The Life of Ludington's Cartier Mansion

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.

Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    You seem way too obsessed with Kate Dempsey-Cartier’s small stature and miniature acolytes.

  • Lynda Twardowski

    I see your point. So I send you a BIG thank you for reading and writing in!

  • Anonymous

    Started reading this at the doctor’s office today in Florida…got called in too quickly and couldn’t finish it…was so pleased to find it online! We live in Southwest Michigan most of the year and have a daughter living in Ludington, so I was drawn to the Traverse magazine in the waiting room…very interesting article.

  • Anonymous

    Having owned a cottage on Hamlin Lake for 55 years, it is with delight that I read the tales of the Cartier family and Ludington. What a pleasure!

  • Anonymous

    This is a beautiful website of a beautiful city which we have visited several years ago. We had a wonderful self-guided tour through your murals society booklet. Why don’t you mention them more in your web site. We found them to be fascinating ! When I just found the mural booklet again, I could not remember where Ludington was – at a quick glance I didn’t see Michigan on the booklet. Then I found your nice website and enjoyed all of your photos of the town. It brought back nice memories of the wonderful day we spent in Ludington MI. We pray all is well there, and Thank You for all of these memories !!! We lived in Cape Girardeau MO for 9 years, and we had murals there too.

    Jeannette Kralemann – Carlyle Illinois

  • Anonymous

    I was surprised to have been treated so rudely after hearing such great reviews about the Cartier Mansion. My husband & I stopped by the house while in Ludington to get more info for our next trip in the area. We were met at the door (then open) by Sue Ann who was VERY brusque, handed us a price sheet, and then closed the door behind us like unwelcome intruders. Maybe she was having a bad day but I certainly will never stay there based on that one experience – Her attitude said it all.