Many years ago I was host of visitors to Manistee County. We were driving around the county and I was helping them with the county’s geography providing the names of places as we drove by.
At least I thought it was helping.
Our route took us over Highbridge, Red Bridge, by White Fence, and over to Big Four Corners. As we were headed home for the evening my guest said in apparent flustration:
“Who names places in your county?” I responded with a puzzled look. He explained: Highbridge is not high, Red Bridge is not red, there is no white (or any) fence at White Fence, and there is nothing “big” or “four” about Big Four Corners.
Well, my guest had a point.
The first part of his question is road are named by the Manistee County Road Commission. They have long had a policy of naming a road after some historic characteristic – it may be the first family to settle along the road, or some other historcal reference. The Village of Kaleva has a policy for streets to be Finnish language words. I think both are nice. Makes the names memorable, provides a local touch, and sense of place.
The second part of my guest’s question is that the names reflect history. Red Bridge, where Coates Highway crosses the Big Manistee River, was an iron wood-decked one lane bridge which was painted red. I would imagine by use of standard barn-red paint. That bridge was around for a long time. It was finally removed and replaced in the 1970s. Just a couple years ago the third Red Bridge was built.
When scanning old photos at the Museum we come across some which lend themselves to a “before and after” comparison. The photo with this post is a picture of Red Bridge taken by C. N. Russell in 1955. From the same angle and vantage is a photo of today’s Red Bridge photographed in March 2020. This past summer the Museum had a display of before and after photos like the one seen here.
The other names? Highbridge is near the high trussel train bridge across the Big Manistee River. Today the road and bridge are its namesake. There used to be a white fence at White Fence, where Bear Creek enters the Big Manistee River.
Not sure about Big Four Corners (the corner of Big Four and Thirteen Mile Roads). Guess it is also the corner where four townships all touch at a point – Springdale, Maple Grove, Bear Lake, and Pleasanton. But maybe someone out there has the definitive explaination.