Karen Michelson Hartwick Hart

Class of 1890 or 1891
Career Pathway: 

Karen Hartwick as a young womanKaren Bessie Michelson Hartwick HartKaren Hartwick as a middle-aged woman was nominated by Nancy Lemmen.

Karen was the daughter of Nels Michelson, a founding partner of Salling-Hanson Lumber Company. She was born in Manistee in 1872, and her father moved the family to Grayling when she was a young child. She and her future husband were school friends. After graduating (probably in 1890 or 1891) from Grayling High School as the class valedictorian, Karen attended Oberlin College; she then worked as a stenographer/secretary for her father’s company.

Edward graduated from West Point in 1893 and was made a second lieutenant in the 9th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army, commanding the famed “buffalo soldiers.” When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, his regiment was sent to Cuba to fight alongside the Rough Riders, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.

After returning to the United States in August 1898, Lt. Hartwick and his regiment were sent to Fort Huachuca in the Arizona Territory. He took a leave in October to return to Grayling to marry Karen, his high school girlfriend. The newlyweds then went back to Arizona until he resigned his commission in August 1899.

Edward and Karen Hartwick returned to Grayling, where he worked as a cashier for Grayling State Bank. In 1900, he bought interest in the Hanson-Michelson Lumber Company in Mason, Michigan. His partner was his father-in-law, Nels Michelson.

In 1901, the Hartwicks moved to Jackson, where Edward joined with Thomas Woodfield to start the Hartwick-Woodfield Company, and in 1909 they moved to Detroit where Edward established the Hartwick Lumber Company. 
During these years, Edward and Karen raised a family. In 1903, Edward (Nelson) was born, followed by Robert in 1906. Edward Ernst, who was born in 1911, died the following year.

When the United States entered World War I, Edward Hartwick offered his services to the Army, and he was commissioned as a major in September 1917. He commanded a battalion of the 20th Regiment of Engineers, made up of foresters, lumberjacks and mill workers. The 20th Regiment was sent to the French front at the end of 1917, where Major Hartwick died of spinal meningitis on March 31, 1918. He was 48 years old.

According to Genevieve Gillette, an early Michigan conservationist and acquaintance of Karen Hartwick, Edward had spoken frequently with his father-in-law Nels on the merits of preserving the few remaining large pines in northern Michigan. Those discussions and her husband's conservationist leanings could have been the driving force behind Karen's choice of a memorial.

At any rate, in 1927 she purchased 8,236 acres near Grayling – including 85 acres of the last remaining old-growth white pine trees in the Lower Peninsula – that formerly had belonged to the Salling-Hanson Company, and she donated the entire acreage to the State of Michigan.

In her formal agreement with the State, Mrs. Hartwick listed several conditions: that the parcel’s forests be protected, including the stand of old-growth pines; that the land be used only for park and conservation purposes; that a roadway be constructed from State Trunk Line M-27 (today Old 27) to the property; and that a memorial building be erected and maintained on the property in memory of Major Hartwick and the lumbering industry.

Although original construction of the park’s building dedicated to Major Hartwick began in 1929, work was halted by the onset of the Great Depression. Efforts resumed in 1933, when members of the Civilian Conservation Corps finished construction of that building and then also completed two log cabins in 1934-1935 that would house the logging museum.

Mrs. Hartwick was also influential in the naming of two of the park's lakes. Her father had a team of oxen, named Bright and Star, which he used for skidding logs out of the forest. She requested that the former Alexander Lakes be renamed in their honor. Members of the State Board of Geographic Names felt that there were already too many Star Lakes in Michigan, but they settled on Glory instead, and Bright Lake and Glory Lake were named after two logging oxen.

Hartwick Pines State Park was formally dedicated on July 19, 1935.

Edward Hartwick’s memorial building served as the main welcome center for Hartwick Pines State Park until 1994, when a new visitor center opened. In 1998, the Edward E. Hartwick Memorial Building was listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Karen Bessie Michelson Hartwick Hart died in 1950 at the age of 78.

Hillary Pine, a historian with the Michigan DNR, wrote about Karen in 2018: “It is impossible to discern precisely what Karen Hartwick imagined her donation would look like 90 years after deeding her property to the state of Michigan, but it certainly seems that the Hartwick Pines State Park of today lives up to her expectations. Every year, tens of thousands of visitors enjoy the park, replete with its logging museum, old-growth forest, campground, trails, and lakes. Her substantial donation preserves Edward Hartwick's legacy – and no gift could better honor a soldier, husband, lumberman, and Michigander.”