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History of Clare told through vintage photographs

CLARE — The newest addition to Arcadia Publishing’s popular Images of America series is Clare: 1865-1940 from local author Robert Knapp. The book boasts more than 200 vintage images and memories of days gone by.

Mid-Michigan was an untamable wilderness, good only for trappers and Native Americans until America’s population exploded and the demand for timber suddenly changed everything. By the 1860s, Clare was at the center of this lumberman’s paradise.

Starting from a small village beside an abandoned lumber camp, the town prospered as farmers, ranchers and merchants replaced loggers. Hastily thrown-up frame buildings gave way to brick, and interesting local life mirrored small-town America of the early 20th century.

Snowstorm in Clare, April 1926. Photo from the Gail F. Sowle, Sr. collection.

Then came oil, and colorful men such as Henry Ford and Jack Dempsey arrived. Purple Gangsters from Detroit moved in to take advantage of a “clean” investment. A famous murder at the local grand hotel brought national attention. On the eve of World War II, Clare had risen from the wilderness to be a fascinating community tucked away in middle America.

Clare Public School. Photo from the Gail F. Sowle, Sr. collection.

Highlights of Clare:
• From wilderness to village
• Market town
• Oil
• Entertainment
• Gateway to the north

The author, Robert Knapp, is retired from the University of California, Berkeley. The son of Austin Knapp (CHS ‘34), he was raised in Mt. Pleasant and in his youth spent many days in Clare where his grandparents lived. He has studied the history of Clare for many years and is restoring the log home in Sheridan Township built by his great-grandfather in 1888. This volume builds on the exceptional work of Forrest Meek, a longtime teacher at Clare High School and local historian. The images he assembled, combined with a centenary collection and contributions from many Clare residents, form the basis of this book.

Two events will take place on Sept. 6 to celebrate the publication of Clare 1865-1940. Knapp will be available from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. in downtown Clare on the corner of Fifth and McEwan streets to sign copies. From 4-7 p.m. he will be in the Clare City Park in conjunction with the Farm & Arts Market.

Ten dollars from the sale of each book will go towards the renovation of Clare’s historic railroad depot. The book is available locally at Ace Hardware, Clare Chamber of Commerce, City of Clare, Clare County Historical Society, Cops and Doughnuts, Doherty Hotel, Gateway Pharmacy, Herrick House, Mid Michigan Community Action Agency and Witbeck’s Family Foods.


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