Mrs. Sarah Carter was a remarkable woman. As Alpena’s first woman settler, she was a true pioneer. She and her family trekked far from civilization into the vast, remote wilderness of northeast Michigan.
Sarah and Daniel Carter, and their daughter Mary Lavina, became Alpena’s first permanent settlers in November of 1856. Daniel and his business partners were drawn to the area for the plentiful virgin white pine that would make a profitable lumber trade, with the Thunder Bay River the perfect spot to build a sawmill. Shortly after he and his family created a homestead, others followed, eager to harvest the bountiful wild forest. It wasn’t long before the Carter’s tiny modest house near the Thunder Bay River became the first boarding house, as there was nowhere else for visitors who were scoping out the land to stay.
The Carter home was often filled to capacity with visitors, but Sarah Carter was an excellent host and managed to provide a nice bed and plenty of food for their guests. There was a small clearing around the Carter home where they grew a garden, but the rest of the area was covered with swamp, trees and thick brush.
Before Sarah Carter settled in the wild northern Michigan forest, in what was to become Alpena, she had had extensive experiences caring for the sick. She was said to be as skilled as a nurse and very knowledgeable in the use of medicines. Sarah quickly became known in this rugged new land for her skill and experiences with medical care. Her services were continually in demand, granting her the title of Alpena’s first doctor. Her small home also became the area’s first hospital, as well as the small community’s first church meeting place. Later the Carters’ built a larger home on the early Chisholm Street, where it stood until 1960.
A quote from, The History of the Lake Huron Shore-1883
“It was indeed a desolate and forbidding prospect for a woman to contemplate, but Mrs. Carter was not a woman to be dismayed. She was a typical pioneer. Often she was alone. Possessed of a robust constitution, courageous spirit, and kindness of heart, she was admirably adapted to the manifold emergencies of that time.”
Another quote from, The History of the Lake Huron Shore-1883
“It often happens in the pioneer experiences of new settlements that a woman is the strong support in theism of greatest trial, and so in the early history of Alpena, Mrs. Carter was the only one whom the victims of disease could turn for aid. She performed a noble service, and any sacrifice which was necessary to relieve suffering, she cheerfully made.”
We consider Sarah Carter to be a true Alpena pioneer heroine. Moving away from the comforts of what she knew, a small child in tow, to a rustic and rugged land untouched by traditional civilization. She adapted to a land that began without other women, while selflessly providing for the needs of others through her friendship, medical and homemaking skills. We honor the contributions of Sarah Carter and her role in shaping this community that we love.
Haltiner, Robert (2005). “Alpena Gleanings and Stones from Her Granite Gardens”.
Haltiner, Robert (2009). “Alpena Gleanings and Stones from her Granite Gardens Part IV”.
Haltiner, Robert (2005). “The Town that Wouldn’t Die”.
Alpena George N. Fletcher Public Library, “Northeast Michigan Oral History and Historic Photo Archive”