There's a little village that barely shows up on maps, sitting in Cheboygan County east of I-75 on M-68. It's the village of Tower in Forest Township alongside the Black River.

Tower kicked off in the 1890s as a lumber settlement on the Detroit & Mackinaw Railroad; a post office was established in 1899.

The village was named after Ellen May Tower, the daughter of Judge Samuel Tower. Ellen is one of Michigan's unsung heroes, as not much has been written about her; but she was the first Michigan woman to be given a military burial...and also one of the first in the entire country.

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Ellen May volunteered as a nurse during the Spanish-American War. She made the trek to New York to care for wounded soldiers and then she was on to Puerto Rico. While in Puerto Rico, she contracted typhoid fever and passed away on December 8, 1898. Ellen also became the first American woman to die on foreign soil while serving the military. She was buried in January 1899.

During the village of Tower's heyday, they had banks, a barber shop, blacksmith, boardwalks, churches, dance hall, fire department, general store, hotels, laundry, livery stable, a variety of mills, newspaper, seven saloons, and a school.

In 1910, the population was 800....then came Black Tuesday on July 11, 1911. The Au Sable-Oscoda fire was the state's last large forest fire, wiping out many nearby towns and almost leveled Tower. Residents fled the town and headed for nearby Onaway. For days fire and blinding smoke cleared out almost all the population.

The town never recovered. All those previously-mentioned businesses were never brought back to life. Many died and the town suffered three million dollars worth of damage.

What started the fire? Some local boys had been swimming when they decided to take a cigarette break (that they probably swiped from their dad) and discarded the matches into the brush after lighting up.

1916: Population, 300.
1920s: Timber depleted, no use for the lumber mills.
1930s: The Great Depression brought people back
1940s: WWII brought more back and the town was able to survive.

The Village of Tower in Charlevoix County


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