Living in a coastal community sounds romantic. The water can have a calming effect, the cool breezes offer solace and walking the waterfront is relaxing. In Fayette, MI, life was not always easy or relaxing. The community thrived for twenty four years and today is a well preserved ghost town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Communities are developed for various reasons, most based on economic necessity. So it was with Fayette Township. In the mid 1800s, iron companies were looking for a better and cheaper route for pig iron. The area around Fayette Township had everything required – harbor, limestone, and hardwood forest. The Jackson Iron Company built a blast furnace and Fayette grew into a thriving community.
As we walked the streets of Fayette, we could imagine children playing while their father’s worked. We could envision women shopping in the commissary and preparing meals for their family. Although it may have been a simple life it was not always an easy life. Wages were based on time worked and some weeks work hours were scarce. It is hard to imagine what life was truly like for the residents of Fayette, yet the town grew around the industry to a population of about 500. There were two blast furnaces, dock and charcoal kilns. In addition the town boasted a post office, churches, barber shop, commissary and schoolhouse. A doctor served the needs of the town and there was also a hotel to house visitors.
When the charcoal iron market began to decline, the company shut down its smelting operation in Fayette in 1891. Many families sought employment in other areas, yet a few families remained and farmed the areas around the town. After 1891, the town’s history was varied – in 1916 the town was purchased and turned into a resort; in 1946 a new owner took over and soon fell behind on taxes; the Escanaba Paper Company purchased the resort for back taxes. The last change of ownership was between the paper company and the state of Michigan. The paper company received timberland and the state received Fayette. Today the ghost town of Fayette is a state park.
Fayette is a treasured piece of history that has been preserved for all to walk. For many residents, life may have been hard and they have left their legacy for us. We walked Fayette on a beautiful fall day and we could only imagine what life was like on the coldest days of winter.