The Early Days of Wilber
Written by Amy Abbott and read by her at a meeting of the Iosco County Pioneer Society in the summer of 1921.
Also published in The History of Iosco County, Michigan, 1981.
The early settlers came over
slab roads and rough, winding trails which were far different from our excellent
roads of the present day. The first to come was Joseph Burcham in the year 1874.
The Moore, Wilber, Kingsland. Scott, Stanton, Marshall, Syme, Stevenson, Falls,
Wilkinson, Stickles, Abbott, Bell, Dawes, Kirkendall, Stevens, Corner and Hodman
families soon followed. The blackened woods of what is now Wilber Township became
sparsely dotted with log cabins, each surrounded by a small clearing.
Because of the swamps that lay north and south, Tawas and Au Sable were reached
in a very roundabout way. In 1876 the men of this neighborhood had to go to Au
Sable in order to vote in the presidential election. To get there, it was necessary
to go west two miles to the plains, then north on what was known as the "hardscrabble"
road. It intersected with the Au Sable tote road, that went east to Au Sable.
The drive of about twenty miles is now shortened to half that distance. The following
year Au Sable Township opened a road through to Wilber, building a mile of corduroy
road across the swamp. This made a more direct, if not a smoother, route.
At about the same time East Tawas began improving the road from that direction,
making a similar crossing one mile long across what was known as "the big cedar
swamp". The corduroy roads were an improvement on the first roads, but in the
spring of the year they became "floating crossways". Many and interesting are
the stories told about them.
One day Joe Bell went to town with his team and wagon; while in town, a heavy
rain fell. When within a half mile of home on his return, he found the crossway
was afloat. He was obliged to unhitch the horses, single them out and let them
pick their way through the slashing, leaving the wagon until the water subsided.
At another tine, Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson and Jennie Scott were on their way to
Tawas in a lumber wagon. As they were crossing a mud-hole, a front wheel of the
wagon struck one end of a pole. That caused the other end to fly up and hit the
wagon box, quickly landing said wagon box, seat, and occupants into the mud. Strange
to say, the basket of eggs which Jennie held, escaped with but little damage.
As the clearings were made and enclosed by log fences, roads were cut from one
to another, and at each clearing a pair of bars was made across the road. It is
interesting to note that one of the early settlers remembers of having to go through
seven pairs of bars on his way to Tawas. It is not to be wondered that the trip
to town was an all day's job.
In the spring of 1878, Wilber Township was organized, taking one township from
Au Sable and one from Plainfield. E.F. Abbott circulated the petition. The name
of Prospect was considered, but Wilber was finally decided upon, in honor of Marvin
Wilber, one of the early settlers. He lived on what is now known as the Smith
place, and built the first frame house and barn in the township.
At the first town meeting, which was held in Lauren Wilber's home, Nelson Stevens
was elected supervisor, and Melvin C. Falls, clerk. The next meetings were held
in the new schoolhouse in Dist. No. 1, which was built by Francis Dawes.
The first teacher was Mary Hobinson. She was granted her certificate by the township
inspector, George Dawes. Among her pupils were Clara Stickles (later Mrs. John
Alda), Jim Burcham, Adrien Dawes, John Myers, and the Syme, Marshall, Falls and
In the fall of '87 the township bought the schoolhouse for a town hail, and the
district erected a new building which still serves its original purpose. May Falls
(now Mrs. John Westervelt) was the first teacher in the new schoolhouse.
Wilber Post Office was established Jan. 20, 1891, with Mrs. E.F. Abbott as postmistress.
She also kept on sale a small supply of the most necessary articles. There has
been a store in connection with the Post Office ever since. At first, mail was
carried to and from East Tawas twice a week on the back of the mail-carrier. In
the winter time it was necessary for him to make the trip on snowshoes.
Before the schoolhouse was built, Sunday School used to be held in the Stevenson
home. Mr. Stevenson was superintendent, adult Bible teacher and song leader. Mrs.
Falls walked nearly two miles and taught the children's class. On March 9, 1887,
the M.E. Church was dedicated. Rev. Sibley Taylor of Tawas City was the first
Because of road conditions, lack of telephone, and distance from town, a doctor's
services were next to impossible in times of sickness. But Mrs. Stevenson, (now
Mrs. Enos Scott) was the angel of mercy. The worst weather or roads did not keep
her from the bedside of the sick, where her loving unselfish services were of
priceless value; yet costing the sufferer little or nothing. Her fee for delivering
a baby was $2 if the family could pay it.
It cannot be said that Wilber is the most healthful place in the state, but at
one time three years elapsed without a death, and our health officer received
a letter from the state board of health asking how he could account for it. The
only reason he could give was that in our township, fresh air, the very best water,
and strenuous exercise are always to be had in abundance.
In the early days wild game, such as deer, bear, wolves and lynx were very plentiful.
Occasionally the scream of a panther was heard. As late as 1887 a wolf pack was
known to go through the settlement. On one day of Christmas week, Mabel Falls,
aged nine years (now Mrs. 0. Misener), had spent the day with her sister, Mrs.
Abbott, and left just before dark to go home. Part of the distance of two miles
was only a rough trail through the woods. She had gone but half a mile on the
lonely path then she was startled by the barking of what she thought to be a lot
of dogs, Very much frightened, she ran back to the Abbott home. The next morning
it was seen by tracks in the light snow that a large pack of wolves had crossed
the trail at that point.
There has always been easy access to an abundance of wild fruit. It may be safely
said that huckleberries have aided greatly the progress of our citizens as household
articles and farm equipment was purchased with money earned by picking huckleberries.
Besides the school house and church already mentioned, Wilber grew to have have
two other schools. The three schools were named: Stevens School, District #1 and
the Green School. Grange Hall was built for the social life of the community.
A lumber mill, owned by Mr. Asa Rodman, has long been in operation.
We are glad that many of our pioneers have lived to enjoy our fine roads, modern
conveyances and other improvements that they helped to bring about. The automobile
of today contrasts strongly with the lumber wagon drawn by oxen over the rough
crossways in the days when a spring seat was a luxury.