Anderton Trail System Dedication Monday

Anderton at Presque Isle
Anderton at Presque Isle

The dedication of the John B. Anderton Trail System at Presque Isle Park will be held on Monday, Sept. 18. Anderton was a geography professor and department head at NMU—his alma mater. He died while cross-country skiing at age 49 in 2014. The park was a special place for recreation and research throughout his lifetime and the focus of his book titled The Jewel in the Crown: An Environmental History of Presque Isle Park, Marquette, Michigan.

The ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. in the opening at the top of the first hill, near the Charlie Kawbawgam stone. 

Below is the text from a related 2005 NMU alumni magazine story by Kristi Evans on his research at the park: 

John Anderton (’87 BS) stands by the timber gazebo at Presque Isle Park, looking toward the horizon where an azure sky meets the blue-gray water of Lake Superior. Coaxed by a gentle breeze, the waves crest and fall gracefully in syncopated rhythm before they splash against the break wall, rousing a gull from its rocky perch. It is a meditative view – the kind that has captivated visitors for generations. Many locals make frequent trips to this scenic refuge to indulge in the three Rs: reflection, relaxation and recreation.

"I've always been intrigued by this place," Anderton said. "I spent a lot of time here with my family when I was a child and later as a student at Northern. It's real special to me. When I left the area for a while, I often found myself wanting to come back and just look at the island."

Anderton did come back—to teach geography at his alma mater. But since returning six years ago, he's been compelled to do much more than "just look" at the island. He has literally moved earth and stone in a quest to gain a better understanding of Presque Isle's cultural and geological significance. Anderton uncovered evidence of 5,000 years of human activity, ranging from Native Americans to early silver miners to transient settlers.

Before he began his "cultural resource survey" at the site, Anderton spent a month in the archives. He immersed himself in historical maps, photos and records to narrow the scope of his search.  

Then he led a crew of students and volunteers to the park. Their first task was to examine old and modern shorelines. Anderton points to a grassy hill marked by a series of small terraces that serve as visual time breaks left in the wake of varying water levels. Presque Isle might appear more like a peninsula today, but Anderton said it was once a true island.

"The oldest surface at the top of the hill dates back to the last glaciation 10,000 years ago, when the lake levels were much higher. Now this land is connected to the mainland by a strip of sand deposited by currents over time. When the lake level dropped, we got the formation we have today."

Anderton and his crew also did shovel testing to determine the location and boundaries of prehistoric sites. They dug small holes in the soil and screened the material with quarter-inch mesh. Assuming they would find one or two sites, they ended up with 10, including a two-acre parcel that Anderton calls one of the largest prehistoric plots in Marquette County.

Artifacts that surfaced through this labor-intensive process provide clues about the history of human activity. Anderton said Presque Isle's first visitors were likely small families – maybe 100 people total – who arrived each spring, camped on the shoreline, and probably speared fish from the lake. He said this annual rotation began about 5,000 years ago and continued for two millennia.

When asked how he can determine the time frame, Anderton scans the ground near his feet and bends down to pick up a small, glistening stone fragment protruding through the surface.  

"This is a quartzite flake," he said. "It has certain characteristics, like a striking platform and a bulb of percussion, from it being hit by another stone. What people seemed to be doing 5,000 years ago is reducing cobbles of stone, trying to make sharp edges. This is like the Swiss army knife of the Archaic Period. It was used for scraping, cutting, cleaning fish, processing deer hide – you name it. There's a little copper out here, too, but that was pretty much looted by folks with metal detectors in the '70s. We also found a lot of fire-cracked rock, which was probably used for processing food in hearths or fire pits."

On the north end of Presque Isle, near the cove where brave souls leap from ancient black rock outcroppings into the water, Anderton lowers himself into an old mine shaft. 

"This is one of three reported shafts from an 1845 silver mine encampment here," he said as his feet hit the bottom. "There were legends of silver in this area, so a company set up shop to find it and 17 English and Irish people stayed here. They reportedly dug three shafts. I've been able to find two of them. This is somewhat shallow, but there's one about 40-feet deep and really dangerous about 40 yards away. You can still see the tool marks down here."

The encampment also featured five log cabins where the parking area is now located, a blacksmith shop and a storehouse. Just across the road, not far into Presque Isle's inner circle, Anderton stops by a rectangular ditch. It is the empty shell of a root cellar constructed by the miners.

"Back in those days, before refrigeration, you were forced to have one of these to preserve food," he said. "They dug into the ground, took the soil and heaped it over the structure. It looked almost like a mound with an entrance at one end. The soil provided insulation."

With three tons of ore removed, but apparently no silver to show for it, Anderton said the mine shut down the next year. Its discovery adds a unique dimension to the history of the park.

Originally owned by the Ojibwa Indians, Presque Isle was ceded to the United States in the 1842 Treaty of LaPointe. About a decade later, it became a U.S. lighthouse reservation based on the assumption that the port city of Marquette would be centered around what's known today as the Upper Harbor.

Founding father Peter White convinced the federal government in 1886 to give Presque Isle to the city for use as a park. A road was constructed shortly after. White's friend Charlie Kawbawgam, the last chief of the local Chippewas, moved onto the island with his wife, Charlotte. It would be their last home. Their graves are marked by a stone on the southeast side.

Anderton said erosion at Presque Isle is a serious issue, but he is most concerned with the potential loss of the park's cultural heritage and natural beauty.

"The management plan is to keep the island as wild as possible," he said. "My hope is that the results of my research will let the city know what's on the property so they can make good choices to preserve it. I also encourage visitors to enjoy the island without disturbing the land or taking anything. It's a protected place. We can't just go out there with shovels and metal detectors."

Anderton obtained a special permit to perform his study. He was surprised to learn it was the first professional exploration of Presque Isle. Fueled by his discoveries, which Anderton described as bigger than anticipated, he would like to write a book for a general audience. He is also contemplating a public archeology project to expand on the work his crew completed.

As the guided tour comes to a close, it is apparent that Anderton "looks at" Presque Isle in a way most people don't. But he is eager to share his perspective in the hope of opening others' eyes to the significant role Presque Isle played in the forging of Marquette, and the critical need to preserve this historical and cultural gem for future generations.



Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director
906-227-1015
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