Information contained herein is taken from “Reflections at the Water’s Edge” an Illustrated History of the Alden Area by Priscilla Miller
Early Alden, was known as Spencer Creek
By 1854 the lumbering of pine was underway in northern Michigan and a string of lumber camps was established in the wilderness. Camp number four was situated on the east shore of Torch Lake, at a site located near a stream which emptied into Torch Lake. The camp may have been known as “Lewistown”, it was later named “Noble” in honor of H.H. (Henry Horbart) Noble, who was known for his extensive lumbering interests in the area. The camp’s manager was John Spencer. In 1854 he built the first log cabin there. He built a number of lumbering camps and homes for workers in the area and the stream became known as Spencer Creek. As other cabins were built, a village was formed and it was also named Spencer Creek. Life at Spencer Creek was difficult with deaths due to accidents and fires. Infant mortality rates were high and the life span of women was short.
Reuben Coy began operating the first general store in Spencer Creek on August 30th 1870. The first sale in his new store was to John Main for a half pound of tea, and the sales for that day totaled $46.81. A pound of sugar sold for fifteen cents and ladies had a choice of two shoe styles. A year later Reuben bought the building and forty adjacent acres from Mr. Lewis. Bringing supplies from Elk Rapids was difficult and dangerous since there were no bridges and teams had to ford (swim across) the Torch River. Reuben was a shrewd businessman and In 1870 he purchased his own two masted, schooner named the King Fisher, with which he brought supplies and passengers from Elk Rapids. The schooner sailed Torch Lake and then was poled down the Torch River. He had to plan ahead, however, and stock enough provisions to last through the long winters because once the lakes froze over all shipments ceased. Barrels of flour, salt, kerosene, hay and feed were stored in a nearby warehouse located behind the store. The King Fisher was used for hauling supplies until 1873 when the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad was built through Kalkaska and Mancelona. With the arrival of the railroad, Reuben was able to use teams and wagons to haul provisions from Kalkaska to his store and no longer needed the King Fisher. Reuben furnished railroad construction camps in Kalkaska, Mancelona and Elmira with provisions while the railroad was being built.
Reuben purchased one hundred acres and platted the village of Spencer Creek. He died in 1896 and his widow Helen and son Charles W. Coy, continued to operate the store. In 1923 the store was sold, thus ending fifty-three consecutive years of merchandising by the Coy family. Years later the store was destroyed by fire.
In 1890 the Chicago and West Michigan railroad became the Chicago and North Michigan Railroad. A railroad line, traveling from Traverse City following the Chain of Lakes north to Bay View above Petoskey, was built. The logical route would have been straight north through Elk Rapids, instead, William Alden Smith used his influence to establish a route that went east through Williamsburg and Barker Creek then north through Rapid City and Spencer Creek north east to Bellaire and then north to Bay View. In 1881 statistics show that the United States held 571 acres of land in Antrim County. The state of Michigan held 12,369 acres and the railroad held 146,207 acres, much of which was up for sale. William Alden Smith knew the railroad would cause the population in the area to increase bringing more business to the railroad. It would also take business away from their rival, the Grand Rapids and Indiana line. As construction of the railroad continued, William Alden Smith remained a friend of Spencer Creek and was always available to help the community. Grateful citizens decided to rename Spencer Creek in his honor and in 1891 it became known as Alden!
The first train depot was built in approximately 1892 and the railroad incorporated into the Pere Marquette in 1900. Alden came alive with the arrival of the railroad. In 1904 the “Resort Special” began operations. The Alden Depot was abuzz of activity with “summer people” arriving and departing and was soon known as the “leading summer resort between Grand Rapids and Charlevoix”. More tickets were sold with a destination of Alden than any other spot along the line!
Soon families fell in love with the Alden area and began building homes along the lake shore. Women and children often stayed in Alden during the summer months while fathers traveled by train to visit on weekends. The town grew in order to accommodate the influx of visitors to the area. Today, generations later, many descendants of the original “summer people” still return to the Alden area each summer.