Mackinaw City in Cheboygan County, Michigan — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
Edgar Conkling 1812-1881
Mackinaw City Historical Pathway
Presented at the dedication of the statue of Edgar Conkling by Jerry Prior in Conkling Heritage Park
Edgar was born in New York during the War of 1812, while Mackinaw City was still a British territory. He was raised in New York City. As he approached adulthood in the 1830s, it was a time of great western movement inspired by improved modes of transportation such as the Erie Canal and the trans-Appalachian road. It was also a time of deadly cholera epidemics in New York City.
Edgar’s family moved to Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1831 when Edgar was 18 years old. At 20 years old he married Belinda Longworth whose father owned acres of rolling Appalachian foothills, which held salt springs. He had a salt producing business in which Edgar probably participated. In 1836, when the trees to fuel the fires were all burned, both the Longworth and Conkling families moved to LeRoy, Illinois.
This was a promising town with the arrival of a railroad eminent. Here Edgar ran a merchandise store and speculated in land development. From Mackinaw City’s perspective this was a critical time. While
Edgar also learned about platting land. In LeRoy, he platted sections of town with the specifications that the lots be 40 feet wide and 125 feet deep. The streets were 66 feet wide. His land speculations failed even though he built 25 “spec” houses to encourage purchases. The recession of 1837 slowed the wild western expansion drastically.
In 1841, at the age of 29, he and Belinda moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, the 6th largest city in America. Here he started a paint company. Demand for paint was great because homes were now being made of wooden siding rather than logs. Siding needed to be painted. He was apparently very successful. He also speculated in railroad stock and again in land development. His paint company was merged with others and today is the company Eagle Pitcher, a Fortune 500 company that makes appliance paint and batteries for space vehicles.
Once the railroad between Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio was completed, Edgar and Belinda took a vacation trip to see Mackinac Island. They went by rail to Toledo and then steamship to Mackinac Island.
Also, at this time the Soo locks were being constructed, and in 1855 they opened bringing large numbers of freighters past Mackinaw on their way to Chicago. The region was also receiving federal attention with a lightship parked at Waugoshance Point, and by 1856 a lighthouse was built on the site. No wonder Edgar foresaw this area as the Chicago of the north.
In 1854 he bought 1800 acres of land, including land as far south as Cheboygan and as far north as St. Ignace. But the Mackinaw City area showed the most promise, and in 1857 he had the town platted in anticipation of the arrival of railroad line and roads.
Unfortunately, the bigger world again upset Edgar’s development plans. The Civil War interrupted railroad construction; Mackinaw languished until well after the Civil War. The first settlers did not arrive until the 1870s with the Stimpsons of Cheboygan moving here.
Edgar was doggedly loyal to his dreams
Today, I remember Edgar every time I drive the Streets. He learned from LeRoy and Platted Mackinaw City with bigger lots and bigger streets. Our lots are 50 by 150 feet and the streets are 80 feet wide. This means that 25% of the land Edgar bought for Mackinaw City he turned into public lands. We all benefit from that generosity today.
The town is laid out in a dense square arrangement, not the long linear arrangement that St. Ignace is forced to deal with. In Edgar’s dream, with arriving train passengers filling the town, his street plan would facilitate walking access to all parts of town. Edgar even specified that sidewalks should be 5 feet wide, huge by most town’s standards. He made Mackinaw City the walking-friendly town which we benefit from today.
He also platted the two 150-foot wide boulevards that intersect at the village dock, now leased to Shepler’s. These were originally planned for railroad lines but serve us well as major driving arteries.
Although 150 years later Edgar’s Mackinaw City is still no Chicago, it has prospered because of Edgar’s foresight and generosity.
Erected by Mackinaw City Historical Pathway.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce • Railroads & Streetcars • Settlements & Settlers.
Location. 45° 46.71′ N, 84° 43.539′ W. Marker is in Mackinaw City, Michigan, in Cheboygan County. Marker can be reached from South Huron Avenue north of Railroad Avenue, on the right when traveling north. Marker and Edgar Conkling tree trunk sculpture are located beside the sidewalk, near the center of Conkling Heritage Park. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 335 South Huron Avenue, Mackinaw City MI 49701, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Ice Harvesting (within shouting distance of this marker); The Meneely Bell (within shouting distance of this marker); Commercial Fishing (within shouting distance of this marker); Mill Creek (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); British Colonial Shipbuilding Yard, 1761 - 1781 (about 400 feet away); Mackinaw City Railroad Dock / USCG Cutter Mackinaw WAGB 83 (about 400 feet away); Auto Ferries (about 400 feet away); Michigan State Ferry System / Michigan State Car Ferries (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Mackinaw City.
Also see . . .
1. Mackinaw City History. In 1857, the area which today makes up Mackinaw City was purchased by five investors who sought to attract settlers to the area and essentially build a city. Edgar Conkling of Cincinnati was the main thrust behind this movement. Fliers were distributed all over the country, telling people of the riches of the land and water and the sure and uncertain fact that soon, very soon, Mackinaw City would be the next Chicago. But it was not to be. Growth was very slow, most notably because of the lack of a river and that it was as yet too sparsely populated for railroads to come this far north. For the next thirteen years, the carefully platted and recorded “city” was nothing more than a dream, with exactly zero settlers living in the would-be metropolis. (Submitted on April 4, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
2. History Carved in Wood. Scattered around Mackinaw City are several wooden sculptures carved by local resident Jerry Prior, each depicting a person of historical importance in town. His sculptures are part of the Mackinac City Historical Pathway. (Submitted on April 4, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on August 26, 2019. It was originally submitted on April 1, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 137 times since then and 4 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on April 4, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 3. submitted on August 26, 2019, by Joel Seewald of Madison Heights, Michigan. 4. submitted on April 4, 2019, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.