100 Belgians to come and settle in St. Nicholas. Alphonse Heirman was the first to come. He had immigrated to the United States in 1891 and worked in the iron mines at Norway, Michigan, but he was a farmer at heart, and moved here. Two months later Jule Van Damme, who had arrived in the United States that year and had worked in the woods at Seney, Michigan, eight weeks, made the break and came to St. Nicholas. About a dozen more families came from Belgium in 1913, but the outbreak of World War I broke up the procession.

So, the community made its start with those names, and others like Alphonse Van Acher, Henri Vermote, Pamphil Depuydt, Camiel Depuydt, Jerome and Sylvere Van De Caveys, Leon and Jule Cafmeyer, Jule Brungten, Gerard Broeders (the only Hollander in the group) and Peter Jodocy. Others came after the war and are still classified by residents here as among the “originals”. Seven of the first settlers are still in the area: Jule Van Damme, Morris and Rene VerBrigghe, Donna Barron, Remi Den Bussch, Henry Vermote, Adolph and Phil Lippens and Jule Brugten.

“It was hard at the beginning,” Jule Van Damme, recalled. He is now 83, and started farming here with 160 acres, built-up his holdings to 2,000 acres, and still farms 280 acres and raises 40 head of young Holstein stock each year. “We paid $15 and acre for the land – which was too much. Most of the land was cutover and we had to clear away the stumps by hand. But all of us had been farmers in Europe, and we knew what we had to do to make the ground work for us.”

Each settler bought a cow and worked-up a garden patch first of all. From that humble beginning have grown the huge, cleared, fertile and productive farms which have won the St. Nicholas area a considerable degree of fame.

“The farming area has grown in size, but not in population,” Van Damme said. “The settlers bought and cleared more land, and bought from other farmers. They wanted to put the land under cultivation. The farm land here which originally sold for $15 per acre would cost $100 or more now, according to Jule. The community, which is tucked along side roads, is prosperous with great, cleared fields of rich earth, fine homes, and huge, handsome barns. The farmers, the “originals” and their sons who are carrying-on the old names, are industrious, thrifty and practical people. They are progressive as well – look what they have done with potato production!

Back to top

You are now leaving Delta County

Delta County provides links to web sites of other organizations in order to provide visitors with certain information. A link does not constitute an endorsement of content, viewpoint, policies, products or services of that web site. Once you link to another web site not maintained by Delta County, you are subject to the terms and conditions of that web site, including but not limited to its privacy policy.  The website will be opened in a new window or tab.

You will be redirected to

Click the link above to continue or CANCEL

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.