In 1889 two railroads, the Chicago & West Michigan and the Frankfort & Southeastern had line that crossed in Thompsonville on it’s way to Traverse City. Both lines had depots and 1 story towers that controlled the crossing.
The crossing of the tracks formed a diamond that allowed east/west and north/south rail traffic to pass through Thompsonville.
Once the area’s hardwood forests were cut down and automobiles were a common sight on area roads, the town started to die out. According to the US census Bureau as of 2021 the population was just 477 and has stayed pretty steady for the last 30-40 years.
In 2020 a group of residents formed the Thompsonville Area Revitalization Project (TARP). TARP is a nonprofit whose mission is to:
“Create an attractive and historically compelling destination for visitors to relax, enjoy, and appreciate the history of a once robust town and rail crossing that played a significant role in the growth and development of Benzie County and Northwest Michigan.”
The hope to not only help improvements such as extending the Betsie Valley Trail east and to encourage the revitalization of the Village of Thompsonville.
Today Thompsonville is known for the ski resort/golf resort Crystal Mountain and the Iron Fish Distillery. The junction is now a Rails to Trails stop and was recently recognized with a historical marker. The Dedication and Community Celebration was held June 19, 2021. The marker recognizes both the Junction’s diamond crossing and the village that grew around it.
The Chicago & West Michigan Railroad merged with Pere Marquette Railway in 1900. In 1947 it merged for a final time with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O Railway).
The Frankfort & Southeastern was bought by the Toledo, Ann Arbor & North Michigan in 1892. In 1895 it reorganized as the Ann Arbor Railroad.
The last C&O train went through Thompsonville in 1982. In 1991 Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway train was the last train through Thompsonville. The diamond survived the dismantling of the tracks and was moved. Today it sits with a Caboose on its tracks in what will eventually become Thompsonville Junction, with a visitors center, trailhead and park.
Thompsonville Junction/Village of Thompsonville Historical Marker
Industry and Invention (1875-1915) – Registered in 2020 and erected in 2020 – ID #L2335
Located on Thompson Avenue, Thompsonville – Lat: 44.51935 / Long: -85.93992
Constructed in 1889, Thompsonville Junction’s did13851amond crossing formed the intersection of the Chicago and West Michigan Railroad (eventually Chesapeake and Ohio) and the Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad (later the Ann Arbor). Both had depots at the junction, which was located just south of Thompson Avenue on what became part of the Betsie Valley Trail. Their lines linked Frankfort to Toledo and the Traverse City area to Chicago. The railroads offered both passenger and freight service. In the summer of 1903 the Ann Arbor operated a “ping-pong” train that took travelers from Thompsonville to Frankfort’s resorts every few hours. All railroad service to Thompsonville ceased by the 1980s. The diamond crossing was moved after the tracks were dismantled.
Village of Thompsonville
A village began growing around the diamond railroad junction in 1890. It was originally known as Lyndonville but was renamed Thompsonville for S.S. Thompson, the president of the Frankfort and Southeastern Railroad. Multiple sawmills served as the first community businesses. Thompsonville incorporated as a village in 1892. By 1896, Thompsonville had established an electrical plant that provided light and power for its residents. The village labeled itself “The Biggest Little Town in Michigan” in 1901. Its population was less than one thousand, but it boasted forty-eight businesses and two churches. Thousands visited the annual village street fair in the early twentieth century. Thompsonville’s population began declining by 1910 and continued to do so as rail service decreased.