You May Never Find Your Way Out of ‘The River of No Return': Au Train, Michigan
Au Train seems to be one of those Upper Peninsula towns you read or hear about, but never visit. It might be an excellent idea to visit next time you roadtrip thru the U.P.
Au Train – which means “at the shortcut” in French – is located on M-28 in Alger County along the south shore of Lake Superior. It happens to be one of the earliest known places in Michigan where the white man traveled.
The Au Train River snakes its way thru the area, with many twists, turns, and dead-ends, depending on the water level...if you canoe or kayak here, it's like being a mouse in a maze: “how do I get outta here?” The Au Train River makes its way 16 miles with curve after curve, detour after detour, dead end after dead end, fork after fork, until you can literally get completely lost. The river used to be part of an old Indian trail that went from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan, which became known as “The Land of Hiawatha”.
1856: First white men settled in the area
1861-2: Sawmill built and logging on the Au Train River begins
1877: Bay Furnace area burns down, residents move to Au Train
1881: The Detroit, Mackinac & Marquette Railroad comes through
1881: Tourists flock to Au Train thanks to the railroad
1883: A Post office
1885: Part of Schoolcraft County turns into Alger County
1890: The first Alger county jail built in Au Train
1919: Last logging venture marks the end of Au Train's lumber era
In the mid-1800s, Au Train blossomed into a good-sized community and had a bay furnace, blacksmith, lighthouse, two sawmills, school, shingle mill, and a good number of various shops and stores. The county's first newspaper was created here: The Au Train Alpha.
Without logging or mining being relied on for the economy, fishing, tourism, and vacationers are the main sources of capital. And the town is doing just fine in the 2020s.
Vintage Photos of Au Train and Its Snaky River