By BETH ALTENA
Paul Golembiewski, in describing his concerns with the requests of the Michigan Department of Natural Resource to correct landscaping trespass, was also kind enough to discuss interesting aspects of his Cayhill home and the immediate area. “This piece of property had some real historic karma,” he stated.
His home, off Cayhill Street in downtown Rockford, abuts the White Pine Trail near the Rogue River. Golembiewski said over the years, since he moved to his home in the 1970s, different people have approached him to describe some significant points of the property.
On an ivy-covered slope in Golembiewski’s back yard there is a North West Ordinance surveyor’s stake from the days in the 1830s when the federal government mandated that the territories in the North West Ordinance be staked out. Golembiewski said the stakes were placed roughly a mile apart marking the way back to the county line. “That was the government’s need to know who was going to be taxed and the beginning of the road system,” he explained.
Also by Golembiewski’s property is the halfway marker for the rail line that predated the current White Pine Trail. The marker is four-sided, an obelisk in light tones with the number 247 chiseled into the surface. Golembiewski said the marker represents the half-way point in the rail line, 247 miles in each direction to the end of the track.
Among trespasses to the right-of-way to the White Pine Trail the DNR would like Golembiewski to remove non-native plants that are part of landscaping he did back in the days of the train when he had permission to encroach. He pointed out ostrich ferns and a tree that he identified as a bald cypress. “If they don’t make me cut that down, the tree will be here for 2,000 years,” he stated.
Although bald cypress are no longer native to Michigan, Golembiewski points out that in pre-glacial Michigan, the tree actually was native. “When the glaciers came through all the trees were destroyed. It is native to Michigan, you just have to go back 100,000 years,” he said of the fate of the species here.
Golembiewski said the property was historically significant in terms of the first settlers to the area. Across the White Pine Trail from his home, a wooded area leads to the Rogue River. Golembiewski said the land is the site of the former settlement of Jericho and it is possible to find the foundations of some of the homes and barns even to this day.
The White Pine Trail passes a number of creeks, including a small, unnamed tributary that disappears into a culvert in Golembiewski’s yard. The creek flows through the steep embankment of the trail via a stone cave that is not quite high enough for a man to walk through without stooping. Golembiewski said the throughway is built with granite mined from Ohio and is the same material as can be seen as the huge stone bases for the trestle bridge south of Ten Mile Road over the Rogue River. The tributary, though tiny, leads to the Rogue just a short way to the south and Golembiewski said he has seen steelhead struggling to make their way up the narrow body of water.
Also in Golembiewski’s back yard is a massive 260-year-old sugar maple, by far the largest tree in the area. Golembiewski said he has done his best to keep the tree alive, using an assemblage of braces and support cables to give the limbs extra protection. He said a third of the tree came down during the linear winds of 1997. The tree is probably 17 feet around and six solid feet across the center.
It is still standing from the lumbering era when the river basin and surrounding woods were harvested. According to Golembiewski, it was left standing because of its mass and height. He said in the days before Global Positioning Units and other easy ways to differentiate distance such trees were left to help surveyors pinpoint their location from considerable heights. He said a white flag was usually affixed the topmost branches, and using trigonometry they could figure out their position.
The last bit of historic interest Golembiewski shared was yet another tidbit that came to him from old-timers and those with an association with the property. He said during the days of the construction of the railroad line, workers were camped out near the present-day location of his home.
He noted that the trail, quite a structure in itself, was originally built without the convenience of modern construction equipment and was the result of work done by men, mules and wheelbarrows. The wheelbarrows had a cutting edge and were filled by being tipped to the earth and then dragged by the burros. When it was filled, the barrow would be hauled to the area to be elevated and dumped. The backbreaking work was hard labor and the efforts last today when so many enjoy the trail first hand as hikers and bikers.
Then the efforts taking place were between local dairy and working farms. Because the laborers used the river as a source of drinking water as well as for bathing, the railroad owners didn’t want cattle contaminating the site. Because of that they charged locals the high cost of a cow a month if they wanted to cross the railroad property to get to their livestock to the river to be watered. Since the cost of a cow a month was prohibitive, local farmers chose instead to walk their livestock farther downstream where they could reach the river with less convenience, but also without the expensive cost.
“It’s funny, I never went out and sought this information, it all just came to me,” Golembiewski laughed. He explained that over the years he has had different people approach him or knock on his door giving him another tidbit of historic interest about his property. “This piece of property had some real junction, it has its own karma.”