Our Founding Father

In the early summer of 1866, George M. Cartwright, founder of the Village of Elberta, found himself standing on the green banks of Lake Au, Bec Scies, with a dense, almost unbroken wilderness before him. We find, from earlier writings, that he was a Michigan Man, born in Grand Blanc, in Genessee County, and had the blood of five races, namely Dutch, English, Irish, German, and Hebrew. He was experienced in office work and connected with the Manufacture of Lumber and the sale and shipping of the same. He was associated with Hon Alexander McFarlan, of Flint and as agent for Michigan’s Ex-Governor Henry H. Crapo in that line of work. He also organized the Wisconsin Plaster Company, at Milwaukee in 1865.

Mr. Cartwright confined his activities to real estate or making pedestrian tours into the interior and purchasing real estate for himself and others. He traveled extensively between here and his former home in Fenton, Michigan, operating in real estate them and in the Southern part of the State and in the Southern states as well. He contributed extensively to the writings in the “REAL ESTATE CHANGE” and other publications. He is said to have been very liberal in the promotion of the business development in the areas of his interests and have land and money for these promotions and for the building of roads.

What inspired Mt. Cartwright to found this village other than his promotional capabilities in real estate and business, we have been unable to ascertain. It seems quite possible that a man with his tremendous energy and the fact that he was so well traveled in pursuit of his business interests, found out that a new harbor installation was being planned by the United States Government and that development was sure to follow, and decided to take advantage of it. Mr. Cartwright employed a youthful Civil Engineer, Mr. George H. Steele, then residing in Homestead. Benzie County, and caused the area now comprising the main area of Elberta to be surveyed and platted in the year 1866 and on February 14, 1867 recorded the “Plat of Frankfort City” which is said to be the first legally Correct plat filed from Benzie County. As we look at this “Plat of Frankfort City” most of the street names reflect a definite relation to the popular men of the times and to Mr. Cartwright’s friends and business associates. The Main Street is named “Frankfort Avenue” which was a popular name in the area and just coming into popular use. Crapo Street is named after Ex-Governor Henry H. Crapo, Cartwright’s former employer and business associate. Steele Street is named after George E. Steele, the Civil Engineer who surveyed and laid out the plan for the town. Lincoln Avenue is named after President Lincoln, who had been assassinated only the year before, and Washington Avenue after our first President. Grand and Valley seem to have no particular significance as names, and probably were inspired by the lay’ of the ground. Robar Street is named after Joseph Robar with that name having different spellings.

Mr. Cartwright acquired much of the land for the town from Robar. Cedar Street was called that because of the dense growth of those trees in that area. Glen, Thomas, Pearson, and Charles Streets were named after friends and associates of Mr. Cartwright. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan were of course, named after those famous and popular Civil War Generals. George M. Street was named after Mr. Cartwright by George E. Steele, who, because of Cartwright’s modesty, was forced to abbreviate the name before Cartwright would allow its use. Shortly after World War II, the names of Fourth, Fifth, and Charles were changed to Van Brocklin, Bigley, and Acre, as a memorial to Elberta Boys who were killed in the war. Third Street was changed to White Street after South Frankfort’s first Village President. Second Street was changed to McManus Street after George McManus, the first Village Treasurer. There was already a Thomas Street, so William B. Thomas, the first Village Clerk did not get a Street named after him.

These three men were the committee which petitioned for incorporation as a Village. Bye Street was named after Nels and Paula Bye. who, when they Platted “Thelma’s Cradle”, dedicated 2.800 feet of Lake Michigan Beach to the public.

From the “History of Elberta” by Allen B. Blacklock
Railroad Site History

In 1867, the Frankfort Iron Works was established and a large blast furnace was constructed. During its existence, Frankfort Iron Works gave the Village of Elberta the notoriety of having the largest and most extensive manufacturing works in Benzie County. The original building contained a blast furnace where the iron was smelted; a boiler arid engine, stone and ore crusher and platform. The casting house, constructed of brick, is where die first iron was produced July 1, 1870.

The first railroad was constructed in 1870 and was laid from the Frankfort Iron Works, along the east side of Frankfort Avenue, and was used to transport wood to die blast furnace. The original rails were made from wood strips later replaced with iron.

Next to the Frankfort Iron Works building, two residences were built on a bluff approximately 20 feet higher than the general level and fronted Lake Betsie.
These residences were used by officials of the company during its operation.

The Frankfort Iron Works ceased operations in 1883.

The Frankfort Iron Works property passed to the Toledo, Ann Arbor and Northern Michigan Railway, later renamed Ann Arbor Railroad Company in 1892. The furnace buildings were converted to a roundhouse arid machine shop located west of the subject site, parts of which are still standing. The grounds were used for the tracks and switches, and a depot. On the bluff, near the houses used by the officials, a large wooden water tower was constructed and used for filling the boilers of the steam engines.

Also in 1892, the Ann Arbor Railroad Company built warehouses which held several hundred rail car loads of flour during transit. The company also built a grain elevator alongside die west slip. The elevators were 80 to 100 feet tall and were used until 1916, when they were demolished.

Coal was stored on the grounds between the railroad tracks and Lake Betsie when the ferryboats burned coal for fuel. In 1925, the company built a 400-ton reinforced concrete, automatic, electric locomotive coaling plant on the east end of the subject site. In the late 1950’s, the ferryboat engines were converted to diesel and the coal dock was closed.

In 1982, MOT, (Michigan Department of Transportation) the owners and operators of the Ann Arbor Railroad Company and car ferry service, terminated all operations in the Village of Elberta.


For a complete history of the Village of Elberta, and a background of the development of the Ann Arbor Railroad Property, contact the Village of Elberta. 12