The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Chase S. Osborn Preserve

A valuable tract of land in Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula, approximately three hundred miles north of Ann Arbor, including all of Duck Island and a part of Sugar Island, was the gift of Chase Salmon Osborn, Michigan's thirty-ninth governor (1911-13) and Regent of the University from 1908 to 1911, and his son, Colonel George Augustus Osborn. The gift was tendered in the following communication which was presented to the Board of Regents by President Ruthven in the fall of 1929:

I shall be happy to deed my so-called Duck Island Preserve of over three thousand acres to the University. There shall be no restrictions except a life tenancy of Duck Island containing about one hundred sixty acres. My library of several thousand books, some of which are rare, goes with the gift. It is now stored in a fireproof godown. This property is impressive and beautiful and has unusual versatile value. There are more than ten miles or over sixty thousand feet of water front. It is blocked solid for five miles. This message shall be your authority to ask the Regents to act in the matter. Deed shall follow. Title is perfect. Name and other considerations can be discussed later.

The Regents accepted this offer in the following resolution:

Resolved, That we, the Regents of the University of Michigan, accept with gratitude the splendid gift of over 3,000 acres of land, including a part of Sugar Island and some small adjacent islands, with the several Page  1698buildings thereon and a library of several thousand books, offered to the University by the Honorable Chase S. Osborn under the conditions that the gift be recorded as a joint gift from Chase S. Osborn and George Augustus Osborn and that Dr. Chase S. Osborn reserves a life tenancy of Duck Island.

Resolved, That this land shall for the present be used principally for research and instruction in the natural sciences and forestry; and

Resolved, That the land be known as the Chase S. Osborn Preserve of the University of Michigan …


(R.P., 1929-32, p. 54.)

Duck Island is about twenty miles below Sault Ste Marie on the so-called "old channel" of the historic and rarely beautiful St. Mary's River. This secluded island was for many years the home of Michigan's former governor. When first occupied by him, the island was accessible only by water. Duck Island proper is narrow and less than a mile long and is separated from Sugar Island by a narrow channel which widens in the shelter of the two islands into a pleasant and relatively calm bay. From the north side of this bay a trail winds northward through a pine grove to the buildings erected and occupied by Governor Osborn. A few yards to the right of this trail and just short of the building site is a small plot of ground returned by the University to the Osborn estate. Here, beneath a huge granite boulder and in sight of the waters he so loved, the Governor is buried.

The path beyond bends upward to the top of a small and partially cleared knoll where the buildings in which the governor lived and entertained his guests are situated. The two most interesting cabins on Duck Island are of log construction. The larger of the two, Big Duck, was reserved for Mr. Osborn's guests. It consists of a large living room with fireplace, beds in the corners which can be curtained off at night, and a small dining room and kitchen in the rear. Little Duck, the smaller of the two cabins, containing only one room, about fifteen by eighteen feet, was occupied by Governor Osborn during his periods of residence on the Island. A few paces farther north and entirely separated from Little Duck is the governor's private bedroom, a small room of post and bark construction, large enough to shelter only the log and balsam bough bed used by Mr. Osborn. The shelter protected him against the severe frosts of Michigan's autumns.

Situated between Big Duck and Little Duck, and somewhat closer to the east channel, is a concrete fireproof library building, constructed by the governor to house his private collection of several thousand volumes (many of them irreplaceable), voluminous correspondence, and other manuscript materials. After his death, the University transferred many of the books to the General Library, and the manuscripts to the Michigan Historical Collections.

A trail leads southwest from the building site to the east side of the bay, and to the channel which separates Duck Island from Sugar Island. This channel, once navigable, gave access to a small and sheltered lake below the lower tip of Duck Island, which provided anchorage for the governor's boats. Over the years the channel has been partially closed by a beaver dam, and at this point there is a foot passage from one island to the other.

The trail bends slightly to the eastward and continues across Sugar Island to the Gander, a large cabin of modern log construction, which provides, in addition to a pleasant lounge, comfortable sleeping and cooking facilities. The Gander is used by the University to house investigators working on the Preserve. Not far to the south and west is the dwelling occupied by the caretaker of the Preserve.

More than 85 per cent of the total land Page  1699area is well wooded. The remainder consists of old clearings — disappearing evidences of earlier logging and farming ventures. The forest tract is largely "second growth" but of large pole. Much of the tract has not been heavily lumbered in recent years. More than half of the tract is mixed lowland hardwoods and conifers in which soft maple, balsam, fir, white birch, spruce, and aspen predominate. There are also upland hardwoods, with a fine showing of white birch, sugar maple, yellow birch, and red oak. Other forest types are the mixed hemlocks and hardwoods, white and Norway pine, swamp conifer characterized by spruce, balsam, fir, and cedar, and the lowland hardwoods with stands of black ash, balm of Gilead, and elm. The entire area is remarkable for the profusion and intermingling of tree species, of which there are about twenty in number.

Commercial cutting for the production of wood pulp was undertaken by the University during World War II. These operations have been discontinued and in all probability will not be reopened. In its natural state the Preserve offers excellent opportunities for research and demonstration. Even though well suited to commercial forest production under sound forestry management, it is believed that much of the area is more valuable for other purposes. Beyond its aesthetic and recreational values, the tract can become a sample primitive forest and wild-life habitat unexcelled for biological and other scientific studies.

The area is secluded. Transportation facilities are not especially encouraging, and consequently University activities have been limited to occasional field explorations and some research in the biological sciences. The islands are both attractive and inviting. A bridge across the St. Mary's River just south of the city of Sault Ste Marie, making the area more accessible, suggests a host of University activities which could be administered to advantage among the now remote beauties of the Osborn Preserve.