In The News

 

A Legacy in Land and Logs

Acres Fall, 2007
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Carolyn Bay, whose grandparents purchased the ranch property over 100 years ago and her log home on the Cornwell Ranch, complete with an old electricity-generating water wheel. A 200-year old log home on the ranch, below, has been restored and modernized.

Family roots matter. On the Cornwell Ranch in rural central Michigan, the Carter family roots are intrinsically tied to four houses.  Each house was built in a different era of history, and each is still a vibrant part of life on this ranch. Oldest among the homes is a 200-year-old log cabin that is still in use.

Three third-generation siblings now live and work on this unique ranch that was originally started by their grandfather as a weekend country retreat.

In 1901, when William and Maude Cornwell purchased the land that became the Cornwell Ranch, it was nearly a full day’s travel for them just to get there. The 60-mile trip from Saginaw to their 10,000-acre country getaway was over a two-track sand road that made the going slow and difficult for horse-drawn carriages as well as the few early automobiles that dared venture that far from the city.

The ranch was initially a place where the Cornwells and their friends could escape the responsibilities of business for a weekend in the country. “Oh, it was quite social then,” said the Cornwells’ granddaughter, Carolyn Bay, who lives on the ranch. “All the people who came out here could afford the lifestyle. Time was their own: they were Saginaw’s professionals.” Some of their friends who came with them bought properties adjacent to the ranch and built their own homes.

William Cornwell was in the meat packing business in Saginaw, so developing a cattle ranch was close to his interests. He hired workers and farm managers to run the ranch while he attended to business in Saginaw. As the cattle and later the dairy businesses grew, bunk houses were added and 18 houses were provided on the ranch for employees whose children attended a one-room school, also on ranch property.

The ranch also became a resting place for horses headed to northern Michigan pulling wagons heavily loaded with beef carcasses.  Little is known of life in the old two-story log home that was on the land when Cornwell purchased it. Its construction gives evidence that it was built not long after America’s War for Independence.

The ranch eventually passed into the hands of the Cornwells’ daughter, Rosemary. She married Robert Carter, and the log house became their first home. Their son, Bobby, who has always lived on the ranch and now manages the farming aspects, raised his four children in the historic log structure.

 Robert Carter left medical school with only one year remaining and moved to the ranch with his new wife Rosemary in the early 1930s. There he used his medical education in a practical way, working with cattle to further develop the beef and dairy businesses, supplying the local area with milk products, cheese, and beef.

Untitled-3Rebuilt several times through the years, Carolyn’s house was last remodeled 12 years ago as an all log structure. With degrees in animal husbandry and counseling, Carolyn has worked as both a Michigan State University County Extension director and a youth counselor.  Now retired and with responsibilities on the ranch, she keeps horses and is involved in Quarter horse racing.

The fourth and most recently constructed home on the ranch is a true representative of its modern era. Designed and built by the current occupants, it is the home of still another sibling, William Carter and his wife Cappi. Bill and Cappi planned every detail of this home, including its location in the middle of a hayfield with unobstructed views in all directions.

Carter calls his home “Shaker simple,” with doors and cabinets made locally by the Amish. It was planned to be people friendly with the kitchen, dining, and living areas combined in one large open area and with a rich wood interior throughout and large windows on all sides.  The exterior has modern, clean lines with plantings kept to a minimum for unrestricted sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

Bill Carter left the ranch as a young man and was involved with a business in California. He returned to Michigan in 1988 and built this home on the ranch in 2003. Each brother and their sister now has specific responsibilities for the ranch work.

The ranch continues as a cow-calf operation along with other businesses that include hunting and timber. Angus cows produce calves from both Angus and composite Simmental-Angus bulls. Calves are raised to 750 pounds and sold in the fall. Some are fed to slaughter weight. The ranch uses no hormones or additives in its cattle feed and produces beef that is lean and marbled throughout.

A million pine and hardwood variety trees were planted on the ranch from 1948 through 1952. Now more than 50 years old and exceptionally large, these trees are being managed by Weyerhaeuser and are being selectively harvested at five-year intervals.

More than two-thirds of the ranch area is used for hunting, and over 100 hunters pay a fee each year to hunt deer on the land.

Two more generations of the Cornwell-Carter family are on the scene, including eight children of the three siblings now living on the ranch and their combined grandchildren numbering 16. The future of the Cornwell Ranch will likely remain with the family, a living, growing monument to all the Cornwells and Carters who have faithfully managed this land for over 100 years.

The two-floor 1,200-square foot cabin was remodeled eight years ago and, while retaining its original historic appearance, it now serves as a modern, though quaint, guest house.

Robert Carter was also a deputy sheriff during the era of the organized crime gangs. The infamous Purple Gang in Detroit had its northern headquarters in an old hotel in nearby Clare, Michigan. During the 1930s, Carter was called to Clare to investigate a murder, and he quickly made an arrest without incident.

Bobby Carter and his wife Shelly now live on the site of the first Cornwell house built on the ranch by his grandfather in the early 1900s. Designed with guests in mind, the original sprawling log rancher had seven bedrooms and seven baths. It was destroyed by fire in 1941 and was rebuilt the following year, but with fewer accommodations for guests.

The present version of the home rests in the footprint of the original, though it has been remodeled several times through the years. Like the original Cornwell home built 100 years ago, it is still nestled among three acres of tall pines that are distinctive to this area.

Bobby’s sister Carolyn Bay and her husband Walter also live in an all-log home originally built in 1920 as a cottage by a family friend from Saginaw.

Carolyn’s and Walt’s home sits at the foot of a mill pond on the Tobacco River. The dam that forms the pond was made to create a source of water power to turn a 12- foot undershot water wheel put there to generate electricity.  While the picturesque water wheel is still turning and still capable of generating electricity, it does not produce a sufficient amount for modern power needs.

 

-Article by Gary Martin Photos by Rick Mooney
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