The story of any house begins with the dreamer who builds it—in this case, Warren Cartier. But to tell the tale of Warren Cartier, one must first share the story of the man who, one might say, built Warren: his father, Antoine Ephrem Cartier.
Born in French-settled Canada in 1836, Antoine was raised on a farm near Quebec in a large stone manor named for the river it sat beside, Maskinonge. A mile upstream flowed the St. Lawrence River, which Antoine’s ancestor, French explorer Jacques Cartier, discovered then claimed for the French, along with all of Canada, 400 years before.
If young Antoine was destined for great things, it wasn’t obvious. His father died when he was 10, and despite his older brothers’ urging, he avoided school and working the family farm, preferring instead to roam the vast woods of their river valley. At age 18, Antoine convinced his family that farming wasn’t his destiny and left for America.
A big, brawny young man, Antoine easily found work unloading lumber ships in Chicago, then, after hopping one bound for its forest source—Manistee, Michigan—he hired on as a logger. Within two years Antoine had risen to woods foreman and masterminded, with newfound Irish pal Jim Dempsey, an angle into the lumbering business that didn’t require any capital: sorting and driving other companies’ cut timber from high up the Manistee River to the downstream mills.
As Cartier and Dempsey Boom Company boomed, so did Antoine’s personal life. In 1859 he married Eliza Ann Ayers, an Indian-school teacher from what is now Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula. Within 13 years, he and Eliza had six children, and he and Jim had earned enough to buy their own sawmill. In 1877, Jim and Antoine added the Pere Marquette River to their contracts, and Antoine bought a swath of timberland down the coast. By then a father of eight, he moved his family to Ludington and commissioned a palatial Victorian home befitting a lumber baron and his brood. Its location: Ludington Avenue and Lavinia Street, northeast corner.
Warren, Antoine’s second son and third eldest, was 12 years old when the Cartier clan moved to Ludington. As he came of age, Warren saw his father grow fantastically wealthy purchasing more land, buying and selling sawmills, and expanding his manufacturing interests. But Warren also saw in Antoine a man who was devoted to, and beloved by, his community.
In 1880, less than three years after the family’s arrival, Ludington citizens elected Antoine, a staunch Democrat, mayor. They did again in 1881. And Antoine gave back. He organized the Water Works Co., which piped fresh water into the city. He led the charge to pave the city’s streets (though credit for the boulevard design, with flowering center islands and tree-lined edges, may go to his wife; legend has it Eliza suggested them when her husband grappled with the city’s lack of funds to pave Ludington streets to their full width).
Antoine’s most generous effort on behalf of the people of Ludington occurred after the panic of 1893, when the city’s Commercial & Savings Bank failed. Then bank president, Antoine bore no legal or personal responsibility for the crash; nevertheless, he paid back every depositor, dollar for dollar, using his own money. It cost him $170,000, equal to $3.9 million in today’s dollars.