If you've ever been driving through the countryside, unsure of exactly where you are, maybe you’ve told a friend: “I passed some podunk town in the middle of nowhere.”
Many Michiganders are familiar with the saying. But there’s really only one Podunk, Michigan.
This summer, Stateside and the Michigan History Center are exploring the stories of Michigan’s ghost towns. Tucked away in Gladwin County (Northwest of Midland, Michigan) sit the remains of Podunk, Michigan – a former logging town whose name is sometimes used to describe Michigan’s less-populated rural towns.
Mark Harvey of the Michigan History center says the real Podunk was informally established as a logging town sometime during the 1860s.
“This is during the boom of the white pine [logging] era in Michigan. There was a logging camp in the area and that drew lots of seasonal people,” Harvey says. "And then, as often was the case, when the timber ran out people would stay and set up a small town.”
No one today is certain how Podunk got its name. Harvey says one possibility is that it was named after another town with the same name. He says there’s a few towns in New England called Podunk, and it was common for pioneers moving west to borrow familiar names when settling new areas. There are numerous places in Michigan alone that share the same names as New England cities.
Podunk still shows up on a map, buts it sits in ruins. Harvey says Podunk residents built a school in 1904, and a Methodist church around 1935. William Cramer, a Podunk resident interviewed in the book Ghost Towns of Michigan: Vol. II, noted that a dance hall was about the only source of social entertainment in the town. Harvey says the population of Podunk started to tail off in the 1950s.
Visitors can still see the ruins of Podunk’s school and Methodist church at the towns crossroads.
Listen to the entire conversation with the Michigan History Center’s Mark Harvey above.
This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center.