The Alva Kepler log cabin in Manistique’s Pioneer Park dates back to the 1880’s and was once part of the Byers’ settlement in Hiawatha Township, 12 miles north of Manistique. The cabin became a source of controversy in the mid-1890’s, when Abe Byers and Walter Thomas Mills formed a cooperative community known as the “Hiawatha Village Association.” People who joined the colony promised to move into association housing as soon as it became ready. When Civil War veterans John and Alva Kepler refused to do so, the firestorm it ignited lead to the demise of the Utopian experiment in Schoolcraft County.
During the evening hours of Saturday, December 14, 1907, a fire broke out at the Chicago Lumbering Company mill. The cause of the fire was the overheating of the friction feed and was quickly spread by the belts to all parts of the mill. The timbers which had for years been soaked with black oil provided a ready fuel for the fire. In less than ten minutes, the entire structure was engulfed in flames. The timing of the fire was ironic, as the mill was scheduled to be shut down for the winter season at midnight on the evening that it was destroyed. The plant was one of the oldest landmarks in the city, dating back to 1876 when the population numbered only a few hundred people.
Edwin Cookson was born in Greenfield, Maine, in May of 1854. He was the second oldest child in a family of six boys and 2 girls. His parents, Joseph and Maria Cookson owned a farm in Greenfield, but all of their sons worked as loggers and river drivers in Maine.
During the early 1870’s Edwin Cookson migrated west to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. There in 1878 he responded to a “Help Wanted” ad posted in the Oshkosh papers. Ebenezer James was seeking laborers to work at the James Brothers sawmill east of Manistique.