Ponshewaing Flag Stop – A Volunteer Led Project

In 1884, the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad extended its tracks north from Petoskey to Mackinaw City. Spurred by commercial and residential development along Crooked Lake, the railroad soon added a small shelter to accommodate passengers at its new Ponshewaing “flag stop.”

Volunteers associated with the Ponshewaing flag stop project met at the site along the North Western State Trail recently. Pictured (front row, l-r) are steering committee member Wayne Blomberg, Carol Crow, steering committee member Randall Crow, (back row) Petoskey architect Rick Newman, Harbor Springs carpenter Scott Smith, steering committee member Mark Grace, and steering committee member B.R. Smith.

Flag stops were put in place at smaller towns where a regular depot wasn’t warranted. A would-be passenger or railroad official would flag down the train only when there were people to pick up, thereby coining the term.

Over the years, tourism on Crooked Lake waxed and waned. Eventually, the old flag stop structure – like the railroad itself, succumbed to disuse and elemental decay. Today, its only remnant is the austere, century-old concrete pad on which it was originally built.

But, a small group of Ponshewaing residents didn’t want to see the old flag stop banished to history’s back pages. They formed a steering committee of Wayne Blomberg, BR Smith, Mark Grace, and Randy Crow to oversee a $50,000 reconstruction of the building.

Leading this two-year effort is Randy Crow who, along with his wife Carol, have more at stake in this endeavor than merely historical preservation.

A few years ago, the Crows financed a bench on the North Western State Trail that memorializes their late son, Leland, who died as a result of his bipolar condition in 2013. The bench is meant to offer a bit of respite for weary trail users.
“The bench is more about my wife and I making a decision to remember Leland who loved bicycling and northern Michigan,” Randy said. “Leland was a world traveler and an active outdoorsman who made a positive impact on those he met.”

Two men pose for a photo at the original Ponshewaing flag stop, built by the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad in the late 1800s. Eventually demolished, the structure is the subject of a local reconstruction effort. A steering committee has been assembled to raise $50,000 to rebuild the flag stop on the old rail line – what is now the North Western State Trail. (Photo courtesy of the Inland Water Route Historical Society)

Prior to the U.S. 31 construction project, Leland’s bench was facing U. S. 31 near Milton Road. During construction, the bench was put in storage for safekeeping. Realizing the new trail would touch the original flag stop, and Leland’s bench would need to be moved nearby, triggered Crow’s reconstruction idea and led to forming the steering committee.

Since conceiving the idea, the steering committee members have been actively raising the $50,000 needed to rebuild the flag stop. With Top of Michigan Trails Council serving as its fiduciary partner, the group’s funding efforts are off to a robust start, with about $20,000 raised.

Local architect Richard Newman has provided blueprints of the proposed structure, which will closely resemble the flag stop shelter near the Bay View Inn, which he designed.

Newman is donating his services. Littlefield Township, which owns the land, has approved the project.

“Fortunately, with this project, we (volunteers) plan to do most of the work. However, we have retained a licensed builder and metal fabricator,” Crow said.

Steering committee member Wayne Blomberg, a member of the Inland Waterway Route Historical Society, said the time frame for the flag stop’s last known use is obscure. He said there are no color photos of the building, making the original roof and paint colors difficult to determine.

Also designed by Petoskey architect Rick Newman, this reproduction flag stop is located in Bay View, near the Bay View Inn at Petoskey. The new Ponshewaing flag stop will be similar to the Bay View structure.

Crow said the flag stop will likely be painted white with a black roof.

Regardless of its color, such trail-side attractions are often what trail users enjoy the most when visiting a new area, according to Top of Michigan Trails Council Executive Director Brent Bolin.

“Trail users tell us that these historical installations along the trail really enrich their experience,” Bolin said. “Many of them are visitors and they like stopping, resting, and learning a little bit about the communities they’re passing through.”

The committee plans to pour a new concrete pad for the flag stop – right next to the old one, which will be marked as historic and serve as a bike parking/resting area. The new pad will be 10 feet by 24 feet. The structure will feature a steel skeleton wrapped in wood with an asphalt shingle roof and will have three columns on each long side.

The steering committee plans to have interpretative signage and photos to share with trail users about the history of Ponshewaing, the flag stop and the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad.

Of course, the late Leland Crow’s memory will remain as well, as the memorial bench will be liberated from storage and placed across from the flag stop.

If you would like to support this project, donate here.