Manistique Lions Club Rejuvenates Bellaire Memorial at Big Springs

By | on November 15, 2023

In 1955, this stone and engraved plaque were placed by members of the Manistique Lions Club to honor John Ira Bellaire who was instrumental in protecting Kitchi-iti-kipi from commercial development by helping to make it a public park. Courtesy photo

MANISTIQUE – In 2022, Manistique Lions Club members, Dick Ketcik and Jim Hooker, noticed the John I. Bellaire memorial plaque and large boulder at Palms Book State Park had become overgrown with brush, deadfalls, and moss. It was to the point where it was almost unnoticeable to the public along the walkway to the Big Spring.

The boulder and engraved plaque were placed there in 1955 by the Lions Club to honor the then 84-year-old Bellaire for his untiring efforts in promoting the spring. He convinced the State of Michigan to acquire the land in 1929 around the spring to protect it as a State Park for the public to enjoy. Mr. Bellaire was a charter member of the Manistique Lions Club.

Club members first contacted the current Indian Lake State Park Manager, Dennis Green. They received approval to clean up the site and the boulder to make it more visible. A couple of work bees were performed by various club members – removing deadfalls, cutting tag alders, pressure washing the boulder, etc. The next idea was to evaluate if the boulder could be moved to a better location. However, it became clear that due to wetland conditions, heavy equipment needed to move the large boulder would not be feasible. The next logical option was to create an interpretive panel with larger letters and install it near the boulder. This would make things more readable.

The installation crew for the interpretive sign at Big Springs from left to right are, Jim Hooker, Theresa Neal, Paul Wood, and Paul Bosen. Courtesy photo

Tahquamenon Falls State Park Interpreter, Theresa Neal, was contacted to see what was possible and gave suggestions for panel wording. Neal condensed the language and submitted it to the club for approval. Once the panel was complete, Neal and three club members installed it on Nov. 6.

The following background information on John Ira Bellaire was taken from an article written by the Schoolcraft County Historical Society.

John Ira Bellaire was born in Indiana in November of 1871. His family moved to White Pigeon in northern Lower Michigan when John was still a young child. There his parents, John and Agnes Bellaire purchased a small farm and struggled to support a growing family. John worked on the farm helping his father until he reached his eighteenth birthday, when he went out on his own.

In the spring of 1893, Bellaire answered a “help wanted” ad for a clerk’s position in a general store at Seney, Mich., with a salary of 35 dollars per month. In 1895 he was promoted to general manager. On Sept. 24, 1896, Bellaire married Sarah Boynton, who was to be his devoted companion for over 60 years. One year later Bellaire was appointed Postmaster at Seney and by 1899 he had saved enough money to buy the store.

With the end of the big pine era, Bellaire relocated to Manistique where he opened a five and dime variety store. His first store opened for business in 1927. By 1938 he was able to open a second store on the west side of Manistique.

It was in the early 1920’s that Bellaire became a devoted fan of the Big Spring. At that time the area was remote and undeveloped. Surrounded by fallen timber and debris left over from the lumber companies, Bellaire immediately recognized the unique beauty of the spring and the need to preserve it for future generations. Though Bellaire could easily have purchased the property, he felt it could only be protected through public ownership. In 1926, in cooperation with Frank Book, who was a partner in the Palms Book Land Company of Detroit, Bellaire arranged for the sale of 90 acres of land including the spring to the State of Michigan for $10. The land was to be forever designated as a state park bearing the name, Palms Book State Park.

Throughout the years, Bellaire worked tirelessly to promote the park. It became known unofficially as Kitch-iti-kipi, from an old Indian legend which Bellaire created out of his imagination for the sole purpose of luring tourists to the area.

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