“In Seney, you don’t lose your woman, you just lose your turn.”
- Andy’s Seney Bar motto
Quite literally in the middle of nowhere in the U.P. stands the ghost town of Seney. A century ago, this was a bustling hub of the logging and railroad industries. Along with the these industries came the loggers, often largely made up of Finnish or Cornish immigrants, who embraced the wild west feel of the town and giving it a notorious history of gambling, prostitution, and rampant drinking. Also, making it a favorite destination of Ernest Hemingway.
Today, what remains is a crossroads town that is much needed in an otherwise empty stretch of highway in any direction. It provides a small place of respite for vacationers, snowmobilers, locals, or truck drivers; all of whom can be found at some time or another here. The closest town in any direction is actually to the south toward US 2, the only other east-west road through the UP.
The entire area is surrounded by the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, a vast tract of land that is largely undeveloped and blends in to the other State Forests around the UP.
About a half hour-drive north of Seney on M-77 is Grand Marais a beautiful little shoreline town on Lake Superior that is quite honestly a gem amidst nothingness. It is well worth a visit if in the area, and I’ll come back to Grand Marais again in a later post.
The “Seney Stretch” to the west is some of the most unremarkable straight highway you may ever drive, enough so that it even has its own note on Wikipedia, and almost encourages the extra hour and a half to loop through Grand Marais and the new zigzag road through the woods to Munising.
About 25 minutes to the east is McMillan, a small intersection town on M-28. There is little to see here, other than a quick pass by of the old Tahquamenon water station. About another half hour east is the decent-sized (for the UP) town of Newberry, gateway to Tahquamenon Falls.
US 2 is about 25 minutes south of Seney and M-28, and about halfway between the two is Germfask, a small stretch of town on M-77 whose main attractions are its restaurant, and a kayak rental.
There is little actually in Seney to take note of. Other than the railroad museum, there are a couple motels, a restaurant, a gas station, a convenience store with the post office, and a rest area and Michigan State Police post just to the west. It’s all spaced out through about a mile of M-28, with another street of houses running parallel.
Just south of the main town is a cemetery unlike any I’ve ever seen and am still not able to figure out. The Boot Hill Historic Cemetery, right next to the town’s regular cemetery, contains wooden grave markers (most completely or partially illegible) next to sunken graves, something I have never seen before or since.
Andy’s Seney Bar is unquestionably the life of the town, yet often has little more than 5 or 6 people at a time. I stop there fairly regularly as a pit stop on my trips, enough that the owner always recognizes me and remembers that I order a single Labatt’s Blue there before moving on. The patrons are usually very friendly and are mostly locals, but sometimes get out-of-towners.
I can’t say exactly why, as there is so little in Seney (a couple motels, a restaurant and a gas station) but something about Andy’s spirit, along with the faded lore of Seney’s past inspired what is still one of my favorite flash fictions I have been writing.
For a much more detailed and well-researched history into Seney’s seedy past, the book Incredible Seney by Lewis Charles Riemann provides any specificity you could hope to know. It delves into both the triumphs of the Seney-ites (Seney-ans?) in their collective effort to survive and the bitter atrocities faced at both the hand of nature and man.