Kathryn P. Seestedt (1922-2011), a well-respected member of the Cottrellville Historical Society, wrote a booklet A History of Cherry Beach in 1977. Kathryn Pino was born in East Lansing and married Emery Monroe Seestedt in 1947 in Plymouth, Michigan. Kathryn’s first introduction to Cherry Beach was through her in-laws who had purchased a cottage in the early 1900’s and her love for Cherry Beach grew with Emery and her becoming permanent residents. Their son, Paul Seestedt reminisces of summers spent with the “Cherry Beach Kids” as a child. “Mom would take us to Cherry Beach the day school let out and we would spend the entire summer there.´ Paul had such cherished memories of those days along with his father’s love for photography, that he wrote a supplement to his mom’s booklet in 2005 with cooperation of Kathryn: Cherry Beach 1978-2004. Kathryn’s husband, Emery’s collection of Cherry Beach photographs are seen throughout her recollections. In 2010, Ronald Brown and Kathryn Seestedt collaborated authoring a book Cherry Beach Photo History as a continued effort to preserve the history of Cherry Beach. Ronald Brown is currently working on a supplement to their book for 2014. So it is with these resources that we draw the following condensed history.
“Cherry Beach” is part of a larger and well-beloved area known as “The River District”, which stretches the length of the St Clair River from the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron to the delta known as the “Flats”, some 18 miles downstream from Lake Huron. Among the first white settlers were members of the Cottrell family. They took up land near a “relief station” which had been maintained by the French voyageurs at “La Belle Riviere”.
Cherry Beach was formed from parts of two private claims #186 and #308. Private claim # 186 was acquired from the government in 1808 by George Cottrell. The second of Cottrell generations to live in this area, and consisting of 1,000 acres. The original George Cottrell had acquired the land from the Chippewa Indians about 1781. The southerly four acres of “Cherry Beach” descends from this “Claim”.
The second private claim from which Cherry Beach was carved was #308, a parcel of about 300 acres. The northerly 8 ½ acres of Cherry Beach came from this claim, which was granted by the US government to Jean Baptiste Dauney, in 1808. Little is known of this French family but old abstracts of title indicate that much of their claim ultimately passed into the hands of the Cottrell family.
George Cottrell donated one-half acre of land at the River’s edge along with the claim owner of the south border as a joint gift to be used as a Catholic Church site and adjoining cemetery. (Mass had been in the Cottrell home) This land was deeded in 1928 to Bishop Edward Fenwick. St. Felicity Church was a log building and the first church, to be built in St. Clair County. The church was located just north of Avalon Beach, near the mouth of the stream that empties into the St. Clair River. The church was washed away by high waters a few years after it was built. A logged rectory was also built at this location and was used as a classroom for the boys and girls in the neighborhood. A bell which was specially ordered from France is among the artifacts left and at Holy Cross Parish.
On March 8, 1891, Louis B. Littlefield acquired 8 ½ acres of claim #308 for $3,500. The southerly four acres of what was to become Cherry Beach Subdivision was bought by Littlefield from the Cottrell heirs for $2,000 on March 17, 1892. The establishment of “Cherry Beach Littlefield’s Subdivision” was recorded April 30, 1892, at which time the streets were named after the owner (Louis, Little and Field Streets) and dedicated to the use of the public.
The original investment of $5500 for 12 ½ acres tax value in 1975 was valued at $1,068,800.00 and in 2004 at $4,429,46.00.
One of Mr. Littlefield’s first projects for the development of the resort was to dredge out the “canal” and to improve the “Island”. He hired a Mr. Smith who brought his farm team with loads of stone and clay to fill the Island. This same team worked the stone boat which deepened the canal. Mr. Smith also planted the row of horse chestnut trees (Buckeyes) which lined the park.
Louis B. Littlefield was an active politician in Detroit and Wayne County affairs. He was elected County Sheriff for two terms (1886 & 1888). He was later elected Detroit City Treasurer (1892) and served until July 1, 1898. A quote from a June 30, 1886 newspaper read:
“Prominent among the candidates for sheriff on the Republican side of the house, stands the name Alderman Louis B. Littlefield, of the 10th Ward, Detroit, a man of recognized ability and sterling character, whose clean and brilliant record in the city council has won for him a host of friends among all classes regardless of politics, making him a formable candidate in every sense of the word…Genial, charitable and always ready to serve anyone who needs his assistance. Mr. Littlefield is a member of the Kilwinning Lodge F. and A.M.; Knights of Honor, Ancient Order of United Workingmen; Fairbanks Post G.A.R., and if elected to the position of sheriff the public may rely upon a clean administration and a corps of deputies, whose reputation for integrity is above reproach.”
Littlefield, born1845 in Utica, New York (Oneida County) and son of Joseph Kleinfeld (translated from German as Littlefield) came to Detroit at the close of his service in the Civil War and that in addition to his work in secret societies; he owned several trotting horses and considerable real estate. Perhaps, he had the personality of a promoter as well as a politician, to have visualized the development of a resort on St. Clair River. When he bought the property there were probably not more than two farm dwellings on the parcel; the land being under cultivation for general farming and orchards. It is mentioned in the old abstracts as early as 1852, and very early Cherry Beach pictures show fruit trees among the cottages. Cherry Beach’s last cherry tree of the old orchard was cut down about 1955, a venerable giant of a tree which offered climbing to the children of the cottagers.
Louis B. Littlefield died January 1, 1900 in Ypsilanti, Michigan and is buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit. His widow sold the subdivision to John C. McDonald on July 1, 1909. McDonald had previously acquired some of the single lots from private owners. After, again bringing the whole parcel, under one ownership, he was able to dedicate the “easements” and the front “park” for use by the property owners, with the stipulation that these areas be maintained for that purpose alone. This act was recorded on May 21, 1910.
