While going through some family photos, my mother-in-law, Jane Boursaw (the FIRST Jane Boursaw, my sis-in-law and I got the name much later), came across some photos of her dad, Wellington Gray Draper (my husband Tim’s grandpa), and his crew building Center Road on the Old Mission Peninsula.
Wellington Gray Draper was a civil engineer and project manager for the Michigan State Highway Department. While some of these photos are very clearly the construction of Center Road on the Old Mission Peninsula (because we can identify landmarks), others appear to be in another part of the Traverse City region, but I’m not sure exactly where. I’m hoping some of you can weigh in.
Help Support Old Mission Gazette - Click Here
The non-Old Mission Peninsula photos, which are dated, range from July 1940 through June 1941. While we can’t assume that the Old Mission Peninsula photos fall into that date range, it seems likely.
I searched through the archives of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, but didn’t come up with any further info about the building of Center Road, which was known as “Middle Road” early in its history.
However, MichiganHighways.org offers this information from 1940: “In anticipation of eventually bridging the gap between north-central Lake Co and Mesick in Wexford Co, all of M-42 north of the M-42/M-115 intersection at Mesick is redesignated as M-37 northerly through Traverse City to the Old Mission area.”
So with the designation of Center Road as M37 in 1940, I wonder if that’s when they started planning to shore up the road and pave it. I could be completely off on that – just speculating. If you have any info, tell us in the comments at the bottom of this story.
We do know that Center Road (likely known as “Middle Road” at the time the below photo was taken) existed long before that, because here’s a photo of the road as it passes by our family farm, known as Crescent Hill Fruit Farms at the time, in the early 1900s. My grandmother, Stella Smith (Edgecomb) Johnson, and her first husband, Frank Edgecomb (who died during WWI) were paid something like $2/year by Peninsula Township to keep a water trough by the road so that passing travelers could hydrate their horses. This farm is about a mile north of Mapleton and still part of Johnson Farms.
Below are the photos from the Boursaw/Draper archives that are very clearly on the Old Mission Peninsula. The first is taken looking south from about the intersection of Center Road and Seven Hills Road.
On the left, you can see St. Joseph Catholic Church on the corner of Center Road and Blue Water Road, before it was moved to its current location near Island View Road several years ago. On the right, I believe, is the Carroll Farm, Sunny Slope Farm, which you can read more about here.
Here’s another photo from that same location, only looking north. You can see Center Road veer off to the right as it heads towards Mapleton, and on the left is Seven Hills Road.
You can’t see it, but the Mapleton School, where Bob and Lucille Lindsey lived when I was a kid, is on the left shortly after you turn onto Seven Hills Road. The schoolhouse burned down many years ago, but their daughter Helen Mumford, re-built a house on that same location.
This next group of photos, I’m unclear as to their exact location. The ones with trees lining the road – and the straight nature of the road – makes me wonder if they’re out near Mission Point Lighthouse, but since these were presumably taken in the 1940s, they could have been in other locations on the Old Mission Peninsula, such as Peninsula Drive.
This boat is presumably in East Grand Traverse Bay or, more likely, West Grand Traverse Bay. This would shore up the idea that this group of photos were taken on the Old Mission Peninsula. I’m unable to sharpen the resolution enough to see the name on the boat.
This photo includes a store on the right, with what appears to be a gas station sign out front. I can’t read the name on the store (Hamlin? Hamilton? Marathon?), but it doesn’t look like any of the stores I’ve seen in historical photos on the Old Mission Peninsula.
Here are some other photos of unknown location that may or may not be on the Old Mission Peninsula.
The following photos, again, I’m unclear where they might have been taken. If on the Old Mission Peninsula, does the home or barn look familiar to anyone?
I wonder if they might be on the stretch of road north of the Old Mission Tavern. If so, that might be Russ Holmes’ “Poverty Heights” barn that Becky Wells talks about in the comments section at the bottom of this story. (The barn was recently demolished, but I did get some photos of it right before they took it down. Story forthcoming.) Then again, I would think there would be trees along that stretch of road back then… Wellington Gray Draper is in the white shirt with the vest.
The following photos are marked with a specific project, which I believe is NOT on the Old Mission Peninsula. One of the photos mentions the WTCM Radio Tower, so would that have been out on M72 west of Traverse City? That would be my guess. Does anyone recognize the farmhouse in the last photo?
There’s a bunch of archival info about the Michigan State Highway Department here, but I haven’t had a chance to dive into it.
I look forward to your thoughts about these photos! Leave comments in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
A couple insights from Dad. He remembers “Queen’s Road” before pavement. Road Commission wanted to remove the “lean-to” on right side of barn to pave the road down the hill. Our Grandpa Johnson convinced them to move the road closer to the farmhouse, leaving the barn structure alone.
Dad also recalls the “hogs’ back” portion being reconstructed, including creating the current curve. You’re probably familar with the sharp left turn at the top of Smokey Hill Rd which was the original access to today’s Center Road north.
Thanks to Evelyn Johnson’s Barns of OMP, Dad and I enjoy exploring his boyhood stomping grounds!
Thanks, Cuz! So appreciate Uncle Guy’s wisdom on our beloved homeland – and you for bringing it to us. <3
We so enjoy all the fascinating history you provide. Having been here for 34 years we keep learning more and more about this beautiful area. Thank you
Thanks, Amy Jo! So much OMP history to dive into! More forthcoming on the Gazette. 🙂
What a wonderful history lesson today. Thank you, Jane. I remember Mary Jo Kitchen saying that her Dad, Roger, helped build the road from Traverse. It was a dirt road when we moved there in 1943. It was a really big deal when it was paved!
Thanks, Jan! And thank you for all the great photos and stories you’re sending my way. They’re all in the docket to get posted on the Gazette.
[…] No one correctly guessed the location of our latest OMP Mystery Photo, which I first posted in a story about Tim’s grandpa, Wellington Gray Draper, who was a project manager with the Michigan State Highway Department and […]
Thanks for interviews and links and history. Photos are always great. You are our own true journalist. Also a great Mom. Happy Mother’s Day 🎉.
[…] Old Mission History: Building Center Road, 1940s – Photos […]
[…] closer look, the road isn’t right, if this was indeed that church. I know our Peninsula roads have changed over the years, but that in no way looks like it goes south to the Hogsback. There would be some sort of curve […]