“The Old Hotel” (Cherry Beach Inn): John C. McDonald’s daughter married William Lightbody, who became proprietor of the “Hotel” at 405 Field Street. After the dinner hour, young people gathered for dancing and music.
The Cherry Beach Association: Originally founded August 31, 1908. George H. Clippert was Chairman of the organizing committee. Elected: President –J.C. McDonald, Secretary-William Lightbody and Treasurer-George Clippert. It appears that the Cherry Beach Association dissolved at some time and was organized once again in 1951. It was an association of home-owners, with the stated purpose of improving “the welfare of Cherry Beach Subdivision and the owners thereof.” There were considerable park and dock areas to be maintained for the use of residents, as well as the need to present a united front to government agencies. This first meeting was on September 1, 1951, held at the Cherry Beach School. This little school was directly across the highway from the Cherry Beach Subdivision where some of the children attended school. Board of Directors elected were: Lamar Bailey-President, Arthur Tibbetts-Vice-president, Herbert Fach-Secretary and Clyde Neagle-Treasurer.
The Big Dock: The landmark of Cherry Beach. Big Dock was probably built in the late 1890’s after Louis Littlefield platted Cherry Beach in 1892. The length estimated to be 100 feet and the clusters of spiles along the river side of the deck, suggest it was built to provide docking for cruise ships that sailed the St. Clair River in that era. Ships were the primary mode of transportation to Cherry Beach before the Detroit Rapid Railway was extended to St. Clair River District and automobile travel became a reality.
Rapid Railway: The Interurban Railway (DUR) began operation in 1895, and was extended to Port Huron via Algonac in 1899, with a cut-off from Anchorville to Marine City, running along a route known as Short Cut Road, reaching the St. Clair River (M-29) at a point near the present 72nd District Court Building. A promotional pamphlet published in 1899 by the Detroit and River St. Clair Railway titled “Along the Line”:
“ Many beautiful places where weary mankind can find rest and repose, where the wan, pinched and pale-faced children from the crowded cities can, in a few short summer weeks, regain their health and color and become rejuvenated again; where the society belle, worn out by the demands if the social set can with a few weeks’ rest, gaze into the mirror-like waters of the Lake and River St. Clair and see her beauty reflected back enriched and enshrined with a loveliness which only the great healer “Nature” can give…St. Clair, Marine City, Algonac and Mt. Clemens all contain wonderful mineral springs…the “Panama Route” is the largest interurban railroad in the United States, having as it does a distance of seventy-three miles from Detroit to Port Huron.”
These words probably reflect the vision Louis Littlefield had for the area. Suitcases and picnic baskets were carried aboard by all members of the family from the youngest to the oldest looking forward to their time spent away at the resort. Many travelers took crosstown streetcars to get to their connection to board the DUR on Gratiot Avenue. The Interurban service ended in 1931.
Cherry Beach’s memories live on in its history. Memories of the ideal observation point for the 1933 Harmsworth Race to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, marking the visit of the British royal yacht “Britannia” to the Great Lakes, with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip aboard. The shores were lined with visitors that day. Since that time “River watchers” are privy to view foreign freighters from all over the world.
Abstracts of Land Transactions Leading to the Establishment of Cherry Beach
Abstract 1-In 1808 Jean Batiste Dauney filed a claim of title with the Commissioners of the Land Office at Detroit for land along the River St. Clair, bordered by land on each side owned by George Cottrell. Dauney was issued certificate No. 308
Abstract 2-In 1822 101.8 acres of this land was conveyed by William Brown to William Thorn. In 1836 this land reverted back to William Brown. This transaction was followed by a series of divisions of the 101.8 acres within the Brown Family.
Abstract 11- In 1891, 8.5 acres of the claim, along River St. Clair, was deeded to Louis Littlefield. At that time he was Treasurer of the city of Detroit.
Abstract 12- In 1892, Louis B. Littlefield combined parts of two Private Claims (No186 and No 308) to form “Cherry Beach Littlefield’s Subdivision” in Cottrellville Township. The avenues of the subdivision were named Louis, Little and Field and were dedicated to the use of the public.
Littlefield died in 1900 at the age of 55. His widow conveyed Cherry Beach to John C. McDonald in 1909. Abstract is recorded in the Register of Deeds Office for St. Clair County, Michigan.
The agreement between John C. McDonald and the lot owners of Cherry Beach stipulated that the lands and waters are solely for the exclusive use by each and all if the occupants of the lots on Cherry Beach jointly and in common each with the other as a park, recreation ground and route for reaching the waters of St. Clair River on condition that the owners shall pay any and all taxes and assessments or other charges which may at any time by law be levied upon or against said park lands and waters…….
Vol. 185 of Deeds/Agreement 1910
Saturday, September 2, 1933
Gar Wood’s Miss America X was the winner of the “greatest Harmsworth since 1920”. The race ran from Algonac to just north of Marine City. Actual race starting line was at Cherry Beach in Cottrellville Township.
Harmsworth was an International Trophy for Motorboats founded by Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, a British Publisher, in 1903. Alfred Charles William Harmsworth (July 15, 1865-August 14, 1922) of British decent was born in Dublin, Ireland. In 1907 the Harmsworth Trophy was won by Americans for the first time. The US and England traded it back and forth until 1920. From 1920-1933, Americans had an unbroken winning streak. Gar Wood won this race eight times as a driver and nine times as an owner between 1920 and 1933.